Monday, April 14, 2008

From the Combox - Perspicuity Discussion

There has been some discussion of the perspicuity of Scripture, but unfortunately not in an entirely "on-topic" place.

For the sake of those who are interested - you may continue the discussion here. Thanks.


Turretinfan said...

Thanks, Reginald. Sorry for cluttering the other combox.


Reginald de Piperno said...

Okay, in the absence (hopefully only for now) of participation by the other gentlemen, at least a couple observations and/or questions come to mind inspired by your last comment.

It seems on that basis (that "all things necessary for salvation" remains an indefinite category with unspecified boundaries) that the most to be said for the doctrine of perspicuity - at least in the Reformed camp, anyway, where the WCF is accepted - is that it seems to be primarily a negative doctrine intended primarily to contradict the Catholic belief in Sacred Tradition as a part of the deposit of faith, rather than saying anything about the actual clarity of the Bible.

What I mean is that it seems, given this definition of indefiniteness, that perspicuity becomes nothing more than a restatement of sola scriptura, and does nothing besides draw a line in the sand between Protestants and Catholics. Because it seems that a perspicuity that doesn't in some way identify the ideas that are presumed to be sufficiently clear for all to see doesn't really seem to help in any other way.

Lastly (for the moment), if there is no clear list of clear things, why should we think that perspicuity itself is a clear thing?

Turretinfan said...


The Scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation.

Is that a negative doctrine unless we can explain exactly how they are able to do that?

I don't think it is.

Same goes for the doctrine of perspecuity, which in fact is based on the doctrine above.

"why should we think that perspicuity itself is a clear thing?"

I don't see any reason that it should have to be. We wouldn't normally think of the perspecuity of Scripture as itself an essential doctrine of the faith.


Mike Burgess said...

Okay if I jump in?

Reginald de Piperno said...

I don't see any reason that it should have to be.

It seems to me that if there is not a clear list of things that are clear from the Bible, a list that contains perspicuity itself, then perspicuity itself may either be clear or not.

If it is an unclear thing in the Bible, then either (or maybe both) of two things are possible: it might be incorrect in the sense that there are things necessary for salvation which are not clear in the Bible, and/or it might be incorrect in the sense that there are things necessary for salvation that are not taught in the Bible.

So on that basis it seems to me rather important to know whether the Protestant, Reformed doctrine of perspicuity from WCF chapter one is in fact itself a clear doctrine of the Bible (which brings me back to the question: absent a clear list of clear things, why should we think that perspicuity itself is a clear thing?)

As to my first question - it seems to me that a positive doctrine of perspicuity refutes itself if it denies the existence of a clear list of clear things (for reasons discussed above). So I don't see how - on the terms you've described - it could be anything other than a negative doctrine that restates sola scriptura. That's not necessarily a criticism, if that's all it is intended to be, but that's not typically how perspicuity is presented to the non-Protestant (whether Catholic or not).

Lastly - lest this point is unclear! - I hasten to add that I'm not really intending to throw dirt on perspicuity here. I'm asking these questions because I've never heard anyone say what you have about it, and I'm trying to understand your view.

-- RdP

Reginald de Piperno said...

Mike - You certainly may jump in!

-- RdP

Turretinfan said...

Let me try once more to explain myself.

1. The things that are necessary are clear.

2. Other true doctrines than the necessary ones can be discerned from Scripture.

3. Just because a doctrine is true, doesn't mean that it is clear to the same degree as the necessary things.

4. Saying that the doctrine of perspecuity is not itself perspicuous from Scripture is not equivalent to saying that there is reasonable doubt about the doctrine.

5. That said, perhaps the doctrine is itself perspicuous - I just don't think there's any reason that it must be.

It seems your objection is that if we say that the doctrine is not perspicuous we're saying it could be wrong - but that doesn't follow.

There's another part to your commentary, which is that it seems that the perspecuity of Scripture is simply a restatement of Sola Scriptura.

It is a part of Sola Scriptura. It's fairly clearly not negatively phrased, so to view it as purely negative seems odd.



Reginald de Piperno said...

I obviously didn't say that it was negatively phrased in the WCF. :-)

I said that it is a negative doctrine, at least so far as I understand what you have said, in that it doesn't positively identify what is supposed to be clear. Hence it appears rather to be a positive denial of the Catholic view, rather than an affirmation of anything substantive: "We don't need your tradition" is what it says. And it seems to me that this is all it's saying, absent any definition of what is supposed to be necessary for salvation.

But since you seem to be becoming impatient with me about that, I'll move on to another question on the same subject.

I must confess to some measure of surprise at your statement that the "all things necessary for salvation" is indeterminate.

Presumably you do not agree with Chris, who said that there are no things that must be believed in order to be saved. If on the contrary there are such things, how is one going to be able to know that he believes them all if "all things necessary for salvation" is indeterminate? By way of a corollary, one might wonder whether there are things that he cannot believe and still be saved. If the list of things which must be believed is indeterminate, how would one know whether he has believed a damnable heresy?

Again, Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not trying to do the standard debate over this. If you had proposed a specific list of "necessary things," I wouldn't even be asking this question. Your response was unexpected, but presumably you must have some reason in this regard that satisfies you, and I'm curious what it is. Or is it the wrong sort of question? And if so, why?


Mike Burgess said...

Let me try that html tag thing you showed me for a reference to the href="">ongoing discussion of human openness to God between TF and myself.

It promises to delve into perspecuity, if we let it, hence my inclusion here. Begging your indulgence, Reginald.

Mike Burgess said...

Yikes. I screwed it up. Mommy.

Reginald de Piperno said...


Let's try again.

<a href="">Link</a>

And the URL that goes in there (when you're wanting to link to a specific link in a Blogger combox) comes from the "Comment permalink" on the comment itself, which you'll find if you right-click the timestamp on it.

(Note that the comment permalink isn't available in the Blogger page where you type a comment; It's only available from the blog post page itself where the comments are displayed.)

Example from your last comment

Does that help?

Heading over to take a look,

-- RdP

Reginald de Piperno said...

Mike - very interesting reading. Thanks for letting me know about the continuing conversation; I gave up following the thread some days after it fell off the front page.

Well done. :-)

I haven't overlooked your Maritain posts (yay!) but I also haven't had time to read them thoroughly (boo!) I've been reading and loving Chesterton (What's Wrong With the World) the last day or two, and hope to wrap it up in short order.

Welcome back, and I hope you had a good vacation.

-- RdP