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:
“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.”
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?
“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. 🙂