How do we really know what God wants from us?

Protestant-and-Catholic-ParadigmsIn response to a comment asking “how do we know?” I wrote:

Who wants their faith to be formed around a legend? I certainly don’t. But that is the legacy of hundreds of years-worth of papal “history”.

This the right question to ask. We all want to rest our faith on something certain, that’s not going to give way when push comes to shove. I’m sure this sort of thing is behind your desire to “distinguish between divine revelation and human theological opinion”.

My response is simply that God does not provide the kind of “infallible certainty” that you posit. Nor does he demand the need that you have “infallible certainty”. You may want such a thing – but “Divine revelation” itself neither posits it nor provides an answer for it. So it is sufficient to me to rest in God’s word.

In the blog post I mentioned above, I’m talking about “papal history” from the first four centuries of the church. I’ve termed this “the nonexistent early papacy”, although you may or may not claim with Newman that this “papacy” “remained a mere letter” for four centuries. That’s another way of saying “nobody could see it.”

Again, I’ll compare “the founding of the church” with the Exodus of Israel. God made a big stink in both cases. Moses’s authority was no “mere letter”. And when Moses died, Moses’s authority was gone. There was no succession. There was no one like Moses after that. Devin Rose brought up “the seat of Moses” (Matt 23:2), without really seeming to know what the actual role was for that “seat” at the time of Jesus. In his NIGTC commentary on “The Gospel of Matthew” (pgs 922–923), John Nolland reports both archaeological and Talmudic evidence that this “seat of Moses” was actually “designed to hold Scrolls of Scripture”. One other possibility for the actual real-life meaning of this is that since only Scribes and Pharisees had actual copies of the Scripture, the “seat of Moses” referred to their ability to be the only source of Torah that the people had access to. In any event, it does not refer to “Tradition”. But never mind what the evidence actually tells us (from which we do need to infer things inductively); Rome needs “the seat of Moses” to represent some form of pre-NT “Tradition”, then by fiat, this magically occurs (just as the Assumption of Mary becomes not only dogma, but historical fact, by fiat of the Magisterium).

There was no question that God was “calling a people to himself” at the Exodus, and during the first century. When the Israelites wanted a king several hundred years later, it wasn’t a good thing, but God permitted it. And it was a disaster. And again, when “the church” several hundred years later decided (and it wasn’t the whole church; it was merely the folks in Rome) that the pope was “in charge”, that, too, was a bad idea and eventually a disaster.

The same is true for this discussion of the Assumption of Mary. You called my argument an “argument from silence”. Then you say that “silence about Mary’s death and tomb” also matters – but what you are relying on is an “argument from silence” without the conditions for validity of an argument from silence. What kind of basis is that for providing certainty on a “dogma of the faith”?

Then you bring up “the celebration of the Dormition (Assumption) that developed in the Eastern and Western churches after the 4th century” – that would be in the fifth century – it’s hardly what one would call a vital component, again, to that “unified” church of the first four centuries.

Your argument is that there is some kind of philosophical need for the certainty as to what I’ve called “the hard edge” of the “deposit of the faith” [represented in this image], and Rome provides this hard edge.

What you don’t say is “why this need exists”. That’s one missing link in your argument.

A second missing link is, your Magisterium still doesn’t provide that hard-edge that you claim is needed, and that Rome provides. I bring that up below, in the discussion of “papal infallibility” which you bring up.

I’ve brought up Beale’s account of Adam because that’s the start of a long chain of God speaking directly to individuals, with no intermediary, until a point at which a law is given to the Jews. Once that law was promulgated, both Moses and his authority died.

Yes, there were prophets to Israel. Rome is not the prophet. Rome is so bad, Rome needs prophets to speak to it, that is, if it’s not too far-gone from original Christian principles. If Rome has an analog in the Old Testament, it is the lineage of kings of Israel that whored after other Gods. But after a study of the history, I can’t even allow that Rome was named a king (as Saul and David were named as kings). [You may say that “scholarly standards of history” are not important, but they get us very close on the vast majority of the sweep of history; and you arbitrarily overturn them when they disagree with your IP. But I’d rather get as close as I can get without “supernatural helps”, and even then, there are opportunities for discussion to bring us even closer to what is the content and meaning of “divine revelation”.]

In the account of history that most scholars are familiar with these days, the Roman church, which had a seat of honor at the table in the early church, took the first seat, and usurped a place that was Christ’s alone as head of the church.

You ask:

In view thereof, the question becomes which facts are to be interpreted as having the greatest explanatory weight. You interpret the first as having greater explanatory weight than the other two; I interpret the other two taken together as having the greater explanatory weight.

You accept two arguments from silence, with no supporting evidence. At least I have provided supporting evidence, in the form of the piece from Tertullian. Interesting how your views of “arguments from silence” can change when the reputation of the Infallible Magisterium is at stake.

You wrote:

Part of what I’ve been arguing for years is that there is no way to answer such a question without first answering the more general question which IP, yours or mine, is the most reasonable one to adopt for the purpose of distinguishing between divine revelation and human theological opinions

Consider Martin Luther’s principle:

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

This is probably the simplest statement of “the Protestant IP” that exists (no doubt there is further nuance). But on the topic of the Assumption of Mary, there is no question. It’s not in Scripture, it cannot be a dogma of the faith. This is not to say that Mary wasn’t important. But not important enough to create the bluster that came with this statement in 1950.

As for that “nuance” on how “the Protestant IP” functions: consider this image, representing the Protestant understanding of how doctrine and how adiaphora (ἀδιάφορα “indifferent things”) align. This blog post describes the images I’ve posted here. As I mentioned above in comment #272, there are some things that are very important, and there are things that are adiaphora (ἀδιάφορα “indifferent things”).

For example, there is a difference between the practice of the Lord’s Supper – which most Protestant churches do – and determining “what it means” or “what actually happens”. The practice of it is not ἀδιάφορα, because the Lord commanded it, but the early church never came up with the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

Such things may be rejected because they bring incorporate Aristotelian categories, things the Apostles were NOT cognizant of. Yet as the writer of this article notes, “in sixteenth-century Europe, thousands of Protestants were burnt at the stake for denying an idea of Aristotle, who had never heard of Jesus Christ”.

With respect to the Assumption of Mary, Protestants (and former Roman Catholics like myself who look at the “paradigm” to create such dogmas and reject it) need no longer fear being burned at the stake.

In my own story, I call this an “outlier” because it is actually the only “infallible papal pronouncement” to be pronounced after Vatican I. Either Rome has the authority to make such a pronouncement, or it doesn’t.

Whatever else the “definition of the word church” contains, it must be purged of Roman conceptions of Rome.

You wrote:

In Catholic theology, it is not even a matter of dispute that the definition of 1870 applies to Pius IX’s definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and indeed to every papal ratification of conciliar dogmatic decrees set forth to bind the whole Church, going back to the 4th century.

I’m sure there are plenty of Orthodox who will disagree with you on the notion of “papal ratification” of conciliar decrees, as noted here:

Describing the period from approximately 400-900ad, a period during which the Church was “unified under the papacy,” Klaus Schatz, in his “Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present” (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, ©1996 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.), points out that “for five hundred years the role of Rome in the imperial Church was determined essentially by the relationships among three entities: the ecumenical councils, the patriarchates, and the imperial establishment.”

This is even a matter of discussion – see this comment thread for a discussion of knowledgeable Roman Catholics discussing this precise question – “how many?” – and not coming up with an answer.

You want to accuse Mike Gantt and me of “disagreements”, but here is the big Roman Catholic claim to unity, and this group of self-described “conservative” Roman Catholics can’t agree:

“How many times has the pope taught ex cathedra, or ‘from the chair’ of Peter? How many ex cathedra papal statements have there been, and what are they? . . . Different Roman Catholic apologists have asserted very divergent numbers of infallible papal statements. . . . It depends on which apologist you ask. Roman apologist Scott Hahn says … that 1950 was the only other time an ex cathedra statement that had ever been made by a pope: Now, we have to realize that the Holy Father has only stated dogmatically and infallibly a definition of a doctrine one other time: in 1950, with the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, both her body and soul.’

Hahn has proposed a two-statement canon of ex cathedra papal statements. But apologist Tim Staples says there are at least four, and likely very many more. In his audio tape series, ‘All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed,’ he berates those who state that popes have only spoken infallibly on two occasions. Staples mentions the two ex cathedra statements to which Hahn refers, and then adds at least two more, referring first to pope Boniface VIII’s statement Unam Sanctam (1302), and second, to St. Leo’s letter to Flavian which was examined and approved by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

You’re obviously not in the Scott Hahn camp. Bye-bye blessed unity on that one. This one would be a fun one to watch all of you discuss. But I digress. You say you can talk it out. Mike Gantt and I can talk it out too.

You wrote:

we cannot infer from the documentary record available to us that the Assumption occurred. That constitutes a defeater for the dogma only if the salient methodological assumption of your IP is correct.

The “Roman Catholic IP” cannot be “correct”. You neither establish the “need” for the kind of certainty that it provides, and it fails when put into practice, as is shown by this failure to agree even on the number of “infallible Papal dogmas” that have been instituted.

So, here we are, you say my IP “doesn’t provide certainty”, and I say yours “fails”, that I won’t rest my faith on a Magisterium that dogmatizes “crickets chirping”.

All we are left with is Luther: “Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

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