Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Dog That Purrs

I have a pet named Taffy.

She's very special. She purrs when you scratch her tummy. Sometimes, she's a bad little girl and she claws the sofa. When she wants some cream, she mews. It tickles when she licks you with her rough sandpaper tongue and kneads you with her paws while purring. She's very low-maintenance too, going to her litter box whenever she has to do her duty. Taffy likes to sleep during the day, but at the night you can hear her playing with cat toys. She dearly loves catnip. She comes when you call her. She gave birth to the cutest litter of kittens you could possible imagine. I could go on and on about Taffy.

Taffy, by the way, is a purebred cocker spaniel. She looks like this.

I can guess what some readers are thinking at this stage. These readers are probably saying that I'm deluded, and that Taffy is a cat. After all, she sure seems to look like a cat. And experience says that cats purr, mew, use litter boxes, like catnip, knead with their paws, and sleep during the day. Experience also says that these behaviors and preferences don't describe dogs. But I contend that Taffy is a purebred cocker spaniel.

But then you look at the picture, and you say that, no, Taffy is a cat.

It is at this point that I proclaim your ignorance, and, with a certain degree of condescension, point out that I have an official form from the head of the American Kennel Club stating that Taffy is a purebred cocker spaniel. You point out that the formal statement of the official form by the official head of the official organization means nothing, because Taffy is most definitely a cat. You again point out that she looks like a cat, behaves like a cat, and has the preferences of a cat.

But now I'm getting angry, and it is up to me to defend the honor of the AKC.

Poor Taffy --- her honor is besmirched. She's doubtless earning supererogatory doggie merit by maintaining a stoic face while hearing herself slandered, yea, a slander that comes from people saying that she's not a purebred cocker spaniel, but a cat.

O the outrage and the dishonesty and the incompetence of people when they bypass the official form from the official head of the official organization that says that Taffy, who used to be recognized as a cat up to a few years back, and enjoys the usual course of feline attributes, is no longer officially a cat, but a purebred cocker spaniel!

********************

In the discussion over my considering Ray Brown to be a voice for Catholicism, a big to-do has been made over the fact that PBC's official status has been downgraded from the importance described by, say, a Pius X. This is an official thing, mind you. I and other Catholics also pointed out that, while the PBC [a commission to which Brown was appointed a second time in 1996] is not officially a branch of the magisterium, it still enjoys the full confidence of the teaching office, and deals with important questions relating to the Bible, which presumably is still a central part of all things Romish. Brown, being part of this commission, appointed by JPII, is therefore in my book somebody to take seriously in Romanism.

But, just as in the little silly thought-experiment above, none of this matters to some Romanists. All that counts is the official non-magisterial status of the PBC. Never mind its actual working description. The label and the title trump the attributes. Raymond Brown, knowingly appointed by JPII to a council that decides on important questions of Biblical interpretation, a council that, we say it again, has the full confidence of the teaching office, is not to be placed in my Who's Who in Romanism by virtue of the formal fact. The actual implications of what the PBC does and its possessing the confidence of the teaching office, well, they're trumped by the formal statement. This is no different than when we're supposed to look at Rome's great formal unity [so says the starry-eyed internet Roman apologist] while ignoring the actual divisions between conservatives, moderates, liberals, sedevacantists, liberationists, and so on.

I don't play those games where formal trumps practical. A system or apologetic that drives a wedge between the formal and practical is a system or apologetic that is greatly flawed. Practitioners and exponents of such a system resort to word-playing games that are, in my book, just as silly as the spaniel apologetic given above.

And this, I suppose, is the difference between how I look at Rome and how some starry-eyed denizens of Rome look at Rome. For them, the formality trumps the reality. Anything potentially embarrassing to Mother Church can be formally dealt with, whether by an appeal to the development of doctrine, a self-selecting appeal to issues of authority, or by playing a game of Can't-Catch-Me where one uses B to redefine A, but B in turn is reinterpreted by C, and C needs to be understood in light of D, but D wasn't infallible, etc.

Along these lines, Patrick has chosen to opine again in the comment boxes. His words are italicized. This second post followed his first post discussed in the thread titled The Pontifications of Patrick below. [Both of his comments occurred in the Cafeteria Catholicism thread.]

Before I go, let me refrain from being snarky for a moment and try to make a simple but serious point.

Did you manage to find Steve's blog so that you could more appropriately put your comments addressed to Steve there?

Pope Paul VI convened a theological commission to study the issue of artificial contraception. Clearly, by convening this commission, he at least implicitly expressed his confidence in its members. (Why would he ask for their advice if he thought the advice would be worthless?) And apparently, when he received their recommendation, he really struggled over what to do about it. You see, the commission recommended that he "update" Church teaching on contraception. (Because of the new methods then available--i.e. the pill--this wouldn't have amounted to a substantive change in Church teaching. Rather, it would have been an application of Church teaching to a new area. But we needn't bother with this distinction, of course, because of Paul VI's decision, which was...) He rejected their advice, and issued _Humanae Vitae_. That's the teaching of the Church. The recommendation of the theological commission is entirely irrelevant.

I'm not clear where Patrick is trying to take this point. Perhaps he's trying to head off any possible importance of the PBC with this example. Letting him continue:

You see, theologians and biblical scholars--even ones trusted by popes and appointed to prestigious commissions--really only serve in an advisory role. Every organization has a board of advisors. And you know how much real authority a board of advisors has? None. None at all. People get onto boards of advisors for any number of reasons. Just like there could be any number of reasons why Raymond Brown was on the PBC. Maybe he was there because the popes who appointed him approved of his work. Or maybe he was there for some other reason entirely. Who knows? The point is that his being there does not make him an official spokesman for the Church. This, I think, is what Jordan Potter was getting at by objecting to your putting Brown et al in the same category as the popes.

So an advisor to a pope or some other part of the authority structure isn't influential and important? Somebody appointed to an important commission, by no less than a pope, is not to be taken seriously as representing Rome, even if they advise a pope on important matters.

Well, no, I suppose...not if they don't have any formal authority.

This is what I view as [and I'll have to be blunt here with apologies] the Roman Shell Game regarding authority. Now you see it, now you don't. Under what shell is the pea?

The difference between Patrick and myself, it seems, is that, like in my Taffy story above, he is going by the formality of the situation, whereas I am going by the implication of the situation. Advisors on important commissions? They're not important. That somebody can influence the pope or the College? No big deal. So Patrick seems to indicate.

Since Patrick seems to fixate on Hays so much, I'll do him a cordial favor and quote Hays here with full agreement: "The compartmentalized faith of a devout Roman Catholic is a wonder to behold."

Patrick then asks just how Brown got appointed. And that's a good question: how did a liberal get appointed to the PBC by a pope? That, in fact, is a very good question. It is one of those pesky and annoying questions that may require the simian see-n-hear-no-evil posed mentioned a few threads back. I don't see St Paul or the NT writers acting in this fashion, btw. But, as stated earlier, if matters of Biblical interpretation aren't a big deal in Patrick's book, he may very well not care a bit for Pauline precedent and example.

Indeed, you seem to fail to make an extremely important distinction between the actual teaching of the Church on the one hand, and the various theologies and philosophies through which the Church's intelligentsia seek to interpret and understand the teaching of the Church. Theologians do important work, but their work qua theologians--or qua biblical scholars, or qua philosophers--is speculative, and it's a very bad idea to conflate this speculative work with the teaching of the Church. Even the theology of Aquinas can't hold up to that kind of conflation. And, in fact, because the apologist is not engaging in such a speculative enterprise, it may actually be much wiser to go to a trustworthy apologist than to a speculative theologian if what you're looking for is a straightforward presentation of the teaching of the Church.

The difference between Patrick and myself is again clearly instantiated. He views the "actual teaching of the Church" as completely distinct from the "various theologies and philosophies through which the Church's intelligentsia seek to interpret and understand the teaching of the Church." I don't.

Theology deals with questions of God and understanding God's revelation to us. Given that the RCC claims to be the repository of God's revelation, and given that the RCC claims to derive its authority from God's revelation, it seems rather strange for Patrick to disconnect the "actual teaching of the Church" from the various theologies through which the Church's intelligentsia seek to interpret and understand the teaching of the Church.

For my part, I don't care in the very least if you read Dave Armstrong's work (or Scott Hahn's, or Mark Shea's, or...). Suit yourself. But I do agree with Jordan Potter that you are plainly making some bad mistakes in the way you understand the Church.

You're welcome to agree or disagree with me or Mr Potter as you please. This isn't personal. I've made my case; it stands or falls on its own. Given what I see as the Roman shell game, I'm not surprised that Romanists would disagree. But at a blog called Pedantic Protestant, you shouldn't be surprised either!

Some side points relative to what Patrick stated:

(1) An Armstrong or Hahn or Shea may very well make good points on an issue. But, if they're right, they're right based on the quality of the argumentation and the strength of the evidence adduced. And, quite frankly and for the record, the positive arguments for Romanism and the negative arguments against my position are not remotely convincing in my book. While I pray that God takes me to Rome if Rome is in fact true, there is just this little detail about what I consider to be a lack of evidence and facts that don't begin to measure up to the lofty triumpahlist claims of Holy Mother Church and her self-appointed lay apologists.

(2) BTW, I'd like to make it clear that my position against Rome hinges in no way upon the entire discussion of my view of Brown's representative nature of Rome. Even if Brown accorded with your private judgement of what ought to be, or even if the PBC was no more important than the Bingo Committee at your local parish, my own dim views of Romanism wouldn't change, nor would my dim views of arguments made against the position to which I have arrived.

Some closing comments in general [they may as well go here]:

(3) Similar to (2), very loosely related to Jason's and Jon's comments earlier, my case against Rome being all she claims she is doesn't depend on claiming that she has a liberal streak either.

(4) In the end, we still have internet Romanists, who to the best of my knowledge are mere layfolk who lack papal appointing and recognition, telling me that I can't consider a very important and notable scholar as one of the representatives of Rome, a scholar who was appointed by popes to a functionally important commission that advises the popes. Arguing from the greater to the far, far lesser: why should I take these internet folks seriously if I can't take Brown seriously? I'm only playing the Rome's game by her rules here. Is it private judgement for me but not for thee?

(5) On the other hand, somebody like me who upholds sola scriptura isn't violating any sort of canon of consistency when I point out or make the charge that something in my own conservative Protestant back yard is counter-Biblical. I may or may not be right with my charge, my exegesis, etc, but I'm not operating under a double standard or a single standard that is a moving target. There is no cat-n-mouse game to how I or any competent Evangelical does exegesis.

(6) Again, for readers [most of whom share my views], note the difference between the triumphalistic tone in offensive Roman apologetics and the Cheshire Cat-ism in defensive Roman apologetics, which is something to which Steve Hays alluded to in an earlier comment. Remember this if you run into an Evangelical-to-Roman convert who shares her newly-found love for Holy Mother Church while boasting of the assurance and certain foundations for her faith provided by Holy Mother Church.

11 Comments:

Blogger patrick said...

PP, I don't read your blog, so I didn't know you had chosen to reply to my comments in a new post, rather than in the comments thread where I made them. (I followed a link to your initial post, discovered you had linked to an earlier discussion of mine, and decided to comment.)

I don't have time for this discussion to really go any further. But I'll say this. Yes, I do take the formal status of the teaching of various theologians and/or commissions to be the essential question. There is a distinction between the Deposit of Faith on the one hand (which is preserved in official magisterial teaching) and the teaching of any theologian on the other hand. What the theologians say might be great. (And sometimes it gets formalized. The doctrine of the Trinity, as it stands, seems to me to be the formalization of a theological view, frinstance.) But it's not the teaching of the Church.

So you write: "So an advisor to a pope or some other part of the authority structure isn't influential and important? Somebody appointed to an important commission, by no less than a pope, is not to be taken seriously as representing Rome, even if they advise a pope on important matters.
Well, no, I suppose...not if they don't have any formal authority.
This is what I view as [and I'll have to be blunt here with apologies] the Roman Shell Game regarding authority."

Look, the fact is that you don't like the distinction I draw; the fact is not that there is something sneaky about the distinction. Let me elaborate by quoting you again. You say: "The difference between Patrick and myself is again clearly instantiated. He views the 'actual teaching of the Church' as completely distinct from the 'various theologies and philosophies through which the Church's intelligentsia seek to interpret and understand the teaching of the Church.' I don't.
Theology deals with questions of God and understanding God's revelation to us. Given that the RCC claims to be the repository of God's revelation, and given that the RCC claims to derive its authority from God's revelation, it seems rather strange for Patrick to disconnect the 'actual teaching of the Church' from the various theologies through which the Church's intelligentsia seek to interpret and understand the teaching of the Church."

Actually, you misrepresent me. You say I view theology as completely distinct from the Doctrine of the Church. I never said any such thing. I said only that no theology can be safely conflated with the Doctrine of the Church. (I used the term "actual teaching of the Church" for the latter; now I'm putting the same thing more precisely.) But that's a secondary concern. The point here is that it is completely beside the point what _you_ think about the relation of theology and doctrine. Catholics think something else entirely. It is very much part of the Church's self understanding that theologies do their best at explaining/formalizing the Doctrine of the Church. But even in the days when Thomism has been at its highest peak of authority, the Church has never believed that any one theology can entirely and uniquely capture the Deposit of Faith.

Thus, it is not in _any sense_ a shell game to distinguish the work of various theologians from the Doctrine of the Church. That distinction is required by the Church's own self-understanding.

Look, PP, if all you mean by this "business end of the Church" thing is that Ray Brown et al are smarter and better educated and run in higher-falutin' circles than the internet apologists do, you may certainly be right. I don't know that Dave Armstrong has ever been appointed to any pontifical commissions. What does this mean when it comes to getting a grip on the Doctrine of the Church? Absolutely nothing. Obviously.

As long as we're agreed on that, then I have nothing more to add. As you insist, I'm fixated on the formalities. Damn right I am. Frankly, I don't care at all if ten popes have had Ray Brown as their one and only theological advisor. That they did so would reveal to me that they were confused, and perhaps sinful. But me, I'd look at their official teachings if I wanted to know anything about the Church. I wouldn't look to Brown, even if he were the most powerful theologian in the whole wide world, with a big flaming head like the Wizard of Oz.

Incidentally, the bit about the private judgment seems pretty funny. Since you take me to task so many times for my references to Hays here on your blog, and my failure to realize that he and you are distinct persons, I find it ironic, to say the least, that you're coming after me with this private judgment thing when I've not only never said anything about private judgment to _you_, but I don't think I've ever said anything about private judgment to _anyone_. Anyway, I just mentioned (here) that Hays had made a couple of real howlers in that discussion you linked to because I though, given that you were holding me up as an example of a sneaky internet apologist, I should say a word or two to point out what really happened in that thread.

Last but not least, I'm not an internet apologist. I comment in blog comboxes from time to time because I enjoy it. (Well, sometimes I do. Not now, and not with Hays. But sometimes.) But it's odd to see a self-appointed blogger like yourself taking potshots at anyone for being self-appointed. Isn't it?

Sunday, August 14, 2005 6:07:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Hello Patrick --- I will respond later tonight, God-willing and body-willing. Tennistime.

I can completely appreciate the time constraints, and won't consider it any breach of concord if you have to use your time differently. If I remember correctly, you have kids, which should keep you rather busy compared to a bachelor such as myself!

Sunday, August 14, 2005 6:50:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Patrick said:
<<
But it's odd to see a self-appointed blogger like yourself taking potshots at anyone for being self-appointed. Isn't it?
>>

Patrick completely misses the point. The PP is judging Patrick by his own standards, given his commitment to an authoritarian, top-down institution. That's what is deeply inconsistent about Patrick's dabbling in apologetics.

By contrast, the PP subscribes to sola scriptura and the right of private judgment. Hence, it is entirely consistent for him to offer his own reasoned opinion on matters theological.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 7:32:00 PM  
Blogger patrick said...

Steve,

Please point me to a text produced by anyone from the "business end of the Church" that says that Catholics are not permitted, because of the authoritarian, top-down nature of the Church, to offer their own reasoned opinions on matters theological. Thanks.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 7:53:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Patrick,

Thanks for the rigged question. Catholics are free to say anything they please as long as they don't directly challenge the church--and even then they can get away with it unless they happen to be high-flyers.

But your opinion is just that--opinion. If you don't think that members of the PBC speak for your church, then you are several rungs below them.

You're the one who has ruled yourself into irrelevancy.

Monday, August 15, 2005 6:10:00 AM  
Blogger patrick said...

Steve,

You say: "If you don't think that members of the PBC speak for your church, then you are several rungs below them. You're the one who has ruled yourself into irrelevancy."

What I've said is that the teachings of the PBC--either its official documents, or the scholarship produced by its various members--does not constitute anything like the Doctrine of the Church. In this sense, I certainly believe--indeed, I insist--that the PBC (or its members taken individually) do not "Speak for the Church."

However, if you were to visit Rome, and start spouting off your strange beliefs about the Church's teachings in some cafe, and some member of the PBC who happened to be sitting at the next table were to point out that, "no, Steve, contrary to your odd contention, Catholics are quite welcome to offer their own reasoned opinions on matters theological," then I'd say this person was indeed "speaking for the Church." Indeed, he would be performing a spiritual work of mercy--specifically, instructing the ignorant--by correcting your bizarre take on the Church. In this sense, not only is he (like the rest of us) free to offer his opinion, but he actually has a certain obligation to do so, out of charity.

All of us Catholics have an obligation, arising out of our baptism, which incorporates us into the priestly, prophetic and kingly offices of Christ himself, to proclaim Christ Jesus until he comes in glory. The key, however, is that we are supposed to actually proclaim Christ Jesus. In order to actually do this, we ought to stick close to the Doctrine of the Church, and not to the latest theological speculation about that doctrine. For the Doctrine of the Church, we go to official documents produced by the Magisterium. Period. Insofar as we _accurately_ present this teaching, we are doing nothing more or less than our sacred duty as Catholics.

I myself am doomed to irrelevance, as I happily admit. My views are completely beside the point. My obligation is to present the teaching of the Church in the best way that I know how, with God's help, and to try to keep my own often mean-spirited personality out of the way. I am completely irrelevant. Yes, you're right about that. But insofar as I get out of the way and present the teaching of the Church, I can still serve God in that capacity despite my irrelevance.

This is part of a larger concept known as "dying to self."

Just in case there is any question about what I mean when I draw a distinction between the Doctrine of the Church and the various theologies that try to explain it, let me use the Thomism/Molinism controversy as an example. There are certain Doctrines that theologians want to make sense of. First, God has exhaustive foreknowledge. Second, God has infallibly predestined certain men to eternal beatitude. Third, men have freedom. (Etc.) These are defined doctrines of the Faith. Note that what the definitions never attempt to do is to explain what, exactly, makes these various teachings compatible with one another. (The _teachings_ are part of the Deposit of Faith, but their full _explanations_ may not be. An even better example of a teaching the explanation of which is not part of the Deposit of Faith is the central doctrine of the Christian Faith--the Trinity. The best theologians can really hope to do here is to show that this doctrine doesn't involve any logical contradictions; they certainly can't hope to really plumb its depths.) So the theologians try to sort out how these doctrines all hang together. St. Thomas has one way of doing so. Molina has another way. Both attempts are orthodox--that is, neither contradicts Doctrine at any place--but, obviously, only one (at most) can be true. To take one of these theologies of Predestination and raise it to the level of Doctrine is just obviously a mistake. This is all I mean when I separate theology from doctrine.

I separate theology from Doctrine even more strongly when there are obvious questions about the bare orthodoxy of the theology, as one might find in Brown or Kasper. The point is that despite the positions of trust that these folks have risen to, their teachings absolutely cannot be conflated with the Doctrine of the Church. That's the only point I want to make here.

Monday, August 15, 2005 7:10:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

Patrick,

All you're doing is to push the same old problem back a step. You never explain how you separate doctrine from theology. What are your criteria? Who supplies the criteria? Who applies the criteria? At the end of the day it comes down to your private judgment.

Monday, August 15, 2005 7:28:00 AM  
Blogger patrick said...

Let me quote myself, from a comment just above: "I've not only never said anything about private judgment to _you_, but I don't think I've ever said anything about private judgment to _anyone_."

So what, exactly, is your point in your comment above? Who do you think you're talking to?

Monday, August 15, 2005 8:30:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

The point is that Catholicism is suppose to offer a level of epistemic assurance not offered by Evangelicalism. But if both of us must fall back on private judgment, then Catholicism enjoys no epistemic advantage over Evangelicalism.

Monday, August 15, 2005 8:32:00 AM  
Blogger patrick said...

Incidentally, however, it's not typically a particularly difficult task to "separate" Doctrine from theology. _That_ Christ is one in being with the Father is Doctrine. Attempts to (partially) explain _how_ this works are theology. _That_ God infallibly predestines certain men to eternal beatitude is doctrine. Exactly _how_ this happens (and how it can be compatible with human freedom) is theology.

As I said above, it's not uncommon for a particular theological explanation to become formalized. Transubstantiation is one good example of the formalization of one theological explanation of Christ's "real presence" in the Eucharist. But Church teaching on what that doctrine entails is admirably clear, and it's easy enough for a person of average intelligence to see that certain further theological adventures regarding the Blessed Sacrament violate the Doctrine of the Church. If, for example, a theologian asserts that the real presence of Christ in the assembly at mass, or in the reading of Scripture during the Liturgy of the Word, are just as central as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, then he is, in effect, denying the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.

Yes, of course, I use my "private judgment" in using my God-given reason to compare a claim made by a certain theologian with the teachings that are found in the official documents of the magisterium. If you have a problem with my admission of this obvious fact--if you think this somehow undermines my Catholicism--then I guess you should point me to any arguments I myself have ever made where I denied that people have God-given intellects that God expects them to use in seeking Him.

As to any alleged apologetical arguments in support of Catholicism that turn importantly on the notion of "private judgment," I'd have to actually see one in order to try to evaluate it. Let me just say one more time that I myself have never made any such argument.

Monday, August 15, 2005 8:47:00 AM  
Blogger patrick said...

My last post and Steve's last post crossed. Here's a brief addendum, then, to what I said.

He writes: "Catholicism is suppose to offer a level of epistemic assurance not offered by Evangelicalism."

By whom is Catholisism supposed to offer such a level of epistemic assurance? I guess your point is that many internet apologists make such a claim. But as I keep saying, I myself have never made this claim--at least, not in the way you seem to be assuming it must be made, i.e. with the inclusion of a condemnation of so-called "private judgement" (whatever that's supposed to be)--and I do wish you'd stop holding me accountable to the words of others.

I think the advantage of Catholicism over evangelicalism is very simple: Catholicism is true, while evangelicalism is not (at least, not entirely: obviously, there are many, and very central, points of agreement where evangelicalism is indeed true). The questions of how I know this, or how certain I am about it, are quite distinct.

It does seem to me that the Truth of the Catholic Faith is, indeed, a matter of faith. That is, the virtue of faith is an infused virtue. One doesn't attain it by careful historical/philosophical reasoning. To be sure, one can clear the way for the virtue by such reasoning. But actually having faith is a gift from God. There is no epistemic certainty around, if by that you mean that there can be a foolproof apologetical argument offered that proves the truth of the Catholic Faith. The arguments are not probative. They are strong, but they cannot compel assent. I myself believe that Catholicism is far more reasonable, all things considered, than any other story about Jesus Christ. I think there are embarrassing objections that can be raised to any version of Protestantism that the Church completely avoids. But I wouldn't for a moment attribute this to any general epistemic principle involving denigration of "private judgment."

Lastly, the notion that the truth of the Catholic Faith is somehow evident to anyone who applies himself to the question really resolves itself into a version of the heresy of rationalism. This heresy was decisively dealt with by the first Vatican Council. There may be internet apologists who are guilty of this heresy. (I once read something published by a convert from Evangelicalism that really seemed to involve this heresy. So I do admit that claims of this nature can be found in the "apologetics" literature.) But I'm not, and the Catholic Church as a whole is not, either. You are clearly intellectually capable of distinguishing the specious arguments that some may offer in defense of X from the truth or falsity of X.

Monday, August 15, 2005 9:01:00 AM  

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