Saturday, June 11, 2005

Defending Romanism --- Part 3

In this little exercise of trying to systematize my own thoughts, I listed four prongs of attack that the Romanist employs to argue for his position. The first thread dealt with Prongs (3) and (4). The second thread dealt with Prong (1). This thread, which should wrap things up, deals with Prong (2).

Here's a restatement of Prong (2):

(2) RCism is not completely supportable from the OT and NT:
(a) RCism is not inconsistent with the Bible, being found in "seed" form, but needs extra-Biblical evidence
(b) RCism is not inconsistent with the Bible, not being found in "seed" form, but extra-Biblical evidence supports the Roman superstructure added to the Bible.

This method has the most promise for the Roman apologist if his sole goal is to get to me [and nobody says that his goal has to be this]. I'll now talk about a coherent Romanist apologetic that deals in my currency and doesn't already assume Romanism as true. Now this apologetic will come up short --- I'm the Pedantic Protestant, not the Pedantic Papist, after all --- but it does have the possibility of being strengthened eventually into a strong argument. Just think of the reduced time in purgatory a Roman Catholic would get for his supererogatory efforts in convincing the nefarious PP to join the Dark Side! =D

Let me note that, as with the posts below, I can at best try to give a general outline. Filling in all of the details would require a book, and a blog is not a book. But, the hope as I type this is to be reasonably successful in giving a general program to follow.

Our Feature Presentation

Where exactly do I differ from Rome? At the risk of being repetitive or sounding doctrinaire, here are the main things with which I disagree, in the form of a close-to-exhaustive list.

Marian doctrines:
(a) Sinlessness
(b) Assumption
(c) Co-Mediatrix
(c) Perpetual Virginity

Ideas of authority:
(a) Scripture is not the sole infallible rule of faith, but must be supplemented in some fashion by the RCC
(b) Papal ex cathedra infallibility
(c) Apostolic succession

Justification [the whole shebang here!]

These points could be broken down more finely, and there may well be other points of difference [in fact, there are]. But this list presents a formidable array of differences as it is, so I'll stick with it.

I know the scriptures too well, and, more importantly, have enough experience with exegesis and exegetical arguments to say that any of the items above are explicitly mentioned in scripture. I'd go so far as to say that they're not even implicitly mentioned without prior Roman baggage. This is really just a restatement of stating that Prong (1) will be entirely unsuccessful if applied to me.

But it is quite possible [in the logical sense] for the Roman apologist to justify
these positions by appealing to Tradition and a "development of doctrine" viewpoint.
How would I attempt do this?

The answer seems to be straightforward: give evidence that the Fathers who are cited in support of one of the doctrines above are to be taken as seriously as the canonical writings.

The "ancientness" of a given Father has nothing to do with whether what he is saying is correct or not. There are ancient heretics and Christians; there are more recent heretics and more recent Christians, so the issue is not brokered by any misplaced veneration of a given Father.

The "piety" of a given Father also has nothing to do with whether what he is saying is correct or not. There are pious heretics and not-too-pious Christians, so the issue of how seriously a Father must be taken is not brokered by this.

Calling a Father "part of the Catholic tradition" is also begging the question in this context, since the question of just what is Catholic tradition [or even if it exists] is logically prior to this.

I will give a Father the same veneration as the sacred text provided that his writings and life meet the same standards as do the NT texts.

What makes the writings of the NT an infallible bedrock for myself [and, presumably, for other conservative Protestants]?

(i) There is good evidence [liberal scholarship notwithstanding] that the traditional authorship claims of the NT writings are in fact correct.
That is, St Matthew wrote the first gospel, St John wrote the fourth gospel and the three epistles that bear his name, the letters of Paul that are included in the NT in fact have Paul as their background genius. Those NT writings written by apostles have apostolic authority, and both Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants have not problem with apostolic authority.

What about those NT writings that are written by somebody other than Paul or the Apostles? For example, what about Mark's gospel? I find the arguments that Mark acted as "Peter's interpreter" to be quite reasonable. In this case, the second gospel has a direct link to the Apostle Peter, and its authority is not in question. What about the third gospel? Here, I'm not well-studied on the isagogics of the third gospel, but much of the third gospel is already found in Matthew and Mark, so even if Luke [or the author of the third gospel] didn't have quite the apostolic connections that I'd like, what he writes is consistent with those gospels with which I have no problems relative to authority. The idea with Acts is that Luke shared many moments with Paul, so the Acts at least has a firm apostolic link.
Basically, apostolic authority or proximity to apostolic authority gives the NT writings a very high status.

(ii) The Apostles and Paul were directly commissioned by Jesus and their words were supported by miracles. Why does apostolic authority or proximity to apostolic authority matter? Simply put, the apostles' actions were accompanied with miracles. Revelation in the OT and the NT is accompanied by miracles or signs, and their revelations were accompanied by miracles and signs.

(iii) Again contradicting the views of liberal scholarship, I find the NT writings, while having a few things that are hard to rectify either exegetically or historically, have an internal doctrinal unity. Defending this is out of the league for a blog post, and I'm merely stating a position to which I've come.

We deal with each ancient Christian or author on a case-by-case and evidential basis. How much does the ancient writer measure up to (i)-(iii) enumerated just above?

Here are my answers relative to my current state of knowledge [June 2005]. These answers are perfectly open to emendation if contrary evidence is presented.

Relative to (i): most of the 2nd century writers were not intimates of the apostles. This means [for me] that they can't be given a blank check, and what they write has to be critically examined the same way any other author's writings are to be critically examined. They lack the apostolic authority that the NT writings have.

Now, for any given topic in any given ancient writer's writings, we'll have that the writing is a restatement of what is in scripture, or a proposition that while not being explicit in scripture is not in contradiction to scripture, or implies something that negates clear scripture.

Of the three possibilities just enumerated, the first is easy to deal with: the writing is true [authoritative or not] because it is identical to scripture, which scripture we already take as true. The third is also problem-free, as in this case the writer is clearly in error. The second possibility is where some of the distinctly Roman claims live.

How can the RC apologist make progress here in this second possibility? Answer: give some sort of historical evidence of an intimate chain between an apostle and the early writer in question. This may be a difficult thing to do, but it isn't unreasonable, as canons (i)-(iii) are being consistently applied. Protestants don't [or shouldn't] have problems with succession, provided that there is an evidential basis for it. It is the blank check, ambiguous appeals to "succession" that cause me to raise eyebrows.

Relative to (ii): what sort of attestable and believable miracles are there to accompany an early writer so as to make any thesis of his having authority a plausible one? The threshold for believable miracles and such should meet the NT evidence.

Application: if Father X says something that is logically neutral with respect to scriptural writings, he may be correct on the basis of a philosophical argument or some other extra-confirmatory evidence, but on a doctrinal issue [say any of the ones mentioned above] it is difficult to take what he says seriously without the attestation of miracles and such.

This isn't an unfair condition to require, since this is the precedent in the writings [OT and NT] that both RC's and Protestants accept. It isn't a case where the rules are being changed. Where are the miracles or the divine affirmation of the writings? Provide these relative to Fathers who support the distinctly Roman doctrines above and these will be much more acceptable.

Relative to (iii): Does the general thrust of an ancient writer's work agree with scripture, even if a few particulars are off? If an ancient writer wants to be taken seriously, there must be an internal unity in his writings. Therefore, if a Roman Catholic wants to cite Father X's statement Y on, say, Mary, it is a good thing for the Protestant audience to know that X is more or less safely orthodox.

But even then, perhaps the Roman Catholic might say that X is right on Mary while being wrong on other points, and we on our side can admit a prima facie plausibility to this. In this case then, the Roman Catholic is "acting Protestant" in the sense of reading the document and giving himself the same epistemic authority as does a Protestant. I may not like Origen, but I can agree with some of his points while disagreeing with others.

The Roman Catholic might admit this [I don't see what harm it would do] but then some sort of evidence as to why X is correct in stating Y. Appeals to RC tradition won't do --- they're circular, being the question under discussion here.

Comments on Tradition

I've read the Catechism of the Catholic Church [by Hardon] on the issue of Tradition, and I find it not too helpful in giving an objective criterion as to exactly what is tradition, how something becomes part of tradition, and just why I am supposed to vest people with authority to make this decision in the first place. After all, there are plenty of liberal Roman Catholics out there [Brown and Fitzmeyer, say] with whom I disagree, and having read some of John Paul II's writings I can't say that I know where all of this great intellectual admiration for him finds justification. What he says makes no difference to me if there isn't an evidential basis for beliving in the whole Roman system in the first place. After a fair amount of study, I still don't see much [if any] objective justification for why Z is considered Tradition and not Q. Also, the self-selecting nature of Tradition makes it equally hard to defend or attack the proposition that something really belongs to part of Tradition.

I've seen some Roman Catholics bypass this problem with a more organic view of tradition where different Fathers may contradict each other, but, using loose analogical imagery, the different tastes are swilled around and a sort of consensus emerges. Fine, so be it. This still doesn't deal with the evidential paradigm I've given above [not that they're obligated to], but it still causes questions of authority from somebody like me: Why believe this council? Why vest them with authority? What do they know that I don't know? And so on.

In light of the above paragraph, I run into the melodramatic argument by outrage where the Roman Catholic finds it a rather stunning feat of arrogance to say that I think that I, a single person, know more than a council. And on an emotional level, it does have a share of intimidation value. But again, that is the only value that it has. Most theologians and scholars that I've seen deny, say, John's authorship of the fourth gospel or Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, but I stand in contradiction to them because I think their methodology is shoddy. That I'm in the very clear minority relative to NT scholarship doesn't trouble me, because I have yet to see the conservative arguments adequately addressed and refuted.

Thus, were I to embrace RCism and morph into the Pedantic Papist --- an action that would require the printing of a new set of business cards as well as a new wardrobe --- I'd have to nail down exactly what Tradition is and isolate the objective criteria used for determining what is or isn't Tradition. If RC apologists can't do this, then they don't deserve to be taken seriously.

Finally, a Summary

As usual with my attempts at serious posting, I've bitten off more than I can chew. All of my points could be the topics of small [or not-so-small!] monographs, though I hope I've at least brought out my position [speaking for nobody else] in a semi-coherent fashion. If not, then you probably haven't made it down this far, having gone somewhere else on the internet!

In summary, RC's need to do the following:
(1) Objectify Tradition and the criteria by which material is considered Tradition.
(2) Justify these criteria relative to (i)-(iii) mentioned above.
(3) Connect the doctrines mentioned above to Tradition.

Some three-step program, eh? None of the points there are trivial and would take a LONG time. But, given the great ambition of the Roman Catholic enterprise, with all of the extra claims on top of scripture, it shouldn't be scandalizing to point out that all of these great claims require a firm evidential support. Speaking for myself alone, though I think my arguments are reasonable, Prongs (3), and (4) remove Romanism from the sphere of evidential falsifiability, and I contend that (1) is simply a dead end for Roman apologetics. Only Prong (2), outlined above [in hopefully a somewhat readable fashion] in this thread, has any chance, and, in my studies as of the present, I simply don't see any parts of the outline listed above verified or rendered highly probable. At best, they've been shown not-too-unreasonable, but as for a positive argument, that is lacking in my experience.
That is, what I've seen so far is merely exhortational arguments for already-Roman minds, lacking the neutral evidentiary value that I'd like to see.

Final paragraph, promise: I view these three threads as reasonably sound, but they could use a lot of work and cleaning up. I'm not sure as to how derivative my material is, and I certainly don't present this as some great original feat of thinking [those feats lie in various technical journals and a grad-level textbook in another field entirely]. Even making allowances that blog formats really aren't too good for serious discussion, I could've done this in a much tighter fashion, but it is too late now to change, as the effort would not be worth the reward!


Blogger centuri0n said...

I'll bet this was the post that gave someone the idea that you were me.

However, for the fans at home, I wouldn't cut any RC advocate this much slack.

Monday, June 13, 2005 6:24:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Oh no Frank, we couldn't possibly be the same person...[or could we?]


Pedantic Centuri0n, er, Protestant

Monday, June 13, 2005 2:30:00 PM  

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