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

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unity, my way



In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes "grey town" as a place that is constantly expanding at its outskirts as people perpetually try to get farther away from each other, unable to get along with each other, and wanting to be lord of their own domain. That desire for autonomy continually divides and separates the citizens of 'grey town' from each other. I think it plays a similar role here on earth, even among Christians.

Responding to Catholic claims that we cannot have unity without a "uniform teaching authority", Michael Spencer writes:

I agree with your basic contention that we need the boundaries of unity and authority in order to talk about the "Christian faith." Millions of people reading their favorite verses to one another won't produce unity. If Protestantism has demonstrated anything, it's that.

But what kind of unity? Many of us believe that a kind of "creedal minimalism" brings the necessary unity to Christianity. The Nicene and Apostles' Creeds provide this minimum coverage, and the leadership of local churches (or geographic/denominational structures) use it for the purposes of mission, definition and discipline.

In other words, we don't believe that the infallible teaching authority of a completely hierarchical church defining every detail of Christian faith and mining tradition for further dogma is the necessary expression of unity. All the unity we need is available through the processes of a fallible church.


Earlier this year I presented some problems with the notion of a 'mere Christianity'. (Yes, here we have Lewis vs. Lewis.) If the "fallible church" to which Michael refers is the 'invisible Church', then how the invisible Church is supposed to provide the means for unity is never spelled out by anyone. Michael agrees that if Protestantism has demonstrated anything, it is that millions of people reading the Bible are not going to come to unity by doing so. But if Protestantism has demonstrated that, then hasn't it also demonstrated the failure of the "invisible Church" to unify Christians? Yet if by "fallible Church" Michael is referring to some set of embodied human persons, then what is it, exactly, that makes persons to be members of that set, and how does Michael know this, and who gets to determine the sufficient conditions for membership in this set, and why do they and not other people get to determine these conditions? There is no circumventing the authority problem, behind which lies the fundamental reason for our present disunity. We are either submitting to God-ordained authority, or submitting to a pseudo-authority whom we mistakenly think to be a God-ordained authority, or we are taking authority to ourselves, even in the very act of constructing the conditions upon which all Christians should be unified.

"But I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad." (1 Kings 22:8)

The fundamental problem with heresy is not the content of belief, but the basis of that belief. The content problem [i.e. having false beliefs] is derivative and per accidens. That's why persons born into heresies are not ipso facto guilty of heresy. Gnosticism misconstrues the fundamental problem with heresy as merely propositional. Hence the gnostic life consists in an unending series of theology readings aimed at honing one's orthodoxy (whether toward maximized specificity or specified minimization). But the beginning of wisdom is not a proposition per se; it is a disposition of the will toward God. (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10) If the devil were entirely orthodox in what he believed, but had come to believe these orthodox truths not through faith and trust in God, but through his own prideful efforts, would he be less estranged from God than he is now? With respect to the basis of the content of the faith, the 'mere Christianity' mentality is no different from any other form of Protestantism. The individual remains the final arbiter of what should be believed, and in this way the notion of a 'mere Christianity' remains intrinsically disposed to perpetual fragmentation. If the ecclesial authority says that more (or less) needs to be believed than we think needs to be believed, then we simply reject that authority, move farther out, and find authorities saying pretty much what we think, more or less, needs to be believed. Unity by 'mere Christianity' is still "unity, my way". But it is precisely the "my way" that is the root cause of disunity.

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires." (2 Timothy 4:3)

The resolution of the divisions between Christians does not consist in finding a lowest-common denominator or minimal content of Christianity around which we can all agree. That is because the fundamental source of the disunity between Christians is not the intellect; it is the will. Though lack of knowledge is a factor in perpetuating divison, lack of knowledge is not the ultimate source of our divisions. The fundamental cause of the disunity between the devil and God is the devil's will; it is his sin of pride. And likewise pride was the fundamental cause of the division between Adam and God. The antidote to our present disunity is the exact opposite of pride; it is humility. And this involves submitting to Christ by submitting to the shepherd He has placed over His flock (St. John 10:16). It has never ceased to be true that "He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me". (St. Luke 10:16) It wasn't some magical effect of having seen Christ that made this true of the Apostles; it was authorization to speak on behalf of Christ, the same authorization later given by the Apostles to their episcopal successors to speak on their behalf. Apart from submission to the authority had by apostolic succession, the only remaining option is the disunity of "millions of people reading their favorite verses to one another". We can either dip in the muddy Jordan seven times with Naaman and be healed, or we can go back to the rivers of Damascus and wash in a manner of our own choosing. The former is the only way to true unity. The latter is the multifarious way of sinful man, the way of perpetual division and ever-widening separation found in "grey town". Milton's Satan says "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav'n", and this self-exalting disorientation of the will is intrinsically related to Sartre's "hell is other people"; it is precisely this that keeps extending the limits of 'grey town'.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." (1 John 4:7)

By contrast, love turns us back around, toward unity, away from pride, away from self-exaltation, and away from division. Love does not sacrifice truth; it labors to share truth with one's neighbor, and listens to receive truth from one's neighbor, in order to be truly one with one's neighbor. That's why love is catholic, and not provincial or sectarian; love seeks to evangelize the whole world, and it listens humbly to the whole world. Love is the perfection of truth, the adequatio of person to person. And humility is bound up in love, as demonstrated in Christ's humbling of Himself in love. Love therefore is what brings us back from the outskirts of grey town, to our knees in humility before Christ and His Body, so that we may be incorporated into this one Body, with one faith, having the same Spirit, and under one hierarchy. Love draws us to dance together.

The Wedding Dance
Marten Van Cleve (1527-1581)

21 comments:

ET said...

Michael Spencer says:

In other words, we don't believe that the infallible teaching authority of a completely hierarchical church defining every detail of Christian faith...'

The Church does not define *every* detail of Christian faith. It gives a general systematic theology, defining a general course. It sets boundaries and marks off pitfalls. But it leaves room for legitimate debate on a great many issues *within* those boundaries. Chesterton rightly noted that the Catholic Church is much bigger inside than outside. There is diversity within the context of unity. We need not be divided to be diverse. A Catholic can still interpret the Bible. The Church does not tell him how to interpret every line. And yet the Church does give a general direction and a general outline, not leaving a person vulnerable to every possible interpretational error or theology building mistake.

Spencer wrote:

All the unity we need is available through the processes of a fallible church.

What church is this? What processes does it use? Where is this church that I can participate in it and figure out what it claims? If 'it' is fallible in every respect, why should I believe it anymore than my own conclusions or any other individual Christian's conclusions? Moreover, why should I believe 'it' (even if I could figure out what it is, where it is and how to figure out what it really is claiming) more than a person who read the Bible once and concluded that Christ was not incarnate, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true, that the Bible was not inspired, that there was no virgin birth, etc.? It may be that the only thing dividing the believer and the non-believer here would be belief itself (or the lack thereof), but that they are on equal ground otherwise if there is no Church which is at least infallible AND also authoritative in certain respects.

On 'Protestant' principles, we are left with a fallible collection of supposedly infallible books and a non-visible, non-authoritative, fallible church which is really no 'church' at all, leaving each man to be his own church, defining church, bible, method, and doctrine however each sees fit.

Spencer wrote:

Many of us believe that a kind of "creedal minimalism" brings the necessary unity to Christianity. The Nicene and Apostles' Creeds provide this minimum coverage...

If 'creedal minimalism' defines unity, who or what defines the creed? In fact, historically, the Catholic Church defined the creeds, just as it canonized the Bible. Those who then rely on the same creeds and the same Bible are relying on the same authority to the extent that they rely on those things. Moreover, who decides what the minimum coverage should be? Other 'Protestants' might disagree.

Eric

Grifman said...

"On 'Protestant' principles, we are left with a fallible collection of supposedly infallible books"

Eric, how is that any different than Catholicism? Your own argument can be turned against you. As far as I am aware, there is not infallible list of infallible traditions published by the Catholic church. Until there is aren't you in the same boat you claim Protestants are in?

Grifman said...

Brian,

The individual is always the final arbiter of what is to be believed. There's no way around that for either a Catholic or Protestant.

You used to be Protestant, then you became a Catholic. You made that decision presumably based upon your assessment of the evidence. How is that any different than someone deciding to join a Protestant denomination based upon their reading of the evidence?

Principium Unitatis said...

Grifman,

Thanks for your comment. I responded to that objection here.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

ET said...

Griffman,

Eric, how is that any different than Catholicism?

The available resources are different.

Your own argument can be turned against you.

Feel free to turn it against me, then.

As far as I am aware, there is not infallible list of infallible traditions published by the Catholic church. Until there is aren't you in the same boat you claim Protestants are in?

When you speak about traditions I am not sure if you are speaking about the organ of tradition, the mode of tradition, or that which was transmitted.

Further, the official canonization of Scripture was considered binding, authoritative, and infallibly proclaimed. We would not need a complete list to know that much. We know that much without a complete list.

Eric

Grifman said...

Eric

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear so let me try again. You said that one of the problems facing Protestants is that they have a fallible list of infallible scriptures.

However, how are Catholics any different? There is no infallible list of infallible Catholic doctrines. I've read that various Catholics disagree as to whether various papal pronouncements were infallible or not.

So it seems that Catholics don't even have a list, fallible or not, of infallible doctrines. If I'm wrong, then please point me to the infallible papal statement that gives such a list. I'm not aware of the existence of one.

Grifman said...

Bryan,

Thanks. However, I read that and I don't see how it really deals with the issue. You're still dealing wth doctrine, in this case what I think you call "magisterial sacramental authority" and "apostolic succession". You're still having to determine that you believe that these are correct, and then following the church that teaches them. Aren't these doctrines as much as anything else? If so, then what's the difference?

I don't see how that is different than someone selecting a Protestant denomination for other doctrinal reasons. But maybe I'm missing something.

Grifman said...

"Moreover, why should I believe 'it' how to figure out what it really is claiming) more than a person who read the Bible once and concluded that Christ was not incarnate, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true, that the Bible was not inspired, that there was no virgin birth, etc.? It may be that the only thing dividing the believer and the non-believer here would be belief itself (or the lack thereof), but that they are on equal ground otherwise if there is no Church which is at least infallible AND also authoritative in certain respects."

Eric

So you're claiming that a person who argues these things from scripture has as good of an argument as those who would argue for the generally accepted Christian view? You don't believe that what we both as Christian accept as true is a better exegetical argument from scripture?

Do you really want to say that exposition and argumentation from scripture are worthless? Do you believe that that the Arians, Nestorians, Montantists, Donatists, etc all had scriptural arguments as good as the church?

ET said...

Griffman,

See my last post regarding the first issue, especially the last paragraph.

Regarding the second issue, I do think that Scripture supports some positions more strongly than others. Arguments from Scripture are not worthless by any means. They are absolutely important. I think Scripture more strongly supports the traditional Christian view. But if we are left with no authority to decide such matters and only the Bible, it may be that our epistemological position is not much different than the person who disagrees with us about the divinity of Christ and concludes contrary to us.

Further, many times interpretational disputes hinge on small differences in evidence, i.e., how to weigh the different passages against or with one another, what exactly the passage means, what the emphasis is, how the passage should be related to the context, etc. The Bible itself does not tell us how to resolve all of these disputes, some of which are hair-splitting in degree of difference. If there is no teaching authority, we are probably left resolving most, if not all of these issues, on probabilistic grounds.

Eric

Principium Unitatis said...

Grifman,

Imagine yourself in Jerusalem around 50 AD. You hear something about these followers of the Way, and what they say about Jesus. But other people are saying that Jesus's body was stolen from the tomb, and some are saying that Jesus was a prophet, and others are saying that he was a theophany, not the son of Mary. Who should you believe? You should believe those whom He authorized to speak in His name, just as Christ is to believed because He was authorized to speak in His Father's name.

Fast-forward fifty years. Now people are saying all kinds of things about Jesus, who should you believe? Same answer: you should believe those whom the Apostles authorized to speak in their name.

Fast-forward fifty years. Now the gnostics are in full force. Who should you believe? Again: you should believe those whom the previous generation of bishops authorized to speak in their name.

Now, just keep moving forward through time, doing the same thing.

That's the difference between comparing form and tracing matter.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Grifman said...

"See my last post regarding the first issue, especially the last paragraph."

Sorry, I saw it and I don't see how it addresses my question. I don't want to be tart but do I have to ask it a third time? :)

Where is the infallible list of infallible Catholic doctrines? Surely if the church is infallible it can produce a list of what should be believed infallibly. I don't think you can criticize Protestants for not having an infallible list of infallible books if Catholics can't provide an infallible list of infallible doctrines.

Grifman said...

"Imagine yourself in Jerusalem around 50 AD. You hear something about these followers of the Way, and what they say about Jesus. But other people are saying that Jesus's body was stolen from the tomb, and some are saying that Jesus was a prophet, and others are saying that he was a theophany, not the son of Mary. Who should you believe? You should believe those whom He authorized to speak in His name, just as Christ is to believed because He was authorized to speak in His Father's name."

But why would I necessarily believe them just because they claim to speak in his name? Why would I believe that they have this authority? How do Iknow that he authorized them to speak in his name? You seem to be putting the cart before the horse.

Just because they claim to have this authority doesn't mean they do. I'm outside of the church trying to figure out what to believe. I'm not going to accept their statements just because they say so. Non-believers don't find that argument convincing today and I doubt they found it convincing 2,000 years ago.

In fact, if you look at the book of Acts, it's not apostolic authority that convinced people to become Christians. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through their preaching and the witness of the lives of early Christians.

Look at Peter's first sermon - where does he proclaim his authority, saying believe me, Jesus authorized me? Nowhere, instead he proclaims the gospel, speaking from the OT to convince them from the scriptures - how Protestant! :)

Next Peter and John witness to God's power by healing a man. They claim to be witnesses of Christ, but proclaim no special authority, but instead again, appeal to the prophets (scripture again). And so on, as the church expands through Acts. In the end it is preaching, miracles and the changed lives that Christians lived that confirm what they say is true, not a special authority that they claim.

Principium Unitatis said...

Grifman,

But why would I necessarily believe them just because they claim to speak in his name? Why would I believe that they have this authority?

That's a separate question. *That* they had authority is a separate question from how you would know that they had authority. You seem to be conflating those two. Their authority came from Christ Himself. You would know that they had authority by the signs and wonders they did in Christ's name.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Neal Judisch and Family said...

"The individual is always the final arbiter of what is to be believed. There's no way around that for either a Catholic or Protestant."

Grifman,

This I think is a very interesting and difficult issue you're raising. Like Bryan I converted to Catholicism from Reformed Presbyterianism, and I did so deliberately, after a bunch of study and struggle. And like Bryan, concerns about the unity of the Church, etc., were not negligible aspects of the process that led me to my conclusions.

But I've been pondering similar questions to the one you've raised here, because I think that there is something substantively different, which is difficult for me to express in a very precise way, about submitting yourself to the authority of the Church after becoming convinced that one ought to do this and, say, becoming convinced of paedobaptism or some thesis concerning church polity or what have you, and then deciding you ought to embrace the corresponding theological position.

What is this difference? Let me try to get at, though I admit this is a work in progress. (I hope Bryan doesn't mind his blog getting used for this sort of thing.)

Fundamentally, I think, it has to do with the acceptance of an epistemic authority -- an authority of a very distinctive kind -- whose authority is intrinsic and not dependent upon the consent of autonomous individuals to act as an arbiter of truth for them (as it would be if we modeled epistemic authority on most versions of political authority on the market, say); and it also has to do with what I take to be an epistemic virtue of self-trust.

As to the latter, I think that you need to "spot" yourself the thesis that you are, when reasoning conscientiously, not wholly unreliable as a reasoner -- this I think needs to be done "in advance" of evidence which corroborates it, on pain of possible regress. I also think it's true that we should extend that sort of trust to others until we have reason not to. (Perhaps there's an analogue in Thomas Reid's credulity principle here. But the main idea comes from an argument I heard Linda Zagzebski formulate, against epistemic egoism.)

What's interesting about the authority question, specifically as it relates to the "choice" between Catholicism and Protestantism, and at least as I experienced the choice in my own case, is that there is a sense in which one vital precondition for the acceptance of a genuine epistemic authority is the prior recognition that your own epistemic self-trust, trust in your own abilities to "get things right," etc., has definite limits, limits which are in fact germane to the choice with which you're currently being confronted.

One needn't, I take it, come to a conclusion like this in order to remain a Protestant, or to go from one one denomination to another, or to exchange one theological position for another, or whatever. You can of course give your consent to an 'authority' in this scenario (confessional standards, various respected preachers or historical figures, say), but this kind of "authority" is more like a group of experts with whom you agree about things, and a group of experts is not equivalent to an epistemic authority. They're 'authorities', in effect, "until further notice," and as long as their conclusions do not require you to defer to them in cases where you do not understand what they're saying or do not find the arguments you've been given on some point entirely persuasive (e.g.). (Note the similarity with classical liberalism's picture of the nature of the authority of the state and its relation to/dependence upon autonomous individuals.) But here again, that isn't equivalent to accepting an epistemic authority, because doing this involves something on the order of making a covenant. (I only say this by way of analogy -- at this point -- but I select the analogy on purpose. I mean 'covenant' in a strong sense, a reality-shifting sense.) In this case you definitely *relinquish* something which you needn't have relinquished and probably won't relinquish if you make the choice to remain (or become) Protestant. Perhaps better, you become differently aligned or differently situated within something, and the change is constitutive. (Another distinctively Christian paradox: when you 'relinquish' this you actually get a lot more in return than what you'd given up.)

This doesn't mean you *lose* the epistemic virtue of self-trust, but the self-trust is tempered in a salient way by the recognition that some external epistemic authority is actually required for you, given your epistemic limitations (or the inadequacy of your own resources specifically for the tasks at hand.) It means, too, that the relationship between you and your epistemic authority is of a very different sort than (i) 2 individuals of equal epistemic authority who happen to agree, or (ii) 1 individual deferring to another in view of some expertise the latter is thought by the first to possess, or what have you.

So it may well be true that a person (like Bryan, or like me) becomes convinced that they have good reasons to make the 'choice' for Catholicism, and to the extent that they are confident in their conclusions, to that extent they manifest a degree of epistemic self-trust, which is a precondition for any sort of reasoning anyway. But once they've come to that conclusion and seen that there is in fact an epistemic authority to which they are obligated to submit, the result of the 'choice' is that they are now in an epistemic situation which is unlike the Protestant's epistemic situation; and, perhaps more interestingly, an essential condition for their *getting there* in the first place is that they've experienced something like an epistemic 'humbling' (though I hate to put it that way) which is very unlike what a person goes through when they conclude, on the basis of their own reasoning, that they ought to maintain a posture of protest against the Catholic Church.

I don't pretend this is an entirely adequate or even especially clear description of the difference I perceive between the two cases; there is, in fact, nothing whatsoever in the literature about epistemic authority, so I'm sort of working from the ground up here. But hopefully these scattered thoughts will provide a starting point for at least considering the possibility that the parity of reasoning argument you wish to advance against Catholicism (that it too suffers from all the defects of 'private judgment', etc.) might be overlooking some philosophically significant subtleties.

I'd appreciate thoughts from anyone about this business.

Peace,

Neal

ET said...

Grifman,

First, no one needs to provide a complete list of all infallible doctrines to know that the canon is binding, authoritative, and infallible. That was the point of the paragraph that I referred you to.

Second, the Church could produce the type of list you speak about. Protestants could not. The resources are different.

Third, Protestants are in a different epistemological condition with respect to their claims about the inspiration of Scripture, whether the canon is closed, etc.. This is because Protestantism lacks the authority to decide those issues authoritatively. Different Protestants can opine about it all, but they were not sent by Christ to command, to bind, to loose, to teach, and to govern with respect to faith and morals.

The authoritative, visible Church is the pillar and bullwark of truth, not the individual Protestant or this or that group of Protestants that protested themselves out of the Church, started their own 'churches', and taught their own doctrines by virtue of their own authority in a way that is similar to how I might if I were to start a church tomorrow based on some novel interpetation of Scripture that I could come up with.

Eric

Principium Unitatis said...

Neal,

Thanks very much for your comments. They echo things I have said less clearly here. Another helpful explanation of this epistemic distinction can be found in Fr. Kimel's sola scriptura page, if you scroll down to the place where he is quoting from Newman's "Faith and Private Judgment".

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

ET said...

Bryan wrote:

Fast-forward fifty years. Now people are saying all kinds of things about Jesus, who should you believe? Same answer: you should believe those whom the Apostles authorized to speak in their name.

Let me apply this to myself and to Luther.

Regarding myself: Now *I* am saying things about Jesus and about salvation and people with authority that I lack are also. Who should I believe? Same answer: I should believe those whom the Apostles authorized to speak in their name over and against my own belief.

Regarding Luther: Luther did the opposite. He came to the conclusion that justification by faith alone understood in terms of a legal, forensic, external declaration of Christ's righteousness was the essential feature of the Gospel. Anyone who told him otherwise was wrong. He defined the Gospel in terms of this notion, a notion which had not been taught in the first 1500 years of Christian thought. After defining the gospel in this way, he declared that any group or person, no matter what, would stand or fall based on this yardstick, a yardstick which he created on his own authority and a yardstick which he employed on his own authority. He then decided that the Catholic Church fell on this issue on his own authority.

He drove the thinking even further when he stated that he judged whether someone was apostolic by whether they taught his doctrine. He would not have cared if Peter or Paul themselves told him he was wrong about this. He simply would have said that they were wrong, that he was right and that they were to be opposed. Similarly, he thought that all genuine books were only genuine to the extent that they preached Christ. But what did he mean by 'preaching Christ'? He meant justification through a legal declaration by faith alone. He meant that even the books in the Bible should be judged according to his novel interpretation. Here we have the essence of Luther's approach. Luther was king. He rejected the authoritative Church and made another church that he was king of. His interpretation would be final yardstick, even if he could be wrong about it.

Luther's approach is far different than what Bryan is talking about here.

I also want to say that no one is denying that personal judgment is a part of becoming a Catholic or judging the Catholic Church, just as it is in becoming a Protestant. No one is trying to remove all personal judgment from the equation. We are rational agents and we must make judgments about what history tells us, what the Bible points to, what the different interpretational possibilities are, what the history of the church is, what the medium of revelation is, etc. Personal judgment is important in all of this and more. Personal judgment is essential in all of this. But there is a place for personal judgment and also a place for an authoritative Church which has more authority than my own personal judgments, at least when it comes to certain issues. That is, personal judgment is not all that we are left with. Personal judgment is not the final arbiter with respect to every issue and every question when it comes to faith and morals. We are not just left with personal judgment and the Bible, but also with an authoritative, visible Church, which the Bible itself tells us is the pillar and bullwark of truth.

Eric

Neal Judisch and Family said...

Bryan,

Thank you for the reference, and thanks for letting me use your blog to ramble about this. I'll take a look at Fr. Kimel at first opportunity.

Peace,

Neal

Neal Judisch and Family said...

Bryan & Grifman,

Alright, I've been thinking about epistemic authority a little more, especially as it relates to the change from a Protestant to a Catholic orientation. I think my previous meanderings may have been too broadly philosophical, and I want to focus in on the case of interest.

So, let's consider a presuppositionalist-style approach to apologetics as our point of departure. (For my part, I don't think that there really is such a thing as a distinctively presuppositional apologetical methodology, but everyone's got a vague idea about what it's supposed to be; transcendental and all that sort of thing.) What I want to compare is (i) the way in which an atheist might become converted to Christianity in part by way of the presuppositionalists' arguments, and (ii) the way in which a Protestant might become convinced of Catholicism. This comparison has a useful feature: the presuppositionalist does not consider himself to be in the same epistemic situation as the atheist; he thinks that he is under an epistemic authority - the validity of which he refuses to demonstrate on any grounds which don't themselves require belief in the authority. The atheist, on the other hand, doesn't see himself as being under any such authority. He is an autonomous reasoner, a "freethinker," etc. Yet, despite this difference, the presuppositionalist doesn't think it's impossible for the atheist to become converted to Christianity, and thus become epistemically reconfigured. The presuppositionalist, of course, does *not* believe that the atheist can just go on thinking 'autonomously' and then get to God by 'human reason', without reference to the words of the God Who Reveals Himself. But the presuppositionalist *does* think that, through a process which ineliminably *involves* reasoning, thinking through arguments, etc., the atheist can, in effect, become convinced of his folly, see that his atheistic system collapses under its own weight, see that Christian theism does not similarly collapse under its own weight, and so forth. Indeed, it is by means of taking the atheist through such a process that the presuppositionalist hopes to play some role in his conversion.

There's an analogy here. The analogy is not perfect, because Protestants do believe themselves to be under *an* authority, if not an interpretive/disciplinary authority, etc. (We all realize there are subtleties here, but I'm going to ignore them.) So consider a proposition like the following, which Catholics and Protestants could both agree upon:

Christ really does wish, indeed, command, that His Church subsist in unity and in truth: both of these, truth and unity, need to be held together, if Christ's explicitly stated intentions for the Church are to come about.

(I don't mean to suggest that all Protestants would think of unity as being 'visible' or 'sacramental' or 'ecclesial' or whatever; but there is nothing in Protestantism to rule out such a belief, and at least some of the Reformers themselves were a lot closer to thinking in this traditional way than current evangelicalism might be. In any case, I'm not arguing the thesis here; it just fits into the example.)

Although presuppositionalists would not like to put it this way, this proposition can function like a piece of "common ground" between the Catholic and the Protestant, in much the way that, say, the existence of logical laws or the reliability of inductive inferences or whatever are supposed to function as "common ground" in presuppositionalist arguments (even though the presuppositionalist would never call them that).

I want to say that the Protestant might convert to Catholicism in part because he believes in this proposition and then asks these sorts of questions: what are the necessary preconditions which must obtain if the Church is to have any real chance of subsisting in unity and truth - if it is to avoid either sectarian or latitudinarian error - as per Christ's command? Does Catholicism have an answer to this which is internally self consistent (doesn't collapse under its own weight)? Does Protestantism? How does the empirical, historical evidence bear on these questions? Etc.

I think if a Protestant were to do this, he'd be in an analogous position to an atheist who begins to think seriously about the deficiencies of his own 'worldview' vis-a-vis the worldview of Christian theism. Compare: If there's a happy ending to the atheist/presuppositionalist story, and the atheist by the grace of God converts, he will find himself in a different epistemic situation than the one with which he started - it will now be more like the presuppositionalists: less 'autonomous', etc. It follows that regardless of the fact that the atheist started out in a different epistemic position in the beginning and then, through a process of reasoning, came to change his outlook, it's still the case that he ends up in a very different epistemic situation than the one with which he started. And, interestingly, if the presuppositionalists are right, he has done it in a way that essentially involves a kind of epistemic humbling, a realization that his "autonomous-human-reason+atheological-worldview" really *does* lead to inconsistencies and absurdities, which can be avoided only by embracing a self-consistent system (theism) and placing yourself under an epistemic authority.

Lots of interesting epistemological questions remain, of course. But I think this sort of example provides further reason to reject (or at least suspect) the parity of reasoning argument Grifman deploys against Catholicism. It is hard, for instance, to imagine a Refomed Protestant happily saying: "Well, at the end of the day the Christian uses their autonomous human reason just as much as the atheist does, since atheists who become Christians have to reason their way to Christianity after all." This is a suspicious thing to say; it masks the fact that significant features of the case are being glossed over, and that the epistemology presupposed is not sophisticated. So too with the parity of reasoning argument concerning Catholicism and private judgment.

Principium Unitatis said...

Neal,

Interesting argument. The argument depends on a *principled* distinction between Catholic ecclesial authority and Protestant ecclesial authority. That difference is one of the things I have been arguing for here practically since I started this blog. (See the label "sacramental magisterial authority".)

Protestants who don't recognize or perceive that distinction might therefore have a hard time accepting the argument. But the argument helps explain the type of epistemic change that a Protestant-becoming-Catholic undergoes, and shows it to be a kind of paradigm shift. It puts a lot of weight on apostolic succession. But that's where the weight should be put, because that's what provides the principled difference in Catholic ecclesial authority compared to Protestant ecclesial authority.

Thanks Neal!

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Neal Judisch and Family said...

Bryan,

I will definitely be looking at those posts you mentioned.

Perhaps you're including the following feature as a necessary aspect of the doctrine of succession, but I think there is also a distinction in the conditions which ground the authority (according to Protestants and Catholics), and specifically whether the authority is externally determined, or 'bottom up', or not.

I've just gotten hold of an article by John Haldane which is related to this topic. It's called "Infallibility, Authority, and Faith," and it's in his ridiculously expensive ($130) book, Faithful Reason: Essays Catholic and Philosophical. I've got a deadline for something else hanging over my head just now, but I'll give you a paper review when I get the chance. It may help us formulate a more solid argument, in conjunction with all else you've written.

Peace,

Neal