Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sola Scriptura ; Solo Traditio ; Sola Papa - Three Bad Answers to Some Good Questions

"so I send this commentary to your reverence, not because I think it due and worthy, but because I remember you asked for it and I promised to send it. Whatever your holiness finds half-baked or crude in its pages, please forgive it all the more quickly" - Pope St. Gregory the Great , teaching infallibly on matters of faith and morals ;)

The more of the Church Fathers I read, the less I feel bound to their authority. They seem adamant on telling us NOT to trust them on their own basis. The notion that they had some kind of hidden wisdom apart from Scripture, or were a part of the Word of God, as Papa Benny 16 likes to say, would probably seem blasphemous to them. Certainly the doctrine of justification by faith alone would seem blasphemous to a writer like St. Gregory (though not Chrysostom), but what seems always clear to me is how off course the Western Tradition went after St. Augustine. The Orthodox (I think at the moment) are quite accurate in their assertions that the Latin Tradition of theology is very different from the patristic consensus. If the Protestant Reformation went off course, then it had long precedence from the See of Rome, which changed many things, to the point that the generally acknowledged first tradition of the Church (The Sign of the Cross) was changed by Papal decree by Pope Innocent III. St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Benedict, St. Patrick, all did it the 'wrong' Orthodox way.

This is where you'd normally expect to see me talking about visiting my local Antiochan parish, but no, I don't find the Orthodox way convincing to the point of necessary conversion. I think in a contest of Tradition they'd beat the Romans, but the discrepancies between the two seem to only further my Latin/Catholic notions that Tradition -while important- should not have the last say in matters of faith and morals.

After all, if in the Sacred Tradition of the Church, the Pope tells us not to trust his dogmatic writing if it is in error, then what are we to use as the standard? Answering that question is fraught with problems, however I've chosen Sacred Scripture, and used a hearty textual realism to defend myself from the textual relativist claims of Rome. Everyone must make a choice though, and thus everyone must become a heretic (one who chooses). Though the heresies of today are not like those of Old. To be a Baptist is heretical, true enough, but even Baptists can sign the formula of Chalcedon, and assent to the Council of Ephesus (451) which in a sense makes them more 'Traditional', 'Catholic', and 'Orthodox' than the Coptic Church and all its bishops. It seems to be a realm where 'you pay your money and you take your chance' as an old pastor used to say.

You could 'pan' any of the Fathers for 'Confessional gold' and come up with some argument in your favour. So perhaps the Orthodox would use the initial quotation to attack Papal Supremacy and show the equality of bishops. Roman Catholics might look use this passage: "[Job's friends] speak to Job as if on the Lord's behalf, but they are not approved by the Lord; for all heretics struggle to defend God but really offend him." to show how Orthodox and Protestant heretics/Christians are in wanton disobedience to the papacy. Finally, Protestants who look for a self-verifying canon of Scripture against Catholic-Orthodox apologetics could read: "The authority of this book is made clear from the unshakeable sacred page itself." and shout Aha! Our Bible has been vindicated against the traditions of men.

To end things very Lutheran-ly, I'd say all of these modes are theologies of glory. There are many mysterious things which we do not perceive while we 'see through a glass darkly', but the fundamental character and substance of God remains apparent to Christians. Faith, Hope, and Charity are found in every communion, and in these, as in Christ we are to abide. For my part, I look at myself knowing that like Job's sons 'perhaps I have sinned in my heart'. I know I am a sinner, but I trust in the fact that Christ has christened, confirmed, confessed, and communed me Himself. That all my sins are his and all his righteousness is mine. I glory not in my own theological and historical polemics but in my Saviour and his cross.

I found most illuminating, a passage of St. Gregory's on the typology of Jobs daughters as weaker Christians (which is a horribly misogynistic spiritual reading perhaps, but still useful).

"And three daughters were born to him. (1.2)
"What shall we take the daughters for, if not the flock of less-gifted faithful? Even if they do not stay the course for the perfection of good works by strength and virtue, they cling tenaciously to the faith they know in the trinity." XIV. 20

May the Holy Spirit, the only author of faith, who proceeds from the Father, through the Son, make us all tenaciously cling to whatever faith has been graciously given us, and trust in the Holy Trinity in every trouble.