“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the [Roman Catholic] Church alone” – quoting CCC 85.
In light of recent blog posts of mine that repeat statements to the effect that “The [Roman Catholic] Church is founded on the Word Incarnate, that is, on a divinely revealed truth” and that Rome, and Rome alone, can define “true biblical faith”, it’s important to look at these presuppositions on the part of the Roman “Church”, and to talk about how such a happy situation [not!] may have come about.
The question of “how do you know?” comes up frequently. It’s a question that is at the heart of Rome’s dismissal of Sola Scriptura, and at the same time, it appears to be at the heart of its own claims for authority.
I’ve been reading through Richard Muller’s “Post Reformation Reformed Theology”. His “Volume 1: Prolegomena”, discusses how the Reformed Orthodox (those writers in the period following the Reformation) thought about their task of understanding God and theology.
Writers from this period genuinely thought about that question, and went to great lengths to respond properly to it.
One of the key distinctions that Muller emphasizes, from the theology of this period is the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology, which may be stated as: “theology that God knows” and “theology as it is communicated to human beings”. There are many finder distinctions within those two areas, but in general, this major distinction manifests itself this way:
the idea of archetypal and ectypal theology reflects the anthropological doctrine of the imago Dei and, by extension, must also reflect the soteriological problem of the fall and the profound damage inflicted on the imago.
Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd Ed., P. 237). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
“How” do we know? “What” is it that we actually know? Before I go into the details, here is Muller’s summary response to the question of “the parts and divisions of theology”:
… knowledge of God, reaching from a pure and direct communicated theology of revelation prior to the fall, to a theology after the fall under sin and under grace, to a final visionary theology of the blessed, is designed to mirror the states and therefore also the needs of human beings on their way to redemption and the kingdom of God [pre-fall, fallen man, and fallen man under grace].
The resemblance between this model for understanding Christian doctrine and identifying the nature of theological teaching in our present human condition and the covenantal or federal model for understanding the history of salvation is hardly accidental—nor is the contemporaneous rise of both of these models in early orthodox Reformed theology.
Even the concept of an ultimate archetypal theology points toward this covenantal model, given the identification of theologia archetypa not with the infinite divine knowledge of the Godhead and of all possibilities or even with the voluntary divine knowledge of all actuality, but with the perfect divine knowledge of the entire plan of salvation. Without pressing the point too far, there is a distinct resemblance between the theologia archetypa and the pactum salutis—indeed, historically, the former anticipates the latter.
Once again, [these] prolegomena provide the presuppositions for the system and the proper guide to the interpretation of the system. Specifically, they point us toward a theology of grace in Christ and toward Scripture as the principium cognoscendi of that theology, and they point toward the historical or economical character of the revelation of God as it addresses the human need of salvation.
Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd Ed., Pp. 268–269). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
The Reformed Orthodox put in a great deal of effort thinking through the question of “how do we know?” – they may have been lacking in some of the tools and resources that we have today, but if we take the time to understand how these great and devout writers thought through these larger issues, then we, “standing on the shoulders of giants”, can prepare ourselves to give much clearer answers in our own day.