Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Ecumenism Shmecumenism

I used to be irritated by stories like this, because I love not only Christ's Church but the Truths that He teaches us through His Church's Magisterium, and it's hard to keep a calm head about one when someone is attacking Christ in this way. But over the years I've mellowed a little. In particular, one can't help but be amused by this:
We Are Church argued that the dogma of the transubstantiation-- the teaching that the bread and wine at Mass are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ-- is unacceptable to Protestants, and thus impedes ecumenical unity. The group decried traditional forms of Catholic piety, such as Eucharistic adoration and processions, as tending to make an "idol" of the Blessed Sacrament.

This, in itself, is enough to show that these folks are not the sharpest tools in the shed. OK, so transubstantiation is "unacceptable to Protestants". This is given as the reason why we ought to abandon the dogma. Well, the abandonment of the dogma is "unacceptable to all orthodox Roman Catholics", so, if unacceptability is to be our criterion of choice, then by their own definition we ought not to abandon it.

I suppose they would say that unacceptability simpliciter is not the actual criterion, but "unaccpetability to Protestants." If that is their true criterion, they have abandoned the Principle of Sufficient Reason, since there's no compelling reason to accept the judgment of Protestants over that of (centuries of) Roman Catholics, other than the fact that this will get the job done.

Since people are no longer burned at the stake for being Protestant, my view is that we should let folks who reject the dogma go ahead and be Protestants. That's what We Are Church should do--well, in fact, have already done. If there is no difference, as they think, between believing the dogma and rejecting the dogma, then there is no harm in being in a Protestant community where it is rejected, and ecumenism is pointless. If there is an important difference between believing it and rejecting it, as we claim, then it would be folly to reject it, and true ecumenism would recognize that fact.


Mike L said...


Of course I agree with the substance of your post. The "We Are Church" crowd is just a bunch of liberal Protestants in Catholic drag. But as one philosopher to another, I can't resist a quibble about your invocation of The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).

I don't think there is any uncontroversial formulation of PSR. For that reason, I don't find the principle very useful. As I once wrote: "Vague formulations which command broad assent do not suffice for the purposes their proponents usually have in mind; more precise formulations that would suffice if true either are untrue or appear to be true only if some version of the cosmological argument is independently cogent."

Perhaps you could do a post explaining your position on PSR and distinguishing it from the regulative assumption of the uniformity of nature. We could have an interesting discussion if you did.


Scott Carson said...


That's a good suggestion--I'll work up something on that. Though I should say that I'm fairly sympathetic to your worry: the PSR must itself be grounded in something, or you'll get either a regressive explanation or a circular one. But as Aristotle used to say, it is the mark of an uneducated person to seek explanations where explanations are not properly sought, so I've always been a little careful when treading these waters, lest folks think (or rather, discover) I'm some sort of bumpkin.

For the purposes of this particular post, however, we don't even need the PSR to make the point go through. One can simply point out that those wacky WACs want us to cave in on TS in order to make the Protestants happy, for no other reason than that it will be an aid to some sort of unity (unity, apparently, that does not include anyone to whom TS is important). Well then, why not jettisone all dogma, and require assent to nothing? That would mean, of course, that you cannot require people to not believe in TS any more than you can require that they do believe it. I feel certain the WACs would not like that suggestion, but they would have no non-arbitrary grounds for opposing it.

Tom P. said...

The Pope is unacceptable to Protestants so I guess we should do away with him too. In fact, why not just become Protestants and make everyone happy?