Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Retort that Wasn't

A while back I remarked upon a post Carrie favored us with. It has been a few days since anyone bothered with the combox for it, but she apparently decided to drop in on it today. So she grabbed a single sentence from this 570+ word comment left by Paul Hoffer:
no Catholic would claim that the Church is superior in authority to Scripture.
And her comment, in apparent response to that, was a very brief snippet reputed to be from a Catholic commentary on the Bible:
"In regard to these truth [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" (emphasis added by Carrie).

Where to start?

In the first place, I guess this little exchange demonstrates the pointlessness of some (many?) combox debates. Participants are free to pick and choose that to which they will reply. In this case, Carrie chooses to ignore the fairly long comment left by Paul, gouging a single sentence out of it for her purposes. That might be excusable if it were representative of the entire comment, or if she went on to interact with the entire comment, but neither of these are the case. One is left to wonder, then, what exactly the point of Carrie's remark is. Clearly it is not offered in the spirit of hearty or reasoned or even casual discussion.

Secondly, Carrie has not only ripped Paul's words from their context; she has done the same to the quotation that she offers "in response" to him: a couple sentences, with a fragment of one of them bolded (as though the highlighted part represented the point of the quotation, and/or were the end of Paul's argument).

Thirdly, Carrie is careful to point out that her quotation is from a book that carries an imprimatur. This she does presumably to suggest that her quotation carries such powerful authority that Paul's woeful contradiction of the few words that she put in boldface mean that he is wrong. What it actually does, though, is show us that she misunderstands what an imprimatur really represents.

Fourthly, Carrie has selectively boldfaced the quotation, as though its immediate context has little bearing upon the meaning of what she has highlighted. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth. Here it is again, this time with supplied emphasis (from me) that does better justice to that author's meaning: "...the Church is superior to the Bible in the sense that she is the Living Voice of the Christ, and therefore the sole infallible interpreter of the inspired Word, whenever an authoritative interpretation is required." the sense that...

What these few words do is temper the assertion just made, so that the author's meaning is that "the Church is superior to the Bible" relatively, not absolutely. Relatively speaking, I could be said to be superior to the Bible in that I have arms and legs and can move around. Absolutely speaking I'm not superior to Scripture at all, of course. So the author of Carrie's quotation is saying that in a certain sense the Church is superior to the Bible: namely, in the sense that the Church is the Living Voice of Christ (something that I've mentioned a few times fact, I've addressed her usage of this quotation before). But this in no way contradicts the general teaching of the Church that Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium are mutually interdependent:
Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls" (CCC §95).
Unfortunately, by means of her selective bolding, Carrie apparently wants to leave the impression that the absolute sense of the words she highlights is what is meant by the author of the quotation - but it isn't. Hence she misrepresents him.

Lastly, she has also misrepresented Paul's comment. Because Paul's comment isn't, strictly speaking, about the mere fact that no Catholic would say that the Church is superior to the Bible in an absolute sense. Rather, his comment (as any one reading it can see) is really about (among other things, because he had more than one point) the fact that the only reason we can say that the Bible is authoritative is "because the Church appeals to it as its highest authority."

No doubt Carrie thought she didn't have time to spend on responding to Paul's whole comment. But if that is the case (and I do not doubt it, since she is a mom), it would be better if she had said nothing at all rather than torture both Paul's words and her pet quotation (for at least the second time, in the latter case). As it stands, her remarks look like nothing more than a drive-by comment, and do nothing to contribute to the conversation.


Nick said...

I don't mean to be rude, but Carrie makes James' blog look bad. She is often very quick to accuse, but her arguments are most often very weak and erode confidence and credibility.

I don't like it when Catholics bring up bad or false arguments and caricatures against Protestants, and Beggars is right to point it out...but on the same token, they don't belong putting out caricatures against Catholics (eg that we have a "low view of Scripture").

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Nick,

I agree with what you have said. Thanks for stopping by! And I wish you the best of success in your debate with TF. :-)

-- RdP

Mike Burgess said...

Reginald, I admire you for taking the time and effort to so effectively deal with this in your post. I haven't had a great deal of time to devote to blogging lately, but I have really (really) been enjoying your recent stuff. Keep it up, brother.

Nick, here's to much success to the glory of God in your debate with TF.

Nick said...

Thank you both.

I hope this debate will be a positive influence in helping Protestants see the truth.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Thanks, Mike!

Things went from bad for worse for Carrie on that thread.

Remember that her comment (addressed in my post here) consisted of ripping a quote from Paul H's work, and following that with a quote ripped from another Catholic source that seemed at first blush to contradict him.

Now, having been roundly countered by Paul and me, she says:

I wasn't trying to contradict your points, just giving a quote that does admit a superiority of the church over the bible.

We Catholics are apparently all too dumb to see what she is doing. Unfortunately that's how it often is with her, though: when she has been flatly refuted, the standard reaction is, "That wasn't my point."