Sunday, November 18, 2007

Original sin and punishment as metaphor

For numerous reasons, I have only now gotten around to answering questions asked here. I'm not sure that I'm actually arrived at the best explanation, but here it goes.

What is metaphorical is not the condition of suffering and vulnerability to harm and death through evil acts. That vulnerability to harm and death from evil is certainly real. Jesus's suffering was certainly real.

What is metaphorical is that this suffering is a punishment for sins. It is metaphorical because true punishment is directly imposed by a just judge in response to actual sin. Suffering evil is unjust by definition, because no one is ever justified in inflicting evil on another. So this situation of being vulnerable to harm and suffering by evil cannot itself be punishment, but it can be analogized to punishment in the sense of being allowed (though not directly willed) by God in response to the sin of Adam. It is exactly the same figure used when men in the Old Testament are made agents of God's judgments. No one using the power of reason could dream that God places an evil desire in a man's heart in order to punish another man. That would make God a most ridiculous pagan fancy, "personal" in exactly the sort of stupidly anthropomorphic way one might associate with Zeus or Odin. Rather, what this reflects is that God's negative providence allows even evil to have power on account of some good, in that those who suffer evil might on that account be impelled to restore their relationship with God (to the extent it has been made available to them to do so, anyway, through obedience to His will). That is the only sort of good that can come in a world that is fundamentally out of touch with God's will.

Original sin is this condition of one's suffering of evil serving God only by accident, this imperfect sort of punishment in which humanity fills God's will only negatively and accidentally. Even natural good is not consciously directed to its ultimate end. Even the righteous only serve God in this sort of accidental, opportunistic way, limited to the happenstance of God's provision of some or another gift in history. There is no principle by which man can relate to God, just these occasional acts of love that find resonance in the hearts of righteous men. The power of evil dominates, serving God's will only in the imperfect way appropriate to it.

This is the case until Jesus. Jesus fundamentally reverses this order and transforms suffering into a path to God. In this way, all of creation, even evil itself, is subjugated to God's power, even beyond the ordinary and accidental way that all creation is under God's Providence. Thus, all creation is reconciled to God in Christ Jesus; all creation serves God. Indeed, in the end, even those who reject Christ will be reconciled in Christ to God (Col. 1:19-20), but because they do not accept the reconciliation willingly, it will only be experienced aversively as the judgment of God against their actual sins (1 Cor. 15:22-24). But even for those reconciled, it does not end there, because for those who experience this reconciliation, Jesus's suffering is also the path toward actually drawing near to God for those who will walk it. Effectively, Jesus through His life restores the relationship that God had with Adam, allowing humanity to walk through conformity to His life to God (or, like Adam, to reject it). Thus does Jesus fulfill the promise to Abraham. Natural effort (work) cannot bring man back to God, but only trust and faith in the one who reconciles God to man and provides the path to righteousness before Him: Jesus Christ (Romans 4).

Let's return, then, to Romans 5
[1] Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. [3] More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Thus, the peace Christ has created with God is also the path to approach Him and to share His glory.

[6] While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man -- though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. [8] But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.

Note here the commendation of Christ's mercy and His willingness to die for the reconciliation of all creation from the state of original sin ("while we [humanity] were yet sinners [in the analogous sense, i.e., original sin, and the actual sense] Christ died for us"). Note also that even for those reconciled, reconciliation is merely the first step, as it still remains to be saved from His wrath in the end ("much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God"). Finally, Christ's life is the path by which this additional relationship with God takes place ("much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life"). Christ dies to reconcile all creation in Himself, but for those who also willingly follow the path of reconciliation, He is the path to God, the path to avoid sin and to save people from God's future wrath. This provides the context for the contrast below.

[12] Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned -- [13] sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. [15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

What is important to recognize here is the denial that death is the result of actual sin. That is the import of v. 14; all were punished with death even if they did not sin after the semblance of Adam (for example, infants incapable of voluntary sin). This establishes death as being a punishment for sin only analogously. It also establishes that these analogous sorts of "sins" are being included in the statement that "all sinned" in v. 12. This probably is more clear in the patristic reading of the passage, equally valid from a grammatical perspective: "because death spread to all men, all men sinned." The involvement of all men in sin, in this state of being subject to death and harm by evil, makes all men sinners in a metaphorical sense. Likewise, the universal vulnerability of all men to this condition brands them as (metaphorical) sinners, even those who have no sin counted under the law, even those who have not sinned in the likeness of Adam. Again, death is not literal punishment for sin here, but the power of sin granted to death is LIKE the power of punishment hanging over the sinner's acts. Christ's reversal of this circumstance is quite real, and indeed, it is by contrast with this metaphor that His greatness is proclaimed. What Christ does is far greater than merely saving people from the power of death, but opening up the path of Life Eternal.

[16] And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. [17] If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. [18] Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. [19] For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. [20] Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Note the references here to the reign of death. One man's sin causes the reign of death, condemnation for all men, and so does one man's life (His act of righteousness) lead to acquittal and life for all men. Likewise, just as being born into this world of evil led many to the reign of evil, to become actual (and not merely metaphorical) sinners (v. 19), so does Christ provide the path for becoming actually righteous before the Lord. Jesus turns death into the path for righteousness; the power of sin (death) is transformed into the path of eternal life.

The point here isn't to provide some metaphysical explanation of death, as if one can somehow manufacture the punishment of infants using a magical inherited darkness that makes them damnable. That is pernicious nonsense. The point is that given the reality that all children of Adam are subject to death, in a way AS IF they were being punished for Adam's sin, Christ's power is justly demonstrated in subverting this power of sin entirely to His own power. Christ does what Adam cannot possibly do; He destroys the work of Adam's sin and establishes the path to God through His own divine righteousness. Paul is proclaiming the power of Christ to establish itself, not providing some half-baked theodicy for the damnation of infants. To read Romans 5 as such a theodicy is to debase Paul's theology.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sorry, I missed the audible

After this comment on this post, I feel a little bit like the wideout who runs a slant when the quarterback is throwing for a fade. I just have to grin sheepishly and shrug on the way back to the huddle, because the goal was to make the connection, and that clearly didn't happen. Scott Carson spoke to his own argument, but it's clear I have some 'splaining to do on my own. Let's see if I can get us all on the same page.

I think the previous discussion was too abstract, so I will turn to a more concrete one. Take my situation as a lawyer. Suppose that I am advising a client in a dispute. I give the client my read on how the law applies to the subject, but it may be that there is no clear answer in the law, because this particular kind of dispute has never arisen before. The advice I give is only probable, because the legal issue simply hasn't been resolved in any judicial proceeding, so it is possible that the contrary would be true. In particular, my opinion on the subject does not bind an opponent who disagrees with my interpretation. My opinion might well have persuasive authority or epistemic authority, in the sense that it is based on good judgment, experience, knowledge of previous cases and the like. But in the end, it is simply not the law; it has no binding power. No matter how wise or experienced or knowledgable I may be, my statements can never have juridical authority. The other side is always free to disagree, and ultimately, to have their day in court.

It is that "have their day in court" part that strikes me as essential. What this essentially says is that there must be someone to speak with the very same force of law in favor or against some interpretation. Absent that, one simply must concede that the law has no authority over the dispute. One appeals vainly to a law that has no force, and on that account, is no law. One might form all manner of probable opinions, but none are ever binding.

It seems to me, then, that the appeal to Scriptures as a law without courts, where no one has the power to speak with the very same force as the law itself so as to compel submission, is impossible. Thus, William Whitaker fails in this argument:
THE books of scripture are called canonical, because they contain the standard and rule of our faith and morals. For the scripture is in the church what the law is in a state, which Aristotle in his Politics calls a canon or rule. As all citizens are bound to live and behave agreeably to the public laws, so Christians should square their faith and conduct by the rule and law of scripture.

If the Scriptures are the SOLE rule of faith and morals, so as to exclude any human agency endowed with the capacity to speak authoritatively in the name of God (which entails infallibility) in giving interpretations, then the Scriptures cannot be a law. They might be suggestions. They might be ideals. They might be bases for persuasion. But they cannot be a law, a rule, a kanon. And incidentally, this appears to be the common failure of every Protestant ecclesial body: they have no way to hold the Scriptures as canon, rule, or law if they accept Scriptures as the only infallible rule. To put it another way, to say that Scriptures are the alone infallible rule of faith is a contradiction, because if the Scriptures are indeed alone infallible, then perversely, they cannot be a rule.

And I don't think that Brandon Watson's response does much better, although I confess to having done my part to obscure why that is the case. Brandon says:
However, this involves a sort of distance between author and reader that fits very poorly with the Catholic view of Scripture; and, moreover, which on at least a very common Protestant view gets Protestants entirely wrong as well. It's not generally denied that there is a subsequent interpretive authority; what is denied is that this subsequent interpretive authority is the Church rather than the Holy Spirit. Protestants do not think the words on the page carry authority; they think the words engraved on the heart by the Spirit with the stylus of the words of the page carries authority.

While this is all well and good, it is simply "authority" in the sense of persuasive authority. It is authority that I find convincing, that seems true, good, or wise to me. It is not binding juridical authority, in the sense of rendering interpretations with the very same force of the law itself. It certainly could be, if one directly received some private revelation in definite form or, even better yet, public revelation. But here is where I think Scott Carson's argument delivers its maximum impact: we have no reason on earth to think that any individual has "words engraved on the heart" in any publicly binding fashion. Consequently, in whatever sense there is a "subsequent interpretive authority" (and it is not clear to me that this isn't just a meaningless use of the term), it clearly is not a subsequent interpretive authority with the power to speak with the same force as the law being interpreted, so it is irrelevant for my purposes.

The Crimson Catholic thinks that Protestants put the authority in the mere writing. There are perhaps cases of this, but these will widely be regarded by Protestants as aberrations; they put the authority not in the texts but (like Catholics, it might be pointed out) in the God who breathed them forth and gives them force and power to touch the heart.

And if God were to come down and rule on interpretive disputes in some public way, then the God who breathed them forth would be serving as the interpretive authority. But if we're just talking about some vague "force and power to touch the heart," with no definite form, then it's not the sort of authority that I have in mind. Effectively, as I said above, this is saying that the Scriptures have no authority as a canon, rule, or law.

And this is where I think attempts, like that of the Crimson Catholic and of several other Catholics in the recent discussion, to defend the Catholic view of Scripture on general philosophical principles will fail; at most they can show that it is not incoherent. But the Catholic view of Scripture is not based on a general account of the nature of authority and interpretation, nor can it be, given the unique relationship between the teaching of the Church and the Scriptures she has received; it is based on the Catholic view of the relation between the Church and the Holy Spirit.

All of this would be fine, but for the pesky difficulty that I am not attempting to defend the Catholic view of Scripture but rather to articulate what it actually means for something to serve as a law. It so happens that the Catholic view of Scripture qualifies as such a law and that the authority is established by the Holy Spirit in that view, but that only makes it a special case of a generally true description. The truth of the general description does not make any particular instance true, but it does provide a principle for separating the cases.

The Protestant denies that the interpretive authority is the Church rather than God; the Catholic challenges the dichotomy implicit in the 'rather than'. While this 'rather than' marks a break between the two, such is the emphasis in Catholic doctrine, as found, for instance, in De Fide Catholica and Dei Verbum, on the work of the Holy Spirit, and on the Father speaking with His children through the Scriptures, the more a Protestant emphasizes this, the more his or her view approximates the Catholic view of Scripture.

My point is simply that the approximation is at best asymptotic. Absent the concept of Scripture as canon, rule, or law and the authoritative interpretation entailed therein, it is impossible for such approximations to reach the goal. Emphasizing the approach might draw attention from the fact that there is an absolute limit that all of these approximations can never reach. That is why I am quick to point out that, while the commonalities might be significant, they are nonetheless irrelevant with respect to the issue of authority in the sense I mean it.

I assume here, of course, that the view of the Trinity in the Protestant case is Nicene. And all this, again, is because the Catholic view of Scripture is not based on these vague and dubious pronouncements about the nature of texts, which are nothing but red herrings that obscure the real point; rather, it is based on the Catholic understanding of the Holy Spirit's work in the Church.

But I don't think what I said is the least bit "vague or dubious." Laws without courts are powerless to adjudicate interpretive disputes, so they are no laws over those disputes at all. You yourself cited Nicaea. Why? That was a disputed interpretation of Scripture, and there is no authority who can speak with the same legal force as Scriptures so as to bind the interpretation of Scripture.

The failure to appreciate this properly seems to me to land the Crimson Catholic in a number of muddles. The word 'authority' is used a lot, but it was irrelevant to the point originally being discussed; Bill's claim was about the plain meaning of Scripture. It's the Catholics responding to it who keep trying to make authority the key issue, by fair means and foul; and they have generally been doing so by conflating two very different (albeit related) things: the authoritative character of what is interpreted and the authoritative character of the interpreting.

With all due respect, if there's no authoritative interpreter, then there is no "authoritative character of what is interpreted." They might be distinct, but the latter is absolutely dependent on the former to have any meaning. Severed from the authoritative interpreter, I don't think the quoted phrase can even possibly be given any meaningful sense in terms of a canon, rule, or law, whether the text be the Word of God or a municipal ordinance. I can't see any way in which the Scriptures are unique in such a way that somehow gives meaning to inherent authority in a way that no other text can possibly have. I have never seen or heard of a written law with "inherent authority," and quite frankly, I can't even form a concept of how such a thing could be.

It is simply false that the latter is required for the former to have any effect in our lives at all; any Catholic who reads Scripture on his or her own is living proof that you can interpret Scripture, which is authoritative, without authoritatively interpreting it, because every Catholic who reads Scripture in private devotion is doing precisely that. The whole history of the development of Catholic doctrine is filled to the brim with cases in which people have interpreted Scripture unauthoritatively to have those interpretations later recognized authoritatively as correctly capturing the authoritative meaning of Scripture. The principle that there is no authoritative interpreted without authoritative interpreter also does not fit well with the fact that the primary practice of the Church is to let any Catholic read and interpret Scripture, with intervention only where a danger to faith and morals is perceived.

I never said that Scripture was useless apart from authoritative interpretation. Just as there are trillions of transactions governed by some or another law that go off every day without a hitch, so are there trillions (at least I hope that many) of non-authoritative interpretations of Scripture that have some effect on people's lives. Legal authority isn't about the nigh-infinite number of cases that go right or that go wrong without the authority intervening. It's about those few cases that would render the law a nullity if they could not even possibly be resolved authoritatively. For example, murders are rare, but if murderers were never punished, murders would be a great deal more common. The problem I am citing is the situation when an interpretive dispute cannot be resolved even if one wants to resolve it, needs to resolve it, should resolve it, and perhaps most importantly, when the law has been given to resolve that dispute. Those are the cases that decide whether a law really is a law. As far as I can tell in Protestantism, Scripture is no law, because no interpreter speaks with the force of God.

The Catholic who reads, say, the parable of the unjust judge, and suddenly recognizes a feature in it that he has never been taught before, will naturally and reasonably regard it as authoritative, with only the negative reserve clause that it not be inconsistent with the teaching of the Church. If it becomes a matter of serious concern, there may be a need to confirm that it is indeed genuinely authoritative, rather than merely seemingly so. This confirmation may take the form of either a definitive pronouncement or a natural outgrowth of the Christian practice and prayer of the whole Church, i.e., all those other Catholics with all their unauthoritative reading being drawn by the grace of the Holy Spirit to the truth. I take it that none of this can be seriously regarded as inconsistent with the Catholic view of Scripture. But none of this is possible unless it is recognized that, indeed, there is a sort of plain meaning of Scripture that does not require the direct intervention of an authoritative interpreter to be discovered, unless by 'authoritative interpreter' we mean Truth Himself.

The first sentence in the quote above simply equivocates on what "authoritative" means. I imagine that he does not think that his interpretation is binding on every Catholic who reads Scripture, any more than I think that my judgment of the law means that my opponent is thereby bound to agree with me, even though I have no authority. I might well think that my opinion is "authoritative" in that I have a very real belief that a reasonable judge will agree with me, viz., that I have persuasive authority, but that is not the same thing. The point is that no interpretation, no matter how persuasive, can possibly be binding absent the direct intervention of an authoritative interpreter; collective wisdom cannot add up to a binding authority. The individual Catholic simply cannot make public law for the Church; the Magisterium can. And my problem is that if there cannot even possibly be the direct intervention of an authoritative interpreter, then I have no idea what it means for the Scriptures to serve as law, canon, or rule, since those rare cases are the ones separating the rule of law from anarchy.

Protestants and Catholics actually agree on the key thing here: namely, that the authority of Scripture is the authority of God, that the authoritative teacher of the meaning of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, and that without Him there is nothing but darkness.

With all due respect, no, I can't say that we agree on these matters with respect to the sense of authority as issuing binding interpretations in the name of God. I'm not aware of the Holy Spirit acting as the authoritative teacher of the meaning of Scriptures except through the charism of the Magisterium, so I don't believe that the Holy Spirit is the authoritative teacher of the meaning of Scriptures for anyone not in submission to the Magisterium. I think the authority of Scriptures as canon, rule, or law is completely nullified absent an authoritative interpreter. And I agree that without God there is nothing but darkness, but I find it hard to understand how one can avoid darkness if the Scriptures do not serve as law, including authoritative interpreters.

The difference arises in that, from the Protestant point of view, Catholics too easily conflate the interpretive act of the Holy Spirit with human interpretive acts, and, from the Catholic point of view, Protestants have an incomplete view of the work of the Spirit in the Church's interpreting of Scripture.

What doesn't seem to be coming across is that the Catholic view entails that there literally IS NO authority of Scripture as canon, rule, or law absent the interpretive act of the Holy Spirit being actually identified with human interpretive acts. It's a case of literal antithesis; the views are absolutely incommensurable. My point, which I hope to now have made clear, is that there is no such thing as half a law. Either it can be authoritatively interpreted with the same force of law, or it can't. If it can't, then it isn't a law at all; it has no authority. If you say that Scripture has authority but you reject that there is an interpreter with the power to interpret it with the same force of law, then I have no idea what you mean by "authority," because I have no idea how to parse that idea according to any meaningful concept of juridical authority.

As long as the dispute never seriously engages with this point, it is self-perpetuating, because it will never have any effect except the raising of even more light-obscuring dust. And this all is yet a further argument why Christians who make apologetic arguments against other Christians should start with what the other side gets quite right, and never say a word against them until they have done so. Easier said than done, of course.

What seems to be obscured is how sharp this boundary is. I don't see how any degree of agreement on any related issue suffices to traverse the chasm on the issue of juridical authority of Scripture. The point of this whole argument is that no matter what else you may happen to get right, the Protestant position is vitiated by the failure to give Scripture juridical authority. It cannot even possibly assert the authority of Scripture for itself, so it has no standing to make any claim on the conscience as a true Christian religion. It's all just opinion, persuasive authority, without any power to say what the law is for the Christian conscience. This means that every man is a law unto himself, no matter how well meaning.

I hope this makes my meaning clear, but if not, it would probably be helpful to think on my example regarding the difference between an opinion about the law and a judicial interpretation thereof. Without the latter, the former rapidly becomes irrelevant. I have a very serious concern that the Protestant concept of authority is actually nothing but the persuasive authority of the truth, and I see no way that can be anything but anarchy for the reasons I have outlined above.

More queries on justification

I am responding in this post to the queries asked by Rhology here.

1) Why would a perfect human need to be justified? Do you mean b/c of the original sin?

You are correct that a perfect human does not. But to say that Jesus could save us through His perfect (human) obedience is an error of the same kind. It suggests that human works can save, which is impossible. Even the sacrifice of a perfectly innocent human being has no effect without grace; it is the Judaizing error to think that compliance with the Law (even Christ's perfect human obedience) can save. Both salvation and deification require grace.

2) If #1 is b/c of original sin, how could a perfect human exist at all?

I see the confusion, which was my fault. The point wasn't that a perfect human being needs to be justified, but that even a perfect human being cannot justify others (or even himself, if per impossibile, he needed to do so).

3) If #1 is b/c of original sin, that human wouldn't be perfect, right? He'd have sin, wouldn't he? And therefore not be perfect?

True. My point is that such a person couldn't even be perfected by someone else's human action.
4) Did Jesus have original sin?

No, he bore no guilt for original sin, although He voluntarily assumed the consequences of original sin (particularly death).

5) Why would Jesus need to be justified?

He doesn't. I was attempting to say (poorly, evidently) that His human powers have no power to justify for anyone.

6) If Jesus did not save us thru His perfect obedience, then why does the Scripture say this?

Hebrews 5
7In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation...

That's what I mean about Christ's life being the form of our salvation. Obviously, Christ is not in need of being made perfect in the sense of lacking anything or needing justification. "Perfection" in the context of Hebrews means "fit to appear before God," and even a sinless human being cannot demand to appear before God. But Christ walked the path of holiness (deification) for all humanity. It's the same thing taught about Christ's self-sanctification in John 17:19. It refers to the perfection of His role as Mediator

If you'll permit a short florilegia, here are some passages pertinent to Christ's perfection in this regard. 1 Tim. 2:5-6 "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time." Col. 1:22 "[H]e has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him...." 1 Pet. 2:24 "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." Gal. 3:13-14 "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" -- that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." 2 Cor. 5:21 "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

These passages are not about making Himself holy to appear before God (He already is), but becoming a perfect form of holiness for all the rest of us (likewise in Rom. 5). That is the same sense of Hebrews 10:14 "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." Christ's life is the form for receiving grace; that's where the Sacraments originate. And that's the point re: Pelagianism. Even a perfect and sinless human cannot claim the right to stand before God, but he also requires the perfection of grace to be fit to stand before God. That's why Adam had a trial in the Garden even though he was sinless; he had to walk the path of deification as well. Adam rejected God's grace, but Christ came to save us by making Himself the path to God (see espec. Rom. 5:18-20, Eph. 1:9-10, 1 Cor. 15:21-28).

7) Was it not, then, Jesus' actions that provided salvation for fallen humanity? If not, what?

Again, the question is HOW Jesus's actions provided salvation. They provided salvation by being the form of the reception of divine grace, all the way through His Crucifixion and Resurrection.

8) Related to #7, are not Christ's passion, crucifixion, and resurrection actions that were performed in obedience to the eternal plan of God?

True, but the fact that human actions are performed in obedience to the eternal plan of God doesn't make them salvific. What makes them salvific is that they realized the eternal plan of God for deification of humanity, the reception of God's grace. You seem to be saying that simply the bare fact of obeying God's plan is enough, but there is a reason and a purpose behind God's plan, without which the plan doesn't make sense. The plan is intelligible in the strong metaphysical sense; all of creation has the plan built into it. That's what "predestination" means in its most basic sense.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Helpful curiosity about justification?

It appears that Alan Maricle (Rhology) is curious about what I had in mind, at least to the point where he would like to discuss it further. I have no problem clarifying my own view, and I hope it will be useful to do so.

Alan says:
So, leaving aside the fact that I also dealt with his question about boasting (which went unanswered), the central statement seems to be that, since Christ Himself is 100% God and 100% man, so must we regard our justification as 100% by the grace of God and 100% by the works of man.

It might help to back up and to deal with that response, although at the time I thought we were simply retreading the same ground. I said:
re: [Eph., ch. 2] v. 10, it seems to me that Paul is simply explaining why Christian works are not out of one's own or out of ergon, because they are Christ's own eternal creation. But again, that turns on one's Christological understanding of how the believer is united to Christ's eternal operation.

And in response to "In Eph 2, are the *works* Christ's creation or is the *person* Christ's creation?" I said, "Both, as far as I can tell. The Christian is said to be Christ's workmanship, and he is said also to be created for good works. It is that act of creating for good works that I take to make those good works Christ's own actions," to which Alan replied "It can't be both/and, as I've already pointed out several times, since Eph 2 specifically points out that it's by faith and NOT AS A RESULT OF WORKS. It's amazing to me the obtuseness of those who won't own up to that. It's almost as if their tradition is getting in their way."

Alas, I can't "own up" to it, because I honestly don't believe that "not as a result of works" (lit., "not out of works") means works aren't a part of salvation. Paul says that salvation is not "out of" works, so that we can't boast. So what does salvation being "out of" works mean? It means that there is something in the works themselves that saves. If that were the case, then there would indeed be something in which to boast. But there is nothing in the works themselves that is salvific; nothing comes out of us to make them salvific. What makes them salvific is that they were worked by Christ.

What Christ works through us is not cause for boasting in ourselves, but for boasting in Christ. To do my best imitation of a broken record, I will cite again what I cited before: Rom. 15:17-18 "In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed." Gal. 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Php. 2:13 "[F]or God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." See also Php. 3:3 "For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh." One might readily add Gal. 6:14-15 for an explicit parallel to Eph. 2:10 "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation."

If works are salvific only to the extent that Christ works them, then salvation does not come out of works, and we have nothing in which to boast except Christ. Paul essentially provides an explanation in Eph. 2 why salvation can be BY works, but not OUT OF works, because it is not the fact that we worked them but that Christ worked them that makes them salvific. It's not a question of what saves, but how works save. He's not saying that salvation is not by works; he's saying that salvation does not come out of the works. There's a difference, and that is the distinction I believe that Paul is drawing in the text, i.e., a distinction about how works save, not a distinction as to whether salvation involves works or not. Obviously, I don't see how the text forces the latter, since the text itself only speaks of what salvation is "out of," not what saves simpliciter.

I repeat all of that, despite having said it before, because it's necessary to read that to understand why I consider salvation Christological. In addition to what I have said above, look at the number of times Paul (or the respective author following Paul) refers to the Christian and his salvation being "in Christ Jesus." See, e.g., Rom. 3:14, 8:1-2, 8:39; 1 Cor. 1:2, 1:30, 4:15; Gal. 2:4, 3:28, 6:15; Eph. 2:6, 2:10, 2:13, 3:11; Php. 2:5, 3:14; Col. 1:28; 1 Th. 5:18; 2 Tim. 1:9, 2:10; Phm. 6. Catholics take these as metaphysically real (ontological) relations, not merely juridical relations.

That issue was, of course, the very issue that Trent was intended to resolve: what is the correct metaphysical account for the basis of justification. Trent decreed "the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity." And that is essentially the question: does God justify by infusion (communication of righteousness) or by imputation? The Reformers maintained that communication to fallen humanity was impossible, so that righteousness must be alien and imputed, while the Catholics maintained that salvation that was not by communication of righteousness was no salvation at all.

The responses to the following observations simply come from what I have said above:
What I hear you saying seems to me to be similar to the common RC argument about the Assumption of the BV Mary, that it "would be fitting" for Christ to show the honor shown to Enoch and Elijah to His mother as well. Ergo, she was assumed. Game, set, match.

I suppose they might be related, in that they both proceed from the premise that one oughtn't buck the Tradition unless one is absolutely certain that the Tradition is wrong. But that's probably the only respect in which they are similar. In the case of infused righteousness, the argument is that it is necessary for salvation, not that it is merely fitting.

Here, you seem to be saying that since Christ was 100% God and 100% man, it is fitting that our salvation might be 100% God and 100% man as well. But how can we justify that connection biblically? It's a just-so story, b/c *you* think it would be fitting that it be that way. But God apparently disagrees.

On the contrary, it's simply that if it isn't that way then neither I nor anyone else would have any good cause to believe that we are saved. Unless we are really deified through natural union with Christ, then I have no good cause to think that His Resurrection is of any benefit to me. In other words, if Paul were claiming that salvation were by imputation of Christ's righteousness, then I would not believe Paul's claim that people are saved by Christ.

Just a sidenote - we don't find our doctrine in "linkages" that could be seen in between biblical passages when obvious statements are made about the same, such as Eph 2:8-10 and Rom 4:6-8. This is a hallmark of Roman Catholic apologetics, as the way they go about defending the Assumption of Mary demonstrate.

Obviously, I don't consider such allegorical exegesis per se illegitimate, but this isn't nearly as close a case. I'm relying on what Paul says about boasting and being "in Christ Jesus" elsewhere; I see no reason to view those passages in a way that excludes the ontological sense in favor of a purely juridical status. Moreover, if he did, then I'd likely not believe what he had to say on the subject anyway.

CrimsonCatholic's argument would seem to require that Christ working in us is like God working in Christ and hence the works are the same. To make his argument work it would need to be modified to 100% God + 100% (perfect) man. We do not qualify for the second half and hence we are unable to contribute to our justification. Only Jesus fills that holy place.

I agree with the conclusion after the "hence," but the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises. The reason that we can't contribute to our justification is not that we aren't perfect but that we are human at all. The notion that human nature can contribute to justification even before the fall is the error condemned as Pelagianism. Even a perfect human can't justify himself, not even Jesus, so the notion that Jesus saved us through His perfect obedience is likewise Pelagian. Jesus is simply the perfect example of deification; indeed, He deifies Himself so that His life will be the form of deification for all Christians (John 17:19). Since I agree fully with the notion that human nature cannot contribute of itself anything for our justification, I believe that we can only be saved "in Christ Jesus."

But the Roman Catholic may object that it is Christ's work in us, so it is still God's work. But how can you meaningfully say that it is not our works when we used our hands and mouths to do the works even if they were from God's work in us? The works Jesus does in us are our works too, just as the works God did in Christ were Christ's works too.

But Ephesians never says that we are not saved using works. It says that we are not saved out of works. The human component of the work doesn't contribute to our salvation; only the divine operation through the instrument of the work does. The operations take place together (synergistically), but the effect is divine in its cause.

Also, that response fails miserably in taking into account just how bad the human is. He doesn't seek to do good. He doesn't want to. He hates the light. This "100% man" thing would lead to our utter damnation, by logical consequence.

On the contrary, it rejects any argument that asserts the sufficiency of the flesh. We reject the capacity of human nature to deify itself (that is where we differ from Christ), and we recognize that sin has already put us in the position of having deprived us of God's grace. The 100% God is the precondition for the 100% man to have any power. Whatever power human effort has comes wholly from the divine efficient cause; it does not come in the least from human nature.

Now, CC's argument seems to me to be similar to:
Since Jesus is the High Priest, then we are also co-high priests because we are in him.
Since Jesus is the Mediator, then we are co-mediators in him.
Since Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father, we are also at his right hand.
Since Jesus is the King of Kings, we too are king of kings.
Since Jesus worked for our salvation, we too work for our salvation in him.It is taking Jesus' uniqueness and distributing it inappropriately to the redeemed. I think it is a tighter argument if you say that it is appropriate to use the God-man as a prism to interpret salvation but CC's approach fails because it generalizes from the unique God-man to humanity, which is a major problem.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1241: "The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king." But what I find odd here is the particular list of characteristics, for which one finds practically the loci classici of the concept I am outlining. See, e.g., 1 Pet. 2:9 (royal priesthood), James 5:16 (the prayer of a righteous man avails much), Eph. 2:6 (sitting with Him in the heavenly places), 2 Tim. 2:12 (if we endure, we shall also reign with him). If this is distributing Jesus's uniqueness inappropriately, then it appears that several NT authors did so as well. ISTM that this is simply a case of misunderstanding Jesus's uniqueness, which is not His perfection (although no fallen man is perfect) but His self-deification. We cannot be the source of our own grace from our human nature; Jesus was. He deifies us; we don't deify ourselves.

But I want to ask a different question as well: Why choose Christology as the link to justification?

I hope I've presented an explanation as to why Christology is the link for every element of Christian life, since Christ's life is the form for Christian life.

Here's an example: Why not link justification to the Trinity? Is not the Trinity a direct consideration in the justification of the sinner?Instead of justification being 100% by grace (from God) and 100% by works (from men) (as Christ), why not 100% from God the Father, 100% from Jesus Christ, and 100% from the Holy Spirit?

This is why I have hope that this bit of curiosity may be helpful, because it's led to exactly the right conclusion. The Trinity IS a direct consideration in the justification of the sinner, and the justification IS 100% from the Father, 100% from the Word, and 100% from the Holy Spirit. Same reasoning applies: all divine acts are common to the whole Trinity by the perichoresis of the Persons. That's why Jesus's life of self-deification is also an act of the entire Trinity; see, e.g., the baptism in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-33). I find it not coincidental that the clearest illustration of the Trinity is also the very place in which Jesus models that Sacrament by which people are initiated into His life. This seems consistent with St. Paul's view of baptism; see, e.g., Rom. 6:3-4. So Alan has asked a very good question in terms of understanding the Catholic belief, one that must clearly be answered in the affirmative, and I hope this explanation will benefit him.

Another example: Why not link justification to the resurrection of Lazarus? It was 100% of Jesus.

Certainly we do, and for exactly that reason. It illustrates the action of grace: Lazarus is called and comes from the grave.

Another example: Why not link justification to the resurrection of Jesus Christ? It was Trinitarian as well.

We certainly do that as well, as does Paul (1 Cor. 15:13-15).

So I'd ask CrimsonCatholic and anyone else who is so inclined to defend that linkage in preference to the other examples posted.

Alas once again, I can't defend that preference, because I have no such preference. I endorse all of the linkages you identify, and I confess to seeing no difficulty with respect to Jesus's uniqueness in doing so. But the fact that you picked all of these examples suggests to me that you are starting to grasp the thinking involved, and that is at least something.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

On suffering under bad rulers

In a comment to a previous post, Tim Enloe said:
I suppose I can say without too much rhetorical waxing that for me the paramount issue in evaluating the Reformation is the utter and despicable pastoral failure of the Church for the better part of a century and a half prior to the Reformation.
I do apologize to those "conservative" Catholics insufficiently-tutored in the long, painful history of Western ecclesiastical reform, but the Council of Trent came about s century and a half too late for most of the victims of the disgusting predators who had been running the Church into the ground for many, many decades while hiding behind their succession lists and outward religious trappings.

I replied:
I suppose this is a different view of the matter, because for a Catholic, this is the equivalent of saying that God showed up a century and a half too late. The basic understanding is that God's providential control in these matters is such that whatever misery the Church suffers is God's punishment for failure to conform to His will. It's just a different way of looking at the suffering of the Church as intended by God. In that perspective, BOTH the bad rulers AND the Reformers themselves were punishment from God intended to purify the Church from sin and worldliness, and so they did. One can say "what about those poor people who suffered so much?" But one can say the same thing about every mean wretch who has suffered in the millennia of human history.

We don't criticize God for failing to save people from this circumstance; rather, we thank Him that He eventually did. That's why salvation is grace and not debt. God has no obligation to save the Church from wallowing in sin, from people suffering misery for centuries under the oppression of evil men. The assumption is that there ought to be some way of "checking" monarchs and "correcting" this misery, but the fact that there isn't is precisely what makes the salvation of the Church (and of us all) entirely dependent on grace.

Until we realize that all is hopeless, that literally nothing can be done to alleviate the misery of the Church unless God sees fit to bless the Church with a good Father, then we don't realize the depth of our circumstance. In Catholicism, ecclesiology and soteriology are one and the same, and just as the Christian is saved only insofar as He is given grace, so is the Church entirely dependent on grace for its operation. You pray for God to raise up a good leader by grace; you don't take it upon yourself to rebel against the leader that He actually sent you. In the mundane political realm, it might not work that way, but in the Church insofar as it is Church (viz., in the real of religion), that's how it works. An abusive father can be resisted for his own sake, but God's judgment on you through evil men must be suffered. And as I said, it takes supernatural virtue to recognize that one ought to sacrifice the temporal good for the sake of God's unknowable, eternal purpose. The instinctive reaction is to resist evil, but sometimes, God's priority for the good is different than your own.

Look at the sexual abuse scandal. Suffering under the leadership of the same men who allowed this abomination, who are now paying ridiculous amounts of money to protect their own hides, is hardly sensible or wise from the temporal perspective. My archbishop is Roger Cardinal Mahony, described in the media as the "Teflon Cardinal" for his ability to slide out from under any reponsibility for the scandal. My bishop faced contempt charges for sending a priest under investigation for sexual abuse charges to Canada for "treatment." But unfortunately, they are the people that God saw fit to ordain to their respective positions, and I have to accept that. I don't get to pick my bishop, my metropolitan, or my Pope. I can only pray for God to send good men and live with it when He doesn't. From the perspective of worldly wisdom, that is "complacency" or even "negligence." I can't disagree or even expect you to understand; it is thoroughly alien to anything in this world. But if you want to understand the Catholic way of thinking, it is that the Church comes from God's will and grace alone.

Tim then said, inter alia:

You may have a point about not becoming excessively sentimental about human suffering, but at the same time I remain entirely unpersuaded that the best response in the face of immense and enormously protracted suffering is to be like some Christian Marcus Aurelius and act like Stoic pietas in the face of crushing, grinding, maiming potestas overcomes all need to fight for equitas.

It's easy for a fat and sassy Cardinal who only has to deal with verbal insults to his honor to sit and write that when a despicable tyrant runs the world you just have to piously pray to God to take him away before he wrecks the ship. It's quite another thing to be a pastor on the frontlines watching your people living in abject spiritual poverty and dying without a hope in the world, watching the ship foundering because the godless wretch at the helm has already run it into the iceberg, to sit and be Stoics. In the latter case, it can't be done, and shouldn't be done. That, I would argue, would be truly evil.

I think it would be helpful at this point to note that it's actually the antithesis of the Stoic ethos. Stoicism says that there is no hope in fate, so you just bear up under it. My point is exactly the opposite: it is a message of faith and hope that the Stoic wisdom considers foolishness. That is precisely what Tertullian, himself steeped in Stoic knowledge, meant by "I believe because it is absurd" and "What has Athens to do wth Jerusalem?" The lesson is that the "crushing, grinding, maiming potestas" is nothing but the power of the world, a power of God has already defeated, which defeat will be completely realized in the world to come.

That is the hope that Christian pastors can always give, that no matter how bad it appears, nothing in this world has a power to surpass God. No power on earth can wreck the ship, and if we can affirm that mystery, then we have peace, a kind of equality of the heart. That is nothing like Stoic ataraxia, which certainly would be evil in these circumstances. It is the perspective of faith and hope, a genuine belief in God's grace to rectify the evils of the world that we ourselves are powerless to correct. The Psalms were not written by Stoics; they were written by men who recognized both that we were utterly dependent on God and that He really did have power greater than all the wickedness in the world. I think that they would have said in response to the suggestion that they were "just" going to piously pray to God that there was nothing else TO do.

This is not to say that Israel did not have the same inclination to acquire the power to fix things. They looked around and saw other "successful" situations and wanted what they had. They wanted kings and the like as well. But when God gave this to them, it didn't help. They had to realize that it wasn't the priests or kings, but God Himself who was the only hope of Israel. Our only hope against the powers of the world, even priests and kings, is God's grace. The extent to which we even believe that we can "fix" the fallen world ourselves is the Pelagian impulse writ large, the belief that we can save ourselves through our own efforts. In the grand scheme of things, all temporary (or temporal) fixes eventually comes back to bite us. Our only hope is in the mystery of faith: "For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:9-10). That's where our hope lies, never here.

Anyway, I just wanted to make clear that my message is as far from Stoicism or faith in some system or process as it could be. Contra Stoicism, I believe that we have a genuine hope in God. Contra faith in any system or process, I believe that only God has the power to be victorious over the powers of the world through His grace. And I have faith and hope that He will.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Ontology of Authority: A Legal Perspective

I've been following the recent interaction by Scott Carson, Mike Liccione, and Fr. Al Kimel with several Protestants on the subject of Scriptural authority. Dr. Carson's posts may be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Dr. Liccione has posts here, here, here, and here. The end of those discussions was downright moribund, and it makes me seriously wonder whether Protestants are even willing to come to the table with Catholics anymore in terms of serious intellectual discussion, since I view the arguments being raised as threshhold issues for any sort of meaningful interaction with the Catholic view (I commend Tim Enloe at Dr. Liccione's blog and the commenter Kevin at Dr. Carson's blog for being glaring exceptions).

There is only a little I can add from my own expertise in the law to the arguments presented above. But I have to confess that an argument along these lines, particularly with respect to the authority of academia (what I call persuasive authority below), has been made by Bryan Cross, explained here and followed with the formal argument given here. His conclusions are bolstered by the observations here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I should note that I have yet to see any holes in Bryan's argument either, and I believe that Protestantism also has to answer all of these arguments even to be intellectually defensible, which has not been done to date (N.B., I leave as an exercise for the reader to discern why this response is spurious after reading the rest of this post). There is only a limited amount of substance that I can add to his arguments, and more generally, I fear that the greater part of my thunder has been purloined by what has gone before. But I can at least make explicit how it ties into what has been discussed to this point.

My argument basically follows from an explanation I gave of the concept of authority in response to a query from TJW about the distinction between the sort of "expert authority" a scholar might have and legal or jurisdictional authority. I reproduce the initial paragraphs of my comment as background:

I had a very productive discussion with Dr. Tim McGrew, a well-regarded Protestant epistemologist, on that same subject here

I would argue that there is an equivocation between persuasive authority and binding authority, and within binding authority, another distinction between formal authority and material authority. Persuasive authority is simply what one believes because one suspects that testimony is reliable based on someone else's knowledge or reasoning. Binding authority possesses normative authority for pronouncing on the state of some or another thing according to formal system. Binding authority consists of formal authority (i.e., human beings invested with authority in some of their acts, so that what they issue in their formal capacity has binding force) and material authority (i.e., the body of previous law created by such authoritative acts, such as the Constitutions, statutes, or binding judicial decisions). Your term "determine" is apt for the acts of a binding authority, because it gives some definite form and decides the boundaries.

My argument was essentially that, for anything to function as a binding authority, it must actually be able to bindingly resolve every dispute coming under the auspices of the formal system. That means, ultimately, that if any interpretation of any material authority can be disputed, there has to be some human authority that has the power to finally resolve it, even if that power isn't exercised. Otherwise, in the end, all you have is persuasive authority, and the hope that there is actually an answer to be had if reasonable people simply exercise their God-given reason.

What I would like to demonstrate is that the appeals to the authority of the "plain meaning of Scripture" invariably succumb to the reification fallacy given the definition of authority I have outlined above. The concept that is most central to this definition of authority is the power to produce a formal act of normative communication. It is communication of some definite form, qua normative, from the authority to someone bound by the authority.

I should mention that I mean terms like "definite" in the ontological sense, not in the epistemological sense of being "apparent." It might not be clear even from something with an ontologically definite form what that form is; indeed, if the form were simply apparent, then there would hardly be a purpose in defining doctrine in the first place. This ontological sense is, as far as I can tell, exactly what the Magisterium means by the term "define," as used in the context of Magisterial or papal authority. See, for example, Ineffabilis Deus:
For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grow only within their own genus -- that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning.

See also Pastor Aeternus:
To this absolutely manifest teaching of the Sacred Scriptures, as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, are clearly opposed the distorted opinions of those who misrepresent the form of government which Christ the lord established in his Church and deny that Peter, in preference to the rest of the apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction.

The point is not that the binding teaching is so apparent that its form should be clear to anyone who reads it, but that it is ontologically clear, certain, and manifest. The nature of the dogma itself is that it includes no mixture of error but definitely separates right from wrong, even if it wasn't apparent until later that this was the case! In other words, the necessary ontological consequence is that the binding act of the issuing authority obeys the law of non-contradiction. The form of the act excludes this and not that; it separates the correct and the incorrect. Moreover, the act of communication itself either is or is not. Just as there is no such thing as half a principle, there is no such thing as half an authority. The communication either is or is not authoritative in a certain respect; it cannot admit of contraries.

When I say that the authoritative statement cannot admit of contraries, that is what I mean by dispute resolution. The Newmanian maxim that no doctrine is defined until it is violated finds its home here. To the extent a statement is authoritative, the formal system encompassing that system must have the formal power to rule out all contraries under the jurisdiction of the authority, lest the binding act lack ontological power to bind. That is why binding acts themselves are material with respect to subsequent formal acts of authority. To put it rather simply, if there is no interpretive authority that has the power to issue interpretations to rule out contrary interpretations, then the statement itself has no authority, because the binding act either does or does not rule out contrary interpretations of the subject matter it purports to regulate. To repeat my earlier point, there is no such thing as half an authority.

Probably the most common and consistent misinterpretation of Catholic dogma I have seen is the belief that "certainty," "clear" or "constant" teaching, and the like refers to the notion of subjective certainty or doubt. On the contrary, it pertains to the objective qualities that dogma requires for the submission of the will. To see how this ontological understanding of authority conflicts with positivism, read this fantastic pair of back-to-back comments by Zippy. This understanding is also the core of the Catholic "hermeneutic of continuity," in the sense of reading previous teaching in a manner consistent with prior and subsequent teaching. It is likewise the basis for viewing definitive dogmatic teaching as "irreformable," in precisely the formal sense that I outlined above.

To bring this confusion to bear on the present discussion, we need only turn to Brandon Watson's apology for William Witt.

But Bill, I take it, would regard the disputes as being about the plain meaning of Scripture itself; because he doesn't, by 'plain', mean transparent. Indeed, as a Protestant Thomist, taking 'plain meaning' to be basically the same as Thomas's 'literal sense', he can't and won't; he'll say, as he does elsewhere, that matters are rather more complicated than this. And thus the question of how do we determine readings authoritatively (if we can) is a distinct question from the question of whether there is a plain meaning of Scripture to which good readings approximate. The first is epistemological; the second is, so to speak, ontological.

I concur that the second section should be ontological, but the entire notion of a "plain meaning of Scripture to which good readings approximate" is reifying a no-thing, a mere being of reason. It is nothing not only for the reasons Zippy gave in the comments I linked above, but also because if there is no way to determine readings authoritatively, the text itself simply is not an authority. It does not represent a binding act ontologically capable of separating categories of correct from incorrect if the act does not include within itself an essential relation to some means of authoritative determination. It lacks the nature of an authoritative act. Consequently, the problem is not epistemological, in the sense of how we know the interpretation is authoritative, but it is ontological, in the sense that the interpretation cannot actually be authoritative.

Likewise, the problem can be found here:
But, again, from Bill's point of view it would be hard to see what any of this has to do with the plain meaning of Scripture. If taken as addressing his own point, it would all look like a confusion of 'interpretation' taken as an act of interpreting and 'interpretation' taken as a way the text can be interpreted. Whether there is an authoritative interpretation in the latter sense is a different question from whether there is an authoritative interpretation in the former sense.

But there cannot even be an authoritative interpretation in the latter sense absent an authoritative interpretation in the former sense. Even if it is the best approximation for what the author intended, it still is not authoritative, for unless the author also intended to yield the authority to interpret his text to a subsequent authority, his mere writing itself ontologically lacks authority. So either the author intended his text both to be authoritative and interpreted by a subsequent authority, or God as co-author intended it (perhaps beside the intent of the author) in the same way, but in both cases, the subsequent interpretive authority is an essential element of either the divine or the human will to produce an authoritative act of communication.

This is the legal counterpart to Dr. Carson's epistemic statement that "It is tempting to say that the text means what the author of the text intended it to mean, but such a temptation, like the temptation to pick at a scab, ought to be resisted if one wants to avoid further trouble" and Zippy's metaphysical statement that "To understand language one must understand the concretely mediated author-ity behind the language, and the author-ity behind the language can never be reduced to nothing but a closed canon." The "plain meaning" posits something put in the text by the act of the author independent of the act of the interpreter, and this posited (positivist) thing is a pure being of reason that is antithetical both to the nature of the communicative act generally and to authoritative communication particularly.

But, again, from Bill's point of view it would be hard to see what any of this has to do with the plain meaning of Scripture. If taken as addressing his own point, it would all look like a confusion of 'interpretation' taken as an act of interpreting and 'interpretation' taken as a way the text can be interpreted. Whether there is an authoritative interpretation in the latter sense is a different question from whether there is an authoritative interpretation in the former sense.

So I think Bill's point is not what Scott and Michael have in mind; it's not an argument for a particular conception of authority in reading, but for a distinction between authority in reading a text and a reading of the text that is authoritative, i.e., between the reading of the text and its meaning. Scott wants to say that the plain meaning of Scripture, as Protestants understand that phrase, goes hand in hand with private judgment as the authoritative act of interpreting; Bill is, in this comment, denying this, not saying anything about the proper view we should have about the authoritative act of interpreting. That would require other considerations than Bill brings up here.

Same problem here. There is literally no such thing as an authoritative reading of the text absent an interpretive authority, so the denial of an external interpretive authority necessarily entails private judgment (which is ontologically the rejection of authority). If the authorial intent does not include the interpretive authority, then the author's statements aren't authoritative, period. He cannot bind the conscience because he did not by his act create an act that can do so. If Dr. Witt is in fact "not saying anything about the proper view we should have about the authoritative act of interpreting," then he is denying that the "plain meaning of Scripture" has any authority. And I can't see where the absence of a plain authoritative meaning of Scripture does anything for his cause. That's practically the definition of private judgment: authority is a purely personal determination.

I think Mike is on the right track, though, in recognizing that the real difference between Catholics like Mike and Scott on the one hand, and what we might (rather loosely and perhaps figuratively) call High Church Protestants like Bill (who place great weight on consensus fidelium, the Church Fathers, and the Rule of Faith), has to do with their views of the Scripture as canon in the Church, and what it means for the Church to take a text as canonical. I know that Bill, for instance, tends to think, or, at least, has indicated something like this in various contexts, that the sort of account that Mike offers involves an equivocation on the term 'Church', a failure to distinguish between the Church insofar as it wrote the Scripture (and thus insofar as it was apostolic) and the Church insofar as it accepts them submissively as canon (and thus insofar as it is post-apostolic). This certainly does suggest a different view of canon.

I concur with Dr. Carson's view that the distinction between the apostolic and post-apostolic Church is specious, but I would add the act of delivering the Scripture as authoritative would itself be incomplete absent the endorsement (or at least acceptance) of the later authority. Even inspiration itself doesn't create authority absent the concurrent divine endorsement of the interpretive authority. To put it another way, unless God Himself has given you guidance in a definitive form accessible to your perception, then He has to endorse some external, public interpretive authority for any statement to be normatively binding as divine revelation. Effectively, Protestantism is the admission that there is no such thing as authoritative public revelation; all authoritative revelation is necessarily private. That seems like a nice summary of the entire post's theme, so I will end there.