Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tarot card Catholicism

 I'm going to comment on some comments at Called to Confusion:

Bryan CrossNo Gravatar June 20th, 2012 9:58 am :

The Bible has authority in two distinct and non-mutually exclusive ways. All Scripture has divine authority because it is God-breathed. But the canon of Scripture also has authority in another sense because it was recognized as canonical by the Church, through Tradition. What Tom is talking about is the authority Scripture has as God-breathed; Scripture does not derive that authority from the Church. What Eck is talking about (in the selection Swan cites) is the authority the canon has on account of its having been recognized as canonical by the Church; Scripture does derive that authority from the Church.

i) This is somewhat confused. Something with no inherent authority can have derivative authority. Take the rules for football. These have no inherent authority. They are arbitrary, conventional, manmade rules. It would be possible to change the rules.

But in a football game, both teams agree to play by the same rules. Both teams ascribe authority to the rules. The rules function as an authority.

ii) Likewise, the Bible can function as an authority in the life of the church. But that doesn’t mean the functional authority of Scripture is merely ascriptive. Rather, the Bible has functional authority because the Bible has inherent authority. It ought to function as an authority (indeed, the supreme authority) in the life of the church.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar June 20th, 2012 7:55 pm :

John, you’re overlooking a few rather elementary facts.

For one thing, while they lived, Peter, Paul, and other authors of New Testament books were themselves the leaders of the Church appointed directly by the Lord.

i) What makes Liccione think every NT writer was appointed directly by Jesus? That isn’t even true on traditional authorship.

ii) Moreover, modern Catholic scholars routinely deny traditional authorship. Likewise, modern Catholic scholars don’t assume that the Gospels or Acts give us an accurate picture of how the church was originally constituted.

iii) What makes him think every NT author was a church leader? Was Mark a church leader? Was Luke a church leader? “Leader” in what sense?

They had been teaching the Church and speaking for the Church well before they wrote those books. So “the Church” just is “older than Scripture,” where the Scripture in question is the New Testament. (More generally, the entire “people” of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is older than the entire scriptural canon, since the Jews were constituted as God’s chosen people before any of the OT was put to papyrus.)

But is “the Church” older than the word of God? There’s a sense in which the word of God goes all the way back to creation (“And God said…” Gen 1).

Given as much, believers saw some of the NT books as divinely inspired because the Apostles and those who wrote and taught with their authorization said they were.

i) Who is he referring to when he alludes to those who “wrote and taught” with apostolic authorization? Is he alluding to the subapostolic fathers? The church fathers generally? Roman bishops?

If so, he’s begging the question in favor of apostolic succession. That’s something he needs to establish.

ii) Or is he alluding to some NT writers? If so, why assume NT writers needed apostolic authorization? If they were divinely inspired, they already had divine authorization.

The faithful believed them because, in making that claim, the Apostles and those they authorized were known to be exercising the authority the Lord had given them. So those NT books which were accepted early as divinely inspired–whatever the exact list, if any–were authenticated as such by the Apostles and those they authorized to write and teach. And that is the same as to say that said books were authenticated as divinely inspired only with “the Church’s authority.” So Eck was by no means off base in making the claim you say does “violence” to the Scriptures.

If you were already a Christian, then you accepted the authority of Christ and the apostles. But if you were a Jew or pagan gentile, that wasn’t a given.

The NT Scriptures were books of the Church: written through her instrumentality, and recognized as such by her authority. That is historical fact, not theological dogma.

In what sense is it a historical fact rather than theological dogma that the NT Scriptures were written through the church’s instrumentality? That sounds like theological dogma to me.

What does that even mean? How is Liccione defining the church? What is the minimal unit of the church? The laity? The episcopate? The Apostolate?

In what sense did Paul write through the instrumentality of the church? He was directly called by Christ. He was divinely inspired.

In what sense did Jude write through the instrumentality of the church? He had a direct connection to Jesus, as his stepbrother.

Moreover, it’s just a historical fact that the entire NT canon took several centuries to coalesce and be closed. It was the Church which decided all along which books belonged in the NT canon and which didn’t.

i) Which church decided that? Certainly not the church of Rome, all by itself. That wasn’t the unilateral decision of local church like Rome. Rome didn’t decide that for every other church. That was more of a collective decision.

ii) And to a great extent that wasn’t even a decision, but a prior understanding. Most books of the NT were never in doubt. That was the only canon the church ever had.

iii) Of course, as you move later into the process, you encounter later books. Apocryphal books written in the mid-2C and beyond. But that’s not what the church started with. Those are barnacles. The church was sloughing off barnacles.

So the church came full circle. She ended where she began.

iv) Did the church select the NT? Or did the NT select for the church? A church is not a true church if it contradicts the NT.

v) There’s also a sense in which the OT selected the NT. For the NT must correspond to the OT. The NT Scriptures are the counterpart of the OT Scriptures. The OT pairs off with the NT, and vice versa.

 That decision didn’t make the NT divinely inspired, but as things happened, the decision was clearly necessary for making the conviction that certain books were divinely inspired anything more than private opinion. Just recall the Marcionite controversy and others regarding particular books.

It was more than “private opinion” in the sense that this represents collective opinion. But there’s nothing intrinsically deficient about “private opinion” as long as that’s correct.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar June 21st, 2012 12:30 am :

I had argued that, in order to adopt a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion, the uncommitted inquirer should have “recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority.”

The distinction between divine revelation and human opinion isn’t clear. Usually, alternatives involve two or more things of the same kind.

Divine revelation would be the objective source and standard, whereas human opinion would be a subjective way of understanding divine revelation. So it’s not clear how these present two alternatives. For Catholicism also requires a distinction between the object of knowledge and the subject of knowledge. Between revelation and something other than revelation. But perhaps this is shorthand for a more detailed contrast.

There are two problems here. The first, it seems to me, is that you’re misunderstanding the purpose of apologetics as a discipline. The apologist as such must present reasons for making the assent of divine faith as distinct from that of mere opinion. That’s because his task is to show that the assent of faith is reasonable. Now I think you’d agree that, in general, infallibility is not necessary for having good reasons to believe certain things in light of merely human reason and experience.

That brings me to the second problem with what you say above: to wit, there’s a crucial epistemic difference between truths knowable by merely human experience or reason and truths that can only be affirmed by the assent of divine faith. Showing that such assent is reasonable is not going to show that the propositions to which one assents are facts, as distinct from opinions which, though perhaps well-founded, are open to revision in principle. That’s because truths of faith are supernatural, not natural, so that by definition they cannot be shown to be factual by any method of human reasoning, no matter how reliable that method may be.

i) This is unclear. What does Liccione mean by “truths of faith”? In what sense are these “supernatural” rather than “natural”? Is a “truth of faith” synonymous with a revealed truth, or is it a special subset of revealed truths?

For instance, Jn 5:2 describes the pool of Bethesda. That description is a revealed truth. For that information is reported in the Gospel of John.

Yet that’s not a supernatural truth. In principle, that would be common knowledge for 1C Palestinian Jews before the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

ii) By “truths of faith,” does Liccione mean truths which are only knowable by divine revelation? Or does he mean saving truths? Or does he mean essentials of the Christian faith?

iii) Notice that he doesn’t contrast truths which are knowable by reason and experience with truths that are knowable by revelation. Rather, he contrasts truths which are knowable by reason and experience with that can only be “affirmed” by the “assent of faith” (whatever that means).

So he doesn’t present a direct comparison and contrast. What’s the intended distinction between what’s knowable and what’s affirmable? What’s the relationship between knowing something and assenting to it, much less the “assent of faith”?

iv) He differentiates between fact and opinion. The latter is said to be “revisable in principle.” But some opinions are factual. Does he mean to say that even factual opinions are revisable? Or does he mean we need something over and above reason and experience to distinguish true opinions from false opinions?

He talks about “showing” things to be factual. But showing something is different than knowing something. Does he think first-order knowledge require second-order knowing (i.e. showing how we know what we know)?

v) There’s also a difference between reasonable belief and knowing something by reason. Knowing something is more than having an opinion. You could have a mistaken opinion. That wouldn’t count as knowledge.

So his statement seems to be a mass of confusions. But perhaps he’s trying to cover too much ground in too little time. Taking shortcuts when he needs to define his terms and spell out how his distinctions relate to each other.

 For that reason, our epistemic access to the revealed truths of faith must ultimately rely on authority–specifically, divine authority.

i) Here he seems to be treating “truths of faith” as synonymous with “revealed truths.” But as I already noted, the Bible contains many revealed truths which are, in principle, accessible by reason or experience. They may not be accessible at this distance from the events. But in many cases they describe people, places, and events that were contemporaneous with the audience.

If the Bible reports something, that’s a revealed truth. But that doesn’t ipso facto make it a “supernatural truth” in contrast to a “natural truth.”

ii) Moreover, the Bible is, itself, a divine authority. The Bible is, itself, a source of revealed truths. So how does Liccione’s distinction differentiate sola Scriptura from the Catholic alternative?

Once again, his statement seems to be a mass of confusions.

 And given as much, the central task for the apologist is to show that accepting some agency’s claim to divine authority is reasonable, even though he cannot prove, by human experience and reasoning alone, that such a claim is actually true.

i) But if the Magisterium is a makeweight, to make up the difference between opinion to the “assent of faith,” then how can it achieve the function that Liccione assigns to it if our faith in the Magisterium is not, itself, the “assent of faith,” but mere opinion? How can the Magisterium authorize our beliefs if our belief in the authority of the Magisterium is mere opinion?

On the face of it, Liccione’s appeal is viciously circular. He can’t appeal to the superior authority of the Magisterium unless he already knows that the Magisterium has that authority. But if his faith in the superior authority of the Magisterium rests on the inferior basis of mere opinion, how can he bootstrap Magisterial authority?

ii) Perhaps he’d say a Protestant is in the same boat. A Protestant believes the Bible to be the supreme authority, but his belief is not, itself, supremely authoritative. Yet there are two problems with that counterattack:

a) He’s not arguing for parity, but for the superiority of the Catholic rule of faith.

b) It doesn’t follow from a Protestant standpoint that faith in Scripture is mere opinion. Faith stands in contrast to sight, not to knowledge. It has its source in the inspired testimonial evidence of Scripture, rather than the believer’s personal observation. And it’s the product of divine regeneration.

For us, then, the immediate question is simply whether accepting some agency’s claim to divine authority, with its concomitant claim to be divinely protected from error, is more reasonable than rejecting such a claim while at the same time affirming something as Christian revelation.

Isn’t a better question whether it’s true rather than whether it’s (allegedly) reasonable?

I have long argued that the answer is yes. For unless some authority can truly make such a claim, there is nothing in principle to distinguish its tenets from human opinion, as distinct from expressions of revealed facts.

What’s so bad about human opinion? Some opinions are right while others are wrong. What’s the crucial distinction between a true opinion of revealed facts and the revealed facts themselves?

The subject matter of divine revelation, after all, is not like that of science or even ordinary experience; in matters of divine revelation we have no basis, other than recognizing some authority as divinely authorized and protected from error, for discovering and demonstrating the relevant facts. The only question is where to locate and identify that authority.

i) Surely that’s an overstatement. The subject matter of divine revelation often overlaps the subject matter of ordinary experience. For instance:

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2  the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us… (1 John 1:1-2).

That’s an appeal to ordinary experience. Sense knowledge of Jesus.

Of course, there’s more to Jesus than meets the eye. There’s theological interpretation. But it’s not as if the subject matter of revelation automatically belongs to a different domain than ordinary experience. Rather, God over reveals himself in ordinary experience.

ii) Moreover, his statement doesn’t distinguish the Magisterium from the Bible. For the Bible is divinely authorized and protected from error. And we can discover relevant facts from the Bible. Indeed, Bible writers like Luke and John, in their purpose statements, explicitly tell us that that’s their aim.

In the final analysis, then, the apolgist’s task is simply to show whose claim to such authority is the most reasonable. That being reasonable about the matter does not require infallibility on the part of the inquirer does nothing to take away from the infallibility, if any, of the authority to which assent is reasonably rendered. Quite the opposite: rendering the assent of faith to any other sort of authority would be unreasonable.

But if our recognition of a putatively infallible authority source is a fallible recognition, then how does that rise above mere opinion? Liccione can’t invoke his putatively infallible authority source to upgrade his fallible recognition, for unless his source actually has the authority that he imputes to it, his source can’t upgrade his fallible recognition.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar June 22nd, 2012 11:31 am :

What I usually do in discussions about authority and revelation is prescind from questions of exegesis and history while broaching the more fundamental, philosophical question I’ve been discussing with Andrew M. and “Eric.” When I addressed you, I departed a bit from that and presented what I take to be historical fact; but I did that only so as to show that you’re reading more into Bryan’s account than was there. Especially in light of Bryan’s #255, I still think you’re “over-intepreting” his, and my, point about this.

I do not argue, nor do I think Bryan has argued, that a Catholic, Orthodox, or high-Anglican understanding of apostolic authority can simply be inferred, by proof-texting or deductive logic, from passages in the NT and the sub-apostolic fathers. Not even Ratzinger does that in the passages of his you quote. What we have claimed, rather, is that it’s historical fact that some NT books were accepted as God-breathed because the Apostles, who wrote some of them and authorized others, said they were.

To begin with, modern Catholic Bible scholars often deny the apostolic authorship of various NT books traditionally attributed to the apostles.

Moreover, it is a historical fact that the apostles authorized the nonapostolic NT writings?

That should be obvious because the Apostles were understood by the faithful to be teaching in the Lord’s name with his authorization. That in turn wasn’t just because they said so; the evidence that they were so teaching was ample in their personal association with the Lord, in their miracles, and in other manifestations of spiritual power. There’s nothing especially controversial about that claim, at least among Christians.

Moreover, nothing you’ve said undermines that claim, because what you’re doing is defending a particular interpretation of the facts we’ve cited. According to your interpretation, the authority of the Apostles and those whom they authorized was not personal to them, but resided solely in “the message,” the kerygma they proclaimed. That is a rationally plausible opinion: a possible interpretation of the data that is not obviously false. But there’s nothing compelling about it. For one thing, it premises a false dilemma: to wit, that the locus of authority is either personal to the leadership of the Church or solely in the message. Until the Reformation, the Church didn’t see the matter as an either-or proposition, nor did theologians generally present it that way. The older, more traditional interpretation, on which apostolic succession and Scripture were both essential for presenting divine revelation, is at least as rationally plausible as yours, and in my opinion more so.

To say his alternative is at least as reasonable or more so fails to demonstrate his claim. Where’s the supporting argument?

But so far this matter resides at the level of opinion. And that brings me to the main difficulty with your approach–the difficulty that motivates my own wider, more philosophical approach.

Rather than repeat myself here, I refer you to sections IV and V of the essay I wrote for CTC last year. The upshot of my argument was that we’re dealing here with a clash of interpretive paradigms, such that the question which paradigm is more reasonable for the purpose of presenting divine revelation has to be discussed before we get into any particular set of exegetical and historical details. Present and intepret all the details of that sort you want–until you address that prior philosophical question, nothing that you or any other scholar say can rise beyond the level of opinion, and thus cannot clearly present divine revelation for the assent of faith.

Why does Liccione assume that he can quarantine the interpretive paradigm from the exegetical or historical details?

And to claim that nothing scholars say can rise beyond the level of opinion, and thus cannot clearly present divine revelation for the assent of faith, presumes the very distinction at issue. That takes his own “interpretive paradigm” for granted.

To the extent there’s a problem for the Catholic Church here, it lies in misunderstandings of the kind that often attends doctrinal developments. Vatican II’s development of the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (EENS)–which was actually the culmination of a course of development that had been gathering momentum for centuries–is no exception.

It’s only a legitimate development on the prior assumption that his denomination is protected from error. He’s offered no argument to support that claim.

Third, and as I’ve repeatedly argued before, the idea that non-Catholic Christians are in “imperfect communion” with the Church does not contradict EENS but rather refines it. During a period of Western history when people assumed that all had heard and understood the Gospel and the papal claims, it was natural to assume that full communion with the Catholic Church was necessary with salvation. The reports of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, and the Spanish conquistadors about native peoples forced a re-examination of that assumption. The long-term political fallout from the Protestant Reformation and the 17th-century wars of religion only accelerated that process. The eventual result was what you read in Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio. There just is no logical contradiction here. Rather, the notion of what it is to be “inside” the Church was duly refined in light of historical developments, so that it came to be understood as a matter of degree.

Is that a “refinement,” or is that special pleading? Rather than an institution that’s protected from error, that bears an uncanny resemblance to an institution that’s making things up as it goes along, then having to backtrack because of unforeseen contingencies.

Ray StamperNo Gravatar June 23rd, 2012 12:39 pm :

Another angle on the Tu Quoque refrain,

The general response to the Catholic authority critique of Protestantism seems to reduce to the following 1-2 response: 1.) “Tu Quoque” (the claim that the Catholic epistemic approach fares no better than the Protestant) and 2.) The Catholic position must be false because there is either zero (or grossly insufficient) NT or early, early, early evidence to warrant embrace of Catholic (and especially Petrine) ecclesiology. While I think response number 2 is worthy of a broad and substantial response by Catholics, I would like make some comments which might further clarify why response #1 fails.

The first response has been met repeatedly by Catholics who point out the crucial difference between the role of human reason before (and up to) the moment of recognizing a locus of some Divine authority; and the role of human reason after having recognized such authority. Both Catholics and Protestants use (as they must) fallible human reason in coming to embrace the claims of some purported Divine authority. For instance, both Catholics and Protestants use reason as it considers the motives of credibility for the claims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. Further, I think both Catholics and Protestants would readily admit that if Jesus Christ were physically still walking the earth, we would all face a lesser quandary regarding the differentiation between orthodoxy and heresy.

Which assumes we all face a quandary regarding the differentiation between orthodoxy and heresy. As a Protestant, I think God left things just as he intended.

We could go straight to Jesus and ask for clarification on any given issue. Its true that we would still have to use our fallible intellect to actually understand whatever responses He might give to our doctrinal questions; but even if we were unclear as to His exact meaning with reference to some point; He would be personally available such that we could come back to Him again and again for further clarification until the precision of His responses reached something approaching a yes/no level of simplicity. In other words, with a living, speaking, Jesus Christ right in front of us; we could ask first order, second order, third order, fourth order questions (and so on) until simple clarity was achieved. And this is possible because the fact that the human intellect is fallible (able to fail) does not entail that it must, or always, does fail. With sufficient clarification, the human intellect is perfectly capable of reaching such clarity – we do it all the time in common areas of life.

But if that was necessary, God would make that available to Christians. Since he hasn’t, Catholics are “solving” a pseudoproblem.

As a thought experiment, imagine that Jesus Christ personally and directly began commenting on this CTC blog. Further, imagine that both Catholic and Reformed Christians acknowledged that it was indeed He who was submitting combox responses. Is there any doubt that the very best Catholic and Reformed theologians could join the discussion and begin asking Him precise questions about a highly divisive doctrine like Justification (questions about semi-pelagianism, synergism/monergism, grace as infused versus imputed, merit, cooperation, etc, etc) in such a way that after “X” amount of entries we would know, with certain clarity, whether the Catholic or Protestant (or neither) position was correct? Consider this scenario. No one is going to enjoin theological blog debate with Jesus! There will simply be a sequence of clarifying questions, at the end of which, there will be a definitive, precise, resolution. And this brings me to the key point with reference to the Catholic versus Protestant authority paradigms.

Why will no one (in such a scenario) use their reason to argue with Jesus? Or asked another way, why will all parties in the discussion (both Catholic and Reformed) restrict the use of their reason simply to gaining a clarified understanding of Jesus position? Why will all theological argument or dispute with Jesus be off the table? It is because, having used reason to arrive at an acceptance of Jesus’ Divine authority, thereafter whatsoever He says – no matter how counterintuitive or contrary to our previous confessional commitments – simply must be accepted as the truth – as theological orthodoxy. The role of reason with regard to the orthodox understanding of revealed data becomes limited to learning what Jesus’ position is by asking whatever questions are necessary to gain clarity about that position. The discursive, argumentative (in the positive sense), role of reason that was at play while coming to an acceptance of Jesus’ claims to Divinity are now necessarily set aside. With the Divine Jesus right before us, we need only use reason (with regard to matters of revealed truths) in an effort to gain a clear understanding of what Jesus – THE Divine authority – has to say.

How is that necessarily set aside? If the process of arriving at our recognition of Jesus was reliable, why would that be set aside?

With that scenario in mind, we can temporarily set exegetical and historical debates aside and ask how the Catholic and Protestant authority paradigm compare – as paradigms. Given what I have just said above, the paradigm difference becomes clear. Both Catholics and Protestants use (as they must) their fallible intellect in coming to an acceptance of the real-world locus of some Divine authority based on various motives of credibility. In the case of Catholics, we use our fallible reason to assess the motive of credibility and thereby come to accept that Jesus is the Son of God, Scripture is God-breathed, and that the Catholic Church was founded and organized by Christ and invested with the Holy Spirit such that she can act as the living voice of Christ in the world. Protestants use their fallible intellects to come to an embrace of the first two propositions, but not the third.

This assumes that we arrive at our faith in the Bible by fallible means, so we could be wrong. But what if God intends his people to believe his Word? In that event, if we believe his Word, then we’re not mistaken in believing his Word. The process yielded the very effect that God intended. We’re supposed to believe his Word. We’d be in error were we not to believe his Word. For his Word is true.

Just because Christians arrive at faith in Scripture through ordinary processes of reasoning doesn’t mean that’s untrustworthy.  To be fallible doesn’t make you’re wrong in any particular instance. It carries no presumption of error.

Now, in light of the above scenario, the paradigm difference (again, prescinding from exegesis and historical quarrels) becomes abundantly clear. Jesus Christ has ascended to heaven and is no longer among us in the same way as He was in first century Palestine. So in what way – from a communicative point of view – is He still with us? The Catholic paradigm asserts that by leaving us with a living, personal, communicative authority that can speak repeatedly and definitively in His name; we therefore, still have a means of reaching clarity and certainty regarding the orthodox understanding of revealed data, not entirely unlike if Christ were still personally walking among us.

Which assumes that we can’t achieve “certainty” regarding the orthodox understanding of revealed data absent the Magisterium. But why assume that?

Is that because we’re using our fallible intellect? But why assume fallibility creates universal uncertainty? You can be fallible, but still be right.

Hence, humans can ask repeated clarifying questions and actually arrive at doctrinal clarity and certainty over time – and that is just what the history of Magisterial pronouncements and the development of doctrine entail. Therefore, similar to the scenario mapped above, the Catholic use of reason changes radically after having come to recognize the locus of Divine authority in the living voice of the Magisterium centered in the Petrine office. There is no theological arguing with the Magisterium about the content of her definitive statements, because she speaks with the authority of Christ in such instances.

Even on its own terms, that’s naïve. Every answer raises new questions.

The Protestant paradigm, on the other hand, by insisting that the sole remaining Divine communicative authority after the ascension of Christ and the death of the last apostle is a book; simply cannot avoid bringing his fallible reason to bear on matters of doctrine as much after having come to embrace the divinity of Christ and the inspiration of Scripture as before.

So what? Take the prayer of Abraham’s servant in Gen 24. His servant prayed for guidance in finding the right wife for Isaac. Yet God didn’t speak to him. And his prayer was a fallible prayer.

Yet God guided the servant to the outcome God intended. That didn’t require infallibility on the servant’s part.

That is the crucial epistemic difference between the two paradigms. The Protestant claim that their submission of reason to Scripture in equivalent to the way in which a Catholic submits to the living teaching authority of the Catholic Church, is simply indefensible on philosophical grounds because a book has absolutely no means of answering second, third and fourth order questions in the repeated, clarifying manner that a person can. And in refusing to acknowledge that any personal, living voice imbued with Christ’s own Divine authority, any longer exists in the world to offer such communicative clarification; the Protestant is left to his own fallible resources in concert with the fallible resources of his coreligionists to come up with a hopeful understanding of the content of divine revelation – i.e. orthodox doctrine.

This assumes that God is sitting on the sidelines. That God has no interest in guiding his people into the truth. But sola Scriptura doesn’t operate in a vacuum. There’s a complementary doctrine of providence. God gives his Word to his people to bring his people to faith in his Word. God superintends the transaction.

He is forced to regulate his understanding of the orthodox content of Divine revelation by means of his own fallible reason. He can attempt to play down this fact by reading widely the opinions of other fallible persons who themselves deny any Divinely authorization. This gives the illusion that his doctrinal positions are arrived at in a more democratic or intellectually sophisticated manner – but this does not make the problem go away. When it comes to the correct understanding of revealed truths, he has his opinion and only opinions – no matter how informed by the educated opinion of others.

So what? Fallible opinions can be correct opinions. Not all opinions are made equal. Some are true, some are false. Some are well-reasoned, some are ill-reasoned.

The book cannot answer for itself; cannot respond to second, third, fourth order questions, etc. No doubt there are sections of Scripture (“Thou shall not kill”) that are already so precise that no second order questions are necessary, because the compact quality and clarity of such passages fall easily within the competence of human reason to understand without error (remember fallible means only that we are subject to the “possibility” of failure).

Which assumes that that’s a defect, rather than how God set things up. The real question is what does God require of us, and has he given us what we need to do what he requires of us?

Stamper is tacitly assuming that God requires more from us than Sola Scriptura can yield. But that assumes the very question in dispute. Stamper is stipulating a duty, then stipulating a mechanism to make that achievable. But why is that a duty in the first place? Why do Christians have an obligation to know more than they can derive from Scripture? Where is the argument for Stamper’s presupposition?

But given the diversity of authors, genres and historical epochs from which, and out of which the various books which comprise the biblical codex are derived; it is no surprise that other questions – often of great theological and salvific import – simply evade the possibility of clear, certain, understanding in the absence of some means of asking second, third, fourth order clarifying questions and receiving some definitive answer.

Why assume that we have to specify ahead of time the desired level of clarity, then construct a mechanism to facility that target? Why not begin with the Bible itself, with whatever level of clarity it has, then work back from that benchmark? Scripture is as clear as it needs to be to accomplish the purpose that God set for Scripture. That’s not something we must stipulate in advance of the fact. If Scripture doesn’t meet our expectations, then we need to adjust our expectations to bring them in line with Scripture. 

The bible is no systematic theology text, and anyone who has engaged in high-level Protestant – Catholic debates about the correct Pauline understanding of Justification knows exactly what I am talking about (and this is an issue of monumental importance, as all sides agree).

That’s not because Scripture is unclear. That’s because the Catholic participants have a precommitment to Roman dogma. They are not at liberty to interpret what Scripture says about justification contrary to Roman dogma, even if it looks to them like that’s the best interpretation of Scripture.

The hard truth is that scripture is only partially perspicuous and that perspicuity – quite frankly – does not cover all the essential doctrines of salvation.

So say that Scripture doesn’t cover all the essential doctrines of salvation blatantly takes the Catholic perspective for granted. But that’s not an argument for the rightness of the Catholic perspective. That’s just a Catholic measuring sola Scriptura by a Catholic yardstick. But what makes that yardstick the right yardstick?

For however the “essential” doctrines might be defined, Justification is clearly one of those essential matters (if not the penultimate case).

That fails to distinguish between the justification that saves, and what we believe about the justification that saves. Justification by faith is not an essentially self-referential proposition. It’s not what you believe about justification, but what you belief about Jesus.

If, say, God justifies a Christian by imputing to him the merits of Christ, that doesn’t mean the Christian must believe that God justified him by imputing to him the merits of Christ. What God actually does for us, and what we believe God does for us, are distinct issues. A child can exercise saving faith, even though his theological understanding is very crude or inaccurate.

Yet, the biblical data pertaining to the doctrine of Justification, perhaps more than any other doctrine, requires assimilation and coordination of more texts from more authors and from more biblical books than any other. Moreover, each one of those texts, in turn, are open to serious scholarly disagreement as to the proper “context” in which the text itself is to be interpreted.

Some arguments are better than others. If Stamper doesn’t think that’s the case, then he can’t even argue for Catholicism.

Hence, from a strictly exegetical point of view, the doctrine of Justification is possibly the most synthetically difficult doctrine known to theology – but it lies at the soteriological core of Christianity!

I don’t think it’s more complicated than a number of other doctrines. Rather, people will manufacture artificial complications to evade an unwelcome truth.

The bottom line is that by placing a book, rather than a Divinely authorized living authority, at the center of his epistemic paradigm, the Protestant not only must use his fallible human reason to arrive at the locus of Divine authority (as the Catholic also must do); he must continue standing upon that fallible ground for the very determination of doctrinal truth itself – even after embracing the locus of Divine authority in scripture. Hence, he cannot escape the fallible interpretive spiral that blocks his ability to achieve clarity and certainty on some crucial matters of faith (such as Justification). Such is the problem with any “religion of the book” or any other system which exclusively places a text at the fundamental base of its epistemic edifice.

i) First of all, what if a “religion of the book” is precisely what God has instituted? If that's what God gave us, how should we respond?

ii) Secondly, the difference between the two “interpretive paradigms” is analogous to the difference between miracle and providence. The Catholic acts as though God can’t accomplish his will by ordinary means. That God must constantly resort to miracles.

Certainly miracles have their place in the divine economy. But it’s not as if God can’t providentially orchestrate a desired outcome by natural processes. Same thing with “fallible opinion.”

The Catholic, while in the same boat up to the point of locating the source of Divine authority in the world; leaves that boat (for the solidity of dry land) after having located such a Divine source. For the Catholic thinks he has good reasons for placing a Divinely authorized, living, personal, voice at the center of his epistemic paradigm. And the ability of such a voice to provide clarifying responses to second, third, forth (and so on) order questions over time, removes the requirement for the Catholic to continue utilizing his fallible intellect to determine the orthodox” content of revelation (a job description for which the fallible human intellect has no competency whatever). Rather, in order to know the orthodox content of revelation with certainty and clarity, he need only utilize his reason to gain an increasingly clarified understanding of the Magisterium’s definitive teachings. He can do this by researching the Magisterium’s responses over 20 centuries, where such clarification has often reached a significant level of perpiscuity, and this activity of the intellect does indeed fall within the competency of fallible human reason because “fallible” human reason which is merely able to fail, does not generally do so when the questions it asks and the answers it receives have reached a sufficient level of simplicity or perspicuity.

Has he really left the same boat he came by? Isn’t the Catholic merely acting as if the Magisterium is an infallible source of certainty and clarity, even though that just a Catholic’s fallible projection onto the Magisterium? It’s as if he’s forgotten that what he actually has in hand is not the infallible Magisterium, but his fallible faith in the (alleged) infallibility of the Magisterium. His uncertain faith in the certainty of the Magisterium.

And Stamper keeps assuring us that fallibility is inadequate to the task. But in that event, it can’t give us confidence in the claims of Rome.  

For all these reasons, the Tu Quoque response fails to achieve its goal. The two paradigms are simply not epistemic equivalents. Therefore, if there be even equal persuasive force to the exegetical and historical arguments for the Catholic and Protestant authority paradigms, the Catholic paradigm would remain manifestly superior because of it fundamental epistemic superiority even prior to an assessment of the data. If the exegetical and historical data should, in addition, weigh in favor of the Catholic paradigm (as I think it does), that would only solidify the warrant for embrace of the same.

Let’s compare two different paradigms of decision-making:

i) On one paradigm, you make decisions based on reason and evidence. You inform yourself about alternatives. You compare the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative in reference to the other alternatives. Then you opt for what seems to be the best overall choice.

ii) On another paradigm, you investigate different cartomancers in your area. You use your reason to decide which one is the most convenient and affordable.

Having relied on reason to make that initial decision, you then rely on the cartomancer to make all your subsequent decisions for you. Whenever you have important decisions to make, you schedule a session with your personal cartomancer for a Tarot card reading. This is “manifestly superior” to the first method because you can always ask her follow-up questions to clarify ambiguities. She can always lay another card on the table and explain its significance to your situation. You can be certain of what each cards means.

Of course, there’s just little catch in this decision-making paradigm. It’s only as reliable as cartomancy.

Catholics like Stamper and Liccione are like clients of a Tarot card reader. Yes, they can always get “answers” from their cartomancer, but if the source is untrustworthy, then they’re moving ever further from the truth.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar June 24th, 2012 9:29 pm :  

As to (1), Catholic theologians have long debated among themselves, as well as with non-Catholics, about various points of Scripture and doctrine, and continue to do so today.

Why, after 2000 years, with a living oracle in residence, would they still be debating various points of Scripture and doctrine? Doesn’t that sabotage his argument for a Magisterium?

To get any traction, your criticism would first have to show that the Catholic’s formal, proximate object of faith (FPOF)–i.e. Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium–is not as well suited to preserving, transmitting, and explicating divine revelation as the FPOF you uphold, namely sola Scriptura (on whichever definition you prefer).

Actually, it wouldn’t be necessary to compare FPOT to sola Scriptura. It would be sufficient, on its own grounds, to document the failure of FPOT to preserve, transmit, and explication divine revelation.

In short, you would have to show on a priori, philosophical grounds that the conservative-Protestant IP is rationally preferable to the Catholic IP for the purpose stated. That’s the issue my article addressed explicitly, and that’s where the real debate lies.

Really? Why must the choice of one’s IP be an a priori rather than a posteriori? Why would that be a purely abstract comparison, with no factual input? How can he know what’s antecedently rationally preferable?

Preferable for what? Preferable in relation to what goal? And what makes that goal the right goal?

Your (2) grossly mischaracterizes the role that Scripture plays in Catholic theology and doctrine. Ever since the biblical canon began to coalesce in the 2nd century, Catholic theologians, starting with Irenaeus, have repeatedly sought, as a matter of course, to support various Catholic doctrines from Scripture–the most obvious being those of the Trinity and the Incarnation, which received definitive formulation at the councils of Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. St. Athanasius, who sought and got needed support from Rome, argued that Nicene orthodoxy could be derived from Scripture–a judgment that most Reformed theologians share today.

But it can only be allowed to mean what the ecumenical councils say it means. And whatever the later Magisterium says the councils mean. So they effectively assign the “definitive” meaning to Scripture.

Moreover, medieval Catholic theologians generally spent the bulk of their time on scriptural exegesis, and took for granted that distinctly Catholic doctrines could and should be supported in that way.

And what happened to them when they dared to interpreted the Bible contrary to approved precedent?

No orthodox Catholic theologian would ever say, nor has the Magisterium ever said, that the Church’s interpretation of Scripture must be believed instead of Scripture itself.

Of course they wouldn’t admit that. It’s like a guilty defendant pleading innocent. Big deal.

You are one of those unauthorized interpreters who confuse their interpretation of Scripture with Scripture itself.

“Unauthorized” interpreters can get it right. So that’s a red herring.

Your (3) is simply an instance of the genetic fallacy. You interpret the historical data to argue that the See of Rome’s claims to authority were motivated by a desire for quasi-imperial power, and then infer that such a motive discredits those claims. But they do not. Even if the See of Rome had been motivated entirely as you say, which it was not, it would not logically follow that Rome’s claims to specifically ecclesial authority are false. What would follow at most is that what caused the bishops of Rome to want to make such claims are not reasons for actually believing those claims. That hardly rules out their being such reasons, and many Catholic scholars have provided them.

Actually, Liccione’s entire argument for the Magisterium is a genetic fallacy. Liccione thinks the source is all-important. His argument is an argument from authority. The authority of the source authorizes the conclusions. Some sources only yield “opinion,” whereas his preferred source yields the “asset of faith.”

That just evinces a misunderstanding of the state of the question. I argue that the Catholic IP offers “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion.” You do not dispute that such a distinction is necessary, nor do you dispute that the Catholic IP offers one. What we disagree about is whether the IP you prefer offers a better one. On that score, my argument was that a sola scriptura IP, on which Scripture is both inerrant and perspicuous enough to establish a comprehensive orthodoxy, is rationally inferior to the Catholic, because once ecclesial infallibility is rejected, we are left only with scholarly opinions about what belongs in the biblical canon in the first place, and about how to interpret the Bible.

But Liccione’s IP is only superior on the tacit assumption that Catholicism is true. His distinction, between “human opinion” and “the asset of faith” is a Catholic distinction. The necessity of that distinction is generated from within Catholicism itself. That’s a Catholic deliverance. Therefore, that doesn’t furnish an independent standard of comparison.

So he’s arguing for Catholicism from Catholicism. But that’s viciously circular. He hasn’t begun to show us why his distinction between “human opinion” and “the assent of faith” is a necessary distinction in the first place.

Rather, he takes the necessity of that distinction as a given, then constructs an IP to satisfy the requirements of his distinction. But that’s only a given given Catholicism.

He can’t simply reason his way to Catholicism from an presumptive Catholic premise or presupposition. That’s not something he’s entitled to take for granted unless he already knows that his frame of reference is legit. And he’s done nothing to legitimate his frame of reference.

He can’t very well appeal to the Magisterium to establish his IP (i.e. bridge the gap between human opinion and the asset of faith) before he’s established the competence of the Magisterium. Can he even do that apart from the Magisterium?

But that leaves open the questions which interpretations are true, how they should be arrived at, and why we should believe that any interpretations are more than just provisional opinions, rather than altogether reliable conveyances of divine revelation.

Are true interpretations provisional? And if Liccione is that skeptical about arriving at true interpretations, how can he argue for Roman Catholicism from the Bible and the church fathers?

He acts like favoring one interpretation over another is just a coin flip. But in that event, why should we believe one interpretation of Ineffabilis Deus over another?

This is why your trotting out Kruger–your latest scholarly enthusiasm–is beside the point. Even without having read him, I’m quite willing to concede that he’s made a strong case that the 27-book NT canon is the one we should regard as the biblical canon. After all, the early Church eventually reached the same conclusion. But when left at the level of contemporary scholarship, such conclusions are always and of necessity provisional: they rely both on incomplete historical data and limited theological perspectives. Once ecclesial infallibility is eschewed, scholarship cannot rule out change in light of further, hitherto undiscovered data and/or more illiminating perspectives.

i) Does Liccione think it’s just a matter of chance what evidence survives? Does he deny divine providence? Incomplete historical data can still be a representative sampling.

ii) Moreover, Liccione himself admitted that Rome “refined,” as he euphemistically puts it, her prior understanding of salvation outside the church, based on explorers discovering hitherto unsuspecting people-groups living far from what had been the known-world.

iii) Furthermore, how would Liccione ever make a historical case for the claims of Rome? Given his historical and hermeneutical skepticism, that seems to be futile. But does he think he can simply intuit the necessity of the Magisterium out of thin air? Is Scripture irrelevant to the case for Catholicism? Are the church fathers irrelevant to the case for Catholicism?

iv) Liccione’s approach resembles the Barthian move in which matters of faith are reassigned to “suprahistory,” which protects them from historical falsification. He seems to think he can treat the Magisterium as a suprahistorical entity that floats above the vicissitudes of historical evidence. That’s very Barthian, but it’s a stopgap maneuver. 

 Hence to argue, as you do, that the Protestant canon is “the extent and limit of divine revelation we have today” is necessarily to argue from ignorance: using scholarly methods alone, nobody can present such a conclusion as divinely granted knowledge rather than plausible opinion.

Isn’t a probable belief better than an improbable belief?

And that holds even if, as many Catholic theologians have held, Scripture is “materially sufficient,” in the sense that it somehow contains, explicitly or implicitly, every datum of divine revelation. Without an authorized, infallible interpreter, Scripture can contain every truth God communicates for our salvation without being able, just by itself, to guarantee the correct interpretation thereof.

So what?

And on the matter of the solo-sola distinction, I’m sure you’ve read how Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch rejected Keith Mathison’s upholding of that distinction, and how I upheld their criticism.

I reject that distinction as well. The distinction is unnecessary.

Mind you, Mathison still had a number of excellent ancillary objections to Roman Catholicism.

In my article, I had written and you quote:

    …the question fairly arises: How to explain the fact that many baptized, churchgoing people don’t agree about what the plain sense of Scripture is, or even that it’s always and necessarily inerrant even when agreed to be plain? If the proximate, formal object of faith can be clearly identified by a rationally unassailable set of inferences from the pertinent early sources, the primary one of which is assumed to be inerrant, does that tell us that those who don’t find that set rationally unassailable are either unlearned or willfully irrational?

Actually, many baptized churchgoers are Biblically illiterate and willful. Indeed, consider all the nominal Catholics who go through the motions.

Frankly, that’s just silly. Not only did the Jews themselves have oral traditions that predated the writing of the OT and contributed to it; they developed other such traditions that helped to interpret their scriptures (ever hear of the Talmud?).

Ever heard of the Karaites?

If the scriptures were altogether perspicuous, there would have been no point in a Talmud, and no need for judges, prophets, and those “sitting in the seat of Moses.”

That’s a ridiculous overstatement.

i) They needed judges to analogize from case law, determine guilt or innocent, and sentence the convict. None of that implies lack of clarity in Scripture.

ii) Is Liccione suggesting that Jews committed apostasy because they didn’t understand OT injunctions against idolatry? The prophets were reminding them of what they already knew, and threatening the stated consequences if they persisted in idolatry.

 Moreover, Jesus’ way of interpreting the Scriptures never did seem plausible to most Jewish scholars in the first century. Are you prepared to deny that they were either unlearned or willfully irrational? If you are, then you’re logically committed to denying that the Scriptures were perspicuous enough to enable them to see the culmination of divine revelation.

i) So Liccione is now siding with the Sanhedrin. Siding with the very men who convicted the Messiah of blasphemy and turned him over to Pilate to be executed. That’s what it takes to defend Catholicism?

In fact, we have NT examples of Jesus, the apostles, and other members of the NT church, debating Jews. Does Liccione think the Jewish opponents of Christ had the better of the argument?

ii) Yes, their rejection of Jesus was willful. They saw the light and sinned against the light (Jn 3:19-20).

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar June 24th, 2012 11:03 pm :

Two things are readily inferable from that. First, the Church sees Tradition and Scripture as together forming “one sacred deposit of the Word of God” because Scripture, far from being a source above Tradition, is in reality a record of what was “handed on”– albeit the most normative record, because it is divinely inspired. The truth expressed in Scripture predates that written expression, flowing from the person of Jesus Christ, the primordial Word of God, to the Apostles who in turn “handed it on” to the Church not only in Scripture but also in Tradition more generally. We thus receive the “Tradition,” the overall truth handed down from its source, Jesus Christ, partly by means of Scripture and partly by other means. To object that this puts Tradition “on the same level as Scripture” is either to misunderstand the actual relationship between the two as understood by the Catholic Church, or to beg the question against the Church.

No, to object to this simply distinguishes between propaganda and reality. The current formulation (a la Vatican II) pays lipservice to Scripture with face-saving caveats. But in reality, it puts the Magisterium above the Bible.

In fact, it matters not what’s “handed down.” What matters is “living” tradition.

By its own account, the Magisterium is not “on the same level” as “the sacred deposit of the Word of God” formed by Scripture and Tradition. Unlike them, the Magisterium is not a “source” of divine revelation: it does not add to the deposit or make things up. Rather, it “serves” the Word by virtue of being its sole “authentic” interpreter.

That’s the propaganda.

 But because the Magisterium is that interpreter, neither Scripture nor Tradition can be pitted against it when it’s teaching with its full, divinely commissioned authority.

And that’s the reality. They can’t be “pitted against” the Magisterium because both “sources” are subordinate to the whims of the Magisterium. They have no inherent meaning. Rather, their meaning is assigned to them by the Magisterium.

And that is why Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium forms one FPOF, in which no element can “stand without the others.” It’s how the Holy Spirit promised by the risen Jesus “leads” us “into all truth.”

i) Jesus made that promise to the disciples in the upper room, not to the pope or the Roman episcopate.

ii) How does Liccione know if God made that promise to the church of Rome? Does he know that with or without the aid of Rome? Unless he knows, apart from the Magisterium, that it refers to Rome, he can’t invoke the authority of Rome to confirm that referent. For Rome would be in no position to apply that verse to itself unless is was, in fact, the intended referent. But if he’s interpreting the verse apart from Rome, then that’s just his “opinion.”

I agree that the Church can only claim authority by divine institution. But on the Catholic account of how Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are interrelated as elements of the FPOF, the evidence for that institution cannot be proven from Scripture and/or Tradition interpreted in isolation from the Magisterium. For there is only one “authentic” interpreter of the deposit formed by Scripture and Tradition, namely the Magisterium itself.

So the authority of the Magisterium is unfalsifiable. Nothing in Scripture or tradition can ever count as evidence against it.

But by the same token, nothing in Scripture or tradition could ever count as independent evidence for the Magisterium. The claim is unfalsifiable at the cost of being unverifiable.

 Accordingly, an apologetical argument for the truth of the Magisterium’s claim for itself cannot, even in principle, use Scripture and Tradition alone, or even those elements in conjunction with standard historical data. It can only present an interpretive paradigm using the all three elements of the FPOF, one that makes some sense in itself and is also rationally preferable to the alternatives. And so a philosophical argument, not a merely exegetical or historical argument, is needed to show that the Catholic IP is rationally preferable. That’s why I generally argue as I do.

But at best the paradigm would only illustrate the inner consistency of the claim. That wouldn’t make it rationally preferable to the alternatives. For a fiction can be coherent.

And, indeed, it’s easy to make any piece of evidence or counterevidence consistent with Liccione’s paradigm, for the paradigm defines the evidence. Since the Magisterium is the “authentic interpreter” of Scripture and tradition alike, whatever it takes Scripture or tradition to mean is true by definition. It will make Scripture and tradition agree with it by interpreting Scripture and tradition in whatever way agrees with it. There are no external checks on the paradigm. Everything is assimilated to the interpretive fiat of the Magisterium.

Your alternative IP is of course sola scriptura, where the Protestant canon is taken to be both inerrant and perspicuous. As a philosopher, I see no reason to believe that Scripture is perspicuous in the sort of way your IP requires; and as a Catholic, I see no reason to believe that it’s either the Word of God or inerrant save by the conjoint authority of Tradition and the Magisterium.

So even if the Bible is the word of God, there is “no reason” to believe the Bible is the word of God apart from the conjoint authority of tradition and the Magisterium. Taken on its own terms, the word of God is indistinguishable from what’s not the word of God. It’s identity as the word of God is extrinsic to itself.

And if there’s no reason to believe that Scripture is the word of God, what reason is there to believe in the authority of tradition or the Magisterium?

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar June 30th, 2012 1:22 pm :

My timing is in no way off. You have simply misunderstood the import of what I said. It goes without saying that the Talmud is written, and that it began to be written both after the Mishnah and after the time of Jesus. What you’ve overlooked, though, is that the extra-scriptural writing in the Mishnah and the Talmud was recording things that had been said by Jewish figures in the past–in many cases, long in the past. All that had entered into oral tradition, and was eventually written down for that very reason. Now you do not deny that such things constituted a paradosis, a “tradition,” for the Jews.

I assume that’s sometimes the case. But are these always things said by past figures? Or are these things said to be said by past figures? What if you had imaginary sayings retrojected into the past? A fictional dialogue set in the past? Absent anachronisms, could you tell the difference? Why is Liccione so confident that these “oral traditions” aren’t backdated fictions?

And that’s not just hypothetical. The notion of an oral Torah going back to Moses invites that suspicion. An “instant classic.” What better way to canonize your own position than to attribute it to Moses? Archaize an innovation.

Indeed, that’s exactly what happens in 2nd Temple pseudepigrapha. Say whatever you want to say, create a backstory, then put your saying on the lips of an ancient luminary like Adam or Enoch. 

I’m not saying the Talmud doesn’t preserve some authentic recollections of an earlier period. But there’s a lot of sifting that needs to be done. And even then, what’s your basis of comparison?

What you rather claim is that Jesus rejected that paradosis. But neither the facts you cite, nor Cullmann’s interpretation thereof, demonstrate that Jesus rejected Jewish oral or even written “tradition” tout court. Indeed, if Jesus had done so, he could not have urged his followers to observe whatever those who “sit in the seat of Moses” would have them believe and do (Mt 23).

Is that an allusion to the oral Torah? To Jewish tradition? Or does that mean the scribes and Pharisees were living books? They had direct access to the text of Scripture. They memorized the text of Scripture. If you didn’t have your own copy of the OT, then asking a scribe or Pharisee was the next best thing.

In addition, Liccione completely misses the biting sarcasm of Christ’s juxtaposition.

The Catholic interpretation, rather, is that Jesus was rejected only the use of tradition to get in the way of love, mercy, and the essence of the Law.

Notice that Liccione doesn’t lift a finger to defend the Catholic interpretation.

That you could even pose such a question indicates that you totally misunderstood my point. I am a Christian, not a Jew; of course I accept Jesus’ hermeneutic of the Jewish scriptures. The point of my observation was that, if the Jewish scriptures had been as perspicuous as you imply, then Jesus’ contemporaries among Jewish scholars should have been able to just read their Scriptures and see that his hermeneutic was correct. But they read the Scriptures, diligently, and did not find there what Jesus said was there; so, if their Scriptures were all that perspicuous, only illiteracy or ill will on the part of most Jewish scholars could explain why they rejected Jesus’ hermeneutic.

Well that’s pretty Pollyannaish. Is Liccione that inattentive to human nature? Sinners have a great capacity to disbelieve what they'd rather not believe. 

As the Gospels make clear, there was enormous, unreasoning hostility towards Jesus. Their antipathy blinded them.

K. DoranNo Gravatar July 4th, 2012 5:41 pm :

Here is where we get to a major problem in your analysis of empirical data. The fact is, that you have no direct evidence about who founded the Church of Rome with your Andronicus quote. We do not know that Andronicus founded the Church at Rome in any sense whatsoever, let alone in the sense that Irenaeus and others of his era would have considered a founding.

Actually, there’s no presumption that any one individual founded the church of Rome. Rather, a number of Christians formed cell groups. It wasn’t formally coordinated at first. Ancient Rome was a huge city, so centralization wouldn’t even be possible. You have different Christians at different times and places in Rome spontaneously organizing house-churches. Inviting friends. Something that might spread out from several different epicenters. That’s the implicit picture in Rom 16.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar July 6th, 2012 10:03 am :

With that reply, you continue to ignore most of the points I made in my previous several comments, and instead press your argument that Jesus entirely “rejected” Jewish tradition, as opposed to just fulfilling it. At this stage, the details of your argument are unimportant because it’s all too evident that your whole way of proceeding simply begs the question. As I have repeatedly argued, the fundamental and prior question is whether a Catholic or a conservative-Protestant IP is rationally preferable for the general purpose of distinguishing divine revelation from human opinions about the sources alleged to transmit it.

But distinguishing human opinion from the “assent of faith” is only fundamental on Catholic assumptions. So Liccione is skewing the issue. Why should that be the general purpose of one’s “interpretive paradigm”? Why should that be what makes one “interpretive paradigm” rationally preferable to another?

In fact, he hasn’t repeatedly “argued” for that. Rather, he’s repeatedly asserted or assumed that to be the case. But are his priorities the priorities we find in Scripture?

Rather than address that question, however, all you do is continue giving your interpretive opinions on a few particular points–ones which not even all Protestant theologians would accept. That’s just evading the problem.

This is not a question consensus, but who has the best arguments.

I’ve read, and could of course cite, various Catholic scholars who develop interpretations opposed to yours on the points you do address. But that would just be playing by your rules. Nothing can finally be settled by such a procedure because it cannot, even in principle, yield results fit to elicit the assent of faith as distinct from that of opinion. Unless you engage that fundamental and prior issue, there’s no point in my going on about the specific topic you prefer to address.

He refuses to play by Protestant rules, but he demands that we play by his rules. He’s so conditioned by his own framework that he can’t even see how utterly unbalanced he is.

Your method is to conduct a scholarly investigation into what the original actors meant and lived, and what their original audience understood. At this historical distance, however, such a procedure can yield at best only one provisional opinion among others.

i) Even if that’s the case, there’s no alternative to trying, as best we can, to ascertain what they understood by their own words. It’s not as if we can simply vacate their meaning and make it mean whatever we want it to mean.

ii) Moreover, that’s why they committed what they thought and taught to writing in the first place. So that their teaching would outlive them. For instance, the point of writing down a speech is to make the speech accessible after the spoken word is no longer available.

But as I and K Doran have pointed out, your use of evidence is inherently unconvincing, because you’re trying to establish conclusions that the limited dataset just doesn’t necessitate, even when they can be shown to be consistent with the dataset.

Liccione keeps acting as if evidence can be discounted unless it yields conclusions by strict implication. Unless you can formalize it as a tight logical syllogism. But that imposes an artificial standard on real life.

Deductive logic is not the only source of knowledge. Inductive logic is another source of knowledge. An indispensable source of knowledge. We might prefer certainties to probabilities, but we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

Hence your interpretations cannot yield propositions calling for the assent of faith as distinct from that of opinion. You have not yet succeeded in engaging the fundamental issue on the level where it needs to be engaged. You’re just marching on the spot.

But Liccione is marching on the spot. He hasn’t moved an inch. He has a totally formulaic approach to the issue. Never departs from his script.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar July 6th, 2012 10:03 pm :

Most of the conclusions you draw from the “history” you’ve been constructing–which, for reasons K Doran, Bryan, and others have set forth in great detail, isn’t very credible even as history–are theological. It is patently clear that your purpose is to undermine Catholic doctrine and uphold your particular brand of Protestantism. So if your protestation is meant to suggest that your ultimate purpose is something other than to identify doctrinal truths calling for the assent of faith as distinct from that of provisional opinion, then you’re simply being disingenuous.

Of course a Protestant interlocutor is promoting the Protestant position at the expense of the Catholic position–just as Liccione and his cohorts are doing the same thing in reverse.

There’s certainly been some change in how Catholic, Anglican, and even Orthodox historical theologians relate the history of the early Church to later developments. And some of that has been for the better. But in no way would they agree that the apostolic understanding of ecclesial authority was “totally turned on its head” during the century after the Apostles, still less by “true violence”! That goes so far beyond the evidence as to amount to mere huffing and puffing.

As long as they remain loyal to their tradition, there are limits on how far they will buck the system. But for that very reason, their concessions are all the more telling.

The reason I decline to delve into the details with you–even though the details are amply provided by some Catholic and Anglican scholars–is that you are relying on your interpetive paradigm to sift the data, when the real question at issue is the prior philosophical question which IP is best suited to yielding propositions calling for the assent of faith as distinct from opinion. You cannot evade that question by continuing to march on the spot and criticize me for refusing to march with you.

He would only be “evading” the question of that’s the right question. But that’s only the right question to ask if Catholicism is right. So that’s hardly the starting point. At a minimum, Liccione needs to go back a step. What makes that the right question? Just because that distinction is crucial in Catholicism? But what makes Catholicism right?

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar July 7th, 2012 4:18 pm :

You’re still missing the point. As I’ve often said before, both on this site and elsewhere, it belongs to the very concept of an interpretive paradigm that no IP can be secured simply on the basis of that which is to be interpreted.

But Liccione’s approach is entirely topdown. He doesn’t allow what is to be interpreted to have any input whatsoever.

An IP is something one brings to what’s interpreted, rather than something one derives from it.

That’s simplistic. We all bring a provisional hermeneutic to what we read. But what we read can sometimes force us to revise or reconsider our initial, operating hermeneutic. It’s a dialectical process of give and take.

Is distinguishing “opinion” from the “asset of faith” a Biblical obsession, the way Liccione is obsessed with this distinction? Or does Scripture regard other distinctions as more important?

And even if Liccione doesn’t think the witness of Scripture alone tells the whole story, why shouldn’t that at least make some contribution to his paradigm? Otherwise, his interpretive paradigm is just an intellectual idol. Like the idolater whom Isaiah lampoons, Liccione simultaneously makes his intellectual idol and bows down to it. 

So when you show that one cannot establish the Catholic IP on the basis of Scripture, that is not a criticism. It is as true of the Catholic IP as of any other. Including, of course, your own.

That’s a criticism if Scripture is divine revelation, and his interpretive paradigm is forever something he brings to revelation from outside of revelation, rather than something informed or reformed by revelation.

Let’s get a bit more specific. Take what Jesus says in the Gospels. Should the purity of our interpretive paradigm remain uncontaminated by the teaching of Jesus? Is that something we should impose on the teaching of Jesus from the outside? How can a Christian submit to the Lordship of Christ if his interpretive paradigm isn’t accountable to Christ? If it’s always above Christ?

Nonetheless, I find it noteworthy that all your counter-examples to the Catholic IP are drawn from the Old Testament. That is just a thoroughly question-begging way of applying your own IP, rather than an apposite attempt to engage the Catholic IP. Yet, as I indicated a few years ago in my lengthy exchange with Prof. R. F. White, I agree that no OT authorities interpreted Scripture infallibly. The only infallibility exercised in the Old Testament was that secured by virtue of divine inspiration to write the Scriptures themselves. That’s because divine revelation was not yet complete; it unfolded gradually, so that it was easy even for the most pious Jews to misinterpret the ultimate meaning of their Scriptures, which was their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. And that’s why most Jewish scholars in Jesus’ day didn’t seem him as that fulfillment. Nobody could interpret the deposit of faith infallibly, even in principle, until it was given in its entirety through the “Christ-event.”

But in that case there’s even less need for the Magisterium under the new covenant than there was under the old covenant–when, by his own admission, there was no infallible Magisterium.

That said, if there is still no living, visible authority on earth that Christ authorized to interpret said deposit infallibly in his name, then the question what belongs in the Bible, and how to interpret it, can only be answered with provisional opinions.

But what if that’s the situation God has put us in? Liccione acts as if it’s beneath him to look out the window to find out what the world is like. He can sit in a dark room and intuit reality. His faith is all make-believe. The way he thinks things ought to be. Reality is not to be discovered, but posited.

If you’re content with that result, then all I can say is what I said in my article: your brand of conservative Protestantism is just “liberal Protestantism waiting to happen all over again.”

Actually, we see that development in contemporary Catholic Bible scholarship.

That of course does not prove by itself that the Catholic IP is rationally preferable. But as I have often argued on philosophical grounds, the Catholic IP does at least supply a principled distinction between interpretations that represent divine revelation, which are thus inerrant, and merely human interpretive opinions, which might be wrong. And that distinction itself supplies a good reason to accept the Catholic IP.

Why? It’s purely hypothetical.

Shouldn’t we judge what God is prepared to do by opening the window, looking outside, and seeing what he’s done? Dropping the metaphor, the Bible gives us a record of what God has done in the past, as well as a preview of what he intends to do in the future.

Isn’t that a “rationally preferable” starting point to Liccione’s hypothetical Christianity? He’s so obsessed by the conjectural distinction between “opinion” and the “asset of faith” that he ignores the distinction between reality and his imaginary construct. That’s all his faith comes down to. Faith in his imaginative mental construct, “purified” of concrete factual contaminants.

Andrew PreslarNo Gravatar July 8th, 2012 10:51 am :

But the reason that you are inclined, on occasion, to speak in that way is simple: The topic at hand is divine revelation, and to treat that revelation, as to its locus and meaning, as though it were a matter of mere human opinion would be at least as incongruous as an unauthorized, fallible interpreter setting himself up as the oracle of God to the Church. But that is precisely what you, the unauthorized, fallible interpreter, have to do in order to propound your interpretive opinions as something that calls for the assent of faith (“thus saith the Lord”), the latter being precisely the response that we know we should have to the doctrinal content of the word of God.

i) That’s contingent on Liccione’s tendentious characterization of what fallible interpretation amounts to.

ii) An opinion or interpretation only needs to be true to command our assent. Nothing fancier than that is required. We have an obligation to believe the truth. It’s really that pedestrian.

In Jn 9, the blind man was a “fallible, unauthorized” interpreter of Jesus’ words and deeds. He’s set in deliberate contrast to the religious experts and authorities. But he was right and they were wrong. Simple as that. Deadly in its direct, artless simplicity. This nobody, on the bottom rung of the social ladder, stands athwart the great religious establishment.  He had the one thing they didn’t–the truth.

Sacred Scripture is sufficient for exactly those purposes for which it was given (2 Timothy 3:15-17). So is Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15). So is the Magisterium (Matthew 16:19).

That’s rote prooftexting–which gets out of those verses what it smuggles into them through the back door.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar July 8th, 2012 1:59 pm :

I now see that the antecedent of my conditional statement just above is false, and with it the consequent. John’s purpose is not to “identify doctrinal truths calling for the assent of faith as distinct from that of provisional opinion,” but simply to argue that the historical data show that the Catholic doctrine of ecclesial authority is false. As to the wider question which doctrines call for the assent of faith, as distinct from that of opinion, he does not argue that his use of scholarship successfully identifies such doctrines. He just takes for granted that the Protestant canon is divinely inspired even though, on his showing, interpretations thereof can themselves qualify only as provisional opinions.

Now K Doran, Bryan, and others have already made clear in detail why one cannot infer, from such facts as John presents, that Catholicism is false. There are just too many leaps beyond evidence and logic. It just isn’t empirically plausible to say that finally, after all these centuries, scholars have dug up enough solid information about the early Church to actually prove that the Catholic (or, for that matter, the Orthodox) doctrine of ecclesial authority is false. If the eminent Catholic scholars John cites thought so, they would have doffed their priestly collars and ceased to profess Catholicism–which none of them have done. But that is itself a secondary problem.

Actually, they’re trying to rebuild the ship after it left dry dock. It’s hard to replace the hull at sea. Remove one plank and water gushes in before you nail down the new plank. 

So if there’s no divinely commissioned, infallible human teaching authority, and every human authority could always be wrong about which propositions express divine revelation.

i) How does mere fallibility entail any presumption about when or how often you might be wrong? To take one example, scribes are fallible. Our ancient MSS of Scripture contain minor errors.

Yet some scribes are far more careful than others. Some scribes make fewer mistakes than others. It would be irrational to greet every MS with suspicion, much less equal suspicion, just because scribes are fallible. One MS can be quite reliable even if another is less reliable or fairly unreliable.

ii) Moreover, every human authority could always be wrong only if God intends for fallibility to be that destructive. But that doesn’t follow from Protestant assumptions.

Andrew PreslarNo Gravatar July 9th, 2012 10:23 am :

Instead, you offer speculative exegetical opinions on Matthew 16:19. Matthew is reporting the words of Jesus.

That’s funny. Preslar completely bypasses the three stages of tradition in the PBC’s “Instruction On the Historical Truth of the Gospels.” He acts as if he can cut straight to the ipsissima verba Jesu, but that’s a throwback to precritical, Counter-Reformation polemics.


  1. "Let’s compare two different paradigms of decision-making:

    i) On one paradigm, you make decisions based on reason and evidence. You inform yourself about alternatives. You compare the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative in reference to the other alternatives. Then you opt for what seems to be the best overall choice.

    ii) On another paradigm, you investigate different cartomancers in your area. You use your reason to decide which one is the most convenient and affordable.

    Having relied on reason to make that initial decision, you then rely on the cartomancer to make all your subsequent decisions for you. Whenever you have important decisions to make, you schedule a session with your personal cartomancer for a Tarot card reading. This is “manifestly superior” to the first method because you can always ask her follow-up questions to clarify ambiguities. She can always lay another card on the table and explain its significance to your situation. You can be certain of what each cards means.

    Of course, there’s just little catch in this decision-making paradigm. It’s only as reliable as cartomancy.

    Catholics like Stamper and Liccione are like clients of a Tarot card reader. Yes, they can always get “answers” from their cartomancer, but if the source is untrustworthy, then they’re moving ever further from the truth."

    Hi Steve,

    This seems to be a very telling and apt parallel. I've never seen it pictured this way, and in some essential features, the analogy fits rather well.

    Question: On this part: "You use your reason to decide which one [Tarot Card Reader] is the most convenient and affordable" wouldn't the unoffended Catholic respond that they use their reason to decide which Tarot Card Reader possesses infallible authority? And then whichever Tarot Carot Reader has infallible authority is therefore the best Tarot Card Reader?

  2. But their belief in the infallibility of the cartomantist is a fallible belief. They fallibly believe the cartomantist is infallible, even if the cartomantist is actually fallible. There's no certainty that what they fallibly believe about the cartomantist corresponds to what the cartomantist is really like.

  3. It sounds like an argument for atheism. That reason and evidence are always better than any alleged revelation from God. Catholicism is at least consistent. Revelation, if it is legit, is better because God knows more than we know. Protestantism is an atheism/Catholicism hybrid. Revelation is better if it is in the 66 book canon of scripture. After that we mock all revelation and raise reason to the ultimate authority.

    1. That wasn't the argument. My argument paralleled their argument. Try again.

    2. So what is the difference option (i) and atheism?