Monday, December 17, 2018

Umpires who bet on their own team

Around the 26-31 min. mark, Bishop Baron defends the papacy:

  1. He's discussing the difference between authentic an inauthentic theological development. Developments may deviate from the essential meaning of the original idea. So that requires the authority of the pope to play umpire.

    But there's an obvious flaw in Barron's argument: an umpire isn't supposed to bet on his own team. By contrast, the pope is not a disinterested arbiter. The papacy is, in itself, a product of theological development, so popes have a vested interest in developments that aggrandize the papacy. They have a direct hand in writing their own job description. An umpire who has a personal stake in the outcome should be disqualified, because that rigs the game. So Barron's comparison backfires.

    Cult-leaders and false prophets make self-serving claims. Now, it's possible to make a self-serving claim even if the claim is true, but in that event we should have some corroborative evidence independent of the claimant. Because the papacy has a direct stake in theological developments, appealing to the papacy to make the call regarding what constitutes authentic or inauthentic development of doctrine is viciously circular.

  2. Barron trots out the ersatz "30,000" Protestant denomination figure as contrary to Christ's prayer for unity in Jn 17. But what kind of unity does Barron think Jn 17 refers to? Surely not doctrinal unity. Doctrinal unity is not a requirement for membership in the church of Rome. Passing a theology exam is not a prerequisite for confirmation in the church of Rome.

  3. He compares sola Scriptura to handing a kid a copy of Hamlet. The bare text of Hamlet. Point being: Hamlet requires an interpret lens. The reception history. It's borderline irresponsible to pick up the Bible and off you go.

    i) It's true that the average reader will have a much better grasp of Hamlet if he reads an annotated edition by A. L. Rowse. But Barron knows perfectly well that most Protestant pastors have a seminary education. He knows perfectly well that Protestants produce commentaries on the Bible by OT and NT scholars. So the comparison backfires. Just as the interpretation of Shakespeare benefits from having background knowledge about his time, place, and sources of influence, Protestant exegetical scholarship does the same thing in reference to Scripture.

    ii) Moreover, the proper interpretive lens isn't the reception history of the text but the original setting. Not what came later, but a Bible writer's background and the background of his target audience. The occasion, purpose, situation.

    iii) Modern Catholicism subverts the historicity and supernaturalism of Scripture. Take the footnotes of the NABRE at the USCCB website.

  4. In addition, it's possible to overemphasize as well as underemphasize the necessity of Bible scholarship. To take a comparison, a Trekkie will get more out of some Star Trek movies than a novice. Star Trek movies have in-jokes and allusions to the Star Trek mythos. It's useful to know the backstories of Vulcans, Romulans, and Klingons. It's useful to know the backstory of Spock. His hybrid psychological makeup.

    However, that doesn't mean you have to be a Trekkie to make sense of a Star Trek movie. If well-written, it has a plot that's comprehensible to a novice. Most of the dialogue is comprehensible to a novice. If you enjoy the cheesy space western genre, you can get the gist of the movie even if you come to the movie as a novice. Star Trek movies operate at more than one level. At one level is the basic plot and dialogue. That's accessible to general viewers. But it also has a subtext for the fan base.

    By the same token, the Bible is not a closed book unless you have a commentary by your side. Much of Scripture is accessible to a novice. Returning to Barron's illustration, T. S. Eliot wrote a famous essay on "Hamlet and His Problems". Although Eliot didn't know as much about Shakespeare's world as Rowse, yet as a poet and literary critic, he was able to analyze the play on strictly dramatic or literary terms.

    By the same token, because there's so much narrative in Scripture, literary critics like Robert Alter, Leland Ryken, and Meir Sternberg explore the internal dynamics of biblical accounts without reference to the world outside the story. And that contributes to our understanding of the text. That draws attention to a dimension of meaning that's lost sight of if a commentator is preoccupied with comparing a biblical narrative to the world outside the text.

    Like Shakespeare or Star Trek, the Bible operates at more than one level. There are different ports of entry.


  1. How would he bridge the gap from the usefulness of an umpire in a ball game or interpretive aids to Hamlet to an infallible umpire or infallible interpretive aid? If fallible umpires and fallible aids are good enough, what does that say about the Catholic analogue? Aids and umps should be independently qualified too. Stipulating one for the convenience of certainty is a poor trade-off.

  2. I don't understand how you can post such great content so frequently, but it is much appreciated!

    1. We see the fruits, but under the ground are the roots. Years of patient, humble study.

  3. Comparing the Bible to Hamlet is an ironically damaging admission about his own inability to read the Bible. Back in reality, a sincere child is able to parse the Bible sufficiently well to see that the whole concept that Christ instituted a sacerdotal priesthood to dispense saving grace mediately, in parcelled and quantified doses, through the channels of an institutional church centred at Rome, is simply not there. Only by making the Bible out to be as confusing as Hamlet is to the novice (not just in some areas, but in its own essential message about how to be saved), can you make room for such claims to be added to the text.

  4. A clairvoyant interpreter is more necessary to interpret the intricate documents of the magisterium and the Roman catechism than to interpret the bible. Who interprets the interpreter?