Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Exegesis Issue

I've been reading even more of Acts, and some of Hans Urs Von Balthasar's great apology for the Papacy, and the two have left me with the same old thought.

The Problem

I was reading Acts, and there are some parts that seem so "Catholic". For instance, the church binds on the consciences of believers that they are not to fornicate in the council of Jerusalem. They call a council, Peter stands up among them, and they declare a moral discipline - albeit a shortlived one, but one just the same.

There are some mentions of Bishops or "overseers" and some heirarchical mention that is uncanny. But in the next chapter there is simply 'the brothers', and every time the Eucharist (presumably) is described it is "bread" that is broken, not the body of Christ. This of course, not being a problem for consubstantiators and Reformed guys, but certainly is a problem for the Catholic, as transubstantiation means that it literally ceases to be bread. Anyway, it's a weak argument, but it's there.

Then I realized, how am I even supposed to know what the Scripture says? Who am I? to ask the great question of the Psalms.

I was reading Balthasar and he cites Jn 21:3 as an example of Petrine Supremacy: "Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.”". I burst out laughing in the car when I read it. What a ridiculous prooftext. But then I thought about it, and it holds up. That could certainly be one interpretation of the text, and who is to say it is right or wrong?

As the American philosopher Alan Watts says: the judge and the prosecuter are the same person in such a case.

Once more, I was reminded that you cannot read Scripture without a Tradition. And how does one arbitrate between Traditions except by the creeds formulation: "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church", it is the 'map' left by the fathers for us.

There is one way out, that I've mentioned before:

The Inner Light

Protestants like Kierkegaard have promoted this view, and talking to a friend about Jonathan Edwards, he seems to (in a much lesser extent) agree with this epistemology, basic structure. George Fox the famous founding Quaker, claimed that the personal witness of the Holy Spirit is above all other authorities: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, etc. Only if I accepted this idea, could I leave what I see is a binding authority placed on me by the Catholic Church. It would lead to subjectivism, which would lead to relativism, and it would be fideism, which means I could have no witness to my university atheist friends, except that of inner peace and tranquility, etc.

I thought about it long and hard, and 2 minutes later, I decided that I am sticking with logic, Aristotle, and Augustine, who declared with the African bishops: "Whoever has separated himself from the Catholic Church, no matter how laudably he lives, will not have eternal life, but has earned the anger of God because of this one crime: that he abandoned his union with Christ' (Epistle 141)". Even the famously 'liberal' Vatican II states: "They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it" (Lumen Gentium 14).


So no matter how much I may hate the freewheeling liturgies of aging hippy priests. The moralizing and lack of the gospel of the work of Christ everywhere. The liberalism which misses the goodness of both the Protestant and Catholic gospels. The almost exclusive focus on social justice. All of the things I hate about Catholicism. Despite all of that, I am bound to observe it, unless I throw away my entire brain, and live in peace and freedom for a while, only to regret it eternally.
I think my favourite Augustinian slogan (and probably the one I quote most) is: "The Church is a whore, but she's my mother".

until next time, pax Christi tecum.


  1. I really need to read Edwards's treatise on the affections...

  2. A few random thoughts:

    The council's forbidding of fornication is simply enforcement of the moral law (i.e. Scripture).

    Protestants also confess "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" with the fathers. To appeal to the creed for certainty regarding the true church is, at the end of the day, appealing to what is believed to be an essentially perspicuous self-authenticating authority. Protestants confess the truth of the creed based on its fidelity to the apostolic teaching (i.e. Scripture). Roman Catholics confess it based on its fidelity to the apostolic office.

    I had a long discussion with some of my students yesterday about whether an understanding of tradition was needed to have a saving knowledge (i.e. 1 Cor. 2:12-16) of Scripture. Reformed theologians believe that an understanding of tradition is not necessary to have a saving knowledge of Scripture (i.e. the esse of a saving knowledge). However, we do believe a robust understanding of tradition is necessary in order to have a healthy saving knowledge of Scripture (i.e. the bene esse of a saving knowledge). This is why we are a confessional Christian tradition, why all officers in the church must take a vow saying that they believe the Westminster Standards contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. The Standards are a product of 1500+ years of church tradition.