Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trouble in Tahiti

Over at a pseudo-Reformed, quasi-Catholic blog, a dispute has broken out over Mariologyy. Peter Escalante, a former Catholic with a formidable command of historical theology, has had this to say.



Kevin is right to note the serious problems with Roman Mariology. For one thing, it is not as ancient as many make out. The time which lapses between the Apostles and the first real signs of anything like the Marian cultus as practiced by the East is something like the time between the founding of Jamestown and now. Obviously, a great deal can happen in that time, not all of it good.

But as for your basic argument, it simply doesn’t follow: to say that the Church is mother, is not to say that the Church is mediator in the sense required by Roman devotion. There is no “Church” in between any soul and Christ; the union of the children of Adam with God in Christ *is* the “church”: the church is not a separate thing over and above any justified soul; when we say that the church is “mother”, we mean something like what is implied when we say that humanity is our mother: it is the material principle. The church does not intercede without me, nor does it mediate anything to me as if other than me. Thus, even a strong typological identity of Mary’s maternity and the Church’s does not imply mediation in any sense other than the material. Historical or material mediation does not get you to the kind of mediation explicitly taught in RC devotion, where Mary, representing the “Church” conceived as a reification of alienated believerhood, acts as a principle of mercy holding back the wrath of the Son, the channel of grace between God (to whom Jesus is monophysitically reduced in this scheme ) and man, etc.

And please spare me explanations that such are merely “popular” or “local” abuses : I would be ready to reply with a *vast* collection of fully imprimatured manuals, sermons, and so forth, showing that such really is the the lex orandi of Rome. In any case, one needs to be very careful to not confuse senses of a term. I once introduced two people to one another, and they are now married; but my historical mediation of their union does not, for example, imply that their married life continues to depend upon me in anything other than an historical way. I am not the mediator of their union in any further sense.


Comment by Peter Escalante — August 16, 2007 @ 8:21 pm


My ecclesiological commitments are apparent: your pointing out that I have them is no revelation, and certainly no argument. What of my situatedness do you think still undisclosed, and that you would wish me to declare?

Michael, I am no longer much disposed to pull punches with you, as has been my custom before now: your discourse on these on controverted topics is becoming increasingly more irresponsible and hinging on loose analogies, fallacy, conjecture, and confusion of senses, and lately, you have actually lapsed into offensive ad hominem remarks. I was astonished by your little outburst of some days ago but ignored it and would have continued to ignore it had you not brought it up once again.

So, to get that first thing out of the way: the reason I haven’t replied to your invitation to engage Ratzinger’s thought on Purgatory is because you are unwilling to read Roman theologians on Roman terms, as Josh has already quite ably pointed out regarding you on this matter. Anything Ratzinger says is to be read within and as normed by the hermeneutic constraints of prior teaching, and you, frankly, read- or rather, read away- that prior teaching as a liberalizing outsider, and thus unreliably.

Thus, for all your invocation of context and mediation, when reading in context doesn’t suit you, you claim that you are deploying a “hopeful” hermeneutic; I have no reason to doubt your honesty, but I can deny your qualification to discuss the matter if you aren’t playing by anybody’s rules but your own. The ways by which a partly-Reformed, partly Anglo-Catholic person might possibly appropriate a myth as personally meaningful tells no one anything about what Rome believes, nor anything about the truth of the disputed dogma. I however *don’t* read Ratzinger out of context: and the RC context of that topic has already been laid out out by Josh, and I don’t need to rehearse it here. So you and I don’t have a common framework for reading Ratzinger: my framework for reading him is the one Ratzinger himself would acknowledge: yours, however, which hinges on a hypothetical radical Roman self-reinvention, and is a method for reading out of context, would appall him. So since you will not even read Ratzinger as he would wish to be read, whatever I would have to say about his thought on Purgatory would be moot; and I had thought myself to be doing you a favor by passing over your rash invitation in silence. But, if you wish to have the discussion, we can certainly do that.

On mediation: your “sketching out” of the analogy, when parsed, actually doesn’t add any meaning beyond what is already there in the distinctions in play: you have simply given a more elaborated description of what is entailed in historical or material mediation, but you seem, for some reason, to think that you have gotten to something other; and then leave the point of the distinction unaddressed.


Comment by Peter Escalante — August 16, 2007 @ 11:16 pm


Unfortunately, you seem to be alone here in your estimation of the problem here: my reputation here is for measured responses and precise speech, and yours is, to put it simply, not. And I have not singled you out: I have been as critical of others’ remarks when occasion seemed to require it; they do not seem to be quite as touchy as you concerning it. I don’t mind your name-calling much, but I think you will be able to understand, upon calmer reflection, that the fact that you’re the only one doing it does not help your case along.

I have no access to the noumenal: simply an access to a rigorous training in the use of words: logic and rhetoric, not gnosis; and a training in historical method, and close attention to facts. I do not ask of you “chapter and verse” anything: I only ask that you use words responsibly, instead of elevating equivocation and associative thinking into a method. In discussion with you, I have said this again and again: I do not expect you to agree with me, only to make arguments which follow the canons of reason (or are those obsolete historical constraints from which postmodernity delivers us?), and which represent history fairly. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. When you say strikingly misleading things such as that the dispute over justification disappears in a puff of smoke upon close analysis, then yes, I will have something to say about that.

By the way, my view on that matter is hardly received straight from Concordia: it is just as informed by the judgement of a noted centrist RC scholar who specializes in that topic, and who was intimately involved in those discussions in Germany. I saw no reason to lead with that, but since you are so interested in full disclosure of theological background, there it is. His principles are obviously quite different from mine, but his conclusions are certainly more akin to mine than to yours: his judgement is that the ecumenical future must focus much more attention on the differences than on apparent similarities. I can send you the article if you choose.

You yourself, Michael, have admitted than I know the Roman territory, old and new, better than you do: but since my opinion doesn’t follow the Tractarian line, you simply reject it is self-referential (consistency, by the way, is not the same thing as self-referentiality), without offering any argument as to why it is wrong. You have merely said that it isn’t “hopeful”; but you have never shown it to be wrong: and seem unable to entertain the idea that the world of your experience might in fact be marginal.

Scholarly courts will entertain all sorts of things: Alan Sokal demonstrated that not very long ago. But I am hardly as alone in my opinions as you would you suggest; as I have just indicated. But it is true that I am certainly not starstruck by academic theologians and their world: I find the paradigm of university research, founded as it is on the assumption of uncertainty and the itch for novel production, to fit the practice of theology very badly. Like Lewis, I don’t think much of self-referential little circles of cerebral parvenus writing hyperbolic blurbs on the back of their friends’ books: I prefer the company of the tested old writers, whom you seem so eager to get beyond, unless they should have something in them to corroborate the productions of your illative sense.

But even with regard to moderns, your estimation certainly differs from mine. The fact that you could cite Osborne, as you did some days ago, as a theological authority still astounds me: and if the readers were to familiarize themselves with his work, they too might wonder what on earth you were thinking.

On Ratzinger, if you had been paying attention to my comments here over the last few months, you would know that I do not object to the idea of intermediate state and actually favor it, and have actually provided you with a Protestant historical pedigree for the idea (Forbes/Wesley/Hobart), of which I doubt you had been previously aware. And I think no one but you here would find suspicious second-guessing of Ratzinger, involving forked tongues and sinister unspokens, in what I had said: the fact is, I read him as he would wish to be read, and you do not.

I do wish you well, Michael, and although I have been alarmed by what strikes me as irresponsible erasure of real differences in your opinion on these points, I continue to regard you as a creative and insightful mind with much to offer. If I have misjudged you or misread you, I of course ask your forgiveness.


Comment by Peter Escalante — August 17, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

1 comment:

  1. You should sign that guy up Steve. He's the only one over there who knows what he's talking about...