Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trudging through Anselm

"Trudging" not because I find it particularly difficult (although it wouldn't surprise me to learn that I overestimate my comprehension), but because of the translation, or the arguments, or both.

For example, in II:11 of Cur Deus Homo, St. Anselm says this ("A" is Anselm himself; "B" is Boso, his interlocutor):

A: Is it not fitting that man, who, by sinning, removed himself as far as he possibly could away from God, should, as recompense to God, make a gift of himself in an act of the greatest possible self-giving?

B: This is unsurpassable logic.

Uhh…well, if anything, the statement has to do with justice, not logic. So why on earth say that it's logic?

I wonder, in Anselm's defense, whether the translator has taken unjust or illogical liberties with the text. But this is a single example of a fairly common habit.

This isn't logic. There is no conclusion here; there is an observation about fitness. I'm not going to argue the fitness of what Anselm says, but I certainly dispute the idea that I've been compelled by the force of argument to concede that.

This is completely unsurprising

…and yet also instructive.

A Protestant insists:

You know very well that the doctrine of perspicuity relates only to those things which are necessary to be known for salvation.

A Catholic responds:

Who decides the list of “those things”?

What is YOUR list?

Just so. Because, of course, if these things are perspicuous in Scripture, it should be pretty easy – especially after 500 years of Protestant contemplation – to let us all know what those things are.

Predictably, however, it is at this point that the evasions begin. Our Protestant replies:

"Who decides the list of “those things”?"


"What is YOUR list?"

See previous answer.

To be sure, this is a precise answer; to be equally sure, it is evasive precisely because its author is one who is surely bright enough to comprehend what his Catholic interlocutor is asking: that is, we would like to know what God's list of these perspicuous things consists of.

The Catholic pursues:

And what is God’s list?

Understand: the question has nothing to do with obscure theological minutiae. No. Nor does it have to do with jargon or concepts foreign to the Protestant's own milieu. No. It is the Protestant who has made the claim to perspicuity relating to certain things here. Is it unreasonable, then, to suppose that an enumeration exists of "those things which are necessary to be known for salvation"?

The Protestant replies:

You mean you want me to discern the contents of the list and provide them for you? I'd be hesitant to try to do that for you.

Astonishing. Why would he have to "discern" the list? One would think that perspicuous things would have already been found (once again, considering that Protestants have had 500 years to think about it). It seems reasonable, then, that we could find that list in just about any Protestant book, and on every Protestant website. It seems reasonable that we could find it at the very least in the books and websites of our Protestant's co-religionists, and it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that we ought to be able to find such a list on the website or in other writings of the very man making the claim.

And yet we don't.

Or…rather…sometimes we do, but those lists never seem to agree, and that very fact pretty much puts the kibosh on the whole "perspicuous" thing. But I digress. How is it that our Protestant has to "discern" these things? Why on earth hasn't he already established what the list is? This is very shocking if his claim is true (that such things are readily known from the Bible).

And why on earth would he be hesitant to do that? First, why would he be hesitant to do it for a Catholic, whom he more than likely supposes is not a Christian? Why would he be hesitant to do it for anyone he considers a non-believer? Why hasn't he already done it for himself (I presume that he hasn't done so, given that he says he would have to "discern the contents of the list," which implies that he hasn't done so already)?

None of this is surprising. I would have had the same difficulties when I was Protestant if someone had pinned me down this way. The fact is that the theological, philosophical, and epistemological problems surrounding sola scriptura and the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture are insurmountable.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Twelve

In §12, the Fathers of Trent warn us against dangerous and false opinions concerning predestination.

No one, moreover, so long as he is in this mortal life, ought so far to presume as regards the secret mystery of divine predestination, as to determine for certain that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; as if it were true, that he that is justified, either cannot sin any more, or, if he do sin, that he ought to promise himself an assured repentance; for except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God hath chosen unto Himself.

Why is it false to suppose that one can know for certain whether he is among the predestinate? Because God nowhere promises to give this information to everyone. Consequently only those relative few to whom he freely and graciously makes it known have any basis for confidence about the question. The rest of us live by faith.

Why is this false opinion dangerous? Because a man who comforts himself in his sin that he is among the predestined may delay the day of his repentance, and thereby suffer the loss of salvation if he dies without repenting. It encourages an unwarranted and unbiblical notion of assurance concerning one's salvation - an assurance that Trent condemns, as we have seen.