“Once again, the debate returns to the fundamentals of ecclesiology…I shall close my contribution to this thread by noting that we’re dealing here with a clash of paradigms. According to the Catholic one, no merely intellectual exercise on texts, the data of history, and the varieties of epistemology could suffice, even in principle, to exhibit the full content of the deposit of faith as anything more than a rationally defensible set of human opinions. On that showing, something called ‘the Church’ is needed to resolve, in a definitive manner with authority acknowledged as divine, disputes about what the texts and the history are really telling us.”
Unfortunately, he’s overlooking the obvious. In order to identify something called “the Church,” you need to reason from textual and historical data. If such reasoning is inconclusive, then ecclesial resolutions are equally inconclusive.
“Accepting such an authority, like the virtue of faith in general, is a gift.”
I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. Is he claiming that Roman Catholics enjoy a unique grace which is denied all other Christians?
“Accepting such an authority, like the virtue of faith in general, is a gift; when accepted, it yields a kind of certitude which, given the subject matter of theology, reasoning on the data of texts and history can never attain. Arguments merely dispose or indispose us to accept the gift.”
How can it yield a kind of certitude which textual and historical reasoning can never attain if the upper story of ecclesial certitude is built over the uncertain foundation of textual and historical reasoning–without which the one true church can’t be identified in the first place?
“According to the other paradigm in play here–I won’t call it ‘Protestant’ tout court, because any such generalization would be unjustified–Scripture alone affords us all we need to exhibit the full content of the deposit of faith as an object for the assent of faith, as distinct from merely a set of rationally defensible opinions about what the texts and the surrounding historical data mean. I have always found the former paradigm far more rationally defensible than the latter. My apologetical activity is designed to explain why.”
I’d say that his best efforts have subverted his goal.
“Unfortunately, there is no way to formulate, from within one of those paradigms, an argument that could appear rationally decisive within the other. To my mind, that fact is itself a major reason why I find the Catholic one, as described above, more illuminating.”
How does the second sentence even begin to follow from the first? If there’s no way, within each competing paradigm, to formulate an argument which is rationally decisive in relation to the rival paradigm, then how could he possibly say that one paradigm is “far more rationally defensible” than another? What’s the standard of comparison?
“But the uncommitted inquirer simply has to decide for himself with prayer and ascesis, and after all the arguments he has time to hear, which paradigm he finds more illuminating. If one chooses the Catholic sincerely and self-consistently, then one chooses to conform one’s judgments to those of the Magisterium when it claims to bind the faithful definitively. If one chooses the other paradigm sincerely and self-consistently, then one reserves to oneself the right to decide when any teaching authority’s decisions are justified and when they are not.”
The basic problem with this approach is that Liccione is treating the issue as though we have a problem to solve, and it’s then a question of which paradigm has the greatest explanatory power.
This assumes that he can state, a priori, what the problem is–which then demands one theoretical solution or another.
Notice what he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t stop to consider God’s actual modus operandi in the life of the covenant community. He doesn’t consider what providential precedents we can find in the OT or NT. He doesn’t consider what specific institutional structures God has dictated in Scripture. Their configuration and limitations. He doesn’t consider what specific promises God has made, regarding the degree or kind of guidance he will exert in the life of his people–individually or corporately. Their conditionality or unconditionality.
In sum, Liccione doesn’t begin with what God has said and done, or said that he will do in times to come.
Instead, he treats ecclesiology like a Rubik’s cube. He sits in his lounge chair, with the Rubik’s cube in his lap, toying with different permutations and optimal solutions as he tries to figure out the right ecclesiastical algorithm to solve the puzzle.
It’s completely removed from historical revelation or past providence. Instead, Liccione is living inside a theory. Christianity as a theoretical construct.