Wednesday, January 30, 2013

“You say that as if it were a bad thing”

Jonathan Prejean stepped out of retirement yesterday to ask me a few questions.

[Michael Liccione’s] point is simply that if Scripture was intended by God to function as you describe, then there would be observable consequences.

Just because the “observable consequences” are not what you expect, doesn’t take anything away from the view of the Scriptures that we hold.

We are constantly told, “If the Protestant perspicuity thesis were true, then over the past five hundred years we should expect to see not an explosion of fragmentation into various Protestant sects, but a coalescing into one body of all persons who in good faith attempt to discern the meaning of Scripture.”

This is a bogus condition to place on this view of Scripture at two levels.

First, people looking at the different facets of a diamond from different perspectives are necessarily going to come away with different views of it. Because God created seven billion people, they are de facto not all going to have the same perspective. God is creating a tapestry, not a monolith. He created seven billion different people; not seven billion of the same person.

The diversity yields richness, not uniformity.

Second, where is the compulsion behind the phrase “we should expect…”? What is compelling this expectation in the first place? Is it not simply compelled by the fact that Rome’s history is so bad, you need something else to compare it to?

There is a phrase from the old Night Court show: “You say that as if it were a bad thing”. But you don’t demonstrate why it is bad.

Kevin DeYoung brilliantly refutes [Roman convert Christian Smith] in this. He provides a ton of argumentation, but among them, he provides one citation that should have some meaning for you:

Augustine … certainly believed applying the right methods [of Scripture interpretation] would get you to the right truth (see especially NPNF 2.539; 2.556). “What difficulty is it for me when these words can be interpreted in various ways,” … “provided only that the interpretations are true?” … PIP [“pervasive interpretive pluralism”] was no deal-breaker for Augustine. It did not undermine his confidence in the understandability and internal consistency of Scripture.

So what of it, if a Presbyterian baptizes infants, and a Baptist only baptizes upon a profession of faith?

What makes either wrong? If God did not provide the clarity to say “never baptize infants”, Christians are free to take away from this according to their best understanding.

Not only are those consequences knowable and observable, they are easily known and observed. And since it is observably false that people of good will being “honest” and “receptive” come to “very similar conclusions,” your position is refuted. That’s not an epistemological crisis; it’s an ontological crisis. Reality doesn’t conform to your expectation.

It certainly does. Nathan is a Lutheran and I am Reformed. We disagree about certain things, but we both accept the “God hath said” in the Scriptures.

Christianity is a revealed religion. God is hidden. We only know about him what he reveals. And his revelation does not extend into church “Tradition”. The activities of people, however well motivated, are “revelation”. The teaching of the Apostles is “revelation”; Apostles died in the first century, so they are no longer teaching. But they [and their close associates] wrote down what they taught.

It’s only in that sense that we have “Apostolic teaching”.

You’re right to say, however, that if your theory of Scripture were true, then it would function in this way, so you’ve laid out the scientific test for your own theory. The only problem is that you then attempt to run away from the implications by giving a whole list of caveats that have nothing to do with your theory.

I give no caveats. I simply have a bit more perspective than Luther and Zwingli did.

Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason … my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

I can follow this principle with the understanding that Luther gave the right principle, but that he didn’t get everything right.

Luther condemned Zwingli, and Zwingli condemned Luther. This condemnation was not a specifically Lutheran act, but prominent in church “tradition” – if these men had not had the concept of anathema so close at hand perhaps history would have turned out differently.

Nevertheless, neither the descendants of Luther (doctrinally, the Lutherans) are condemned for believing as they do, nor the descendants of Zwingli (the Reformed).

The quoad se / quoad nos distinction among doctrines is a real one. If the doctrine quoad se were as important to God as anyone were saying, one could say with confidence that the condemnations issued by one or the other were true.

But I won’t say with confidence that Nathan is making a big enough mistake that God is consigning him to hell for it, and nor, do I think, he will say that God is consigning me to hell for a Zwinglian/Calvinist view of the Lord’s supper.

[Of course, within this mix, too, we have Rome anathematizing me for rejecting the sacrifice of the Mass and Transubstantiation. For the record, I reject both as doctrines from hell. But even then, I don’t consign the practitioners to hell; but it seems evident that the creators and teachers of this doctrine are in serious trouble.]

If everything you believed about God’s revelation (and particularly its clarity vis-a-vis natural revelation) were true, then none of the reasons you cite would be an exception. By your theory of what God intends to accomplish with revelation, in other words, you’ve proved either that God doesn’t intend what you say or that God failed in His aim on account of being thwarted by a number of entirely foreseeable and expected human flaws.

God neither fails, nor do human failures thwart him.

The Scripture says what it says quoad se – “it is what it is”.

We are not permitted to ask, “Did God really say…?

But this whole exercise in “providing a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion” is really just a systematic effort, in philosophical garb, to ask, “Did God really say…?

I don’t see how it can be otherwise than that.

And further, in this “principled distinction”, you have the Roman Magisterium wadding itself up and actually pronouncing itself to be a part of this divine revelation.

That just seems blasphemous to me in the highest order.

And this is where the issue of “a bishop must be” comes in: Jesus did give us a test – and a “principled distinction” is merely a test – “you can tell a tree by its fruit”. Someone [like Mike] who says, you can’t tell a tree by its fruit is denying the very words of Christ.

We are not talking as if you can tell a tree by its fruit is such a tremendously complicated statement that “interpretation” by you or me is some sort of feat beyond our capabilities. It’s true, there are no “hard edges” – but we can know rot when we see it or smell it or step in it.

And yet, such simple concepts must be expressed in philosophically complex phraseology in order to hide the true meaning of these simple concepts, in such a way that “only the Roman Magisterium can tell you with 100% certainty what it means.

And the Roman tree has yielded a tremendous amount of rotten fruit – so much so that I am amazed that anyone can ignore it as they think through these issues.

At the same time, the 100% certainty issue is a colossal failure.

For example, you know three things with 100% certainty: Mary was conceived immaculately, the pope is infallible under certain conditions, and Mary was Assumed bodily into heaven.

Outside of these three pronouncements, no one on earth can say what the other “certain conditions” are with certainty. Here you devolve, at the precise point where you claim “certainty”, into the same mass of opinions that you charge us with. You can’t say what the “canon” of your own infallible statements is. All that you claim is “we have a principled distinction, and the Magisterium could tell us what that is if they want to.”

But this is like the English, “walking around all day, saying ‘I say’, ‘I say’. And then they never say.”

For example, someone asked at Green Baggins, Why doesn’t the infallible Magisterium simply produce an infallible commentary on Scripture, and answer all the questions that everyone has? In fact, they have only bothered to infallibly interpret a handful of biblical verses (if that). What good is it, really?

Another thing that is colossally wrong with Mike’s method – comparing one “IP” with another, to determine what’s “preferable”, proves nothing, and he’s admitted that. Proving that “the CIP is preferable to the CPIP” is only saying, he prefers one to the other.

In this way, his method of arriving at certainty is incredibly arbitrary: he’s stacking the deck in what he thinks is his own favor.

All this really does is give him a fancy way of saying “I don’t have to take history into account”. It is high-level excuse-making. Don’t ask why, really, the second century Roman church was presided over [by contemporary accounts] by a council of elders. Simply dismiss it as “begging the question”. That’s an easy little phrase that gets a lot of use around here, while there’s really a whole lot less of dealing with genuine Scriptural questions that make Rome look bad.

This is not to say that we don’t need help understanding the Scriptures. God did create an assembly or qahal or ekklesia within which elders and fellow believers are a great help in understanding the divine revelation [Scriptures]. Individual believers hear God’s word, and they hear it with more clarity within a company of believers who – yes – rely on the wisdom (and learn from the mistakes) of believers in times past. Of Biblical Scholars in times past.

There is a reason why Scriptural commentaries are so useful. They distill “the wisdom of the ages” – but not just “of the ages”, but of contemporary advances as well. Is this to say things are perfect? No, but our understanding of the Scriptures is becoming clearer and clearer all the time.

And it’s not because somebody finds some “implicit” consequence in “the deposit of faith”.

It is because we know authors better, we know their cultures, we know their audiences. We know the context of what they were saying, and to whom they were saying it, and how such things ought to apply to us today.

But we’re not talking about my view; we’re talking about yours. After all, you’re the guy coming to a website with a penchant for converting Protestants to Catholicism, and why would you be here otherwise? It doesn’t make sense for someone who is “delightfully happy,” any more than it makes sense to say God wants His Scriptural revelation to be clear and then to claim excuses when He fails in His purported aim.

Instead of falsely attributing motives to me, why don’t you read what I’ve actually said about that?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Rho; Prejean and I go way back.

      Some of the commenters over at Green Baggins are saying essentially the same things in their responses to Bryan Cross: