Monday, September 27, 2004

Accessio ad fidem disputandam

[Before I got help with the Latin, this post was originally titled "Addendum ad disputatione fidei". I confess my ineptitude, but I also confess I'm kind of partial to lay Latin.]

The genesis of the thread from which I drew in the post below was Mark Shea's tip of the hat to the Pontificator's first rule: "When Orthodoxy and Catholicism agree on something over against Protestantism, Protestantism loses." Tom took issue with this principle, not only because it can be used against a Roman Catholic (such as Mark), but also because, if it were used against RCism (on, say, papal infallibility), a Catholic wouldn't care. A Catholic is convinced of the truth of his religion, regardless whether Orthodoxy AND Protestantism disagree with him. If their combined testimony doesn't matter, why should the agreement of Orthodoxy with Catholicism work against Protestantism? Tom also asked why the Pontificator cares about the "Cathodox" position, since he is a High Anglican.

First, While Ponty (as I like to call him) is indeed a high church Anglican, in fact a priest in the ECUSA, he has, over the past few years, developed grave misgivings about the assumptions and lacunae of his Protestant heritage, regardless how classical and high it might be. He looks to Cathodoxy not so much to bludgeon Protestantism as to find the doctrinal and spiritual support he himself recognizes he needs. He sides with the two crusty old giants because their remarkable consensus on some flatly non-Protestant beliefs is a tocsin to him that he should heed the voice of ancient tradition, something Protestantism has never been very eager or, if eager, never very adept at doing.

Second, the value of what Tom calls the "Meatloaf" principle of doctrinal discernment (“Two outta three ain't bad") is that if you are willing to recognize the value of Tradition, then these two bodies give you some major guideposts. Obviously, they do not agree on the verdict of every issue. But they at least agree on what the pertinent issues *are*. Protestantism, for example, almost wholly rejects ecclesial hierarchy as a part of the deposit of faith. Catholics and Orthodox, by contrast, at least agree bishops, priests and deacons are essential structures for the Body of Christ. They may disagree on the ultimate authority given the hierarchy, but they at least don't reject the sacramental, monarchial hierarchy as such. Protestantism does.

Consider the Eucharist. You (any person) are simply fooling yourself if you think Orthodoxy and Catholicism do not have all but identical doctrines of the Eucharist, especially compared to the basically anti-realist smorgasbord of Eucharistic thought in Protestantism. As I say, if you are willing to listen to ancient ecclesial Tradition, and if you admit the plain fact that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are vastly more ancient than Protestantism, then you would be wise to heed their testimony.

Even on the issue of papal infallibility, about which Orthodoxy and Catholicism do not agree, Tom ignores the fact that while Orthodoxy denies the universal juridical supremacy of the bishop of Rome, it still recognizes the Petrine primacy of Rome. Protestantism, by contrast, sees both episcopal supremacy and primacy, Roman or not, as sheer poppycock. Ponty’s first rule is valuable because it helps us establish on an inductive historical level at the very least what the ancient Body of Christ should dispute or confirm.

The higher and more traditional a Protestant becomes, the more seriously he must reckon with the testimony of Tradition. Ancient Orthodoxy and Catholicism – or, for that matter, contemporary Catholicism and primitive Catholicism – need not agree on every matter, since some matters were, in antiquity, legitimately unsettled. Were there disputes in the second century about the ontological status of Christ? Clearly. But how about after the Council of Nicea (AD 325)? After some ancillary disputes, all was well in Christendom; Christ was true God from true God, and to demur at the claim was to renounce the Faith. Were there disputes in the third century between Eastern and Western theologians about the nature of the incarnated Christ? Certainly. But how about after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451)? Not a murmur of dissension (except for the Oriental Orthodox, who, it is now recognized on all sides, are in fact basically in agreement with Chalcedonian orthodoxy). Were there disputes in the sixth century between Eastern and Western Fathers about the veneration of icons? Indeed there were. But how about after the Second Council of Nicea (AD 787)? Again, not a murmur. The ambiguities of antiquities are precisely why there must be a living and enduring *principle*, and not merely an established pattern, of orthodoxy. Catholicism claims this principle rests in the episcopal college headed by Peter's successor, the bishop of Rome. (Orthodoxy, I admit, has a much more mysterious answer, which I, as a Westerner, find basically baffling, and need to explore further.)

The ambiguities of antiquity, such as they exist, also deliver us from the anachronistic challenge Tom presents. He uses the veneration of Mary as an example of Catholic and Orthodox anachronism, telling us to “re-read the New Testament epistles and try, with an open mind, to picture St Paul telling his converts, off the record, ‘But everything I have taught you is worthless if you do not devoutly venerate Mary the Mother of our Lord’.”

First, as I said in my previous post, I challenge Tom to re-read any of the Bible imagining Paul or any one else telling us we NEEDN'T honor the mother of God, the mother of the Messiah, the vessel of the Word of God. I reiterate my claim that Tom, like all fundamentalists, is cut off from the voice of Tradition and theo-logic, and therefore relies on the SILENCE of Scripture to sully Mary or any other targeted non-solo-scriptural belief.[1] Given the role of Mary in the *ordo salutis*, and given the lack of a clear biblical mandate not to venerate her as the Mother of my God, what right does Tom or anyone else have to forbid such practices as “unbiblical”? We may as well imagine Paul whispering off the record that all he said was vain unless the Christians believed in the hypostatic union of Christ. We can't hold earlier believers to the standards of orthodoxy God had not yet clarified.

Second, not only was there was never any apostolic testimony NOT to venerate her, or any other saint, there was in fact a basic apostolic injunction to honor heroes of the faith (a.k.a. “saints”). It was then left to the Holy Spirit to develop the Church's understanding of not only the mystical union of the Church, but also Mary's honor in it, such that, by the present day, it really is an affront to the glory of God not to praise Him for the work He did in Mary and the saints, and not to venerate them as masterpieces of His grace. We have every reason to embrace the Marian dimensions of the Faith for the simple reason that our ancestors did, and that we have but what they passed on to us. By analogy, we must embrace the Trinitarian dimensions of the Bible because the early Church had received the Scriptures in a Trinitarian framework. We read the Bible with Nicene, Trinitarian eyes, and rightly so, because the early Church worshiped Christ as God with a Trinitarian voice. Why the hesitancy to listen to that voice when it comes to bishops, the Eucharist, salvation, and Mary?

[1] The exact same charge can and should be leveled against, say, fundamentalists and SDAs. Where does the Bible say Peter was NEVER in Rome? Where does the Bible command us to observe the Jewish Sabbath in Christ? Low-grade *sola scriptura*, as opposed to the much-touted magisterial Reformed understanding of it, forbids us to work from the silence of Scripture to vindicate the ambiguities of Scripture. Tradition, by contrast, enables us to fill in any scriptural gaps based on early Christian testimony and the lived, mystical testimony of the Church worshiping through the centuries.

The magisterial doctrine of *sola criptura* is not much better off, since any reliance we put in Tradition to help us understand the lacunae of Scripture overwhelmingly tightens the net in favor of Cathodoxy. What does Orthodox and Catholic Tradition tell us about Peter? He was martyred in Rome as that city’s first bishop. What does Orthodox and Catholic Tradition tell us about Mary? She is the most highly venerable creature in the redemption Christ wrought, and she deserves our humble respect and supplication. You may disagree with these claims, among others; but then, of course, you shouldn’t go dabbling in Tradition (as Keith Mathison tries do in his defense of magisterial *sola scriptura*).

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