Sunday, November 04, 2007

History and Faith

Sometimes it seems that certain conversations lose track of where they've been. I think this happens with some frequency in blogging, because keeping track of all the posts and comments and whatnot can require a great deal of reading spread out over a great length of time. This, I think, helps to explain the direction certain dialogs take. Brandon of Siris has suggested in a recent post that CrimsonCatholic's recent post on authority engages, to a certain extent, a view of Scripture that Protestants for the most part don't really believe in to begin with and, hence, that Jonathan's argument is basically a straw man. And Brandon goes on to say:
And this is where I think attempts, like that of the Crimson Catholic and of several other Catholics in the recent discussion, to defend the Catholic view of Scripture on general philosophical principles will fail; at most they can show that it is not incoherent. But the Catholic view of Scripture is not based on a general account of the nature of authority and interpretation, nor can it be, given the unique relationship between the teaching of the Church and the Scriptures she has received; it is based on the Catholic view of the relation between the Church and the Holy Spirit. The Protestant denies that the interpretive authority is the Church rather than God; the Catholic challenges the dichotomy implicit in the 'rather than'. While this 'rather than' marks a break between the two, such is the emphasis in Catholic doctrine, as found, for instance, in De Fide Catholica and Dei Verbum, on the work of the Holy Spirit, and on the Father speaking with His children through the Scriptures, the more a Protestant emphasizes this, the more his or her view approximates the Catholic view of Scripture. I assume here, of course, that the view of the Trinity in the Protestant case is Nicene. And all this, again, is because the Catholic view of Scripture is not based on these vague and dubious pronouncements about the nature of texts, which are nothing but red herrings that obscure the real point; rather, it is based on the Catholic understanding of the Holy Spirit's work in the Church.
Now, since Mike Liccione of Sacramentum Vitae and I are the other Catholics besides Jonathan who have been attempting to defend the Catholic view of Scripture, I take it that Brandon's post is directed at least in part at my own series of posts on this matter. And yet, to suggest that these posts have intended to "defend the Catholic view of Scripture on general philosophical principles" really is to attack a straw man, since my own arguments were grounded in a rather serious investigation into the historical circumstances of the Protestant view and not merely on "general philosophical principles". The "general philosophical principles", to the extent that there were any, were merely intended to give the rational grounds for making sense of the Catholic position, not as a defense of that position. To say that those principles were themselves the defense is like saying that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is a defense of the belief in the Real Presence, when in fact it is nothing more than a theological metaphor intended only to give one set of considerations under which such a belief can be seen to have rational warrant.

I can't speak for Mike, nor do I need to, as he is more than capable of speaking for himself, but my own view is that the Protestant view of Scripture did not spring up in a vacuum, even if there is a tendency these days to just treat it as an alternative to the Catholic view. The point that I have emphasized over and over again is that the view of the Tradition and of the Magisterium that is defended by Catholics was the dominant view, historically, for many centuries prior to the development of the principles that Protestants now rely on for rejecting such a view. The burden of proof, as I have said in other posts, is not really on the Catholic to defend his view in the first place. Why anyone should think that because a tiny minority of Christendom, 13 centuries after the fact, suddenly decide for themselves and unilaterally to abandon the methods and procedures for determining the content of the faith, thereby turning the tables on the Tradition--why anyone should think that we now have this huge obligation to take that minority seriously in considering where the authority to interpret the Scriptures really lies, is beyond me. Indeed, it would seem to me to be the case that it is the folks who want to defend the rational warrant of these newbies who are relying on purely a priori and ahistorical "general philosophical principles", since there is no other way to make any sense out of such a view. Brandon, who accuses Jonathan of muddling the issue, muddles things rather considerably in his own right:
The failure to appreciate this properly seems to me to land the Crimson Catholic in a number of muddles. The word 'authority' is used a lot, but it was irrelevant to the point originally being discussed; Bill's claim was about the plain meaning of Scripture. It's the Catholics responding to it who keep trying to make authority the key issue, by fair means and foul; and they have generally been doing so by conflating two very different (albeit related) things: the authoritative character of what is interpreted and the authoritative character of the interpreting. It is simply false that the latter is required for the former to have any effect in our lives at all; any Catholic who reads Scripture on his or her own is living proof that you can interpret Scripture, which is authoritative, without authoritatively interpreting it, because every Catholic who reads Scripture in private devotion is doing precisely that. The whole history of the development of Catholic doctrine is filled to the brim with cases in which people have interpreted Scripture unauthoritatively to have those interpretations later recognized authoritatively as correctly capturing the authoritative meaning of Scripture. The principle that there is no authoritative interpreted without authoritative interpreter also does not fit well with the fact that the primary practice of the Church is to let any Catholic read and interpret Scripture, with intervention only where a danger to faith and morals is perceived.
This passage shows that Brandon has either so seriously misunderstood the nature of the dispute as to take himself entirely out of it, or he has not read carefully the arguments posted by everyone involved on the Catholic side. To be fair, he is responding explicitly only to Jonathan, but insofar as Jonathan is his intended target it is unfortunate in the extreme that he has chosen to conflate Jonathan's argument with the overall Catholic position that I and Mike have been defending.

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