DAVID WALTZ SAID:
I must be atypical then, for affirm that there exists a positive Catholic sense of “private judgment”, as well as a negative one (see my comments HERE and HERE).
Actually, you do a perfect job of illustrating the mentality of a typical Catholic. I said that when we answer a Catholic on his own grounds, it doesn’t make a dent. I then transcribed some portions of an article by Fr. Tavard to demonstrate my point.
How did you respond? It didn’t make a dent! You blew right past my entire argument.
So far from being an atypical Catholic, you’re a stereotypical Catholic.
Lane’s assessment concerning “private judgment” is worth repeating:
“The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgement. The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgement but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Luthern or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent.” (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45 – bold emphasis mine.)
Several issues here:
i) I frame the issue in terms of private judgment because I’m answering the Catholic apologist on his own grounds. That’s how Catholics typically frame their objection to the Protestant rule of faith.
Whether that’s an accurate description of how the Protestant Reformers framed the issue is beside the point. I’m answering the Catholic on his own grounds.
ii) If you think that quoting the Protestant Reformers disproves my position, then you’re barking up the wrong pedigree. The mere opinion of the Protestant Reformers is not, itself, an argument. I’m not a Protestant because I simply wanted to swap one tradition (Catholic tradition) for another tradition (Protestant tradition).
I never start by asking myself, “What did Calvin believe?” “What did Luther believe?”—then adjust my interpretation of Scripture to match theirs. I don’t begin with Protestant creeds or Reformed confessions.
Rather, I begin with Scripture. After doing my exegesis, I will compare my exegetical results with the Protestant creeds or Reformed confessions. It just so happens that my exegetical theology dovetails with Calvinism. But I’m a Biblicist first, last, and always.
You can find Calvinists who begin with their creeds, confessions, and catechisms. That’s their point of reference. If you want to debate that sort of Calvinist, I suggest you pick a fight with someone like Scott Clark.
For myself, I prefer the theological method of a Calvinist like John Murray.
I’m not trying to trace my bloodline back to Calvin to legitimate my theology. I’m not asking Calvin to take a paternity test to see if I belong to the Reformed family tree. My only concern is with the scriptural pedigree of my belief-system.
iii) Every Christian generation has its own challenges and responsibilities. We must be faithful to the situation that God has put us in. Our duty is not to be actors or antiquarians who simply imitate whatever our Christian forebears did. Our duty is to apply Scripture to our own circumstances, which may or may not parallel the situation of the Protestant Reformers.
iv) The warrant for sola scriptura doesn’t depend on whether it can satisfy some a priori condition which we stipulate, like perspicuity or private judgment.
Rather, the warrant for sola Scripture depends on what rule of faith God has imposed on his church. We don’t need to justify God’s judgment.
iv) It’s pretty anachronistic to keep drawing invidious comparisons with the Anabaptists, as if today’s Amish (to take one example) are interchangeable with the Münsterites or Zwickau Prophets. The traditional, knee-jerk antagonism towards the Anabaptists is terribly dated. It’s time to move beyond that.
For example, John Murray, although he was a staunch Scots-Presbyterian and founding faculty member of Westminster, reviewed two books by a couple of Anabaptist writers (Wenger, Herschberger). Murray didn’t dismiss them out of hand. He didn’t demonize the authors as Anabaptist hellspawn. Rather, he gave them are respectful hearing, commended the good things they said, and took issue with where they went wrong.
In my opinion, Anabaptism is asking many of the rights questions. It sometimes gives the wrong answers to its own questions. If you want to take old polemical scarecrows down from the attic, I’d suggest, once again, that you pick a fight with someone like Scott Clark.
If push comes to shove, you’d be infinitely better off as an Anabaptist than a Roman Catholic. So odious comparisons don’t work in your favor.
v) I wouldn’t say, without qualification, that Scripture is its own interpreter. Background information (e.g. biblical archeology) is pertinent to the interpretation of Scripture.
vi) It’s not our place to posit an a priori ideal, like unanimity, then select a hermeneutical method to further that end. Unanimity is a psychological state (of the reader). It has nothing to do with the meaning of a text. Our hermeneutical method should concern itself with meaning, not unanimity. With authorial intent, not reader intent.
Whether an interpretation is correct, and whether an interpretation commands general assent, are two distinct and sometimes opposing issues.
The way in which Jesus and the Apostles construe Messianic prophecy didn’t command the general assent of their Jewish audience. Many Jews repudiated the Messianic claims of Jesus. Does the absence of general assent somehow disprove dominical and apostolic exegesis?
vii) A correct interpretation can be divisive. Unanimity is no index to true interpretation. The preaching of Jesus and the Apostles was very divisive. And they were preaching from the OT scriptures.
viii) If some people willfully misinterpret the Bible, that also serves the purposes of Scripture, for Scripture is—among other things—a standard of judgment.
ix) ”Who should interpret Scripture?” That’s a simplistic question. Some people are more competent than others. We don’t deny that God has given teachers to the church. But when, say, an evangelical commentator interprets the Bible, he appeals to reason and evidence—not his own authority. It should be possible for an intelligent layman to see how the commentator arrived at his interpretation, using responsible methods of exegesis.
“For me the real issue is SCHISM not “private judgment”;
i) That’s the issue for you because you speak as a Roman Catholic. Since you think the church of Rome is the one true church, then “schism” would be a break with the one true church.
Of course, that merely begs the question in favor of Roman Catholicism. Since a Protestant like me doesn’t share your ecclesiology, I also don’t share your priorities vis-à-vis “schism”.
The church of Rome is simply a local church. Because it was situated in the capital of the Western Roman Empire, because it resorted to fraud (e.g. the False Decretals), and because the papacy was aligned with the crown, it rose to the top of the heap. But those are hardly criteria for the true church. To the contrary, they expose the worldly paternity of the Roman Catholic church.
ii) Do people sometimes leave a church for the wrong reasons? Yes. Do people sometimes start a new church for the wrong reasons? Yes.
iii) But it would be a sin not to break with certain corrupt denominations—like the church of Rome.
The Catholic church is a schismatic church. Through it’s unscriptural theology and corrupt morality, it broke with the true church, instituted by Jesus Christ.
“I exercise “private judgment” on a regular basis, putting certain limits on its use by always stopping short of SCHISM.”
I also believe in putting “certain limits” on private judgment. It’s not an autonomous principle. Private judgment must employ sound hermeneutical methods (e.g. the grammatico-historical method).
That’s why I believe in limiting the private judgment of popes, bishops, and church fathers.
The real issue is fidelity to the word of God.