Saturday, September 1, 2007

Poisoning the Well is Not an Argument

Carrie is fond of "shock posts" in her self-proclaimed "mission to educate." She publishes quotes that she thinks are scandalous, or that (when ripped out of context) might actually be scandalous. Unfortunately this method is no substitute for an argument. It amounts to nothing more than demagoguery: an attempt to manipulate her readers into holding a position that she wants them to hold, without the effort of arguing for it. In this case, that position seems to be a hatred for the Catholic Church, and though this sort of demagoguery may be a common activity in the government's schools (which long ago gave up any sort of pretense of actually doing what they are supposed to do), it is a counterfeit of real education.

Here's an example. Post title: "Catholic Authority: Superior to Scripture."

Now in the ears of her primary intended audience (Protestants who do not share her hostile opinion of the Catholic Church) the very title is intended to set off alarm bells. Why? Because for the Protestant, committed to the irrational notion of sola scriptura, to suggest that anything is superior to the Bible is effectively an attack on the very definition of Christianity.

The body of the post consists of two quotations from an old (1951) book titled "A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture." She provides no link to additional information about this book - not even the author's name - beyond saying that it comes "with imprimatur and acknowledgment of Pope Pius XII." I sincerely hope that she is only guilty of a poorly constructed phrase here, because the book is available online here, and the imprimatur is not from Pius XII but rather from E. Morrogh Bernard of Westminster in England. I also see no "acknowledgment" from Pius XII. Perhaps she is working from some other edition than what is online. I don't know, since she hasn't provided us any information about the book other than its title and year of publication.

Here's the first of her two quotations:
It is the Church, the holder of Tradition, that gives life to the dead letter of Scripture. Experience shows that it is only in the life of the Church, the Bride of Christ, that Scripture, divinely inspired as it is, becomes 'living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword' (Heb 4:12)
The first sentence of this quotation is in bold type in Carrie's post. Given that she wishes to induce Protestants to hold a hostile opinion towards the Catholic Church without providing an argument for that position, this tactic makes sense. But it is no argument (and - given that we need the Magisterium to act as an interpreter of Scripture, there is a sense in which the quotation may be said to be true: in that we do not know with certainty the authentic interpretation of divine revelation apart from the living voice of Christ speaking through the Magisterium. Consequently the Bible is reduced to a black box - or, one might say, a "dead letter" in terms of our ability to know with certainty what it teaches - apart from the Church's testimony), and it is a dishonorable thing to do. It's a scare quote. That's all. The quotation makes perfect sense, but folks who are committed to the irrationality of sola scriptura are almost certain to be scandalized by it.

The second quotation:
In regard to these truths [faith and morals] the authority of Tradition and of the Bible is equal...Nevertheless, as we shall see later, the Church is superior to the Bible in the sense that she is the Living Voice of Christ, and therefore the sole infallible interpreter of the inspired Word, whenever an authoritative interpretation is required (brackets in Carrie's post, but not in the original).
In this one, Carrie places "the Church is superior to the Bible" in bold type. Again, doing this is no argument, and we know why she does this: to frighten Protestants into hating the Catholic Church as much as she does. Even the author of the quotation would not be so bold as to say in an unqualified way that "the Church is superior to the Bible." He knows that to say that would be false, as we see from the Catechism, #86:
Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith [i.e., Sacred Scripture, and Sacred Tradition - RdP].
In a qualified sense what the author says is not necessarily contradictory to what the Catechism says at all: namely, in the sense that "she is the Living Voice of Christ." In the sense that the Church with Christ her Head "make up the 'whole Christ' (Christus totus)" (CCC 795), it is really Christ who speaks through the Church, so that it is Christ who may be said in this sense to be superior to the Bible as its Author.

There is no scandal here and certainly nothing false. But as I've already suggested, Carrie isn't interested in making an argument in this post. She's not interested in the truth with such posts as this. She is interested in evoking an emotional, knee-jerk response from her intended audience. If she really believes that the truth is on her side, she should not need to resort to such nonsense. She should be able to demonstrate the so-called "falsehood" of the Catholic Church. But she doesn't do this, because the Church really is true. All she has to work with are manipulative tactics.

Lastly, it's worth pointing out something else we find in practically the same place (indeed, on the same page) as Carrie's scare quotes: "The primary reason why all Catholics should know the Bible well is (as above stated) the advancement of their own personal sanctification, for 'to be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ.'"

Does that sound like the contempt for the Bible that Carrie wants you to think we have for the Bible?

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