Sunday, July 8, 2007

Protestant attempts tuquoque (and fails)

In this post, a certain Protestant blogger (a lapsed Catholic, if I'm not mistaken) who seems to feel the sting of the validity of the "private interpretation" criticism of Protestantism by Catholics has attempted to tar Catholics with the same brush. Let's see if she succeeds.

After pointing us to a certain section of the CCC which declares the Magisterium's unique responsibility for interpreting the Word of God, she has this to say:
Based on these claims by Catholics you would assume that a church-approved commentary of the Bible would exist to lead Catholic laypeople, especially Catholic apologists, to the correct interpretation of each biblical passage. Yet nothing even close to such a thing exists. In fact, very few biblical passages have been officially defined by the RCC.
"You would assume". Who would? Perhaps she would, and perhaps her Protestant friends would, but as a Catholic I would not. What's the difference? Why is this important to her, but not to me?

It's important to her because of her assumption that the Bible is the sole source of God's Word. But this is an assumption that she has not established, and it is an invalid one anyway given the Catholic understanding of the relationship of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. We do not need a "church-approved commentary," precisely because we have a Magisterium that tells us what the content of the Faith actually is. We do not need to resort to the Bible to learn the truth in the way that Protestants think that they need to do.

We must be clear here. It would be easy for a Protestant to suppose that the Church discourages the reading of the Bible. This is completely false: "The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). 'For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ'" (Verbum Dei 25).

Regardless, however, the measure of a man's faith is not to be found in the hours that he spends in reading commentaries. For at least 3/4 of the Church's history, the vast majority of Christians were unable to read at all (and even if they could, they would almost certainly not have had access to a Bible, thanks to the prohibitive expense of hand copying). So the modern Western Protestant's laudable interest in personal Bible study would not have even been possible for these faithful. It is easy for us to forget this, but widespread literacy is relatively recent historically. But the fact that they could not read was no obstacle to a Christian's access to the truth then, and the absence of an approved commentary is no obstacle today. Why? Because we have the Magisterium.

I think it's also worth pointing out that the Church's history is flush with commentaries on the Bible. It's not as though individual bishops have not written such works. Of course this is inadequate in our blogger's view, because she has insisted that the Church should have produced an "official" one. I am reminded of an atheist's protests against Christianity, in which he will demand evidence of a special sort in order to convince him that God exists, or in which he will say that God "should be" like this or that, rather than submitting to how He actually is. Our blogger's complaint is very much like this: she thinks that the Church ought to have done X, Y, Z if Her claims were really true, and because She hasn't, our blogger concludes that She is not what She claims. But rather than comparing the Church to her own personal theories of ecclesiology and authority, she really ought to look at what the Church actually is.

Our blogger continues: While some Protestants have written commentaries on the entire Bible in their own lifetime, the "infallible" RCC has been unable to even attempt the same in 2000 years.

This is obviously a species of the same quibble as before, but I note it here primarily because of its combative tone. The Catholic Church hasn't done so because the living Magisterium is the authentic interpreter of God's Word as found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Our blogger concludes with this:
But more to the point, how can the interpretation of a biblical passage by any Catholic apologist even be entertained? If their own infallible authority has only been able to define 7 passages of scripture over 2000 years, the apologist/e-pologist cannot have the integrity or the authority to even attempt to interpret scripture on their own. If they do, they fall into their own "private interpretation" trap so carefully, but foolishly, set for the Protestants.

Once again, she fails to understand the differences between us. I will agree on one count, however: it is pointless to quibble about texts with a Protestant. Far more important and foundational is the fact that the Protestant has no basis upon which to make any authoritative claims about the teaching of the Bible. Authority is the critical issue.

The Catholic's duty is to interpret the Bible in harmony with the teaching of the Church, which cannot be mistaken. If a Catholic's interpretation of Scripture differs from some article of the Faith proposed for belief by the Magisterium, then that Catholic's interpretation is wrong. There is an infallible standard, therefore, against which his understanding can and must be judged. So - far from being a private interpretation after the fashion of the Protestant's dilemma, the Catholic's is a liberty with structure. There is no "trap" here into which we may fall - unless we make the error of exalting our own opinions above the teaching of the Church.

This is a completely different situation than that in which our Protestant blogger finds herself. There is no Protestant standard against which she may measure her interpretation of the Bible that can even slightly compare to the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church (to say nothing of there being any obligation upon her in the Protestant world to submit to any standard, either). Even among those Protestant groups which affirm some confessional standard or other, it is always formally stated that those standards are human works and consequently NOT infallible. In consequence, the Protestant, who has enshrined his own conscience and his own judgment as ultimate in the determination of what is true, is in no way bound to accept any confessional standard's proclamations when he believes that they contradict the Bible. This is private interpretation of a most pernicious sort, and it is night-and-day different from the circumstances which obtain for the Catholic, who must submit his interpretation of the Bible to the authority of the Magisterium: if I say the Bible teaches doctrine X and that passages A, B, and C prove it - but the Church says that the doctrine X is false - then I am wrong, and my interpretation of the Bible is wrong. Period. End of story. This is no "private interpretation" after the Protestant fashion: I am bound as a Catholic to what the Church teaches. But no Protestant is bound to any standard whatsoever when it comes to hermeneutics.

Our blogger has announced that she intends to make her blog more apologetically focused in the future. I would advise against it until she has studied and understood what she intends to criticize.

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