Saturday, November 26, 2016

Destination unknown

Some evangelicals convert to Catholicism because they are dismayed by what's sometimes called interpretive pluralism. In my experience, evangelical converts to Catholicism rarely read commentaries by Roman Catholic scholars. The Catholicism of the average convert seems to be the Catholicism of lay Catholic apologists, and not the Catholicism of contemporary Catholic Bible scholars and church historians. Which gives them a monolithic view of Catholicism that's illusory. 

But I'd like to make another point. The difference between the Protestant rule of faith and the Catholic rule of faith is like the difference between committing to a script and committing to a screenwriter. If a script is written, you know in advance what you're committed to. But in committing to a screenwriter, you don't know how the story will end. That's a work in progress.

Because the Bible is a finished product, it contains no surprises. We know what we're getting. We know what to expect. Indeed, that's why intramural debates in evangelicalism are so repetitive and stereotypical. There's not much new to say. We retool our arguments for traditional positions. 

There are uncertainties in biblical exegesis, although that's by no means uniform. To say Scripture is unclear in some places doesn't mean it's unclear in all places. Moreover, to say it's unclear to a modern reader doesn't mean it was unclear to the original audience. Conversely, some passages, like prophecy, can be clearer to a modern reader than the original reader, because we have the benefit of hindsight. 

Although Scripture is not without interpretive ambiguities, we know where those are. To vary the metaphor, the territory has been mapped. Our rule of faith is self-contained.

By contrast, Catholic theology just keeps evolving. There's always another twist and turn in the road ahead. In that respect, nothing is really settled in Catholicism. Even "irreformable dogma" is subject to creative reinterpretation. 

In a sense, the uncertainties in Biblical hermeneutics are synchronic. We have the entire work before us. We know the lay of the land. We know the boundaries. 

By contrast, the uncertainties in Catholic theology are diachronic. It keeps reinventing itself and overwriting past theology. Erasing and redrawing the borders. Adapting to the Zeitgeist. Headed to a destination unknown. 

To vary the metaphor once more, Catholic theology keeps bleeding out in unpredictable directions. Even if you stanch the hemorrhaging at one source, it will bleed from a new source. 


  1. Both John Bugay and Patrick Chan have quoted the following by C.S. Lewis:

    The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Roman Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.

    1. Heh, Annoyed, I was just headed to look that one up when I saw your comment!

    2. That's what I figured would happen. So, I decided to post it first and give you and Patrick the credit. :)