Monday, January 19, 2009

So-Called Double Standards

A poster among the Beggars writes:
I'm simply tired of Roman Catholic double standards
There's no problem with that - if the double standards actually exist, and if they are invalid. I would hope that I would be fair and honest enough to agree. But I'm pretty sure that in the present case, no such duplicity exists.
Roman Catholics chastise Protestants continually for using "private interpretation" and having disagreements.
Yes, we do. And the reason that we do so is that the hermeneutical chaos among them is both a function and a contradiction of their principles.

It is a function of their principles: The Protestant appeals to sola scriptura as a foundational principle, and to the preeminence of individual conscience. But with no authority or rule to guide their appeal to sola scriptura - none, at any rate, above the conscience - it is inevitable that differences of opinion will exist among them.

It is a contradiction of their principles: The best theological traditions within Protestantism will claim that the Holy Spirit guides them in their interpretation of Scripture. But this appeal is contradicted by the doctrinal chaos among them. God cannot contradict himself, and yet Protestants certainly do contradict each other. The situation is no better even if we suppose that the Holy Spirit guides them only in regard to questions that are not matters of indifference, since Protestants do not even agree about what these are (to say nothing of their disagreements over these central doctrines).

In short: doctrinal dispute is not only inevitable on their own terms, it is also the signal that their own terms are intrinsically self-contradictory (and consequently false).
So, OK, show the beef. Show us a unified Roman Catholicism. Show us your certainty. Show us the infallible interpretation of Scripture. Show us unified historical "Tradition." Show us how your theologians and apologists have a collective agreement down the line.
Unfortunately the author has jumped to the wrong conclusion, because he is thinking within the framework of his own system. But the critique given above - the one that we Catholics so regularly apply - is an internal one, based upon the principles of Protestantism itself. That particular critique simply does not apply to the Catholic Church, since her framework is different in significant ways.

[By way of digression, it might be worth pointing out that some folks have occasionally claimed to make an "external" critique of the Church. Of course it's true that one can criticize a thing based upon principles alien to its constitution: we can all criticize a horse for lacking wings, for example. But such a criticism is of only limited value. For a Protestant to criticize the Catholic Church on Protestant grounds is no less absurd than for someone to complain that Secretariat wasn't Pegasus. We are not obliged to be concerned with such critiques.]

In particular, subjective apprehension of the Faith by the faithful is nowhere guaranteed by the Church, and this is a perfectly sensible position. As even St. Peter recognized, there are hard things in the Gospel, "which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (2Pet. 3:16). More to the point, not everyone is gifted in such a way as to be able to understand every article of the Faith in every detail, and not everyone possesses the educational background required to do so. What is required of us is not that we understand the hypostatic union, nor transubstantiation, but that we believe that these things are so.

Nor are we obliged, for that matter, to be able to explicitly declare a comprehensive list of dogmas that we hold. Once again, there are people for whom this would be impossible for the same reasons - they lack the requisite gifts or educational background/opportunities.

Now these things mean that there is going to be some measure of disagreement among Catholics, materially speaking. But objectively they all intend the same thing - that is, to believe that which is taught by the Church. And this is consistent with (for example) the Catechism:
The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. [CCC §890; emphasis added]
What then? Well, it ought to be obvious that we Catholics have the opportunity of professing the faith without error, as the Catechism says, but only to the extent that we can and do take advantage of that opportunity.

Now this condition is strikingly different from that in which the Protestant's system places him. He is said to receive the Holy Spirit's assistance in interpreting the Bible. But the amazing disunity among Protetants shows that this simply doesn't happen in the way that they say. For if it did, this disunity would simply not occur, because it is not possible for the Holy Spirit to err or to lie.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church doesn't say that the Holy Spirit leads Christians to the truth in this way, but rather acknowledges that Christians will not necessarily all materially agree because their subjective apprehension of the truth is not guaranteed. But this is not what Protestants say of how the Holy Spirit works among them. And that is why Protestantism does not work.
You guys have got to admit your double standard. We’re going to continue to embarrass you.
The only embarrassing thing here, unfortunately, is the Protestant objector's failure to recognize that the so-called double standard is actually two standards. It is a function of the different frameworks involved. The Protestant's framework is not Catholic, and the Catholic framework is not subject to the same criticism.


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi RDP, I responded to Mr. Swan's letter on my blog.

Thank you for the support and for your thoughts on this issue as well!

God bless!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Heh. My news reader told me about your blog post about the same time that Blogger sent the alert about your comment here :-)

It was an excellent post, Paul. Good job!


Reginald de Piperno said...

BTW, I've added you to the list of blogs I read and recommend in the sidebar - something that was overdue. :-) I appreciate your work very much.