More PAPpy Thoughts and Reflections

Both Fr. Al Kimel and Shane of Scholasticus (I'm very sorry to say that I don't know his last name, but what the heck, we're all friends here) have done me the honor of commenting on my PAP post of yesterday. I'm afraid that, at least to the best of my sorry-ass understanding of things, there is no way to link to their particular comments, so I will be referring here to their remarks simply by saying "In Fr. Al's comment" and "In Shane's comment", or else by quoting from them directly here in this post. I apologize to both of them for treating their individual comments together here, but I've been thinking of them in tandem all morning, and it seemed to me that the issues raised in each are related in a sufficiently strong sense as to be answerable under a single heading. And I apologize to my readers, if I actually have any beyond Fr. Al and Shane (if even they are reading) for a post that is really nothing more than an extended comment on the comments on an earlier post.

I will begin by treating them separately, though, starting with Fr. Al (all deference to our clergy, after all--I think I owe him some kind of brown-nosy sort of submissiveness just as a matter of brainless devotion to authority [Shane: that was a joke.]).

Fr. Al's comment really was a longish quotation, with a request for comments, from Cardinal Newman's An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, a wonderful little book from 1870 that I have blogged on before (here, here, and here) and heartily recommend to all Newman fans and, indeed, to anyone who is interested in the epistemological problems underlying Newman's conception of the development of doctrine.

I certainly agree with what Newman says in the first paragraph quoted in Fr. Al's comment--indeed, it seems to me to be a recapitulation of the point I was making in my post.

In the second paragraph, however, there is a worry. This is, of course, the old problem of the development of doctrine, and I discovered back when we were all discussing this last December and January that not all Catholics really see this precisely the same way. As some of my readers may know, I favor the idea of non-ampliative abduction as a means of developing doctrine, while Dr. Michael Liccione, with whom I discussed this issue in a series of posts here and at his blog Sacramentum Vitae, seems to me to favor ampliative abduction.

However that may be, I think one must be very careful when talking about what people ought to believe or must believe on the basis of what they claim to believe already. A rather prodigious body of scholarship has shown that many fully rational, well-educated people will reject a given assertion, q, even while asserting [(if p then q) and p]. Some of the literature interprets this as evidence that people are not, as a rule, very rational, but I take a different line. In my view, people are generally quite rational in the sense of being able to give reasons for their beliefs, but the reasons they give are not always subject to universal acceptance because they depend upon non-cognitive factors in a given individual's psychology. It is just possible, for example, that my friend the Presbyterian minister really believes that he did not commit adultery.

Granted, if I understand the meaning of the numbers from 0 to 9, the meaning of "+", and the meaning of "=", then there is a sense in which I "ought" to know every possible sum; but of course, that is an infinite number of things and there is no way that I can really actively believe all of them. So I take Newman's point to be that, as doctrine develops, there will be rational accounts of how the developed doctrine is consistent with already existing doctrine. Those accounts will take the form either of deductions or (non-)ampliative abductions. Now, deduction requires intellectual assent from everyone on pain of irrationality, but no inductive inference can make such demands; we may at best say that a strong induction demands intellectual assent from everyone on pain of seeming strange to our fellow rational agents. But some people, notoriously, do not mind being perceived as strange by their fellow rational agents, indeed, there are those who ardently seek such status.

From the point of view of the Protestant, the most problematic teachings of the Church are the abductive developments, and in all honesty I cannot say as how I blame them for being nervous about such inferential models. Surely all Protestants accept the doctrine of the Double Procession, which follows logically from the doctrine of the Trinity (I apologize here in advance to those of my Orthodox brethren who find this idea ludicrous; I will content myself with the reflection that these brethren would at least agree with me as against the Protestants on the point of the authority of the Tradition, just so long as we bracket the means by which we believe that Tradition to develop). The teaching on the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, however, as deductively obvious as it seems to us, will appear to most of them to be an abduction, and a preternaturally weak one at that.

So the question that Shane would like for us to address is this: why should a reasonable person, who has taken it as his duty to learn about and understand as completely as possible the content of his religion, simply agree to endorse a teaching such as the Immaculate Conception if, in his heart of hearts, he believes it to be false? This is, it seems to me, a perfectly reasonable question, but it depends upon certain ambiguities, ambiguities that I attempted to highlight in my post of yesterday. The first ambiguity has to do with the nature of authority itself. There is a temptation to think that when one is told that a teaching is "authoritative" all that is meant is that we have to believe it whether we want to or not. This is not the correct understanding of the term, however. A teaching can only be authoritative if it is true, and we demand assent to authoritative teachings not because of the office of the person promulgating the teaching but because of the truth of the teaching. In the hands of arguments such as the one Shane presented at Scholasticus, this question of the truth of the doctrine gets turned into a question of trusting a particular doctrine-promulgator, which is a category mistake of the first order. Shane asks not, Why ought I to believe a true teaching--he is quick to point out that he is happy to admit that some folks may know things he doesn't know, and he will take their word in certain circumstances, and he also agrees that of course it is reasonable to accept a teaching that is true. Rather, Shane asks, Why ought I to trust the Pope to be teaching the truth when I, who am also a reasonable person, do not see that what he has to teach really follows from what we already believe?

There are a number of interesting epistemological problems presented by this sort of question. Shane is, essentially, trying to defend a principle of private judgment according to which he is within his rights to determine for himself whether the Pope, or any other instrument of the Ordinary Magisterium, really is teaching what is true rather than what is false. In other words, Shane puts his own private judgment about matters of faith and morals on a par with the collective judgment of the Church as a whole about matters of faith and morals. Possibly Shane does not see it this way; possibly he thinks, No, I'm putting my private judgment on a par with the private judgment of Joseph Ratzinger, the German theologian, or whoever it is that happens to be living in the Papal palace. But that, again, is to mistake the authority of the particular person who happens to hold the office for the authority of the office itself, understood qua instrument of the Ordinary Magisterium. The two things are not identical; indeed, they are not even analogous. So, as interesting as it might be to explore something like this, we may actually put aside for the day the question of how it would be that Shane, or any other person, could go about coming to have knowledge that he knows more about matters of faith and morals than some other person, whether the Pope or anyone else. In his comment, Shane completely ignored my point about the difference between the orthodox faith and the Gnostic heresy, but the capacity to judge the difference between them raises this very interesting epistemological puzzle: how does one know that one knows, and more specifically, how does person A know that he knows more than person B about matters of faith and morals? Shane does not offer any hypotheses about how we are to feel as secure as one would want to feel in such grave matters, but, as I remarked above, this question is irrelevant anyway, since we are not comparing person A with person B here, but person A with institution C.

It may be the case that some Protestants simply misunderstand what the teaching office of the Pope actually is. Some may think that the obligation to submit to his teaching authority is nothing more than an obligation to prefer another individual's private judgment to one's own. I will grant that, if such were really the content of the obligation, it would indeed be unreasonable. But that is not at all the content of the obligation. The passage that Fr. Al quotes from Newman goes on to elaborate what the content of the obligation is:
He who believes that Christ is the Truth, and that the Evangelists are truthful, believes all that He has said through them, though he has only read St. Matthew and has not read St. John. He who believes in the depositum of Revelation, believes in all the doctrines of the depositum; and since he cannot know them all at once, he knows some doctrines, and does not know others; he may know only the Creed, nay, perhaps only the chief portions of the Creed; but, whether he knows little or much, he has the intention of believing all that there is to believe whenever and as soon as it is brought home to him, if he believes in Revelation at all. All that he knows now as revealed, and all that he shall know, and all that there is to know, he embraces it all in his intention by one act of faith; otherwise, it is but an accident that he believes this or that, not because it is a revelation. This virtual, interpretative, or prospective belief is called a believing implicitè; and it follows from this, that, granting that the Canons of Councils and the other ecclesiastical documents and confessions, to which I have referred, are really involved in the depositum or revealed word, every Catholic, in accepting the depositum, does implicitè accept those dogmatic decisions.
Perhaps plenty of Protestants will be happy to accept this much, but some will add, "But I still do not have any reason to trust the Pope, even forgetting about his personal judgments and attributing his sayings rather to the institution of his office. He is still just a man, after all, and he may perhaps misunderstand the teachings that have come down to him. Why is it a matter of virtue for me to abandon my own judgment and trust in his?"

The beginning of the answer to this question is to remind the questioner that if the Pope really is mistaken in his understanding of what has come down to him, then he is not really teaching authoritatively. It is only the correctly understood, true teachings that we have a duty to accept. So then, given that, what do we do if we just don't trust the man? Why should we assume that he is right, when in our heart of hearts we believe differently? I suppose one could appeal to humility here, and ask how it is that one knows for sure that one is right just because one has assumed that one has thought through the problem very carefully. So has the Magisterium, after all, and the Magisterium reflects the thinking and deliberation of generation after generation of Christians of all stripes, lay, ordained, theologians, philosophers, moralists, etc.; and I know from my own sad experience that, at least in the case of my own students, whom I believe myself to have taught very well, folks often assume that they are right when they are, in fact, mistaken. Indeed, it seems to me to be a very common occurrence that the more certain one is that one is correct the greater the probability that one has missed something. But appealing to humility here may seem to the Protestant to be rather ad hoc, and surely the Catholic can come up with something more compelling than mere special pleading.

If the Protestant were to reject what Newman says, I think, he would be in a very dire position--he would really need to come up with an answer to my problem of orthodoxy vs. heresy. But I think Shane accepts what I was suggesting there: indeed, we must trust in the teaching authority of the Church, as reflected in the Apostolic doctrines, whether they be expressed in the texts of the New Testament, the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, or the consensus fidelium. The harder question is, why should we regard the teaching authority of the Papal office to be a part and parcel of that, which is what the Catholic really demands. The Catholic will often appeal here to the fact that, it is part of the deposit of faith in the Ordinary Magisterium that the Papal office fills that role. Historically this was always widely believed, but of course history also works against the Catholic here, because American Protestants in particular are, well, Americans, and they tend to be individualists who were raised in a culture that does not look kindly on "parking one's brains at the door" and letting the Pope think for you. It is curious, of course, that the American Protestant is willing to let the Church think for him, and dictate to him that he absolutely must believe, for example, "in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church" or that "there is one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins", etc. The Church may dictate, but the Pope may not. I suspect that the reason for this apprehension about the Pope has to do with the fact that, by the very nature of the office itself, it is a single individual who is promulgating the teaching, and Americans, as a rule, think that every opinion is sacred, and who is this particular person to be dictating to me? It seems to escape their notice that the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople consisted of individual men who wrote down credal formulae that they then dictated to the rest of us. If you believe the Creed, you have to ask yourself, "on what authority do I accept the Creed as true?" Is it really because you have examined for yourself all the points contained in it and have verified, by means of your own rational faculty, the truth of all that it says? If so I can only say, I admire your balls! Surely we accept the Creed because of its antiquity and the sheer authority of the men who formulated it. They were in a position to tell us what to believe, and that position was theirs due to the teaching charism of the Church.

So the principle difference between accepting teachings from the Creed and teachings from the Papal office appears to be reducible to accepting teachings from a corporate body of men as opposed to accepting the teachings of a single man. And yet, if properly understood, the Papal office is not a single man, it is itself a corporate institution that is peopled by many men, albeit it is so populated diachronically rather than synchronically. To assert, without argument, that synchronically constituted institutions are to be preferred to diachronically constituted institutions, however, is to beg the question against the Catholic.

Now here we must address a rather peculiar problem that is specific to Shane's comment on my post of yesterday. Because it turns out that he doesn't, in fact, accept the teaching authority of the Councils uncritically:
My position is that accepting X as true, just because the magisterium teaches it and claims to have an infallible teaching authority, is an act of blind faith. As such, the point of my argument is that blind faith embodies submission to authority in a vicious way. So yes, my argument does boil down to: ‘blind faith’ is bad, but with several (I thought fairly clear) distinctions drawn to avoid committing the protestant to the fallacious view you take to be my conclusion that any and all submission as such is bad.
I will begin by agreeing wholeheartedly that "blind faith is bad", and I will re-assert the fact that no reputable Roman Catholic theologian says otherwise. The point here appears to be that even the Magisterium is not above being judged by the private cognitive faculties of the individual Christian, and that means that every Credal statement, every doctrine of the consensus fidelium, is open to the scrutiny of each and every generation of Christians who, on the authority of nothing more than their own private judgment, may accept or reject these teachings at will. I will just pause to say that I don't believe that very many Protestant theologians will endorse such a radical view, but that may not be relevant to everyone. After all, if you're all for private judgment, then why not go all the way?

One reason for not going all the way, of course, is obvious: someone may determine that, according to their own principled reasoning, God is not Three Persons but Two. There would be no way to "refute" such a person, since according to the private judgment argument the only criterion of correctness is consistency with one's own private judgment. Just so long as one's private judgment follows the constraints of logic, then it cannot be "refuted" in any meaningful sense, since the constraints of logic do not constrain one's starting points. In other words, we are back to the problem of orthodox vs. Gnostic heresy. According to this sort of private judgment argument, there is no such thing as heresy; or else everything that one does not think for oneself just is heresy.

This is a puzzle that Wittgenstein made much of in his Philosophical Investigations. There, he argues that there can be no such thing as a "private language", that is, a language in which the system of signs and references and predicates is entirely private. The reason is that language is essentially a public phenomenon: when someone misuses a word, he is corrected by the other members of the language using community. If I call an apple an orange, someone points out my mistake, and tries to get me to refer to apples as apples. If I persist in my error I will never be understood by my fellows. How will they know that I want to eat an apple if the only thing I ever ask for is oranges? Similar, imagine a language that is entirely internal to my own mental life. For example, my internal belief that "This headache I am having today is worse than the one I had last week." The semantic content here is expressed in English, of course, but the references are entirely private: this headache I am having today, the one I had last week. Only I know what those are like because only I experienced them. But how do even I know that the headache I am having today is worse than the one I had last week? In the case of a private language, there is no one to correct mistaken uses of the language. I rely on my memory to judge the difference between the two pains, but how do I know that my memory is serving me correctly? Who will correct me if I am mistaken? If Wittgenstein's intuition here is correct, it is not possible to have a meaningful private language of this kind.

In the case of private judgment the difficulty is very similar, though not identical. The difficulty is simply that, when the criterion of correctness is private judgment itself, there is no mechanism for correction when private judgment is mistaken. (Indeed, private judgment cannot possibly be mistaken!) This difficulty is, in my view, fatal to the whole project.

Is the alternative really nothing more than "blind faith in the Magisterium"? No, not if "Magisterium" is understood properly. When understood properly, faith in it is never blind. In particular, the Catholic assumes a large community of believers who all share a final end, and the pursuit of that end is moved forward by the commonly shared revelation and the commonly shared rational faculty that is distributed among individuals. The individual instantiation of the rational faculty is indeed under private control, but the control we apply to it is governed by the criterion of judgment that comes from the community, a standard that is outside of each one of us as individuals and yet constituted by contributions from certain individuals. The rational faculty guides us individually, but the community corrects us when we err.

I can see no reasonable way around this, or I myself would be a Protestant. I happily await an illustration of how this view fails; in particular, I would love to hear a story about how one could possibly choose between orthodoxy and the Gnostic heresy on the private judgment account. I fear that my desire for that story will be on a par with my desire to beat Tiger Woods at golf.


CrimsonCatholic said…
I'd say that you read my mind while I was commenting on the post below, but you probably just think much faster than I do.

One thing I think is worth pointing out is that Calvin's epistemology in particular strikes me as completely worthless from a Thomist perspective. He openly endorses innate ideas and this "internal witness of the Spirit" idea, neither of which I consider to amount to a coherent knowledge claim. I'm considering adopting a heuristic along the lines of Pontificator's Laws: if your claim depends on an internal witness of the Spirit to give your knowledge, it is definitely wrong.
Shane said…
@ Crimson Catholic,

I can't imagine why you think the catholic is in a better state epistemologically than the protestant. Why do you believe that the magisterium is authoritative? Because the magisterium itself says that it is authoritative? (Circularity) Or because the spirit prepares your heart to receive its authority? (Internal Witness of the Spirit, mutatis mutandis)

@Scott Carson,

My last name is Wilkins.

The length of your response and the low amount of time I'm willing to spend arguing with strangers on the internet forbid me from answering exhaustively. So this will have to suffice:

As I've pointed out, again and again, the spiritual knowledge which I think one to use to judge the Pope and his statements is a practical one. So far I've tried to keep the discussion fairly abstract, but perhaps some case studies would help make things more clear.

Let's say it's the year 1520 and I'm an illiterate French peasant. I may never have read a single word of the Bible or the Fathers but I am a devout catholic. One day at church the priest says, "One of the brothers has been caught teaching protestantism so I say that we all go, catch him, and burn him alive at the stake."

Now something about this just doesn't sit right with me. It seems to me that in the gospel Jesus is usually being kind and peaceful to people and telling us to pray for our enemies and so forth so I object. "Well, Father, I may not like his heretical teachings, but I don't think God would want us to burn him alive just for believing the wrong things."

"Nonsense," says the priest, "if you could read, then you would realize that the Pope has just condemned as an error the idea that it is against the will of the spirit to burn heretics." (cf. Exsurge Domine, #33 here

"Did the Holy Father really say that?"

"Yes of course he did. And you wouldn't dare to challenge your own private individual judgment (the judgment of an illiterate to boot) against the wisdom and divine guidance of the whole magisterium, the Pope and all the doctors of the faith--would you? (Because I can make a second stake if you would like.)"

Now forgive my act of hubris, separated brothers, but it seems to me that the illiterate peasant knows better than the Pope in Rome what God wants in this circumstance.

So that's an (extreme) example of what I think this practice of private judgment ought to look like.

Let me also give you an example of a case of theoretical knowledge in which I, personally, 'know better' than a doctor of the church.

St. Augustine's theory of original sin holds that every individual is born guilty of sin because we all sinned ‘in adam’ and he quotes in support of this view the Vulgate rendering of Romans 5:13:

"Propterea sicut per unum hominem peccatum in hunc mundum intravit, et per peccatum mors, et ita in omnes homines mors pertransiit, in quo omnes peccaverunt."

Now, Augustine, reading very little Greek himself is utterly dependent upon Jerome’s translation, which is itself faulty.

The Greek text has:

Διά τοῦτο ὦσπερ δι᾽ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος, καὶ ὅυτως εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν, ἐφ᾽ ὧ πάντες ἧμαρτον:

ἐφ᾽ ὧ is the greek expression Jerome translates mechanically as ‘in quo’. However, ἐφ᾽ ὧ is an idiom meaning ‘because’—it does not mean literally ‘in whom’. Thus, in modern English Bible translations the verse goes something like:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned . . . “ (NRSV).

The difference between the two versions is significant. And it is a fact that Augustine’s doctrine of original sin exercises a strong influence upon the history of the doctrine of original sin in the Catholic Church. It is also a fact that Augustine is wrong about the meaning of the verse.

Does this make me a better theologian than Augustine? Of course not. But it does mean that I might possess some knowledge he (and the great medieval theologians, popes and councils who follow him) does not. There is no notion of puerile boasting in this kind of statement, only a realistic appraisal of what happens to be the case. I could no sooner boast to be a better theologian than Augustine on this grounds than I could boast to be a better logician than Aristotle just because I happen to have been born after Frege and know some things about logic which Aristotle did not.
Scott Carson said…

Jonathan can, of course, speak for himself, and usually does, quite elegantly, so I will merely point out that it is not the case that we believe that the magisterium is authoritative "because the magisterium itself says" so. That you would repeat this allegation as many times as you have in the face of the historical explanations on offer does not put your capacity to follow a complex historical argument in a very good light. I should add that your "historical example", along with the citation from the Pope, only brings into much higher relief your inability to understand the argument that has been made against you, so I propose that we just let that go.

On the matter of your alleged "spiritual knowledge" I have to confess ignorance. I have no way of knowing whether you, or anyone else, has any such thing. You can claim that you do, of course, and so you have. But the claim is meaningless to the rest of us. If it makes you feel better about your beliefs to think that they are supported by some kind of internal inspiration of the Spirit, then by no means will I attempt to dissuade you, since by making such claims you effectively remove yourself from the domain of philosophical discourse, which requires epistemic warrants that are publicly available.

As a compromise, however, I will be willing to listen to your reasons for thinking that you have such inspiration if you will simply do me the courtesy of explaining how you, personally, have made the choice to accept orthodox Christian belief (or, as I suppose I ought to say, those beliefs that you find to be orthodox) as opposed to the Gnostic heresy (assuming, of course, that you do think Gnosticism is heretical). Is it really a matter of an internal spirit telling you which set of beliefs is the correct set of beliefs, or do you have some other grounds on which you have made this choice? If your choice is grounded in your internal spiritual knowledge, then I think you ought to say so and then our conversation will be ended, because that will be as far as any conversation could possibly go (it would also, somewhat ironically, make you a Gnostic yourself). If, by contrast, you have publicly available reasons or choosing orthodoxy over heresy (assuming you do), I would be very interested in hearing what they are. Such reasons would constitute a real starting point for a possibly profitable discussion.

I'm tempted to conclude by taunting you about your knowledge of Greek, which is as dogmatic as your theology, but I'll just let that go, too, since I'm not sure you're having as good a time as I am.

Instead, I'll conclude with some personal remarks, in the hope that there will be no hard feelings between us should you decide that you have had enough of this discussion. I will be the first to admit that I sometimes play a little rough in these dialectical games--perhaps it is an occupational hazard: a lot of philosophers pull out all the stops and it isn't always pretty for the onlookers, but no decent philosopher would say something merely for rhetorical effect, or only to score a debating point. I do not intentionally ignore points or deliberately misconstrue arguments; I always employ the "principle of charity" (which is not a theological principle, but the principle of always interpreting one's opponent's argument in the most reasonable light, even if one finds it difficult to believe). When I say that I am disappointed in your capacity to follow the historical argument that was presented, it is not intended as a slap in the face designed to piss you off or intimidate you or anything of that sort. It is not intended as a personal insult on the order of "You're a moron"--I assume, as a matter of principle, that you are as bright and articulate as you give every evidence of being. On the other hand, I cannot deny what seems to me to be obvious: you did not follow that argument. The evidence, presented in your own responses to it, is undeniable. So given that I happen to believe this, I must make a decision. Perhaps it would be better left unsaid, but it seems somehow more disrespectful to you to just stop talking about all of that without explaining to you the reason why I'm not going on. In my line of work, I often have to tell people "I'm sorry, but you're just not ready for this topic yet, you still need to take some of the prerequisites." It is not intended as an insult, it is merely a statement of my assessment of the situation. I may very well be mistaken, but at least I'm being honest about my feelings. You may feel that this is just a cop out, a condescending way of getting out of answering what you think to be a real slapdown argument of yours. If that's what you think, then I'll just have to live with it, I guess, just as I have to live with students who don't agree with me about my assessment of their performance. It comes with the territory, and folks who can't take that kind of rejection probably shouldn't be in my line of work.

So, if you should decide that you want no more of this particular "stranger on the internet", I will fully understand, with no hard feelings; I'll continue to read your very interesting blog and follow your thoughts, but I won't press you for further interaction. If, on the other hand, you should decide that people on the internet needn't be strangers to one another, especially when they share a faith in Our Lord, I will rejoice to find another brother, even one with whom I cannot agree on all matters.
Shane said…
@Dr. Carson,

No hard feelings at all. I am not easily provoked. (Although I could do without the condescension and backhanded compliments.) And I'd even be happy to continue to investigate this topic further at a future date. But I'm done for the moment. 2 reasons.

First, I don't get the sense that you've really read what I've written. I take myself to have made several important distinctions and sub-arguments which you seem to completely ignore. You seem to be faulting me for not responding to you point by point, but you haven't paid me the same courtesy, so I don't feel the need to reciprocate.

Second, and relatedly, I simply lack the time to respond thoroughly to the 11,000 words you have written to me on this topic in the last 48 hours.

For example, I did indeed read your 'historical' argument and I believe I even followed most of it—the application of Wittgenstein and the private language argument lost me. From the fact that I understood your argument, it would not follow that I agree with it or that I would speak as if I did.

I look forward to interacting with you more in the future. But I don’t see our conversation on this topic going any farther forward at the moment, so I’ll bow out.
CrimsonCatholic said…
Why do you believe that the magisterium is authoritative? Because the magisterium itself says that it is authoritative? (Circularity) Or because the spirit prepares your heart to receive its authority? (Internal Witness of the Spirit, mutatis mutandis)

I have no idea why this is so hard for people to understand. I have faith in the real existence of a thing outside myself; I don't put my faith in my belief about the thing. In other words, it is exactly NOT what I believe about the thing that is relevant. The obvious difficulty with Scripture is that interpretation is necessarily one's thought about something, rather than an essential property of the thing itself (you don't have faith in the metaphysical properties of ink and paper, for example). Therefore, it's impossible for pure sola scriptura to be anything BUT viciously circular. I'm not sure why Protestants seem so comfortable with glibly equating faith in the Church with faith in Scripture, but faith in the Church is an affirmation that one's faith is caused by the object of one's faith, which is the same way all knowledge about external reality is created. Protestant faith is that one's own internal operation causes faith in the object. I just flat out don't believe that internal operations create knowledge about external things; that sounds like uncaused knowledge.

Perhaps it would be simpler if the proximate object of faith were identified as the proximate cause of knowledge. The question then becomes extremely simple: what real thing outside yourself caused you to have this particular theological knowledge? I have no idea how interpreting a text can be the immediate cause of knowledge; it would have to be mediated by probable judgment (in which case it isn't certain) or some sort of existing universal knowledge obtained previously from something else.

See my post on practical and scientific knowledge here.

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