"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sacramentally grounded authority vs. individualism (II)

In an earlier post I presented a loose argument that sacramentally grounded magisterial authority is the only alternative to individualism. Here I wish to present the argument in a tighter form.

(1) Individualism is the notion (whether explicit or implicit) that each individual is his own highest ecclesial authority such that there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself. [By stipulation]

(2) Either each individual is his own highest ecclesial authority such that there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself, or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual.

(3) Either individualism is true or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual. [From (1) and (2)]

(4) If there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual, the ground for the authority had by that higher ecclesial authority is either the individual's agreement with that higher ecclesial authority's doctrine/practice, or the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession.

(5) Authority over another cannot be grounded in the other's agreement with the one having authority. [From the very nature of authority]

(6) There can be no visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual where the authority of that higher ecclesial authority is grounded in the individual's agreement with the higher ecclesial authority 's doctrine/practice. [From (5)]

(7) If there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual, the ground for the authority had by that higher ecclesial authority is the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession. [From (4) and (6)]

(8) Either individualism is true or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual, and the ground for the authority had by that higher ecclesial authority is the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession. [From (3) and (7)]

If you wish to refute the argument, falsify at least one of the premises or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. I should also add that an unstated assumption of the argument is that post-Apostolic revelations (e.g. Joseph Smith) are not authoritative.

One implication of the argument is that when an individual treats persons not having authority handed down to them from the Apostles through sacramental succession as though such persons are higher in ecclesial authority than himself, that individual is (whether aware of this or not) nevertheless still functioning as his own highest ecclesial authority, as though there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself. He is therefore living in a self-contradictory manner.

This is the same contradiction involved when those wanting their ears tickled accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires. (2 Timothy 4:3)
True teachers tell us what we do not yet know and often do not want to hear. But those whom we select to tell us only what we want to hear, what we want to believe, or what we already believe, are not teachers. Calling them 'teachers' is the way those with itching ears mask their own individualism. "We are not individualists -- we have teachers", they might say. "No," Paul would say, "you have no true teachers. You select those saying only what you agree with, and you pay them to say it. They are not teachers; they are hired flatterers, merely parroting back to you your own interpretive and theological determinations. You "accumulate" such flatterers around you in order to make their claims seem to have the weight of consensus. But you are deceiving yourselves into thinking they are teachers, and they have deceived themselves into thinking that they are teachers." Oddly, it seems to me that the great majority of persons who read this verse assume it is talking about persons other than themselves. The deception is so effective that it is very hard to recognize that one is guilty of what is being described in this verse.

4 comments:

Jim said...

I see a couple of problems with premise (4).

First, it asserts that the choice is only between (a) consent to authority or (b) "the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession."

Why would you think that the set of bases for "visible human ecclesial authority" is limited to only those two alternatives? And, if a choice set is composed of {a, b, c}, then showing ~a does not establish b.

Secondly, there is quite a bit of temporal play in the notion of "choice" that premise (4) skips over.

E.g., you can commit yourself to limiting your choices at time t=2 by a "choice" that you made at time t=1. Or "choice" can mean that you reserve the right to choose at t=1 as well as t=2.

But the first "choice" is paradigmatically one of "choice," but is entirely consistent with submission to authority at t=2.

Contractual relationships -- which are consensual -- are nonetheless entirely about limiting your choices in the future. (If we agree that you will build my house at t=1, then I commit myself to paying you at t=2. If I reserve the right not to pay you at t=2 even though you've performed, then the house will not be built, and I'm worse off.)

Or think about the military (again): I consent at t=1 to obey lawful orders given at t=2. So at t=2, I do not have the "choice" of disobeying lawful orders, although the situation arose consensually.

Or the prior of a house does not have the authority to command someone who has not submitted themselves to the house's rule. But after a person has done so, then they cannot claim that they can choose at t=2 which rules or commands to obey simply because they had a choice at t=1 of whether to join the house or not.

So consent at one point of time can give rise to real "authority" at t=2 (i.e., a person is conscience bound to submitting even if he disagrees with the choice the authority makes).

Principium unitatis said...

Jim,

Thank you very much for your comments. You wrote:

Why would you think that the set of bases for "visible human ecclesial authority" is limited to only those two alternatives?

Because logically either P or ~P, hence ecclesial authority must either come by succession from the incarnate Christ or not. (Recall the assumption stated at the end of the argument, that Christ has not reappeared to re-start the Church, e.g. Joseph Smith.) If ecclesial authority does not come by succession from the incarnate Christ, then it can only come from man. Jesus Himself recognized this same dichotomy when He said: "The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?" (Matt 21:25)

Secondly, there is quite a bit of temporal play in the notion of "choice" that premise (4) skips over.

That does not falsify premise (4). If I join a church because I (at least mostly) agree with its interpretation/doctrine, then the ground of the authority of the pastor over me is my agreement with his doctrine/interpretation. If at t=1 I make a promise or vow to submit to that pastor, then the fundamental reason I should submit to him at t=2 is not that he has authority, but that I should keep my promises, all other things being equal. (It is also true, of course, that we should submit to those whom we think are actual authorities over us, even if they actually are not actually authorities over us, at least until we discover that they are not actual authorities over us.) So the first disjunct in premise (4) is not contingent on any difference in my state between t=1 and t=2. It concerns the source of the ground of the ecclesial authority, if the ground of ecclesial authority is not by sacramental succession from the incarnate Christ.

If the ground of ecclesial authority is not by sacramental succession from the incarnate Christ but is from man, then it can have its source only by violence or consent. But obviously no one wishes to assert that it has its source in violence. Therefore, if ecclesial authority has its origin in man, then it arises by the consent of individuals, and is therefore grounded in the consent of individuals.

My relation to that act of consent can take one of two forms. Either I inherit it by being born into it (like a child born into a denomination), or I choose to participate in that act of consent (either by joining the institution or by forming an institution). But even the child eventually chooses either to participate in that act of consent (by remaining in the institution) or not (by leaving that institution). So ultimately, if ecclesial authority comes from man, then it has its ground in the consent of the individual. In other words, if ecclesial authority comes from man, then its authority over me is grounded in my consent. If I do not consent to the authenticity of that ecclesial authority, then it has no authority over me. That is precisely why your local Episcopalian priest, Presbyterian pastor, Baptist pastor, charismatic pastor, etc. have no authority over you. You have not consented to their authority, and thus not given them authority over you.

What I give, I can take away. So if my consent is that by which I give the pastor authority over me, then removal of my consent is that by which I can remove the pastor's authority over me. This is precisely why Jehovah's Witnesses can (without rightly being charged with rebelling against ecclesial authority) leave that communion when they cease to agree with its interpretations even if that authority forbids them to leave. So if ecclesial authority arises by consent, and if I come to disagree with the doctrine/interpretation shared by those who by their consent established the existing ecclesial authority in which I presently exist, then that existing ecclesial authority in fact has no actual ecclesial authority over me, for I no longer participate in that act of consent by which it can have authority over me. "Temporal play" does not change anything about the ground of the ecclesial authority. It is, in that respect, a red herring. The issue in the first disjunct in premise (4) is the ground of ecclesial authority over me, whether or not it has its source and ground in my consent.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jim said...

Hi Bryan,

Thank you for the response. I appreciate it. And sorry for the delayed response, it's been a very busy month at work and home.

First,

If ecclesial authority does not come by succession from the incarnate Christ, then it can only come from man.

That's just a restatement of your original point that the choice is only between (a) consent to authority or (b) "the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession."

Yes, authority must come from heaven or from man, but your argument assumes that the only manifestation of authority from God must come through sacramental succession from the apostles.

It's that part that needs the argument, not the "man v. God" part. I.e., why con'tthere be a system of divine ecclesial authority without sacramental succession. That's what I was inviting you to interact with.

Secondly,

What I give, I can take away. So if my consent is that by which I give the pastor authority over me, then removal of my consent is that by which I can remove the pastor's authority over me.

The ability to retract consent is not at all of the essence of consensual submission. I.e., consent often works "one way" only.

To agree to a contract at t=1 does not entail a right to repudiate that contract at t=2. That you volunteer for the military at t=1 does not ential a right or ability at t=2 to retract that consent.

So, too, a church may have a choice of which pastor to call, and at that point does not submit to the pastor. But once the pastor is installed over that church, then all must submit to him.

The larger point -- and this is why the point isn't a red herring -- is that your argument about choice assumes that choice must remain alive at every point in time, and thereby reduces to "individualism." My example provides an illustration that "choce" can give rise to authentic submission, which, as I understand it, is the point against which you aim the overall argument of yoru post.

Best,

-- Jim

Principium unitatis said...

Jim,

Thanks for your comments. You wrote:

To agree to a contract at t=1 does not entail a right to repudiate that contract at t=2. That you volunteer for the military at t=1 does not entail a right or ability at t=2 to retract that consent. So, too, a church may have a choice of which pastor to call, and at that point does not submit to the pastor. But once the pastor is installed over that church, then all must submit to him

The two cases are disanalogous. One does not sign a legal contract when one joins a church. That is why anyone in the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons can (and should) leave as soon as he realizes that he is not in the true Church that Christ founded, but in a counterfeit institution. Even if JWs or Mormons did sign legal contracts upon becoming JWs or Mormons, they should violate those contracts as soon as they recognize that they are false religious institutions. No one is under an obligation to fulfill an oath that would require injustice to fulfill. We are not to give ourselves to false shepherds, or false religious institutions. We should give ourselves (in religion) only to the Church Christ founded. That is why all false religious institutions have no actual authority, for men not only owe others (i.e. the true shepherds) the obedience that these false shepherds illicitly receive, but men are required by God *not* to give their obedience to false shepherds.

why can't there be a system of divine ecclesial authority without sacramental succession. That's what I was inviting you to interact with.

I'm not so interested in speculating about possible ways God *could* have done things. I'm interested in the truth. And the fathers are very clear (and it was universally believed in the Church for 1500 years) that ecclesial authority was received by apostolic succession through the laying on of hands by those who themselves had received such authority in likewise succession back to the Apostles.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan