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

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Jonathan Prejean on the ontology of authority

Jonathan Prejean (Crimson Catholic) has some insightful thoughts here from a legal perspective on the ontology of authority and the reification fallacy. He is essentially showing that binding authority must include a visible and irreducibly personal aspect. This is why there must be a visible human magisterium. Defenders of the sola scriptura (plain-meaning-of-Scripture) position are, according to Prejean, committing the reification fallacy. They are treating something that is ontologically less than a person [i.e. Scripture] as if (with respect to authority) it is ontologically equivalent to a person. In my opinion, one of the factors contributing to this error is the flawed fundamentalist argument that since the Bible is the "Word of God", and since we know that the "Word of God" is a divine Person, therefore the Bible is, in some sense, a divine Person. No one thinks that our law system could exist without judges, or that each of us could, with equal authority, decide for ourselves what the law means. But the sola scriptura position implies that there is no authoritative interpretation. Here is one quotation from Prejean's article:
To put it rather simply, if there is no interpretive authority that has the power to issue interpretations to rule out contrary interpretations, then the statement itself has no authority, because the binding act either does or does not rule out contrary interpretations of the subject matter it purports to regulate.
His conclusion contains the following:
To put it another way, unless God Himself has given you guidance in a definitive form accessible to your perception, then He has to endorse some external, public interpretive authority for any statement to be normatively binding as divine revelation. Effectively, Protestantism is the admission that there is no such thing as authoritative public revelation; all authoritative revelation is necessarily private.
I agree. This is why Protestantism is intrinsically individualistic.

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