Jonathan Prejean has posted some comments on my blog in response to my pot-of-gold thread. That’s his prerogative, though not one he reciprocates over at his own blog.
For some reason, oddly enough, Protestants seem quite incapable of comprehending that "private judgment" is not an epistemological category, but an ontological one.
Perhaps we use it to denote an epistemic category because that’s the way it’s ordinarily used by Catholics and Protestants unlike—contrary to Prejean’s eccentric usage.
Prejean is looking up words in The Humpty-Dumpty Dictionary of the English Language. As that great lexicographer expressed himself:
“When I use a word,” Humpty-Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—nothing more or less.”
"Private judgment" does not refer to the independent exercise of one's faculties; everyone must do that to some extent or another.
The reason that Prejean is trying to redefine the phrase is to take the sting out of it. He wants to deny that Catholics and Protestants both exercise private judgment but simply apply it to different documents: the Catholic to tradition and the Protestant to Scripture.
He wants to make you believe that private judgment is something deeper than that to avoid the charge that Catholics are in the same boat as Protestants.
This is why he’s admitting that the independent exercise of one’s faculties is unavoidable. He’s attempting to get that out of the way as soon as possible by seeming to concede the Evangelical comparison, but then pretending that the right of private judgment is something different entirely.
It’s like Arabs who cede land to Israel after losing it in the last war, to then claim that they never lost it since they “gave” it away—albeit after the fact.
With Prejean, it’s all about maneuvering to gain a tactical advantage. As long as you can shift the burden of proof you never have to prove a thing.
Nor does it refer to the basis of one's subjective certainty, which everyone also determines individually.
Once again he’s skewing the issue. No one defines private judgment as the basis of one’s subjective certainty. The contention, rather, is that a Catholic is vulnerable to the same subjective uncertainties as a Protestant.
Rather, and quite simply, it refers to the question of whether right belief is a mental state derived from Scripture based on interpreting Scripture with a correctly disposed heart.
Again, this is a nonstandard usage. A person’s state of heart has nothing to do with the right of private judgment. An unbeliever is capable of rightly understanding a passage of Scripture while a believer is capable of misconstruing a passage of Scripture. That’s not the point of contrast.
Remember that the right of private judgment was framed in a specific historical context. The principle is opposed to a particular version of the argument from authority.
It opposes a blind appeal to ecclesiastical authority. It is opposes an argument from authority without an argument for authority.
A Catholic would assert that such a claim absolutely disqualifies someone from even being an interpreter of Scripture, because it necessarily posits an autonomous basis for interpretation apart from the ontological Body of Christ. Properly speaking, the accusation of "private judgment" is a transcendental argument for the ontological inadequacy of any attempt to derive tenets of faith from Scripture. That doesn't mean that arguments can't be made from Scripture in a fashion that resembles those of Protestants, but they merely attempt to exploit the truth that is already (inconsistently) held by such people to destroy their inadequate worldviews.
Translation: “Catholics can’t justify their theology on exegetical grounds. Evangelicals have the better of the exegetical arguments. So it’s futile for Catholics to keep on fighting a lost cause.”
“Since they beat us fair and square, our rearguard action is to introduce this nifty blocking maneuver. Since it’s a losing battle to beat the Evangelicals on their own turf, o we’ll simply pretend that they never had a right to interpret the Bible in the first place!”
Remember what I said: with Prejean it’s not about the actual play, but the pre-game jockeying for a favorable position.
Notice that nothing has changed since Trent. This is why the Reformation was necessary. It comes down to the same authoritarian assertion: “You have no right to question your superiors! Just shut up and do as you’re told!”
The bottom line is that the Body of Christ is ontologically identifiable with the Church itself, and the recognition of the revealed Christ is identical with this identification, so that any attempt to interpret Scripture outside the regula fidei of the Church is a nullity. The ontological ground of faith is the reality of the risen Christ in its full implications and significance (which the Eastern Fathers called the "skopos" of Scripture, and St. Irenaeus called the "regula fidei"): the dependence of creation on the Creator, the transcendence of the Creator, the significance of the Incarnation, and the resultant effectiveness of salvation. If one denies the _skopos_ in any part (as heretics do), one does not acknowledge the Christian faith, and therefore, one has no adequate basis for Scriptural interpretation. What allows the very freedom of interpretation described above is the commonality of the _skopos_, the acknowledgment of the Word Incarnate for our salvation.
He continues with his blocking maneuver and his totalitarian rhetoric.
Observe the absence of anything resembling an argument. All we’re treated to is one big fat assertion larded with all manner of question-begging claims.
Before we lose our way in the fog-machine of his portmanteau verbiage, a couple elementary remarks are in order.
i) Evangelicals don’t need some fancy-pants metaphysical scheme to justify their rule of faith.
The Bible wasn’t written for sophisticates. The Bible is addressed to a wholly general audience and not an intellectual elite.
The purpose of the grammatico-historical method is, as much as possible, to recover the common knowledge of the original audience. To assume their viewpoint.
ii) When the prophets confronted the corrupt religious establishment, they quoted directly from Scripture. When Jesus confronted the corrupt religious establishment, he quoted directly from Scripture. When the Apostles confronted the corrupt religious establishment, they quoted directly from Scripture.
Evangelicals simply pitch their approach to Scripture at the same level as Scripture itself has chosen to position itself.
But Catholicism is too proud to lower itself to the level of Scripture.
Prejean’s policy would not only disqualify the Evangelical: it would disqualify the prophets and Apostles and Jesus Christ himself, for they all reasoned directly from Scripture and appealed directly to the laity.
Let Prejean have his Popes and prelates, bishops and archbishops, cardinals and cardinal archbishops: for my part, I’ll settle for a carpenter and a few fishermen.
The only question is whether Protestants will allow themselves to realize that the faith in human language as an "image" of divine communication (by application of J.L. Austin's speech-action theory and the so-called "accommodation" of God to human language) is entirely inadequate for that purpose. The absurd anthropomorphism required to picture the members of the Trinity actually speaking to one another is an obvious clue, but one that seems to have escaped all but the most subtle of presuppositional apologists. See, e.g.,
I agree that the members of the intramundane Trinity do not literally speak to another, although the members of the economic Trinity do address each other (e.g. Jn 12:28).
No, I mean (hypostatically) the actions of the entity are identifiable with the actions of Christ in a systematic way (e.g., the Liturgy is actually Christ doing something). Consequently, the authority of the entity is identifiable with the authority of Christ. When the Church acts qua Christ, the authority is identical with Christ's. To the extent I act as Christ, I am part of the same Body. This is the concept of synergism that pervades all of Scripture; humans can act in a way that is truly God's act. The notion of Catholic authority is that one's judgment qua individual must necessarily concede to the Church's judgment qua Christ, and in that judgment qua Christ, there must be an essential sameness (because Christ is not divided against Himself).
i) Notice that this is exactly how a cult-leader immunizes himself from accountability. To question the cult-leader is to question God Himself.
This is the stuff of the suicide cult. This is the stuff of the Inquisition. This is the stuff of the totalitarian state. This is the stuff of the jihadist.
Imagine if a guy like Prejean were in a position of power over you. Just think about that for a moment.
And keep that in mind when you hear some apostate Protestant go misty-eyed over “catholicity,” or inform you that we’re still under the Pope.
Have you ever noticed that those who wax nostalgic for the past happen to be those who never lived in the period for which they’re wistful?
And doesn’t it remind you an awful lot of the tin-foil hatters who’ve so spoiled by the blessings of American citizenship that they turn against their own country in fear and loathing?
ii) He offers no exegetical argument for the brazen claim that a human act can be identical with a divine act. Sounds like Prejean has a bad case of the Messiah-complex. Let us hope it can be treated before it enters the terminal stage.
As such, I consider it highly improbable, considering Who is revealed, that God would reveal Himself through text. He could do so, no doubt, but it would be a bit perverse from a presuppositional standpoint to reveal something by a method that by definition is inadequate to the task, rather like Picasso attempting to convey his artistic vision in a typed page. Requiring that much direct intervention, that much identification between the individual's volition and the Holy Spirit, strikes me as little better than appealing to private revelation. Rather than positing such a thoroughly inadequate means of revelation supplemented by such drastic intervention, I would think that it would be far more aesthetic to conclude that God did not Incarnate Himself meaninglessly, and that His ongoing revelation is (ontologically) of one kind with His Incarnation. This leads to a fundamentally Christological and Eucharistic hermeneutic, unique to Scripture. Hence, the distaste for "private judgment," which more or less presumes a presuppositionally inadequate form of revelation that must be supplemented by God's direct personal revelation of Himself.
The difference, here, is that an evangelical takes his doctrine of revelation from revelation.
But Prejean simply denies propositional revelation. It matters not to him that Scripture expressly identifies itself as the word of God. It matters not to him that verbal inspiration figures in the self-witness of Scripture. For, as you can now see for yourself, Prejean is not a Christian, but a Deist.
For him, textual revelation is inartistic. And interventionist Deity isn’t pretty enough for his aesthetic sensibilities. Such a God doesn’t pass the sniff test.
My point is that someone who doesn't even *claim* to be acting as Christ in the teaching role clearly isn't, which means that either you're appealing to direct unmediated revelation from God Himself (pretty implausible, I'd say), hence "private judgement," or you're admitting that what you believe was not revealed to you by Christ.
i) The Bible has a familiar term for someone who claims to be acting as Christ: he goes by the name of the Antichrist. I’m grateful to Prejean for having clarified his intellectual commitments.
ii) Christian theology has never been limited to the teaching of Christ. It is based on the entire Bible, inclusive of the OT and NT.
But I notice that you've substituted "like" for "as," which means you're using exactly the language of private judgment. I'm not talking about similarlity or analogy; I'm talking about ontological identity. The action IS God's; it is not LIKE God's. If you claim to be Christ-like, then you aren't even advancing a cognizable claim of truth by my lights.
Not only is Prejean a Deist, he is also a pantheist. How the two go together is admittedly a bit mysterious, but by the alchemy of Zubirian potions and potations, all things are possible.
The more you read Prejean, the more the mental image forms in your mind of a man in a padded cell typing furiously into his wireless laptop.