Wednesday, October 01, 2008


John,__Let me offer one more thought. You have referred a few times now to Triablogue's "trick questions for Protestants" post, which was a response to something I wrote back in January.

That’s a true statement of my overall position. However, I was making a narrower point in my post on trick questions. My point, which I made repeatedly in the course of that post, is that Bryan is simply and constantly begging the question by recasting all interpretive questions as questions of authority. He has yet to justify his operating assumption.

Bryan begins with his utopian preconception of the way things ought to be, then concocts an ecclesiastical narrative to illustrate his preconception.

In his view, there simply is no authoritative interpretation of Scripture, because there is no magisterium.

i) Actually, we do have “authoritative” interpretations of Scripture. The NT gives us many “authoritative” interpretations of the OT. And some OT writers give us “authoritative” interpretations of earlier OT writers.

ii) But it’s true that we don’t have a magisterium.

iii) Of course, even if we did have a magisterium, Bryan’s conclusion doesn’t follow. It’s not as though the Catholic magisterium has ever devoted much time to offering authoritative interpretations of Scripture. There are about 31,000 verses in the Bible. For what percentage of those verses has the magisterium offered an authoritative interpretation?

So Bryan’s demand for magisterial authority to confer interpretative authority is just a paper theory. The magisterium is falsified by Bryan’s own criterion. If that’s what we need it for, then it’s fallen far short of its appointed task.

iv) Bryan also needs to explain what he means by “authoritative,” and how it functions. Is an “authoritative” interpretation related to a correct interpretation?

Yet even if, for the sake of argument, an authoritative interpretation entails a correct interpretation, a correct interpretation doesn’t entail an authoritative interpretation—if, by “authoritative,” he means an interpretation issued by some authority-figure or authoritative body.

But as long as you have the correct interpretation, who needs an authoritative interpretation? Is an authoritative interpretation sometime over and above a correct interpretation?

There are just various exegetical and scholarly techniques for trying to determine what is the best interpretation of Scripture.

Which is exactly how Catholic Bible scholars operate, viz. J. Fitzmyer: The Interpretation of Scripture: In Defense of the Historical-Critical Method.

I didn't respond to Steve's post, because he makes my point better than I could. Is there anywhere in the first fifteen centuries of the Church, where we find Steve's idea that there is no living authority, no magisterium, no possibility of an authoritative interpretation of Scripture? No, not at all. Both the Church at Rome and the bishops in general council had an authority the laity did not have.

Notice how he completely begs the question by assuming that ecclesiastical precedent is the only relevant consideration. He begins and ends with the church: a perfectly vicious circle.

That comes from the very fact that the Apostles had an authority that the laity did not have.

Of course, that’s a non sequitur. The fact that the Apostles had an authority which the laity doesn’t enjoy doesn’t imply that church councils or the church of Rome has an authority that the laity doesn’t enjoy. Notice that Bryan doesn’t offer even the semblance of an argument to bridge his two claims.

So Steve's position (if I'm understanding him correctly) implies that the Apostles did not confer authority on their episcopal successors.

Bryan is equivocating on three grounds:

i) ”Episcopal” doesn’t mean the same thing in NT usage that it means in Catholic usage.

ii) ”Succession” doesn’t involve the same concept in NT ecclesiology that it does in Catholic ecclesiology.

iii) What “authority” are we talking about? Do elders enjoy a measure of administrative or disciplinary authority? Yes.

Do elders enjoy interpretative authority? Not by virtue of their office. At most, they enjoy the interpretive authority of an expert witness, assuming that they do, in fact, bring some expertise to the exegesis of Scripture. Sometimes true, sometimes false. Depends on the individual. Some laymen are more competent to interpret the Bible than some pastors.

But just left a book (in the form of gospels and epistles scattered about the empire), and each Christian to decide for him or herself what that book means, in a kind of egalitarianism with respect to ecclesial authority.

Several problems:

i) As usual, Bryan begins with what he deems to be an unacceptable consequence. He then reasons back from the consequence to what he deems to be the correct alternative. This is pure, armchair speculation. Bryan does theology the way a creative writer composes a novel. You end up with an imaginative construct from start to finish.

ii) What is Bryan’s practical alternative? He doesn’t have one. For example, how many medieval peasants were adequately catechized in the dark ages? Haven’t there being many times in church history when the Rome lacked the resources to properly indoctrinate the laity?

Or take our own time. Given the acute shortage in the priesthood, the average priest hardly has the spare time to study the Bible or historical theology on a regular basis. And he doesn’t have the spare time to give individual Catholics the ethical or theological guidance they need. He’s overworked. Far too few priests to go around.

Why do so many Catholic layman find it necessary to turn to other Catholic layman for advice? Why do they go to do-it-yourself “experts” like Karl Keating and Dave Armstrong for their knowledge of Catholic dogma and moral theology?

Bryan’s denomination doesn’t measure up to his own criterion. Bryan poses a problem. He proposes a solution. But even if we conceded all of his gratuitous assumptions, his denomination fails to solve the problem he posed for it.

iii) Am I an “egalitarian” about the interpretation of Scripture? No. Some people have more aptitude than others. Some people have more training than others.

However, as I’ve said many times before, even a Bible scholar shouldn’t invoke his own “authority” to justify his interpretation. He needs to argue for his position. And his process of reasoning must be subject to the evaluation of the reader.

I don't find that notion in the fathers at all.

Which begs the question.

Nor could unity possibly be a mark of the Church had that been the case.

Which begs the question.

Notice his stipulative methodology. He simply posits that the church must exhibit this mark or that.

BTW, exactly how many marks of the church are there? Four? Fifteen?

Should we split the difference?

Bryan worships at the altar of a fictitious church.

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