Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Catholic conundrum

James Swan did a recent post entitled “Catholics Need Catholic Answers, But Will Settle for Protestant Answers.”

Among other things, he said “One would think, the alleged ‘true’ church would have her top scholars working on such a project, or perhaps the Pope could say something infallible to help out. If Rome has done a detailed response to Ehrman, I'm not aware of it. However, what I found interesting was the authorities listed in the thread for a response to Ehrman were Protestant. It is ironic that the only authorities suggested on Catholic Answers were Protestant.”

I’d like to add a couple of supplementary observations:

1.One reason that Catholics have to default to Evangelical scholarship on issues like this is that while Catholic apologists are generally quite conservative, Catholic Bible scholars are generally quite liberal. And, of course, that's sanctioned by the Magisterium.

2.But there’s another reason that goes to an even deeper dilemma. Erhman’s argument against the NT canon is structurally parallel to the Catholic argument for the NT canon. It’s as if the Catholic apologist occupies one universe while his alter-ego occupies a parallel universe.

Ehrman contends that the NT canon represents an arbitrary anthology of Christian writings. The books of the NT canon are not inherently or exclusively canonical. Rather, some books were included which could just as well have been excluded, while other books were excluded which could just as well have been included. It was the Catholic authorities who imposed this miscellaneous collection on Christendom. Absent the Catholic authorities, this is not the canon which Christians, if left to their own devices, would come up with all by themselves.

Now, if you think about it, it would be nearly impossible for a Catholic apologist to critique this representation. For that’s exactly how Catholic apologists argue for the canon. Put another way, that’s exactly how Catholic apologists attack the basis of the Protestant canon.

A Catholic apologist would therefore find it very hard to distinguish his own argument from Ehrman’s argument. Find it very hard to refute Ehrman’s argument without refuting his own argument.

So it’s safer to say nothing at all. A Catholic apologist can only win the argument with Ehrman by losing the argument with Catholicism. When faced with a conundrum like that, silence is the only option.

1 comment:

  1. It was the Catholic authorities who imposed this miscellaneous collection on Christendom.

    Yeah, Steve, but they did so infallibly.