Monday, August 15, 2005

Let's Clarify --- Part 1

A Missouri Synod [LCMS] Lutheran and a Reformed Baptist dispute each other's views on, say Baptism. Both the LCMS guy and the RB guy have the same procedure: go to the Bible and argue their case on the basis of the text.

Now the LCMS guy and the RB guy both uphold sola scriptura, so the battleground takes place on those passages dealing with baptism, faith, regeneration, etc. Round and round the argument goes, with one telling another that he's not accounting for such-and-such other discussion, or that his word-studies or grammatical points or unsubstantiated or false, etc etc etc.

But the RB fellow and the LCMS fellow won't claim some sort of superior epistemic status over the other. For example, the LCMS fellow won't claim infallibility for his sources beyond their being shown to follow scripture exactly. No, the argument takes place on the battlefield of objective scriptural exegesis.

Also, you won't see either of the RB and the LCMS fellow using some sort of sociological phenomenon regarding the church body of the other as an argument for his position. The RB won't tell the LCMS fellow something along the lines of "Apart from the Reformed Baptist Church, there are all of these branches of Lutheranism" as if that is an exegetical argument.

In other words, no sweeping claims to epistemic privilege and superior unity are made from one of our imaginary protagonists to the other. Each person thinks they're right and the other is wrong, but there are no cheap appeals to unity, certainty, and "something extra" built into the faith that the other protagonist is woefully lacking. They get out their Bibles, reference books, grammars, lexicon, etc, and they duke it out, hopefully playing nice in the process while keeping the hauberks and battle axes locked up in the basement.


On the other hand, I classify Romanists by two factors:

Factor 1: Triumpahlist or nontriumphalist with respect to Roman unity.

Factor 2: Claims some epistemic privilege that non-Romanists lack or doesn't make such a claim.

All four classifications are possible, and I've seen them all instantiated in various people in my personal life and in what I've read both in print and the internet.

Somebody who is triumphalistic with respect to Roman unity makes the claim that, roughly put, outside of Rome there is all of this Protestant anarchy. The deductions drawn are positive and negative: negative in the sense that the conclusion to be drawn is that sola scriptura [or Protestantism] is falsified, unworkable, unlikely, etc; positive in the sense that this vindicates Holy Mother Church as the One True Church.

Somebody who is nontriumphalistic with respect to Roman unity understands that formal unity by itself is a non sequitur. Such a person understands that Rome has her divisions too [see my link "Romanism Breeds Disunity" which takes you to Steve Hays' parody of a boilerplate triumphalist Armstrong thread that attempts to implicate sola scriptura or Protestantdom by pointing to disagreements in Protestantdom]. A person in this category realizes, quite correctly, that a sociological phenomenon neither hinders nor helps the argument one is making relative to theology.

Turning to the second of the two factors, a Romanist either believes he has some epistemic advantage over the likes of me, a "something extra" that I don't have, or he doesn't. In the latter case, if he thinks I'm wrong on something, he'll dispute things with me in the same way as the LCMS and RB protagonists above dispute. He may be right, he may be wrong, but he doesn't consider me to be lacking in "certainty," "assurance," and he doesn't play silly sophistic games regarding the Bible.

As far as Romanists go, I can respect the classification of nontriumphalist people who don't claim some sort of epistemic advantage over Protestantism. They're perfectly fine in thinking I'm wrong, but they do not carry with them an image of benighted Evangelicaldom, as if we're blind people in a room whose furniture has recently been moved. I can live with these, disagreements and all.

Still speaking only for myself, what I can't live with in RC presentations is this lazy way out, a way that leads to an infallible arbiter doing one's thinking on matters of doctrine and belief for one's self, claims of certainty and the like.

"We need an infallible arbiter!"

"God wouldn't have left us to our private judgement on important doctrinal matters!"

While the bee is in my blogging bonnet, people far away from me can hear the eyes roll and clunk when I see Petrine passages transferred to the papacy, no argument given, and when I see mentions of "church" transferred to "Roman Catholic Church" without an argument. This is equivocation in the extreme.


Patrick has been having two somewhat distinct conversations in the comboxes. One conversation has been with Steve, and another has been taking issue with my points.
Relative to the material for this thread, Patrick states:

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.

Fair enough, here. I take issue with Patrick on various claims of his and I don't consider one [or two] of his distictions meaningful other than in a formal [as compared to a working/practical] sense, but I'll believe him here. That is, Patrick is claiming to be a nontriumphalist RC who claims no a priori epistemic advantage.

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.

Three cheers for propositional truth! Patrick merely thinks he's right and, say, I'm wrong. Quite fair enough if you ask me. We're no different here than the RB and the LCMS guy battling it out.

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."

On the meta-level [if this neologism of mine makes any sense] no objections here either. On the level of specifics, of course I differ strongly with him on embarrassing objections to Protestantism existing and the strength of the arguments for the RCC.

But if he merely thinks I'm wrong and wants to stick to argumentation instead of pulling out buzzwords and appeals to a sham unity like various other RC's I've known and read, I can completely live with that.


Blogger steve said...

In answer to Patrick's question to me, one finds the triumphalist version of Catholicism in, among other places, Session 3 of Vatican I where it sets up an invidious contrast between the Catholic rule of faith, concerning the magisterium, and the Protestant rule of faith, concerning sola scriptura and the right of private judgment.

That's the dogmatic assertion of an epistemic advantage.

Once again, I'm having to explain Catholicism to a Catholic. Not for the first time, nor the last.

Monday, August 15, 2005 6:46:00 PM  
Blogger patrick said...

PP--thanks. I can live with this, too.

Steve, the text you refer to goes as follows: "5. Everybody knows that those heresies, condemned by the fathers of Trent, which rejected the divine magisterium of the Church and allowed religious questions to be a matter for the judgment of each individual, have gradually collapsed into a multiplicity of sects, either at variance or in agreement with one another; and by this means a good many people have had all faith in Christ destroyed."

I asked you to point me to a text that taught that because of the authoritarian, top down nature of the Church, Catholics are not permitted to express their reasoned opinions on matters theological. I think it's pretty obvious that the text you refer to says no such thing.

I've also asked to be shown an apologetical argument that turns on the notion of private judgment. This text doesn't count as that, either. It's not an argument at all, and so, a fortiori, not an apologetical argument.

There is a great deal of interesting stuff to discuss about the teaching of Vatican I, but I have no further interest in trying to discuss it with you.

Monday, August 15, 2005 8:26:00 PM  
Blogger patrick said...

A second thought: Steve may have been referring to this: "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." So Steve was, perhaps, pointing me to Vatican I as an answer to this question, rather than to the ones I had initially supposed. If so, then I will simply note that in this same session, the Council makes a declaration on Faith which would stand a close reading, since it says basically what I said in an earlier comment about faith as an infused virtue. So with respect to attaining faith, the Catholic has no superior epistemic position. The Church teaches that Faith cannot be proved. The Council goes on to discuss some ways in which the faith of the Catholic is surer than the faith of those in "false religions" (i.e. protestants). In fact, I agree--that's the thrust of what I mean when I said that all things considered I think Catholicism is the most reasonable story. So again, there's nothing Steve needs to explain to me about the teaching of my Church.

Monday, August 15, 2005 8:34:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Patrick --- at the risk of sounding ungracious, I'm merely trying to be fair here. If that has the unintended consequence of pleasing you [not that I try to displease you] then so much the better. I'll illustrate some absurdities in a coming thread, absurdities that, if you want to be consistent with what you've said, you should promptly disown. Not that you publicly have to do so here, of course, but in your heart you should disown the coming silliness.

I think your strict commitment to formalism causes you to minimize the practicalities of the situation and I intend to post a few more things on this time permitting, but this will be general in tone.

I also think you indicated you wanted to wrap things up, plus, you're already occupied with Steve, it seems. And I've discharged my intellectual duty in a reasonable fashion, I contend, though I'll post as it pleases me, and you of course are welcome to comment as you please.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

Infused virtue and the RC rule of faith are two different things. Vatican I asserts its epistemic advantage by trying to set up an odious contrast between its own rule of faith and the Protestant rule of faith.

Infused virtue is not distinctive to Catholicism inasmuch as modern Catholicism no longer limits saving grace to members of its own communion. So that is not the epistemic advantage.

Once again, I'm having to explain Catholic theology to a Catholic.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 7:15:00 AM  
Blogger patrick said...


I discuss the distinction I draw here in my comments under part II. But if you don't realize that there's a difference between the infused virtue of faith and saving grace, then trust me, you're not competent to explain Catholicism to anyone.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 8:22:00 AM  

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