Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fulford on sola scriptura, Part II


Let’s return to Andrew Fulford’s reply at The Calvinist International to my recent post on Feyerabend, empiricism, and sola scriptura.  Recall that the early Jesuit critique of sola scriptura cited by Feyerabend maintains that (a) scripture alone can never tell you what counts as scripture, (b) scripture alone cannot tell you how to interpret scripture, and (c) scripture alone cannot give us a procedure for deriving consequences from scripture, applying it to new circumstances, etc.  In an earlier post I addressed Fulford’s reply to point (a).  Let’s now consider his attempt to rebut the other two points.

Elaborating upon point (b) in my original post, I noted that:

If you say that scriptural passage A is to be interpreted in light of scriptural passage B, then how do you know you’ve gotten B itself right?  And why not say instead that B should be interpreted in light of A?  Inevitably you’re going to have to go beyond scripture in order to settle such questions.

In response to this, Fulford says:

The problem with this overall objection… is that it overlooks the fact that texts are intrinsically meaningful, and that people are capable of perceiving the intending [sic] meaning of others when they communicate…  [T]here is no special problem with the interpretation of scripture that does not arise for the interpretation of any human communication, including the ex cathedra pronouncements of a putatively infallible Pope.  If reason can understand the words of such a Pope, there is no reason in principle it could not understand scriptural passage A or B.  There may be particular problems as a result of historical ignorance, but these can be resolved in principle the same way any issue of interpretation for any human text is resolved… [I]nterpreting texts in their natural [historical] context, the rule that “scripture interprets scripture” is entirely reasonable: the books of scripture are the products of authors writing closest in time and culture to other books of scripture.

End quote.  Now, the trouble with Fulford’s remarks here is that they ignore the crucial differences between texts on the one hand and the persons who write and interpret texts on the other -- thereby missing the entire point of the critique of sola scriptura.  Start with the fact that texts are quite obviously not “intrinsically meaningful,” contrary to what Fulford says.  Texts are made up of linguistic symbols, and linguistic symbols are human artifacts.  That the shapes you see on your computer screen as you read this count as linguistic symbols at all is a result of the conventions of English usage.  That they convey the specific meaning they do in this blog post is a result of those conventions together with my intentions in writing the blog post.  Apart from those conventions and intentions, the shapes would be meaningless, mere patterns of light on a screen or (if you printed this post out) patterns of ink on paper.  The linguistic symbols that make up scripture are, of course, like that too.  They bear the meanings they do because of linguistic convention together with the intentions of the authors. 

Fulford would no doubt agree with that much.  He would also evidently insist that we have evidence of a historical sort concerning the conventions and intentions in question, and he is right about that.  Just as someone who knows English and has read a number of other things I’ve written is going to be able to understand much of what I have to say in any particular blog post, so too is anyone familiar with the relevant languages and historical background going to be able to understand much of what he reads in scripture, and in any other historical document for that matter.  No one denies that.  Certainly, critics of sola scriptura are not denying that you can to a considerable extent understand scripture just by virtue of knowing the languages in which it is written, something of the historical and cultural contexts of the events it describes, etc.  They aren’t claiming that without an authoritative institutional Church, scripture would be as unintelligible as (say) Esperanto is to most people.  So, pointing out, as Fulford does, that “context,” “time and culture,” and the like can clarify the meaning of scriptural passages is not really to the point.

What is to the point is that there is, nevertheless, necessarily going to be a degree of indeterminacy in the meaning of any text, considered just by itself, even given knowledge of linguistic conventions, historical context, etc.  This is in the very nature of texts.  I will explain why this is a problem in principle in a moment, but first let’s notice how great a problem it can be in practice even in the case of an author whose writings are numerous, well-known, and have been the object of scholarly study for centuries.  Consider, to take just one example, that the correct interpretation of Aristotle’s views on the nature of the intellect and the possibility of personal immortality is notoriously controversial and has been for centuries.  Can it be shown on Aristotelian philosophical grounds that the individual human soul survives death?  I certainly think so.  But that question is very different from the question of whether Aristotle himself took that view.  Appealing to Aristotle’s writings on the subject cannot by itself settle this exegetical question, because how to interpret those writings is precisely what is at issue.  In particular, reading Aristotle passage A in light of Aristotle passage B won’t solve the problem, because which passages should determine how the others get read is part of what is in dispute.  Interpreting all of the relevant passages in light of the larger body of Aristotle’s writings, historical and cultural context, etc. hasn’t settled things either.  And the one certain method of determining what Aristotle himself thought -- asking him -- isn’t possible because he’s dead.  Examples of this sort of problem could be multiplied by citing other well-known authors of the past.    

Now, does scripture raise exegetical issues which appeal to scripture by itself cannot settle?  The existence of myriad Protestant denominations and sects which agree on sola scriptura but nevertheless somehow disagree deeply on many matters of biblical interpretation is, I submit, pretty good evidence that it does.

Yet might not sufficient good will, along with sufficient knowledge of a linguistic and historical sort, at least in principle solve the problem?  No, they would not.  The reasons should be obvious to anyone familiar with the various indeterminacy arguments which James Ross once rightly characterized as “among the jewels of analytic philosophy,” and which I have discussed many times (e.g. here, here, and here).  The problem is that material symbols and systems of symbols -- and texts are collections of such symbols -- are, no matter how complex the system in question, inherently indeterminate in their meaning.  There are always in principle various alternative ways to interpret them, alternatives which the symbols themselves cannot adjudicate between.  This (as I and other writers have emphasized) is the deep reason why computationalist and other materialist accounts of thought cannot possibly be right.  Thought can be determinate or unambiguous in its content in a way material symbols and systems of symbols cannot possibly be.  But the system of symbols that makes up a text is no different in this regard from a purported system of symbols encoded in the brain.  By itself it can never be as determinate as the thoughts of the author of the text.

Notice that the claim is not that “anything goes.”  It is not that a text might plausibly be given just any old interpretation.  There may be any number of proposed interpretations which are ruled out.  The point is that the text cannot by itself rule out all alternative interpretations.  Notice also that the claim is not that texts are indeterminate full stop.  The claim is that a text all by itself cannot rule out all the alternatives.  Appeal to something outside the text is necessary.

Nor do we need exotic scenarios like Kripke’s “quus” example in order to make the point (though such examples are certainly relevant).  Consider instead the critique of the symbolic processing approach in artificial intelligence developed by philosophers like Hubert Dreyfus and John Searle.  The approach in question presupposes that intelligence can be embodied entirely in explicit representations and rules, such as the symbols processed by a Turing machine and the algorithms by which they are processed.  And the problem with this is that the interpretation of representations and rules presupposes an intellect which does the interpreting, so that such representations and rules cannot coherently be taken to explain the existence and operation of the intellect. 

Consider even a very simple set of rules, such as those commanding the following series of actions:

1. Walk from the back of the desk to the front.

2. Walk from the front of the desk to the back.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Almost anybody following these rules will do so by walking around the desk, but there is nothing in the rules that really requires that.  One could follow them instead by stepping up on the desk and walking across it.  Now these two interpretations are incompatible, at least insofar as you can’t walk around the desk and across it at the same time -- though one could decide instead to walk around it at first, and then in later applications of the rules to walk across it.  In any event, the rules themselves won’t tell you which of these three interpretations (walking around, walking across, or doing both but at different times) is the right one.

Suppose we tighten up the rules in order to clarify this.  Suppose they instead read “Walk around the desk from the back…” etc.  You might think that this now makes things completely unambiguous.  And perhaps most people who follow these revised rules will proceed, in following them, to walk clockwise around the desk.  But there is really nothing in even the revised rules that requires that.  One could instead walk counterclockwise, or mix things up by walking clockwise sometimes and counterclockwise at other times.  Again, nothing in the rules by themselves determines which of these procedures is correct. 

Nor would revising the rules again in order to get around this problem eliminate all indeterminacy.  Suppose we altered them to read “Walk clockwise around the desk from the back…” etc.  Now everything would be clear and unambiguous, right?  Not from the rules all by themselves.  Should one move around the desk in a circular path?  Or should one trace out an extremely wide oval path?  Should one walk in a shuffling way?  Do a zig zag?   Are hopping and skipping allowed?  When beginning one’s walk from the front to the back, should one first leave the room and then reenter before reaching the back?  Further additions could be made to the rules to settle such questions, but however that is done, it will only leave us with a revised body of rules which will itself be susceptible of yet further possible alternative and incompatible interpretations.

Now, in real life what determines how rules get followed are people -- the people who make the rules and the people who follow them.  You ask the person who made the rules: “Do you want me to do it this way or that way?,” or you just decide yourself to do it one way rather than the other.  You may do so deliberately, or you may do so unconsciously, by virtue of certain habits you picked up in childhood or from the culture around you.   (Both Dreyfus and Searle in their different ways emphasize the aspect of intelligence that is tacit or not fully brought to the level of conscious consideration.)  Either way, it is the fact that people are intelligent that makes them capable of interpreting systems of rules and representations.  Hence it gets things the wrong way around to try to explain intelligence in terms of rules and representations.  It isn’t rules and representations that explain why intelligence exists; rather, it is intelligence that explains why rules and representations exist.

When people focus their attention on computers themselves and don’t dwell on how they got here, computers can seem self-contained.  It can seem that it’s just an intrinsic or built-in fact about them that the symbols they process have such-and-such a meaning and that they are running such-and-such algorithms.  The illusion develops that the computer is somehow doing what it’s doing all by itself, and that’s why it can seem a good model for understanding human intelligence.  But this is an illusion.  In reality, there is no fact of the matter, from the intrinsic physical facts about it alone, concerning what meaning the computer’s symbols have or what algorithms it is running.  It is only because the machine’s designers constructed it a certain way, and its users use it a certain way, that its internal physical processes count as having the significance they do.  The meaning of the symbols and the precise algorithms that it is running are determined by something outside the machine, and it is only by appeal to this external source of meaning that questions about the precise significance of the machine’s operations can in principle be settled.  (Cf. my previous posts on Kripke’s and Popper’s and Searle’s critiques of computationalism.)

Texts are like computers in this respect.  It is easy to focus one’s attention on the text itself so that the author, like the computer’s designers, disappears from view and the text can come to seem to have a meaning or significance all on its own, “built in” as it were.  Hence Fulford’s casual remark that “texts are intrinsically meaningful.”  But this is no less an illusion than is the computationalist illusion that there could be such a thing as a machine whose syntax and semantics are intrinsic to it rather than relative to the intentions of the designers and users of the machine.  (Feyerabend compares sola scriptura to classical empiricism.  He could just as well have compared it to the computationalist model of the mind.)

Now, for everyday purposes, it is of course not necessary to advert to the designers’ intentions when using a computer.  You just use the computer and get along well enough.  But when something goes wrong, or there is some ambiguity in how the machine is functioning (“Is it supposed to be doing this?”), the designers’ intentions alone can settle the matter.  Similarly, when reading a text, for the most part we don’t need consciously to bring to mind the fact that the text has a specific author who had such-and-such intentions in writing.  We just read the text, and for the most part we get along well enough.  But when the text is unclear, or seems to be inconsistent in places, the author’s intentions come to the fore, and can alone settle the matter.  And if the author is dead, the matter may well never be settled -- hence the problems in interpreting Aristotle’s De Anima

Now, where scripture is concerned, both the Catholic and Protestant sides in the dispute over sola scriptura agree that it has a divine author, who is of course not dead.  But both sides also agree that this divine author works through human instruments.  What they disagree about is whether these human instruments are all dead.  The sola scriptura position is, in effect, that they are all dead.  For it holds that God reveals what we need to know for salvation via scripture alone, and the human authors of scripture are all dead.  The Catholic position, by contrast, is that some of the human instruments in question are dead, but some are not.  For it holds that God reveals what we need to know for salvation in part via scripture but also in part via an ongoing institutional Church which has divine guidance in interpreting scripture.  And it holds that unless there were such living human instruments, we would be stuck in something like the position we’re stuck in vis-à-vis the interpretation of De Anima -- worse, in fact, since settling the question of how to interpret De Anima is not relevant to salvation, whereas settling the question of how to interpret scripture is relevant to salvation.

You might say, then, that the scenario described by the Catholic position is comparable to a situation in which Aristotle is still alive, and while he doesn’t answer questions about the proper interpretation of De Anima directly, nevertheless does answer them indirectly, by speaking through intermediaries.  The sola scriptura position, by contrast, is comparable to a situation in which Aristotle is still alive, but neither answers questions about De Anima directly nor speaks through intermediaries.  He just leaves you with the text of De Anima itself and lets its readers quarrel over its proper interpretation interminably.  Worse, it’s like a situation in which Aristotle allowed this and also believed that getting De Anima wrong would lead to serious errors of a theological and moral sort. 

Now, Fulford insinuates that interpreting “the ex cathedra pronouncements of a putatively infallible Pope” is no less problematic than interpreting scripture.  But (with all due respect to Fulford) this is as silly as saying that in understanding De Anima, asking Aristotle himself what it means -- or rather, asking Aristotle’s representative, sent by Aristotle precisely for the purpose of answering questions about how to interpret De Anima -- is no better than just reading the text.  It is as silly as saying that in trying to find out how some computer is supposed to function, asking the technicians who represent the company that manufactured the computer is no better than just examining the computer for yourself.  Of course, what Aristotle or his representative might tell you, or what the computer technician might tell you, might itself have ambiguities of its own or raise further questions.  But precisely because these are literal, living persons, you can literally ask them for further clarification if need be.  You can’t literally ask a text or a computer anything. 

Fulford also says:

[I]f verbal statements or written texts always require further interpretations external to themselves to be intelligible, we would need an infinite series of interpreters to understand any human speech, even that of infallible Popes.

This is like saying that since what the computer technician tells you might raise questions of its own, you need an infinite series of technicians, or that since what Aristotle’s representative tells you might be ambiguous, you need an infinite series of representatives.  In fact, this doesn’t follow at all.  All that follows is that you might have follow-up questions for the same, one technician, or the same one representative.  Of course, the technician or representative in question might die, but as long as there is some new technician or representative to take his place, you can just ask for clarification from that one new technician or representative.  Similarly, you don’t need an infinite series of interpreters to understand the statements of some pope.  You just ask that one, particular pope for clarification, and if he dies you just ask the next particular pope. 

Fulford’s mistake is that he thinks the issue has to do with how many texts there are.  He says there’s one, and he thinks that what the Catholic critic of sola scriptura is saying is that there’s more than one.  And his objection is that any problems that would arise with the one text would arise also with a larger set of texts.  He’s right about that much.  But he’s wrong on two counts.  First, if the Catholic position really did differ from sola scriptura only in the number of texts it posits, that wouldn’t show that sola scriptura is right after all.  Rather, it would show that the Catholic position and sola scriptura are both wrong, and for the same reasons.  But second, the difference between sola scriptura and the Catholic position is not fundamentally about how many texts there are.  Rather, the Catholic position is that it can’t all be just texts in the first place.  Rather, we have to be able to get outside of texts, to persons who have the authority to tell us what the texts mean.

Let’s now turn briefly to point (c) of the Jesuit critique of sola scriptura cited by Feyerabend -- the idea that scripture alone cannot give us a procedure for deriving consequences from scripture, applying it to new circumstances, etc.  Fulford responds that:

[T]he objection relies on a misapprehension of what sola scriptura claims… [I]t never meant that scripture apart from the rational capacities of human beings was somehow to function as an authority in the church; Protestants recognized that individuals had to subjectively understand and appropriate the message of the Bible.

To see what is wrong with this response, consider the theological controversies that have arisen over the centuries concerning the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification, transubstantiation, contraception, divorce and remarriage, Sunday observance, infant baptism, slavery, pacifism, the consistency of scripture with scientific claims, sola scriptura itself, and a host of other issues.  Now, either scripture alone can settle these controversies or it cannot.  If Fulford says that it cannot, then he will thereby make of sola scriptura a vacuous doctrine, since if it cannot answer such questions then it cannot tell us whether it is Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Christians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarian Universalists, or some other group entirely who has got Christianity right. 

Presumably he would not say this, though.  Presumably he would say that scripture alone can settle such issues, and certainly most sola scriptura proponents have thought so, since they tend to regard the holding of certain specific positions on at least many of these issues as a requirement of Christian orthodoxy.  But in that case Fulford will be saying something false, since scripture alone manifestly cannot settle these issues, for opposite positions on all of them have been defended on scriptural grounds. 

Moreover, what even most Protestants regard as the orthodox view on some of these issues was hammered out on grounds that are philosophical, and not merely scriptural.  For instance, it is not merely scripture, but scripture together with considerations about the nature of substance, persons, etc. that leads to the doctrine of the Trinity.  Now, the sola scriptura-affirming Trinitarian might say that you simply cannot make sense of the entirety of what scripture tells us about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit unless you bring to bear such philosophical considerations.  Hence anyone who wants to do justice to scripture had better be a Trinitarian.  I think that is correct.  But a sola scriptura-affirming anti-Trinitarian might respond that since these philosophical considerations are not themselves to be found in scripture, the Trinitarian doctrine that presupposes them cannot be binding on Christians or definitive of orthodoxy.  Which of these “scripture alone” affirmers is right?  Scripture alone cannot tell us.

Or consider disputes about how to reconcile scripture with the claims of science.  Should we read Genesis in a way that requires us to conclude that the universe is only a few thousand years old?  Or can it legitimately be read in a way consistent with the universe being billions of years old?  Does scripture teach that the earth does not move, so that it conflicts with a heliocentric view of the solar system?  Or should the relevant passages be read another way?  Should we regard Adam as having been made directly from the dust of the ground, or is there wiggle room here to regard Adam’s body as having been made from it indirectly, God having used as raw material a pre-human ancestor whose own ancestors derived remotely from the dust of the ground?  If Fulford were to say that scripture alone can settle these issues, he would be saying something manifestly false, since there is no passage of scripture that tells us which of the competing ways of reading the passages in question here is the correct one. 

I imagine he would not say that, though.  I imagine he would say instead that we have to look outside scripture itself in order to settle these matters.  But to admit that is to give the game away.  For an enormous amount rides on how these matters are settled.  For one thing, whether scripture is in general reliable rides on how they are settled, and therefore everything else scripture teaches rides on it.  For another thing, how we decide these matters will involve deciding upon general principles of scriptural interpretation, and those principles are bound to have repercussions for other doctrinal questions.  But if it is consistent with sola scriptura to say that the general reliability of scripture, and general principles for interpreting scripture -- matters which in turn affect everything scripture teaches -- can legitimately come from outside scripture, then sola scriptura once again seems vacuous. 

Then there is the fact that the problem for sola scriptura raised by point (c) is inseparable from the problem raised by point (b).  For the sorts of conclusions we can draw from scripture obviously depend on how we interpret scripture.  The problems with Fulford’s response to (b) thus inevitably leak over into any attempt to respond to (c).

So, I conclude that Fulford’s response to points (b) and (c), like his response to (a) considered in my previous post in this series, fails. 

A final analogy: In the movie Memento, the protagonist Leonard Shelby loses the ability to form new memories after a blow to the head from an attacker who also raped and murdered Shelby’s wife.  Shelby attempts to track down the killer, tattooing clues onto his body so that he won’t forget them, and writing himself notes and taking photographs to remind him of where he lives, what car he drives, who the people he comes into contact with are, and so forth.  The trouble is that his inability to form new memories has also robbed him of the ability properly to understand the meanings of the tattoos, notes, and photos.  Hence he misinterprets what he has written and draws mistaken conclusions from it.  Shelby’s error is supposing that the tattoos, notes, and pictures by themselves will suffice to tell him what he needs to know.  And they do tell him quite a bit.  He is able to infer correctly that the man he is after has the first name “John” and a last name that begins with “G,” that the people in the photographs are people he knows and that the car he sees in one of them is one he has driven, and so forth.  But he nevertheless gets other, crucial things badly wrong -- for example, he continually misinterprets exactly who “John G” is, does not realize that the car in question in fact belongs to someone else, has completely forgotten the true reason one of his notes identifies a certain “John G” as the killer, and so forth.  Moreover, if Shelby thought about it, he would realize that he cannot even be sure that all of the notes and tattoos were really left by his earlier self in the first place.  Maybe someone else wrote some of the notes, or had certain things tattooed on his body while he was drugged or held at gunpoint. 

In short, Shelby is in a situation that mirrors each of the three problems with sola scriptura we’ve been discussing.  All he’s got to go on are his notes and tattoos.  But (a) the notes and tattoos by themselves cannot tell him which notes and tattoos are genuine or indeed whether any of them are, (b) the notes and tattoos themselves cannot tell him how properly to interpret the notes and tattoos, and (c) the notes and tattoos themselves cannot tell him how to derive implications from the notes and tattoos.  And just as sola scriptura advocates disagree radically among themselves about what scripture teaches, so too does Shelby come, at different points in the movie, to radically different conclusions about what his notes and tattoos mean -- at one point thinking a certain person is “John G,” at other points thinking that some totally different person is “John G,” at one point thinking that a certain motel room is his while believing at another point that he occupies a different room, and so forth.

Alas, poor Shelby sees no alternative to his incoherent “sola notes and tattoos” position.  But the Christian does have an alternative to sola scriptura, or so we Catholics maintain.

294 comments:

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JohnD said...

Ed,

Great post! One standard Protestant reply is that your critique proves too much since the Jews in Old Testament times did not have an institutional church to sort out interpretative disagreements and got along just fine. In other words, they had sufficient knowledge and means to understand what they needed to understand regarding God's Word.

How would you respond to that?

Brandon said...

But second, the difference between sola scriptura and the Catholic position is not fundamentally about how many texts there are. Rather, the Catholic position is that it can’t all be just texts in the first place. Rather, we have to be able to get outside of texts, to persons who have the authority to tell us what the texts mean.

One of the interesting things about this that also falls in with the empiricism/sola-scriptura parallel is the conflation of acts and means of acting -- in this case, acts of teaching and texts. Acts of teaching are not texts; and the problem with the texts is that if you are just handed a text without anyone teaching with it, you still need some act of teaching -- if you don't get it from someone else, you just end up having to do it yourself. (That is related to the point Plato makes in the Myth of Theuth in Phaedrus.) Things cannot and will not work exactly the same way if the act of teaching is at least part that of another. This also connects with something that came up in passing in one of the previous comments threads -- that one of the difficulties Catholics have historically had with Protestant claims in this context is that Protestants repeatedly attribute to the text of Scripture the teaching activity of the Holy Spirit.

This finds its analogy on the empiricism side, since one has only to look at Locke or Hume to see that empiricism conflates objects and acts of mind. Sensibilia or objects are conflated with sensing or perceiving, and in Hume believing is just there being an idea that's vivid. This is why the intellectual act of abstraction is rejected; abstraction is not something that can actually be conflated with what it abstracts from without obviously ceasing to be abstraction.

ccmnxc said...

Great post! One standard Protestant reply is that your critique proves too much since the Jews in Old Testament times did not have an institutional church to sort out interpretative disagreements and got along just fine. In other words, they had sufficient knowledge and means to understand what they needed to understand regarding God's Word.

How would you respond to that?


1. They had the prophets as a means of instruction, and those prophets performed signs in order to legitimize their authority (think of Elijah on Mt. Carmel).
2. The Jews, so far as I can tell, did not claim the end of divine revelation in the same way Christians do in the post-Apostolic era, thus they did not need some authoritative final word in the same way a sola scriptura affirming Christian might claim we do.
3. I suppose one could hold that the Jews had an imperfect system that was rectified with the coming of Christ and the institution of the Church, though I am more tentative on that one.

Others can probably offer more helpful answers, but I thought I would sketch out those three points, at least.

BB said...

But both sides also agree that this divine author works through human instruments. What they disagree about is whether these human instruments are all dead. The sola scriptura position is, in effect, that they are all dead. For it holds that God reveals what we need to know for salvation via scripture alone, and the human authors of scripture are all dead. The Catholic position, by contrast, is that some of the human instruments in question are dead, but some are not. For it holds that God reveals what we need to know for salvation in part via scripture but also in part via an ongoing institutional Church which has divine guidance in interpreting scripture.

As a protestant, I think that you have misrepresented the sola scriptura position here. The protestant position, as I understand it, is that some of these people are dead, and some alive. God does speak through people (to provide interpretation of scripture) to this day. But there are many people who claim to be God's instruments who in reality are not. For Jesus, we can be sure that He was God's instrument (since He is God). The apostles, we can be sure were God's instrument, since they were specifically chosen by God (in the form of Jesus), in addition to the Holy Spirit working within them. The authority of the apostles is thus derived from the authority of Jesus, and the authority of scripture and of the Church is derived from the authority of the apostles. Yes, the church does have authority. Sola scriptura means that scripture (when properly interpreted and transmitted) is our only infallible or wholly trustworthy authority, not that it is the only authority.

But with each subsequent generation of the apostolic succession, we can be less sure that the people are God's instruments. We know that false teachers arose in the church, even in the first generations after the apostles. In other words, we have to sort out the true teachers from the false ones, and the Bishops who are truly and exclusively (perhaps under certain well defined circumstances) God's instruments, and those who mix divine inspiration with human derived and wrong thoughts. This process is what we claim we cannot do infallibly. And thus, post-apostolic Christian teachers and Bishops, are authoritative but not infallibly authoritative, since we have no infallible way of selecting the true teachers from the false ones, and even the mostly true but not quite always true teachers.

BB said...

... We might not be able to with confidence identify the true teachers, but we do, however, have several sure ways of identifying false teachers. Firstly, as you mentioned, the scriptural text is ambiguous in places, but not completely so. There are bounds in the possible interpretations. A teacher who steps beyond those bounds is certainly false. Secondly, there is the matter of behaviour. Granted, we are all sinners, but somebody who continues in unrepentant and major sin is not to be respected as a teacher, since the action of the Holy Spirit within him should be to bring him to repentance. If the Holy Spirit is not (obviously) active in one way, then how can we trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding him to the correct interpretation of scripture. Thirdly, a teacher who introduces novelty into the rule of faith is also not to be trusted (by `novelty' I exclude systematisations and philosophical rephrasing of scripture -- and I place the doctrines of the Trinity and Christiology into the latter category -- since they are not really adding anything new, and I include apostolic tradition as well as scripture into the original body of faith, although since tradition is only recorded by later writers, again there is the issue of sorting out the good from the not so good). The best of the reformers are not viewed as introducing novelties -- rather they removed numerous illegitimate novelties introduced into the rule of faith by Rome. Of course, we cannot infallibly trust that the reformers did this process of removal right either, so we have to go back to the early sources. But the reformation was first and foremost an attempt to return the Church to its original doctrine and order. Not even the best of the reformers -- Calvin; Luther; Cramner, Jewel and Hooker and so on -- got this perfectly right. But they -- from the protestant view -- did a better job of this than the council of Trent.

So why not trust the Roman Church? Because it has -- to the protestant -- obviously violated both the first and third of these prohibitions, and many of its Bishops the second. Many of the Church dogmas that prevent me from joining the Roman Church were late in development, and not derived from tradition but from philosophical or cultural prejudice. Not every Bishop in Communion with Rome, whether individually or in council, has been infallible in their interpretations, and therefore the magisterium of the Church, which is simply the collection of these people, cannot be viewed as an infallible interpreter. That doesn't mean that the Bishop of Rome doesn't get most things right, or he is not authoritative. Indeed, I had far greater respect for the previous two Bishops of Rome (not so sure about the current one; though given his competition I might have to include him in this list as well) than I did for my own protestant Archbishops of the time. When they speak from scripture, tradition that genuinely reaches back to the apostles, or solid philosophical reasoning, I listen to them, and let them correct my own position where necessary. When they speak from tradition that was invented or first attested in the fourth or fifth century or later and which seems to contradict the most natural meaning of scripture, I do not recognise those traditions as authoritative.

So how do we deal with the problem of the ambiguity of scripture? Accept it. Figure out as well as we can what the bounds are (the protestant confessions are one example of this figuring out, although they need to be updated and properly enforced to also reflect on the various modern heresies), excommunicate and discipline those who go beyond those bounds, allow freedom within those bounds, and let God give growth to those Churches that remain truly faithful to Him, and diminish those which abandon Him. It's a messy process -- most protestant churches have erred either by making the acceptable bounds of interpretation too lax or too strict -- but the best that we can do.

Scott said...

@BB:

When they speak from tradition that was invented or first attested in the fourth or fifth century or later and which seems to contradict the most natural meaning of scripture, I do not recognise those traditions as authoritative.

So at what approximate date do you think the Holy Spirit abandoned Christ's Church to error for a millennium?

BB said...

@Scott

So at what approximate date do you think the Holy Spirit abandoned Christ's Church to error for a millennium?

That's the wrong question. Errors have been made by people in the Church, and in the apostolic succession, from Pentecost (or soon afterwards) onwards. Some of these are so minor that we can forget about them. Others have been corrected over time. Others endured in some communities but not in others. Most errors are not significant; they are simply variations within the acceptable bounds of interpretation. Over time, the accepted mistakes accumalated, and some became received as dogma by some communities (including protestant and Eastern Orthodox communities).

It is not a matter of the Holy Spirit abandoning the Church to error. In almost everything the Church, even the Roman church, has remained faithful. What mistakes have been made (baring the obvious heretics) have not stopped the church from preaching the message of repentance and salvation from sin of grace by faith, enabled by Christ's substitutionary sacrifice through the instruments of the Holy Sacraments. Nor is it about the Holy Spirit abandoning the Church, since in each generation people have been raised to help the individuals in the Church turn back from their errors. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, to point us continually back to Christ, the Gospel and the apostolic rule of faith.

So in direct answer to your question. 1) There is no definitive time. Errors of various magnitudes, some important but most of them not so important, have always been made and will always be made. 2) The Church was not "abandoned to error", because in most things the individual churches have not gone astray (baring the obvious heretics; and they quickly descend in a few generations to complete absurdity, as we are now seeing from the Episcopalians for example). The predominent errors of each age have almost always been on one or two topics, which then are gradually corrected when the problems become too severe. 3) The Holy Spirit has not abandoned the Church, because It is always present drawing up people to call those who would hear to repentance. This is particularly obvious when the Church has historically gone badly astray, but the same is true even in those times when the Church has seemingly been largely faithful. In the age of the Arians, the Holy Spirit rose up Athanasius and others to bring the Church back to orthodoxy. In the early Medieval period, when understanding was lost, we had people such as Alcuin, Anselm, and later Peter of Aldelbard, Aquinas and the other scholastics, who rose up to restore the Western Church's intellectual vigour. In the age of the crusades, there were people such as St Francis to set an example against their abuses. During the colonisation of the Americas and later the African American slave trade, we had first of all Roman Catholics such as Las Casas, and later evangelicals such as Wilberforce and Clarkson who eventually defeated the errors of those times. Perhaps Professor Feser is one of the people being raised up by the Holy Spirit to combat the errors of this time. None of these people were perfect in everything; but they were sufficent to bring the Church back to its proper focus.

Anonymous said...

@BB
How do you determine which errors were/are minor and which significant? And how do you determine that they have been properly rectified?

Timocrates said...

@ BB,

I think you have definitely come a long way. And after reading everything you wrote, the only thing on my mind is exactly how do all those saints/Christian heroes figure into sola scriptura an active principle of Church regulation and governance, in matters of doctrine and moral practice? Clearly they played a paramount part in making sure the Church remained faithful to the Gospel and to Christ. Would it not be prudent on the part of the Lord to establish a Church on earth that could institutionalize, so to speak, that activity in some way or sense so as, for example, to cause those who were legitimate reformers to be acknowledged as such, protected and heard in the Church (as no doubt their opponents would naturally seek for them to be demonized and excommunicated and finally even their memory removed)?

I think this is another difference in Protestant and Catholic thinking about the Church. Catholics tend to think there is some peculiar perfection of the Church insofar not only as it was founded and wrought, so to speak, by God but is continually animated and sustained by Him; that the Church, like Christ himself, is both truly human but also truly divine. Consequently we don't expect it to be precarious in areas so fundamental to Christian faith as the doctrine and dogmas of faith and moral practice or the morality of Christian activities or the Church's activities.

Steven Dillon said...

While the procedure of going to the Pope or his trusted appointees for doctrinal clarification might save those who are already Catholic from the "computationalist trap", it doesn't help anyone who isn't already Catholic: we're still left with only texts for determining whether Catholicism is true -- whether they be Scripture or Church fathers, etc.

Feser might deny this and insist we also have the guidance of living scholars or of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to save us from the computationalist trap, but then he's advocating for something that's no different in principle from the very Protestantism he's arguing against.

Anonymous said...

Why make this more complicated than it needs to be? No one in the early Church knew about sola Scriptura because no one taught it. The early Church believed in things like the Mass, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, bishops, papal authority, councils, etc. If your version of Christianity doesn't have any of these things, what's your reason for the discontinuity? Are you sure it's a good reason and not some ad hoc crap?

Glenn said...

Scott's question was rhetorical.

A lengthy, well-meaning response is given nonetheless, only half of the response is said to be a "direct answer", and the first two points of the "direct answer" contradict one another.

Perspicuity does not guaranty perspicacity.

BB said...

@Anonymous,

We all agree that there are bounds to the legitimate ambiguity of scripture. We can identify heretics as those who go beyond those bounds, set one part of scripture against another, or use non-Christian and non-rational sources (for example gnostic or semi-gnostic, or Hume, Hegel etc.) to frame Church dogma, order or practice, or who contradict what was universally believed in the earliest churches. Ultimately, Christianity is about salvation from sin through Christ. What endangers that salvation, matters concerning God, morals, and so on also goes beyond what is acceptable (as opposed to matters concerning vestments and the arrangements of candlesticks and eating particular types of food; there might be a `right' position here, but deviations from it don't really affect anything of importance). The questions are 1) Is the subject a matter of importance; i.e. can affect salvation, or lead to some vice such as greed or idolatory. 2) Has it contravened the legitimate bounds of scriptural interpretation? 3) Does it endanger salvation, or undermine something which supports a different key aspect of Christian doctrine? 4) Is it a novelty or genuinely from the authentic Christian deposit of faith?

@Glenn. Point 1) of my response says that the church has always, in every age, got some matters wrong (though not necessarily the same things in each age). Point 2) says that nonetheless, the church has always, in every age, got a lot of things right (though not necessarily the same things in each age). Unless "some" is interpreted to mean "everything" or "a lot" is interpreted to mean "nothing", I see those two statements as collaries rather than being in contradiction.

@Timocrates. Prudent, perhaps, but history shows us clearly that there aren't any reliable candidates for such a church. Unless you support the selling of indulgencies; the burning and torture of heretics; the enslavement and exploitation of Canary Islanders; widespread greed, sexual immorality and corruption among the clergy; the promotion of superstition; the denial of the Holy Scriptures and part of the Holy Sacrament to the laity; trading in faked relics, and so on. Many of these have subsequently been corrected (e.g. by the council of Trent); and fortunatley today's church repudiates them all, but each of them have at some point been approved either implicitly or explicitly and taught as dogma by Rome.

Timocrates said...

@ BB,

but history shows us clearly that there aren't any reliable candidates for such a church.

Well, of course, I do believe that. And yes, you can point to abuses and ignore the legitimate reformers.

Remember, Luther only started his revolution on the pretext - the casus belli - of Catholic penitents coming to him in confession exactly because they believed they had sin in purchasing what they feared amounted to a license to sin and not, in fact, an indulgence properly understood. You are right that the system was abused; however, you neglect the fact that it was Catholics who felt guilty for abusing that system already. There is a difference between the baby and the bathwater. And frankly, as the notorious "Protestant work ethic" goes to prove, Luther's reformation didn't remove a system of indulgences and the like for dealing with human guilt; rather, it just secularized it - namely with a secular work as means of self-imposed penance system: hence, if you work hard, you are entitled to play hard; if you work hard and pay your taxes, you are entitled to things. This is just indulgences secularized in my opinion and separated from the logic of the merit of truly good works, the rewards of which are spiritual firstly and above all else, though they can of course remove the temporal punishment due to sins.

Anonymous said...

Was it really an implicit of explicit dogma of Rome that clergy should be greedy, sexually immoral, and corrupt and that one can trade fake relics?

Timocrates said...

And from a psychological point of view, the West has for a long time understood the extraordinary limitations and dangers associated with the secularized Protestant indulgence system. It can generate workaholics (and it's tragic that word doesn't prompt my spell-checker - it's apparently a proper term so real is it) who vainly attempts to purge his guilt by working or attain self-fulfillment primarily through work and simultaneously feels entitled in justice to things as a consequence of his working. Both sides can lead to serious societal problems. It often means the natural social benefits that accrue from work are re-directed back to the individual (in the latter, entitlement case) or it leads to hyper-productivity and waste (not to mention serious psychological problems viz-a-viz the workaholic) in the former.

Steven Dillon said...

Anonymous says "The early Church believed in things like the Mass, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, bishops, papal authority, councils, etc. If your version of Christianity doesn't have any of these things, what's your reason for the discontinuity?"

In my experience, I have found Catholics to be under the general impression that the Church's positions are obviously true to anyone apprised of the facts. They seem to ascribe a similar sort of perspicuity to the early Church fathers that Protestants ascribe to the Bible. But, this seems wholly inappropriate when you take into consideration the sheer volume of non-Catholic Christian patrologists, many of whom Catholics rely on for things like English translations of the fathers. Newman once said that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant; but, I think it's fairer to say that the deeper one goes into history, the more he realizes the facts are opaque.

Timocrates said...

Indeed, continuing from my last post, it is no doubt part of the scandal to the rest of the world as America being so firmly and trenchantly a have and have-not society in spite of so much obvious wealth and why America has such a terribly difficult time finding a just balance. The Protestant indulgence system is also part of the reason why so many natural children of the West "give-up" on entering into government welfare programs because they feel terribly guilty in making use of them - their sense of dignity is wounded. To be sure, this is natural enough but the Protestant indulgence system makes doing such a thing tantamount to sin and also a kind of debt that must be further paid off to 'balance the ledger' in the Protestant secularized indulgence ledger, so to speak.

anon5 said...

Why is it the Magisterium such a controversial doctrine at all? The requirements on evidence for it are much higher than those for Scriptures. I get that some doctrines seem impious, like gnosticism that makes creation evil. Or if we truly are saved by works of our own that doesn't rely or partake in grace. Protestants seem to think that tradition and authority are obviously impious doctrines. But there's nothing in Church authority that seems impious in this way. If anything, it threatens impious attitudes, that revelation relies on myself somehow, and whiggery in general.

Scott said...

@BB:

Glenn is correct that my question was (largely) rhetorical, but thanks for answering it anyway.

In view of your direct reply, especially parts 1 and 2, what is it that you think justified Luther & Our Gang in breaking away from the historical Church?

It seems difficult to have it both ways: that, on the one hand, (a) the Church is always subject to errors of various degrees of seriousness but the Holy Spirit always brings her back to truth, and yet on the other, (b) schism and discontinuity were necessary in this one era/instance because for some reason the Holy Spirit wasn't going to bring the Church back to truth from within.

Glenn said...

BB,

Question: [A]t what approximate date do you think the Holy Spirit abandoned Christ's Church to error for a millennium?

Answer: [I]n direct answer to your question. 1) There is no definitive time [at which that occurred]... 2) The Church was not "abandoned to error"[.]

Btw, "There is no definitive date/time..." is not a 'direct' response to "At what approximate date/time..."

Just sayin', and not intending to get you worked up.

Wash212 said...

JohnD,

"One standard Protestant reply is that your critique proves too much since the Jews in Old Testament times did not have an institutional church to sort out interpretative disagreements and got along just fine."

Well, one might note that by the time of Jesus there were different Jewish groups with different canons of Scripture. The Sadducees, if I remember correctly, accepted only the first five books of Moses, whereas the Pharisees accepted those and the prophets. Hellenized Jews accepted the Deuterocanonical books but by the end of the first century, others had rejected them. So it seems that the Jews, without an authoritative institution comparable to the Catholic Church, suffered the first point of the Jesuit critique in not being able to provide an authoritative list for the canon.

dguller said...

Feser argues that one of the main reasons why one requires an authority outside the text is that the text itself is fundamentally indeterminate in the sense that there are always possible alternative meanings that can be derived from it. The only way to arrive at a determinate meaning is to have access to a person who is authorized to communicate the meaning of the text itself.

One of the arguments for this conclusion is that even with additional clarifications of the possible meaning of a text, there will always be “yet further possible alternative and incompatible interpretations”. That would lead to an infinite regress of sorts that would compromise the integrity of the meaning of the text. In order to avoid this conclusion, there must be a terminal endpoint of interpretation, and he attributes that to people who are authorized to interpret the text, such as the author or their representatives.

The problem with this, as far as I can tell, is that the authorized expositors of the text will communicate their interpretation via speech acts, which are themselves texts that require interpretation. After all, the speech act will itself be combination of physical sounds or marks that carries meaning by virtue of being interpreted as having meaning. And those texts will themselves always be open to “yet further possible alternative and incompatible interpretations”, which means that they are themselves open to Feser’s objection.

Furthermore, there is the assumption that the author themselves has the full authority to determine the meaning of the text, which seems to preclude other meanings in the text that the author simply never considered, but are legitimate interpretations nonetheless. Often times meaning is beyond an author’s intentions, and authors can be surprised by what other interpreters discover in their texts, even to the point of seeing them as true interpretations, and rejecting their own earlier understanding of their own texts.

So, the fact that a text is always open to alternative interpretations is not a sufficient warrant to require a terminating authority, because even in the presence of such an authority, there will still be an element of indeterminacy that is simply unavoidable. Maybe this in itself isn’t a problem for the Catholic position. After all, as long as the fundamental features of an interpretation are sufficiently determinate, then any residual indeterminacy is not particularly relevant, and thus is fairly harmless.

ricardo said...

I'm disappointed in Feser's linguistic turn. The requirement that everything needs interpretation is a basic tenet of post-modernism. Realism accepts not only the reality of the physical world but also the reality of terms and sentences that are understandable to common sense. Interpretations of interpretations lead to the nonsense of postmodernism.

Of course people with wisdom and authority are needed to provide leadership to the church. Sola scriptura doesn't deny this. Rather it is a slogan that emphasizes where there are disagreements, Scripture is the final authority. Does this solve all problems? No. Life always has problems. But it does provide an accessible source for answers -- unlike the volumes and volumes of Catholic doctrine.

Brandon Addison said...

Dr. Feser,

Thanks for your thoughts.

As a Protestant, however, I can't help but think that Catholic argument depends upon identification of the RCC as a Divinely sanctioned institution that gets to authoritatively interpret Scripture.

In principle I'm willing to admit that this may be preferable, but why are we to believe that Rome is in fact this institution? Why not Constantinople? Why not Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses? You may provide some compelling reasons to consider Rome above them, but aren't those reasons equally mired in linguistic symbols?

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thanks, Dr. Feser.

Timocrates said...

@ ricardo,

Interpretations of interpretations lead to the nonsense of postmodernism.

And when you said that, you made it all too clear to me that you missed a fundamental point explicitly raised against sola scriptura by Dr. Feser.

Glenn said...

ricardo,

Exegesis predates postmodernism -- albeit, it is granted, only by a few millennia.

monk68 said...

Dguller,

You wrote:

“The problem with this, as far as I can tell, is that the authorized expositors of the text will communicate their interpretation via speech acts, which are themselves texts that require interpretation. After all, the speech act will itself be combination of physical sounds or marks that carries meaning by virtue of being interpreted as having meaning. And those texts will themselves always be open to “yet further possible alternative and incompatible interpretations”, which means that they are themselves open to Feser’s objection.”

As far as I can tell, Dr. Feser has not maintain that *all* textual communication of whatever nature is necessarily underdetermined. He allows that much within a text (including Sacred Scripture) can be understood by competent language users who have sufficient knowledge of the historical context(s) which frame a document. For as a matter of fact, using a written medium to ask and answer second, third, and fourth order clarificatory questions between *living* human beings can indeed bring a dialogical spiral to an end by way of progressing toward, and even reaching a point of communicative simplicity wherein no further indeterminacy remains – as evidenced by the fact that no further questions are in fact raised. Consider the process entailed in the Catholic resolution of the controversial doctrinal question concerning the ordination of women.

1.) Neither biblical texts, nor even the monuments of sacred Tradition were sufficient to resolve the indeterminacy latent in the question as to whether a prohibition against the ordination of women was part of the formal deposit of faith.

2.) Pope John Paul II, speaking in his capacity as successor to St. Peter, effectively reduced the indeterminacy through the following Magisterial promulgation:

“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” - 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

3.) Nevertheless, some indeterminacy still remained as to whether this ruling was *formally* part of the deposit of faith. This further and specific clarificatory question was then put to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), whereupon the CDF issued a Responsum ad Propositum Dubium Concerning the Teaching Contained in ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ in which the CDF answered “Affirmative.”

After that final affirmation was issued it makes no conceptual or linguistic sense for a Catholic to then ask “Affirmative what”? The last response of the CDF achieves a point of clarificatoy simplicity and perspicuity (simple affirmation/negation) such that no further question need be asked with respect to *this specific point* of Catholic doctrine. But again, the reason why such a dialogical spiral can actually reach a definitive conclusion within the Catholic paradigm is precisely because second, third, and fourth order clarifcatory questions can be put to *living persons* who can work toward definitive resolutions. In short, there is a substantial ontological difference between the communicative and clarificatory potencies of persons and texts. The Catholic position recognizes and instantiates this ontological difference within her religious epistemology, whereas the Protestant paradigm does not, and (given its epistemological principles) cannot.

Pax Christi

Anonymous said...

On the OP--

(1) Only Reformed (= 'Calvinist') churches teach the sort of 'sola scriptura' that Fulford advocates at the Calvinist International and that Feser opposes here. Given Feser's concession that 'Protestants' disagree on many things, the OP raises no suspicion about the 'sola scriptura' of other non-Roman Catholic traditions (eg Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Wesleyans, Pentecostals). Indeed, we can reasonably read his argument as robust support for those traditions that explicitly read scripture with magisteria, traditions, authoritative polities, etc of their own. Whether that group in fact includes any Reformed churches is a phenomenological question.

(2) The OP's reductive model of text acknowledges no intrinsic difference between the canonical scriptures (cf Brevard Childs, Kevin van Hoozer) and texts that nobody reads as the Word of God. A reader who finds such an intrinsic difference will ignore the inapplicable model and the OP argument based on it.

(3) Similarly, the OP's model frames 'interpretation' not as the interplay of horizons recognized as the canonical text's and the believing reader's (cf Gadamer, Ricoeur) but as the elimination of ambiguity, the cutting off of variant readings. Those readers-- church fathers, medieval commentators, and their contemporary emulators-- who have found that the Word of God is by its sacred nature multivocal (eg multiple allegories, fourfold exegesis) will not recognize the OP's model of interpretation as relevant to texts received from God. This irrelevance is that of the second and third Jesuit objections, which thus seem not to suppose the difference between a God-made text and a man-made one. Those who know the difference will ignore these Jesuit objections and arguments that are similarly blind, including today's OP.

(4) The OP begs the question whether it is necessary that the alternate readings of a polysemous sacred text be evaluated from what Thomas Nagel calls "the view from nowhere." For if it is not necessary, then none of the Jesuit objections are reasonable criticisms of the actual readings of the several churches. When and where they are, the readings they find may be the readings that God wants them to find. And where some of these are harmful misreadings, they may be dismissed for local and traditional reasons that make contextual sense. The Jesuit objections assume what they set out to prove: the need for a univocal context-free understanding of everything in scripture in the present aeon. Those unpersuaded that each portion of the Word of God must be read in the same univocal way in every particular mind will ignore the arguments that assume this, including the Jesuit arguments and today's OP.

(5) The gospel-story incorporates the cosmos, believers, and the sacred texts they read or recite. This incorporation distinguishes the kind of meaning that believers find in the Christian scriptures from the kinds of meaning that standard readers find in texts that are not incorporative in this way. Neither the Jesuits, nor Feyerabend, nor Feser, nor Fulford have applied that distinction in their arguments. Those who understand the gospel-story will ignore arguments that do not see it as the inner reality of the creeds and scriptures, and indeed, all things.

(6) Paul Feyerabend is a most unreliable ally for a view that knowledge must have closure. Known by many as an 'epistemological anarchist,' he famously argued (in How to Be a Good Empiricist) that science has no intrinsic stake in ending the competition of rival paradigms of research. Rather, it is only through their continued competition that facts inconvenient to a dominant paradigm will continue to be discovered and explored, so that the sum of the known truth might be increased, even though no known paradigm can compass all of it. We might say the same for paradigms of scriptural exegesis.

agellius said...

Brandon Addison:

You write, "You may provide some compelling reasons to consider Rome above them, but aren't those reasons equally mired in linguistic symbols?"

Dr. Feser never argued against sola scriptura on the ground that it relies on "linguistic symbols". The problem is that it relies on text alone, and texts are "inherently indeterminate in their meaning." In other words, you often cannot determine the meaning of a text based on the text alone, but must utilize sources and standards and methods of interpretation that exist apart from the text.

There is no problem doing this in the course of evaluating the arguments in favor of the RCC, or the Mormon Church, or the JWs, or the Orthodox, because there is no rule precluding such things. The problem only arises when it is insisted that a text alone, and nothing outside that text, act as the standard of truth and orthodoxy.

Tony said...

In principle I'm willing to admit that this may be preferable, but why are we to believe that Rome is in fact this institution? Why not Constantinople? Why not Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses? You may provide some compelling reasons to consider Rome above them, but aren't those reasons equally mired in linguistic symbols?

Well, there is an unbroken line of bishops from Peter forward to Francis in the RCC, and no other institution has that. Mormons are separated by 1800 years from the founding of the Christian churches, so they have a hard time with "where were you all those years" questions. Worse still with JWs. Sure, in order to know these facts it takes knowledge of "linguistic symbols", but nobody disputes when the Mormon institutional church started. We all agree that even when linguistic symbols are ambiguous, capable of more than one meaning, they are eminently able to preclude myriad wrong meanings perfectly clearly and without dispute.

As a Protestant, however, I can't help but think that Catholic argument depends upon identification of the RCC as a Divinely sanctioned institution that gets to authoritatively interpret Scripture.

Suppose you were to construct a set of criteria, out of the blue, for what people would want to see in any supposed "authority" that has this infallibility.

It would probably include (a) "clearly identified", which seems to imply either ongoing miraculous direct intervention by God (Isaiah's miracles, for example), or an institution; and, since we cannot get miracles on demand, then:
(b) an institution continuously present from the time of the Apostles forward (for, if not, there is little to validate any later institution's bona fides);
(c) holiness. Now, it would be a mistake to seek this in the sense of an institution ALL of whose members are holy, for not even in the Apostolic times did the church enjoy that. No, what I mean is that regularly, throughout time, it produces forth people of heroic, undoubted holiness. People like Mother Teresa, like Therese of Lisieux. Francis of Assisi. People whose lives demonstrate beyond doubt that they were not self-serving, but laid down every ounce of their lives for God & others.

Not people like Brigham Young, with 55 wives.
Nor people like Martin Luther, who repudiated his own vows of celibacy take advantage of marriage.
Not people like (heaven help us) L. Ron Hubbard.

Anonymous said...

Monk68--

If you are especially proud of the Roman magisterium, that is not unreasonable, but nearly everybody else has doctrinal commissions and final authorities as well. The Episcopal Church, for example, followed a process not unlike that which you have described above to resolve the putatively open question whether same sex marriage is a state of life permitted to Christians. So it seems that belief in 'sola scriptura' (cf Article VI, Thirty-Nine Articles) need not, and in practice does not, preclude institutional processes of interpretation. Catholics like authoritative popes; everybody else in Christendom is content with authoritative synods, often with bishops.

Brandon Addison said...

Agellius,

I think you've missed the force of the dilemma in the context of Dr. Feser's argument. Dr. Fesser says,

"Rather, we have to be able to get outside of texts, to persons who have the authority to tell us what the texts mean."

So where do I find the person, outside of the historic texts, that tells me "what the text means?" That person would need to demonstrate they have the authority to speak on behalf of that person and we would go on ad infinitum.

Moreover, Dr. Feser's argument seem to presuppose (and your response certainly does presuppose) that personal language is not dependent upon linguistic symbols. Oral language and written language are both linguistic symbols,however, in different mediums. Dgueller has pointed this out as well.

One more important note: Sola Scriptura certainly does not "rely on the text alone." As those at CI have pointed out, the text is not all there is. Philosophy, linguistics, theology, etc., all factor into the hermeneutical process and the church is an authority and standard of truth and orthodoxy. Within Sola Scriptura, however, the church retains the potency for mistakes whereas Scripture does not and cannot err because it is the Word of God himself.

Tony,

You said, "Well, there is an unbroken line of bishops from Peter forward to Francis in the RCC, and no other institution has that."

Further discussion of this topic would probably take us slightly off topic. Suffice it to say that even Rome's best historians reject this narrative because the evidence for this claim is poor. Granting that you could possible argue for this position however, the point is that you need to use texts, which are mired in linguistic symbolism. How do we interpret those in a way that allows us to identify the Catholic Church in a way that precludes us from arriving at conclusions regarding biblical teaching?

It seems to me that this would be a case of special pleading, but I'd be interested to hear Dr. Feser's take.

agellius said...

Brandon Addison:

You write, "Moreover, Dr. Feser's argument seem to presuppose (and your response certainly does presuppose) that personal language is not dependent upon linguistic symbols."

I don't know where you get this idea.

Again you seem to think that Feser is arguing that linguistic symbols per se are bad or that they make it impossible to know things. But all he said was that linguistic symbols *alone* (sola) are *insufficient* to provide certainty, and therefore unable to act as the standard of orthodoxy, because they are "inherently indeterminate in their meaning" and there are "always in principle various alternative ways to interpret them, alternatives which the symbols themselves cannot adjudicate between." Therefore persons must do the adjudicating.

Philip Alawonde said...

I agree with Feser that it is better to clarify the meaning of statements in a text from the author himself (since he’s *at least* a human like you), or ‘authoritative representatives’ of that author (maybe because the author is dead, if he’s human, *and* those representatives *have reason to know precisely* what the author means; or because he communicates *in an unambiguous way only with some sorts of people,* in the case of God).

I think believers in ‘sola scriptura’ (‘solas’ afterward) would also agree with this. Thus I think where the real disagreement lies is that solas suppose that *all* such representatives of God are dead (e.g., the apostles, who lived with Christ and could have asked for clarifications on some of his statements; or the prophets, who could have received exact knowledge from God directly).

The other set of Christians does not believe this (majority of which are Catholic—who believe, e.g., that the apostles also had disciples, to whom they passed on this knowledge, who passed it on faithfully in a traditional line till the present moment—but there are also the minority groups or individuals like me, who say that although the apostles are dead, and don’t believe there could ever be such a *secure* succession of faithful communicators of knowledge as the Catholics believe, but that it is possible to have *direct* access to God today). In any case, we see that the irreducible thing that non-solas *all* agree with is that God still reveals himself to people today. It is upon this common ground that I’ll proceed.

Thus, either side has to make the case it presents (revelational cessation or progressive revelation), but first there *must* be a common ground for fairly doing this on, otherwise both sides would merely be begging the question against each other ad infinitum. That’s why this question necessarily comes up, ‘Who are the authoritative representatives of God’s revelation—how can we know them?’ (We can ask this since both sides believe that God does or did reveal his mind to human beings either directly or through the person of Christ).

This is—I think—the real heart of the whole debate. In effect, the question that must be agreed upon by both sides in the debate, before any real progress upon this issue is made, is, ‘What kind of people does God reveal truths to—what criteria sets them apart?’ After determining that, it’s an easy matter to see if the people the Catholics claim as representatives of God fulfil these criteria or not (apart from the apostolic succession thing). Asking such a question does not necessarily mean such people do not exist today, of course, but determining that after having answered that all-important question should be relatively easy. So, where the conflict really lies is in determining the kinds of people God reveals things to. That, I submit, is the crucial question to be answered in unison by both sides *or* by an objective third party, without which the problem remains—that is, the question about the epistemic justification of divine revelation (as opposed to other—not necessarily mutually exclusive—sources of knowledge like experience or reason)....

u.

Philip Alawonde said...

...We can employ the following set of criteria to determine if a piece of knowledge is of divine origin:

1. Some person must claim to have had contact with God, whence he was given a divine revelation, R *and*
2. Their claim must be justified by examining the semantic content of R. We possess epistemic ground to conclude that R is a truly supernatural revelation if and only if:
i. R *cannot* be known to a human—not even in principle—by natural means (e.g., R is a *specific* prediction of a future event—in the strictest sense possible) *and*
ii. By natural reason, only God is capable of knowing R.

If this set is examined and found at least sufficient (it is in fact necessary and sufficient), then it is a good means by which we can determine if, as the conflict goes, such people still exist among us today.

Of course Jesus’ statements pass this test, for (1) Jesus claimed severally to have direct communication with God and that all he said was of divine origin (we know that he said this by historio-archaeological analysis). More specifically, he said that he would be resurrected not long after being killed. Now, it’s clear that (2) such a claim could not have been known by a human. Furthermore, only God could know such a thing. Well, what’s more, we know this actually happened (by critico-historical analysis). This justifies the claims of Jesus to divine revelation. (Note that the Catholic apologist may now argue for apostolic succession, but that’s another matter).

Similarly, any purported prophet has to pass this test. Where non-sola basically disagrees with the sola is that the non-sola is open to the *possibility* of this happening; the sola rules it out, maintaining that all that will be revealed has already been revealed.

Well, the arguments may now begin (i.e., why do you rule out this possibility, sola?). Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Philip, if you look at my comments of 10:39 and 11:27, you will not only find an account of how God illumines 'solas,' but some reason to believe that when he illumines 'non-solas,' he does so in precisely the same way.

Beware: as I have noted here and there over the past few days, there is a lot of disinformation about 'sola scriptura' in these Feser threads, which begins with Feser's use (misunderstanding?) of Feyerabend. Even the lame Wikipedia article on 'sola scriptura' gives a better account of it than I have seen here.

Anonymous said...

A Gellius, Brandon Addison--

Please clarify:

Is there a church someplace that believes 'sola scriptura' and does not have any persons authoritatively interpreting scripture?

If nobody is interpreting scripture and if 'sola scriptura' is incoherent, to what do we attribute the unity of 'sola scriptura' churches?

dguller said...

Monk68:

For as a matter of fact, using a written medium to ask and answer second, third, and fourth order clarificatory questions between *living* human beings can indeed bring a dialogical spiral to an end by way of progressing toward, and even reaching a point of communicative simplicity wherein no further indeterminacy remains – as evidenced by the fact that no further questions are in fact raised.

Just because other possibilities are not present at one time does not mean that other possibilities are not going to be present to someone in the future, though. In other words, even if no-one who is told the clarifying information raises any further issues at that time does not preclude other people from raising other issues with the interpretation in the future in light of new information, for example.

Pope John Paul II, speaking in his capacity as successor to St. Peter, effectively reduced the indeterminacy through the following Magisterial promulgation

But is his status as pope sufficient to eliminate the possibility of error on his part when declaring a particular interpretation of a series of religious texts? How exactly did he make that determination? Did it simply appear in his mind after he prayed for a solution? Why is that considered a reliable method of determining the truth of the matter? Have popes ever made mistakes in the past, i.e. have had their interpretations abrogated and replaced by other popes? If so, then what guarantee is there that JPII’s interpretation is correct?

In short, there is a substantial ontological difference between the communicative and clarificatory potencies of persons and texts.

But one can argue that there is no such difference.

First, a text is a series of physical signs that require a human interpretation to infer meaning. A person’s speech is also a series of physical signs that require a human interpretation to infer meaning.

Second, a text’s meaning can be determinate in some cases simply on the basis of the evidence of other texts. For example, a text talking about Pat may be indeterminate about whether Pat is a male or a female, but other texts might clarify the matter by explicitly stating the Pat is a female. Similarly, as you mentioned in your example above, a living person can provide a determinate meaning to a text that they are authorized to interpret.

Third, a text’s meaning can remain indeterminate, despite the presence of other texts that provide additional context, which was Feser’s point. But, similarly, the meaning of a text can remain indeterminate, even if there is a living authority to consult. For example, the author of the text may have changed their mind about the meaning, or realized that they meant something else at the time after later consideration, or maybe they see that their text doesn’t make sense to them when they review it again in the future.

Therefore, there does not seem to be a principled difference between a written text and a speech act in that both are a collection of physical signs whose meaning can be determinate or indeterminate, depending upon the context.

agellius said...

Anon:

You write, "Is there a church someplace that believes 'sola scriptura' and does not have any persons authoritatively interpreting scripture?"

It's my understanding that virtually all independent evangelical churches do not believe in the authoritative interpretation of the scriptures, in the sense of someone having the authority to tell others how a passage must be interpreted, when other interpretations are both possible and plausible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,

There is something that I find deeply confusing about some of the positions you take.
On the one hand, you hold that “man by reason alone can know God.” We agree, I assume, that Nature created by God is revelation of God. Though not all ‘competent practitioners’ agree, you insist that the five ways are proofs that go beyond the defense that faith is reasonable. The proofs and the metaphysics behind them yield not reasonable faith, but knowledge that all men of sound mind should in principle be able to obtain.
When it comes to the sun, the moon and the stars, you discount man’s ethical corruption (suppressing the truth in unrighteousness) and insist that man –unaided-can know that God made them.
In other words, you seem to assign a certainty to man’s interpretative ability when it comes to natural revelation.
On the other hand, when it comes to special revelation, man’s interpretative ability fails completely, and thus needs the magisterium.
You seem to be saying that the ‘less direct’ is somehow clear while the ‘more direct’ is obscure.
Even when it comes to a simple declaration such as; “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” you claim that this cannot be understood by anyone without the testimony of the church, while Paul ascribes this understanding (faith) to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
Toward the end of his gospel John writes that even though what he writes is not exhaustive, it is sufficient, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
How is it that you insist that a ‘natural’ man alone, even after the fall, is a competent interpreter of Nature, while at the same time asserting that a man restored by the Spirit’s testimony is incompetent to interpret any of those things God Himself has spoken by His prophets and by His Son?
None of this is affirming anything like “me and my Bible”, but is an attempt to try to understand the philosophy you write about.



monk68 said...

Anon 11:27am,

I have no idea why you think that what I wrote indicated some sense of “pride” in the Catholic Magisterium. My principle goal in responding to dguller was to point out that there is an ontological difference between persons and texts which enable the former to achieve resolutions to a dialogical spiral where the latter cannot. Certainly, any institutional system of personal authorities, religious or otherwise, could be utilized to show as much. Certainly, with respect to that limited point, your Anglican analog could have served just as well.

However, from another point of view your particular comparison in disanlogous. The reason is because, with respect to the content of *divine* revelation, Christians are (or should be) interested in determining that meaning which God would have them know concerning the contents of the deposit of faith. However, in order to determine that some explication or promulgation concerning the contents of the deposit of faith *mediated through human instruments* actually represents the meaning which God in fact intends men to grasp - over against mere educated opinion - requires on the part of the recipient, knowledge that the mediated promulgation itself enjoys divine protection from error. For if one does not know a given doctrinal promulgation to be divinely protected from error, then one likewise does not know if said promulgation is part and parcel of *divine* revelation. It might instead be errant.

But no Protestant communion, Anglican or otherwise, even makes the claim to enjoy divine protection when promulgating doctrinal decisions, much less offers motives of credibility to support such a claim. The principle of sola scriptura explicitly denies that the teachings of popes or councils (or synods, etc., etc.) of any Christian communion is free from error. The only inerrant source for doctrine remains an ancient text – and only (sola) an ancient text. Hence, on Protestantism of any stripe, the most that can be said about creeds, confessions, synodal decrees, etc. is that they represent an educated, albeit fallible, human estimate concerning the content and meaning of the deposit of faith.

But that just entails that *every* Protestant doctrinal position – in principle - is epistemologically blocked from going so far as to claim divine sanction for its rendering. But lacking knowledge of divine sanction, one has no knowledge that *any* doctrinal position promulgated in fact captures the meaning which God would have men understand. What one is left with is educated human opinion, of which there are many. That is why there never can be a unified stance with respect to a divisive doctrinal issue such as women’s ordination within the Protestant world at large. The Catholic Church, by contrast, assuming that her claim to enjoy divine protection from error when promulgating doctrine in a definitive way is true, provides precisely what is needed to overcome the epistemological barrier to knowledge of *divine* revelation - as opposed to educated, but fallible, human theological opinion. Of course, the question concerning the veracity of the Catholic claim would involve a foray into the motives of credibility which she offers as a rational foundation for recognizing her definitive teaching as divinely protected from error. But that is a large topic for another time.

Pax Christi

Anonymous said...

A Gellius--

Your understanding does not describe what I have seen. The vast majority of 'sola scriptura' churches are Protestant churches that cannot be described as 'independent evangelicals,' and among those that can be so described the teaching authority of the pastor is the only actual point of having one. In every community, Catholic and non-Catholic, there are persons who disagree with their pastors, of course.

How about the second question-- if 'sola scriptura' is in fact as incoherent as some here say, how is that the evangelical world is so unified on so much with no administrative control to enforce this?

Kindly understand that I am hardly some anti-Catholic derp-- very far from it-- but some arguments cross the line from 'I don't see why people of other churches believe what they do' to 'Because I don't see why people of other churches believe what they do-- and I of course am the standard rationality-- they must be idiots too belong to those other churches when they could belong to mine." Just as some Protestant derps talk as though popes just make stuff up for Catholics to passively believe-- I trust that you know better?-- so Catholic derps talk as though two Protestants cannot read the Bible together without a bitter, faith-destroying quarrel on some undecidable point of doctrine. Uncorrected, both are bigotry, which I trust all on a philosophy blogsite would take some pains to avoid.

Brandon Addison said...

Agelius,

For clarification, I do not believe that Dr. Feser has argued that language is "bad." What remains unclear to me is how Feser accounts for identifying the "person" with the supposed authority to interpret the text.

In my mind, the issue is that in order to connect Rome as the final arbiter of Scripture rests upon complex arguments with multiple possible interpretations--just like Scripture. Thus, an attack on Scriptural perspicuity falls squarely back on Magisterial perspicuity. In other words, either the dilemma is illegitimate, in which case the argument fails and further arguments must be made to arbitrate between positions *or* the dilemma is legitimate and the postmodern critic undermines the truth claims of religious folks. This is my perception at least, but I am open to hear other perspectives!

monk68 said...

Dguller,

“. . . In other words, even if no-one who is told the clarifying information raises any further issues at that time does not preclude other people from raising other issues with the interpretation in the future in light of new information”

Not if everyone recognizes the authority and competence of the one promulgating the clarification *and* if that clarification reaches a level of simplicity approaching or equivalent to an affirmation or negation. The only person capable of answering the question has given a “yes” or “no”. End of spiral.

“But is his status as pope sufficient to eliminate the possibility of error . . .? How exactly did he make that determination? . . .Why is that considered a reliable method of determining the truth . . .? If so, then what guarantee is there that JPII’s interpretation is correct?”

That’s a different question. I was simply assuming a Catholic stance regarding papal authority in using the illustration I did. But whether the Catholic authority paradigm is true or false is irrelevant to my point concerning persons and texts.
“First, a text is a series of physical signs that require a human interpretation to infer meaning. A person’s speech is also a series of physical signs that require a human interpretation to infer meaning.”

Agreed

Continued . . .

monk68 said...

“. . . For example, a text talking about Pat may be indeterminate about whether Pat is a male or a female, but other texts might clarify the matter by explicitly stating the Pat is a female. Similarly, as you mentioned in your example above, a living person can provide a determinate meaning to a text that they are authorized to interpret.”

Agreed

“. . . For example, the author of the text may have changed their mind about the meaning, or realized that they meant something else at the time after later consideration, or maybe they see that their text doesn’t make sense to them when they review it again in the future.”

I think this is a bit of an equivocation. If a person recognized as having the authority to issue a clarification on some point offers a clarification that reaches a point of communicative simplicity (for ex. the point of simple affirmation or negation), that person’s *meaning* will not in fact remain indeterminate. In the here and now, the meaning will be determinate. Even if they change such a simple clarification (moving from affirmation now to negation in the future), the meaning of the new stance (now negation) will still remain determinate. Moreover, in the case of the Catholic Magisterium (again assuming Catholic principles) such changes with respect to definitive teaching are impossible.

“Therefore, there does not seem to be a principled difference between a written text and a speech act in that both are a collection of physical signs whose meaning can be determinate or indeterminate, depending upon the context.”

I agree that there is not a principled difference between texts and persons “in that both are a collection of physical signs whose meaning can be determinate or indeterminate” – that’s uncontroversial.

Perhaps we are speaking past each other. The key difference between texts and persons which I had hoped to highlight in my earlier post is not their sign-nature, nor the fact that both texts and persons can both being potentially determinate or indeterminate as vehicles of communication. The principle difference between the two is simply this: *when* a text actually is indeterminate, there is no principled way to resolve the indeterminacy (the dialogical spiral as I called it) in the absence of a living person capable of answering second, third, or fourth order questions concerning the *original* meaning *intended by the text’s author*. That’s the problem with sola scriptura. On Protestantism you have an ancient text, but with no one recognized as being in a position to definitively ferret out the original meaning of the text (whether the original apostolic meaning or divine meaning) in places where the text is in fact indeterminate. However, on Catholicism, since there are such persons and they are identifiable; second, third, and fourth order clarificatory questions can be asked of them and answered in a progressively precise way – even to the level of simple affirmation and negation. Why? because persons can answer repeated questions – texts cannot. That’s a basic, important ontological difference.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Monk 68, for a rapid reply.

I have never witnessed a meeting of Protestants (or for that matter Orthodox) making a doctrinal decision that did not pray for divine assistance and protection from error. Despite knowing about robber councils and the like, they still expect that God will answer their prayer, and they cite the result as if he had. No church functions with the self-suspicion that you attribute to Protestants.

'Sola scriptura' readers are a little distinctive in that they seem to have found more coherence and reliability in the canon than other believers had suspected was possible. I am not surprised that Benedict wanted N.T. Wright to address his synod on the scriptures, or that Wright and other evangelicals, although emphatic about their own sola scriptura position, have been excited by at least the papal interest in good exegesis. That leads to warm praise for especially artful encyclicals that my Catholic friends do not always seem to follow.

Sola scriptura does not entail that all other authorities are always wrong, but it does entail that when the scriptures are clear they have no relevance. A believer does not choose between a word from God and a word from men.

Protestants and Catholics differ among themselves about the same things. Administrative unity has its uses but it is still administrative unity. Every church has as much as it needs.

To a painter who works mainly in color, it can be hard to see why a sculptor even bothers. "Sculpture is what you back into when you step back to see a big painting." Conversely, a sculptor can wonder why painters do not realize that photography has replaced them. "Paintings keep getting bigger because they are trying to be sculptures." We cannot understand other positions simply as the failure of others to adopt our own; they have a genius of their own that has to seen without defensiveness to be seen at all.

monk68 said...

Anon,

"No church functions with the self-suspicion that you attribute to Protestants".

The defining doctrinal mark of Protestantism of all stripes is sola scriptura: a doctrine designed explicitly as an alternative to the authority claims of the Catholic Church. It embodies the very heart of the "protest" in Protestantism.

Do you deny that the key notion which grounds sola scriptura is the notion that only (sola) scripture is inerrant and ultimately authoritative, such that by simple disjunction, it follows that popes and councils can and do err (as was explicitly held by the magisterial Reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries)?

Because unless you do deny that, every Protestant church does in fact - explicitly or implicitly - function with exactly the self-suspicion I attribute to Protestants. The descriptive account of Protestants and Catholic you provide does not touch any part of the argument I made in my prior post to you.

Pax

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:57--

You ask Ed[ward Feser] why he trusts the post-Fall mind to infer God from nature, but does not trust the graced mind to understand the plain sense of scripture. You offer good examples of texts that we would think any Christian should be able to understand.

At 10:39, I suggest that the OP relies on models of sacredness, textuality, and interpretation that increase the distance between the Word and the graced reader so that assistance is then necessary to bridge it. Given that turn, resort to the Church is not surprising. However, with models more appropriate to the Christian canon, this distance narrows or vanishes.

I doubt that his well-considered philosophy actually entails the bad models. It frankly looks as though he knows more then is actually true about 'sola scriptura' and ran for three days with a bad analogy.

monk68 said...

Anon,

And I should add that just because many Protestant Christians have not individually thought through the epistemological ramifications sola scriptura with respect to mankind's access to divine revelation *as such*; it does not follow that the ramifications I have pointed out do not, as a matter of fact, logically follow upon embrace of that foundational doctrine.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymouses,

The basic point is far less theologically high-falutin' than you guys seem to think. In fact it's pretty simple.

First Anonymous: Whatever else a text is, a text is an artifact that makes use of conventional symbols. That's not a "reductive model" of what a text is; that's simply what a text is. If you disagree, I'd love to hear your defense of the claims that texts are not artifacts, that they do not make use of conventional symbols, etc. (Bonus error on your part: To think that Feyerabend got something right -- as I do -- does not entail that I think Feyerabend got everything right, that I need to buy his entire epistemology, etc. Why on earth do you imply otherwise?)

Second Anonymous: You fail to note the crucial, and obvious, distinction between texts and symbols (which have an entirely conventional or derivative meaning) and natural phenomena (which have built in teleology and causal power etc.). Once that distinction is noted, the alleged parallel you try to draw between what I say in the OP and what I have said about natural theology entirely collapses. (Bonus error on your part: I never said that "man’s interpretative ability fails completely"; in fact, I explicitly denied that in the OP.

agellius said...

Brandon Addison:

You write, "What remains unclear to me is how Feser accounts for identifying the 'person' with the supposed authority to interpret the text."

It's not the point of the OP to prove that the Catholic Church is the authoritative interpreter of the scriptures. The point is to provide a philosophical critique of sola scriptura; to show that it's incoherent in principle.

As Dr. Feser says in the OP, trying to turn the argument back on the Catholic Church doesn't solve the problem inhering in sola scriptura. If you could demonstrate that the Church was under the same difficulties, that might be an interesting topic for another blog post, but it still would not eliminate your difficulties. All it would show is that both are wrong.

Anonymous said...

Monk68, we have been discussing all this for a few days, so courtesy to others (and my evening) will limit my repetition of points already made here at length.

On the C16, I, in all seriousness, refer readers here to the actual text of the unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530. I cannot refer them to its article on holy scripture because, tellingly, there was none. Part of the point of the exercise for both Protestants and Catholics to see how the first authoritative Protestant document actually engaged late medieval authorities. Neither is likely to expect what they will find.

Reformation churches differed in their understanding of 'sola scriptura,' as I have explained here at length. The Lutheran and Anglican understandings of it explicitly cite church tradition (cf the Anglican Article VI). The Reformed doctrine with which Fulford is concerned and that Feyerabend seems to have misunderstood is nearer to what you seem to have in mind. Later formulations of sola scriptura add more subordinate sources-- Anglicans emphasize 'reason' (what Benedict meant by 'Logos'), and Wesleyans add 'experience' to arrive at the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Pietists, Holiness churches and Pentecostals follow the Wesleyans, so the only Protestants in your town who hypothetically follow something like what you describe are Calvinists. Please note that most of this development came of intra-Protestant debate that had nothing much to do with faraway popes ruling the Papal States. If your hometown is in the US, the post-revolutionary C19 'democratization of religion' has done much more than the C16 reformers to shape popular attitudes there about Bible, religion, etc.

There is a real Protestant-Catholic difference that is apparent from that 1530 document to your next cup of coffee with a minister from the local CME church-- the papacy believed in administrative unity under its own control, and northern European Protestants mostly wanted either flexibility (Augsburg) or devolution (Anglicans). They wanted in the North what the Orthodox had then and have now in the East. In an era when popes thought like the Italian princes they were, they met the this with excommunication and plans for regime change, further radicalizing the situation in ways that might now be regretted. The popes of today are men that even your local CME pastor will somewhat admire, but he is unlikely to accept more papal oversight than the patriarchs. The disagreement has chiefly been, not about divine theology, but about all too human power.


Patrick said...

“Just as someone who knows English and has read a number of other things I’ve written is going to be able to understand much of what I have to say in any particular blog post, so too is anyone familiar with the relevant languages and historical background going to be able to understand much of what he reads in scripture, and in any other historical document for that matter. No one denies that. Certainly, critics of sola scriptura are not denying that you can to a considerable extent understand scripture just by virtue of knowing the languages in which it is written, something of the historical and cultural contexts of the events it describes, etc. They aren’t claiming that without an authoritative institutional Church, scripture would be as unintelligible as (say) Esperanto is to most people.”

Doesn’t it suffice that one can understand Scripture to a considerable extent? Is there any need for an infallible interpretation of Scripture? Doesn’t it suffice that there is a fairly reliable interpretation?

Can one only be saved if one has infallible interpretations of Scripture at one’s disposal or is this also possible with fairly reliable interpretations? If the latter is true one can argue that God hasn’t provided the possibility to have infallible interpretations of Scripture because there is no need for them.

“Now, does scripture raise exegetical issues which appeal to scripture by itself cannot settle? The existence of myriad Protestant denominations and sects which agree on sola scriptura but nevertheless somehow disagree deeply on many matters of biblical interpretation is, I submit, pretty good evidence that it does.”

But as far as I can see there are true Christians in all of the Protestant denominations, so the disagreement among Protestants concerning the interpretation of Scripture obviously doesn’t keep people in different Protestant denominations from becoming true Christians.

Patrick said...

“Notice that the claim is not that “anything goes.” It is not that a text might plausibly be given just any old interpretation. There may be any number of proposed interpretations which are ruled out.”

I assume instead of “old” there should be written “odd”. In my opinion there ARE some interpretations of Scripture passages that are odd and can be ruled out. One of these examples is the interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19 as supposedly saying that Jesus established the Papacy. I’m quite sure there is no trained Biblical scholar publishing in peer reviewed journals for New Testament Studies who holds the view that such an interpretation is valid.

“The point is that the text cannot by itself rule out all alternative interpretations. Notice also that the claim is not that texts are indeterminate full stop. The claim is that a text all by itself cannot rule out all the alternatives. Appeal to something outside the text is necessary.”

Again, is it really necessary that all ambiguities and uncertainties concerning the interpretation of Scripture must be done away with?

Patrick said...

“For it holds that God reveals what we need to know for salvation in part via scripture but also in part via an ongoing institutional Church which has divine guidance in interpreting scripture.”

If this was true no one who ignores the teaching of the Catholic Church could be saved.

“Now, either scripture alone can settle these controversies or it cannot.”

Does scripture have to be able to settle these controversies? Doesn’t it suffice that by using Scripture one can make a good case concerning the Biblical foundation of the respective views?

“If Fulford says that it cannot, then he will thereby make of sola scriptura a vacuous doctrine, since if it cannot answer such questions then it cannot tell us whether it is Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Christians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarian Universalists, or some other group entirely who has got Christianity right.”

I’m quite sure when looking at all the different interpretations of Scripture these denominations offer there are some that are within the bound of what can be regarded as being reasonable interpretations and some that are not.

Anonymous said...

Edward Feser-- You have successfully sold me your books with this blog :-) but not as yet this particular line of argument.

"Everything should be as simple as possible, but not too much."

Although you (and Feyerabend) seem interested in patristic and Reformation 'perspicuity,' the target of your argument seems to be what Protestant theologians dismiss as 'nuda scriptura,' as distinct from 'sola scriptura.' Perhaps you have engaged Kevin Van Hoozer on this point?

If I can make your argument stick to at least that, then we would have only a verbal disagreement, albeit one that seems to arouse unphilosophical passions in some of your readers. It would be easier for me to see a way to get at least that far if you could refer me to a post on your philosophical account of the difference, if you see one, between a sacred and a non-sacred text. That is also essential to the evaluation of your argument as a critique of 'sola scriptura,' which assumes that distinction.

Feyerabend appropriated the Jesuits to insist that facts are not self-evident things but are theory-dependent (cf Quine, Putnam, and of course Kuhn, Lakatos). Your OP seems to set this non-self-evidence of facts in analogy to an undecidability of texts. But if you indeed do this, what corresponds to the theory-dependence of facts in your account of texts. Do you *not associate meaningfulness with the text at all*, or do you *associate meaningfulness with the text through an analogue to Feyerabend's theory-dependence*? Feyerabend's analogy from biblicism to empiricism seems to takes one to that fork. With empiricism discredited, he and Lakatos conserved the independence of phenomena from paradigms with a competition of the latter approaching the former differently and non-commensurably. If biblicism is similarly discredited, and if one wants to similarly conserve the independence of the Bible from any single interpretive paradigm, then one seems led to meaning-dependence in more than one paradigm.

Put another way, the three Jesuit objections argue for buying the dependence of the scriptures on a single interpretive system with their independent evidential value. That is a steep price to pay. Second...nth interpretive systems progressively reduce that price. And in the real world, we may be better off with rival Roman, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, etc 'paradigms' than we would be with any one of them.

Must you accept this outcome? Of course not, though you may not mind it. But if you don't accept it, then it is unclear what you take from Feyerabend's analogy from biblicism to empiricism.

Anonymous said...

Of all the Apostles, the one most likely to have read Aristotle was also the one who was the most prolific writer and the one most responsible for creating the early popular church; St Paul. Protestants site Sola Scriptura most frequently for his writings with the most famous case of Luther's "By Faith Alone".

Roman Emperor Constantine established the Church of Rome founded by St Peter. Those old Gothic Cathedrals were actually modern technological structures of their day built on wealth and the high technology of modern architecture. Unlike the great temples of Judaism which had restrictions on who could enter, the Catholic Church built one of the world's first great democratic institutions to advance civilization by educating millions into the clerical life. Like any great media empire or corporation, consistency of thought was tantamount. Until the advent of Guttenburg's invention, the Bible was only accessed by the educated people in the church who were literate and educated.

After the widespread dissemination of the Bible and rediscovery of St Paul's writings which were the basis for the popular early church, well the rest is history as they say.

Sounds oversimplified until you realize that the human brain was being taught to get past the 'symbols and logic' and laws...In The Beginning Was The Word.....

VicP

Timocrates said...


@ Anonymous (July 24, 2015 at 10:39 AM )

(5) The gospel-story incorporates the cosmos, believers, and the sacred texts they read or recite. This incorporation distinguishes the kind of meaning that believers find in the Christian scriptures from the kinds of meaning that standard readers find in texts that are not incorporative in this way.

This has to be the single most ridiculous, desperate and pathetic nonsense I have ever read.

Firstly, if you actually think you've been incorporated into a text somehow, then you need your head checked. Christians are incorporated into the Church, the body of Christ - not into a text.

Secondly, your reliance on "read" and "readers" puts the illiterate in a rather precarious position as, apparently, it is only the literate who could possibly be incorporated into this all-important text, apparently.

Christians are not incorporated into a text as you absurdly require. They are incorporated into the body of Christ.

I really feel Professor Feser should delete that entire post by Anonymous as a transparent abuse and disgrace of human intelligence. He is actively making everyone dumber and we hardly need any more of that in the world.

Timocrates said...

Also, I can't follow all these anonymous posters. Can we please make it a requirement that people somehow designate themselves? It makes exploding bad arguments and cleaning up the mess these anonymouses make all the more difficult. Some people as we know all too well feel satisfied if they can merely confuse the issue sufficiently and create doubt, then using that as a license to believe as they please. This is hardly helpful in a philosophical context.

It would be nice Dr. Feser if your blog would allow you to sign a moderator or something so someone could easily remove anonymous posts before they derail conversation. These anonymouses are like online dialogue terrorists who drive up into the conversation in an SUV loaded with explosives packed with shrapnel in order to make a mess and a lot of smoke and hope to flee amidst the smoke, chaos and confusion caused.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous (July 24, 2015 at 10:39 AM )

(5) The gospel-story incorporates the cosmos, believers, and the sacred texts they read or recite. This incorporation distinguishes the kind of meaning that believers find in the Christian scriptures from the kinds of meaning that standard readers find in texts that are not incorporative in this way.

*Honey I shrunk the kids and incorporated them into a letter of the alphabet that is included in the gospel-story! They are saved every time an English bible is printed, read and recited!*

*Well done honey!*

Nate said...

Feser,

The problem with your argument is this: granted there exists an infallible interpreter, we must use fallible interpretive means to conclude who is such an infallible interpreter.

In this case, to verify the Roman Catholic Church's infallibility, we'd have to read very, very old documents ... fallibly.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

That is in fact not a problem with Dr. Feser's argument at all. He did not deny that there can be sufficient termini in communication as you falsely presume. Dr. Feser is not a skeptic. All he has done is show the limitations of the nature of textual communication or singular reliance on a text as such for that communication. A book by itself does and accomplishes nothing if the book cannot be read, firstly; secondly, it is incapable of itself of answering questions or difficulties that are simply not raised or included in it. Further, the bible does not include, for example, a section outlining the rules of logic and claim that anyone presuming to interpret the bible or draw conclusions or consequences from it and does not conform to these rules cannot be considered as an authority on the bible's meaning; however, clearly, for example, we do require conclusions and arguments made from the scripture to be logical. "Jesus said, 'You shall know them by their fruits.' Therefore, we should all eat and grow good fruit" is clearly not a consequence of this teaching - but where does the scripture say it is not or even outline why such specious reasoning should be ignored? Consequently we always do bring to the scripture external authorities - in this case, legitimate human reasoning - as a guide or rule for interpreting the scripture and, therefore, strictly speaking the rule of faith is not only scripture alone but scripture coupled with (at least) legitimate reasoning. And that it to the Jesuit critique of sola scriptura's point, as Dr. Feser said:

(c) scripture alone cannot give us a procedure for deriving consequences from scripture

Timocrates said...

Indeed, even the otherwise sound exegetical advice of let scripture interpret scripture is nowhere to be found in the scripture, though I agree with it in practice that it is wise to do this, though it is difficult to imagine how to proceed without such rules of interpretation, without which there would be total chaos of interpretation. And that is again to the point of the Jesuit critique of the doctrine (or dogma) of sola scriptura: without recourse to something external to the scripture the doctrine of sola scriptura would be totally impractical; and insofar as it is practical, it is exactly because of reliance on external or secondary authorities, such as the rules of logic, grammar and contextual rules for interpreting literature generally.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>Roman Emperor Constantine established the Church of Rome founded by St Peter.

Then what about all the Church Fathers who lived before Kaiser Konstantin?

Hermas

"Therefore shall you [Hermas] write two little books and send one to Clement [Bishop of Rome] and one to Grapte. Clement shall then send it to the cities abroad, because that is his duty" (The Shepherd 2:4:3 [A.D. 80]).



Ignatius of Antioch

"Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father" (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).

"You [the church at Rome] have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force" (ibid., 3:1).



Dionysius of Corinth

"For from the beginning it has been your custom to do good to all the brethren in various ways and to send contributions to all the churches in every city. . . . This custom your blessed Bishop Soter has not only preserved, but is augmenting, by furnishing an abundance of supplies to the saints and by urging with consoling words, as a loving father his children, the brethren who are journeying" (Letter to Pope Soter in Eusebius, Church History 4:23:9 [A.D. 170]).

"Today we have observed the Lord’s holy day, in which we have read your letter [Pope Soter]. Whenever we do read it [in church], we shall be able to profit thereby, as also we do when we read the earlier letter written to us by Clement" (ibid., 4:23:11).

Irenaeus

"But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition" (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [A.D. 189]). END QUOTE

Sola Scriptura is A-historical. At best some Fathers might have taught the material sufficiency of Scripture but that is not Sola Scriptura.

I have discovered when arguing with the Reformed who make a distinction between Sola Scriptura vs Solo Scriptura that Sola Scriptura becomes a moving target.

It becomes impossible to define and more often then not the Reformed conflate it with material sufficiency.

Wither a strict or loose understanding of Sola Scriptura it still fails the test of itself.

It's not taught in Scriptures thus it is false by it's own standards.

OTOH if you infer it from scriptures well I can infer Marian Doctrine from Scriptures & the Papacy. The later has a very strong Case.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>let scripture interpret scripture.

Very well.

16.Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.”

Is there any other place in Scriptures when God thru the Son of David gives keys to a man?

Yes there is in the OT.

"20 “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. Isaiah 22:20-23

The OT Kings of Judah had a Prime Minister (Master of the Household) who had absolute authority and was above every minister in the Kingdom of Judah and could only be over ruled by the King. This Prime Minister had the Key of David (Key symbolizes Authority ) and was Father(Latin Pope) over the people.

Jesus gave keys to Peter. Nuff said.

If I follow the Bible alone & let scripture interpret Scripture what can I conclude? The Papacy is Biblical. At this point I find "Just read scripture and let it interpret itself" falls by the wayside.

R Gillmann said...

@ Son of Ya'Kov

Keith A. Mathison's "Solo Scriptura" clarifies what the Reformers meant by Sola Scriptura as opposed to the later (and mostly liberal) developments. He shows that the Solo doctrine and the Tridentine Catholic doctrine are opposite extremes from the moderate tradition of Christianity.


Son of Ya'Kov said...

>The problem with your argument is this: granted there exists an infallible interpreter, we must use fallible interpretive means to conclude who is such an infallible interpreter.

>In this case, to verify the Roman Catholic Church's infallibility, we'd have to read very, very old documents ... fallibly.

Not really.

At some point you have to start with human reason (assisted by Grace and Divine Providence) to maker a judgement as to what authority you will submit too.

Nobody denies that.

Once you concluded what that authority is then you must follow it unless you have good reason to believe it is not an authority from God then you might re-evaluate it. But once you have concluded that it is the God appointed Authority you have to follow it.

If you follow Scripture alone without a Church with any real binding authority from God well you are making yourself the authority and that is not legitimate unless you claim for yourself Apostleship or being a Prophet. Yeh good luck with that.....

You don't need a second or third or fouth level infallible authority to find the Church.

Can you use reason alone to determine what inspired Scripture is and the full Canon of the Bible?

I say no you cannot since there are too many gaps. But I think based on the historical evidence you can determine the existence of a Church with God given Authority and protected by Divine Providence.

From that you can determine Scripture and It's meaning as protected by the Holy Spirit.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>Keith A. Mathison's "Solo Scriptura" clarifies what the Reformers meant by Sola Scriptura as opposed to the later (and mostly liberal) developments. He shows that the Solo doctrine and the Tridentine Catholic doctrine are opposite extremes from the moderate tradition of Christianity

The only difference between his Sola vs Solo is analogous to Protestant denominations who fobid gay marriage but allow divorce and remarriage vs those that allow both.

The Catholic view is not the extreme position but the correct one. It's the only view that keeps the peace and allows clarity.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

As a Catholic Christian I MUST confess the truth of Marian doctrine and submit to the lawful authority of the Pope for Salvation.

I have no problem with that since it is eminently reasonable to me if you by malice resist the known truth or refuse to learn it threw culpable ignorance (as opposed to invincible) you sin mortally against Him who is Truth Itself.

Is Sola Scriptura (even in it's so called moderate Reformed version vs it's radical evangelical form) a truth I must confess for salvation?

If it isn't (like Aquinas' theories on Being vs let us say Scotus) then why should I follow it?

If it is then by what authority do I believe it? It's not taught by Tradition, Church or Scripture so how can I be compelled under pain of damnation to follow it?

Timocrates said...

@ Son of Ya'Kov,

What I meant by let scripture interpret scripture is in part the general rule of interpretation of reading things in their overall context when considering their meaning. I did not mean that only scripture can be used or considered in interpreting scripture. Any number of other considerations may be legitimately employed, e.g., contemporary historical sources that may provide cultural or intellectual context, for example. We could also note that the Church does teach that the Old is unveiled in the New, as the example you cited is probably a case of. That's all I meant. A Protestant studying the scriptures is more likely to make progress by following the general rule of allowing scripture, where possible, determine the meaning of scriptural; more or less cross-referencing and comparing relevant passages on a subject or ones that address the same topic. This process is more or less logical, natural and intuitive I think.

Bill said...

Hey, dguller! Good to "see" you again. Long time, no argue. Where've you been?

Nate said...

@ Timocrates

I'm not sure why you assume I'm defending what you think I believe about the Bible?

Isn't part of the argument that someone can't reliably interpret very old books? If someone can't, then we can't verify the RCC's claims for itself. If someone can, then the Protestant is justified in interpreting the Bible apart from an infallible authority.

Also, why can't a person just recognize the books of the Bible as authoritative himself through private study? The man on the street who wonders who is the one true church would do the same if he accepted the RCC.

Scott said...

@Nate:

Isn't part of the argument that someone can't reliably interpret very old books?

Well, the argument is that one can't reliably eliminate practical indeterminacy from one's interpretation of a text if the author is unavailable for questions and hasn't appointed any representatives to speak for him.

If someone can't, then we can't verify the RCC's claims for itself. If someone can, then the Protestant is justified in interpreting the Bible apart from an infallible authority.

. . . unless the Bible itself points toward such an authority. The Catholic claim is that this is exactly what it does (even when it's considered as a collection of purely historical documents), and it should be obvious that sola Scriptura can't rule that "interpretation" out. And since it can't, the doctrine is self-undermining.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

@Timocrates

That wasn't really aimed at you. The Sola Scriptura crowd holds that as their mantra too but if followed literally it can be used to confirm doctrinal particulars found in Catholicism.

Notice in my short biblical demonstration of the Papacy. I don't have to appeal to outside sources just follow the bible alone and clearly Jesus intended Peter to be "Father over the people" for the New Covenant.

Otherwise known in Latin as "the Pope".

Usually when I pull this out and use it on Protestants they all of a sudden are resistant to this principle.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

Isn't part of the argument that someone can't reliably interpret very old books?

No.

As Scott points out, there isn't a problem with interpreting very old books if there is a representative of the author who can answer your questions or resolve problems of indeterminacy in the text, for one; and assuming the same person also knows the difference between valid and invalid inferences from the text.

To be sure, there is nothing preventing a good deal of the text from being properly interpreted even at an historical distance and removed from the author and anyone who could represent the author, assuming we have sufficient knowledge of the language and sense of words used, along with other general rules of interpretation and inference. But wherever and whenever a text is indeterminate, at such a point we come across problems; and if those problems can't themselves be answered by drawing from the valid inferences that can be drawn from the text, then what we are left with is probable opinion and speculation at best and no definitive answer.


If someone can't, then we can't verify the RCC's claims for itself.

As a consequence of the above, this does not follow.

If someone can, then the Protestant is justified in interpreting the Bible apart from an infallible authority.

And of course neither does this.



Also, why can't a person just recognize the books of the Bible as authoritative himself through private study?

Nobody is saying he can't nor is anyone denying the authority of the scripture when rightly or properly understood - according, that is, to the author's intended meaning.

The man on the street who wonders who is the one true church would do the same if he accepted the RCC.

The Catholic Church is not an historical text.

Nate said...

@ Timocrates & Scott

"... if there is a representative of the author ... "

The point is that you can't infallibly verify the claims of the RCC because you can't infallibly interpret it's historical sources. It is circular to say that the RCC is the true church because of its infallible authority to interpret its history. Or are you operating on sola ecclesia?

Anonymous said...

Esteemed Catholic apologists--

Supposing Petrine primacy, and that the Pope is that primate, which particular passages in scripture show you that this primacy includes what we think of as doctrine?

Patent proof-texts are welcome, but so are inferences from biblical narrative.

Scott said...

@Nate:

The point is that you can't infallibly verify the claims of the RCC because you can't infallibly interpret [its] historical sources.

And the counterpoint is that the claims of the RCC don't require infallible verification in the first place.

Contrary to your claim of circularity, the Catholic argument is not that the RCC is the true Church because it has infallible authority to interpret its own history. It's the other way around: the argument is that an ordinary, "fallible" (but unbiased) inquiry into its origins will be sufficient to persuade you that its claims, including its claim to infallibility, are justified.

Believing in the Church is another step, and one for which one needs the gift of faith. But the rational groundwork can be laid without any claims of infallibility.

Anonymous said...

Confident Critics of Sola Scriptura--

How do you understand the difference between the textuality of the 'inspired' scriptures (ie the Bible) and that of other uninspired writings (eg pizzeria menus, legal documents, Wikipedia articles, etc)?

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>How do you understand the difference between the textuality of the 'inspired' scriptures (ie the Bible) and that of other uninspired writings (eg pizzeria menus, legal documents, Wikipedia articles, etc)?

I don't understand the question?

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,


The point is that you can't infallibly verify the claims of the RCC because you can't infallibly interpret it's historical sources.


Frankly I am not sure why historical sources would even be strictly necessary. Her charism for the truth is permanent. I remember during WWII when a lot of intellectuals were impressed (though had traditionally been hostile to the Church) with the consistency of her teaching and emphatic condemnation of many of the root errors they also knew were largely responsible for the madness of WWII. That hardly required an infallible interpretation of history. That just required moral truth. Similarly, many today are impressed with the Church's insistence on peaceful resolution of conflicts and condemnation of senseless and unjust warfare; her insistence on the dignity of all persons and, most recently, her emphatic insistence that man does have a responsibility to treating nature with all due respect and making a wise and temperate use of nature.

Further - and back directly to the topic at hand - the actual need for an infallible interpreter only arises in certain circumstances. We hardly need an infallible interpreter of history to assure us that Julius Caesar lived and reigned in Rome for a time. What we can't do is go beyond the evidence and resources we happen to actually have for arriving at a definitive interpretation of a text when we requires further determination that is simply not provided for by or in the text.

It is circular to say that the RCC is the true church because of its infallible authority to interpret its history. Or are you operating on sola ecclesia?

But no one is making that argument here. That is not what we are debating and discussing here. We are talking about the real limits of texts that become problematic for the doctrine of sola scriptura. What you are doing is throwing in a classic red herring. Regardless, we already proved to you that the problem of textual indeterminacy just isn't problem in the Catholic position in this context - we are not saying or claiming that, consequently, the Catholic faith is the only true faith or religion from that basis. Whether or not the Catholic Church is infallible in its definitive interpretation of scripture (e.g.) is beside the point.

Nate said...

@ Scott

The whole point is that you're applying inconsistent standards. It's not that the Catholic means are incorrect simply. It's that Protestants and Catholics use largely the same means to verify their authority: looking at Biblical documents written 2,000+ years ago.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

And frankly, I feel somewhat silly for even indulging in your question when I had already told you that the Church isn't an historical text and neither are her claims. Indeed and in fact, by making that claim yourself all you are doing is admitting that you also accept that the doctrine of sola scriptura has insuperable problems on this point.

Scott said...

Timocrates writes:

Frankly I am not sure why historical sources would even be strictly necessary.

Nor am I. So just to be clear for Nate's sake that we're not disagreeing here: I wrote that they were sufficient, not that they were necessary.

Scott said...

@Nate:

The whole point is that you're applying inconsistent standards.

That may be your whole point, but if so, that just means you're out of points. This has already been addressed, repeatedly.

Nate said...

@ Timocrates

That's why I asked if your position is sola ecclesia.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

Okay so please point out where I said the scripture - so far as it goes and can be used - is an illegitimate authority? I didn't. I believe in the its historicity (certainly at least when the scripture is actually intended to bear historical witness to something); I also believe it's inerrant. I do believe the scripture really is true word of God. I don't need to be "sola ecclesia". I am not claiming the scripture is useless or worthless - what we are here arguing with Dr. Feser is that historical texts have insuperable limits in the form of indeterminacy. But I also believe, and can similarly use the scripture to provide evidence for my belief, that Christ founded a Church that would be faithful to his teaching and promulgate it until the end of time without fail.

Nate said...

@ Timocrates

"... if there is a representative of the author ... "

I take this to mean the RCC tells you what the Bible says. Otherwise you would face too much indeterminacy, right? Do I misunderstand?

Greg said...

@ Nate

The point is that you can't infallibly verify the claims of the RCC because you can't infallibly interpret it's historical sources. It is circular to say that the RCC is the true church because of its infallible authority to interpret its history.

And:

I take this to mean the RCC tells you what the Bible says. Otherwise you would face too much indeterminacy, right?

As has been pointed out already, the 'Catholic way' is not to interpret the Bible like this because the Catholic Church says to do so, and to trust the Catholic Church because the the Bible says this.

What I've always found attractive in the Catholic Church's 'epistemology' is that it's a tradition-dependent reliabilism. The authority of faith is modeled off of (say) the teaching authority of parents in a family; children generally lack proofs of what their parents teach them, but they're warranted in believing them.

As I see it: If Christianity's true, there has to be some way of conveying its truth to the multitude. Historically tradition has done this pretty reliably, and a Catholic could plausibly claim that it ceased to be successful precisely insofar as humans attacked that tradition.

The benefit of this epistemology is also that the Catholic Church possesses it more or less uniquely (barring, I suppose, the Orthodox). Protestant denominations don't have anything like it; sola scriptura seems to multiply churches.

I believe the Catholic Church. That's to say that I put faith in what it says because it has a certain historical witness, and I think Christ would not have been sowing error and disagreement by instituting a church that operates as it does.

Nate said...

@ Greg

Timocrates suggested that the Bible is so unclear that central doctrines of faith must be given by the RCC. That's why I asked whether he believes "sola ecclesia." I haven't argued that someone necessarily can't come to believe the RCC.

Cletus van Damme said...

Nate,

"The point is that you can't infallibly verify the claims of the RCC because you can't infallibly interpret it's historical sources."

No one disputes we all fallibly interpret. But that has no bearing on the argument any more than the fact that NT believers had to fallibly evaluate and interpret Christ and the Apostles' claims to authority as well as fallibly interpret their infallible normative binding judgments/interpretations of OT Scripture. That fact did not make Christ/Apostles claims to authority and their infallible teaching superfluous or unnecessary or give license for everyone to ignore those claims and just apply their own private judgment to the OT scriptures a la the SS position.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

Timocrates suggested that the Bible is so unclear that central doctrines of faith must be given by the RCC.

Prove it.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

I take this to mean the RCC tells you what the Bible says. Otherwise you would face too much indeterminacy, right? Do I misunderstand?

You most certainly do misunderstand, probably because you are stubbornly sticking to a prejudiced and mindless caricature of Catholics and Catholicism.

Firstly, what's "too much indeterminacy" or what counts as "too much indeterminacy"? By what do you evaluate this? And to this point, are you denying that closed historical texts will not of necessity - owing if only to the fact that they are finite of necessity, for you could never read or go through an infinitely long text - have some indeterminacy?

And what's "[The Church] tells [me] what the Bible says" supposed to even amount to? Sure, when I go to Mass the Church reads from the scripture and then she is certainly telling me what the Bible says, but so what? You seem to forget that the scripture also claims that the Church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth," and the Church or members thereof was the primary intended readership, as it were, of both the spoken and written word of God - as she is the one who believes, receives, carries and nurtures that word in her heart and transmits it from generation to generation. She is its proper (and as it were natural) custodian - for as the scripture says, the scripture was intended for our instruction; and further, the scripture says again that even the things of old were said and written down for our edification, according to the Apostle. Or do you not know, Nate, that the scripture was written by members of the Church? Or do we imagine someone damned was inspired by God to write some of it? So who is most likely to know what is contained in and is the intended meaning of the scripture? So what, then, is wrong about asking the Church - the "pillar and foundation of the truth" - about what the Bible actually says or means to say?

Nate said...

@ Cletus van Damme

If it is as hard to interpret the Bible as the people I argue with seem to imply, no one can verify the RCC's claims. It would be as Timocrates suggested by faith in its charisma.

Do you argue that Jesus was not justified in expecting the Pharisees to understand the OT? They had no magisterium.

@ Timocrates

"But wherever and whenever a text is indeterminate ... "

Your words wouldn't have force against the protestant unless he could not derive essential doctrines from scripture.

Cletus van Damme said...

Nate,

"Do you argue that Jesus was not justified in expecting the Pharisees to understand the OT? They had no magisterium."

The Pharisees rejected Christ's claims to authority and his interpretations of the OT. Are you arguing that Christ and the Apostles and NT Church were OT SS'ists?

Revelation was still unfolding at that time - prophets were given in OT times and Christ/Apostles performed a similar function in NT times. It would therefore be expected that Jews would get things wrong – hence the varying canons amongst the Jews as well as the erroneous interpretations which were corrected by Christ/Apostles. By just assuming the New Covenant should be just as “fine” as the OC or that the OC is normative in this area tacitly dismisses the NC as being something better and superior and the pattern of NC fulfillment of OC types and figures. We would expect continuity in one sense (teaching authority of some sort outside of Scripture alone) but also something better given Christ’s promises and the closing of revelation. To say otherwise is to leave us in the same position as the OC Jews and their various opposing factions and mutually exclusive doctrines (that sounds familiar...) when revelation still hadn’t been ultimately fulfilled and completely transmitted.

iwpoe said...

The Jews themselves don't understand it this way. They believe that they have an oral tradition embodied at one time solely in the rabbinical body and which was subsequently recorded in the Talmudic tradition. I mean it's just plain that the Jews had and have a priestly class. They took nothing like the protestant 'go your own way' approach and are far closer to Catholics in structure.

dguller said...

Monk68:

The principle difference between the two is simply this: *when* a text actually is indeterminate, there is no principled way to resolve the indeterminacy (the dialogical spiral as I called it) in the absence of a living person capable of answering second, third, or fourth order questions concerning the *original* meaning *intended by the text’s author*. That’s the problem with sola scriptura.

I partially agree.

I’ve given an example of an indeterminate text becoming determinate when other texts clarify the meaning. So, one does not necessarily require a living authority to determine meaning. However, in the case where the totality of textual evidence, including a thorough knowledge of the background context, is insufficient to determine meaning, then a living authority would be helpful, but that would depend upon how that living authority justifies their interpretation.

In other words, what additional information do they provide that narrows the meaning? For example, if the totality of textual evidence leaves a text indeterminate, but one asks a sibling of the author, and the sibling has a correct memory of a conversation with the author, a conversation that was never recorded in a text, then that memory can clarify the meaning. However, that would assume that the sibling can justify the memory itself, i.e. they were actually present at the time of the alleged conversation, have remembered it accurately, and so on. So, even in the presence of a living person, there are still additional questions that may have to be answered.

With regards to the pope’s authority to determine the meaning of a text, what additional information or ability does he have to justify his interpretation over and above the others? A unique private knowledge that has been passed down to him in an unbroken chain from the series of previous popes? A particular ability or skill that he has developed, based upon a specific training regimen that only popes have undergone? Or just divine inspiration and guarantee?

And if the pope’s authority itself comes from a text whose meaning is indeterminate, then the matter becomes even more problematic. For example, Ben justified the pope’s authority by citing Matthew 16:19, where Peter is told by Jesus that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. But what exactly does “bind” mean here? Is it a physical binding? In other words, if he binds together the pages of a book, then will that remain bound in heaven? Or some other kind of binding? Is it legal binding, i.e. what Peter determines as a legal ruling will be binding upon people? How would one know this? Perhaps if there was a clear record describing how Peter’s judgments were binding upon those around him?

Look at Acts 11:1-18. Peter had been preaching to and eating with Gentiles, and when he returned to Jerusalem, he was criticized by the Jewish Christians there. Peter then had to justify his conduct by citing a religious vision and the fact that the very success of his mission must have been due to the presence of the Holy Spirit, which itself justified it. The point here is that the early Christians did not automatically accept Peter’s behavior as legitimate, but demanded reasons for his behavior, and it was the reasons, and not Peter’s authority itself, that ultimately led to the subsequent agreement.

And look at Galatians 2:11-14. Paul claims that Peter “did eat with the Gentiles”, but when representatives from James from Jerusalem came to Antioch, he “withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision”. Is this the behavior of someone whom Jesus himself directly gave authority to determine correct conduct in this world? It doesn’t seem so to me. In fact, throughout Acts, it seems that James is the primary authority figure that everyone ultimately defers to.

So, the matter seems quite problematic for a number of reasons.

dguller said...

Bill:

Hey there! I've been busy. A medical practice, four kids, and was busy reading about the life of Jesus, and the history of the early Church, but then I got sidetracked reading about early Judaism, and now I'm sidetracked reading about contemporary Jewish thought (i.e. Rosenzweig, Buber, Levinas, Heschel). But once I'm done with that, then I'll finish my reading of early Christianity, and move on from there to read more Christian history and theology. But I'm sure I'll get sidetracked again. That seems to be the nature of my life. :P

Anonymous said...

Esteemed Catholic Apologists-- D Guller supplies two texts that suggest that Peter's primacy in the C1 did not, in his own opinion, include doctrine-- Acts 11:1-18 and Galatians 2:11-14. For good measure, he argues that James was the acknowledged leader of the Church.

But alas, I am still waiting for texts that seem to Catholic apologists to mean that Peter's primacy (eg in Matthew 16:19) included what we think of as doctrine. Again, the texts may be, but need not be, prooftexts; they could also be some inference from scriptural narrative.

The OP argues for limitations to the decidability of texts in general, infers from those limitations that 'perspicuity' fails for the Bible in particular, assumes that if the perspicuity of scripture fails then sola scriptura fails, and so declares the failure of sola scriptura. Finally, to forfend the possibility that the scriptures are simply illegible-- why forfend this?-- the OP argues for a personal interpreter. However, it seems that a personal interpreter does not remove the OP's denial of decidability unless s/he is a unique interpreter (eg John Stott, the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Evangelical Theological Society, etc). As we seem to have several personal interpreters, the philosophical case for a unique one remains to be proposed. It would be an elegant solution to find that the scriptures themselves point perspicuously to such an interpreter. Hence my friendly but quite serious question to Esteemed Catholic Apologists.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous,

But what's your question?

And please remember we are firstly here considering things philosophically and not engaging in apologetics.

You write,

"The OP argues for limitations to the decidability of texts in general,"

Correct.

"...infers from those limitations that 'perspicuity' fails for the Bible in particular,"

In particular? No. Dr. Feser is not taking shots at the Bible "in particular" unless one wants to argue that the Bible isn't a text (albeit for Christians a sacred one).

"assumes that if the perspicuity of scripture fails then sola scriptura fails,"

Not sure why that's an assumption. Also not sure why "fails" would be absolute; rather, what would follow from Dr. Feser's points about textual indeterminacy is that there are definite limits as a consequence.

"...and so declares the failure of sola scriptura."

Again but with the qualifications made above. Dr. Feser isn't arguing that texts are useless or worthless as authorities, guides and, to an extent, for teaching and instruction purposes generally. But of course, for them to be successful in that role we need things outside of the text themselves, such as its historical context or the rules of valid inference, contextual awareness of the things said, knowledge of the language and senses of the words used and involved, etc. And even granting all of that, indeterminacy is still bound to accompany them.

Therefore I would argue that the "failure" of sola scriptura for Dr. Feser is not a religious or apologetic one so much as a philosophical one for him. Obviously, people who don't think philosophical points are relevant would not, as a consequence, think this means sola scriptura or Protestantism is a "failure."

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

Your words wouldn't have force against the protestant unless he could not derive essential doctrines from scripture.

Define essential doctrines for Protestantism. Catholics are denying you can get from the scripture any number of essential Christian doctrines but with caveats - namely, the person needs to be able to read and understand the scripture with all its historical and cultural nuances. They need to be sound in their reasoning abilities and powers so as not to draw false conclusions or inferences from the scripture. They need a soundly translated version of the scripture, which presupposes in turn a sound understanding of the languages the scripture was written in; indeed, at times knowing that the things said were said in one language but are recorded in another (e.g. spoken in Aramaic but recorded for posterity and instruction in Greek) can be very important. I think this is naturally why scripture scholars and masters tend to predominate in Protestantism exactly because of sola scriptura; however, it's not clear how or why other Protestants would be bound to concede or abide by their doctrinal inferences and conclusions derived from the scripture, as those arguments and deductions are not of themselves protected as authoritative under the doctrine of sola scriptura. Certainly I've never heard any Protestant in general think so, especially those who tend to a certain minimalism.

Last I checked the only one they can agree on is basically sola scriptura and sola fidei generally, even though certain branches might even reject or modify, limit or expand, both or either dogma.

And regardless of what you say, the human mind can know that indeterminacy is going to be a serious issue and problem especially on the practical side for the doctrine of sola scriptura. It doesn't matter for the philosopher if this or that Protestant can't or doesn't think so.

Timocrates said...

Agh! Above should read:

Catholics aren't denying you can from the scripture any number of essential doctrines

Anonymous said...

Confident Critics of Sola Scriptura-- How do you understand the difference between the textuality of the 'inspired' scriptures (eg the Bible) and other uninspired writings (eg pizzeria menu, Wikipedia article, etc)?

The Son of Yakov has replied that he does not understand the question; thank you for responding.

The OP argues from the failure of decidability in all texts to the failure of perspicuity in the 'inspired' scriptures. But this assumes the similarity of inspired texts to uninspired texts. Because (1) most believers-- not just believers in sola scriptura-- have seen the Bible as having properties not possessed by other texts (cf Romans 1:16), (2) undecidability may be an aspect of perspicuity, it is not clear that it engages the complex of ideas that the reformers knew as 'sola scriptura.'

Concretely, even a scholarly reader of Paul's Epistle to the Romans may not be able to decide whether-- (a) Paul is presenting as his own or quoting for critique (just as we do in this thread) the discourse on wrath at 1:18-32; (b) which genitive construction explains 'pistis christou'-- faith in the anointed or faithfulness of the anointed; (c) Paul's argument digresses at chapter 4 or continues through it; (d) Paul's causative 'eph ho' at 5:12 refers to 'hemarton' or to 'thanatos'; or (e) Paul's sequence at 8:29 describes individuals, the Church, or both. That is, depending on how he (or his guides) choose to settle these undecidables, a proficient reader of Paul may take Paul's letter in several ways-- the scenario of his participation in an apocalyptic salvation of all things; the saga of how God grafts him onto the family tree of Abraham; the way by which he comes to be part of the new creation that God began in the Resurrection; and of course a guide to detecting the inward evidences of this participation. This the undecidability that the Jesuits and Feyerabend had in mind, although they are readings of the C21, not the C16-17. But they all lead the reader to the same place: given faith in the Resurrection itself, even the undecided believer acquires internal assurance of being in Christ from the Epistle to the Romans. That is, the perspicuity of the godspell of Christ (1:16) is clear in Paul's epistle, even as it will probably never be as clear as the texts we read in daily life.

This is not evidence against Feser's account of undecidability; to the contrary, the text has several undecidables. It is evidence that, for reasons specific to what the authors and readers believe about Christ, multivocality is a property of the 'inspired' writing that is addressed to those who believe or will believe in the Resurrection.

The clever readers of this thread will already have noticed that if one has inspired evidence from God that one has been saved, one will not have an existential stake in authorities anywhere else. This indeed is the theme of Paul's majestic chapter 8-- "Who can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?" This does not mean that even Paul himself did not trust authority-- Paul was asserting it to stabilize the Body of Christ in the Gentile world-- but it does mean that the godspell that was in Christ was available to the believer as a criterion for judging the itinerant evangelists who wandered the Hellenistic world with their own proposals for eating, circumcision, and other markers of the Church's identity. Given who Christ was, the gospel necessarily has this priority; given what the Holy Spirit does, the scriptures can always make this perspicuous to believers; the undecidability of the inspired text is a means to the end for which the salvation of the world was revealed.

Timocrates said...

@ (yet another!!!) Anonymouse,

Confident Critics of Sola Scriptura-- How do you understand the difference between the textuality of the 'inspired' scriptures... and other [non-inspired] writings?

There is none. There is no difference in their "textuality". As texts they are the same. The content, of course, differs radically but simply as texts there is no difference, certainly not from the point of view of the limitations of indeterminacy.

Timocrates said...

Okay, I was just talking to a friend of mine and we agreed on a good example of textual indeterminacy.

Let's say you're a minor General in WWII on the Allied side. Let's say your army is presently positioned in Paris after just liberating it.

Alright. Let's say now you get a lawful, written order from Allied Command/HQ. It reads:

Liberate Brussels.

Now you presume they want this done speedily as you were taught that all warfare should be concluded as speedily as possible whenever possible. However, you also know that though the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but your intelligence has told you between those points the Enemy has set up a number of traps and earthworks that is likely to cost you dearly and possibly even bog down your advance. Therefore you respond to HQ asking, "How do you want me to take Brussels? Shall I advance in a straight line in spite of heavy enemy entrenchment along it, or shall I circumvent their positions? And if I circumvent, shall I go round them to the North or to the South?"

Allied HQ, however, does not or cannot respond - let us say the lines of communication were sabotaged. But you know that the order was lawfully issued and failure to carry it out can get you court-martialed. So you decide, reasonably enough, to circumvent to the North and liberate Brussels.

The example is somewhat long but I think readily to the point. There is simply only so much you can extract, so to speak, from a determinate and finite text.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

How do you understand the difference between the textuality of the 'inspired' scriptures (eg the Bible) and other uninspired writings (eg pizzeria menu, Wikipedia article, etc)?

Can you define textuality?

The OP argues from the failure of decidability in all texts to the failure of perspicuity in the 'inspired' scriptures. But this assumes the similarity of inspired texts to uninspired texts.

They are both texts; that is to say, 'inspired' in 'inspired text' is not an alienans adjective (it's not like 'decoy' in 'decoy duck'). What applies to texts generally applies also to inspired texts.

Since 'inspired' is not meaningless, there are differences between inspired texts and uninspired texts. For instance, the former has a divine author and the latter doesn't.

That's to say, inspired texts and uninspired texts are similar in some respects, dissimilar in others. I guess we could call this an assumption: the assumption that inspired texts are not non-texts.

Anonymous said...

Timocrates--

Thanks for a worthwhile comment.

As you know, the OP refers (mistakenly, in my view) to 'sola scriptura.' Let us here bracket such sectarian language.

Question: are there passages in the Bible that designate a person who is, not just a unique commander, but a unique interpreter. Feser's conclusion seems to require a unique interpreter, but his argument from undecidability is more relevant to commanding than to interpreting.

Discussing the Jesuit objections, Feser argues that because--

(a) every univocal text can be read in several ways, (even one on how to walk from here to there with a desk in the way);

(b) an understood text is read in just one way;

(c) interpretation is eliminating all but one possible reading;

(d) only a person can eliminate readings until one remains;

(e) the Bible is a text as in (a) through (c);

-- therefore (f) only a person can interpret the Bible.

He does not support (g) a rule by which one may choose a person to eliminate readings of any given text. A fortiori, he does not support (h) a rule by which one can choose a person to eliminate readings of the text that is the Bible.

Philosophically speaking, (b,c,d) do not sound like interpretation (cf Jesuit objection 2); they sound like commanding (cf Jesuit objection 3). For the multivocality of texts is part of how they mean, but a multivocal command cannot be obeyed. In the example, we do understand the idea of walking from here to there with a desk in the way, for we know whether a person has done it or not, so interpretation succeeds. But we do not understand how to do it, so commanding may seem to have failed. Therefore, Feyerabend's Jesuits appear to have confused two different acts, setting limits on the possibilities of textual understanding that are not real for texts in general.

Indeed, if the Bible itself should turn out to be, essentially and not accidentially, multivocal and not univocal, then it is unclear why (a) would be relevant to it in the first place.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

(a) every univocal text can be read in several ways, (even one on how to walk from here to there with a desk in the way);

(b) an understood text is read in just one way;

(c) interpretation is eliminating all but one possible reading;


As far as I can tell, this is not really what Feser is claiming. I assume by (b), you mean that a text is not understood if one reads it both literally and metaphorically, for that's two ways of reading.

Feser's concern, it seems to me, is with incompatible readings. A text might have several readings; interpretation involves eliminating the incompatibilities. There seems to be no pretense that the readings must be reduced to one.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous,

As you know, the OP refers (mistakenly, in my view) to 'sola scriptura.' Let us here bracket such sectarian language.

No because sola scriptura the doctrine (or dogma) is our subject.

Some here keep trying to make this strictly about the Bible which is causing confusion. What we are talking about are the consequences of sola scriptura as applied to the interpretation of a certain text; namely, the Bible. That doctrine is what we are discussing and its inevitable consequences. We are not discussing the Bible as such but only considering it insofar as it is, of course, a text.

Consequently,

Question: are there passages in the Bible that designate a person who is, not just a unique commander, but a unique interpreter.

Is beside the point. In my view yes there is (the Church at least) but that doesn't change the necessary consequences of textual indeterminacy for the application of the doctrine of sola scriptura. Because of textual indeterminacy, the doctrine of sola scriptura faces as a consequence insuperable problems by itself. It is therefore deficient and defective to that extent and requires something more if it is to attain to practical feasibility. Indeed, we have already shown above and earlier that at least implicitly (and arguably almost necessarily) reason is conjoined to the doctrine of sola scriptura, such that it is really scripture and reason alone in practice.

Anonymous said...

Greg, the internalist /externalist distinction is central to the original C16 controversy and to any C21 evaluation of 'perspicuity' (the actual topic of the OP), or sola scriptura (as historically understood), or the apostolic deposit (the Vatican II revision of sola scriptura). So your comment that you like 'tradition' as a reliabilist ground is refreshingly on topic. The C16 crisis from which Protestantism emerged demanded an internalist episteme. Many now argue that C21 postmodernism requires some blend of internal and external epistemes. Taking that for granted here, the question now is how that might work.

you are right to introduce the internalreliabilism into the discussion

Timocrates said...

Now returning to my War example above, I would like to note that the Military Tradition is already well aware of the reality of textual indeterminacy - though it may not be called that; consequently, Officers and Generals in Western (at least) armies are taught a whole host of things. In the example I gave, the officer knew already because someone taught and told him that he could not ignore lawful orders; whereas, were he not taught that, he may well have concluded that he should disregard and ignore the order because he wasn't certain what to do or how best to carry it out. Of course, textual indeterminacy taken literally and by the letter, so to speak, would wreak havoc on the practical application of warfare if you didn't have all this supplemental and complimentary data and information - from written and unwritten custom and convention, to a presumption on thinking reasonably, to knowledge of ultimate ends and goals, etc. As a consequence of all of this, the difficulties of textual indeterminacy are heavily mitigated though, to be sure, not totally removed. The Officer in charge still had to make the call. But imagine if every soldier felt entitled to interpret orders as he pleased and the authority of Officers was vague or dubious. You would then radically compile problems and your Army would be almost useless and utterly ineffective.

Anonymous said...

Greg, if we read 'incompatible' at (c) where I have 'possible,' does it make a difference?

In (b), I did not have literal/metaphorical in mind; I cannot say what Feser or Feyerabend or the Jesuits may have had in mind. Do you think that Feser et al have in mind either medieval fourfold exegesis or Childs's canonical exegesis?

Sorry about the widowed line in the last comment.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Timocrates. Your analogy seems to support my suspicion-- perhaps you agree?-- that reading scripture to establish personal assurance of salvation *internal to the reader* is a very different enterprise from reading scripture to decide where to draw the line between two provinces, or whether to approve a new monastic rule, etc.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous,

Yes, very different. Though why you would refer to scripture for drawing a provincial boundary is somewhat beyond me. I could see taking inspiration from the Gospel for a monastic rule, though.

Anonymous said...

The question seems to be this: Is the faith continuous in time or is it occasional? If the faith is occasional then the Holy Spirit has no natural providence over the faithful. Supernatural providence is reduced to the fact that there is a scripture and that it is read i.e. there are no miracles or private revelations; no constitution of the faithful community; no certainty but private certainty; no historical or social certainty stemming from an essential association of persons in Christ.

Did Jacob Boehme and William Blake represent the logical conclusion of Protestantism? If my private reading of the scripture is the occasion for receptivity to the Spirit independent of any temporal structure of lived faith then why do I need Calvin or a catechism? Why should I even bother with human relations at all?

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Greg, if we read 'incompatible' at (c) where I have 'possible,' does it make a difference?

I am not sure. I would say interpreting a text requires that one does not hold that it has multiple readings that are both legitimate and incompatible with each other; I guess I'm not sure what the contrary would look like.

In (b), I did not have literal/metaphorical in mind; I cannot say what Feser or Feyerabend or the Jesuits may have had in mind. Do you think that Feser et al have in mind either medieval fourfold exegesis or Childs's canonical exegesis?

Well, that's one way that one might say that a text can be read in multiple ways. There might be others too.

Let's see if I can phrase this differently. You drew the distinction between interpreting and commanding:

Philosophically speaking, (b,c,d) do not sound like interpretation (cf Jesuit objection 2); they sound like commanding (cf Jesuit objection 3). For the multivocality of texts is part of how they mean, but a multivocal command cannot be obeyed.

The Bible does issue some commands. Some are explicit, some less so (i.e. regarding the structure of Christ's church). But if the Bible is multivocal and multivocal commands cannot be obeyed, then does that mean these commands cannot be obeyed? Or are you using 'command' in a different sense than I am here? Or are these parts of the Bible not multivocal? Another way to get around this is to say: Yes, those parts are multivocal, but they are only commands under one 'voice'.

But then the problem still arises: What is the command under that one voice? As I understand it, interpreting (removing incompatible readings) the command is necessary to answer this.

Maybe I'm totally misunderstanding you (or don't know what 'multivocal' means). Let me know.

Greg said...

@ All anons

Would you mind naming yourselves?

@ Some anon

Greg, the internalist /externalist distinction is central to the original C16 controversy and to any C21 evaluation of 'perspicuity' (the actual topic of the OP), or sola scriptura (as historically understood), or the apostolic deposit (the Vatican II revision of sola scriptura). So your comment that you like 'tradition' as a reliabilist ground is refreshingly on topic. The C16 crisis from which Protestantism emerged demanded an internalist episteme. Many now argue that C21 postmodernism requires some blend of internal and external epistemes. Taking that for granted here, the question now is how that might work.

I am curious about the idea that different events "demand" or "require" different epistemologies. I would generally think about it as: Humans acquire in certain ways, and whatever way works should give us our epistemology. (Catholic tradition-based reliabilism has been defended by Elizabeth Anscombe, James Ross, John Zeis, and Linda Zagzebski.)

But I don't take for granted that we need an epistemology that accommodates postmodernism. Of course, maybe it's right to accept something falling under the label 'postmodernism', and then obviously one's epistemology needs to be shaped in accordance. But first I'd have to figure out the content of such a doctrine.

Greg said...

Humans acquire in certain ways

Oops: Humans acquire knowledge in certain ways...

Anonymous said...

Timocrates, I had in mind the text-slinging that accompanied the C4 division of Cappadocia into two provinces. Then as now, provincial boundaries tended to follow political boundaries. When the emperor decided to divide Cappadocia into Cappadocia I and Cappadocia II, a local bishop in the new political province inferred that there was also a new ecclesiastical province of which he was the metropolitan. Words flew, including much of the choicest invective in scripture. One senses that church order rarely advanced in that age without some unflattering comparison to the sons of Korah.

To lay the groundwork for further steps, St Basil twisted St Gregory's arm until he agreed to be consecrated bishop of the nasty little town of Nazianzus, just over the controversial line. But Gregory hated the place, and the people resented the imposition of a bishop.

Not wholeheartedly wanting to be a priest, let alone a bishop, Gregory fled to his uncle's house in Constantinople to write poetry. But the patriarch there was a heretic backed by the emperor, so the orthodox flocked to the new bishop. This may have been a pleasant arrangement, for a while, despite the tensions between the two sides. But then an orthodox commander overthrew the emperor, recognized the retiring Gregory as patriarch, and called the Council of Constantinople under Gregory's presidency. Fortunately for Gregory, an Egyptian faction challenged the canonicity of his translation from Nazianzus to Constantinople, enabling him to resign his see, and retire to finish his poetry, write a verse autobiography just a bit older than St Augustine's Confessions, and preach some very interesting homilies.

Timocrates said...

@ Mous,

Sounds like typical Church-State tensions; though I wouldn't be too scandalized at ecclesiastical provinces following along political lines (beyond the absurd, e.g. a new State deliberately carves up territory into a thousand little pieces to centralize power). The political authority is also after all instituted by God and has its own proper laws. For the Church to sometimes take their cue from that - or show good-will and a measure of civil and civic respect for the authorities by honouring lawfully established boundaries and divisions - can scarcely be said to be contrary to Christian logic; that is, at least in my opinion, of course.

But thank you for sharing that story. And thank you, lol, for reminding me of that bizarre sons of Korah comparison that was oddly popular during that period.

Nate said...

@ Cletus van Damme

"The Pharisees rejected Christ's claims to authority and his interpretations of the OT."

Christ expected them to understand the OT scriptures pointed to him. The Pharisees had no magisterium. How could Christ expect an impossible thing from them?

At the time revelation wasn't given for four hundred years. So they were in a similar position we are in today. And there is no good reason to believe revelation has ceased. So we are in the same epistemic situation as them.

" ... better and superior ... "

In what way? Would you argue this exegetically?

@ Timocrates

" ... the person needs to be able to read and understand the scripture with all its historical and cultural nuances."

" ... all ..." Can anyone do this? Can you? My point is that you believe Sola Ecclesia. It's the church that tells you what to believe, because you can't verify the foundational documents yourself.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

Can anyone do this?

It's not impossible and the more you know the better you can understand.

My point is that you believe Sola Ecclesia.

Which is just your desperate attempt to parody the concerns associated with sola scriptura and vainly attempt to throw them back onto me.

Further, your claim is nonsense. Prove I don't accept scripture as an authority or sacred tradition. Prove it. Then you might have a right to claim to have reason to suspect I believe in 'sola ecclesia'.

If you're going to throw-out accusations, Nate, you better be ready to back them up.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

It's the church that tells you what to believe, because you can't verify the foundational documents yourself.

The Church was founded on the New Testament, Nate. The Church long preceded the New Testament. The Church was founded on documents: she was founded by Jesus Christ. The very word, ekklesia, means convocation; that is, an assembly that is called or gathered together: i.e., by someone who can call such a thing together. Christ called together the Church - not 'the Bible'.

Timocrates said...

Errr. Above should read:

"The Church WAS NOT 'founded on the New Testament,' Nate."

Timocrates said...

Ugh. And I did it again two sentences later*! Alright, Nate, you have sufficiently so annoyed and irritated me that my capacity to write just went down the toilet. Frankly, until you prove your claims don't address me; otherwise, withdraw it.


*"The Church was founded on documents" should rather read: "The Church was NOT founded on documents".


Anonymous said...

Well, Greg, the historical question is an hitorical question.

I agree with those who read the C16 crisis in the North as a breakdown in the plausibility of reliabilism in the rather narrow, but then crucial, context of justification. Luther offered an internal episteme that was well-suited to that need and spelled out a set of new internalist warrants for received catholic practice. In its first sense, 'sola scriptura' is the sacred canopy over that development-- nothing can seriously compete with the Word of God. The Roman magisterium has, over time, largely absorbed it into the idea of the apostolic deposit. If only it had done this in the first place...

However, Anscombe et al urge us to inquire into truth-seeking as an enterprise with virtues and vices (eg Zagzebski). The epistemic virtue of Luther's move is really not hard to see if one grasps the situation in which he made it. But the virtue of transforming his internalist refuge for frightened souls into an alternative default externalist authority is much less clear.

That move comes with Calvin, whose Institutes were written as an orientation to the horizon of the scriptures explored in his commentaries, but came to be mistaken for the quite different project of St Thomas's Summa Theologica. With Calvin's successors in a divided Europe after Trent, we see the attempt to make 'sola scriptura' serve as the slogan for a project far from the original-- the one that Feyerabend's Jesuits were opposing.

I am Anonymous; he is Pseudo-Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Timocrates-- Two offtopic conjectures:

(1) That the local ecclesia is representative of the local polis is probably implicit in scripture.

(2) Monepiscopacy emerged as the patristic norm because such a local ecclesia demands it.

(3) Merely congregational understandings of the ecclesia are missing something that diocesan understandings see and practice.

Anonymous said...

Greg, at 9:06, I gave a fairly extreme example of the contemporary 'multivocality' of scripture-- Romans. Does it help you to see what I mean by the word?

The textuality of scriptural commands is quite interesting, not least because your reliabilist solution is a part of it. For instance, most Reformation traditions (eg 1662 Book of Common Prayer) read Matthew 16:19 (bind and loose) and John 20 (forgive and retain) as a reference to authoritative ministry to troubled souls. In the alchemy of 'justification by Christ through faith' internalist knowledge of saving grace is made to yield an ecclesiology compatible with the Apostolic Constitutions.

Timocrates said...

@ Mous,

I agree except for 2), where my understanding of the earliest Church Fathers' teachings about the office of bishop was that the bishop stood in the place for the local Church of God the Father. It is on those lines seems rather incongruent with the teaching that the Church is the household of God. On these lines, the Pope is more like a Grandfather (though more according to that role in antiquity than modernly for sure) and the local bishop is the Father of the household. Such a scheme honours the place of the bishop in the Church and prevents him from being reduced to a kind of vicar of the Pope, I think.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

However, Anscombe et al urge us to inquire into truth-seeking as an enterprise with virtues and vices (eg Zagzebski). The epistemic virtue of Luther's move is really not hard to see if one grasps the situation in which he made it. But the virtue of transforming his internalist refuge for frightened souls into an alternative default externalist authority is much less clear.

I find your posts remarkably difficult to follow.

Anscombe's work on faith in persons is not framed in terms of virtues and vices, and I don't know what is meant by "inquire into truth-seeking as an enterprise with virtues and vices".

On a virtue epistemology (with which I don't pretend to be particularly familiar), epistemic warrant is not bestowed simply by describing a move as epistemically virtuous. (That use of 'epistemic virtue' seems indistinguishable from the role 'epistemic propriety' would play in any epistemology; it's just using the word 'virtue' where one would ordinarily use something else.)

Timocrates said...

Eek that was botched: "It is on those lines seems rather incongruent with the teaching that the Church is the household of God." Should read:

"Along these lines anything other than a Monepiscopally organized local church would seem rather incongruent with the image of the Church as the household of God." I mean, how many fathers does a child have in his house? One naturally and, as is well known, a man cannot serve many masters. So it seems to me a perfectly natural and logical organization for the Church.

Timocrates said...

@ Mous,

Alright well I am not sure what your position is on the nature of justification. Catholics typically deny that - apart from a revelation from God - a man can have absolute or complete confidence in his being justified or "saved". To be pure, there is at least a partial realization of this in baptism and the Christian life; however, absolute certainty and confidence is generally denied - even, yes, for the "troubled souls."

But then again we are now definitely digressing from the topic and it's hard to see how this is relevant to the reality of textual indeterminacy and even its consequences for the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Anonymous said...

Nate appears to have left the building.

Greg said...

@ Anon

Greg, at 9:06, I gave a fairly extreme example of the contemporary 'multivocality' of scripture-- Romans. Does it help you to see what I mean by the word?

That makes things a little clearer, but I still have no idea why the multivocality of the Bible (or the distinction between interpreting and commanding) would provide a general response to Feser's argument. That a reader may be unable to decide between a few readings that all would lead him to "acquire internal assurance of being in Christ from the Epistle to the Romans" doesn't show that that will be the case for all readings. And the problem I mentioned earlier still stands: The Bible makes some commands, which you say cannot be followed if they are multivocal, so those commands must be univocal if they are to provide guidance. The question remains: What is the content of those commands?

Anonymous said...

Timocrates-- The Protestant position on justification and sola scriptura are intrinsically connected. However one can philosophically analyze their episteme fairly well in the categories that Greg introduced to the discussion. A key question in my mind-- and maybe in Greg's-- is just how comprehensive that episteme can at its widest limits be.

Anonymous said...

I must leave the building myself now, but I will respond tomorrow evening. Thank you for very insightful comments!

Timocrates said...

@ Mous,

The Protestant position on justification and sola scriptura are intrinsically connected.

I agree but it is still once removed from textual indeterminacy problems, at least in my opinion.

I must leave the building myself now, but I will respond tomorrow evening.

Have a good day and thank you for the conversation.

Cletus van Damme said...

Nate,

"Christ expected them to understand the OT scriptures pointed to him. The Pharisees had no magisterium. How could Christ expect an impossible thing from them?"

Yes, He expected them to believe His message and interpretations He gave them were consistent with the OT, just as Paul expected the Bereans (as well as the Jews at Thessalonica) to do so, just as Rome and EO expect their adherents to do so with Scripture. That doesn't get you SS. Again, your line of argument would entail Christ and the Apostles and NT Church were OT SS'ists and that the Jews were practicing (and encouraged by Christ/Apostles to be) OT SS'ists - is that what you hold?

"At the time revelation wasn't given for four hundred years. So they were in a similar position we are in today. And there is no good reason to believe revelation has ceased. So we are in the same epistemic situation as them."

Wait so you don't think revelation was fulfilled in Christ and ended with the death of the last apostle? Of course we're in a different position - you're arguing like I outlined above by basically affirming we're still in the Old Covenant.

" ... better and superior ... "
-In what way? Would you argue this exegetically?"

The many passages to Christ's promises of protecting the church and the holy spirit guiding it into all truth and such.

Nate said...

@ Timocrates

If the a man can exegete the Bible with study, then he may interpret it without aid of the magisterium.

If a man cannot, then he cannot verify the RCC's claim for itself.

If you believe what the RCC speaks because of its "charism," you subscribe to sola ecclesia.

@ Cletus van Damme

Jesus claimed the Pharisees should understand he was the Messiah on the basis of their own reading. He repeated asked people with disbelief, "Have you not read that ... ?" Unless you want to argue that Christ was senselessly chastising people for something they could not be responsible for, it seems likely Jesus expected his audience to know what it taught without help.

" ... the holy spirit guiding it into all truth and such ... "

The holy spirit is given to all believers, not simply the magisterium. So, this seems like this argument could end to mean that Protestants can read their Bibles reliably without need of a magisterium, since the Holy Spirit guides them into all truth. At the very least, it doesn't prove your point.

Glenn said...

Anonymous (July 26, 2015 10:30 AM),

...the apostolic deposit (the Vatican II revision of sola scriptura).

Was the Vatican II 'revision of sola scripture' a grudging, slow-in-coming capitulation to certain complaints lodged hundreds of years earlier?

Or were the certain complaints actually lodged hundreds of years after what St. Thomas had to say in the Summa?

o [T]he Apostle says: "Bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason, as Paul quotes a saying of Aratus: "As some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring" (Acts 17:28).

Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable.

For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.


-- ST I q.1 a.8 ad.2

Glenn said...

Nate,

If the a man can exegete the Bible with study, then he may interpret it without aid of the magisterium.

Strictly speaking, this is true. And, still strictly speaking, even a man without study may exegete the Bible without the aid of the magisterium.

So what?

How does it follow from the mere fact a man has exegeted the Bible with study that his interpretation is not incorrect?

And why wouldn't such a man want to 'double-check' his results?

Is he so devoid of confidence in his own interpretation that he is fearful it might not bear up under the scrutiny of others?

Or is he, perhaps, concerned that others, not having been similarly inspired by the Holy Spirit, are not in a position to properly appreciate his findings?

Scott said...

Nate:

Christ expected them to understand the OT scriptures pointed to him. The Pharisees had no magisterium. How could Christ expect an impossible thing from them?

Are you referring to the occasions on which He gave them His authoritative interpretation because, without that, they hadn't gotten it right?

dguller said...

Two questions.

First, why is it necessary for Scripture to have a single authoritative interpretation? Why is it so objectionable for a variety of interpretations to be possible? Some interpretations would work for some people, and other interpretations would work for other people, and each would be responsible to choose for themselves how to express their spiritual aspirations. I can certainly understand that certain foundational interpretations would be necessary to be a Christian at all, but with regards to peripheral matters, why does there have to be a single authority to determine a single interpretation?

Second, why should contemporary Catholics treat the Pope’s interpretations as authoritative when the earliest Christians did not treat Peter’s interpretations as authoritative? I’ve cited two examples in the NT for where Peter was not treated as an authority at all by the early Christian community, and if their beliefs and behavior is the normative foundation of Christianity, then shouldn’t contemporary Christians follow their lead?

Sobieski said...

@dguller

It matters in cases of doctrine pertaining to salvation. Are we supposed to be baptized or is faith in Christ alone sufficient? Does justification occur by way of an infusion of God's grace in the soul or by the imputation of Christ's alien righteousness? Etc., ad infinitum. One can find a number of different interpretations of Scriptural passages among the saints and doctors of the Catholic Church, for example. That isn't so much the issue as needing an authority or judge in matters pertaining to salvation or other weighty theological disputes because for Christians so much can ride on the outcome (e.g., the eternal destination of one's soul and person).

As regards your second point, one could argue that they recognized Peter's authority as head, but even Peter, whose authority is supreme here below, was a vicar and steward. He was to safeguard and preserve the deposit of faith. As such, it was not his place to depart from what Christ had handed on, whether by weakness or error, so St. Paul called him out, giving us all an example of what to do when a prelate goes astray. It didn't mean, however, that Peter wasn't the chief Apostle or shouldn't have been obeyed when legitimately exercising his authority.

The pope only teaches infallibly in certain prescribed circumstances. He is not impeccable and doesn't teach infallibly in every instance. So there is the potential for him to err outside those boundaries.

Nate said...

@ Glenn

People double check their results all the time without need of an infallible interpreter. The school teacher checks his students addition. The english major asks a peer to check his understanding of a passage.

@ Scott

"For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:46-47)

Jesus assumes his audience can understand Moses.

Scott said...

Sobieski writes:

As regards your second point, one could argue that they recognized Peter's authority as head, but even Peter, whose authority is supreme here below, was a vicar and steward. He was to safeguard and preserve the deposit of faith. As such, it was not his place to depart from what Christ had handed on, whether by weakness or error, so St. Paul called him out, giving us all an example of what to do when a prelate goes astray. It didn't mean, however, that Peter wasn't the chief Apostle or shouldn't have been obeyed when legitimately exercising his authority.

To this (with which I agree) I'll add:

Let's also recall what actually happened on the occasion when Simon was named "Peter" in the first place: Jesus identified him as the "rock" on which "I will build My Church" when he faithfully expressed a crucial bit of doctrine that, according to Jesus, had been revealed to him by His Father in heaven.

It's reported shortly afterward that Jesus rebuked Peter as "Satan" when the latter misunderstood the nature of Jesus's mission.

It sounds to me as though, whatever anyone else may have thought, Jesus Himself thought Peter's role as the "rock" was to receive and pass along doctrinal truth.

Glenn said...

Nate,

People double check their results all the time without need of an infallible interpreter. The school teacher checks his students addition. The english major asks a peer to check his understanding of a passage.

True. It seems, then, that you really don't have a problem with the man who exegetes the Bible with study checking with the magisterium. Or have I the inference wrong, and, actually, you do believe that such checking is the exception that proves the common-sense rule you readily acknowledge above?

Scott said...

Nate:

Jesus assumes his audience can understand Moses.

He may assume that they should be able to understand Moses, much as He assumes that people should be able to refrain from sinning. But His statement as it stands is conditional and expresses no view as to how/whether the hypothetical has been or could be realized. At any rate, it's obvious enough from the context that He doesn't think a "sola Scriptura" approach has worked very well for them.

dguller said...

Sobieski:

That isn't so much the issue as needing an authority or judge in matters pertaining to salvation or other weighty theological disputes because for Christians so much can ride on the outcome (e.g., the eternal destination of one's soul and person).

But that assumes that eternal salvation depends upon a single route. But if there are different routes, each best suited to different individuals, depending upon their backgrounds, temperament, psychological profile, and so on? Perhaps one individual can reach an intimate relationship with God through the rigid application of Halakhah, as Orthodox Jews do, whereas another individual can reach as intimate a relationship with less legal restrictions and a more open-ended lifestyle.

As regards your second point, one could argue that they recognized Peter's authority as head, but even Peter, whose authority is supreme here below, was a vicar and steward. He was to safeguard and preserve the deposit of faith. As such, it was not his place to depart from what Christ had handed on, whether by weakness or error, so St. Paul called him out, giving us all an example of what to do when a prelate goes astray. It didn't mean, however, that Peter wasn't the chief Apostle or shouldn't have been obeyed when legitimately exercising his authority.

But that won’t work.

First, if Peter’s role was simply to “preserve the deposit of faith”, and not to “depart from what Christ had handed on”, then why did he share the teachings of Jesus with Gentiles? Jesus said that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). It seems that Peter directly contradicted Jesus’ command to only preach to the Jews, which explains why the early Christians objected so strongly to his sharing Christian teaching with Gentiles. And if you want to say that Jesus’ ministry was actually supposed to be to the Gentiles, as well, then why did the early Christians object at all? It seems much more plausible that the early Christian understanding was for Jesus’ teachings to bring salvation to the Jews, and like traditional Jewish messianic thought, to bring universal salvation through the Jews. And if that is true, then Peter certainly did “depart from What Christ had handed on”.

Second, by what possible authority did Paul have to reprimand Peter? Paul never met Jesus save in a vision, and Peter was a disciple of Jesus’ throughout his three year ministry, and was directly appointed as an authority in the Church by Jesus himself. Certainly, if the early Christian understanding of the papacy was that the declarations and conduct of the Pope is infallible and beyond critique, then how could Peter have erred at all?

The pope only teaches infallibly in certain prescribed circumstances. He is not impeccable and doesn't teach infallibly in every instance. So there is the potential for him to err outside those boundaries.

In this case, Peter erred according to Jerusalem Christians under James in sharing Jesus’ teachings with Gentiles and eating with them, in violation of Jewish dietary practices. However, according to Paul, Peter erred in no longer sharing Jesus’ teachings with Gentiles and eating with them. I suppose that you could argue that whether or not the early Christians were justified in preaching to Gentiles and eating with them is not a matter central to Christian belief, and thus Papal inerrancy does not apply, but how could you argue this? Is it not a matter central to the Christian faith that all human beings, irrespective of their ethnic or religious backgrounds, are to be given the blessing of having God’s word shared with them? Is this really a secondary matter of limited importance to the core essence of what Christianity is?

dguller said...

Sobieski:

And just to further my point about the centrality of whether or not the Christian message should have been shared with Gentiles or not, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in section 75: "In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men". Again, this seems a core theological matter of substantial importance, which means that the fact that Peter got it so wrong should be of grave concern to those who see Peter as the fount of papal infallibility in doctrinal matters. Again, whether you side with James (and the traditional Jewish Christians) or Paul (and the more Hellenistic Christians), Peter screwed up, and thus cannot be used as a legitimate source to justify the papacy as an infallible source for doctrinal clarity, at least according to the actual behavior of the early Church.

Nate said...

@ Glenn

If it were true, then of course it'd be good to check with it.

But there's no need for infallibility. In my example neither the teacher nor peer is infallible.

@ Scott

Why should they if it is necessarily impossible for them to not understand the old testament? Normally we'd find it stupid to blame people for what they necessarily cannot do.

Scott said...

Nate:

Why should they if it is necessarily impossible for them to not understand the old testament?

Where is "necessarily impossible" coming from and what do you mean by it? And do you also mean to imply that it's "necessarily impossible" for us not to commit sins?

(I'm assuming you mean "for them to understand" rather than "for them to not understand." If that's not right, let me know.)

Nate said...

@ Scott

If they necessarily could not have understood the Old Testament, Christ could not have faulted his audience for not understanding.

Also, as Fulford argues at Calvinist International, Christ assumes his audience knew what books comprised the Old Testament. He writes, "It is quite obvious that Jesus’ opponents did not accept his authority; but they already knew what the scriptures were, and he does not dispute this point anywhere in his ministry. Rather, he argues with them on the basis of their commonly accepted text."

Glenn said...

Nate,

If it were true, then of course it'd be good to check with it.

Good.

But there's no need for infallibility. In my example neither the teacher nor peer is infallible.

You seem to be ignoring, forgetting or overlooking the fact that neither your teacher nor your peer is the ultimate authority.

The school teacher who checks his student’s addition still has to answer, ultimately, to the accepted understanding of mathematics.

And the peer who checks an English major's understanding of a passage still has to answer, ultimately, to the accepted uses of the English language.

So, your school teacher and your peer are intermediaries.

And, in moving up the intermediary-laden hierarchical chain, that at which the buck stops -- and not just because one does not go further, but because there is nowhere further to go -- is the ultimate authority.

And if that doesn't govern, then there is no governor or governing -- just unprincipled anarchy (however benign it may seem to be).

You may object that it isn't always necessary to make one's way up that intermediary-laden hierarchical chain.

And that, perhaps, that movement frequently is not necessary.

True.

But then that objection is just a disguised agreement with a variation of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.

Scott said...

Nate:

If they necessarily could not have understood the Old Testament, Christ could not have faulted his audience for not understanding.

That doesn't tell me what you mean by "necessarily" or where you're getting the idea that anyone thinks Jesus's audience necessarily couldn't have understood the OT.

I also asked whether you think we're necessarily (in the same sense) unable to avoid sinning. There's surely some sense in which any of us who live to the age of reason will inevitably commit sin. Is God therefore wrong to think we shouldn't sin?

Scott said...

Nate:

Also, as Fulford argues at Calvinist International, Christ assumes his audience knew what books comprised the Old Testament. He writes, "It is quite obvious that Jesus’ opponents did not accept his authority; but they already knew what the scriptures were, and he does not dispute this point anywhere in his ministry. Rather, he argues with them on the basis of their commonly accepted text."

I'm puzzled by this statement, as it seems to be both irrelevant and a non sequitur.

As for the latter, let's grant that Jesus's audience correctly knew what books belonged in what is now called the OT, and that they didn't accept Jesus's own authority. It surely doesn't follow that Jesus's/God's authority was not in fact the objective basis of those books' inclusion, whether they knew it or not. (I also expect that they accepted God's authority for the texts even though they didn't believe Jesus Himself was the Incarnate Son and wielded that authority.)

As for the former, I don't see anything in the statement If you believed such-and-such a text, you'd believe in Me that raises any issue about the authority of said text. If you were as familiar with the works of Chesterton as you claim to be, you'd know who Father Brown is doesn't imply anything one way or the other about whether or in what sense Chesterton's writings are authoritative.

Sobieski said...

@dguller

But that assumes that eternal salvation depends upon a single route.

Yes. In terms of the Catholic faith, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and His Church (and all that goes along with that). That is not to say, however, that there are not differing spiritualities (e.g., Benedictine vs. Jesuit vs. Carmelite, etc.) or that a monolithic approach to spirituality is required. Just that doctrinally one has to be orthodox per the teachings of the Church.

But that won’t work. First, if Peter’s role was simply...

Your entire argument presupposes a sola scriptura approach to Scripture, but that being said, that Jesus came primarily for the Jews (makes sense, he was the Jewish Messiah after all), doesn't mean that the Apostles couldn't then go to the Gentiles. They did go to the Jews first, many of whom rejected them, like they did Christ. So they then went to the Gentiles. Salvation did come from the Jews (i.e., Jesus and those that accepted Him), but the Apostles couldn't bring salvation through those Jews that rejected Christ.

Second, by what possible authority ...

St. Peter was in error. Despite his relationship with Christ, was still a human being with a fallen nature and subject to making mistakes. Scott pointed out an example. In this instance, Christians, specifically Gentiles, were not bound to the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law (as St. Thomas calls them). St. Paul confronted him on the matter. I don't see what is so controversial about that.

Anonymous said...

Glenn, clearly it was the latter. Once again, you've got it.

Although the 2VC's 'apostolic deposit' builds upon 'sola scriptura' among other things, both are continuations of the same earlier consensus position. Indeed, if one looks at the Augsburg Confession (1530), one will find no hint that Luther et al are conscious of having a view of scripture that the pope would find different from his own.

What is different-- see the Heidelberg Disputation (1518) for this-- is an acute awareness that the thought-worlds of the Bible and of late scholasticism were not the same. So by the logic of q1 a8 the categories of scripture have to revise those of Hellenistic philosophy before the latter can be used, just as had already happened in the Greek East. So Luther's 'sola scriptura' differs from q1 a8 mainly in inaugurating the retrieval of the Judaic categories never engaged or comprehended by Hellenism.

Timocrates said...

@Nate,

"If the a man can exegete the Bible with study, then he may interpret it without aid of the magisterium."

You're forcing me to repeat myself yet again.

No, Nate, you are wrong. Bible study cannot resolve textual indeterminacy. It can at best provide probable and speculative opinion in cases of indeterminacy.

"If a man cannot, then he cannot verify the RCC's claim for itself."

This doesn't follow. Firstly, you are working on the obstinate presumption that textual indeterminacy excludes any possible understanding at all of texts. It does not. Secondly, and for the last time, the Church is not a text. She makes a living witness to truth - especially moral truth, that as I have said has moved many to conversion who beforehand didn't even believe in the scriptures at all or weren't even necessarily history experts.

For the last time Nate: If you aren't going to bother to read people's replies to your objection, which one you keep raising regardless of how many times we prove it false and thick-headed, then don't bother at all.

Obstinacy is not the same fidelity let alone piety. It is most definitely not an instance of fortitude.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

If you believe what the RCC speaks because of its "charism," you subscribe to sola ecclesia.

Stop talking to me until you openly apologize. Do not address me ever again unless it is to apologize or, at the very least, to actually prove your claim rather than just blurting it out as if it was self-evident. How does believing the Church has a charism for truth mean I subscribe to sola ecclesia? This is beyond ridiculous. You do do subscribe to sola scriptura, so why don't you honour it when the scripture calls "the Church... the pillar and foundation of the truth."

Anonymous said...

Greg & Timocrates (& Glenn)--

Greg understandably finds my comments hard to follow. Timocrates speaks for me when he says that he would like to concentrate on textual indeterminacy. However, the OP entangles Feser's arguments about textual indeterminacy in disputed claims about Feyerabend, the Jesuits, the Reformers, etc, and no disentanglement has been accepted by all.

Rather than my trying another disentanglement, why don't you two (or three) restate what interests you about Feser's argument apart from his application of it?

Personally, I have been most interested in the implications of *Feyerabend's and Feser's analogy from biblicism to empiricism* for the attraction of interpretive communities to texts.

dguller said...

Sobieski:

Yes. In terms of the Catholic faith, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and His Church (and all that goes along with that). That is not to say, however, that there are not differing spiritualities (e.g., Benedictine vs. Jesuit vs. Carmelite, etc.) or that a monolithic approach to spirituality is required. Just that doctrinally one has to be orthodox per the teachings of the Church.

So, as long as the differences are contained within an overarching framework, then they are insignificant. But why can’t the parameters of the Catholic church be broadened to include Protestant sects? From what I understand, the Catholic church accepts the Orthodox church as legitimate, and yet there are substantial differences between them.

that Jesus came primarily for the Jews (makes sense, he was the Jewish Messiah after all), doesn't mean that the Apostles couldn't then go to the Gentiles.

Except that’s exactly what it means. Jesus did not tell his disciples, go primarily to the Jews, but rather go only to the Jews. His message was clearly an exclusive property of the Jewish people, and any benefit to Gentiles would be indirectly through the Jews.

They did go to the Jews first, many of whom rejected them, like they did Christ. So they then went to the Gentiles.

You seem to imply that preaching to the Gentiles was just a straightforward matter, but that completely ignores the controversy that was caused in the early Christian community when Peter began to preach to the Gentiles. It began with the conversion of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 and 11, and this required a transformation in Peter himself through a religious vision in which his understanding of cleanliness and purity was revised, and he felt himself permitted to do what he previously considered unclean (10:9-16). In fact, Peter refused to alter his understanding three times, and only changed his mind when he actually met Cornelius and all those present felt a religious epiphany that transformed them all, and launched a new phase of Christianity.

Remember that if it was a natural development of Jesus’ message, then there would have been no controversy, because everyone already knew that his message would be spread throughout the world, directly to Jews and Gentiles. It was precisely because this was not the common understanding that there was a controversy, because something new was being introduced into Christianity, something that would eventually dramatically alter it from a local Jewish messianic sect into a global Gentile phenomenon, primarily by jettisoning those Jewish features that served to cause the largest separation between the Jews and Gentiles, e.g. circumcision, the law, and so on.

And the bottom line is that this new development was absolutely one of key doctrinal significance, which would put it under the purview of papal inerrancy. And the problem is that Peter was clearly perceived by various authoritative and key members of the early Christian community to be in error in this particular matter, which demonstrates my main point, i.e. the early Christian community did not see Peter as inherently authoritative in his pronouncements about key doctrinal matters, which itself undermines using him as evidence for papal inerrancy.

Bill said...

Matthew 28
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Luke 24
46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Nate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nate said...

@ Timocrates

By "necessarily" I mean that you imply the Pharisees did not have to means to know what books belonged to the canon, let alone what it taught. They didn't have a magisterium. If you mean this, Jesus' faulting the people for not reading correctly was misplaced. He should have condemned them, like a good communicator, for their presumption that they knew what comprised the canon and how to understand it.

"... blurting it out as if it was self-evident ..."

It's evident that what is infallible about the RCC are written documents. Even if some ex-cathedra statements were oral, there's no great distinction between oral and written communication, at least in this case. For you, as a private man, can't ask the RCC questions as if it were a conversation with an infallible tutor.

Rather everybody reads what the magisterium writes. You have only read written "infallible" documents. That's the only infallible part the RCC claims for itself.

You imply that the indeterminacy of scripture is too great for Protestants to practically understand scripture. But if this were the case, no one could use the Bible to verify that it founds things such as Petrine primacy and succession; they'd just have to take the Church's word for it. That's sola ecclesia.

Nate said...

BTW Fulford responded to Feser's argument here .

Anonymous said...

I shall not sojourn in Derpistan.

I am not a bystander at any duel, especially one between poor shots.

But it seems that popes chiefly accredit or discredit influences on church teaching. Most promote the influence of like-minded bishops and theologians. Most have retrieved some neglected doctrine or practice. Several have intervened to stop a doctrinal drift. None have proposed an unheard-of new doctrine. All now regularly confer with Catholic bishops and leaders of other churches. The most recent have been pretty good NT exegetes. Popes are famous, but cannot punch your daddy in the nose.

In all of these ways, real popes seem to be like the commissioners of major sports. No reasonable person minds that a sport has one; every reasonable person plays it by the rules; loving (or hating) a sport because it has a commissioner is harmless but odd. Very odd.

Nate said...

@ Scott and Timocrates

That first paragraph of my recent reply to you Timocrates was actually to Scott.

@ Scott

It's clear Jesus assumed his audience believed in the divine authority of the OT. It's clear that nothing like a magisterium told these people what to count as Scripture. That's the point.

dguller said...

Bill:

You have uncovered a wonderful contradiction in the NT.

On the one hand, Jesus said:

-- “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).

-- "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24)

On the other hand, Jesus said:

-- “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19)

-- “ … repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).

Regardless, it does not resolve the core problem that I’m describing. The Catholic position is that the Pope is the ultimate authority on doctrinal matters, which is justified on the basis of Peter. So, the fact that Peter was not treated as the ultimate authority on doctrinal matters undermines the Catholic position. In other words, if the Catholic position on papal inerrancy is correct, then the earliest Christians must have treated Peter as the ultimate authority on doctrinal matters. Since the earliest Christians did not treat Peter as the ultimate authority on doctrinal matters, then the Catholic position on papal inerrancy is incorrect.

Scott said...

Nate:

@ Timocrates

By "necessarily" I mean that you imply the Pharisees did not have [the] means to know what books belonged to the canon, let alone what it taught.


I'm Scott, not Timocrates, but he hasn't implied any such thing any more than I have.

At any rate you're still not telling me what you mean by "necessarily," not have you answered the question about whether we sin "necessarily" in the same sense.

"Necessarily" means "by some kind of necessity." When something happens "necessarily," there's some sense in which it must happen. What, in your posts on this subject, is the force of this "must"? Why, in short, do you think that the lack of a Magisterium would, on our view, mean that some Pharisees would necessarily, rather than merely contingently, be unable to have a clear idea which books belonged to the Scriptural canon?

If you can't define "necessarily" for me, then you can at least tell me whether you think we sin "necessarily" in the same sense. I hope the parallel is obvious, but in case it's not:

God/Jesus clearly thinks we shouldn't sin, and yet there's a sense in which it's inevitable that any human being subject to original sin will inevitably in fact commit personal sins after reaching the age of reason. Your statements seem to imply that God/Jesus is wrong to think that we shouldn't sin; we can't help it and that's that. On the other hand, if the sort of "necessity" you have in mind leaves us culpable for our own sins, then it's not at all clear why the Pharisees wouldn't also be culpable for their lack of knowledge/understanding even though that was in some sense inevitable. So does your notion of "necessity" apply in the same way to both cases?

I'll give you one more shot at this before I conclude that you don't have anything specific in mind, at which point I'll give up this line of inquiry as fruitless.

Bill said...

dguller,

I don't see that as a contradiction, but I won't hijack the thread (against the rules and all that). As to the other, I'm not Catholic, so I would tend to agree.

Nate said...

@ Scott

I corrected my misnaming you in a comment. I thought you would understand my mistake.

By necessarily I mean that you imply that the readers had no means to understand the Old Testament nor know what books it contained.

You're setting Jesus up to be a bad communicator. He faulted them for misreading, not for presuming they knew what the Scriptures were comprised of, nor for presuming that they could read the Bible.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

It's evident that what is infallible about the RCC are written documents.

Is that so?

From Vatican I's Definition of Papal Infallibility:

Therefore,
...
we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that

when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
...
he possesses,
...
that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy...
"

Nate said...

@ Timocrates

Have you spoken with the pope? Or have you only read the written work of popes? If the latter, you're restricted to written documents alone. Nevertheless, spoken word recordings aren't much different than written words. For in any case you don't have interface with infallible teaching.

Brandon said...

It's evident that what is infallible about the RCC are written documents.

Infallibility is an attribute of teaching authority; it is a category mistake to apply the notion directly to texts.

Nate said...

@ Brandon

But infallibility implies that written texts are inerrant. And that's all RCCers practically have. No one has a Q&A with the magisterium.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

Have you spoken with the pope?

Have you spoken directly to Jesus? Or to an Apostle? Or was their preaching only infallible once they wrote it down and only that part that was written down?

Further, what does it matter anyways? Your claim was that Catholic dogma and doctrine fails because it is only authoritative or infallible if or when it happens to be written down, which makes it subject to the same problems of a closed, historical text, which is false and clearly not the case - and as I just proved, is most definitely not Catholic teaching and dogma.

You're trying to escape the exposure of the assumption I have been hounding you on; namely, your claim that the Church is subject to textual indeterminacy; even though anyone can see that the Church is not a text.

All you have succeeded in doing so far Nate is wonderfully proving and demonstrating every allegation I have to date made against you in this debate.

Nate said...

@ Timocrates

Everything inerrant and foundational for your articulated faith is in text format. Or perhaps in video. If you didn't speak with the pope.

Brandon said...

But infallibility implies that written texts are inerrant.

It does not, in fact; it implies that the use of them by the teacher or communicator is inerrant. Errancy, like infallibility, is a personal attribute.


Brandon said...

Everything inerrant and foundational for your articulated faith is in text format.

Since one of the primary forms of pedagogy in the Catholic Church is the sacramental economy, this is not, in fact, true: the sacrament of Baptism itself, which is, both historically and now, the immediate ground for the articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, is not in a text format.

Timocrates said...

@ Nate,

"Everything inerrant and foundational for your articulated faith is in text format. Or perhaps in video. If you didn't speak with the pope."

"If you didn't speak with the pope." LOL. Which, of course, is something we can always do; or, at least, listen to the shepherds of the Church. And that is the difference; or unless you want to claim that the Pope and the shepherds of the Church are closed, historical texts too, Nate :)

I think we are about done here.

Scott said...

Nate:

I corrected my misnaming you in a comment. I thought you would understand my mistake.

I did and do understand it. Your further comment wasn't there when I began writing my reply and I was interrupted while composing, so I didn't see it.

By necessarily I mean that you imply that the readers had no means to understand the Old Testament nor know what books it contained.

Again, this is neither a definition of "necessarily" nor an answer to my other highly pertinent question, and again, it's false.

This is going nowhere and you're merely repeating yourself to no effect at this point, so I think I'm done here.

You're setting Jesus up to be a bad communicator. He faulted them for misreading, not for presuming they knew what the Scriptures were comprised of, nor for presuming that they could read the Bible.

This is nonsense and repeating it doesn't make it less so. I/we wouldn't be "setting Jesus up to be a bad communicator" even if (as no one is claiming) the Pharisees had been wrong about which texts to include in the Scriptural canon. Even on the supposition that (a) God hadn't authoritatively guide their selection and (b) they had made the wrong selections (which wouldn't follow from (a)), the fact that Jesus chose one issue to argue about wouldn't have meant that He was ceding all the others.

Scott said...

Oops: "authoritatively guided."

Greg said...

Fulford's first point of his reply undermines his second.

That is: He claims that (1) Aristotle's writings might be indeterminate on the question of what he thought about the nature of the intellect, but are never the less sufficiently determinate on the question of what he thought about act and potency generally.

Granting that, there is a problem for his view that (2) any problems the Protestant position faces would be reduplicated in the Catholic position, since living persons can only communicate to us using words.

For adding persons who answer your questions, even if that only helps you by adding texts/speech acts, can transform Aristotle-on-the-intellect-like texts into Aristotle-on-act-and-potency-like texts.

The view that what is indeterminate will not be needful to salvation poses another problem; for what if someone claims that it does? One could say that what seems indeterminate could not be God's manner of communicating, but since this sophisticated sola scriptura is supposed to be allowing that one can achieve some theological knowledge apart from scripture, one would be begging the question to suppose that there is no way of clarifying what is indeterminate. (In fact, shouldn't an institutional church that purports to disambiguate scripture be a less offensive source of theological knowledge than, say, natural theology or metaphysics?)

Greg said...

Fulford also responds to the classic objection to sola scriptura, the claim that the variety of Protestant churches vitiates its viability.

There are big differences between some Protestants as well as peoples of other religions, he admits. But he notes that on issues relevant to salvation, lots of Protestants are close to Calvinists.

The "what counts as scripture question?" is obviously relevant here, but I think another problem arises. Fulford is probably wise to emphasize the relationship between intellectual virtue and interpreting scripture.

The question then arises: Were the magisterial Protestants intellectually virtuous? Even if we say that they only disagree on irrelevant issues (which, we grant, arise from interpreting indeterminate parts of the Bible, those parts irrelevant to salvation), we are faced with the problem that: these reformers took a committed stance on indeterminate texts, which led to splintering of the new Protestant churches and sometimes violent conflict. If their differences are on unimportant issues, then the intellectually virtuous move would be to suspend judgment, or at least understand why others disagree.

So it's not clear that the variety of Protestant churches is not a problem for sola scriptura.

I would also connect this with my other point, and my general tradition-dependent reliabilist Catholicism. Suppose you ground the right interpretation of scriptures in an account of intellectual virtue. Plausibly, faith and trust in human persons and in tradition is an intellectual virtue; this is, I'd argue, indispensable to understanding how human beings work in mundane, secular contexts (schooling). But if that is an intellectual virtue, then it might be the case that there are sufficiently determinate ways to interpret the otherwise-apparently-indeterminate parts of scripture: say, by seeing what the Catholic Church has to say about it.

At the very least, this defense of sola scriptura would seem to imply that Catholics retain warrant, even if not knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Greg, the 'sophisticated' sola scriptura is the original one. All religions are betrayed by their derps...

On your fifth paragraph. If this seems an odd supposition, we can discuss it-- it's bound up with the definition of the canon-- but I think we have to grant that the mere idea that canon reveals the saving Messiah frames it as perspicuous enough that the gospel can be found in it as it is. And on that point, the Word of God trumps every other card-- sola scriptura.

Still, as you say, this does not preclude futher disambiguating investigation from all the other sources of knowledge. Moreover, it is possible-- though Fulford personally may not concede this-- that they could take one to doctrine not required for salvation but still somehow sacred. I think of the spiritual theologies of eg Franciscans, Wesleyans, Jesuits, Lutherans, etc.

Greg said...

Fulford's final point, that Jesus and the Jews at the time had a way of identifying scripture, seems to me to severely miss the point. For what's at stake here might not be merely the truth of sophisticated-sola-scriptura Protestantism, but Christianity. If Christians aren't right about Jesus, then what the scriptures say he said doesn't imply that there is a solution here.

So this argument could have at most retorsive force. But it has other problems. For instance, Fulford writes:

What this point of history about Second Temple Judaism implies is that it is possible to know what books are holy scripture even without a visible institution given the promise of divine guidance and infallibility. This alone suffices to show that the first Jesuit charge of incoherence must actually be mistaken.

But if Christianity is true, then Jesus is God, and Jesus knew everything, including which scriptures were inspired. Thus he can be correct and warranted when speaking about them. But this is consistent with the Pharisees etc. not being warranted; perhaps a Providential God simply ensured that the texts regarded as canonical were actually inspired, and Jesus mentioned them because he knew the Pharisees etc. would respect their authority, and much of what Jesus said and did was itself retorsive.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

If this seems an odd supposition, we can discuss it-- it's bound up with the definition of the canon-- but I think we have to grant that the mere idea that canon reveals the saving Messiah frames it as perspicuous enough that the gospel can be found in it as it is. And on that point, the Word of God trumps every other card-- sola scriptura.

Yes, I don't know what you're talking about; good thing I can ask.

And on that point, the Word of God trumps every other card-- sola scriptura.

Still, as you say, this does not preclude futher disambiguating investigation from all the other sources of knowledge. Moreover, it is possible-- though Fulford personally may not concede this-- that they could take one to doctrine not required for salvation but still somehow sacred. I think of the spiritual theologies of eg Franciscans, Wesleyans, Jesuits, Lutherans, etc.


This doesn't meet my fifth paragraph's challenge. The idea is: The way we let sola scriptura be the trump card is by reading scripture and interpreting it in an intellectually virtuous way. Our theological knowledge is permitted to be founded on things other than scripture, however.

But suppose what I don't think is plausibly deniable, that part of what intellectual virtue involves is: proper respect for, faith in, and trust of right authority. Then what seems to be indeterminate might actually not be; for there might be an authority which has a correct interpretation. Then authority in an institutional church (since it's founded on interpreting our trump card) might reveal things necessary for salvation.

Maybe one could try to resist this by adverting to the historical question. Maybe the Catholic Church shot itself in the foot around the 15th and 16th centuries, and it ceased to be intellectually virtuous to put one's trust in it. There seem to be a few problems associated with that, besides the fact that I think the historical claim is at best vastly overstated. For one would have to find Protestants who have never discredited themselves in any comparable sense, and that's just doubtful.

Anonymous said...

Greg, what point about Jesus and the Jews is Fulford missing?

Anonymous said...

Why, Greg, would God be revealing anything at all to Second Temple Jews waiting for the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13), Son of God (Psalm 110) in their day (Mark 14:62)? If the canon is about Him, it is about salvation.

Timocrates said...

@ Greg,

Granting that, there is a problem for his view that (2) any problems the Protestant position faces would be reduplicated in the Catholic position, since living persons can only communicate to us using words.

For adding persons who answer your questions, even if that only helps you by adding texts/speech acts, can transform Aristotle-on-the-intellect-like texts into Aristotle-on-act-and-potency-like texts.


I agree completely and well-said.

That is arguably the fundamental difference from the POV of textual indeterminacy, especially when we are using closed, historical texts - and therefore Aristotle's corpus is a good comparison if we are considering textual indeterminacy for the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Anonymous said...

Greg, at 3:27 in par 6, you seem to be describing eg The Church of England or The Church of Sweden.

Anyway, we 'let sola scriptura be the trump card' by being too scared of hell to cross a direct word from God. There is an existential context to these arguments.

I do not think that the (dis)value of what became the Roman Catholic Church is a big part of that context until the phase of mass excommunications, plots for regime change, etc.

Anonymous said...

Greg, Timocrates-- It may be that your authoritative determinator is reliable just because he is supposed to be. Then again, in a fallen world-- of which you are keenly aware, since that is part of your crisis-- he might be an evil angel preaching another gospel.

Anonymous said...

So, Greg, Timocrates-- Although pace Fulford, a trusting soul may be able get a reliable determinator to convert obscure bits of scripture to clear bits of scripture, ultimately achieving a more satisfying view of the whole canon, this is not the sort of soul for whom sola scriptura was asserted.

Sobieski said...

@dguller

But why can’t the parameters of the Catholic church be broadened...

Protestants and the Orthodox don't submit to Petrine primacy, the authority of the Church or certain of its teachings. The Church can't contradict its own teachings to incorporate those who don't accept its teachings.

Except that’s exactly what it means.

After a cursory search, St. Thomas cites St. Jerome in the Catena Aurea who disagrees with you on Mt. 15:24:

"Jerome: He says that He is not sent to the Gentiles, but that He is sent first to Israel, so that where they would not receive the Gospel, the passing over to the Gentiles might have just cause."

To take things back to Dr. Feser's point, your argument illustrates the problem with the solo scriptura approach you are taking. There are Scripture scholars who would disagree with your interpretations. Are they in bad faith? As a Catholic, I don't have to say so. The text and/or its theological implications aren't sufficiently determined in certain instances, especially when it is interpreted outside the Tradition from whence it developed. Thus, the need for an authority to arbitrate in matters of interpretation or doctrine, especially when dealing with matters pertinent to salvation.

dguller said...

Sobieski:

Protestants and the Orthodox don't submit to Petrine primacy, the authority of the Church or certain of its teachings. The Church can't contradict its own teachings to incorporate those who don't accept its teachings.

But the Church’s own history contradicts your position. Again, to return to Peter’s preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, this position was criticized by the Jerusalem Christians as contradicting their understanding of the Gospel as primarily for the Jews. To resolve this situation, especially given the miraculous signs of divine approval, the mission was broadened to include the Gentiles, which meant rejecting the earlier position of Jewish exclusivity. So, in this case, at least, the Church did “contradict its own teachings” (i.e. the Judeo-centric Gospel) “to incorporate those who don’t accept its teachings” (i.e. those who reject the Judeo-centric Gospel).

The text and/or its theological implications aren't sufficiently determined in certain instances, especially when it is interpreted outside the Tradition from whence it developed. Thus, the need for an authority to arbitrate in matters of interpretation or doctrine, especially when dealing with matters pertinent to salvation.

Even if you are correct, your argument does not touch my argument that if Peter is compromised as the authority to determine Christian doctrine, then papal inerrancy itself is compromised. Since no-one has demonstrated how Peter could have been accepted as an incontestable authority with regards to matters of doctrine, and yet have been criticized severely by both the traditional Jewish wing of Christianity (i.e. James and the Jewish Christians) and the non-traditional Hellenistic wing of Christianity (i.e. Paul and his Mediterranean churches), then I have to conclude that papal inerrancy must be rejected, at least insofar as it is supported by Peter as the rock of the Church.

And if that is true, then that means that someone other than the Pope must be found to fill his previous role as the authority to determine the proper interpretation of Scripture.

Nate said...

@ Timocrates

You can't converse with these people and expect infallible communication back from them. It's not practical.

The only communication given infallibly to you is text. The inerrant Q&A is not a possibility.

Nate said...

@ Scott

Did the Pharisees know what the books of the canon were?

If not, why does Jesus assume they know them?

If so, how did they know them? By a magisterium? By Jesus? By happy accident? By the light of scripture? How?

Scott said...

dguller:

I have no idea why you place such importance on this single example.

First of all, as Sobieski has already explained, there's no contradiction between Jesus's own original mission being specifically to Israel and the mission of the Apostles being expanded after His death and resurrection to include all the other nations. (Presumably the latter was part of the divine plan all along, but even if it hadn't been, no contradiction would be involved.)

Second, that some people argued with Peter over that expansion means exactly that: that some people argued with him. You are simply mistaken that "[t]he Catholic position is that the Pope is the ultimate authority on doctrinal matters"; the Catholic position is that God is the ultimate authority on doctrinal matters. Those who disagreed with Peter merely didn't believe he was speaking infallibly and with divine authority at that point, even though it turned out that he was right (which in and of itself wouldn't have meant he was necessarily speaking infallibly anyway). So what?

By the way, you'll have noted that I refer to the Pope as (under the relevant conditions) "infallible" rather than "inerrant." As Brandon has noted, they're not the same.

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