Saturday, October 09, 2010

Hard questions for Catholics

Last summer, Called to Confusion did a post entitled "I love the Orthodox too much to be Orthodox." Not surprisingly, the Orthodox didn't take that sitting down. In the course of the feedback, Perry Robinson raised some questions about Roman Catholicism that I didn't see answered. We're used to seeing debates between Catholics and Protestants, so it can be instructive to see debates between Catholics and Orthodox. It's easy for all this to be lost in the welter of 203 sometimes book-length comments, so I'll repost some highlights here:


Perry Robinson August 13th, 2010 4:56 pm :

Everyone does the best they can so to speak with adjudicating truth claims and Catholics are in no different position in doing so. They have to figure out if the claims of Rome are in fact true or not and a repetition of the claims won’t help answer that question. Your judgment regarding if you know if Rome is the true church or not is just as fallible as mine or any protestant. In order to get to the next rung, you have to pass through that hoop first.

You proffer that for those not able it is going to be a better selling point if such persons can get a definitive reading of divine revelation. I might concede that, but how do we get from it being a better selling point to it being true? Don’t we need to know that it is true first? (Zwingli’s got an amazing selling point-God audibly tells him which interpretation is right. It is far more efficient than the Catholic account.)

Second, the “host of arguments” are no different than the “host of arguments” Catholics used for centuries, and continue to use against the Orthodox-how the Orthodox misunderstand this or that term, what being is, have historically misinterpreted the data regarding the papacy, etc. The Catholic side makes the same kinds of claims and arguments...So again, getting to the “God authorized statement” isn’t bereft of the kind of philosophical, historical and theological analysis and argumentation. It is not one or the other. If it were, there wouldn’t be Summas.

I take the attractiveness that you put forward to be ephemeral and as far as most are concerned lacking in practicality. The popes rarely speak in the way you mention and there is a great body of material, some of it pressing for quite a long time. Take the debate between the Jesuits and the Dominicans. The pope didn’t answer the problem, he just forbade further condemnation. Take the death of the Theotokos, for which the Papacy has been silent for quite a long time. Why when the tradition seems fairly uniform and clear on it? In any case, the question isn’t whether the papacy is more efficient at giving normative answers but whether the doctrine is true. Shall we eschew historical, philosophical and theological argumentation in finding that out?

As for your identity questions, I don’t think your position is on superior ground. Can you show how the identity of the pope can be ascertained say **during** the Great Western Schism? Did a Pope adjudicate that question? Can you identify the See of Rome without the sitting pope as the Fifth Ecumenical Council does? How exactly did the self proclaimed “Spirit inspired” council do that? Or was the Fifth Council teaching falsely when it referred to itself (as did subsequent councils as “Spirit Inspired?”

You ask if I can identify the OC in such a way that all Orthodox will recognize my definition as normative. I think I can, but suppose I can’t. You can’t either and here is why, because your act of identification nor the recognition of it makes it normative. It would be an expression of your belief, even if true and known and not a dogmatic statement in and of itself. Further, if papal ratification is not a sufficient condition for a council to be ecumenical, can you identify what condition makes a council as such? Further, I know professing Catholics in open communion (some clerics) who won’t recognize the conditions you lay down from the catechism for identifying as such. Does that prove your account a failure? If not, then any lack of recognition of the normativity of the identification of the OC by various Orthodox won’t imply as much either on the very same basis. Where was the “identity” when Vigilius was excommunicated and the bishops professed themselves still in communion with the See of Rome, just not the pope? And how do we go about finding out that normative judgments in fact fulfill all of the relevant conditions proposed or even worse, that statements of past ages which bear few if any of the linguistic indicators used in the last 200 years or so are actually normative? It just seems more than strange that all of the major doctrines of Christianity were adjudicated and “defined” in the first thousand years and that in councils, but not the papacy.

Perry Robinson August 17th, 2010 9:29 pm :

Fallible judgments can be correct judgments. Most of our judgments are that way.

My judgment isn’t subjective if that implies that it could not be or isn’t grounded in fact and/or truth preserving inferences. The fact that I make judgments and that these judgments occur in me, doesn’t make them “subjective” except in the innocuous way that such things occur in me, the same way they occur in any Catholic who writes about the same matters. If their truth value was subjective in terms of being relativistic in that I was their truth maker or in terms of it being mere opinion in the above sense, this would wipe away all Catholic claims to truth and would engage the kind of relativism and nihilism that the recent Pope so rightly and adamantly decries. In short, you are cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

As to the questions about knowing the truth, then we are all in the same position in figuring out if say Catholicism is true or not. The facts may favor it or not, but that is something that is disclosed after investigation and not before. If reason is no aid here as you seem to be arguing, then fideism is the result. It surely looks like something any Lutheran or Jansenist would be happy with. So I think the shoe is on the other foot here. It is you and not I who embrace subjectivism of some sort. Again, I’d recommend Fides et Ratio for Catholic thinking on this matter.

Further, Catholics uses the same kinds of methods to argue for their case and most of them think we are fallible knowers too. So if I take your line I could just as easily write “why should I even care what “catholicism” is?” Why can’t I dismiss all of the Summas and commentaries on this or that theological or philosophical work that supposedly supports Catholicism in the same fashion?

You seem to argue that revelation offers itself to humanity in such a way to secure what reason cannot. Somehow this is supposed to bridge the investigative process by which one finds out that such and so is in fact divine revelation. I can’t see how what you’ve offered isn’t in fact a form of fideism.

My argument was not that if you are fallible that you can’t know that the claims of Rome are true. Rather my point was that finding out if they are true, you are in no better principled position than anyone else. Consequently, you can’t escape from the kind of theoretical reflection that you eschew in my approach.

Perry Robinson August 17th, 2010 10:56 pm :

Saying I have my “opinion” but it is not authoritative is about as argumentatively useful as my replying to a Catholic that they have their “opinion” about what the catechism means on some point, but it is not authoritative. I don’t need to be authoritative to be correct. And I never presented myself to be making an argument from my authority, so your remarks are a straw man. I can articulate a view correctly without authority. If this is not possible, then this blog itself is expressing nothing more than opinions about Catholic teaching, since no one here is a bishop or a pope.

Perry Robinson August 20th, 2010 12:42 pm :

As for the assent of faith, this simply pushes us back to the first level. We’d need to know that the claims were true, that is, someone did in fact discover such an authority to know that they in turn were divinely aided to so assent. So the assent of faith is irrelevant since I am not talking about being subject to such an authority. I am referring to prior epistemic questions.

Second, what is the arbiter of whether the pope is a heretic or not? The pope? What mechanism arbitrates when there is no pope and only rival claimants to the pope? Well, on your assertions, it can’t be a council. What are we left with but nothing?

Some councils judged the theology of the popes, such as Chalcedon, since the fraudulent texts stating that the pope is “judged by no one” had not gained currency in the East, particularly with the other Petrine Sees (Antioch and Alexandria). Leo’s Tome was judged by Cyril’s theology and not the other way around. Such councils took their position to be collectively superior to the pope (the fifth council said as much explicitly) and infallibly established that there is no other way to judge such matters, which was a direct rebuke of Rome.

I am on no more of a fishing expedition than a Catholic who goes through magisterial documents to find out what the church’s teaching is or a non-Catholic does in trying to find the truth regarding the Catholic position. Having a pope does not mean you have a pope to personally talk to on every occasion. Hence there is no “real time” papacy. The papacy is in fact quite slow moving for the most part. Catholics have to do the same kind of legwork to know and articulate their position as I am doing.

Perry Robinson August 20th, 2010 3:49 pm :

As for your sketch, what if the pope is a heretic? What if there is no pope but only rival claimants who all disagree on some theological point? Who is the arbiter then? Is there no church since there is no de facto principle of unity when the seat is vacant? I keep asking these questions because I never seem to get an answer or a very clear one. Even well respected Catholic theologians like Journet hem and haw on these questions and And Journet was no fool. Why hasn’t Rome defined these issues since there is no lack of historical precedent that made them pressing?

Further, how were the decisions of Chalcedon promulgated? Was it by a papal judgment? No. Were they sufficient? Yes. Can you point to any “universally recognized” canons or document in the first thousand years that articulates the view that a council is not ecumenical unless the pope’s ratification confers such a status on it, that is, his ratification is a sufficient condition for it being ecumenical? Please note that is different than documents stating that the acceptance by apostolic sees were a necessary condition.

If the views of all of the bishops are revisable in reference to the pope as you lay out, it seems that everyone else’s conscience can be bound, except the Pope’s. In this way the Catholic view mirrors the Protestant view in so far as the Protestants simply expand the members of the papal office through the right of private judgment. And it seems a bit like the Protestant faith where said faith is held provisionally to be our best understanding so far. This may not be the case for the pope, but it seems necessarily the case for everyone else as you’ve glossed it. And whatever value you assign to certitude, that doesn’t seem conducive to it. Further, how can the deposit of faith be in the episcopate if it cannot be lost and/or is tentatively adhered to under the pope? How is it not really just in the pope?

Practically, you write that bishops out of line with Rome will either face correction or will face excommunication. But this is not so. Plenty of bishops, not to mention priests openly hold dissenting views and practices and are never brought to account. What you articulate is an idealization and not what people on the ground in fact experience. Such a lack of church discipline is not due to Rome’s ignorance on such matters. I mean, why can’t Rome discipline those parishes that have female altar servers, when such allowances are supposed to be in the extreme have now become the de facto tradition and the norm? Would it be so hard to do? This is just one case and why I don’t take the claims of a real “dynamic presence” of an authority seriously. With such authority Rome has done no better, and in fact seemingly much worse in maintaining the liturgy-lex ordandi, lex credendi.

I grant that I must analyze texts to ground my position. The popes do the same. Were the popes wrong to do so? Second to find out if the Catholic position is true, every one must more or less do the same, as Bryan Cross writes in the “Tu Quo Que” piece. If not, then Matt 16:18 wouldn’t need Catholic exegetical arguments to prove their case. Your argument undercuts all the work of pop Catholic apologists. It would make all appeals to Matt 16:18 and all other historical data argumentatively irrelevant. Such an approach.

I am not clear why I cannot simply point to the persons at the councils who laid down those conditions to fulfill your request. How is that any different than Pastor Aeternus being laid down by the pope? Again, your conditions are too strict since you don’t have personal access to the pope and what he teaches. That is mediated through texts and through clergy lower down than he. So I can’t see how I am in any different position than you are.

You seem to think that I need an infallible person to interact with at every level if the judgment is to be authoritative at any level. But this is a condition that Catholicism can’t meet since your local priest, bishop or even cardinal are not and cannot be infallible when they “clarify” the statements of the Pope or the ordinary magisterium. It is not as if there is a whole lot more out there to condemn in terms of heresy. And it is not as if every challenge to Catholicism makes its way up the ladder to the pope and the magisterium for a judgment. Most do not since they are again, “few” in number.

If one wants to get the right interpretation of what the Catechism means, do they need to send a letter to the pope or the magisterium and get an ultimately authoritative answer? No. Such a practice is not feasible on your own principles. The papal curia may be efficient but they are not that efficient. They would direct you to, in most cases, the catechism, some other document or your local clergy.

Perry Robinson August 21st, 2010 12:12 pm :

As for “love”, most Protestants do not take it as very “loving” when the Catholic Church unchurches them and maintains Tridentine anathemas. A good bit of Catholic apologetics for the last hundred years has been no more fair, let alone “loving” than that on the Protestant side. Catholics too have had their own historical deliberate fabrications like the Nag’s Head Fable. That aside, it is not in principle unloving to say that professors of a certain view is heretical if in fact it is so. It is not in principle unloving to say that such and so is not a true Christian Church, if it is not. Catholics and Orthodox agree on the principle, just disagree on the application. Our view is more economical in that our list is of a true church is one shorter than yours. Unchurching Rome isn’t in principle anymore unloving than Rome unchurching the CofE a hundred years ago and lots of other bodies for that matter.

If you think that such attitudes undercuts the claim of the Orthodox to be the true church, then please make something like a formal argument. Otherwise, the “anti” complaints really pale in comparison to actions like the seventy plus years of papally enforced Latinization in Constantinople, things that look awfully like bribes coming from Pope Eugene at Florence and Jesuit Machinations in Russia and other places in the post-Reformation period. And the 19th and twentieth century is not without its blatant examples either. Actions speaks louder and repeated persistent and consistent actions loudest of all.

Perry Robinson August 24th, 2010 1:31 pm :

Antioch and Alexandria were seen as Petrine sees since Peter is at Antioch for quite some time and Alexandria is founded by Mark, Peter’s disciple and translator. This was the stated basis for Rome’s rejection of canon 28 of Chalcedon that it infringed on the Petrine apostolic prerogatives of Antioch and Alexandria.

1 comment:

  1. I hear there's progress in discussions on reunifying the RCC and EOC.