Me and a Catholic talk Scripture and Tradition – Part 1

After I posted the last part my response to Robert Bowman’s anti-Trinitarian Challenge, I myself was challenged from a Catholic individual who more or less questioned my position of Sola Scriptura. The back and forth went on for a while, and the outcome was rather enlightening, it made in think in ways I am not often forced to think, and consider things I rarely if ever consider. Very often a direct back and forth dialogue done in good faith is the best way to examine one’s thought and considering that the dialogue was enlightening for me, I figured it might be for other people, so over the next couple posts I will be posting the back and forth. My words will be posted in red text and my Catholic dialogue partner’s words (DFXC) will be in blue. The original dialogue started as a comment on this post, and then followed over to DFXC’s blog on this post. The only editing of the text was taking out polite introductions and niceties, not because I don’t think politeness is important, but simply for the sake of space, as well as grammatical and spelling mistakes (on my part). One thing to keep in mind is that this was a spontaneous back and forth discussion, so it might not be as thorough and meticulous as one could wish for. Had I done it a second time I might have been more careful, but I feel it’s important to keep the discussion as it is, including things I might wish I went about differently (and I’m sure the same goes for DFXC), any way here it is.

To start let us look at DFXC’s post where he quotes the comments on my post.

DFXC:

T&J Wrote:

One objection I had to Trinitarianism is that it demands that one assume philosophical categories not found in scripture and demands that we re-interpret certain scriptures in the light of these Categories.”

My position doesn’t require any of those Eisegetical tricks; one can just read what the scriptures actually say.”

Ultimately, the insistence on an Orthodox Trinitarianism does not come from scripture, it comes from tradition and is imposed on scripture, if we want to think seriously about Theology we have to be willing to put it aside and not constrain scriptures with invented categories.”

DFXC Commented:

If you’re going to put aside the impositions of tradition in order to pursue a serious Theology of unconstrained scripture, wouldn’t one major constraint in need of shedding be the invented category of the New Testament canon?

If going that far (in pursuit, I presume, of a purified Yeshuist Theology), isn’t it only by tradition that Paul has any authority to contribute to this Theology? A brief mention in the [disputed as early as Origen] Second epistle of Peter notwithstanding, the only scriptural claim to Paul’s authority would be his own or that ascribed to him by his disciple, the author of the texts addressed to Theophilus. Why, then, confuse the Theological project by contorting Gospel accounts to accommodate his alien ideas?

This, of course, would also lead us to put aside the texts from “Luke” in their entirety (along with 2 Peter), which brings us down to ten books by my count. I’d think the status of John and Revelation would need examination as well, to say nothing of the need to reexamine those gospels excluded on the basis of tradition alone…

Or is there some way to justify the maintenance of these constraints that I’ve not considered?

T&J Replied:

That’s a common Catholic objection to the protestant doctrine of Sola-Scriptura, I think it’s a good one, and frankly a lot of the protestant responses that I have heard have been somewhat lacking. I don’t think the argument of God inspiring his scriptures, not the Church, and that the Church simply recognizes what has always been inspired as inspired Works, because it confuses the Divine status of the writings With Our epistemological ability to distinguish what has and does not have a Divine status.

However, it could be argue that the grounds for accepting the New Testament documents as inspired is a historical one, but that historical ground itself is not inspired. In other Words if sufficient evidence came forward that, say, the shepherd of Hermas was more or less accepted as an inspired writing by the earliest Christians, an honest protestant would have to consider accepting it into the canon.

I’m not after a purely “Yeshuist theology” per se, I Accept the full witness of scripture, Paul, James, Peter, John and everyone else in the New Testament. This acceptance has to do with my view of scripture. As far as Paul is concerned, I simply believe that the account in Acts, though being an account from his disciple, is inspired and accurate.

This post (along With the 3 previous) is more addressed to those who believe a purely protestant, sola-scriptura exegetical Method could get one to the Trinity, I don’t think it can. As to why we should accept that paradigm, that’s a larger question, even though I’m not a catholic (obviously) I take the question seriously. I’m not sure if my attempt at a quick answer above is valid, but it’s a start :).

Which brings us to:
Accept the Mystery or Take the Leap?

To your reply:

“…a lot of the protestant responses that I have heard have been somewhat lacking…”

That’s been my issue too, but given the detail and precision of the specific argument you present here (and in other posts), I thought you might have better ones…?

“…accepted as an inspired writing by the earliest Christians…”

Doesn’t this just shift the problem to one of deciding who counts as “the earliest Christians”? I mean, even if we just grant the inclusion Paul and the churches under his care, then “accepted as an inspired writing” gets us the Pauline epistles and a few others but no Gospel, which seems like a problem. If we want to get all four gospels in, we’re into the Christians of the second century and, by that point, there’s the apparent acceptance of the Didache to take into account — as well as the lost texts of the early (and popular) Valentinians [which poses a secondary problem for the main argument in your post series here, since Valentinan teaching and scripture is already marked by an explicitly triune Theology], the other so-called “Gnostic” Christians, the Marcionites, the Ebionites, and so on. To have a basis to exclude those, it seems we’d have to go through to at least Irenaeus of Lyons and count his work as, if not inspired, at least authoritative [which, again, begins to pose a problem for anti-Trinitarianism since the contents of Against Heresies give even more ground for argument over the dominant understanding of the relations between Father, Son, and Spirit].

Going this far would at least allow for the clear inclusion of no more and no less than four Gospels [yay!] but were we to stop there, wouldn’t that just be arbitrary? It might be less arbitrary to presume a distorting political interest in the conversion of and Council under Constantine and stop at, say, 324. Although then your anti-Trinitarian position still takes a hit from the Alexandrian synod of 321, so… 320 and make Arius the last ‘Church Father’ (and martyr, if you buy the poisoning theory)? But then the position would no longer be Protestant so much as Arian and would also seem to imply that Christianity simply didn’t exist in the world for a good 700 years or more, which seems an untenable conclusion (not that that’s stopped some from holding it).

“…As far as Paul is concerned, I simply believe…”

I think, “I simply believe” is where any and all of these arguments are bound to end up. The Catholic position, however detailed and extensively articulated and argued in rational terms [thanks for all the extra reading homework Aquinas!], stands or falls on an acceptance of mystery to which an exercised reason unaided by faith will not submit; the various Protestantisms come to a similar end, either by explicitly espousing fideism from the outset or (so far as I’ve seen) by running into some unbridgeable gap –like the one under discussion here– that seems to be a necessary consequence of excising some three to seven centuries of historical development of the retained doctrines. [The Orthodox churches seem to have done a fair job of having simply ‘stopped’ at some time in the 11th century but then it strikes me as at least as un-reason-able to maintain medieval thought in the modern age as it is to accept the Catholic mystery or leap into the Protestant gap.]

“…This post (along With the 3 previous) is more addressed to those who believe a purely protestant, sola-scriptura exegetical Method could get one to the Trinity, I don’t think it can…”

And here is where my last point, I would argue, comes back around to steal the wind from your position [though, if it does, it performs the same trick on the position you’re countering]. For unless you can bridge the gaps to establish and define “a purely protestant, sola-scriptura exegetical method,” then the authority of the method selected can only be the authority of the “I simply believe.” No?

So that was the first response from DFXC, in the following post we will go on to see my response and continue with the dialogue.

Read Part 2 here.

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Me and a Catholic talk Scripture and Tradition – Part 1

2 thoughts on “Me and a Catholic talk Scripture and Tradition – Part 1

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