Thursday, February 19, 2015

What is Roman Catholicism? Part 3: Epistemology

I’ve spent some time walking through how the Reformation concepts of “general revelation” and “special revelation” form the foundation of the Protestant practice of religion. These two principles are among the first things that Herman Bavinck writes up as part of his “Prolegomena” – what the foundation of the practice of the Christian religion is.

Rome holds to “one common source, two distinct modes of transmission”, the Roman Catholic view of Special Revelation, (those being “Scripture” and “Tradition”), with the high-card up its sleeve, the thumb on the scales, being that “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 Church alone”.

(Here, where Roman authority is involved, is the only place where they use the word “sola”).

Allison describes this phenomenon:

Another key element of this Catholic system is its epistemology, or method of knowing. Catholic theology is characterized by the integration of divergent elements: it takes an “and-and” approach, rather than an “either-or” approach. [Or a “sola” approach].

This principle of integration makes it difficult for evangelical theology to grasp the Catholic system, because evangelicalism is built on the five solas (“onlys”) of Protestantism: sola Scriptura (only Scripture), not Scripture and Tradition, as it is in Catholicism [which, as I’ve mentioned, enables Rome to turn any ancient thought or philosophy into “Divine Revelation”]; sola gratia (only grace), not grace and human cooperation, as it is in Catholic theology; solus Christus (only Christ), not Christ and the Church, as it is in the Catholic system; sola fide (only faith), not faith and good works/ love that merits eternal life; and soli Deo gloria (glory only to God), not glory to God and special honor, for example, to Mary.

At the same time, this openness to integration is not an undisciplined or anarchic approach, because the Catholic system filters and controls what is allowed into the system and assimilates new and disparate elements to its traditional foundations. But any proper evangelical assessment of Catholicism as a coherent, all-encompassing system must be aware of and consider carefully this integrative epistemological element.

Furthermore, the catholicity of the Catholic system “is never a merely abstract or ideal concept but, on the contrary, is always intertwined with visible, material, immanent, organised, social, juridical, and historical structures.” Indeed, such concrete catholicity is manifested in, and only in, the Catholic Church, which is a visible, material, concrete reality.

So when some Protestant pastor or organization wants to claim “catholicity” as a rallying point, they should know that Rome automatically, by definition, rules out their efforts as deficient.

The ground for this idea is “the incarnational principle”—“grace must be embodied in a tangible way”— which is the normative pattern for the way God manifests his grace in this world. The prototype of this principle is the incarnation of the Son of God as the God-man Jesus Christ: God manifests his grace in an embodied, tangible way, in this case by means of the Son taking on human nature. But this principle is also operative in Catholic theology’s concept of the Catholic Church as the embodiment— the tangible, visible, material, social, concrete manifestation—of the grace of God.

These last two examples— Catholic theology’s principle of integration, bringing together Scripture plus Tradition, grace plus human effort, faith plus good works, and the like; and Catholic theology’s principle of incarnation, manifesting itself in the perspective on the Catholic Church as [the only] means of grace—underscore this notion: Catholic theology is a coherent, all-encompassing system.

Accordingly, to engage in a proper assessment of Catholic theology, evangelical theology must approach it as a system and apply the appraisal not only to specific, crucial topics— transubstantiation, purgatory, Mary—as single, discrete issues, but to the system as a whole as well.

As De Chirico pleads, “What is needed, instead [of an exclusively atomistic approach to assessing Catholic theology], is the appropriation of a distinctively systemic view to use in looking at every single issue, be it considered foundational or peripheral but always expressing the system as a whole. . . .

Every part of the system is in some way causally connected to and operatively dependent on the theology of the system to the extent that the attempt to grasp the centre opens the way to an understanding of the whole.”

Accordingly, the goal of this evangelical assessment is to take this systemic approach to Catholic theology and, dealing with “the framework while attempting to do justice to the particulars,” offer a more robust appraisal of [Roman] Catholicism.

Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 867-897). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pgs 45-46 in the printed edition.

Allison’s point here (following De Chirico) is that no Protestant writer in the last 60 years has properly addressed Roman Catholicism as “a system”. And in failing to do so, no matter how effectively people have addressed Roman Catholicism (on one point or another), Protestantism as a whole has given credence to Fulton Sheen’s quip that “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

As I mentioned earlier, Protestants cannot be faulted for not knowing, in whole, what Roman Catholicism is. Tridentine Roman Catholicism, as ossified as it was (from 1543-1962), was difficult to catalogue. (Just ask Lorraine Boettner).

But now that it has been “reformulated positively”, even the brightest lights among Roman Catholicism can’t figure out what it means (even Roman Catholic theologians have to write books on “Figuring Out the Church”). The actual deep thinking of popes of the intellectual stature of Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger are now swept aside in even the Roman Catholic culture for the “who-am-I-to-judge” charm of “Pope Francis”. And even 90% of those Roman Catholics who don’t “hate” the Roman Catholic Church still dismiss its teachings as irrelevant.

So Sheen was just a poser and a babbler in this respect. It seems as if there are not even 100 Roman Catholics who know what the Roman Catholic Church is.

However, in our information-saturated world, where there are Christians who desire to know what Christianity really is, and to separate it from what it isn’t, we are at a point at which we can genuinely know the Roman Catholic Church (and its practice of “Roman Catholicism”) for what it is.

There are, in fact, two “pillars” that support the modern Roman system. Allison continues first by looking at these twin pillars, and then by working through the various Roman Catholic doctrines, and showing how they are supported by those two pillars. He calls them “core doctrines”, and identifies them this way:

De Chirico identifies two axioms of the Catholic system: the nature-grace continuum (what I will call the nature-grace interdependence) and the Catholic Church as the ongoing incarnation of the ascended Christ (what I will call the Christ-Church interconnection).

Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 897-900). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pg 46 in the printed edition.

Lord willing, I’ll begin looking at “nature/grace” next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment