Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Perspicuity tu quoque

Interlocutor attempts to critique David Waltz on the "perspicuity" of Scripture:
Is it your view that Magisterial teachings and documents are perspicuous? If so, are they perspicuous both outside of and inside the community they are written for? To adapt one of your paragraphs, Is it the case that many doctrines that some Catholics believe are clearly taught by the Magisterium are repudiated by other Catholics, while both parties maintain the same adherence to Roman Catholicism and claim the other is in error in their interpretation? I think you see where this goes....
Where it goes is exactly nowhere. In the first place, even if true it would not invalidate the criticism of Protestantism's claims for the perspicuity of Scripture.

Secondly, I'm unaware of any claim by the Magisterium to the effect that its documents are "perspicuous" in some technical sense. Absent any demonstration to the contrary, the entire edifice of this criticism falls apart. Completely. Because if the Church doesn't make such a claim - as Protestants most certainly do for Scripture - then the tu quoque is without merit.

Thirdly, the reason why the issue exists for the Protestant is that he has nothing like the Magisterium to settle disputes. Oh, there are (in some cases) denominational courts, but the bottom line is that no individual Protestant is in any way bound by the decisions of such courts, except voluntarily: he can always pick up his marbles and go to some other Protestant community where his views are either irrelevant or welcome, or he can start one himself (I have known more than one genuine Lone Wolf Protestant, let me tell you). But the Catholic confesses and submits by definition to the authority of the Church for the resolution of such disputes. Now some will say that the Magisterium doesn't address every point of dispute. For example, Thomists and Molinists are both welcome within the Church. But it's not the Church's mission to settle every bone of theological contention amongst Catholics. The Church's mission is to save souls, and consequently she teaches those things which are necessary for salvation. But it is not the Church's mission to dispel all clouds of uncertainty relating to all theological questions. God is infinite, we are not, and there are going to be things that simply cannot be understood by us humans, and there are going to be disputes that are irrelevant to the Church's mission. By way of contrast, however, the Protestant has no one to tell him what things are necessary for salvation - not with any more than purely advisory authority. So he must resort to the Bible himself to attempt to identify them.

And this brings us to the fourth point: our circumstances are fundamentally different with respect to the facts of the Christian faith. The Protestant searches the Scriptures in order to know what it is that he must believe. But this is not the nature of the Catholic's relation to the Magisterium. He is already committed to believing what the Church teaches, because the Church proclaims the facts of the Faith. This is a given for him. He may indeed misunderstand things on some points or other, but so long as his sincere intent is to believe all that the Church proposes for belief, he is reckoned to have an implicitly valid faith. This is important, because not all are equipped to be students of theology. Not all have the education, or the interest, or the time, or the resources, in order to pursue it. And there is nothing wrong with this. This is not to say that he ought not to learn what he can, but he doesn't have to be a theology geek in order to be a faithful Catholic.

But the Protestant's circumstances are completely different. The facts of the faith are embedded, he believes, in a book, and he must extract them. He may rely upon the guidance of others (in which case, I might add, his condition is hardly different from the lay Catholic's, so that Protestant criticism of that lay Catholic's reliance upon the Magisterium is completely unjust), but whether he does so or not is entirely up to him.

More could be said than this. Obviously. But I hope that this will be useful in demonstrating that it's a complete waste of time for the Protestant to pretend that if there are issues for himself with regard to the claimed perspicuity of the Bible, the Catholic suffers the same things in the same way with regard to the publications of the Magisterium. To quote Hank the Cow Dog, "No, and No, and Heck No."

And if someone can tell me the correct spelling for "tu quoque" (is it 'tu quoque' or 'tuquoque'??), I'll be grateful.

18 comments:

Turretinfan said...

The correct spelling is "tu quoque." The phrase means "you (tu) also (quoque)." If someone criticizes Scriptures as being insufficiently clear, it is a valid rebuttal to respond with a tu quoque to the effect that they haven't offered something that doesn't fall prey to the same criticism.

The underlying theory of the tu quoque can be seen from the following example.

Suppose there are three mice trying to decide on a plan to reduce deaths by cat in the mouse community. Two of the mice each come up with a plan, and each tries to persuade the third that his own plan is better.

Suppose that the first mouse claims that the second mouse's plan is bad, because it involves putting a bell on the cat, but no one is going to be brave enough to face the cat.

It would be a proper tu quoque for the second mouse to point out that the first mouse's plan requires placing a leash on the cat, but no one is going to be brave enough to face the cat.

It would be proper from the standpoint that the first mouse's criticism doesn't make the first mouse's plan any better than that of the second mouse.

It would not mean that the criticism was objectively untrue. That is to say, it is really a problem with both plans that a mouse has to face a cat. It's just that the criticism is not a reason for preferring one plan to another, because no plan has been offered that doesn't have such a negative.

If Catholics complain that there are unclear things in Scripture, it is a valid response to say that there are unclear things in Catholic tradition. If Catholics complain that there are doctrinal divisions among Protestants, it is a valid response to say that there are doctrinal divisions among Catholics.

It works both ways, of course. If we criticize Catholicism, we need to make sure it is something with respect to which there is a difference between us.

-Turretinfan

Turretinfan said...

This gets us to your commment:

"even if true it would not invalidate the criticism of Protestantism's claims for the perspicuity of Scripture."

It wouldn't invalidate the criticism in itself, but as an argument against "Protestantism" (whatever that is) in favor of Catholicism.

-TurretinFan

Reginald de Piperno said...

Thank you for the spelling assist (I have seen it both ways and used it both ways, and a quick look at a web dictionary or two didn't resolve the issue).

If Catholics complain that there are unclear things in Scripture, it is a valid response to say that there are unclear things in Catholic tradition.

Unfortunately for the tu quoque of the moment, Sacred Tradition includes no claims of perspicuity for Catholic teaching whether found in the Bible or in Sacred Tradition, whereas the Protestant tradition certainly does for the Bible. To respond that the Catholic has the same issue in this instance would be like saying he also has to face the cat...when he really doesn't. Furthermore, Protestantism requires perspicuity, whereas Catholicism does not, so that the same criticism doesn't hold even in the absence of a Catholic claim to perspicuity.

But I'm repeating myself, since I already said as much (and more) in my survey of the question in the post.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Reginald,

As a theoretical matter, if Protestants claimed Scripture was perspicuous and it was not, that would be a mistake on their part - and it would obviously be no comeback to say "well, Catholic tradition isn't clear either."

If that's how the matter is going to be considered, though - one must be very careful to judge the perspecuity of Scripture according to the Protestant standard: i.e. that all the necessary things are clear and readily discernible by the regenerate mind.

Most of the time, that's not the argument presented, and it isn't presented above.

-Turretinfan

Reginald de Piperno said...

Since the purpose of this post is to address an invalid tu quoque, rather than to address the validity of the Protestant notion of perspicuity (properly understood), I'm content to leave things as they stand, and I don't think that what I've said in passing about the Protestant view and circumstances is invalid even if a nuanced notion of perspicuity is in view.

David Waltz said...

TF posted:

>>one must be very careful to judge the perspecuity of Scripture according to the Protestant standard: i.e. that all the necessary things are clear and readily discernible by the regenerate mind.>>

Me: So who decides what comprises “all the necessary things”? For instance, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Menno Simons had significant differences in their respective lists.

Protestant scholar A.N.S. Lane seems to have a very good grasp of the reality of “perspicuity” within its historical context. Once again:

"The Reformation principle was not private judgment but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies…By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general consent…In the next century birth was given to a movement of evangelicalism which was fervently orthodox but which extended the field of non-essentials wider than the Reformers. This tendency has continued to the present day when the various evangelical confessions of faith are all note-worthy for their extreme brevity. Evangelicalism has retained a belief in the perspicuity of Scripture but confined it to a fairly narrow area of basic doctrine. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45.)


Indeed, the doctrine of the “perspicuity of the Scriptures” has died the ‘death of a thousand qualifications.’


Grace and peace,

David

Turretinfan said...

Reginald:

I hope David's comment illustrates what I was trying to point out. The idea that "perspecuity has died the the death of a thousand qualifications" is simply a criticism of perspecuity as being something that it is not, and something that David also cannot provide.

It's also worth pointing out that a much better source for the definition of perspecuity is the WCF or the LBCF - a document widely agreed to among the Reformed churches, rather than a quotation that argues a contestable historical assertion.

-Turretinfan

Chris said...

>>He may indeed misunderstand things on some points or other, but so long as his sincere intent is to believe all that the Church proposes for belief, he is reckoned to have an implicitly valid faith.

What is the point of having a vast and elaborate theological edifice if only verbal affirmation, as opposed to internalization, is required? What good is having an army of yes-men if their assent does not result in internal transformation? Creeds make sense as pedagogical tools for the communication of some idea. But they don't make sense if people come to venerate the words of the creeds themselves and are expected to affirm them regardless of comprehension. At that point, religion becomes purely verbal.

Paul was satisfied in this life to see "through a glass darkly," but humans have insisted upon trying to de-tint the windows with their magisteria, their scholastic logic, their philology, their creeds, their hermeneutics. They have erected countless, meaningless orthodoxies in the misguided but oh-so-human quest for certainty. Where heretics have insisted that a particular doctrine must be believed for salvation, the church has defined itself against the heresy not by dismissing it as irrelevant or unknowable, but by setting up its own version of the doctrine and demanding universal assent at risk of damnation! The church thus makes itself an offender right along with the heretics, perpetuating the obsession with verbal religion at the expense of the religion of Spirit, praxis, and renewed minds.

I'll stick with the dark glass, thanks.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Chris,

My post was intended to address a specific subject, as I have already said elsewhere in the combox. It is not intended to address the question of sanctification; it's intended to address whether the Catholic Faith has issues with perspicuity concerning its doctrine or not.

Secondly, I already acknowledge in the post that more could be said. It's slightly more than six paragraphs long. I can't cover everything in that space, and no one would want to read it if I did so. :-)

Thirdly, with regard to what I take to be the substance of your remarks: I would assume that you consider some things necessary to be believed in order to be saved. What else would a renewed mind be for, right? So at that point the question becomes one as to the content of the Faith that must be believed. Given the fact that beliefs inform and motivate actions, it doesn't seem reasonable to me to try (as your comments seem to me to do) and paint the True Christian Faith as somehow distinct from the doctrines that Christians believe (setting aside for the moment the issue of disagreements about what exactly those doctrines are or should be).

Chris said...

>>I would assume that you consider some things necessary to be believed in order to be saved.

No.

>>What else would a renewed mind be for, right?

The renewing of the mind I am speaking of is primarily ethical and relational, not propositional.

>>Given the fact that beliefs inform and motivate actions, it doesn't seem reasonable to me to try (as your comments seem to me to do) and paint the True Christian Faith as somehow distinct from the doctrines that Christians believe

It's true that beliefs inform actions, and I don't suggest that people should avoid formulating beliefs. But, in my opinion, beliefs should be always tentative and never an end in themselves.

As a summary of roughly how I see things, here are some excerpts from my review of Euan Cameron's Interpreting Christian History:

"..he concludes that there is some kind of unique core 'essence' of Christianity that has endured throughout the ages, but that as limited human beings we are unable to discover what it is...I think Cameron is right that 'essentialism' is the almost inevitable conclusion to which historical awareness drives the committed Christian.
...
"But what are the implications of this 'essentialist' view?...Surely it must inoculate us against dogmatism (239)...But if we can’t identify Christianity’s essence, should we even try? No, Cameron concludes. Stripping Christianity down to a few bare propositions robs it of the power and mystery that make it a compelling, living faith (231). But if Christianity does have an essence, this implies that there are ways in which the gospel can be distorted or perverted (236). So Cameron thinks we should try at an 'individual' level to distinguish distortions from adaptations and to eliminate the former (238-9). It might be worth adding, here, that given Hans-Georg Gadamer’s argument in Truth and Method that dialogue can bring us closer to an approximation of truth, 'individual' might be the wrong word. Probably what Cameron means by 'individual' is non-institutional; we should not create creeds and inquisitions for the proscription of heretics."

And from a follow-up post,

"Is theology pointless? No, I don't think it is. I think that every generation really has to erect its own image or expression of Christian teaching, faith, and practice... The theologian is a "poet" whose task is to remythologize the Christian faith for a modern world... Here Cameron would caution us is in several directions: first, he would say we should not be creedal or exclusive... And second, we should not assume that our expression is necessarily better than others, even though we can hope that historical perspective has helped us mitigate distortion.
...
"Cameron's use of the word 'essence'-- which he obviously doesn't identify with a set of theological propositions or ideas-- is certainly suggestive of something divine or mystical that is at the core of Christianity. ...perhaps, hidden underneath our cultural expressions and historically-conditioned forms, there is a living Jesus animating our faith. Perhaps he is the 'essence' of Christianity toward which we are all groping, however ineptly. This is not a propositional, creedal, intellectual view of Christianity... Rather, it is a Romantic, mystical view...Maybe that's the best we can do."

Sorry for the length.

David Waltz said...

The 1646 WCF reads as follows:

VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.


Me: But what are the “all things necessary”? And whoose list is authoritative?


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Some food for thought from a Reformed scholar who embraces the WCF:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

>>Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church.

And like the medieval Catholics, they used their high view of the Church to justify killing those who disagreed.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Okay, I'll allow that some interesting things have been said, but we (and I do mean "we" - I'm not exempting myself entirely) have moved off the subject of the post. Let's move back on-topic, please.

Chris - you are welcome to post here. I'm not sure if you have intended it this way, but some things you have said ("army of yes-men;" "And like the medieval Catholics, they used their high view of the Church to justify killing those who disagreed") could be interpreted as grenades launched at those with whom you disagree. I would prefer to maintain a courteous spirit here. Please watch the rhetorical flourishes. Thank you.

Turretinfan said...

I hope RdP will indulge me in a single response:

(1) to the Mathison quotation, namely that I of course agree that there isn't salvation (as a general rule) outside of the visible church of God, etc. etc.

(2) to the question, "But what are the “all things necessary”? And [whose] list is authoritative?"

To which the answer is that the list of necessary things is not itself on the list. In other words, it is clear that all that necessary things are clear, but the precise list of necessary things is not clear. It is possible to know that everything necessary for salvation is found in Scripture, without knowing precisely the border between the necessary things and the less than absolutely necesssary things of additional benefit.

-TurretinFan

Reginald de Piperno said...

I can see my preference for staying on topic here will die a death of a thousand "one more posts" :-)

I have created a new post where the topic of perspicuity may continue to be discussed if you gentlemen wish to do so. Thanks!

Peace,

RdP

Chris said...

>>I'm not sure if you have intended it this way, but some things you have said ("army of yes-men;" "And like the medieval Catholics, they used their high view of the Church to justify killing those who disagreed") could be interpreted as grenades launched at those with whom you disagree.

Sorry! I'll admit to being a little too opinionated, and I definitely don't mean to launch grenades!

Interlocutor said...

Hello RdP,
"In the first place, even if true it would not invalidate the criticism of Protestantism's claims for the perspicuity of Scripture."

I never said I was I arguing that.

"Secondly, I'm unaware of any claim by the Magisterium to the effect that its documents are "perspicuous" in some technical sense."

Which is why I followed with "If so".

"Absent any demonstration to the contrary, the entire edifice of this criticism falls apart. Completely. Because if the Church doesn't make such a claim - as Protestants most certainly do for Scripture - then the tu quoque is without merit."

The Church might not claim its documents are perspicuous; does it (or its followers) claim its teachings are clear or that it brings forth unity among its followers who subject themselves to the bishops in communion with Rome - if so, it might be important to know what the teachings of Rome are. And presumably the logical way to do this is to examine Magisterial documents.

"The Church's mission is to save souls, and consequently she teaches those things which are necessary for salvation. But it is not the Church's mission to dispel all clouds of uncertainty relating to all theological questions."

Of course. Evolution, predestination, bibical inerrancy, et al. have not been defined fully and various opinions are allowed, wasn't trying to say otherwise.

"By way of contrast, however, the Protestant has no one to tell him what things are necessary for salvation - not with any more than purely advisory authority. So he must resort to the Bible himself to attempt to identify them."

Okay, the Church teaches what things are necessary for salvation. It is necessary to believe all dogmatic, infallible statements at the very least, yes? Do we know what these are (some sure, but all?) - magisterial documents are non-perspicuous as you said so how do we find out or know our interpretation is correct? But as a Catholic, you also are to assent to non-infallible, non-definitive teaching as well. But presumably these aren't necessary for salvation - although maybe they are since it would be sinful to disobey even those non-infallible teachings yes? Either way, still seems important to know what level of assent and faith must be given to what teachings for you to know what is "essential for salvation". So how do we find these out?

"He is already committed to believing what the Church teaches, because the Church proclaims the facts of the Faith. This is a given for him."

Right, remember the Protestant position isn't saying sola scriptura gives an epistemic advantage over Rome/EO/whatever, just that Rome doesn't offer one either.

"He may indeed misunderstand things on some points or other, but so long as his sincere intent is to believe all that the Church proposes for belief, he is reckoned to have an implicitly valid faith."

Is dissent from the Church, your bishop, your priest ever justified? If so, how do you determine legitimately justified dissent from sinful disobedience (when should you let your conscience lead you to disobey as opposed to trying to form your conscience and mind to the disputed teaching - maybe you are just misunderstanding things)? I'm guessing one could believe the Church could teach error in a non-infallible capacity, but have faith that this error will never be so great as to be harmful to the soul or heretical. Unfortunately, this would not extend to individual bishops or priests - I am sure many in central and south america are engaging in harmful practices bordering on, if not outright, idolatry and are none-the-wiser. Of course, those who shepherd the flock will be more accountable than the sheep, but nevertheless, for those who aren't "theology geeks" or properly catechized, faithfully following your priest or bishop will not always be great for your soul.