Accept the Mystery or Take the Leap?

This started out as a reply to a reply to a comment I made over at Theology and Justice [which also has this post that I recommend to, well, anyone who’s reading this – it’s worth your time] but, as you’ll see, the replying got away from me a bit and ended up being so long (and tangential to the original post) that I’d thought it rude to leave it as a comment. So I’m moving the conversation over here…

The post on which I commented is the conclusion of a four-part apologia in response to a [Protestant] kategória against anti-Trinitarianism on the basis of “scripture alone” [sola scriptura]… and if you didn’t follow that, then 1) don’t worry, I think the tangent I’m on will be more comprehensible for you and 2) you probably won’t want to follow the first link I gave but do still follow the second. Anyway, here are a couple of moments [emphasis added] that caught my eye in the wee hours this morning:

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 :).

Thanks for the Insight.”

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

Thanks for engaging despite what might easily have been read as ‘snark’ in my earlier comment — I probably shouldn’t write anything publicly first thing in the morning; I’m beginning to suspect that ‘brotherhood, charity, and ecumenism’ have been imbued far less in me than in my coffee.

The basic approach of my question/critique/(groggy rambling) is of course, as you note, partially inspired by an ongoing Catholic formation but –just to be clear– it is for me neither the origin nor the (at least humanly speaking) end of my interest and asking. I teach Religious Studies at a State funded college in the US [i.e., The Comparative / History of / Critical Theories of / “Secular” study of Religion] and so, as my work in that field began long before my conversion from ‘existential apatheism’ to Christianity, I have a more strictly intellectual/academic interest motivating my inquiry as well.

On the more personal and spiritual side it seems right to confess that, quite frankly, I’ve also been looking for some way to keep my conversion to Christ while rationalizing myself out of Catholicism. Seriously, by any purely human measure the Catholic Church has very little on the ‘pro’ side of any pro/con decision list you might make, while the ‘con’ side only grows longer for the unbaptized convert and is increased by an order of magnitude for the unbaptized convert in need of a declaration of nullity for a civil marriage. All of which is to say, the UCC or Episcopal Church down the road would make my life so much easier, if I could accept it in faith. [Of course, faith doesn’t work like that, so it’s a futile effort, but I’ve spent too long engaged in philosophy not to try anyway… chalk it up as another piece of anecdotal evidence to support the argument that God’s sense of humor is as dry as a martini that only ever looked at a bottle of vermouth.]

Anyway, as 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?

“Thanks for the Insight.”

Thanks for provoking the inquiry. 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Accept the Mystery or Take the Leap?

  1. Very good and important points are being brought up. Hindsight is 20/20 and had I realized my response to your comment would have blossomed into a whole blog post dedicated to the conversation I may have thought through the issues a little bit more, but here is my chance to redeem myself, even if only partially.

    I want to be clear from the outset, this is not an issue I have spend much time researching, not an issue I have developed well formed arguments for, so what will follow is going to be an off the cuff apologia at best, I hope some slack is given. At the same time I understand that this question is about our foundation and thus cannot be ignored.

    I’ll start with what I feel I can answer more of less confidently; Valentinian teaching and the Gnostics. I’m quite confident that one could read only Book One of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (where he more or less lays out the beliefs of the gnostics without arguing against them directly) to know that the Valentinians and his predecessors and fellow Gnostics had nothing to do with the historical Jesus and the Community which developed around his apostles. If we know anything about the historical Jesus (from a purely secular historical method), it’s that he was a Palestinian Jewish peasant who preached coming Kingdom of God and started a messianic movement influenced by the Isaiah prophesies (and others from the Tanakh) and was executed by the Roman State with approval from the Jewish Ruling class as an enemy of the State. We also know that after is death his follows thought of him as resurrected and established a community which continued preaching the kingdom of God and on the basis of the resurrection of Christ. We also know that his this community was originally made up of fellow Palestinian Jews, mostly of middle and lower class backgrounds.

    If we can, with some degree of historical certainty, establish those facts we can write off the Gnostics almost right away. It’s obvious that their ideas and teachings have nothing to do with the mainstream of Second Temple Palestinian Judaism from which Jesus sprang and that it really had nothing to do with an eschatological Kingdom of God which the historical Jesus preached. In fact there are good reasons to believe (outside of Irenaeus) that the Gnostics pre-dated Christianity and simply took Jesus and the symbols and figures of Christianity and attached them to their own philosophy, as they did with Judaism and Roman/Hellenistic Paganism and Hellenistic Philosophy. Their readings of Genesis, for example, have (from a historical standpoint), nothing to do with the Second Temple Judaism which developed from the return from Babylon up through the first century. Now you might say “Ok, but which Second Temple Judaism ….” I would then reply “All of them,” Pharisaic Judaism, the Sadducees, even more eccentric types such as the Essenes, or the nationalistic Zealots or whoever, all of them have certain common assumptions which are categorically different, and opposed to, Gnostic philosophy. So there goes the Gnostic writings, I don’t need Irenaeus to know the Gnostics had nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth and the Apostolic Community. So much for the Gnostics.

    The documents of the New Testament can all be reasonably dated to the time period of the Apostles. If we give historical credence to Papias’ testimony as preserved for us in Eusebius (which I think is warranted, I suggest the Book «Jesus and the Eye Witnesses» by Richard Bauckham for what I consider very good evidence that we should take Papias’ testimony seriously), then we have good reason to believe that the gospels preserve eye witness tradition and go back to the Apostles themselves. We then have Paul, who can also reasonably by connected to the Apostles and the first community of Christians, and in fact can reasonably be thought to have had authority. I think the epistle of James has good arguments going for it that it goes back to the Historical James, given that it duck tails nicely with what we know about early Jewish Christianity. We can argue about all the books, and some are harder than others, but you get the idea I hope.

    Now why do we stop there? Well, one could say that the apostolic age, and after the writings which were under the authority (more or less) of the apostles, was a unique time, given that there was a direct connection to Jesus and those whom he taught. Is that arbitrary? I don’t know, but if it is, then most of the more or less unanimous opinion of Church Fathers that those texts which were written under the authority of the apostles were uniquely authoritative. It is the case, however, that there were texts under dispute, 2 Peter and Revelation for example. In those cases we can look at the arguments given for or against their apostolic authority, and then look at the history of the New Testament Canon, and see what we can make of it. After that period, there were “Church Fathers” who agree with my position (In my opinion the biblical one) and some who did not, but that doesn’t make those men “inspired” or authoritative. Being right or correct does not equate to being scripture.

    There is a leap of faith here, one must believe that God preserves his word, that God makes sure that his inspired message reaches his people. But I don’t have a problem with a reasonable measure of faith leaping, as Hume pointed out in his arguments about causality, even atheist naturalism demands a measure of faith that most Atheists would be uncomfortable to admit.

    But if I may, I might throw a challenge your way. The Catholic position on the magnesium is pretty clear, scripture, tradition and the papacy are together the infallible rule of faith. A while back I gave a modest critique of the Catholic magnesium position ( https://theologyandjustice.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/does-the-magesterium-save-the-trinity-from-sola-scriptura/ ). To make a long story short, following the hermeneutical principles of sound exegesis, even according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one (if my scriptural arguments for Unitarianism are correct) would come to conclusions that conflict with the tradition. So one has a choice, either manipulate the hermeneutical method to get an exegesis that matches the tradition, or drop the tradition. If you’re going to do the former, ultimately, you’re going to have to use such Ad Hoc exegetical assumptions, that basically sound hermeneutical principles go out the window. So what happens when reconciling the two means doing serious damage to sound scriptural exegesis?

    Another challenge I would give is that of tradition to the Old Testament. The Jews developed their Canon in the inter-testament period, by the time of Josephus it was basically set (according to him the 24 books were held in the temple). If we are to argue that tradition alone can establish a Canon, are we not also tied to Jewish tradition? If we are to accept the Jewish Canon, must we not accept the Oral tradition that established it? Should not Christians add to their bible the Mishnah? Or even the whole Talmud? I understand that Catholics use the books of the LXX, which include the Deutero-Canonicals, but those also were established by a non Christian tradition were they not?

    Now if you want to argue that the Jewish tradition strayed from the truth, that’s fine, and we can measure that against scripture, but can one not do the same with Catholic tradition?

    I hope that this was at the very least somewhat coherent, as I said from the outset I have not put in enough time researching the issue to say anything that I know I can put down as a case closed definitive argument, but this conversation is certainly at least motivating me.

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    1. I just realized I made a couple spelling and grammar mistakes in my reply, that’s what I get for jumping the gun to quickly, sorry about that.

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    2. I’d like to begin by repeating my caveat to this entire endeavor, which I find implicated in your response when you say,
      “I don’t have a problem with a reasonable measure of faith leaping.”
      …and I don’t have a problem with accepting mystery.
      In the end, these are the colors of our faiths. Judgment is reserved for God.

      None of which is to say the effort is pointless when proselytization proves fruitless. Since I embrace Anselm’s motto, fides quaerens intellectum, I believe that engagements such as these—carried out in good conscience and genuine intention—can be immensely fruitful. They are, in themselves, a kind of worshipful activity and can serve to form and strengthen faith.

      Now, as to the points raised in your reply:

      “…an off the cuff apologia at best, I hope some slack is given.”

      Well of course. Neither of us has an imperial army supporting our position [or do you?], nor would I expect these positions to be held up as proof texts at a council of any tradition. However serious the subject matter, we’re still just a couple of random Christians having a chat.

      “…the Valentinians and his predecessors and fellow Gnostics had nothing to do with the historical Jesus… [snip] …If we know anything about the historical Jesus (from a purely secular historical method)… [snip] …So much for the Gnostics.”

      I’m not sure that a “purely secular historical method” is good place to hang your argument. That’s the same method that erases not only the divinity of Christ but the divine altogether, often reducing Jesus down to little more than a kind of Jewish proto-Gandhi figure. Even setting aside that concern, however, your argument at this stage seems to want to center around what the “earliest Christians” would have believed and understood. On this point, I don’t see any particularly good reason to accept the opinions of 20th and 21st century “secular” scholars over the testimony of 2nd century Alexandrians. Clement of Alexandria informs us that Valentinus (of whose he was a contemporary) was a student of Theudus and that Theudus was taught directly by none other than Paul of Tarsus. Absent good reason to dismiss Clement (upon whom Eusebius relied as a credible authority, so such a dismissal will pull the support out from other pieces of your argument), there seems to be little ground for the suggestion that Valentinus “had nothing to do” with the religion expressed by Jesus [unless we say the same of Paul which, I believe, you’d not wanted to do]. Similar problems can be made with respect to the Ebionites, who must have had something to do with Palestinian peasant Judaism since they were, by and large, Palestinian peasant Jews.
      So much for taking down the Gnostics without appeal to Tradition..?

      “If we give historical credence to Papias’ testimony as preserved for us in Eusebius… [snip – thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll check it out – ] then we have good reason to believe that the gospels preserve eye witness tradition and go back to the Apostles themselves… [snip] …We can argue about all the books, and some are harder than others, but you get the idea I hope.”

      Alright, but I’m seeing a couple of fresh problems for you here. Granting the accuracy of Papias via Eusebius gets us The Gospel of Mark clearly enough and possibly John. His account of Matthew is highly problematic given the information available to us today. To count the Greek Matthew contained in the canon today as being substantively the same as that Hebrew or Aramaic text, to which Papias refers, requires more than a little speculation (or presumption).
      Still more problematic for you, it seems to me, is that you only get to Papias by way of Eusebius and that move would seem to entail accepting Eusebius into the fold of “Early Christians.” Unless you’ve got a systematic way to dismiss his accuracy on points beyond quoting Papias, I’m thinking you’re better off heading back to Irenaeus (upon whom Eusebius also relies), since Eusebius was undeniably Trinitarian and, though accused of Arianism at times, submitted to the formulation presented in the Nicene Creed.

      “Now why do we stop there? Well, one could say that the apostolic age, and after the writings which were under the authority (more or less) of the apostles, was a unique time, given that there was a direct connection to Jesus and those whom he taught.”

      The idea of drawing a line at the end of the Apostolic Age is an intriguing one and I think it has the potential to be the hub for a compelling counter-narrative of Christianity. It would appear, however, that such a line simply cannot be drawn at this point without relying the very figures of Tradition that such a counter-narrative must seek to exclude… or else find some connective means for discerning the ‘continuing’ Christians from their Constantinian peers.

      “…as Hume pointed out in his arguments about causality, even atheist naturalism demands a measure of faith that most Atheists would be uncomfortable to admit.”

      No counter from this quarter. I don’t think Hume is read nearly enough today and when he is, he’s often read only partially or poorly.

      “But if I may, I might throw a challenge your way.”

      Fire away.

      “A while back I gave a modest critique of the Catholic [Magisterium] position …[snip]… even according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one (if my scriptural arguments for Unitarianism are correct) would come to conclusions that conflict with the tradition.”

      I checked out your critique. It’s interesting but I found it lacking in dealing with the whole of the Catechism when it comes to interpretation. For instance, while you do note CCC100, you then go on to produce your own interpretations of both the meanings of the Catechism and Scripture. The problem here is that CCC100 explicitly entrusts interpretation “solely” to the Magisterium of the Church. Therefore, from within the system described by the Catechism, if the conclusions of your own exegetical practice results in a “conflict with the tradition,” then it is—by definition—incorrect. [My own investigations into the Catechism suggest that it is internally consistent with such a degree of rigor that the only way to overcome it is to toss it out entirely. Once you accept its premises and begin working within its system, you’ve pretty much lost the game.]

      Even if you’re both within the system and committed to a hermeneutic that yields a contradiction, there’s one important response option you left off your list: Humility. No matter how strong I might find my own interpretation of Scripture, however much I think I’ve followed the rules of “sound hermeneutical principles,” I think I need to at least start from the presumption that the work of Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, Basil, Maximus, Gregory, and so on and so on… was all more thorough. Were I bent on taking down an accepted interpretation of Tradition (and not going to dismiss Tradition in order to do so), I feel I’d need to refute the full structure of that interpretation which, in turn, would require working through many, many texts in considerable detail… and I expect I’d finish sometime after my own natural death, when the project really wouldn’t matter so much.

      [Though, once again, this all stands or falls on a submission to Tradition that is in itself part of a positive act of faith and, as such, is not something I expect any other to be moved to without the initiatory intercession of the Holy Spirit.]

      “Another challenge I would give is that of tradition to the Old Testament. …[snip]… If we are to argue that tradition alone can establish a Canon, are we not also tied to Jewish tradition? …[snip]… Now if you want to argue that the Jewish tradition strayed from the truth, that’s fine, and we can measure that against scripture, but can one not do the same with Catholic tradition?”

      The Jewish tradition is part of an earlier “stage” in the Pedagogy of God (CCC 53; 63-73) and thus does not enter into the Tradition of the Church except in relation to the Mediator and Fullness of all revelation, Jesus Christ. Again, then, it’s not a matter of considering Judaism as “strayed from the truth” as measured “against scripture [alone]” but against Scripture and the Tradition through which Scripture comes to be fully understood.

      That said, if you want to measure both Judaism and Catholicism against your interpretation of Scripture, then I have little doubt that they’ll come to equal ends… but then that wouldn’t be in harmony with the hermeneutics of the Catholic Church. Not that it has to be, except for Catholics.

      Speaking personally, the greatest problem I have with any hermeneutic of the individual is one of trust. I simply don’t trust myself not to lead myself away from Truth in favor of comfort and complacency. Spiritually, I see only a simple either/or presented to me: to God through the Roman Catholic Church, or back into the wilderness of my own autonomy. But also intellectually and psychologically, the rigor of Catholic Tradition keeps me from making the road easy. It will not conform to me, so my own peculiar concupiscence is offered little room to move my conscience.

      Well I’ve certainly gotten something out of all this. I hope it continues to prove positive and constructive for you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the response; hopefully this response will be a little less sloppy than one I gave previously :).

        It’s interesting what you say about the historical method, tomorrow I’m publishing a post on my blog specifically about the problems with apologists arguing from a purely secular historical method. None the less I do believe a secular historical method is important, so we take away tradition and inspiration, or “bracket” them, you don’t necessarily take out the divine, although it is “bracketed” then you go from there. I don’t think you get a kind of Jewish proto-Gandhi figure necessarily, not if you’re reading good scholarship and really examining the materials.

        It’s not about “accepting” 20th and 21st century scholars over the theologians and Church fathers of late antiquity, it’s about looking at all the information and coming up with the most accurate picture you can.
        As far as the testimony of Clement, he doesn’t actually say that Valentinus was taught by Theudus, he says that is what his followers say. According to Tertullian, he started his own group when he was snubbed as a Bishop, and the things he taught were supposedly “secret teachings” that were given to him, not really a credible claim. But let’s say his followers were right, and he actually was taught by Theudus, I can compare his teachings, to those of more credible witnesses, I can compare his teachings to the Jewish Tanakh on which Jesus and his disciples relied and I can see clearly, there is an irreconcilable problem.

        In order to put Valentinus (or say Marcion) on the same level as the New Testament books, I would have to insist that all the ones who knew Jesus directly, and his apostles, who came from that area and time, got it wrong, but secretly gave the truth to those guys. I’d also have to believe that “the truth” was suspiciously similar to earlier proto-gnostic thought coming from North Africa mainly, which really had nothing to do with biblical or temple Judaism, but rather was just a mishmash of different religious figures put together to make an elite mystery religion. The reason I don’t buy what Valentinus is selling is not because I don’t think he was taught by the right people, it’s because what he teaches clearly is at odds with the teachings of the apostles and Jesus. Even if his teachings were not at odds, all that would make him was my brother in history who wrote interesting things, not Holy Scripture.
        With the Ebionites, or their theological cousins the Nazareans, to be honest I don’t really think they were so wrong so that they should be counted out as genuine Christians. I would say those groups were basically Christianity without Paul or John.

        Here’s the point though, I read Tertullian, Irenaeus, Eusebius, Justin Martyr and whoever as historical sources, theological writers, and interesting polemicists, and yes, I rely on them to know certain historical things, but they not θεόπνευστος, God breathed, inspired, in the same way scripture is. Interestingly in his argument with the Valentinians, Irenaeus appeals to scripture, which both sides seem to take as authoritative, but not to some oral tradition, in fact some oral tradition was the appeal of the Gnostics, the same goes for Tertullian, scripture is the final authority. When they are not appealing to scripture, their arguments are often philosophical, not “the bishops say” or “the pope says” or “the oral tradition says.”

        So I’m not ignoring the Fathers at all, but we need to understand the difference between a good historical source, and γραφὴ θεόπνευστος. The fact that Eusebius was a Trinitarian (haven’t looked into it but I accept that he was), doesn’t discount his value as a historical source for a Unitarian like myself, just as Josephus is an invaluable source for both of us, though we are not Orthodox Jews.
        Moving on to the question of authority. I want to make something clear, I am not one of those people who thinks that one can just sit by himself with a bible and study really really hard and find the truth and there we go. Christianity is necessarily a communal institution; it necessitates a congregation, and a structure. In one’s Christian life I believe one must find a congregation, not based on what one wants, but based on it attempting to adhere to the gospel, and truth found in scripture, and attempting to practice Christian community and preaching, and then submit to the congregation and live in harmony with it.

        We all however, come to the gospel one way or another, I find myself with a bible, I read it, I don’t understand all of it, but I can hear God speaking through it. Then I see the Roman Catholic Church, and it’s a Church with a beautiful history filled with lovers of Christ, with people doing their best to do Kingdom work. However I also see doctrines taught, which I cannot, without doing serious intellectual harm, reconcile with scripture, or history. I don’t think that I can simply interpret scripture alone, but the community of Christians I attach myself to must be one that does not do serious hermeneutical harm to scripture, and attempts, in it’s best way to interpret the scripture as it stands. The Catholic tradition isn’t really defined, I have no way to test it, all I have is the claim of a Church, and I cannot accept that claim as true, due to it’s not being consistent and being at odds with scripture. Not some special interpretation of scripture, plain scripture, as well as history (but that’s another story).
        The point with the Catechism, is that they are giving their own hermeneutical method, and as an outsider, I see a problem. Exegesis is not arbitrary, it’s not ad hoc, there are good and true exegesis and bad and false ones, and adding an additional rule saying, “whatever it is it must coincide with tradition” doesn’t fix that. It’s like saying, “do your science, but it must fit with what I already believe,” what you end up with is the flip side of Sola Scriptura, Sola Ecclesia.

        But again, I am by no means saying that one can simply sit in a room and study the bible, but the bible comes first, and when finding the Church, that should be the standard. The problem I have with tradition is that to accept it, for me, I would have to shut off serious problems I see with it compared to a plain reading of scripture. I would also have to have faith that the tradition was not only there, but preserved specifically in the Catholic Church down the ages, even though there are reasons to not believe that.
        I absolutely understand your concern for the very human tendency to attempt to conform theology to one’s self, and I am part of a Christian Community that keeps me in check and focused on Christ, the Kingdom and the Gospel. But Roman Catholicism has too many holes for me to through myself into it, but in the bible, I hear God’s word, I know I can trust that.

        I have absolutely found this back and forth constructive and positive, I appreciate your graciousness in dialoging with me, and your obvious rigor and intellectual honesty as well as your humility, it’s a breath of fresh air.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. First off, apologies for the extended delay in replying; life tends to get in the way.
        As to the meat of the matter:

        I do believe a secular historical method is important… [snip]… I don’t think you get a kind of Jewish proto-Gandhi figure necessarily, not if you’re reading good scholarship and really examining the materials.

        I think this is down to how one delimits “good scholarship.” While there are many scholars who do a reasonable job of “bracketing” without dismissing or (if unintentionally) denigrating divinity, much of the archaeological and philological work being done from within academia adopts a form of methodological atheism that presumes against any transcendent reality (let alone the God of Abraham). This is not to say that I reject the work out of hand [it was, coincidentally enough, Bart Ehrman who first sparked my interest in Patristics], I’ve just come to believe that 1) it’s not the strongest foundation on which to develop any apologetic project, and 2) leaning too far in that direction in the contemporary context cedes more to the worldview of the ‘loyal opposition’ than I think is warranted.

        It’s not about “accepting” 20th and 21st century scholars over the theologians and Church fathers of late antiquity, it’s about looking at all the information and coming up with the most accurate picture you can.

        And I’d generally agree. What that picture looks like, however, is going to be unavoidably skewed according to the basic outlooks with which one approaches the investigation. As even our brief back-and-forth shows, there is no ‘raw history’ that is indisputable. Interpretation and judgment must intervene. Of this I have become more than just intellectually convinced, since my own experience attests to the radical revaluation that faith can engender. Texts that were only historically and sociologically important when I first read an wrote on them a decade ago have, in just the last year, become immeasurably deep and intensely personal. Prior to my conversion, I couldn’t see it; after conversion, I can’t not.

        I don’t buy what Valentinus is selling is not because I don’t think he was taught by the right people, it’s because what he teaches clearly is at odds with the teachings of the apostles and Jesus.

        Well, here again, it’s a question of determining “the right people” and deciding (in advance) on what the “authentic” teachings of Jesus and the apostles were and exactly how in tune (or not) they may have been with first century Judaism. [Not, for the record, that I buy Valentinus either — but then I have a different than you for deciding the “authenticity” of any teaching. Of course, I didn’t really buy him before either. Marcion, on the other hand, had always struck me as being eminently reason-able (absent a faith commitment that would bar his reading) at least in his basic theological position. He view does solve the whole Old Testament vs. New Testament hermeneutic problem rather neatly, after all.]
        Irenaeus appeals to scripture, which both sides seem to take as authoritative, but not to some oral tradition, in fact some oral tradition was the appeal of the Gnostics, the same goes for Tertullian, scripture is the final authority.

        Indeed, but the issue for me isn’t a question of the authority of Scripture but of 1) determining what counts as Scripture [which, if memory serves, is one of the places from which we’d started down this particular road] and 2) under what interpretations Scripture is properly understood. Point 1, I argue, requires granting at least some (rather decisive) authority to tradition — either oral or practical — because Scripture itself is mute on the question of its own contents. Point 2, as I think we’ve covered (or will have done shortly), is where I [try to] humble myself before those who’ve contributed so much.

        I want to make something clear, I am not one of those people who thinks that one can just sit by himself with a bible and study really really hard and find the truth and there we go.

        I’d not thought so but — again, from an awareness and concern for my own concupiscence — the methodologies you’ve outlined still seem to leave too much wiggle room for me to feel safeguarded against my own capacity for rationalization. It is disturbingly easy for me to make Christianity, well, easy… as, I think we might agree, so many have done these days.

        Christianity is necessarily a communal institution; it necessitates a congregation, and a structure. In one’s Christian life I believe one must find a congregation, not based on what one wants, but based on it attempting to adhere to the gospel, and truth found in scripture, and attempting to practice Christian community and preaching, and then submit to the congregation and live in harmony with it.

        Wouldn’t it be great if it could be “what one wants”? It’d make my life a lot easier.

        I also see [Roman Catholic] doctrines taught, which I cannot, without doing serious intellectual harm, reconcile with scripture, or history. I don’t think that I can simply interpret scripture alone, but the community of Christians I attach myself to must be one that does not do serious hermeneutical harm to scripture, and attempts, in it’s best way to interpret the scripture as it stands.

        Here, I think, is simple where we become irreconcilable and the difference is one that must be left up to God and the direction towards which the Spirit guides each of us. For me, there is no hermeneutic outside the Magisterium that does not do harm; for you, the Magisterium itself does harm. We operate from different axioms and, at least from my side, how those are seen and in what way they are offered to be accepted are–by definition–inarguable. Not to say that we can’t ‘argue’ over them (as we’ve been doing) but rather that I don’t expect to shift the grounds of anyone’s faith by force of bare reason alone. [In fact, I’d hope not since any ‘faith’ one can be argued into can be argued out of and, as such, wouldn’t much seem to be faith.]

        The Catholic tradition isn’t really defined

        Not really sure what you mean by this. It’s much more defined than any other ‘Christianity’ I’ve encountered.

        The point with the Catechism, is that they are giving their own hermeneutical method, and as an outsider, I see a problem. Exegesis is not arbitrary, it’s not ad hoc, there are good and true exegesis and bad and false ones, and adding an additional rule saying, “whatever it is it must coincide with tradition” doesn’t fix that. It’s like saying, “do your science, but it must fit with what I already believe,” what you end up with is the flip side of Sola Scriptura, Sola Ecclesia.

        Well here I flat out disagree with your reading. First off, insofar as it received and extended its Patristic predecessors (of whose hermeneutics you seem to approve), the Catholic tradition defined “good and true exegesis.” What hermeneutic method stands entirely outside that tradition? Or, at what point do you think its exegetes went awry? At Nicaea?
        Further, “science” does actually say that any new claim “must coincide with tradition” — that is, the traditions of science. A completely new paradigm must undergo a long and arduous period of trial before being accepted… much as shifts in the Catholic hermeneutic do. The point of saying, “your interpretation must fit with tradition,” is precisely to avoid personal novelty, the temptations of the times, and “arbitrary” or “ad hoc” exegesis.

        The problem I have with tradition is that to accept it, for me, I would have to shut off serious problems I see with it compared to a plain reading of scripture. I would also have to have faith that the tradition was not only there, but preserved specifically in the Catholic Church down the ages, even though there are reasons to not believe that.

        There are also reasons not to believe anything written in Scripture (plain reading or not)… but stepping beyond reason, one way or another, is what both of us have to do. If we posit that neither of us has been led to step away from God, then it would seem that the direction towards has simply been opened differently for us. Would that it would be given to me to see as you do–being/becoming Catholic is a massive pain in the rear–but the faith offered me includes the Tradition. Feel free to take it up with God. I have. I tend to think He finds it hilarious.

        But Roman Catholicism has too many holes for me to through myself into it, but in the Bible, I hear God’s word, I know I can trust that.

        Again — I think it’s the leap vs. the mystery. Where your trust rests, mine is restless; where mine is nourished, yours withers.

        I have absolutely found this back and forth constructive and positive, I appreciate your graciousness in dialoging with me, and your obvious rigor and intellectual honesty as well as your humility, it’s a breath of fresh air.

        I wholeheartedly return the sentiments!
        God bless and keep you.

        Liked by 1 person

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