Friday, September 09, 2005

Pious fiction

There are many different ways of distinguishing Catholicism from Evangelicalism, but a basic distinction revolves around the interrrelation between belief and knowledge. How much do we know, and how do we know it?

Now, concerning such doctrines as the Trinity and the Incarnation, our only source of information is revelation. The Trinity is not an empirical datum, and it is not a truth of reason. The hypostatic union is not an empirical datum, and it is not a truth of reason.

If our faith should transgress the reach of revelation, then at that point our faith no longer coheres with the object of faith.

Prejean would saddle the conscience of Christendom with a whole raft of theological fairy tales. Prejean tries to shame evangelicals into believing Roman dogma through abuse and invective. This is why a Reformation was necessary. And this is why reunion with Rome is out of the question. We cannot have the religious establishment damning Christians to hell who refuse to bow before its parade of pious fictions and superstitious fables. Whatever is not revealed is simply a figment of the imagination. To elevate apocryphal dogma to articles of the faith is, quite literally, idolatry—by divinizing an idol of the mind.

God has revealed exactly how much we need to know and exactly how much we are duty-bound to believe. Had he intended for us to know more or believe more, it was within his power to broaden the scope of revelation. Human duty and divine disclosure are conterminous.

What is Prejean’s alternative? He takes refuge in allegorical exegesis. But other criticisms aside, allegorical exegesis does not select for Nicene Orthodoxy or Cyrillene Christology. Allegory is inherently open-textured. Allegory cuts both ways. If the Cappadocian Fathers can use allegory to score points, so can Arius or Apollinarius or Valentinus.

The hypostatic union is sui generis. We should not expect to have preexisting categories that exactly capture this relation.

Prejean assumes that if you’re not a Cyrillene, then you must be Nestorian, or something equally definite. This misses the point.

The point, rather, is that we need not be any more or less exacting or exhaustive than revelation. Where God is silent, we ought to honor his silence, and not put words in his mouth.

Likewise, the inner life of the Godhead is hardly something we can divine or deduce.

When answering rational objections to the faith, we can answer in kind. We can rebut reason with reason. And we can explore logical possibilities. But this is opinion, not dogma.

Far from being liberal, this is the essence of conservatism—of a pious and prudent conservatism. It draws a line of sanity between fact and fantasy, piety and presumption. Quackery in vestments is quackery all the same.

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