Friday, July 21, 2017

Reason and authority

Leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of him), it proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without him. Again, in the second book, likewise, as if nothing were known of Christ, it is moreover shown by plain reasoning and fact that human nature was ordained for this purpose, viz., that every man should enjoy a happy immortality, both in body and in soul; and that it was necessary that this design for which man was made should be fulfilled; but that it could not be fulfilled unless God became man, and unless all things were to take place which we hold with regard to Christ. St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo.

There's a subversive quality to Anselm's program. He takes Christian tradition as his starting-point. That supplies him with the materials for his consideration. But his objective is to prove dogma by reason alone. If successful, that subverts ecclesiastical authority. If dogmatic truths can be detached from creeds and councils, if their veracity can be established on grounds independent of ecclesiastical authority, then the role of the church in authorizing dogma becomes superfluous. In that regard, Anselm is more radical than Aquinas. 


  1. But wouldn't that argue against special revelation as well?

    1. My post wasn't an endorsement of Anselm's. Rather, I was drawing attention to the irony of a medieval archbishop whose apologetic program, if successful, nullifies the rationale for dogmatic ecclesiastical authority.

      There is a sense in which revealed truths, if these could be independently verified, would moot the need for Biblical authority. Mind you, although I don't object to religious authority, I think Catholics suffer from tunnel vision in that regard. They constantly recast issues of truth and evidence in terms of authority. I disagree with how they frame the issue. Yes, the Bible is authoritative, but what makes it authoritative is true. Truth is prior to authority. So I think the comparison is less problematic from my perspective.

      In addition, Catholic apologists denigrate the role of reason. For them, unaided reason is so uncertain that the magisterium must function as a makeweight. But as I've often argued, that's self-defeating. It disqualifies them from arguing for the magisterium.

      Because they denigrate the role of reason, they think we need a living oracle (the magisterium). That's a different paradigm than the sufficiency of Scripture. So Anselm's program, even if successful, doesn't have the same implications for the Protestant position.

    2. Steve,

      If you have the time, I am genuinely struggling to understand some modern (?) theories of Reformed epistemology, etc. When you say that "truth is prior to authority", how would this be viewed in light of our ability to know what is true, or to identify an authority? Is authority known to be a true authority, or is an authority true simply because we as knowing subjects make the connection between truth and an authority corresponding with truth? Or is this just an ethical point, that where truth lies, there also lies authority, over us and our actions, etc.?

      Is this similar to the old conundrum of what is Truth in relation to God, i.e., is God right because He knows/practices what is true, or is truth what it is simply because he commands it to be that way? (I think I know the "reformed" answer to this, that truth, holiness, etc. are just reflections of God's character etc.?). Similarly, do we know that the Bible is authoritative because it is true, or is it true because, under the Holy Spirit (or even perhaps as still unregenerate) it is the authority that defines truth, etc.?

      Where would you place Kuyper, Van Til, Frame, etc. on this? Do you think they would agree with your statement of "truth is prior to authority"? Or would they, as I'm suspicious they would, assert that we can't know any truth without the prior authority of God that shows us what truth is (or do I not understand them correctly)? If someone does assert that "authority is prior to truth" or "authority defines truth", are you familiar with the mid-19th century theories of Mansel and Hamilton as to "regulative" truth and is there any relevance to that here? Where would Old Princeton come down on this?