After quite a bit of observation, I've concluded that Tim Enloe is simply a classic Fish liberal trying to encourage "tolerance" for Protestantism over the "intolerance" of "absolutist" Catholics. You've got all the classic signs: defining the other side in pejorative terms (e.g., absolutist), placing their arguments outside of the scope of "reason," asserting skepticism as a defense to arguments, and above all, responding to people's real situational concerns and values with a theory that is not grounded in any actual experience (Tim's much-vaunted societas Christiana with general councils, papal "tolerance," and a TRVLY CHRISTIAN metaphysics). He talks about "constructive discourse" all the time, but don't play the game, people. If you play the game, he's won his rhetorical advantage, and you've compromised your beliefs over a tactic.
The truly (groan) ironic thing is that Tim persists in saying that he's anti-Enlightenment. In fact, he's only anti-half of the Enlightenment, the optimistic part that says that we can actually discover absolute truth through reason. But this whole idea of "tolerance" and "open-mindedness" as opposed to "bias" is simply classic Enlightenment thinking as well. It's still the same old "consider how your viewpoint *influences* your perceptions" as if there is some middle ground of reasonability and "bias" is a deviation from it. It's *still* idolatry of reason and idolatry of principle. Tim also persistently denies being a postmodernist, and I agree with his characterization as well. But to be entirely honest, I'd much rather deal with a sincere postmodernist than to be on the wrong side of a Enlightenment-style liberal playing the "theory game."
But no thesis is convincing without examples, so let's get to it. In a thread on GregK's discussion board, Tim Enloe recently called out Diane Kamer for asserting a false dichotomy on the issue of rhetoric in the Church Fathers. Diane (and Elliot Bougis) offered a series of prooftexts from Eastern Fathers that apparently supported papal supremacy, and Tim's response was that rhetorical conventions of the day meant that such comments could not be taken entirely at face value without slipping into anachronism ("reading in" a meaning). When Diane replied that this sort of thing can be reduced to absurdity, effectively rendering the entire notion of historical evidence useless, Tim replied as follows:
All such responses to a notation that classical rhetoric was an integral part of the mental furniture of the Church Fathers are immensely unhelpful, and serve only to derail discussions
When "Mathitria" raised the same objection, Tim replied:
The reason I don't want to discuss lists of prooftexts is because the Catholics who produce those texts never demonstrate to me that they have any kind of ability to think critically about their Catholicism, and how it affects their historical judgment. You are a prime example of this introverted "conservatism", Mathitria. If it isn't "Jesus set it up just like I think he did", it's "You must be a Higher Critic in disguise." Absolutely absurd. Constructive discourse CANNOT occur on terms like that; thus I refuse to invest significant time talking to folks who think that way and present their little "Shazam!" lists of texts.
[and elsewhere]But this whole "Look at all these clear texts!" business simply obscures the fact that the Catholic's purpose is to justify a set of highly debatable theological a priorisms--which, while being Utterly Clear to himself because of the distincly Catholic mental furniture on which he "naturally" places the texts, just cannot be expected to function the same way for non-Catholics.
Now, one has to consider what it can possibly mean to speak of people's ability to "think critically about ... Catholicism" and their "affect[ed] ... historical judgment." What does it mean to "derail discussions?" What is this talk of "distinctly Catholic mental furniture" and things being "Utterly Clear?" This is simply the classic liberal defense: I see an absolutist, so I define him as unreasonable. Forget that Catholics are human beings who are Catholic not because of some perfectionistic argument that Cajetan or Ximines or Torquemada made to justify papal power, not because they were convinced by a pseudo-Isidorean decretal, not even because of some Platonic idea of what the Church should look like. Forget that they may have come to the best conclusion that they can based on experience; forget considering what that experience is; heck, forget reality altogether! Keep it on the ground of theory, and define rationality so that their theory is outside it. Then you won't have to deal with those pesky absolute principles.
"ELHamilton," whom Tim supported for making a "polls can say anything" argument about patristics, produced a brilliantly clear observation when he effectively admitted this:
This is a hopeless and prejudiced generalization, I'm sure, but my experience has taught me that, among highly intelligent and well-read Christians who delve into the interconfessional debates, most "sternly resolved true believer" types will end up on the Catholic/Orthodox side of the divide, and most "introspective struggling doubter" types will end up on the Protestant side of the divide. I'm a doubter-- and I can't really imagine myself in any other way. Trying to picture myself writing a clean-and-neat "Catholic convert" autobiography that perfectly ties off a hundred theological loose ends is almost comical. I just could never do that. It wouldn't be "me" talking, it would be me aping a popular literary genre.
But then, he also did the *right* thing. He started talking about *experiences*, like how upset he would be that he wouldn't be able to share Communion with his own mother. That's what matters in these situations, not some theoretical concern about who is right or wrong. Start talking not about theories, but about why people accept these theories (and not people who aren't walking around either, I'm talking about you and me). What is it in their experience that resonates with them? What shared experiences make a difference? cparks actually got at this a bit in a post that he (sadly) deleted, in which he expressed some doubts about whether his common experiences could really translate to other people, and whether his reasoning could really serve as a basis to talk to people with different experiences. That's a GOOD question; that is how you bridge gaps with people.
But Tim just can't break out of the cycle. Sure, he talks about facts, but even the facts have value and reality only so well as they fit into his THEORY. And of course, in his mind, any reasonable person fits the facts into his theory. It's *obvious* from history that the monarchial papacy is BAD. If you'd just look at the historical record, this would all be plain to you. And of course, that is the ultimate capitulation to the Enlightenment in the end: the faith that we can somehow "think through it" and "get the right answer" if we're just smart enough.
And like all good liberals, Tim's got a good set of indisputable a priori notions to confirm his theory that are supposedly obvious to anyone with good reasoning. The notion that the Catholic doctrine of the papacy is "too much power for one man" is exactly the kind of a priori position that precludes discussion. Tim's even adopted a code word for these presuppositions, "Trinitarian metaphysics," the definition of which is continually being tweaked to say that whatever philosophical presupposition went into the development of a monarchial papacy is un-Trinitarian by definition. Tim considers it an evident metaphysical truism that the monarchial papacy is contradictory to the Trinitarian resolution of the One-Many problem, and anyone who adopts any contrary philosophical position is simply not thinking like a Christian. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways. There's anti-Platonism (vs. Shawn McElhinney). There's the notion of the monarchial papacy reflecting a fundamentally Arian Christology. Recently, it's divine simplicity that irredeemably condemned Catholicism to monism. But one way or another, it boils down to viewing the monarchial papacy as a concept that is necessarily philosophically flawed and working back toward how it is wrong, unbiblical, untraditional, pagan, yada yada yada. It's a fundamentally necessitarian construction of history; it's somehow *obvious* from the historical facts that the monarchial papacy is a fundamentally flawed concept. No reasonable person examining the facts could come to any other conclusion. Or to capture the concept, "why won't anybody *engage* the historical evidence that I am presenting?" For example, ...
Why should we, then, even as His loyal followers, be able to come up with an Ideal Theory, Perpetually True and Plain As Day, even if all circumstances say the opposite, of how the Church works?
Just to see how far this goes, Tim accused me of this brand of necessitarianism when I jokingly said of Tradition "I know it when I see it, and [William Webster] ain't it." That was supposedly my flight to "Platonic apophaticism," as if I somehow conceived of this perfect ideal of Tradition sitting out there to be discovered. Actually, my position there was entirely based on the reality of Tradition, not some Platonic ideal. It's one thing to say that history is amenable to several interpretations, but it's another thing entirely to assert an interpretation of the passage that contradicts every possible reasonable interpretation of other passages by the same author (and I'm setting a pretty low bar for reasonability here). Webster does this not once or twice, but in virtually every source he cites, not limited to Fathers, but also including Vatican I documents, modern sources, and even his own opponents. I never intended to suggest by this that Tradition was some obviously self-evident entity obtainable by rational contemplation (indeed, I subsequently demurred by saying that one would be hard-pressed to make an argument for any particular understanding of Tradition within a limited amount of Internet space, which is hardly consistent with Tradition being a rationally self-evident entity). I'm only suggesting that common experience tells you that people who do this sort of thing aren't historians that people respect or heed.
Now, don't get me wrong. Stanley Fish would hate me just as much, because I'm an absolutist and I peskily assert troublesome principles of timeless morality rather than leaving everything up to adaptation. But I'm also an "experential absolutist" (as are most Catholics) rather than an Enlightenment-style rationalist; my experience leads me to believe that God communicates in unchangeable truths (at least sometimes). I don't think that Catholicism is true because of some flawlessly reasoned geometric argument, but simply because I think that there is a God and He chose a certain way to reveal things to us. As best as I can tell, the organ He chose to do so was the Catholic Church. It just looks like the right sort of thing; it corresponds to my experience of how human beings receive information. Like every other fallible person, I could be wrong. But what I won't do is sit on the sidelines on a life-changing matter because of skepticism or a speculative thory on how things ought to be or what is TRVLY apostolic teaching or whatever else I can think myself into doing. To me, that's just not living.
[Edit -- Link to more documentation on Dave Armstrong's blog.]
Because of certain perfectionistic apriorisms and whatnot, I refuse to sign in before commenting on blogs. Thus, I'm "anonymous" here, but I usually post as "Patrick," and I've spoken with you before on Dave Armstrong's blog.
Anyway, I wanted to say that I found this post of yours very interesting. Importantly, I genuinely cannot say whether I agree with your take on Tim, since I've pretty much stayed out of disputes with him, and have not really closely examined either side's views with respect to this whole "Fathers on the Papacy" prooftexting thing. I've followed the discussion only at a superficial level. Further, I've only ever exchanged a few friendly comments with Tim here and there, and have never really had a serious discussion with him. So, again, I'm not able to agree or disagree with your characterization of him. What I wanted to do instead is to offer a very brief and sketchy defense of Tim, based on my admittedly superficial grasp of the present controversy.
Yesterday, before I learned (from Dave's blog post on the subject) that there was a rather heated ongoing discussion on the Father/Papacy issue on the Crowhill forum, I decided to email Tim a little tip to help him try to make more clear to the Catholics (primarily, Dave and Elliot) just what Tim was getting at when he talked about "rhetoric" in these Fathers. (FWIW, I *agree* with Dave and Elliot on how to interpret the various prooftexts on the papacy.) I thought they tended to move somewhat too quickly from "it's rhetorical" to "it's inreliable," and I thought Tim could help them understand his position by discussing the "Hail, Holy Queen" prayer, wherein we Catholics call the Blessed Mother "our life, our sweetness and our hope." *This* is clearly rhetorical. I think if Tim could get us Catholics thinking about why we don't take this exactly literally, and yet we still don't find it "unreliable," he could help us get a better grip on his position.
It seems to me that he really *needs* to do something like this if he wants to make any progress at all. It also seems to me that what is driving Tim's approach to this discussion is what he perceives as the gross failure of various Catholics to understand the--to him--obviousness of his point about the rhetoric of the Fathers, and perhaps not a kind of dogmatic liberalism which prompts him to call everyone who disagrees with him irrational. (Indeed, in my email to him, I expressed--albiet briefly--my disagreement with his take on the Fathers, and in his reply he completely refrained from calling me irrational! :-)) Again, he sees the point about rhetoric as so totally obvious that it pretty much doesn't occur to him that other smart people might not see it as such. Indeed, he sees it as so totally obvious that he has, to my knowledge, not made any attempt to really explain his own view. As some folks on Crowhill noted, it would be reaaly, really helpful if Tim actually provided an account of how he reads any given one of Elliot's prooftexts, rather than simply repeating "it's rhetorical" over and over. Tim's failure to walk us through what he deems the best way to read these passages suggests to me that he really thinks any intelligent person ought to be able to figure it out for herself. This is why I think he needs to go to some rhetoric like the Hail, Holy Queen, and try to get us to start looking at texts more like he looks at texts.
At the end of the day, I think the way we approach a poetic passage like that prayer is going to be markedly different from the way we approach Elliot's prooftexts--that's why I side with Dave and Elliot on this point. But I do think there needs to be more engagement on the substance of Tim's argument. It would be nice if he'd play ball by forgetting for a moment how "obvious" all the rhetoric stuff is supposed to be, and walk us through some of it. Perhaps if he'd do that, he'd find that his interlocutors really aren't irrational or fundamentalistic at all?
I do hope that he might take such a step, and that one of the results will be that you'll be able to rethink what you've said above, and recant. (That's not to say, again, that I definitely think you're wrong [or right]. It's just to express the hope that you're wrong, and to suggest why I think that hope is reasonable.)
Brilliant analysis. That's not to say I agree with every jot and tittle, though. My own position is NOT that Tim is an actual Enlightenment liberal, but that he is a confused thinker who incorporates some of these kinds of elements, yet bristles when others point it out (in particulars), and wrongly, wrongheadedly assumes that they are calling HIM a liberal, "rationalist" and so forth. It's a bit funny, then, that you actually ARE calling him that now. At least he won't misrepresent your position in cynically characterizing it. :-)
I don't think he is those things now, or at any time (as an overall description of his thinking), yet, as you have shown, his thinking and modus operandi indeed exhibit troublesome features and aspects that actually ARE from this mindset, apparently unbeknownst to Tim himself (my own interpretation). You're the first one to actually come right out and take a position that he is actually a classic Enlightenment liberal.
It will be extremely interesting to see if he responds, or just blows you off, as he has been doing with every other critic of his lately (myself, Elliot Bougis, Diane Kamer, "Mathitria," Shawn McElhinney). I think he very well may respond in some fashion (other than, or in addition to, insult), because the stakes have just gotten much higher, and he finds himself defending his reputation as an orthodox Protestant Christian thinker, in the "mainstream."
I have noted and decried his love and apologetic, polemical use of liberal Catholic historians in the past: particularly Brian Tierney, and have critiqued that at great length. I've made it very clear that we don't appreciate liberal Catholics being utilized against our positions, anymore than a good evangelical Protestant would appreciate us using a guy like Clark Pinnock to oppose their position. The fact that he didn't seem to see anything whatsoever wrong with that use seemed very curious and odd to me. It was a simple-enough point . . .
At best, he is using certain liberal methodologies from these many influences on his thought, without being aware of it (at worst, he would be a self-conscious liberal, masking what he is, as all liberals usually do in orthodox circles -- but I DO NOT assert this). I don't think your theory can totally explain Tim, but there is clearly some substance to this charge (to some degree), however any individual chooses to characterize Tim's overall position.
I don't go nearly as far as you do, but I will say that if, five years from now, Tim is clearly operating (openly) from a self-conscious, self-defined theologically-liberal position, I would not be surprised at all, because of the serious errors of method and premise that are present in his thought now. I can easily envision the trajectories of his thought and method going in a liberal direction, and ending up there proudly and unapologetically. I hope this doesn't happen, as it would be a big loss, I think, but it wouldn't surprise me, because people go on all sorts of intellectual journies, and often take a wrong turn that ends up in an unfortunate and unorthodox place.
"Secret Agent Man" did an analysis of Tim some years ago where he compared his thought to doctrinaire Marxism, I believe. It was an analysis somewhat like your present one. That needs to be retrieved somehow. It was excellent (as is all of his work).
Lastly, as to Tim's "historical positivism," I have long seen similarities in his thought to that of not only the liberal historians (who chuck much of Catholic dogma) but also to certain Catholic "traditionalists," who selectively chuck dogmas that they don't care for. Hence, Tim's thought-processes and arguments (to the extent that he gives any at all) are eerily reminiscent of those of Dollinger and the Old Catholics, in opposition to Vatican I's pronouncement on papal infallibility.
Cardinal Newman made some penetrating observations about this type of thinking, and how it had a confused notion of the relationship of history and dogma, and had little place for faith in its examination of the raw data of historical fact. In other words, it simply lacked faith, from a Catholic perspective. It placed historiography on a higher plane than faith and dogma (which isn't to say that orthodox Catholics believe that faith and history can contradict -- they do not. I certainly don't). I'm sure much of Newman's criticism would apply to Tim also.
Again, great job. I eagerly await more discussion of this.
Yours in His Church,
Man are you ever wrong in this post of yours, Jonathan. You think I'm all about abstract theories and being "right" even if it means I have to use "classic Fish liberal language" to play the poles of a bias / objectivity dichotomy? Maybe you've missed all those blog posts of mine calling for a rejection of the One / Many dichotomy and a more holistic, Trinitarian approach to matters of truth. Maybe you've missed the fact that I question BOTH sides of the Enlightenment subject / object split, and all the works of that split--including all that shallow "liberal" talk about attaining to a position of "open mindedness". I think it was that ruddy old papist Chesterton who said an open mind is only good if it actually closes on something (truth). I readily concur with his judgment on that point.
Unfortunately for your slurs of me, the reason I'm so concerned with things like papalist "absolutism" is not because I'm trying to rhetorically play on the shallow "liberal" hermeneutical convention of "bias / open mind", but rather, because of said papal absolutism's disgustingly harmful effects on SOCIETY--that is, the thing that real, living breathing people create in their real live flesh and blood interactions with each other. The word "absolutism" is not an abstraction--it refers to the actual physical behavior of far too many popes throughout the Middle Ages, and the actual physical behavior of far too many self-styled "Catholics" today. On the contrary, I find that it is people such as you "conservative" Catholics--who all too easily appeal to "faith" when faced with serious difficulties to the rather outrageous claims your system of theology makes relative to every other system--who are in danger of sacrificing flesh and blood realities to mere abstractions. I don't see you people weeping over a sundered Church and saying "Yes, you're right. Our Tradition really sucks sometimes and we're willing to square our shoulders and take our licks like Christian men." Instead, I just see most of you thanking God that at least you're on the Right side of all the splits. (Ironic, since you accuse me of caring only about being Right).
Not many moons ago I posted a piece from one Sigebert of Gembloux on Reformed Catholicism, which spoke of how the agents of the Gregorian reform program were travelling throughout the land murdering Sigebert's spiritual charges merely because they wouldn't bow and kiss the pope's ring in "matters of faith and morals". Now why would I care about some PHYSICAL PEOPLE who got killed a thousand years ago if my concern was a set of mere abstractions that I can frame on a wall and sit around admiring? "Thank God I'm a Conciliarist! Do I not have Haec sancta and Frequens memorized by heart?" That's hardly a fair reading of anything I've said or done. I'm not talking about mental abstractions here; I'm talking about FLESH AND BLOOD reality in both the past and the HERE AND NOW. You think I like the present situation of not being able to share communion with my Catholic brothers and sisters? You think I've dealt with the absolutely disgustingly slanderous garbage spewing from the keyboards of men like White, Svendsen, King against me just so I can defend mere mental abstractions?
I'm either an absolutely horrible communicator, or you simply haven't been listening to anything I've been saying. And once more I think most of these ridiculous appeals to "faith" that too many Catholics issue in the face of serious objections to the aforesaid SOCIETALLY-harmful consequences of their utterly abstract theological premises about "authority" and "jurisdiction", are the real candidates for tongue-lashings about elevating mental stuff over real life. I wonder sometimes if you Catholics ever look in mirrors, and if so if you ever come away from those mirrors not being absolutely dazzled by what you saw.
And Dave, if you wish to preserve the very fragile peace you and I recently achieved, I would strongly suggest that you restrain your fingers from typing slanders such as "Tim is a historical positivist" in the future. You do not know what you are talking about on that score, and for the sake of our peace I'm sorry that you are so inflexible as to pretty much demand a full-fledged engagement with the bulk of Newman's corpus merely so you can then publicly say you've encountered a real-live "argument" against "orthodox Catholic epistemology". Please try to exercise a little more discernment in your comments, and a lot more self-criticism toward the excesses of your cherished Tradition and too many of its defenders.
I have to agree with Tim here. You guys are way off on this one. I would suggest getting to know Tim's position a bit better before accusing him of what I've read in this post. If I were you guys I'd do a lot more close reading of his blog and other stuff he's got online before I continued with these accusations.
Heh...Tim Enloe a "liberal"...that's such an inaccurate description. You guys can do better than that.
>>>Kevin D. Johnson
I've responded to Tim's comments immediately above on my blog:
"The Price of 'Peace' With Tim Enloe (Open Letter on Apologetic Principles & the Response to Broad-Brushed Caricatures)"
As I have noted, Jonathan is not so much calling Tim a "liberal" outright (as it sounded at first; I agree), but rather, he is accusing him of frequently using liberal methodology. I specifically disagreed with calling Tim this (you don't read very well, either, if you read my post). But I agree that he has some harmful, serious errors in his thought that are essentially "liberal" errors of methodology and thought.
Tim characterizes Catholics in all sorts of ways (and other Protestants, too), all the time, far more seriously than our critiques of him, so why don't you object to that, too, Kevin?
Jonathan is away for a few days, I think, but when he gets back, if you and Tim stick around, I'm sure we can have some very good conversation and work through these things.
I hope you and yours (and all reading this) had a lovely Thanksgiving,
Jonathan wrote on my blog (in response to my first reply to his article):
"I certainly don't mean to characterize Tim's 'overall position' in this way. It's really only the Protestant-Catholic (and specifically, firmly convinced Catholic) context that brings it out, but I think that in that context, it is purely liberalist behavior."
This is NOT the same as calling Tim a "liberal." It's qualified in very important ways. As I specifically denied calling Tim a liberal, or believing that he is, neither Jonathan nor I have done what Kevin seems to think we have done. But I think we both raise some things that Tim and good friends of his like Kevin need to seriously ponder.
And you, Dave, need to seriously ponder just why it is that you think viewing history through the lens of "faith" requires all this abstract "necessitarianism" in every sphere. E.g., you once stated extreme disbelief that ELH and I would, I guess, "dare" to suggest that there isn't some kind of formally-stated, perpetually valid ecclesiology spelled out clearly in the New Testament. The failure of your imagination (or perhaps of the Catholic imagination more generically?) regarding what it means to view history through the lens of "faith" is a far more serious error than this nonsense about proto "liberalism" in my methods. At least I have enough presence of mind to grant that you have faith in God's providence guiding history, but only that I think you have a misguided understanding of how that providence has worked its way out. You folks can't seem to even tell the difference between a different reading of providence and open "skepticism", and that to my mind is, if not a profound failure of the basically Catholic worldview you claim to be defending, at least a profound failure of charity on your parts.
"You folks." Lovely.
Thanks Tim. Now how about something on the subject?
"After quite a bit of observation, I've concluded that Tim Enloe is simply a classic Fish liberal trying to encourage "tolerance" for Protestantism over the "intolerance" of "absolutist" Catholics."
Come on, guys. Give me a break. >>>KEVIN
Are you maintaining, Kevin, that Jonathan can't be trusted for a clarification of his own position? He has outright denied classifying Tim as a liberal altogether (he said it is only in his methodology, and in certain contexts). So if you deny what he says about his own opinions and viewpoints, are you calling him a liar and a deceiver?
Obviously, I can't totally speak for Jonathan, but I accept his clarification at face value. You seem to not want to do so. And that does not advance understanding or good relations at all. Nor does Tim's recent decision to stop dialoguing with Catholics online.
Jonathan also wrote in his post:
"Tim also persistently denies being a postmodernist, and I agree with his characterization as well."
Concerning the Hail Holy Queen prayer: I believe we are calling Jesus our "life, our sweetness, our hope". Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy(Jesus) our life, our sweetness and our hope.
Post a Comment