Thursday, December 16, 2004

A tidy blog is a happy blog

As I said, I'm staying away from blogging for a season. But that doesn't mean my readers are. Ther has been an ongoing discussion in the combox of my previous post, which I felt was a little untidy, and far too ungainly, for one post. So I have decided to move a series of comments in that thread to a full post here.

In this thread, one of the problems is that Tom R is arguing two different lines. First, he began by challenging my rejection of Mathison's theory of councils/creeds (ie., as helpful but, in the final analysis, fallible summaries of faith). My contention was that this fallibist “faith” undermines the entire point of creedal Christianity. My point is that Mathison obliterates the basis for credence in *past* Church dogma. So far, nothing he has said addresses *this* problem. So I ask him (and Mathison): if the creeds are human and fallible, why do we keep them (aside from the sentimental reason that we, for now, each and all, believe they agree with our interpretation of Scripture)?

The second line of thought that Tom quickly followed -- which clouds the discussion of the first point -- concerns the status of *future* dogmatics. First, for some inexplicable reason, I find the question presumptuous. Why should we trust the Church tomorrow even if we trusted it yesterday? Suffice it to say that even to ask such a question betrays a deep (even if unconscious) suspicion of God’s order for the Church. The Church is not a set of doctrines; it is a body of believers under the leadership of real people, as they worship the same God according to the same truths. To squint suspiciously at the Church of tomorrow is to implicitly squint with distrust at the Church – and its concrete leaders -- of yesterday and today.

Second, Tom plays his hand too strongly by saying, with Luther, councils might err. This is a non-starter (what they call in advanced academics a "No duh" proposition). Councils can and do err. But infallible councils do not err. The question then becomes, of course, what constitutes a valid council. Protestantism claims the orthodox faith is the teaching of Scripture, but this is a truism; why else did the Reformers insists on the creeds? Apart from the understanding of Scripture in and by the Church, the “teaching of Scripture” is a wax nose. Orthodoxy is inclined to say conciliarity rests on broad ecclesial acceptance: what the faithful and the episcopacy of all ages, as a whole, accept is the orthodox faith. Alas, I find this outlook -- call it "hyper-Vincentianism"? -- naïve. Catholicism has its own (qualified, intricate and interlocking) answer: orthodoxy consists in the truths accepted by the faithful of all ages WHICH agree with the councils AS those conciliar doctrines are approved BY the episcopacy IN UNION WITH the bishop of Rome. Orthodoxy is, thus, a convergent rather than a mechanistically emergent phenomenon. There must be both a (materially sufficient) *pattern* of orthodoxy and a (formally sufficient) principle of discerning orthodoxy today.[1]

But hey, let’s be honest: at these theological heights, I’m at a loss. I cannot even begin to explain the “psychology” and “theory of action” of infallibility. I have no rock-solid answers. So, rather than rambling on and scuttling myself on the shoals of ignorant claims, I’ll pose a few questions and propose a few analogies.

First question: how does the inspiration of Scripture preserve the freely and authentically human authorship of the Bible, while papal/ecclesial infallibility does not?

First analogy: the work of the Spirit in inspiration is analogous to the work of the Spirit in infallibility.

Second question: Granting that inspiration is technically different from infallibility (cf. James Akin’s discussion of this in “Inspiration, Tradition, and Scripture"), I wonder how Tom can defend the action of the Holy Spirit in teaching a lone regenerate Christian the truth of the Bible without also accepting the possibility of that same Holy Spirit guiding the bishops to the truth over and with the laity.

Second analogy: the indefectibility of the Church is analogous to the irrevocability of regeneration in Reformed theology. You know the drill: Christians, only so-called, can and do fall away, but no true, regenerate Christian can or does fall away. But what’s good for the Calvinist, personal goose (ex hypothesi) is good for the Catholic, ecclesial gander. Apply the same kind of “non-falsifiability” to dogma as you (Tom?) do to personal salvation and see what we get.

Well, at this point, I’m sure I’ve butchered every strain of ecclesiology known to man. So, as I continue to learn (theology, German, Chinese, history, philosophy and science), I leave you with a couple leads. First, read Greg Krehbiel’s article, "Bible, Tradition, Church and Pope". Second, read James O’Connor’s _The Gift of Infallibility_ and Richard Gaillardetz’s _By What Authority?_. Ta ta!

[1] Speaking of mechanism, I think Tom is playing the advocatus diabli a little too strongly. Why *don’t* bishops and the pope just toss coins? I don’t know; but that’s the thing about mystery. It’s not as mechanistic as we might like.

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