Saturday, July 07, 2012

‘Who knows?’

Michael Liccione won’t talk historical facts with me because I don’t have an “interpretive paradigm” that meets his standard.

In his most recent comment to me, he says:

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 interpretive 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.

Here is what he means by his “interpretive paradigm” (“IP”) thesis:

In many comments on this site as well as old posts on my own blog, I have argued that there is an irreconcilable difference between the respective “hermeneutical paradigms” of Catholicism and Protestantism, meaning conservative Protestantism.

But according to the Catholic IP, [the protestant “IP” that he described is] a methodology [that] is insufficient for reliably identifying the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion. Though necessary, studying the early written sources and making inferences from them can only yield human interpretive opinions, unless validated by some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation of the relevant data is divinely protected from error under certain conditions — a gift which, all sides would agree, is at least logically possible, given what and who God is.

It may be “logically possible” that God would “validate some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation is divinely protected from error under certain conditions”.

But whether he has ever done so is open to question.

He had plenty of opportunity to do it – in the Old Testament, when he was dealing with one single nation, Israel, he did not do it. This concept (see comment #425) of “some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation of the relevant data is divinely protected from error under certain conditions” does not come from Scripture, and in striving to provide some kind of certainty like this, you, humanly, work to outdo the Old Testament God and the God of the prophets.

Look at a couple of Old Testament examples of how God “identifies the formal, proximate object of faith in four different instances.

In his first sermon at Pentecost, Peter cites Joel 28:32:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.

This is part of a longer sermon from Joel, who first prophesies about “the day of the Lord”, saying “The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?”

The earlier part of this prophecy is filled with darkness and gloom and blackness; a mighty arming coming; before them fire devours; behind them a flame blazes; nothing escapes them.

In the midst of this, the prophet offers this opportunity that the Lord may relent:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—

Dealing with The LORD in the Old Testament was not a matter of certainty – even a recognized prophet here, while “declaring the word of the LORD”, could not and did not offer certainty on the “formal proximate object of faith” that was right in front of his audience. He said “do what’s right”, and “who knows? The Lord may relent”.

The Old Testament is full of other incidents, where not even the prophets who write the Scriptures offer the correct interpretation. They must leave “the formal proximate object of faith” in the hands of the Lord, and say they simply don’t know.

In the book of Jonah, the prophet promises destruction for the land of Nineveh.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me. … Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

The king of Nineveh, greatly distressed that a prophet of the Lord would say this, “rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust”. And he said:

Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

The passage continues, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

Similarly Mordecai speaking to Esther said: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Even King David, when the child of Bathsheba was going to die (a prophecy he received from the lips of the prophet Nathan), in spite of this prophecy, proposed for belief by the lips of the prophet, even after the Lord had struck the child with illness, “and he became ill”, “David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them”.

Then the child dies. Note what happened next:

His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Even when specific prophecies came up in the Old Testament, with the LORD declaring that he would do something in the immediate future, there was no “infallible interpretation” of these prophesies.

It is said, “a book cannot guide you”. But when we deal with the word of the Lord, we are dealing directly with the Lord – a Lord who spoke, who promised destruction, and then who did or who didn’t keep that promise, according to the counsel of his own will.

God, whose character is immutable, does not feel bound by the human need to have a mouthpiece – any mouthpiece – Old Testament Prophets or New Testament church – that is “divinely protected from error”. That is just not how God rolls.

Even C.S. Lewis noted, “Aslan is not a tame lion”.

For you Roman Catholics who want to hide behind “some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation of the relevant data is divinely protected from error under certain conditions”, well, you may just be setting yourself up for a big surprise.


  1. Who knows?
    Why the Roman church knows.
    Didn't you know that, John?

    They can't handle it. They want to bury their faces in the skirts of tradition and jesuitical philosophical distinctions and pretend that the Word of God is just too hard to understand.

    Equal time or the fairness doctrine would make us ask these radical and hypocritical skeptics just how do we know that they are who they say they are - that Mike is not Mickey you know who - if not how do they know it themselves.

    That, if not that they want their cake and eat it too. While the only nominal common ground between protestantism and Rom is Scripture and the CtC desire is purportedly to the end that the P & RC happily unite forever, ML won't give up his IP. Well guess what? Unconditional surrender is what CtC is really all about.
    We all already knew that, but I guess ML, BC and the rest still think they got us fooled.
    Sort of like a four year old when they cover their eyes. They think their mommy can't see them.


    1. Hi RPV, the folks at CTC are really a very extreme brand of hold-outs -- protected by this "interpretive paradigm" that gives them an excuse not to deal with some of the brute facts that are being uncovered in the study of the history of the earliest church. Even Rome, I think, is officially coming to understand what's happening (and is "nuancing" its doctrines on popes and bishops and succession). These folks aren't willing to concede even that much.

  2. John,

    I haven't seen you be this forceful: " ...Even Rome, I think, is officially coming to understand what's happening (and is "nuancing" its doctrines on popes and bishops and succession). These folks aren't willing to concede even that much."

    Can you expand on that?

    Call me both stupid and naive. No, let me do that for you. "I am both stupid and naive".

    I find that sentence very forceful on the front end even though I agree on the back end the CTC folks are an extreme brand of hold-outs!

    Here is what I have in mind, a couple of questions God asks rhetorically about apostate Israel:

    Amo 3:4 Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing?
    Amo 3:5 Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing?

    1. Hi Natamllc, I briefly mentioned this at on that thread, here and here.

      Two different notions:

      In Trent’s Decree on Holy Orders, Canon 6 states that there is in the Church “a hierarchy instituted by divine ordination, which consists of bishops, presbyters and ministers.” While this teaching conforms to the idea of existence of such offices from the beginning of the Church, it does not harmonize with the historical facts. The Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium [28] offers a more realistic view based on a more secure historical consciousness and exegesis of Scripture. Here we read “Thus the divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times (ab antiquo) have been called bishops, priests, and deacons.” Hence in no way does Vatican II affirm that the priesthood was instituted at the Last Supper in the sense understood by Trent (Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J. “The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology,” Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, © 1998, 2004 by the Order of St. Benedict. Edited by Robert J. Daily, S.J. pg 378).

      The development from Pastor aeternus [Vatican I] to Lumen Gentium [Vatican II], from speaking of the bishops as the episcopate to speaking of the bishops as “a college…or a college of bishops” (collegium … seu corpus episcoporum), is far more considerable than a simple semantic shift. “Episcopate” is somewhat more abstract than “college of bishops,” and it fails to express the dynamic relationship of the bishops among themselves… (Michael J. Buckley, S.J., “Papal Primacy and the Episcopate: towards a relational understanding,” New York: Crossroad Herder, © 1998, from the “Ut Unum Sint” series, pg 77).

      By no means is that the only problem which the college of bishops initially poses. Lumen Gentium, no. 22, did not include in its description of the Episcopal college the local churches of which the bishops were shepherds and representatives. If one fails to place this section within the context of Lumen Gentium no. 23, one would have an understanding of the college of bishops without the simultaneous and explicit recognition of the communion of churches, indeed, without mention of local churches at all. The perspective would remain that of a universalist ecclesiology, and the college of bishops would read as if it were primarily a governing board of the whole Church (80).

      Originally I wrote about both of these items above, here.

      On changing language on the papacy, note the changes between Vatican I and Vatican II and the 1996 document that’s shown in the links within that link.

  3. John

    you point is well taken.

    Seems to me why the lions in the forests and the den are quiet is the economy. They know full well the coffers are not as full as they have been in time past?

    Now the Vatican is caught up in a scandal that deals with the same monetary system all the nations of the world works from (Fractionalized banking and fiat money earnings)!

    Also the pedophilia scandal is pushing moralists away.

    Also there has to be noted a decline in their populations around the world because of the great strides the One True Church is having across the world as She gets nearer to the finish line: Mat 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

    When ministering in the Philippines and in some catholic strongholds in Africa I was seeing a lot of swimming back from Rome across the Tiber. The Catholics were getting annoyed and roaring loud! I have seen the same down in Central and South America.

    We should see more and more of this declination among their ranks especially in light of these Words from Daniel:

    Dan 12:3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

    1. I think things are headed in the right direction. :-)