Rescuing the Bible from the New Enchanters

by Al Kimel

Did you know that right-wing Episcopalians are committed to the Enlightenment project of disenchanting reality? I didn’t know it, until I read the Anglican Scotist’s article Radiating Disaster Triumphant. In this article the Scotist continues his argument that the appeal to the plain meaning of Scripture is philosophically incoherent:

On the one hand, many winger-ECUSAns seem intent on reading the Bible so as to preserve the sovereignty of God and God’s place in claiming our obedience. They take the resurrection of Christ, his divinity, the dogma of the Trinity and other elements of dogma out of Chalcedon to be genuine truths. Good and laudable: I applaud. But on the other hand, they read the Bible as if it yields up plain facts of meaning: such and such a text plainly read means X, and any attempt to read it as meaning something else, say Y, is twisting the text and perverse. Not good–there are no plain facts of meaning in the Bible. It is not a collection of propositions from which dogma may be constructed. The winger hermeneutic kills the Bible as canon.

Let’s briefly take up the claims of this paragraph one by one.

First, Scotist says that the Bible does not yield up plain facts of meaning. What does this mean? Is Scotist saying, for example, that the grammatical-historical reading of the Bible is a hopeless task, that it is not possible for us to read the Letter to the Romans and figure out Paul meant when he wrote it? A lot of exegetes and commentators are going to be real disappointed to hear this. Given the Scotist’s harsh criticisms of those who appeal to the plain meaning of Scripture, he owes us an explanation on why such an appeal is impossible (but see below).

Second, Scotist says that the Bible is not a library of propositions from which the Church may construct her dogmas. But why? The Bible is full of propositions. In its pages are found truth-claims of many different sorts. Historical claims are asserted, ethical claims are asserted, theological claims are asserted. And what is a truth-claim but a proposition. Clearly the Bible is more than a collection of propositions, but it is not less than such a collection; and if this is so, why should these biblical propositions be excluded from the Church’s acts of dogmatization?

Scripture is first and foremost, Scotus tells us, “a text of Christian myth and ritual.” Its proper use is within the eucharistic liturgy of the Church. To read it, therefore, as a library of divine propositional revelations is to distort and abuse it:

Insisting on plain facts of meaning, winger-ECUSAns carry the Enlightenment project of Disenchantment to the Bible. What was a text for Christian liturgy, a text of Christian myth and ritual, gets wrenched out of that context to serve a different function. In our heated contests, impatience and partisan zeal lead too many to read the Bible as containing strings of propositional dogma rather than myth. The text is read so as to be demythologized; its symbolic, liturgical function in the Christian community begins to fade.

But who taught Scotist that Scripture is only a text of myth and ritual? Who taught him that Scripture is not a “repository of propositional dogma”? Not the Church Fathers! Not the medieval scholastics! Not the Protestant Reformers! Not Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, or Jeremy Taylor. Could it be, just maybe, that he learned this understanding from the contemporary Episcopal Church? See Scotist’s summary and discussion of Christian Believing (chap. 5) by Terry Holmes and John Westerhoff. From Holmes and Westerhoff we learn that “God reveals himself, not propositions and statements about himself.” This is a model of revelation that has become commonplace in the liberal Protestant tradition, but it is by no means self-evident. Indeed, as Richard Swinburne has observed, the claim that God has not revealed himself propositionally is of fairly recent vintage:

Some modern theologians have denied that Christianity involves any propositional revelation, but there can be little doubt that from the second century (and in my view from the first century) until the eighteenth century Christians and non-Christians were virtually unanimous in supposing that it claimed to have such a revelation…. It is in any case very hard to see how God could reveal himself in history (e.g. in the Exodus or the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) without at the same time revealing some propositional truth about himself. For events are not self-interpreting. Either God provides with the historical event its interpretation, in which case there is a propositional revelation; or he does not, in which case how can anyone know that a revelatory event has occurred? Events can only be recognized as revelatory by a community who do not witness them with their eyes if they can inherit a true description of what has occurred. If God really did reveal himself to us in Christ, then he must have revealed some propositional truth, minimally, the truth that Christ’s acts were his acts. (Revelation [1992], pp. 3-4)

Hence there is no compelling reason to divorce the liturgical and dogmatic functions of Holy Scripture. The Church has always held these two functions together, at least until the Enlightenment. The reduction of the Bible to a “text of Christian myth and ritual” is simply one of the ways by which modernity has “liberated” the world from the written Word of God.

Third, Scotist says that the appeal to the plain sense of Scripture kills the Bible as canon. This is the most intriguing point of the three. Unfortunately, Scotist does not provide an explanation, but he does elaborate a bit in one of his subsequent comments. Referring to Rom 1:26-27, he writes:

My point was whatever Paul had in mind shouldn’t settle what the passage means—the text doesn’t belong to Paul regardless of his authorship, but it does belong to the worshipping Church (and, I should say, to God who inspired Paul). Paul’s intended meaning, supposing we can discern it, can only be one ingredient among others in our interpretation. Worse–we should remain open to the Spirit moving us as we read it, even if the Spirit moves us away from whatever Paul himself meant.

A very interesting argument. I first ran across it in Richard Swinburne’s book Revelation and Stanley Hauerwas’s Unleashing the Scripture. Once an individual’s writing is incorporated into a collection of writings (in this case, the canon of Holy Scripture) it must be interpreted in light of the changed literary context; it must be interpreted within the entire collection of writings. This means that we must entertain a distinction between grammatical-historical meaning (what the text means according to the author’s original intent) and canonical meaning (what the text means within the context of the whole of Scripture, according to God’s intent). It is this traditional distinction that seems to elude so many of us today. Swinburne explains:

So there was a wide tradition in the early Church of reading the Bible metaphorically and not always literally; it was the Church of the centuries which established the canon of Scripture which taught that this was the way in which it ought to be read. It was the Bible understood in that way which they declared to be true…. By and large this general spirit of interpretation continued, despite much more emphasis on the literal meaning, during the later Middle Ages and even the period of classical Reformers. But in the nineteenth century the Bible came to be interpreted by many Anglo-Saxon Protestants in perhaps the most literal and insensitive way in which it has ever been interpreted in Christian history. This literalism was encouraged by the basic philosophical mistake of equating the “original meaning” of the text, gradually being probed by historical enquiry, with the meaning of the text in the context of a Christian document. We may hanker after the “original meaning” in the sense of the meaning of the separate units before they were used to form a Bible, but that sense is not relevant to assessing its truth; for the Bible is a patchwork and context changes meaning…. The genetic fallacy that origins determine present operation leads us to suppose that we understand the meaning of a text when we understand its literary history. But we do not; what we need to know is its literary context, not its literary history.” (Revelation, pp. 206-208)

Perhaps it is this distinction between the grammatical-historical meaning of a text and its canonical meaning that Scotist has in mind when he says that the Bible does not yield plain facts of meaning. Or perhaps not.

The canonical interpretation of the Bible ultimately requires a catholic understanding of Church, canon, and dogma; otherwise, Scripture becomes a wax nose that can be construed to mean anything we want it to mean—always, of course, under the alleged inspiration of the Spirit. In particular we need to ask, How do we determine when the grammatical-historical meaning of a biblical text is not identical to its canonical meaning? Perhaps St Augustine can help us here:

We must show the way to find out whether a phrase is literal or figurative. And the way is certainly as follows: whatever there is in the word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or soundness of doctrine, you may set down as figurative. (De doctrina Christiana 3.10.14; quoted in Swinburne, p. 204)

In other words, we may adopt a figurative reading of a given text only when we are constrained to do so by ethical and theological considerations. We should also add that new knowledge in the scientific and historical realms may also compel us to interpret a biblical text metaphorically, as evidenced by Augustine’s own interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. But as the Bishop of Hippo makes clear, our interpretation of the Holy Scripture always begins with the literal meaning of the text. We may depart from this literal meaning only when legitimate considerations force us to do so, when it is clear that God could not have intended the literal meaning as his Word to his Church.

There is a critical difference between Richard Swinburne and the Anglican Scotist. For Swinburne, Holy Scripture is one book containing divine propositional revelation, a book whose ultimate author is God. For Scotist, the Bible is a text of symbol and myth. Consequently, it is difficult to see how, for Scotist, the Scripture can ever function as a divine Word that binds our minds and consciences. If we are free to interpret the whole of Scripture as a poem without determinate meaning, then God can never speak to us today a Word that he once spoke in the past. We can always figure out a way to make a given text mean what we want it to mean, assuming that the text actually means anything. By our hermeneutical strategy, we effectively muzzle the transcendent God who promises and commands.

(See my articles Here I Stand, No More Bible Reading!, When God is the Author of Scripture, and Just Like Any Other Book.)

77 Responses to “Rescuing the Bible from the New Enchanters”

1. Fr. Stephen Freeman Says:
July 31st, 2005 at 10:09 pm

Well put, Pontificator. Scotist’s handling of deconstruction, to me, shows a distinct lack of understanding of deconstruction itself. As a former student of Hauerwas at Duke, when Stanley Fish was in his reign there, I’m fairly familiar with deconstruction. Scotist’ project, to use good deconstructionist language, is an effort to use a deconstructionist technique to support liberal claims. The Canon is not something that can be cited by modern Episcopalians. They have no ability to read the canon (by deconstructionist light), because they themselves have placed themselves outside the canon. The canon is a part of a Tradition, and can only be understood within that tradition itself. I think I agree with this. I believe it was Irenaeus who refused to discuss Scripture with heretics, because “it’s our book.”

The Episcopal Church, despite some of its traditional trappings, has long ago left the harbor of Christian tradition and sails on the sea of modernity. Thus, all it can see in the Scriptures is modernity itself, or passages to be condemned and ignored when they do not agree with modernity. As such, the Episcopal Church cannot speak to the world, because it is the world, dressed up as Church.

The Tradition of the Holy Catholic Orthodox Church is not a conservative version of what the Episcopal Church knows – it is something altogether different. It is a Tradition that finally can only be known within that Tradition, because the Tradition is the Life of the Spirit lived in the Church.

The Truth of the God in Christ deconstructs the delusion of this world. It does so with the trampling-down-death-by-death reality of God made man. Modernity – and all its pomps and all its pride cannot deconstruct anything.

The positions argued for in the Scotist’s arguments look a lot like the American Constitution from a left-of-center democrat reading. It’s a position to have and hold, but it’s not to be confused with the gospel of Christ. God does not exist to underwrite the American project.

Peace,
Fr. Stephen Freeman

2. Michael Liccione Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 12:42 am

Thanks, Al.

The following has always seemed to me true simply on historical and hermeneutical grounds:

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, contribute effectively to the salvation of souls (II Vatican Council, Dei Verbum #10).

The liturgical appropriation of Scripture’s “canonical meaning” must take place in such a context, else it mere window-dressing for whatever the worshipper wishes, on his own account, to enshrine.

Best,
Mike

3. wb Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 12:47 am

From the Scotist: “My point was whatever Paul had in mind shouldn’t settle what the passage means—the text doesn’t belong to Paul regardless of his authorship, but it does belong to the worshipping Church (and, I should say, to God who inspired Paul). Paul’s intended meaning, supposing we can discern it, can only be one ingredient among others in our interpretation. Worse–we should remain open to the Spirit moving us as we read it, even if the Spirit moves us away from whatever Paul himself meant.”

Echoing Fr. Stephen, and what Fr. Kimel hinted at, it seems to me that we can pretty freely grant the Scotist’s proposition above. But would even liberal Episcopalians be so audacious as to claim that their coterie is coextensive with “the worshipping Church”? Amazingly, that’s what Scotist seems imply. Has no one commenting on, e.g., Romans 1 ever been “open to the Spirit” until the late 20th century in the Episcopal Church? I grant his last sentence, that we should be open to the listings of the Spirit, even if they lead us away from what Paul seems to have meant. There seems to be a suppressed premise: that the doctrine of ECUSA is, in fact, a product of the ECUSA’s hierarchy’s having been “open to the Spirit” in its exegetical undertakings. The problem, though, is that that is exactly the claim of the whole Tradition, which concludes otherwise than ECUSA regarding human sexuality. And why on earth should ECUSA’s view be so privileged over and against 2000 years of commentators who have consistently concluded otherwise? That’s what I want to know. Is it maybe because ECUSA is so rich and lily-white, as J.S. Spong implied at Lambeth 1998?

Even Origen humbly deferred to the decisions of Holy Mother Church, should she ever decide against him, as she would do.

4. Michael Liccione Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 2:56 am
wb:

The question, as always, is: “Which church is the Holy Mother Church?”

Best,
Mike

5. Steve Cavanaugh Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 7:50 am

” And why on earth should ECUSA’s view be so privileged over and against 2000 years of commentators who have consistently concluded otherwise?”

Because what the ECUSA and other modernists are teaching is new, which is just another way of saying good. It’s a very American way of thinking. A new product is always supposed to be better than an old. When advertisers promote an updated product, the lead adjective is always “NEW” and then, perhaps, “IMPROVED”. Rationally, one might be interested in an improved product, but who cares if it is new? But nowadays, a manufacturer will produce a new package for an old product, and trumpet the “new look” as if that is a reason to purchase something.

I think that much of the change in doctrine and life that we see among modernist congregations and churches is a reflection of this.

There is a crisis of faith in God’s own fidelity. When leaders of churches don’t see people crowding into their buildings the assumption is that the tried old ways are no longer relevant. In assuming that the old ways no longer work, such leaders repackage the product, or change it so that it will be new, which they feel is bound to be attractive. And once on this path to irrelevance, it is hard to get off the path, because that would be an admission of being wrong, which none of us likes to do.

The problem, however, is that too many Christians have grown old and tired in the practice of their faith, and so the old ways (i.e., prayer, fasting, charity, submission to God’s law, mission to the world) are left untried, or merely sampled. Much as the problem of undisciplined children can usually be traced to parents unwilling to discipline themselves, so the lack of discipleship in the lives of church leaders leads to a lack of disciples, or to an undisciplined flock that feels no need of either discipline or learning.

6. Jeff Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 7:54 am

Steve, spot on and well said!

7. dilys Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 9:22 am

” And why on earth should ECUSA’s view be so privileged…?”

I agree with Steve’s target of the indiscipline of those who could have held the line, especially as to the inspissating-away of the faith by nominally faithful Anglican clergy and hierarchy; and there is something else, too.

The implied claim is that “we are the rulers.” Because it’s “us.”

The fault lines of something like class — interesting and just out of sight in America — help account for the arrogance, blindness, obfuscation, and disdain/disgust with adversaries. Self-definition by not being like eeeew, those [perhaps]-Christians, on the basis of style, temperament, education, piety, affiliations, yes, money and lands, even history, etc., accounts for deep confusion, and ad hominem arguments.

By this there is no suggestion to level discussion, liturgy, excellence of dogmatic understanding, aesthetics, any of those things. However, if we don’t keep an eagle eye out for the desire C.S. Lewis described as the Inner Ring — to be part of something that keeps others out — there is a multitude of errors that can ensnare. (Lewis lays it out straightforwardly here.) Psychologically (where my interest lies) it may be a version of the sibling rivalry which can turn murderous in the primate wild.

We can admire and honor the early undivided Church for its vigilance toward this perspective, a mental/emotional vice probably a driver for several heresies.

8. wb Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 9:53 am

“The question, as always, is: ‘Which church is the Holy Mother Church?’ ”

Is that a trick question? How many are there? Its the One that’s Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

9. wb Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 10:02 am

My point, of course, is that (granting for the sake of argument that ECUSA is a part of THE Church) if one is to say “The Holy Spirit told me x”, and yet there are countless generations of thinkers about x who say “The Holy Spirit told us ~x”, then perhaps its time to pause and reflect… and not throw your crozier and mitre in the car and head to New Hampshire, if its 2003, or Philadelphia, if its 1974. I mean agitate, by all means; but don’t act so willfully.

10. pb Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 11:40 am

Al, another fine analysis. I liked Hauerwas’s Unleashing the Scripture too. The issues here, while more complicated in some ways by the postmodernist vein, still come down to the issue of whether there is an authoritative tradition of understanding, a “Prophetic Office,” a Magisterium. One of the best evangelical books I’ve seen on the problems with the anti-historical, anti-traditionalist, individualistic immediatism of the evangelical way of approaching Scripture reading is Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which has a fine analysis of the effects of the Scottish Enlightenment upon figures like Jonathan Edwards, whose impact upon subsequent evangelical Protestantism through the Great Awakening is beyond dispute. His critique is incisive enought, at points, to make one wonder when (rather than whether) Noll himself will swim the Tiber.

11. Eric Phillips Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 11:47 am

I don’t think we can agree at all with that statement about Paul. If Paul was divinely inspired, then his intended meaning is at the minimum a big and indispensible part of God’s intended revelation to us. Calling it merely “one ingredient among others in our interpretation” is poisoning the well with presuppositions so liberal as to be post-Christian, and alleging the possibility that “the Spirit” might in future “move us away from whatever Paul himself meant” is just blatant heresy. Whenever some Christian or group of Christians determines that St. Paul was wrong about something he wrote to the churches in the Bible, or that the nature of truth has changed since then, so that he’s wrong retroactively, they’re taking a wrecking ball to the Faith they claim to follow.

12. Michael Liccione Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 12:54 pm

Eric:

You raise an interesting point. As an apostle writing to the churches, Paul was exercising the Magisterium of the Church by invoking Tradition (what had been handed on) and producing what the Church would come to recognize as divinely inspired Scripture. Therefore, it may be said that he taught infallibly what he taught definitively, which was a lot. All the same, he presented some teaching not as “from the Lord” but on his own authority, which meant that some of his teaching was provisional not definitive, and thus subject to change by similar authority. It is sometimes strictly up to the Church to say where that distinction applies.

Futhermore, what he taught definitively can only be understood normatively by the Church over time. So in that sense, the “canonical” meaning of Paul’s letters goes beyond his literal, intended meaning without contradicting it. Indeed, the normative meaning can only be the canonical since that is a much more objective meaning than what was “in his head” when he wrote.

Best,
Mike
Best,
Mike

13. Eric Phillips Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 1:30 pm

Michael,

The distinction St. Paul makes in I Corinthians 7, “I, not the Lord,” is not a distinction between portions of his epistle that are divinely inspired and portions of his epistle that merely contain his own sage advice. It is a distinction between recorded teachings of Jesus (who taught in the Sermon on the Mount the very doctrine Paul has just summarized in 7:10-11), and Paul’s normal mode of teaching divine revelation through the illumination of the Holy Spirit (7:40). But even if you think otherwise, you must admit that Paul is very scrupulous about making that distinction in I Cor. 7, and so it is significant that he repeats it nowhere else in all his writings. At the most, you can cast doubt on the divine inspiration of the second half of I Cor. 7.

As for the “canonical meaning” going beyond Paul’s intended meaning, you’ll note I did not deny this could happen. The parts of the quotation I took specific issue with were parts that claimed not only the possibility of going beyond, but the possibility of going WAY beyond, and in fact overturning the original.

Besides, the idea of “canonical meaning” going beyond the intent of the human author applies much more to the Old Testament than the New. St. Paul understood much more about God’s ways and works than any Old Testament figure has left us reason to think he did, but I don’t think anyone since the days of the Apostles can claim to have advanced on Paul’s understanding.

14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 2:09 pm

The “canonical” meaning as above the literal does not fit the New Testament so much as the Old. There the Fathers clearly have a canonical way of reading the Old Testament that goes beyond or beside the literal. And the canonical way of reading the Old Testament is to be preferred. Indeed, using the Old Testament literally in some places could lead to conclusions that are contrary to the Gospel.

The Gospels themselves are canonical readings of the incarnation, life, teachings, death, resurrection, etc. of Christ. And I would say that the canonical reading (i.e. the reading given in the context of the Tradition and liturgy of the Church) certainly trumps any theories put forward by Historical-Critical method. For instance, the Tradition tells us that Matthew wrote Matthew. Thus it is not introduced as having been written by anyone else.

Tradition also guides us in the proper understanding of “and he knew her not until she had given birth…” etc.

It is problematic to get back to “authorial intent”. There are legitimate questions to ask, but there is the Tradition to guide us in the answer.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

15. Beacon Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 2:22 pm

Years ago (in pre-post-modern days) I got used to hearing people scornfully dismissing the idea that the Bible was or contained ‘propositional revelation’, though it was never made clear to me by these cultured despisers why this idea was so inadmissible. Later on it occured to me that this view was largely a reflex of Kant’s influence on liberal Protestant theology, which, with its sharp distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, carried with it the corollary that God couldn’t or didn’t speak to men. In one go (it seemed to me and still does) I could see the fraudulent basis of liberal theology: no miracles, no revelation, no certainties, and not much theology either, just a lot of morality (Pflicht! Durchhalten!)
Well, from one desert to another – modernity to post-modernity, this time trying to ban the notion of divine presence in language and even the possibility of communication itself. Kevin Vanhoozer’s book ‘Is There A Meaning in This Text?’ is highly recommended as an antidote to rotten Fish.
You guys are giving the poor Scotist a hard time – I think I’ll recommend you for a Paparatzi Smackdown Award.

16. Michael Liccione Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 2:27 pm

Eric:

The issue here is not what is and is not divinely inspired. We all accept the premise that all of Scripture is divinely inspired. The issue is how the literal meaning—i.e., that intended by the human authors—is related to the canonical meaning—i.e., how the Church authoritatively understands Scripture.

You and Fr. Freeman are of course correct to point out that the distance between literal and canonical is much greater for the Old Testament than the New. Nevertheless, even in the case of the New, that fact remains that, the words of Vatican II, “sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others…” Hence even what can be known to be the literal meaning of NT passages can is normative only when interpreted in light of Tradition and the Magisterium.

Best,
Mike

17. Eric Phillips Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 2:34 pm

Michael,

The issue _is_ what is divinely inspired, if the “Scotist” is claiming that the true interpretation of something St. Paul wrote might actually contradict Paul’s own understanding of it. The Church may not authoritatively understand Scripture in a way that contradicts how the Apostles understood it. It kicks its own authority out from under itself if it tries.

18. Br. Clare-Vincent Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 2:37 pm

Fr. Freeman,

Please tell me more about why it is problematic to get back to “authorial intent.” Surely you are not saying that authorial intent is not where we must begin in interpreting texts (sorry for the double negative)? I become a little concerned when authorial intent is easily dismissed as either not attainable or irrelevant. It almost sounds like the old dictation theory where God just found a good stenographer (the authors of the scriptures) and poured the words through them. I guess in that case authorial intent is a non-issue. I know you are not saying this but I do wish you would expound on your statement.

One definition for Scripture back when I was attending a Protestant graduate school was that Scripture is the Word of God in the words of men. I had grown up focusing only on the Word of God part of this and then later spent too much time focusing exclusively on the words of men part. But I still don’t see and find it hard to buy that the meaning of a text can go beyond what the author meant or at least could have meant when he wrote it. Perhaps an authoritative group can take his words and apply them in ways that he could never have fathomed. But would it be correct to say that later exegetes could find a meaning in what he wrote that he could never have imagined?

Perhaps so but I would like someone to tell me more about how this could be. Thanks for all of the good things that you write on this blog.

Br. Clare-Vincent

19. wb Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 2:41 pm

My point was just that we needn’t lean too heavily on intentionality as a primary source governing our interpretation simply because something is canonical. Thus, e.g., the intention of the prophet in Isaiah 55 need not preclude our seeing it as a prophecy of Jesus and of the Church.

20. Eric Phillips Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 3:01 pm

That’s an Old Testament case, WB. Saying the same thing about St. Paul is very different.

Also, the traditional, orthodox way to make that point is to speak of multiple levels of interpretation, equally true although not equally important. It is not to suggest that the Holy Spirit may perform some special operation on modern readers to “move us away” from what Isaiah thought he was saying.

21. Michael Liccione Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 3:38 pm

Eric:

I do not defend Scotist’s use of Scripture. I defend the Catholic Church’s use of Scripture, of the principles of which Scotist’s is a subtle distortion. I also defend her use against myriad Protestant critiques of it as deceptive and arrogant.

Best,
Mike

22. wb Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 4:03 pm

But the point can be made in another way. There are some Biblical passages which, according to the best historical-critical analyses, provide little clue as to what the intention of the author, or the historical situation actually was. The Pentateuch, for example, is presumably filled with them. But that doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant. The Holy Tradition tells us how to read them. We don’t have to know what Moses or the Elohist, or whoever, actually intended. And in many cases we don’t know. In the NT, what exactly did John the Divine mean with everything in Revelation?

I don’t mean to deny that intentionality is an important consideration (perhaps even THE most important consideration in many instances), but it isn’t necessary. This is clearest with the Old Testament, I admit. But the principle doesn’t seem universally inapplicable with the NT. I.e. does it matter that Johannine epistles were MEANT to apply to a very particular set of historical circumstances? Do we need epistemic access to that intention and those circumstances to interpret the Epistles? I only mean that the relevance of a piece of Scripture is not restricted by the author’s intention. Nor in all instances necessarily even guided primarily by it. That’s exactly why the dogmatic force of Romans applies to the Church today, because it doesn’t matter that St. Paul MEANT for it to guide the Christians at Rome in their historical particularity. Maybe he saw prophetically that it would be read for millennia by the Church, but we don’t have to claim that in order to say that it binds us now.

23. Eric Phillips Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 4:34 pm

WB,

I’d suggest that when talking about a New Testament author’s intention, his reasons for writing at such and such a time to such and such an audience are irrelevant to most questions of what he meant when he did write. For example, when St. Paul wrote to a church, he had specific historical reasons for touching on the doctrines he did, and specific historical things to criticize or praise in those to whom he was writing, but when he was expounding on those doctrines, and when he was formulating arguments to show a church why X or Y was a bad behavior or a bad belief, he was dealing with theology in a universally Christian way. When he says “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” it doesn’t matter that he’s writing to the Romans, or in the 1st century, or any of that. He’s making an objective statement about the human race. That is his intention.

And the same is true when talking about an Old Testament author’s intention, except when the New Testament teaches us that something seemingly said as objectively true for all time has been modified in some way by Christ’s fulfillment.

This ability to understand what inspired authors meant to communicate about God _is_ necessary to our understanding of the faith. Even when people learn what the Bible means from the Church rather than directly from Scripture through exegesis they do themselves (which is, of course, how people learn their theology the vast majority of the time), the Church is not _replacing_ the original authors in some way such that as long as we understand _it_, we don’t have to understand _them_. When it does its job properly, it is _mediating_ the original authors to us, so that by understanding _it_, we also understand _them_, because _its_ teachings are but formulations of what _it_ first learned from _them_.

24. Br. Clare-Vincent Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 4:55 pm

WB,

In your comments you mention Moses and the Elohist. You could probably say the same for the author of the Song of Songs and other texts. Personally, I want to know what the author or redactor of the piece was trying to say to his audience. I’m not that concerned about the sources behind the final product. You are right that we cannot always know the audience so we have to do the best we can to find out how the community has read the text from the beginning. I don’t care how the pagan poet’s poetry that St. Paul quoted in his sermon in Athens was understood by the pagans of his day. I’m not even as concerned about how his word was understood by the people who heard his sermon. But I sure am interested in knowing why St. Luke recorded it in his Acts and what he was trying to say to his audience by including that sermon.

Relevance and application of a piece of Scripture are not restricted by the author’s intention but they are related to what the author meant. How can you talk about what scripture means today unless you base it on what it was intended to mean to the people who first received it? I’m not downplaying the role of tradition or the teaching of the magisterium. My question is: if you cannot know what the authors of scripture meant by what they wrote, then how can you know what it could possibly mean for us today, if you are still wanting to say “The Word of the Lord” and mean by that “I got this right here in Scripture”? If you got it from that Scripture, then how can you get something out of a Scripture that the person who wrote it could not possibly have meant? How can scripture be a canon if it doesn’t have an original meaning? On what basis then would you say that a homily or an interpretation was being unfair to a text if you don’t have a clue or even care what the text originally meant? Remember: I’m not saying that the tradition and the magisterium don’t determine what the text originally meant. I’m just saying that, if you don’t have an original meaning, then I don’t see how scripture can be spoken of as canonical.

Blessings.

Br. Clare-Vincent

25. FrStephen Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 7:15 pm

Br. Clare-Vincent

I did not mean to sound as though I cared nothing for authorial intent, only that it can be problematic. NT example is “what did St. Paul mean when he referred to being ‘baptized for the dead.’” No one really knows.

On the other hand, there is the “plain sense” of Scripture – what it obviously means – and that has to carry much weight.

But in the case of the OT, it would contradict the Fathers to say that the literal sense was what was authoritative for us. This is part of the debate with the Marcionites. Marcion took the OT literally, and came to the conclusion that the God of the OT is not the same as the God of the NT. This is heresy, of course. But it’s understandable, if Marcion was reading his OT literally.

The abuse of the OT by many today, including especially fundamentalists, is a shame. When the OT speaks of male/male sexual relations as an abomination, the meaning is twisted. It is certainly a sin, and remains a sin in the NT. But the OT also would say that a cheeseburger is an abomination.

Historical-Critical studies are useful, but they are only guessing games. They came into being among Protestants, because they had exalted history over Tradition and the Church. “The earliest reading is the best reading.” The Orthodox would say that the “Church is what the reading of Scripture looks like.” It is in this way, i.e. historical critical nonsense, that the meaning of everything becomes up for grabs. I’ve been around too long and read enough critical material to realize that it is a never ending argument, without proof.

Also, if historical critical studies are required for the interpretation of Scripture, then the Church didn’t interpret Scripture until modern Germany.

Scripture is to be read, authoritatively, as it is has been used by the Church in her dogmatic and liturgical life. That requires us to be immersed in the worshipping Church. I have in mind, of course, the fullness of Tradition in worship, which includes massive texts for Matins and Vespers, etc., filled with meditative and interpretive use of Scripture.

Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus did not understand the OT and could not until Christ explained it to them. Christ Himself is the interpretation of the OT. “These are they which testify of me.” It would be possible, as a Jew, to have a literal interpretation of the OT and see no reference to Christ in it. But the Christian reading (which is a revelation to the Church) requires us to see Christ in it. I believe that divorcing the OT from Christ (which is certainly done by most modern scholars) will render wrong interpretations in the Christian sense.

Authorial intent, inasmuch as it is a historical artifact (or however much it is a historical artifact) is problematic, because it is difficult to ever ascertain certain things in history precisely.

The Gospels clearly have differences on the literal level (did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on one donkey or two). Read by modern critics such problems render the texts unreliable. But the gospels must be read as the Church reads them, and as such, they are utterly reliable, because reliable means “revealing of Christ.” The efforts to get to the Jesus “behind Scripture” is another silly historical critical game. The Christ of the OT/NT is the one who has been revealed to us.

It’s not that we can’t know anything of it – it’s just that authorial intent is not by any means the interpretation that the Church always uses. When is it right and when is it wrong, that is something we have to learn by being fully integrated into the life of the Church in her worshipping life.

I would argue that the Episcopal Church, and other protestants, having cut themselves off from that worshipping life, are rendering the Truth of Scripture more and more obscure for themselves. I would add, that the truncation of worship in modern Catholicism has its dangers as well. Thank God the mind of its historical past continues in some measure. But continued generations of believers who have been removed from that worship life will have an effect.

The worship life I am pointing to is the normative worship in the ORthodox tradition, including the Menaion, the Triodion, the Festal Menaion, the Pentecostarion – and not simply as texts, but as texts are sung and used in Church.

But there’s not enough theology in the modern Mass to teach the faith beyond a certain point. And most Catholics only know the Mass. I’m not very familiar with the Breviary, but I suspect that it is mostly a rule for reading the Psalms, without a great deal of other material. The wealth of liturgical texts have been largely unused in Protestant, and increasingly in Catholic experience.

Hope that explains what I meant – that is – that it explain what I as an author meant. 🙂

Fr. Stephen Freeman

26. Michael Liccione Says:

August 1st, 2005 at 8:28 pm
Fr Freeman:

I agree that the Catholic Mass celebrated according the the Roman Missal of 1970 lacks much of the theological richness of its predecessor, the 1962 “Tridentine” Missal. Much was truncated for the sake of a “return to the sources” that ended up adding some pretty insipid innovations as well. Having worshipped in both forms, however, I would also say that the former includes some sound theology that the latter lacks. The best way to recover what’s needed without restoring anything needless would be to do what Ratzinger suggests in The Spirit of the Liturgy. In particular, we must not sacrifice the far greater accessibility and variety of biblical readings that the more recent missal contains. As for the needed reforms, I hope and pray they are made now that Ratzinger’s the one in the actual position to make them.

As for the Breviary, it is now not only richer but in most respects better than the Tridentine one. The old Matins has been replaced by an Office of Readings that can be done at any hour of the day. That office contains many readings from fathers, doctors, and other saints. Using the Catholic Web site Universalis, I have gone through periods where I’ve followed the Breviary daily myself.

Generally, the problem with Catholic appropriation of Scripture today is not with opportunities to do it but with who’s doing it and when. Homiletics are often dreadful and bible studies are often led by unqualified people. I doubt much can be done about bad homilies since priests are not selected for their homiletic ability and are never sacked for being bad homilists. But bible study outside Mass is a different matter. There are many qualified people to lead it, including yours truly, who has led it whenever he’s been afforded the opportunity. The real problem is getting the Catholic clergy to recognize the importance of adult formation generally and fully employ the talent available to them.

Best,
Mike

27. Br. Clare-Vincent Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 8:31 pm

Hope that explains what I meant – that is – that it explain what I as an author meant.

Fr. Freeman,

Does it really matter what you meant to say? Just kidding.

I agree that all Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Christ but I guess my problem with many homilists at least is that they never consider what the author might have been trying to say to the original audience. It just seems to me that a bridge to what a scripture means for us today has to be anchored in what it meant to those who first heard it. Sure, texts have a history of interpretation and I am quite willing to submit to the judgment of the Church on the meaning of a text (I am willing to give my ancestors a vote!) but perhaps 30 years of historical-critical methodology has fastened me to the original meaning of the text as foundational. I do not believe that a preacher of the gospel can begin anywhere else. I also do not believe that we should fly from the literal reading of the OT too quickly. Of course, I believe that Marcion was wrong. The God of the OT when read literally is still the same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t totally disagree with what you have said but still want to emphasize the importance of authorial intent as the beginning place for exegesis and preaching. You can’t stop there but you can’t ignore it either.

Thanks for your post. You might take a look at the breviary sometime. It is based on the psalms but includes OT and NT canticles and prayers along with lengthy readings from the scriptures and the Church Fathers as well as readings from the saints on their feast days.

Blessings.

Br. Clare-Vincent

28. Michael Patrick Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 9:23 pm

An excellent book that traces the history of reconstructive readings of scripture, starting with Origen’s struggle to deal with multiple gospels, is:

A History of the Synoptic Problem : The Canon, the Text, the Composition, and the Interpretation of the Gospels
by David Dungan
Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: Anchor Bible (June 15, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN: 0385471920

The Amazon.com reviewer, Joseph Gross, says: …how should one read the Bible in general and the gospels in particular? Dungan’s interest in these questions is not merely literary; he also delves into the political and economic agendas that have influenced biblical interpretation. In this regard, the most interesting and original connection he makes is to explain the relationship between the rise of the modern historical-critical method of reading scripture (asking who wrote the books of the Bible, when, how, and for whom) and the creation and maintenance of political democracy–and furthermore, the ways in which fundamentalist “literal” readings of Scripture serve the same goal.

29. Elizaphanian Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 10:43 pm

I once attended a lecture series given by Swinburne when he was talking about the creation of space, in which he quite clearly was assuming that this creation took place within time, ie, that God was already within the stream of time, and therefore subject to it. I challenged the good professor on this, pointing out that, according to contemporary understandings of physics, space and time couldn’t be separated, so if God created the one, he was also creating the other (Augustine’s perspective also, as I understand it). The good Professor cheerfully proclaimed that modern physics was wrong.

Which is really just a way of saying that Professor Swinburne, learned as he is, is not the source of all authority.

I completely agree with your general line that Scripture cannot be understood apart from Tradition. But I think there are two grounds on which to argue that a concentration on ‘propositions’, a la Swinburne, is profoundly misleading.

The first is that, particularly in Swinburne’s conception, a proposition – the ‘belief that X’ – is the essential thing in religious faith. Faith is therefore primarily intellectual. Thus “If a man’s religious inquiries lead him to believe that it is more probable that the Christian Creed is true than that any rival creed is true, and he chooses to pursue the goals of religion he will be exercising Christian faith” (Epilogue to Swinburne’s ‘Faith and Reason’). This seems to me to be rather bloodless, and a long way from the teaching of Christ – who did not, after all, come to earth to write books of philosophical logic. I would say that the exercise of Christian faith is primarily about the shape of a life, not the content of a mind (Mt 7.21) – even if the one tends to go along with the other.

The second is that our overall understanding of what a belief is has been totally overhauled, particularly if you accept Wittgenstein’s account of language. You can’t separate the language from the forms of life – which is why (a) you’re right about the necessity of Tradition to interpret Scripture, ie it can’t be done apart from the Eucharistic community, and (b) you should be a bit more cautious of people like Swinburne, a profoundly Protestant thinker, despite his conversion.

I’d recommend ‘Believing in God’ by Gareth Moore, OP, if anyone’s interested in that second point.

30. jayman Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 11:41 pm

I haven’t read the foregoing comments thoroughly, nor the original post, but it seems from my vantage that it’s this Scotist fellow who’s more in fief to modernity and the Enlightenment than the “winger” Episcopalians. The whole idea that the liturgical/sacramental aspects of scripture, what Lewis or Tolkien might have called it’s “mythic” quality, must be set in opposition to it’s propositional content is a thoroughly modern dichotomy and an un-Christian one at that. As Lewis and Tolkien both knew what makes the gospel special is it’s claim to be “myth become fact.” That such a claim makes the affirmation of propositional truth logically incumbent on those who affirm it is obvious, or should be anyway.

31. FrStephen Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 11:51 pm

Michael and Br. Vincent,

With Br. Vincent I would certainly agree that the plain sense (authorial) would be the obvious place to start – particularly for a homilist. No real argument there.

On the impoverishment of the Tradition in non-Eastern Orthodox contexts – it’s hard for me to give you an impression of how much fuller the material for the worship is in the East. The Breviary is psalms, a few readings and some passages from the Fathers. The passages from the Fathers are not even part of the liturgical tradition of the Church.

To give an example. The menaion, which includes the variable verses for Vespers, Matins, Compline, etc. (the verses in the East are an incredibly rich theological and Biblical commentary in themselves) – that menaion comprises 12 volumes. And this is normal in parish usage. Added to that are the festal menaion, another voluminous rich source, and the Pentecostarion, etc. The amount of material, stretching back into the early centuries of the Church, and compiled over the centuries (apparently compiled and almost never lessened) is a source that would be unimaginable in non-Eastern Orthodox Churches – perhaps used in the Byz. Catholic (I don’t know) and similar sources in the Oriental Churches. I’m just making the brief point that the liturgical context of Scripture is vastly different in East and Western traditions – and that there is no comparison.

I don’t think those who have not experienced some years of assembling and attending services in an Orthodox context can have any idea of how impoverished everything else is. This once was something of a common inheritance. When Cranmer did his prayer book, he complained about all the books required to assemble services. He felt proud of having stripped the Church of centuries of accumulated worship. But when the same stripping occurred in the Roman Catholic Church I do not know – but I find no evidence of it still existing. Heck, the Latin Mass is the least of it (or whatever version you like). The Mass is a tiny part of the liturgical tradition, indeed probably the smallest.

It would be hard to point someone to where to see what I’m talking about if you haven’t experienced it. But this is a significant difference that is worth understanding.

God bless,
Fr. Stephen

32. Andy M. Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 1:07 am

Re: Michael Liccione’s question in #4.

Question: “Which church is the Holy Mother Church?”

Answer: The Eastern Orthodox Church is the church founded by Jesus. Whether other congregations or denominations are also part of Christ’s Church, I couldn’t say.

Christ is risen!
Andy M.

33. Michael Liccione Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 1:16 am

Andy:

Needless to say, I would answer: “the Catholic Church,” to which the Orthodox Church is closely related. That answer settles nothing, coming from me, any more than the answer you prefer settles anything coming from you. And that was part of my point, really: one cannot adequately specify the relevant ecclesial context for interpreting Scripture authoritatively without a broader account of what historical body or bodies affords us such a context.

Best,
Mike

34. wb Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 2:08 am

Forward in Faith was founded by Jesus.

Also: my point is just that a concern for historical-critical questions seems rather unpatristic. It also clearly can be a tool lending itself to an untapped depth of exegetical insight. But, e.g., Basil the Great didn’t have any problem dogmatizing about the Paraclete without ever having read “The Community of the Beloved Disciple” or even being particularly interested in the eponymous community, at least for exegetical reasons.

35. Fuinseoig Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 7:43 am

I’d like to see a little more definition of terms here by Scotist. For example, when he talks about ‘the Christian myth’, in what sense is he using ‘myth’? Something that never happened? Legends and tall tales? Mangled history? Poetic expression? Early attempts at the scientific method? Or just a convenient buzzword that sounds better than the flat statement “Well, of course we’re too sophisticated and scientifically advanced nowadays to believe the likes of this, but it’s kind of useful as a picture language for the outer circle when we of the inner circle have to talk to them”?

Certainly you can re-interpret some of what St Paul wrote: if you want to argue over whether or not women should wear hats in church because St Paul said women should keep their heads covered, I think we can all agree (and I even bet St Paul would agree too) that we have room to disagree here. But if Scotist means “St Paul may have seemed to say that if you do X you cannot call yourself a Christian but what did he know?” then sorry, I have to disagree. After all, if I told you that strawberries brought me out in a rash so please don’t give me any, and you then plonked a strawberry shortcake in front of me because hey, it’s the one dish you can make and you do it so well!, you can’t turn around and tell me “When you said you couldn’t eat strawberries, that may be the meaning insofar as you knew it, but you can’t expect me to be confined to one interpretation of ‘can’t’…”

36. pontificator Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 9:12 am

#29: Elizabethan, I want to assure you that I’ve read so many theologians over the past thirty years that I now always taken them with a grain of salt, though some grains or bigger than others. 🙂

I am curious why you speak of Swinburne as fitting into a Protestant mold. He strikes me very much as a scholastic, though one trained in analytic philosophy.

Thanks for the recommendation of Gareth Moore, though it is doubtful I will ever get around to reading that title. I simply have too many other books on my reading list and I don’t see myself getting through it before the Eschaton. 🙂

37. Andrew Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 10:10 am

It strikes me that much of this conversation rests upon the question of whether we will read the Scriptures literally or figuratively, and I think this is a wrong-headed question. What little I know of Patristic exegesis leads me to believe that we must propose that every passage of Scripture has multiple layers of meaning, some of them historical/literal, and some of them allegorical/figurative (think of puff pastry). This is no less true for the New Testament than for the Old, though it is true that the Old Testament carries an explicit emphasis on figures that is lacking in the New simply because of the two testaments’ standing with respect the the Incarnation. The OT points to Christ using figures, but the NT reveals Christ, who uses figures. In each passage, it is a matter of more or less figurative meaning rather then one passage being figurative and another literal.
I think the Scotist’s error lies in thinking that the various books of Scripture were written independently of one another and then compiled. If one posits this situation, then it makes sense to say that the author’s intent only matters if we are reading a single book of the Bible as opposed to the whole Bibile. But this situation is not realistic. Paul and the other authors of Scripture consciously wrote within the context of Scripture, and, more importantly, within the context of the reality which Scripture describes. When we read Paul’s letters in the context of, say, Ezekiel or Revelations, we read them in their original context, and we learn more about the author’s intent, for his intent was to square with what he learned from Scripture and from the Spirit Who breathed it out.

It is not a matter of defending the propositional content of the Scriptures from those who would make it all myth. Rather, we must remind those who would say the Scriptures are myth that myth is propositional, and that propositions are very short stories.

38. Michael Liccione Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 11:57 am

Elizaphanian (#29):

Without prejudice to Fr. Moore, whom I have not read, I think it would be a mistake to separate “belief-in” from “belief-that.” The latter is essential for specifying the object of the former. Thus both are essential to faith: “belief-in” is blind without “belief-that,” and “belief-that” is empty without “belief-in.”

While Wittgenstein had some undeniable truths to teach, I would take him too with a grain of salt—though admittedly with a smaller grain than in the case of Swinburne. Even one of his favorite pupils, his friend and literary executor Elizabeth Anscombe, could not be called a disciple of his, and I agree with her reasons as well as sharing her faith.

Best,
Mike

39. Elizaphanian Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 6:13 pm

Hi Mike, (#37) – it’s not that I want to separate ‘belief in’ from ‘belief that’, rather that I think beliefs of all sorts are comparatively secondary in questions of faith. That is, beliefs are more or less flexible, and it is the shape of the life which is key. The beliefs can be more or less accurate descriptions of the life, and they can take part in an iterative process to develop the life, but ultimately all the beliefs fall away and it is the life which remains.

Put differently, the Word is a divine human being, not a proposition, and what we need is to become acquainted with Him, not to know true propositions about Him. My two pennies anyway.

Hi Pontificator (#36) – which sounds rude, sorry – by saying Swinburne’s a Protestant I’m wanting to bring out the intellectual nature of his understanding of faith, ie if I can arrange my mental furniture in the right way, then I am saved. I may well be doing him a disservice, as it’s been a while since I looked at him in any depth, so feel free to point out the error of my ways 🙂

By the way, isn’t Protestantism the (bitter) fruit of scholasticism anyway?

Sam (Elizaphanian)

40. Palamite Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 6:45 pm

Elizaphanian writes:

“the Word is a divine human being, not a proposition, and what we need is to become acquainted with Him, not to know true propositions about Him. My two pennies anyway.”

Why and how would you separate being acquainted and knowing true propositions? Sounds rather dichotomous.

Peace,
Palamite

41. Michael Liccione Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 8:00 pm

Elizaphanian:

…the Word is a divine human being, not a proposition, and what we need is to become acquainted with Him, not to know true propositions about Him.

Well, I agree that knowing God is the goal. But knowing truths about God is a necessary means of attaining that goal. I think Tradition, and thus the Christian “way of life,” is with me on that

Best,
Mike

42. Andy M. Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 10:35 pm

Michael Liccione:

Why do you think that the (Roman) Catholic Church is the Holy Mother Church?

Christ is Risen!
Andy M.

43. dilys Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 10:55 pm

Point of order, please. Andy M., as an Orthodox catechumen, I am begging you to take a pass on your #42 question to Michael L., comb the last months of discussion on this blog and his, and draw your own conclusions as to what he might say in this instance.

I will almost certainly get the vapors if we have to enter into this again soon except where unavoidable because relevant to a posted article.

I of course have no standing to make such a request, but perhaps it could be considered mercy to a weaker sister, who likes it here…

Christ is Risen, indeed!

44. Andy M. Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 11:12 pm

Re. #43

dilys:

OK, I’ll pass. I wouldn’t want you to get the vapors!! Did you agree with my answer in #32.

Andy M.

45. Michael Liccione Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 11:19 pm

Andy M:

dilys is right. The question: “Catholicism or Orthodoxy?” has been extensively discussed on this blog for the last few months. Feel free to peruse those discussions, in which I have frequently participated.

Best,
Mike

46. John ZuHone’s Blog » Rescuing the Bible from the New Enchanters Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 12:01 am

[…] lso, you can trackback from your own site.
Filed under Theology, Christianity.
I liked this post on Pontifications yesterday.
Leave a Reply Your Comment Name Email (will not be p […]

47. Michael Liccione Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 3:01 am
Andy:

I forgot to mention: read the Pontificator’s My Road to Rome. All of it.

Best,
Mike

48. Elizaphanian Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 2:50 pm

Hi Mike, Palamite (##40,41)

What I have in mind is the point of James 2, especially verse 19 – “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Luther wanted James excluded from the Bible, precisely because it undercut the Protestant emphasis upon right belief being the means of salvation – one man and his Bible etc. In other words, I would precisely dispute that knowing truths about God is a necessary step on the path to Christian faith, at least, ‘truths’ understood in the Swinburne fashion, which is where we started. From what limited understanding I had, I thought that the common teaching of the great mystical doctors of the church was that our language breaks down and what carries us forward is love. Without language, there is no *belief*, but there is still the ascent and approach to God, the restless heart seeking consolation, and therefore salvation, sanctification and a holy life.

But I’m probably wrong. Time to get off my hobby horse and shut up.

Sam

49. Tom Beckwith Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 9:14 pm

Forgive me for some pedantry here.

Michael Liccione wrote, “The issue here is not what is and is not divinely inspired. We all accept the premise that all of Scripture is divinely inspired. The issue is how the literal meaning—i.e., that intended by the human authors—is related to the canonical meaning—i.e., how the Church authoritatively understands Scripture.”

In his Etymologies, Isidore of Seville (San Isidro, Patron of Madrid–and of the Internet, God help us) offered a four-fold method for interpreting Holy Scripture. The impetus for his discourse was the tendency to read everything figuratively, as some posters above have been doing.

Isidore’s solution was an ascending hierarchy of interpretation: Literal; Typological (alegorical); Tropological; and Anagogical.

Literal means “exactly” what the words say. Late Medieval exegetes insisted that, before one could move on to other levels, the letter must be true. This was in reaction to early exegetical tendencies to allegorize everything.

Typological interpretations were very Hebrew in character, where early events prefigure later. The classic example is Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac prefiguring God’s sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.

Tropological interpretations were less historical: as the soul’s progress from sin through illumination to union with God being an interpretation of the Babylonian captivity and the restoration of Israel and the return from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Anagogical interpretations are the least historical: everything in this life foreshadows what will happen in the next.

Now, I mention all this because it is a profoundly nuanced way of reading the Bible, and it indicates that it is possible to “read” the Bible in a way that is at once complicated and at the same time canonical. Canonical interpretations of Holy Scripture are not necessarily univocal. Homileticists certainly know this, if they are any good. The idea that there is only literal and figurative is simplistic and unhelpful. The Bible is a rich treasury of the Word of God that unfolds under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but its meaning is multiform.

Now, fast forward 1,500 years. I was amused that one of the earliest posts on this thread mentioned Stanley Fish as a “deconstructionist.” Certainly, Fish’s work prefigured deconstructionism, but I wouldn’t call him a deconstructionist in the mold of Culler or Derrida (if nothing else, Fish could write comprehensible English). His early thesis was that meaning was not a philological construct inhering in the text–its grammar and syntax–but was, instead, a transaction between the text and a “reader” where the reader brought experience and understanding (and, I daresay, prejudice) to words, and the synthesis of that understanding and the words became the “text.”

If one is comfortable with that loosey-goosey idea, then I suppose one could posit that the only “reader” when it comes to Sacred Texts is the Holy Magisterium, and its “transaction” with sacred words results in the only “text.”

That works for me, but it seems to beg the question of how to respond to the truth. I don’t think that people particularly care much for truth these days. Most people–even believers–don’t behave as if the Truth matters. The Truth is not something that fences one of from reality, but something that transforms our understanding of it. I don’t see much transformation going on. I wonder why.

50. CaNN :: We started it. Says:
August 4th, 2005 at 12:05 am

[…] eful Martha’s hands and loving Mary’s heart … (reader.classicalanglican.net) – THE PONTIFICATOR: “Rescuing the Bible from the New Enchanters, by Al Kimel” … (pont […]

51. Michael Liccione Says:
August 4th, 2005 at 1:54 am

Tom:

Thank you for that nifty little summary of the four senses in which the Bible has traditionally been interpreted. As Beryl Smalley so brilliantly expounded in her The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, medieval exegesis was explicitly built on Isidore’s distinctions of senses. We need to recover that today; historical-critical exegesis is most useful for gaining a greater understanding of the literal sense, but its hypertrophy in the last several centuries has unfortunately obscured the other components of the canonical sense.

Without necessarily subscribing to Fish’s theory of textual meaning, I would agree that what the Bible means, canonically, is determined by the Magisterium’s reading—if by that one means that only the Magisterium may interpret the Bible authoritatively. After all, the New Testament itself was written and canonized by holders of the Magisterium, and the question how to relate the NT to the OT was decisively answered by the Magisterium during the Marcionite controversy. But that does not beg any questions about how to read the Bible. For the Magisterium’s understanding is itself partially developed through less authoritative readings by knowledgeable and holy people. Perhaps the only question “begged” by appeal to the Magisterium is the question whether there needs to be such a magisterium to begin with. That question, of course, cannot be settled simply by appeal to the Magisterium. But then nobody ever said it was.

Best,
Mike

52. pontificator Says:
August 4th, 2005 at 6:57 am

A word about the medieval four-fold sense of Holy Scripture. I did not go into this in my article for a couple of reasons. First, my impression is that this hermeneutical understanding is mainly a Western understanding, and I wanted to stay as ecumenical as possible. And second, my primary interest in this piece was simply to discuss how one handles those situations where the literal sense would appear to entail falsity, whether theological, ethical, historical, or scientific, of some kind.

The great advantage of the medieval approach is that it highlights for us today the poverty of restricting our exegesis of Scripture to the historical-grammatical sense.

53. dilys Says:
August 4th, 2005 at 11:02 am

Andy M. #44 re #32

Is this a test?

I am an Orthodox catechumen, feeling (tactile not emotional metaphor) and praying my way into all that the Orthodox Church has preserved and teaches. I do not intend to keep any behind-the-back reservations, and I pray for prudence, courage, and candor on this path toward chrismation.

“The Eastern Orthodox Church is the church founded by Jesus. Whether other congregations or denominations are also part of Christ’s Church, I couldn’t say.” Wouldn’t surprise me. But like you, I couldn’t say. I increasingly appreciate the brilliance of “I couldn’t say” on so much, expressed in an Arabian proverb: On the tree of silence there hangs its fruit, which is peace.

Thanks for asking.

Dilys, gratefully convalescing from the No-Point-Too-Peripheral-East-West vapors.

54. Michael Liccione Says:
August 7th, 2005 at 10:47 pm

Interesting: http://amatha.blogspot.com/2005/07/beginnings-of-liberal-biblical.html. 🙂

55. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 8th, 2005 at 11:44 pm

Well, there is alot of interesting commentary here; I’ll respond to at least some of the points raised.

I. Fr. Freeman (#1) is right to note I am no deconstructionist in my piece on Bishop Iker, and that at best I have merely partially appropriated the deconstructionist’s method for aims they at least prima facie would not recognize. And I agree with him that God has no special interest in underwriting “the American Project”, left, right, or center. Let’s get secular flags altogether outside of the House of God.

II. Surely Michael (#2, et al) is right to note that the reading of Scripture is properly a corporate activity to be carried out within the liturgy of the Church. While what counts as “the Church” might be contested in the thread, I meant in the piece above to imply the correctness of holding to the corporate, liturgical reading of Scripture–an idea I would think friendly to Roman Catholics.

III. Of course, wb (#3) points out the emerging issue–why trust ECUSA’s corporate, liturgical reading of Scripture, especially when it opposes that of the Roman Catholic Church, and frankly, most of the rest of Christendom present and past? Indeed, Steve (#5) hits a sore spot: he mistakes me for an Anglican modernist (Broad Church/Latitudinarian) when I wanted to be seen as Anglican liberal catholic. dilys (#7) and others seem to agree that Angllicans have an “indiscipline” problem. Around that point, the discussion shifts–nobody seems to take even the mere possibility that ECUSA is right seriously after that.

IV. Which leads into a troubling question for ECUSAns: is it even possible now to hold a liberal catholic line against the encroachments of modernism? Is there anything (or enough) substantive for Anglican liberal catholics to defend? Is the contest already over?

I wager that there is a line to hold, and in the face of the popularity of Bp. Spong, of modernist Panentheism a la Borg, and growing sentiments for Adoptionism in ECUSA it is worth defending that line here and now(i.e. set out at Chalcedon and Nicea). So what if recent history in ECUSA may look like a rout–there is still something obligatory in stopping to turn and fight. You (plural), at best, are merely further from the front lines: run far, run fast, but the battle will likely, alas, come to you in time.

56. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 12:10 am

And there’s more, this in reply to Al Kimel’s article:

He does not once advocate for natural theology in clarifying the articles of faith or in arguing for certain preambles of faith–a major, and I should say, decisive omission, and additionally, a puzzling departure from Aquinas and other high medievals whom I will leave unnamed.

In that, his reasoning harmonizes with leading currents of “postliberal” contemporary theology among ECUSA’s right wing–canonical criticism and narrative theology–which share a distaste for reference points external to the framework of faith.

Other pieces on my weblog go into more detail here: I’m convinced postliberal avoidance of metaphysics and natural theology results in something too weak to meet the challenges of Enlightenment rationality to Christian faith. True–other Roman Catholic thinkers do in fact engage with metaphysics; there’s a swarm of them. This is a conscipuous strength of the Roman Catholic faith in my view, and a point on which ECUSA must do better (e.g. Frei being Episcopalian, I believe–and Mark McIntosh is a follower of Frei). Don’t get me wrong: narrative theology’s anti-individualism about the mental is among its positive features, but that’s just not enough.

Anyhow, my principal point against Kimel is:
One way into propositional dogma should be through metaphysics and natural theology. They can establish part of a framework adequate to receive the experience of God in such a way that it can be expressed in propositional dogma that “does justice” to the reality God wishes to impart to us and to which he wishes us to commit. In fact, I think something like this did in fact happen with neo-platonism and the Fathers, and then Aristotle and the high medievals.

One more thing (at a higher level of abstraction, mea culpa); narrative theology despite itself cannot help but import a metaphysics, inasmuch as reference is unavoidable, even within its stifling confines. If one is not self-conscious of reference and ontology, that metaphysics is likely to be unconscious, unexamined: in short, weak, open to attack and overthrow. One should not subject the faith to danger of ridicule: doing metaphysics is an ethical obligation in the Christian community.

So get busy; Jesus is coming.

57. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 12:32 am

i.e. You might wish to hesitate before saying the definitive propositional articulation of the Creeds has pagan Greek philosophy as an antecedent merely per accidens.

58. Michael Liccione Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 12:33 am
AS:

I agree with most of what you say, assuming there’s nothing crucial being left unsaid. For reasons I hardly need elaborate, I too am partial to metaphysics and natural theology; the Fathers East and West, as well as the later scholastic, relied on those disciplines to a greater or lesser degree. However, I don’t think Al Kimel’s lack thereof undermines his criticisms of your approach to biblical hermeneutics to quite the extent you seem to think. On my reading, his arguments stand pretty much own their own. Guys like us need and would appreciate more philosophical meat, but what Al’s offering is meat of a different sort.

Best,
Mike

59. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 1:54 am

Fair enough. More to the point then:

(I) One point from Kimel comes with his “The Bible is full of propositions. In its pages are found truth-claims of many different sorts. Historical claims are asserted, ethical claims are asserted, theological claims are asserted. And what is a truth-claim but a proposition. Clearly the Bible is more than a collection of propositions, but it is not less than such a collection; and if this is so, why should these biblical propositions be excluded from the Church’s acts of dogmatization?”

This is precisely what I take issue with. In the Bible we find something like: (1) “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” That is a paradigm instance of an ethical claim, which Kimel might think is true and about which he might think there is a plain fact of meaning.

Note it might not really be true or false–as it is an imperative rather than a declarative, it might well fail to be a proposition at all. But so what.

Still it has a definite meaning, no? Yes–but let’s not go too fast here. Just what is meant? Put aside worries about individual words–e.g. does our “adultery” adequately express the Hebrew? That’s already difficult enough to address. Rather, consider the issue at the sentential level.

Consider (A) “Absolutely, under no circumstances whatever and at no time at all shalt thou commit adultery.” Is that what (1) means? In that case, not even God could order anyone to commit adultery at any time–a point debated among the high medievals. Scotus holds (1) means something like (B) “Unless God commands and he perfectly well could, thou shalt not commit adultery.” Well, Scotus is a bit more subtle than all that–say Shcotus takes (1) to be (B) if your scholarly conscience bothers you–the historical issue is beside the point really. What the crude example shows, I hope, is that even here, where a plain fact of meaning should emerge if it can emerge anywhere in the Bible, it doesn’t. You could, of course, Chisholm away and multiply incompatible readings of (1) indefinitely.

Note please that it does not follow the Bible is meaningless or anything that extreme–I’m aiming at the fact that you need something like a corporate reading etc to settle a normative reading. Plain facts of meaning just won’t emerge from the text in itself. Of course they won’t: it takes a village to read a text.

(II) When Kimel says “But who taught Scotist that Scripture is only a text of myth and ritual? Who taught him that Scripture is not a “repository of propositional dogma”? Not the Church Fathers!” I wanted to say hey–Scripture isn’t *only* myth and ritual–did I say it was? Getting the propositional dogma right requires a background Scripture alone does not supply–and it does not need to: spoil the Egyptians. Appropriate and transmute Greek philosophical framworks in order to definitively articulate the creeds.

But let’s admit the dogmas of the creeds are not simply in Scripture, plain facts waiting to be read off from the text–in that case they could be Articulated–explicitly–absent the additions from Egypt (i.e Greek philosophy). Historically, that didn’t happen: the philosophical background is not merely accidental to the authoritative articulation.

Indeed–wouldn’t at least most of the Church Fathers agree? Not Scripture alone but Scripture and philosophy (and the Church–a sum of at least these three) provide the proper and fitting repository from which propositional dogma is drawn.

Anyhow, there’s a start.

60. Perry Robinson aka Acolyte Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 11:16 am

Since my presence has been requested I am giving my thoughts on “Anglican Scotists” smacking of “right wingers” (aka Christian theists).

Anglican Scotist (AS) I think is somewhat confused about language. He complains about “right wingers” (RW) killing the Bible as canon by taking the Bible to be a collection of propositions which read properly will yield doctrine and when read in any other way is perverse. First we need to get a few concepts straight. Propositions are the conceptual content of statements. Statements are the things that get uttered or said or written. Since the bible contains statements it seems obvious that it has propositional content, that is, it expresses ideas. What AS seems to be complaining about is the idea that there are some wrong ways to read the text and that dogma can be constructed out of the text.

To construct theological formulas from the biblical corpus seems quite obviously to have been the Christian (and Jewish) practice for quite some time. It is hardly a product of the Enlightenment. If anything the explanatory order is reversed. It is the Enlightenment which took up remnants of the Christian worldview and attempted to make them work on the basis of human autonomy. The Enlightenment project is essentially an attempt to live in God’s house and partake of all of the benefits of God’s dwelling but without God. This is why using Horkhiemer and Adorno’s (neo-marxist) work as something of an explanatory grid is so ass backwards.

Moreover, it is simply a non-sequitor to think that because RW’s think that the Bible has propositional content and one of the legitimate uses of that content is the contstruction of normative theological statements that they believe that there is such a thing as a plain meaning of the Bible. They no more believe that or are committed to than believing that there are neutral facts of the world to be grasped by the senses. Most Christian theists (aka RW) think that all truth is God’s truth and hence all facts are God’s facts, that is understood best in the light of Christianity. This is why Chesterton could say that a man believes in Christianity not because it explains some things but because it explains everything.

What follows for RW’s is that they are committed to thinking that the bible expresses ideas in a wordview context and those ideas are the rights ones. That is RW’s don’t have to believe that there is a “plain” or neutral reading of the text but only that there is a correct reading of the text. If AS wishes to argues that there is no correct reading of the text, then I see no reason to take his propositional expressions as meaning what he thinks they mean. In fact I am free to take them as meaning the opposite. This is just to say that contra Derrida that there is a connection between sign and signifier that is more than conventional.

What is more the Christian tradition while committed to the idea that the Bible has definite propositional content which can be and is extracted to construct normative theological statements is not committed to the idea that there is only one right way to read a given part of the biblical text. One has only to read through commentaries and homilies say from Origen, Augustine, Bede, Chrysostom up through the Scholastics to see how the same verse can be seen in different ways, all of which are legitimate. The idea then is that some interpretations are acceptable because they fall within the worldview corral of Christianity and others are not because they fall outside of it. Contrary to AS, there is then a range of ways to exegete the Bible that are acceptable without making it a free for all.

And there are principled reasons why some interpretations are ruled out. The primary reason is that some interpretations run contrary to the presuppositions of Christian theism. And this is as it should be since every worldview functions in this way. Moreover, since Christianity is the basis for the justification of knowledge, science, ethics, etc., to take these non-Christian interpretations would implicitly spell doom for our other projects as well. And to take these rival interpretations that fall outside of Christianity is just to signal that at some level their advocates have implicitly adopted a non-Christian view of the world, whether they know it or not.

Now on to myth. As seems to think that we should treat the Bible as “myth.” I am not sure what he means by that term but he seems to wish to contrast it with all things propositional. This is a mistake. First because mythology has propositional content since it expresses ideas. If it doesn’t then it isn’t about anything. The fundamental problem here is that AS would have been better served had he read Plato’s Republic and the Philebus than Horkheimer and Adorno. This is because he seems to actually agree with a fundamentalist notion concerning the role of propositions in theology.

For the fundamentalist propositions exhaustively express truth and this is because they exhaustively contain it. It seems to me that AS agrees that this is the case which is why he wishes to place myth as something other than propositional. (Imagine that, someone reading neo-marxism creating unnecessary dialectics!) AS and the apostates (aka liberals) of the ECUSA leadership make this dichotomy only because they fundamentally accept the fundamentalist idea, they just take the other side of the coin. If AS had paid more attention to Plato he would have seen I think that for Plato, that what propositions express is truth but they do not do so exhaustively. That is, the signs of the mind map the states of the soul but do not do so exhaustively. There is always something more which is why you have to transcend and negate the propositional. Negation here does not mean to falsify it means more like “to progress past.” Everyone can agree I think that the semantics outruns the syntax, but it doesn’t follow from that that the semantics is imported from outside the text. Nor does it follow that just because we employ Greek metaphysical categories altered to suit theological needs that we are importing the semantic content from Greek metaphysics. The metaphysical language and grid helps us to nail down the semantic content of the text but it doesn’t follow that the semantic context is wholly or at all constructed by us thereby committing us to a kind of Nominalism where semantic reality is constructed rather than discovered.

RW’s then aren’t committed to seeing the Bible as exhaustively containing truth though it does do that. This is why they ultimately point past the text to the divine Person of Christ. After all, it is not by searching the text that you have eternal life but by the divine person of Christ since they bear witness of him. All the RW’s are committed to then is thinking that the Bible does in fact bear witness to Christ. Moreover, it is because the Bible is inspired infallibly by one divine Person that it cannot be exclusively taken as straight historical narrative exhaustively contained in propositions for intellectual or a springboard for noumenal symbolic or mythological experience. Because the divine Person who inspires it is both God and Man the true sense of the Scriptures cannot be had by treating the Bible as a merely human document or as a document in which the historical and propositional doesn’t matter. The former signals Unitarianism and the latter docetism and to think of the Bible as split in this way signals Nestorianism. And Nestorianism is exactly the problem with both fundamentalism and liberalism. Inspiration is a theandric operations-it is something done by a single divine person, which is what I think AS misses. RW’s because they are Christians and hence committed to the incarnation wish to preserve both. Liberals and fundamentalists, both coming out of the Reformation take only one side as valuable since their views are structured by the Nestorianism of the Reformation.

This is why AS says that the text doesn’t influence you in a certain way but rather certain unconsciously adopted perspectives or forms of life are influencing your reading of the text. The meaning isn’t in the text but in you and placed in you from the outside. This is why AS asks “Is the meaning of the passage is to be identified with what was going on “in the head” of Paul? Or is there a meaning of the passage fully and finally under his conscious control?” (See Hilary Putnam’s The Meaning of Meaning, on meanings “in the head.”) This is just another form of Nestorianism-the divine and the human are separate and grace comes from the outside as an instrument. This is why AS’s treatment of Romans 1:26ff has to contextualize the passage as being limited to a “church audience.” Surely Paul is, but it doesn’t follow from that that what he says is any less true and hence applicable by extension today. In Romans, part of what Paul does is cycle through the history of humanity and specifically the history of the Abirus or Hebrews. Romans 1 is probably a summation of events like Sodom in Semitic history. But the only way we can get away with limiting the moral content to Paul and divorce it from God is by saying that the divine and the human are not united in inspiration. This is why biblical inspiration for liberals amounts to the feeling one gets from a Hallmark Greeting card-it is inspiring but not inspired. It is a purely human event.

What AS is setting up here is just rehashed Derrida. There is no essential connection between the sign and signifier in language. Intention is not essentially connected with the syntactical and semantic content on the page such that “playing” with meanings is possible. There is a kind of leeway in the text so that what the author intended doesn’t lock down or single out any specific meaning. We are now “free” to decide for ourselves (read Enlightenment autonomy here) what meaning we prefer. While AS cloaks this in pious language of what God may be trying to tell us, what this is code for is the Hegelian spirit of the age. This is why you always get this crap from liberals saying that the Spirit is doing “a new thing.” It isn’t the Holy Spirit. The text ends up being a tool to serve our aesthetic desires and we engage in these “projects” in reading the text in new and conflicting ways because it is “interesting.” This expresses the aesthetic nihilism where we have to “rotate the crops” lest we get bored. Ultimately there is no meaning in life which is why we need these intellectual projects to keep us entertained. This is why irony is so often employed by moderns. (Think of Christopher Hitchens’ book critical of Mother Theresa.) It is just another form of hedonism, albeit intellectual hedonism motivated by nihilism, but hedonism nonetheless. This is why I said liberals have implicitly accepted another non-Christian view of the world. And this is why they are trying to come up with different interpretations of the text because they are bored with the old ones and its time to find something new to do (Think back to the apostate bishop in hell in Lewis’ the Great Divorce-“it’s the journey that matters.”). The text serves their drive towards hedonistic libido and I don’t mean libido in the sense that Freud used it but in the sense of Augustine, the will to power, the will to dominate.

For RW’s Romans 1:26 isn’t an attempt to get at the “plain meaning” or some neutral facts but facts as in God’s world since every fact means what it does by virtue of world that it exists in, namely God’s world. Thinking that there is meaning in the text to get at and there is correct and incorrect interpretation of a text doesn’t imply a kind of Enlightenment neutrality about meaning but just Christian theism. AS’s problem then is not the idea that the text can have a correct interpretation but rather the idea that Christian theism is true.

AS’s view that the meaning of the text is to be accessed in the Church’s liturgy and ritual is vacuous because this has already been done. To imply that Christian doctrine is not settled is just to throw us back onto the Enlightement disenchantment that he wishes us to flee from. (How’s that for a dialectic!) It is just to accept Enlightenment rationalism and to employ it as a grid so that every doctrine is implicitly up for grabs for all time giving us opportunities to come up with new things to keep ourselves intellectually entertained with the illusion of “risk.” This is just to assimilate Christianity to the Enlightenment by making it a religion of reason rather than a religion of revelation. But this is what you get when you impose neo-marxist grids (another form of enlightenment rationalism) on Christianity. AS’s failure is to think about Christianity from a distinctly Christian point of view because he seems to have replaced Christianity with something else-aesthetic nihilism in the form of rehashed dialectical materialism. So far as I can tell there isn’t anything here that Kierkegaard hasn’t already annihilated in Either/Or. The whole post is an exercise in “playing” with something he is “interested in” but not committed to since hedonists are not committed to any perspective since that would signal a belief that there was a purpose to life. Now, go watch the film Collateral because Scotus is rolling in his grave.

61. Michael Liccione Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 8:44 pm

AS’s failure is to think about Christianity from a distinctly Christian point of view because he seems to have replaced Christianity with something else-aesthetic nihilism in the form of rehashed dialectical materialism.

LOL….no doubt AS would not think of himself in those terms; but given the content of “Radiating Disaster Triumphant,” I do understand why Perry says that. So I’d be interested in seeing how AS would state his Christian alternative in a way that obviates such a critique.

I mostly agree with Perry about meaning, etc. but I’m not sure AS would disagree. That’s because the latter’s focus is on what he would consider ethical imperatives, not dogmatic indicatives; his doubt is about whether such imperatives as “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and other relevant texts must be understood to convey absolute and universal, as distinct from provisional and culture-bound, prohibitions. Now if one holds, as a general philosophical position, that there neither are nor could be such prohibitions, and if one also claims to be a Christian, then one is committed to accepting the Bible as in some sense authoritative but as containing no absolute-and-universal prohibitions (AUPs for short). Such a commitment need not arise from any Derridian fantasy; it may arise simply as logical consequence of said prior intellectual commitments. That’s what I suspect is really going on with AS.

To judge from his hints, AS’s philosophical rejection of AUPs seems to arise in turn from what he takes to be Scotistic voluntarism. I’m not sure that Scotus is quite the voluntarist he implies, but I’ll waive that exegetical point for the time being. The point is that some sort of voluntarism is sufficient for rejecting AUPs in principle; if voluntarism so understood were also necessary as AS’s grounds for doing so, then his overall stance toward the Bible’s ethical prohibitions would depend on a thesis in natural theology that was not generally accepted prior to Scotus and Ockham. But what many, such as Perry and myself, would regard as the theoretical collapse of Christian morality doesn’t really depend on such a thesis.

Many moral philosophies reject the idea of AUPs for almost as many reasons. In particular, AS has elsewhere said that rejects the idea of there being sorts of acts that can be classified for moral evaluation in such wise as to show some such sorts as “intrinsically” evil, i.e. of a sort that is always and necessarily evil for humans to go in for. That follows from some versions of voluntarism, but no such version is necessary for it; some philosophers hold it for reasons entirely independent of natural theology. I guess I wonder exactly why AS denies there are intrinsically evil sorts of acts. Discovering that would probably explain why he thinks we need to read the Bible as he does, at least regarding moral questions.

62. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 9:29 pm

Thank you Mr. Robinson for replying. I’ll try to address the salient points of your reasoning in turn.

(1) You say “First we need to get a few concepts straight. Propositions are the conceptual content of statements. Statements are the things that get uttered or said or written. Since the bible contains statements it seems obvious that it has propositional content, that is, it expresses ideas.”

Alas, there is a strong case for saying you are just wrong, if not deeply confused. It is tendentious, to say the least, to flatly claim after Frege and Dummett, Putnam and Burge, much less late Wittgenstein, that “[p]ropositions are the conceptual content of statements,” as if meaning were by philosophical consensus a matter of what goes on “in the head” with our concepts (aka the beetle in the box).

More importantly, by the way, (and you get all this for free!) yours is not the view of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, et al. They held closely to various hotly contested kinds of externalism about meaning having to do with Forms, forms, intelligible being founded in the mind of God, and so forth. No meaning internalism there–the very issue about propositions strictly speaking is a modern one, but the kind of internalism against which the contemporary debate emerged was said to be early modern/17th century.

Thus note, the very way you frame the problem is problematic–emblematic of an apparent insufficiently reflective adoption of notions that decayed from early modernism. “Decayed” because not even Descartes and Malebranche–whipping boys for contemporary externalists–sport the kind of meaning internalism you apparently glibly adopt: e.g. think over Descartes’ problem of the creation of eternal truths and Malebranche’s vision in God.

The first major instance of a serious thinker making your kind of error I know of is John Locke: father of the sort of deist Latitudinarianism whose degenerate progeny wrack the entrails of today’s ECUSA. That should be instructive: the frame within which you propose to even carry on a discussion is thoroughly consistent with Anglican Modernism. This sort of thing is rampant–on the left as much as the right. Resistance seems futile. I need some Black and Red.

(2) Anyhow, let’s keep moving through the train wreck, looking for something, anything, that survived. You say “This is why using Horkhiemer and Adorno’s (neo-marxist) work as something of an explanatory grid is so ass backwards.” Who cares if they are Marxist–I’m not, and I intend to carry their work out of Egypt. They call for a re-introduction of metaphysics as necessary to the way out of the destruction wrought by Enlightenment rationality. They’re right about that. That’s why I cite them.

(3) You say, rightly “If AS wishes to argues that there is no correct reading of the text, then I see no reason to take his propositional expressions as meaning what he thinks they mean.”

Look out bub–I believe there surely is a correct reading to Scripture–whatever God has determined–and there is no reason why we cannot get it right.
BUT we should seek to do so within the Church; to think the text somehow carries discrete facts of meaning that can be discerned by mere individuals is wrong, even silly if you stop to picture it strictly.

Thus, your stuff about “What AS is setting up here is just rehashed Derrida” is just wrongly conceived. Wrong framework entirely (see my (1)).

We agree then: pointing out the actual inaccessibillity of Scripture to mere individuals is not to imply wholesale meaning skepticism/nihilism.

(4) You say: “AS’s view that the meaning of the text is to be accessed in the Church’s liturgy and ritual is vacuous because this has already been done. To imply that Christian doctrine is not settled is just to throw us back onto the Enlightement disenchantment that he wishes us to flee from. (How’s that for a dialectic!)”

You are just being silly: Who is right–Molina or Banez? Hint: it has to do with Christian doctrine, and it is not settled. Their debate is in fact at the very heart of Christian theology. Now how many examples do you need before you get serious?

63. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 9:36 pm

I agree with you, Mike, that Scotus isn’t really that bad. But there’s a history of stting him up that way. More anon–have to burp the baby.

64. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 10:35 pm

It may well be that the Decalogue communicates AUPs to us.

But suppose for a moment that the Church did not decide with sufficient fine grain to differentiate between two opposed readings of a commandment, X and Y.

Our obligations to God do not await philosophical settlement of the issue, or what’s more, even dogmatic settlement by the Church.
Consider the Creeds on “nature”–what has Church dogma settled on with regard to nature? A view from the Fathers? Aquinas’ theory of natures? Scotus’? Burley’s? See the problem: the meaning, and so what you are really saying, is unsettled “in your head”–but still you must believe, no? The obligation to confess remains.

65. Perry Robinson aka Acolyte Says:
August 9th, 2005 at 11:13 pm

Michael,

Philosophically I agree but I don’t think the rampant heterodoxy in ECUSA is due to Scotistic voluntarism.

AS,

My comments regarding statments and propositions weren’t meant to be taken as an endorsement of the idea that meanings are “in the head” and hence my reference to Putnam. Semantic externalism or semantic internalism, on either account statments can express ideas. Take as much of the later Wittgenstein, Kripke, Putnam as you like and statments still express ideas, it is just that the ideas expressed aren’t the exclusive domain of private minds and their semantic content isn’t given by the individual. (Who invented the atomic bomb?) I have no problem with meaning as use per se. As for Plato, Aristotle and Co. we might wish to include Plotinus for whom the idea of forms in soul appears to be source for much of modern thinking about “propositions.” I only wished to roughly make the point that the biblical text express ideas which we can access and are not constructed by us. (Pour whatever theory you want into the notions of propositions and statments and my remarks remain by and large untouched.) The distinction between propositions and statments was useful to that end and I don’t think it commits me to semantic internalism, except of course if one assumes that I adhere to a specific theory about concepts.

As to Horkheimer and Adorno, you seemed to do more than cite them. In fact you appeared to use them as an explanatory grid with which to beat conservatives. The attempt to introduce “play” or instability in the reader seems much more than an attempt to reintroduce metaphysics to alleviate Enlightenment devastation.

Christian doctrine. When I referred to Christian doctrine I meant things at the core of Christianity like oh, the Resurrection, the Trinity, the existence of God, the Incarnation, etc. (With these we might include settled aspects of Christian morality like that adultery is immoral, fornication is immoral, etc.) Somehow these seem far more central than Banez and Molina’s soteriological sideshows. In the context of ECUSA (PCUSA, ELCA take your pick) it is just these doctrines that the Left can’t seem to profess without fudging on what they mean. I don’t think Bp Borsch (who was my bishop in ECUSA) swore before God and the Church to uphold Banez’s views on providence or defend Molina’s theory of middle knowledge. Borsch couldn’t even manage to profess “mere” Christianity let alone take any controversy over providence and freedom seriously and I think much the same is true in the case of many more ECUSA prelates. Last time I checked whether there was a God, Jesus as the incarnation of the Second person of the Trinity and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead in the physical body that died have all been settled long ago but perhaps you think differently. The comparison with Banez/Molina just doesn’t hold. In any case, since I am a Palamite what Banez and Molina are wrangling about isn’t at the core of Christianity. If I thought it was, I wouldn’t bother reading them and just go do my devotionals out of Origen.

In any case, it doesn’t much matter to me for the simple reason that I left ECUSA and Anglicanism in general. And second, the Apostates in ECUSA can proclaim all day long that they are still Christian or that they have a legitimate position and it won’t matter much because the facts of reality will continue to make their voices quieter and irrelevant. ECUSA is the incredibly shrinking Church. I recall about 10 years ago some liberal in Episcopal News saying that those nasty conservatives were all wrong since the Episcopal Church had stopped shrinking and was apparently stable at 2.5 million. Not but five years later they were shrinking again at 2.3 and falling. The inclusion of the sodomites has just increased the pace and I’d bet my library that a new prayer book along with the inclusion and elevation of the next group of moral degenerates to the status of martyrs will increase it even more. So much for the idea that creating priestessess would bring members in by the truck loads-it just made ECUSA that much more irrelevant.

66. Michael Liccione Says:
August 10th, 2005 at 3:22 am

Perry:

Of course I don’t believe that the “rampant heterodoxy” in ECUSA has to do with Scotistic voluntarism. I suspect one could fit the number of Anglican Scotistic voluntarists into one of the smaller rooms set aside for papers at APA meeting. But as Duns Scotus was the thinker AS specialized in while a grad student, I also suspect that Scotistic voluntarism has something to do with his heterodoxy—or at least with his defense of it. 😉

Your post does a good job of expressing your opinion of ECUSA et al, and their general abandonment of mere Christianity, which I largely share even if I wouldn’t put it quite as you do. It also covers your flank very well in the debate about the meaning of ‘meaning’, in which I am also sympathetic to your position. Yet for the purpose of the thread, I don’t think either accomplishes much. As I’ve already implied, what’s really needed to advance the discussion is some sort of case from AS to the effect that either AUPs in general, or certain particular prohibtions that Catholicism and Orthodoxy take to be AUPs, are inadmissible. Once such a case is laid out, it will become clearer whether the issue is centered primarily in the theory of meaning in general or on the interpretation of AUPs in particular. I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter.

Thus all sides grant that the Bible, which contains at least prima facie AUPs, must be interpreted in some sort of corporate context. Of course I agree with Al Kimel that it is insufficient to take the corporate context as liturgical and the relevant hermeneutic thereof as one of mythos; the propositional is also necessary, and the mechanics of textuality on that point are secondary given the basic agreement I’ve cited. As a Catholic (you knew this was coming), I would hold that both Tradition in the broad sense, which includes the liturgical and symbolic, and the Magisterium in particular, which operates primarily at the propositional level, are just as important as the Bible for establishing the relevant corporate context within which divine revelation is to be appropriated. As Vatican II said, “none can stand without the others.” But that still leaves open the question whether moral AUPs can and ought to be maintained as such by whatever corporate hermeneutical context is taken as authoritative. That, it seems to me, is the most interesting and important issue AS raised in the original context of his discussion.

Of course I might be wrong about where AS’s deepest concerns lie. If I am, and if my experience of discussions like this one is any guide, it probably has more to do with authority than with anything else. But I must await AS’s response without prejudice.

Best,
Mike

67. pontificator Says:
August 10th, 2005 at 7:15 am

Bill Witt has briefly responded to the Anglican Scotist in the “Sola Scriptura and the Anglican Scotist” thread. Since that article is now deep in the archives, I thought I would recopy it here:

AS has looked at my essay in response to Haller, and regards it “thin and watery.” He complains that I do not argue at the “appropriate depth.” Well, yes, I was writing a short essay in response to an even shorter essay. Even so, the draft comes to thirty some double spaced pages, and the initial essay was much longer, but was edited for internet consumption. I could have gone into more depth, but this is the internet.

More to the point, AS does not address my arguments. Is he saying I have misrepresented or misunderstood Augustine, Thomas, Hooker et al? Or is saying that he himself disagrees with with them, as does Haller?

Is he arguing that Thomas or Hooker do not believe that sexual morality is part of natural law (in distinction to ceremonial, civil, or ecclesial law)? I’m not sure. But perhaps that’s because I’m simply incapable of sufficent intellectual depth to grasp his criticism. Thin and watery, don’t you know.

One last point. Finnis seems to be arguing a case for “natural law” as “natural theology.” I think this is a fundamental confusion of what Aquinas and Hooker are about. When Aquinas and Hooker talk about “natural law” they are trying to understand what scripture says about God’s intentions for humanity in creation, irrespective of the fall, irrespective of particular forms of civil government, irrespective of Israel or the church’s religious rituals that follow from the fall. It’s all about understanding salvation in terms of re-creation/new creation. It’s not (at least primarily) about self-evident principles of moral knowledge known apart from biblical revelation. (The source here is Gen. 1 and 2, not Aristotle.) The “natural theology” approach is evidence of the post-Cartesian disruption between theology and philosophy, and is itself an illustration of modernism, IMHO. That is, Aquinas and Hooker are engaging in theology proper (fides quaerens intellectum), not what (is called today) philosophy, and certainly not “analytical philosophy.”

68. Michael Liccione Says:
August 10th, 2005 at 1:28 pm

I seem to have overlooked AS’s #64. He seems willing to concede that revelation presents us with AUPs, as in the Decalogue. The issues seem to be three: how the Church is to distinguish, fine-grain, between competing readings of them; and what is to be done when she doesn’t; and what about moral issues not directly covered by the Decalogue?

Well, a Catholic can answer that simply enough: in certain cases, all that can and should be said is Roma locuta, causa finita; in other cases, a certain latitude is permissible. Which cases and how much latitude are questions internal to Catholicism. The authoritative hermeneutical framework is a given; it’s just that, on certain questions, it isn’t clear yet how certain answers fit into it. On a subset of those questions, it may never be clear until the Parousia. Orthodoxy could answer similarly in terms of Tradition, though I don’t believe the results are quite as useful as Catholicism’s.

For an Anglican, however, things are far more wide open. For the reasons Al Kimel has been expounding for months, I believe that is a fatal defect. So the issue really comes down to one of authority.

Best,
Mike

69. William Witt (Albertus Parvus) Says:
August 10th, 2005 at 2:14 pm

Mike (#69),

I can’t imagine either Thomas or Scotus ever responding to a moral quandary by replying Roma locuta, causa finita. I don’t think you’ll find a single instance of that approach anywhere in the Summa Theolotiae. On the other hand, you’ll find many places where Thomas says, “The Scripture says.”

70. Michael Liccione Says:
August 10th, 2005 at 6:22 pm

Mr Witt:

I would be the first to grant that many moral quandaries cannot be resolved just by appeal to authority. That is because many if not most of them arise not over principles but over the application of principles to concrete situations; such quandaries can only be handled by an informed conscience taking responsibility for the choice thereby made. By contrast, the sort of question I have in mind is which principle(s) apply; thus the challenge posed in many ethical debates is to determine whether there is any secondary AUP applicable in a way that would resolve the question in principle. On that sort of question, appeal to authority can be and sometimes is dispositive.

The most relevant example, given the concerns being pursued by AS on his blog, is the question of gay marriage. That is an inherently controversial question in a church lacking a Magisterium beyond which there is no appeal. In the Catholic Church it is not inherently controversial even though, for various reasons of their own, some people controvert it anyway. But in the constant, ordinary teaching of the Magisterium, consistently upheld by every pope who has addressed the point, the prohibition on genital activity of any inherently non-procreative sort is held to be an AUP. On such a prohibition, gay marriage is a null hypothesis.

The great scholastics of the Middle Ages, however, saw no need to stress the Magisterium on such a moral issue as distinct from dogmatic ones. They used arguments from Scripture and natural law to bolster moral norms that the Magisterium took for granted and that were widely accepted by the faithful as part of the received Tradition. But since the Reformation, appeals to Scripture, natural law, Tradition—indeed to any set of relevant theological premises—are insufficient by themselves. There are always plenty of creative people who will come up with various different ways of assessing and reading those sources. The ecclesial and cultural unity within which certain questions don’t arise no longer exists. AS in particular, and the left ECUSans in general, are good examples of that. That is why, in recent times, the Catholic Magisterium’s role has become increasingly prominent in ethical matters. Things shouldn’t have to be that way; the other sources I’ve cited ought to suffice. But as you of all people know well, the gap between “ought” and “is” is very wide in this brave new world.

Best,
Mike

71. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 10th, 2005 at 7:02 pm

Before seriously responding, it might be well for me to step back for a moment to ask what is going on. While I find this debate very helpful personally, I doubt ECUSA’s leadership is paying much attention. I would love it if–if–it were true that my premises were those of ECUSA’s leadership, but in retrospect I admit they seem to argue from a rather different set of premises, such as those set out in Holmes and Westerhoff’s “Christian Believing,” premises that seem to me to derive largely from Tillich, and perhaps further back, Heidegger (recall his category, “care”).

In short, I am not doing a good job at all defending ECUSA in (what seem to me to be) its own terms; I’ve chosen quite different (and to me more defensible and frankly interesting) ground on which to defend ECUSA’s working theology et al, ground already long occupied that might be called neo-Aristotelian.

It would be interesting if instead of me you could get a seriously devoted Tillich scholar to argue on ECUSA’s behalf, or maybe a sincere Liberation theologian or even–God help us–a “genuine” Deconstructionist. Such scholars are out there, and would probably have something interesting to say, but they are awfully shy, no?

Nothing I have said, despite the flashy rhetoric that makes it unfamiliar again, is really new, especially within the Roman Catholic intellectual tradition. Not that I am setting out the positions of the RCC–hardly, as you know full well. Nor have I really said anything that demonstrates the “Anglican right” is wrong in what it wants to uphold. First of all, to say a style of doing theology is alarmingly insufficient for ECUSA’s needs–which is what I want to say about “Yale theology” on the right and the left–is not enough to refute, say, the basic points of the Baltimore Declaration. Second, the positive argument I do offer–for gay marriage–is currently mired.

72. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 11th, 2005 at 1:38 am

OK; on to business.

We seem to agree that Scripture is properly interpreted within the corporate context of the Church.

We agree also that propositional dogma, as implied for instance by the Nicene Creed, has a necessary place in the life of the Church. Christains are obliged to believe those propositions.

I.
But–here we may diverge–we are obliged to believe what we do not now, and even cannot given what we are, comprehend.

For instance, I believe and confess Christ is one person in two natures, unmixed etc–one nature human, one nature divine. I know that “nature” is not used univocally in the previous sentence of “human” and “divine” and I know that “nature” used of “human” cannot refer to an actual universal. And that’s about it–I am not sure about just who, if anyone from among philosopher-theologians, got it exactly right on the nature assumed by the Word and the divine nature of the Word: knowledge–even mere reliable authority here on this question–would require more than a mastery of Aquinas, Scotus, Aristotle, etc. Just what manner of individuated nature is assumed? (Presuming the nature must be individuated to be singular). The Church, even the Magisterium of the RCC, has not pronounced a verdict to my knowledge (if I am wrong, please let me know). Thus, the meaning to which the Church is committed when its members confess the Creeds outruns the understanding and comprehension of any individual human in it–and it has been that way from the time of the Fathers, even before, to our time. That meaning is indeterminate between known contraries (Scotus, Aquinas, et al), yet that does nothing to diminish our obligation to confess the Creeds.

Here we see a phenomenon repeated: the issue on freedom and divine foreknowledge Molina and Banez fought over has not been decided by the Magisterium of the RCC (to my knowledge); in that case the Pope (as I recall) made a point of not deciding. I’m less sure, but I’d bet the issue between Aquinas and Scotus on the Decalogue is likewise undecided. Yet in no way are we excused from chastity, say, by our ignorance about exactly what God commanded regarding adultery. You could probably multiply instances.

II.
Suppose you agree to all that, with great wariness. My point is not to advance moral nihilism or skepticism about whether the Bible has any definite meaning at all. Let’s put the misfortunes of ECUSA and my unfortunate recent attempt at deconstructing Bishop Iker aside for the moment–even the mention of Adorno and Horkheimer.

My point: liturgical ritual aside from the content of propositional dogma in the Creeds is more important than the propositional dogma. Even when read in the proper corporate setting, there is still indefiniteness about what Scripture means (section I above). The indefiniteness is not removed when we agree that individuals alone will not discover plain facts of meaning in Scripture, say, about our moral obligations to God.

Crucially (in my view), regardless of that ignorance, a Christian can become the kind of person who obeys God. That is, he or she can become disposed to obedience, undergoing an ontological change in acquiring a virtue. Acquiring the virtue normally requires repeatedly and intentionally doing the kinds of things obedient Christians do–sure, grace also plays a role, but let’s keep things simple for the moment. It is more important to become an obedient Christian than to get the propositional dogma exactly right–which I’ve strongly suggested is just not possible for us in this state.

How might we then go about the appropriate character shift, becoming obedient Christians? Here, it seems to me, is where liturgy plays its part. In sincerely participating over and over in Christian liturgy, I (God willing) in time become a practiced Christian–I “get good” at being genuinely humble and contrite before God; the liturgy compelling me to act as if I were such, lo–I eventually come to do it for its own sake, not even for the shiny reward at the end of it all. That even with the lamentable indefiniteness of the Creeds.

There is nothing truly new or outrageous in the pieces of what I am saying–virtue ethics applied to liturgy. Nor is it new to say we should not expect more precision than the subject matter allows; that sort of thing is in the Nic Ethics. It’s just not been applied, say, to biblical exegesis in quite this way.

Before saying anything else in reply, let me stop there for the moment and see whether there is a rough consensus about this. I know there are several open topics here, but I am anxious to see more about where we stand.

73. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 11th, 2005 at 1:53 am

To deter any lightning out there headed my way: Not that I am out to refute the basic points of the Baltimore Declaration (mentioned in #71). In fact, it is quite distressing to think that enough ECUSAns seriously contest any of them that drawing up such a list seemed necessary. A question to ask rather is, how one can best and in particular most effectively do the job of defending general belief from the Creeds. Anyhow, enough for the moment.

74. Perry Robinson aka Acolyte Says:
August 11th, 2005 at 9:56 am

AS,

I agree with I. As to II I don’t see the need to separate dogma from liturgics and indeed I can’t see how. This is why so many people have a cow every time ECUSA starts dinkin’ with the BCP. In my tradition, the lirturgy of St. John Chrysostom is over flowing with dogmatic content so I wouldn’t kknow how to separate them. I am not sure how to put your view together with lex orandi, lex credendi.

As to the Baltimore Declaration, why are you distressed that so many ECUSAns deny its propositions and why do you think that they do?

Perry

75. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 11th, 2005 at 12:15 pm

Perry,

We may be so disposed in our fallen condition to think: I would rather be a god unto myself than bow my knee to God. That thought would be fruit of a disposition, manifested here in cognition, there in behavior–and it’s not ECUSA’s doing, of course. But such a conviction can make autonomy–cognitive (which I am very excited over) and moral–seductive, “right” feeling: we identify God’s being and purposes with our own, so far as we can, or even try to do without God altogether. European Enlightenment is just the mort recent and powerful vehicle in which original sin–which we owe to our belonging to thehuman community–”finds.” It seems to have produced, e.g., an economy and a scientific method that “run on their own” without God, delivering bigger and bigger material satisfactions and power–all confirming that disposition.

That is what ultimately stands behind the questioning of the Baltimore Declaration: the metaphysics of moderninsm, Panentheism, springs from a kind of idealism incompatible with divine transcendence (in my opinion). To fight that metaphysics, another metaphysics would help.

More soon.

76. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 11th, 2005 at 2:02 pm

More:
It may seem that propositional dogma once formulated is independent of the liturgical practice of the Church, such that individuals from outside that practice can access and criticize its meaning. After all, once the Creeds are stated, don’t they express propositions whose meaning is both complete, definite, and stable?

No–it seems to us that propositions like those the Creeds express can be “detatched” as it were from their practical contexts and considered on their own, as they seem to have meaning of their own we can each individually access and examine. But meaning doesn’t travel well between language “games” or ways of life–which is not to say creedal propositions lose meaning or mean nothing. Rather, what they meant in a liturgical context might well be no longer what they mean outside it–meaning adjusts to context, shifting as we think or speak. For example, to use a couple analogies: a stop sign means something different on a road side from what it means in a dorm room; “drops” is not univocal but not purely equivocal either in “She dropped the class,” “She dropped her eyes,” “She dropped the ball,” and “She dropped the beat.” Without warning or announcement, meaning shifted across those uses–much the same with propositions from the Creeds.

If you do not already believe, you will not be able to understand. But belief first requires practice–commitment or some such act. That commitment must in turn be a commitment to propositional dogma, much of which remains indefinite for us in this state, but that dogma is not “free-floating”–we are committed to it because it is a necessary part of the Christian life, embedded in it. That life is what we commit to, God willing, and commitment to the life implies commitment to the dogma.

Crucial contention: the dogma is dependent for what definiteness it has on the life; the dogma does not exist with a type of independence similar to that of the way of life, such that the dogma might in turn influence the way of life as the way of life influences it. Symmetry is illusory here. That does not imply that dogma has absolutely no influence on Christian life–just that the influence is of a different type.

Ok–enough of that for the moment. How far apart are we so far?

77. The Anglican Scotist Says:
August 11th, 2005 at 4:12 pm

Supposing your only disagreements with my ##75-6 are minimal (emphasis, wording, whom to cite for support, etc), and by-and-large we are in the same nave, so to speak, I’ll return to some specific claims in “Radiating Disaster Triumphant”:

I wrote (1) “there are no plain facts of meaning in the Bible. It is not a collection of propositions from which dogma may be constructed”. That claim, if you follow ##75-6, might now sound unthreatening, even orthodox: not claiming “there are no facts of meaning” or “no propositions follow from Scripture” but the meaning is not plain, there is no collection of propositions somehow “there” to be mined–we should expect and live with an indefiniteness in dogma beyond our power, even the power of the Magisterium, in this state to eradicate.

When I wrote “And the mythical history he writes is for a church audience–it’s neither neutral nor acontextual” I did not use “myth” in the sense implying a false story. The text is first part of our liturgy, read and studied within the corporate context of the Church. When we decide to see what it means, and formulate dogma–as we must–we should find the translation into propositions is difficult.

For example, I wrote (2) “This bit of Scripture gets cited (e.g. in True Union in the Body available over at ACI) as self-evidently implying all homosexuality whatever, and by implication gay marriage, is forbidden: isn’t it clear on its face?” referring to Romans 1:26-7; I now wish I hadn’t said “self-evident”–that was an error. I should have written “as if it were a plain fact of meaning that” instead of “as self-evidently implying”.

My (2) should be seen in light of (1), as an instance of the indefiniteness one finds when reflecting on Scripture to formulate propositional dogma. Romans 1:26-7 is just another example of the phenomenon we saw with the Decalogue, or the issues in the Molina-Banez debate, or the question of the meaning of “nature” in the Creeds; there are places where we must live with indefinite meaning.

You may praise or berate the ACI; their “True Union of the Body” is no minor document in the current unpleasantness–it was meant to have the wide audience among Anglicans. It speaks, I presume, for a considerable, powerful, articulate segment of the Anglican right in the current dispute over homosexuality.
This right probably consists of an uneasy mix of Anglo-catholics and Evangelicals; I am not sure. But given the example I took from “True Union” and some other pieces I read on their site, I inferred their way of treating Scripture was representative, and wrote (3) “Insisting on plain facts of meaning, winger-ECUSAns carry the Enlightenment project of Disenchantment to the Bible. What was a text for Christian liturgy, a text of Christian myth and ritual, gets wrenched out of that context to serve a different function.” Again, I wish I hadn’t used the silly term “winger-ECUSAns” which carries a goofy levity of which I am now ashamed.

Perhaps I overgeneralized–I am sure there are scholarly exceptions. I wanted to catch these in the net as well, so I wrote (4): “They might cry out “Canonical criticism! Childs!” or “Narrative theology! Frei!”; winger practice betrays these cries as mere rationalization. We are told we should merely observe the plain facts of meaning in the Bible, which in turn report what cannot be observed, e.g. miracles and spirits.” Ah–that word “winger” again: please overlook. I refer here to what might be called the major school of “Yale Theology” which both right and left have adopted in some measure to make their cases to each other.

I insinuate here that the phenomenon alluded to in (3) is no mere accident; it is what we should expect from this style of doing theology. Why? Crudely, part of the narrative or canon is the confusion over how to read Scripture evident in (3). And that confusion deserves a name: “individualism about the mental” or, if you wish “cognitive autonomy” confusions introduced in the Enlightenment: in earnest with its Doctor (in my opinion), John Locke.

Yale theology (I think) did not intend that confusion–it imported it not in its theory, but in its practice. In fact, to go further, the practice of cognitive autonomy “contradicts” the theory of narrative theology. Instances like (3) above were not supposed to happen (in my opinion). I thought according to the theory, the reporting done by the text can defy naturalism, just as what the text purports to report can defy naturalism; the “plain facts of meaning” position naturalizes the reporting that the text does.

Hence, my last point: (5) “Their tolerance, nay–passion for this contradiction identifies them as Postmoderns in spite of themselves, i.e. standing around at the last stop for the train of Enlightenment rationality.” The idea here is that one can tend to respond to dissonance by denying or celebrating it. The untenability of Enlightenment theology inspired Yale theology, which in turn when adopted imported textual practice from the Enlightenment contradicting its theory.

Yet, it seemed to me that the Anglican right was intent on “going to war” (vide the war metaphor in AAC posts from Rev. Canon Anderson) with this contradiction in (at least a part of its) its theological foundation.

Anyhow, I’ve indicated above in parentheses various spots I know are tenuous.