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.