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Conservatism Will Not Save Christianity

A couple of readers have sent me a column by the Catholic priest Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in which he lists Twelve Reasons Why Progressive Christianity Will Die Out. [1] Here’s how he sets up the list:

The historic Christians believe their religion is revealed by God in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, and that the Scriptures are the primary witness of that revelation. They believe the church is the embodiment of the risen Lord Jesus in the world and that his mission to seek and to save that which is lost is still valid and vital. Historic Christians believe in the supernatural life of the Church and expect God to be at work in the world and in their lives.

Progressive Christians believe their religion is a historical accident of circumstances and people, that Jesus Christ is, at best, a divinely inspired teacher, that the Scriptures are flawed human documents influenced by paganism and that the church is a body of spiritually minded people who wish to bring peace and justice to all and make the world a better place.

I realize that I paint with broad strokes, but the essential divide is recognizable, and believers on both sides should admit that “historic” and “progressive” Christians exist within all denominations. The real divide in Christianity is no longer Protestant and Catholic, but progressive and historic.
When I say “divide” I should say “battle” because both sides are locked in an interminable and unresolvable battle. Interminable because neither side will yield and unresolvable because the divisions extend the the theological and philosophical roots of both aspects.

However, it is true to look at the dynamic of progressive Christianity and see that by the end of this century it will have either died out or ceased to be Christianity.

I agree with this, with a slight modification. Most of the progressive Christians I know would say that Jesus was (is) divine. Yet they live their theology as if he were little more than a divinely inspired teacher. It’s a distinction without a lot of difference, but I do want to acknowledge that many progressive Christians do profess Christ’s divinity.

His main point is generally true, in my experience, and so is his list. Yet the reading that I’ve been doing lately leaves me unsatisfied with it; the list is true, but only a partial truth. Indeed it makes me think that many Christians who identify with the conservatives are much more vulnerable to the same dynamics that will eliminate progressive Christianity than they realize. Let me explain.

As many of you know, I’ve been much taken with the Reformed theologian Hans Boersma’s 2011 book Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry [2]. In it, Boersma talks, in everyday, non-technical language, about the theological and philosophical basis of the first thousand years of Christianity. He calls it a “Platonic-Christian synthesis” — that is, the belief that all matter, all nature, is metaphysically anchored in God. That is, that everything that exists receives its very existence from God, and subsists mysteriously in God.

This changed radically in the High Middle Ages for a number of reasons Boersma detailed. The most significant of them were the rise of univocity and nominalism. I’m greatly simplifying here, but univocity means that God is not Being itself, but a category of Being. He sits atop the hierarchy of Being, as its supreme entity. This served to crack the metaphysical bond between God and Nature. As Boersma writes, no longer did earthly objects receive their reality from God’s own being. Rather, they possessed their own being. This effectively makes the created order independent of God.

Then came nominalism, which denies that there is an intrinsic essence in anything. Matter has meaning through an act of will. Ockham and the nominalists did not deny God’s existence, but they said that insofar as anything meant anything, it was because God willed it to be so (this, as distinct from the view that it is part of His nature, because he is in some sense united to Nature). Move God out of the picture and then man’s relationship to Nature is one in which we can do anything we want with it, bound by no natural laws. There is no natural teleology.

These and other factors at work in the West laid the groundwork for the ongoing exile of God from, well, life. (Interestingly, Boersma points out that almost all of this took place before the Reformation, though the Reformation, and the Counter Reformation, accelerated the process already underway.) In the Great Tradition, nothing existed on its own; everything was really connected in God and through God. Modernity — starting with the Late Middle Ages — progressively unraveled the “sacramental tapestry.” Boersma says that only a return to the sacramental vision of the Great Tradition can save the church today from dissolution.

He writes the book as an Evangelical Protestant theologian, primarily addressing Evangelicals, but he warns that Catholics, though retaining a more robust sacramentality, are in effect aboard the same modernist boat, headed over the falls. This is because we all live in the modern world, and modernism is powerfully anti-sacramental. We have all been formed by it; it is the water in which we fish swim. The Orthodox Church never lost the Great Tradition, but it has taken me almost a decade of being Orthodox to retrain my own way of seeing the world, to re-sacramentalize it. To see the world with the sacramental eyes of the Great Tradition requires real and sustained effort.

One of the most difficult things as a Christian to fight against is the idea that the Christian life is chiefly about studying the Bible (and, for Catholics, the Catechism) and learning through a process of rationality how to apply its teachings to govern our lives. In the Great Tradition, as Boersma shows so well, Scripture, the Church, and the doctrines that come out of them all derive their meaning from the living God, who desires radical communion with us: theosis. This is not a contractual agreement by us that God is real and His teachings are true (though we must agree to these things), but rather an ongoing absorption in His life, and a reweaving of the sacramental tapestry through His work in our own lives.

It’s a hard concept to understand, I know, and I don’t have the time or the space to go into it in more detail here. Besides, it’s more the kind of thing you have to grasp today, on the far side of the Modern era, by prayer and experience, as opposed to cogitation. Nevertheless, Boersma makes a strong case that reclaiming this Great Tradition the only thing that stands to stop and reverse the fragmentation and dissolution of the Christian faith in the West.

I believe he’s right about that. The forces dissolving our sacramental bonds to God and to each other, reducing us to individuals defined by our desires, are overwhelming. Conservative Christians are in a stronger position to resist them than progressive Christians, if only because they believe (in principle) that Truth is something outside of ourselves, to which we must conform our own lives — this, as opposed to the idea that we can rewrite the faith and redefine virtue according to our own experiences and felt needs, because the only thing that matters is that we feel a connection to an amorphous, beneficial God. But if you look at the way many of us conservative/orthodox Christians actually live, we are also headed down the river and over the falls too, just more slowly than the progressive Christians.

Here is a great passage from Boersma. He’s talking about the way we in modernity view time non-sacramentally — as the past and the future having no real connection with ourselves, because it exists separate from the eternal God:

A desacramentalized view of time tends to place the entire burden of doctrinal decision on the present moment. I, in the small moment of time allotted to me, am responsible to make the right theological (and moral) choice before God. The imposition of such a burden is so huge as to be pastorally disastrous. Furthermore, to the extent that as Christians we are captive to our secular Western culture, it is likely that this culture will get to set the church’s agenda. … The widespread assumption that Christian beliefs and moral are to a significant degree malleable has its roots in a modern, desacralized view of time.

If we forget the past, denying that we have any necessary connection to it, to tradition, we forget who we are, who we must be, and how we must live.

To the extent that today’s conservative Christians are alien to the Great Tradition, they (we) are not much better off than the progressive Christians whose dissolution in modernity we are observing, often with self-satisfaction (I’m guilty of this too).

I want to end by these passages from a great little book by the late Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément. [3] He’s talking about the recovery of the sacramental:

The world is not a prison but a dark passage — an opening through which to move, a passage to be deciphered within a greater work. In this work, everything has a meaning, everyone is important, everyone is necessary. It is a work that we compose together with God.

… One of our daily tasks is precisely to awaken in our selves the power within the depths of our heart. Usually, we live in our heads and in our sexuality, with our hearts closed off. But only the heart can serve as the crucible in which our understanding and desire are transformed. And though we may not reach the luminous abyss, sparks may fly from it, and our hearts burn with an immense yet gentle shudder.

We must recover the meaning of this unemotional emotion, this unsentimental sentiment, this peaceful and overwhelming resonance of our whole being we feel when our eyes are filled with tears of wonder and gratitude, ontological tenderness and fulfilled silence. It is not merely the concern of monks; it is humbly and partially the concern of us all. And I would argue that it is also a concern of culture.  … We need music, poems, novels, songs and any art that has the potential to be popular art and which awakens the power within our hearts.

Culture is not just art, but fasting, feasting, the way we live as a people. Anyway, Clément here states a rationale for the Benedict Option. The recovery of the Great Tradition is not merely the concern of us all.

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87 Comments To "Conservatism Will Not Save Christianity"

#1 Comment By Bernie On January 20, 2016 @ 11:38 pm

Siarlys, in response to your statement: “Bernie, I would submit that a faith which intends to grow, and not at the point of dominic’s halberd, would proclaim “all are welcome” while adhering to a firm and unwavering understanding of “what we invite all to be welcome at.”

If I understand your meaning, I agree. All are welcome to the Catholic Church; however, it is expected that whomever wishes to be part of the family of Catholic believers abides by the rules, one of them being, for example, that we are not to present ourselves for Communion if we are in grave sin as taught by the Church. Am I missing your meaning?

#2 Comment By Lee On January 20, 2016 @ 11:55 pm

John 4:22 – You worship you know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

Christianity has morphed and mutated to be adapted to any given cultural host. The above reference to John 4:22 contains the essential truth of the New Testament.

I appreciate the topic RD presented and the thoughtful comments individuals have contributed.

#3 Comment By Gallibus On January 21, 2016 @ 3:26 am

To Dave: re: ‘To the extent you believe in some set of “Christian” beliefs, it is because you made that choice, not because God spoke to you personally’.

Reply: Just as I have not personally defined the laws of gravity and other physical phenomena, I accept their reality based on personal observation and reason. Here, probability plays a big part – if objects constantly fall, in compliance with this ‘law’, then I accept its rationality. When objects do not fall according to this law, then this is an opportunity to investigate the complexities and hidden truths of this phenomenon and thus learn the deeper truths. Now, when I examine Christianity, I also look at the probabilities. I find that the probabilities of the revealed truths being in error are vanishingly small. Take the prophecy of Isaiah about the King Cyrus, given about two hundred years before the latter was born, as one example. There are numerous other examples in the Scriptures, many not so obvious because in a sense the prophecies were coded, meaning that their sense was not clear until they were fulfilled. So I think, based solely on the probabilities, that it is ‘unscientific’ to preclude the truths of Scriptures. The moral issues are another matter but the probabilities of their being wrong are, for me in any event, too small to consider. The Scriptures are far too coherent to discard. The counter arguments are generally based on the unwillingness to accept their truth, rather than on evidence to the contrary. Man, in considering only his own intellect, stands in front of a mirror simply observing his own image. That is self-limiting just as much as a mouse cannot have the ‘vision’ of a giraffe. As they say in the real estate business: ‘Position is everything!’

#4 Comment By Rob G On January 21, 2016 @ 8:15 am

Since both nominalism and ressourcement have come up here, mention should be made of Louis Bouyer’s book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. Bouyer, a Lutheran convert to Catholicism, argues that while the spirit of the Reformation was undoubtedly Catholic, the forms that it took were negatively affected by nominalism, and thus did not have the outcomes the Reformers anticipated.

#5 Comment By Sean W. On January 21, 2016 @ 8:55 am

@DM–

Liberal Christianity will not die out in the foreseeable future. It has been around for a couple hundred years and shows no signs of stopping.

Except, yanno, the massive fertility gap enabled by free access to contraceptives.

So while Liberal Christianity does not perpetuate itself on a family level, it does use seminaries, universities and churches to turn people from conservative Christian backgrounds into liberals. The very fact that we live in a liberal world means that Christians will always be trying to conform to both the Gospel and the world.

Insulating our children from the wicked and perverse influence of liberal modernity’s degenerate institutions is precisely the point of the Ben Op, but it’s also what successful religious traditionalists have been doing for some time now, anyway.

Religiosity is largely heritable, and also correlated with fertility: the left is running into diminishing returns on its investments in their baby-stealing institutions.

#6 Comment By Sean W. On January 21, 2016 @ 9:00 am

“Conservatism” (especially of the degenerate Americanist variety) certainly will not save Christianity; it will not save anything because it is a product of the society that produced it, the one which we already know is in need of saving.

Look at your own commentariat, Mr. Dreher. This is “The American Conservative,” founded by Pat Buchanan for heaven’s sake, and probably at least half of your commenters are firmly in the pot for state-subsidized-sodomy-because-Christ-says-so. This isn’t Athens, this is Sodom, and you cannot have seriously religious people engaged in the civic life of Sodom without imperiling their own souls.

We don’t need plans or blueprints or smooth-sounding politicians. We need repentance. And then we need exorcisms.

[NFR: Keep in mind that this blog has a huge readership (according to our data), only the tiniest fraction of whom comment. — RD]

#7 Comment By Irenist On January 21, 2016 @ 9:11 am

Some of my fellow Catholics take Boersma to be saying that the Church went off the rails after Aquinas, and are eager to defend the Church as not having done so. Fair enough.

But let’s stop and rejoice in the progress here, eh? The typical Reformed view is that the Church went off the rails around the time of Augustine or perhaps Gregory the Great (whom Calvin regarded as the last good pope).

Compared to being told by Reformed theologians that we went off the rails after the fourth or seventh century, being told we went off the rails in the fourteenth century represents real progress! At this rate, we’ll soon have them saying we went off the rails in 1962-65, just like half the Catholic commenters here….

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 21, 2016 @ 12:06 pm

Conservatism will not save Christianity… well, I should say not. If it could, then Christianity would fall far short of The Truth and be merely a political paradigm.

Bernie, you do not mistake my meaning at all. I recognize that you have a valid critique when people post “all are welcome” banners and really mean “anything goes here.” I also have a concern that pushing back can go too far… all ARE welcome, the church is a hospital for sinners, not a rest home for saints, etc.

I have occasionally been to mass with an elderly Hispanic friend who doesn’t drive, and although nothing would have prevented me from taking communion, I have not, for the reasons you set forth. I respect the right of any church to set the terms, and I know I am not in communion in the formal sense, nor in compliance. There are some Protestant churches that are equally zealous about what constitutes communicant membership, and I don’t take communion there either.

There is no reason the Roman Catholic Church should conform its doctrine or practice to, e.g., the Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Irenist, in my seldom humble opinion, Christianity went off the rails when bishops started to become rulers over many churches, rather than one of the servants leading each local church. Although I think the Orthodox church is closer to being the church established by Christ and his Apostles than the Roman Catholic church, I think the Mennonites have the best understand of what the original church was.

I know a lot of you are tired of hearing it, but the Great Compromise with the bloody opportunist Emperor Constantine was one of the great tragedies in Christian history, after which Christianity had little standing to criticize the warlike nature of Islam.

Calvin thought Gregory the Great was the last good pope… Well, its been a long time since I had much respect for Calvin, and this confirms my opinion of him.

probably at least half of your commenters are firmly in the pot for state-subsidized-sodomy-because-Christ-says-so.

Huh? Personally, I look forward to Obergefell being overturned in 20-30 years, because it is so rationally unsound, but what is this “state subsidized” business? Is there a law to pay welfare benefits to gay couples? I mean, everyone has to pay a fee for a marriage license, and gays haven’t been exempted.

#9 Comment By Anne On January 21, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

Consulting Fr.Longenecker is not exactly the most reliable means for discovering what progressive Catholics (or progressive Christians, no less) believe. For what it’s worth, every progressive Catholic I know believes in the divinity of Christ, the immanence as well as transcendence of God, and for that matter, objective truth. There just aren’t a lot of atheists in foxholes or Unitarians at Sunday Mass. But to hear some “trads” in the Church, “modernism” multiplied the ranks of both to overflowing, so they’re everywhere, especially flocking around universities and convents, in rectories and, rumor has it, even the Vatican. What’s worse, they. just. won’t. leave.

Obviously, there are progressives and then there are progressives. The same with conservatives and traditionalists, and so on. I can’t speak for all progressive Christians (or “progressive Christianity”), but neither can Fr. Longenecker. The problem is he did, and then predicted the progressive’s faith, tainted as it is by modernism, will inevitably fade over coming generations into the thinnest of thin air.

There’s a lot that could be said about that, but nothing probably as pointed as what Rod himself suggested — namely, what if progressives aren’t the only ones whose children won’t believe? What if conservatives are merely one step behind progressives on the very same road to unbelief? Why are conservatives and trads so sure their children or grandchildren won’t be tainted by modernism? How do they know we all aren’t? The fact is traditional Christianity was shrinking in numbers long before progressive Christianity found its voice. Is modernism winning, or are Christians, all of us, simply losing the faith?

Trad Catholics today like to point to what they consider the progressive spirit of the Second Vatican Council as the key to the American Church’s decline, but the fact is, even before that Council, when the Church was standing firm against the tide of modernism as it had against the Enlightenment and secularism and every other threat for several hundred years, the churches of Europe were emptying at a steady clip, a trend not even the shared suffering of two world wars could turn around. That was the reason the Council was called in the first place, to try to stem the tide by coming to terms with the modern world. Fighting it simply hadn’t seemed to work.

Now, Rod proposes another alternative: Let’s live — worship, fast, ground ourselves in the sacramental rhythm of the church calendar — as traditional Christians did (i.e., as he and other observant Orthodox do today), and perhaps we’ll come to think more like traditional Christians, which will keep our faith strong, heads and hearts working together. After all, if modernism kills the faith, killing off modernism at its root (how we think) should save it.

The BenOp would appear to be an experiment in how to help all types of Christians who consider themselves small-o orthodox live as close to some form of premodern Christianity as they can manage in the hope that, by getting closer to that rhythm of life, their minds too will return to a premodern point of view, freeing them from modernist influence and thereby keeping them attuned to the divine. Ron wouldn’t put it this way, but the move to what feels to him like premodern Orthodoxy seems to be working this way for him, maybe if other Christians tried to approximate his experience in their own lives they might save themselves and their families, and ultimately Christianity itself.

At least that’s my take on this latest explanation of the BenOp and why it’s necessary. The problem I see is in the key assumption that modernism or some point of view inherent in the way modern people think is somehow inevitably lethal to religious faith, and that this way of thinking explains why the churches have been shedding members for at least a century. (As if leaving were a modern phenomenon. In fact, Catholicism has been shedding Catholics since the 16th century, just as orthodox Christianity began losing members to Gnostic Christianity in the second century, and to a string of other heretical sects thereafter. Catholic and Orthodox Christians expelled each other in the 11th century, just as Christianity had originally come into its own when Christians and Pharisees expelled each other from Judaism toward the end of the first century.)
I don’t believe it’s at all that simple, although there is no doubt the thinking of people in antiquity was radically different from the way people think today. How could it be otherwise? Hellenism changed the way Romans and Greeks looked at their old gods, even as it helped Christians better explain their mysteries to later converts. All learning and thinking changes old patterns. Humans can’t live without learning, and we can’t learn without changing points of view. But going back is rarely an option. Our minds aren’t like Etch-A-Sketch pads; we can’t erase what we know. Or expect religious practice to do the equivalent.

None of this means I think Christianity’s doomed. Or that modernism is winning. Modernism is less a philosophy or theology, in any case, than a series of bad ideas conservative Christians (specifically Pope Pius X) drew up to accuse certain modern Christian theologians of wrong thinking. The problem was what seemed so offensive in what they’d written didn’t conform to any heresy anybody could put a finger on. So they made up a list of ideas that they thought would come from such thinking, and charged them with pre-heresy, if you will. In other words, they made it up. Modernism is whatever a critic of progressive Christians says it is. Fighting it is truly Quixotian, truly lunging at air, which is not my idea of a cause anyone should uproot a family over or spend any time reorganizing his life to stop.

In any case, returning to a premodern (“sacramental”) mindset is no guarantee of theosis. Not everything the Christians of antiquity believed was good. For one, religious liberty was hardly their strong suit. They considered heresy not only misguided, but a capital offense capable of bringing down God’s wrath on heretic and faithful alike. Catholics, Orthodox and Evangelicals would not be hanging together in a premodern world; they would be hanging each other. Are today’s small-o ortho Christians so disenchanted with progressive ideas such as ecumenism they’d be willing to go back to that?

I do think understanding the differences in thinking between the world in which Christianity originated and grew and that of today is of vital importance to Christian self-understanding. In fact, much loss of faith among intellectual Christians, including the clergy, has come about precisely because, on confronting that chasm between the two worlds, too many have simply given up hope of ever bridging the two. But abandoning hope before such a challenge is hardly the Christian way. Christians have, in fact, met chasm-bridging challenges before, from St. Paul’s “grafting” of Gentiles into Judaism’s root and the full adaptation of Christian doctrine and Platonic philosophy that came about in later centuries to Aquinas’great syntheseis of Aristotilian and Christian thought up to the Counter-Reformation and finally to nouvelle theology’s various attempts to adapt to whatever historians finally decide is the ascendant philosophy of our time. We can’t simply go back to another time, and we shouldn’t. Christ said he’d be with his people until the end of time, not that he’d stay put in sacred space and we’d do well to hang around there.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 21, 2016 @ 12:35 pm

I have to reject that Christianity has much of anything to do with the sacraments as laid by Catholics, Methodists, or other derivatives of the Catholic tradition.

The sacraments are by and large purely symbolic. One need never attend the traditional understanding of communion and yet live a life in and by Christ.

What is essential in my view is that the believer is in a relationship with Christ. Scripture in my view is a living word active in the lives of those who so indulge. It may not feel nice at times as the spirit rakes over the errs of one’s ways through God’s word.
But it is real, dynamic and active on an intra and interpersonal level as one practically lives out their lives.

My conservatism does not lead to Christianity – though it may. But it does reflect, even as I err (bitterness is alive and well with me) a living and interactive God, even if I bemoan the interactions.

Conservatism best reflects a walk in Christ in my view. And one can be conservative and be the reflection of Christ’s love, care and compassion without embracing homosexual lifestyle, accepting killing children in the womb, embracing relations outside of marriage, ready made divorce, illegal immigration, corporate fraud or any other number of behaviors Go himself condemns.

But his word is blessing to have and remains more valuable than any sacrament established to reflect it or Christ.

#11 Comment By JonF On January 21, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

Re: Except, yanno, the massive fertility gap enabled by free access to contraceptives.

Religious affiliation is not hereditary. If it were almost none of us would be Christians.

#12 Comment By Chris 1 On January 21, 2016 @ 3:03 pm

Christianity is not a moral code.

I am applauding out here on the west coast. 😉

Everyone restrains their impulses in order to achieve their goals without regards to religion or nationality or era. Everyone who has ever achieved anything knows this…

The reduction of Christianity to a moral code and its culture is very much like reducing the highway to the rumble strip that alerts us when we’re wandering out of our lane.

#13 Comment By Bernie On January 21, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

Anne,

Given your reflective comment, would you regard a Christian’s or church’s approval of same-sex marriage (or even same-sex acts) to be an example of modernism, heresy, or progressive Christianity?

#14 Comment By Turmarion On January 21, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

dominic, I don’t necessarily disagree with you much. Ancient writers probably didn’t sweat the details, and we don’t really know which way Flood narratives spread, or if they arose independently. I think we’d probably agree that inaccurate historical details are that big a deal; and if it could be proved definitively that the author of Exodus did use Gilgamesh as a source, that wouldn’t invalidate the inspiration of the Bible.

Thing is, many Evangelicals and Fundamentalists do view such things as beyond the pale. The [4] by Donald paints a good picture of this, and its noxious results (my emphasis):

[That Isaiah has multiple authors] is important and interesting if you want to study the book of Isaiah…. But thanks to that Very Wrong popular misconception about the biblical prophets being mainly fortunetellers, the idea that Isaiah wasn’t written all at once sparks a fiercely defensive response from some folks. They see the idea of Second and Third Isaiah as tantamount to a denial of the supernatural. If you say that the description of later events was written by later writers, then, in their minds, you’re saying it wasn’t miraculously foretold and thus you’re denying miracles and therefore probably also denying the resurrection and therefore you must be some kind of liberal heretic and a danger to children.

That’s a strange leap of logic, and it’s not a leap that would probably occur to most evangelicals. But the few who do think that way tend to weaponize the idea and to enlist others in defense of the authority of the Bible against the pernicious venom of biblical scholars. And they also tend to be the sort of people who wind up as trustees on the boards of white evangelical churches and schools.

It seems to me there are only two options for how this can play out. Either evangelical institutions continue to surrender to the dishonest ignorance of the outrage machine until our collective intelligence and integrity is ratcheted away entirely. Or else the evangelical leaders huddled in the faculty lounge will throw open the door, acknowledging what they know to be true regardless of which audience they’re addressing.

It seems to me that either Longenecker is giving too much aid and comfort to the Fundamenmtalist side by his remarks about how progressives believe the Bible has errors, etc., or he actually buys into some views of Scripture that even the Church doesn’t advocate. I mean, if it’s the latter, that’s a big problem. If (as is more likely the case) the former, that’s a mistake. I mean, I’m like you, dominic–who cares what Fundamentalists think about the Bible? It’s not worth taking sufficiently seriously even to bother with–why should Longenecker make nice to them?

#15 Comment By Turmarion On January 21, 2016 @ 9:03 pm

Sigh. I meant to say, that “inaccurate historical details aren’t that big a deal”.

#16 Comment By dominic1955 On January 21, 2016 @ 9:43 pm

Anne,

“Or that modernism is winning. Modernism is less a philosophy or theology, in any case, than a series of bad ideas conservative Christians (specifically Pope Pius X) drew up to accuse certain modern Christian theologians of wrong thinking. The problem was what seemed so offensive in what they’d written didn’t conform to any heresy anybody could put a finger on. So they made up a list of ideas that they thought would come from such thinking, and charged them with pre-heresy, if you will. In other words, they made it up. Modernism is whatever a critic of progressive Christians says it is. Fighting it is truly Quixotian, truly lunging at air, which is not my idea of a cause anyone should uproot a family over or spend any time reorganizing his life to stop.”

If that is all you think Modernism is, you have no idea of what you try to speak on the matter.

The way St. Pius X handled Loisy, Tyrell and company is the way the Church has usually handled heretical ideas. Ideas are published, they are criticized at the local level and are sent on for an official thumbs up or thumbs down. There was no “making things up” or “pre-heresy”. The Holy Office studied the potentially problematic ideas and made a determination as did the Pope. Nothing odd about that.

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 21, 2016 @ 10:10 pm

I don’t really worry about what modernism is or isn’t, because I know that modernity is receding into the past at the alarming right of one minute per minute. Call it what you will, any day, week, month or year, I can say with confidence “This too shall pass.”

#18 Comment By dominic1955 On January 21, 2016 @ 10:32 pm

Turmarion,

“It seems to me that either Longenecker is giving too much aid and comfort to the Fundamenmtalist side by his remarks about how progressives believe the Bible has errors, etc., or he actually buys into some views of Scripture that even the Church doesn’t advocate.”

We are in agreement overall, I was using your comment as a springboard of sorts. One problem I see in the U.S. context is that “religion” seems to be seen as a binary. Its MTD/spiritual but not religious/Unitarians in vestment type folks againt Bible thumping Fundies and too many people don’t see the, well, Catholic path that doesn’t fall into either error even though its right there for all to see and is no esoteric secret. In this context, the Bible is either just a book with a few neat stories and quotes that we can apply to life as we see fit but has not objective truth to offer because it was also the product of a patriarchal, bigoted, primitive society. P.S. Jesus was probably a pretty chill dude too. On the other hand, the Bible is the dictated by the Holy Spirit Word of God that plainly and obviously dictates what is right and wrong and how we must live and how things are and if even so much as a phrase or date is dared to be questioned you are questioning God Himself.

We know that either extreme is garbage. The Fathers would not have known either hermeneutic to be in line with legitimate Christian thinking at all. But in America, it seems, no one looks to the Apostolic ways of reading and understanding Scripture. Its either irrelevantly vapid nonsense about on par (and often one and the same as) motivational Facebood memes or its stupidly rigid nonsense with no support in Tradition and is even simply offensive to basic common sense.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had conversations with Catholics who’s faith probably would have been shaken to bits if you suggested that the Bible really did have human authors and it wasn’t dictated word for word. Did the Epic of Gilgamesh influence the Biblical account or vice versa? I don’t know, to be honest. If its in the Bible, I do think it telling us of a primeval event that was important for Salvation history but the details are not defined like Canons from an Ecumenical Council or even more rigidly, to be taken absolutely literally and should never be thought as such.

“I mean, if it’s the latter, that’s a big problem. If (as is more likely the case) the former, that’s a mistake. I mean, I’m like you, dominic–who cares what Fundamentalists think about the Bible? It’s not worth taking sufficiently seriously even to bother with–why should Longenecker make nice to them?”

I think its his background as an Episcopalian from their more Evangelical wing. To me, Fundamentalism is just a simpleminded heresy, its claims are silly and not worth the time to argue against. Many books have been written that do a bang up job of wrecking Fundamentalist/Evangelical positions. The only reason I take it seriously is because so many people in the U.S. are beholden to it.

A better angle for Fr. Longnecker is not to give any support to Fundies, but just to challenge Progressive nuttiness on its own ground.

Its not the first time Catholics have tried to act “tough on crime” to impress heretics. I think the whole Galileo stink was, in part, caused by a desire not to appear soft on Bible by Protestants who already considered the Catholic Church to be far to willy-nilly in our Biblical interpretation. That we follow the Doctors and Fathers is no match to the thundering delusions of someone who suffered from severe scruples. But, money and bodies talk-if it was just nutty Dr. Luther they might not have been so keen on trying to argue that the Bible supposedly actually teaches that the sun “rises”.

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 21, 2016 @ 11:52 pm

I would note that that modernisms advance has not overwhelmed scripture or Christ and it never will.

The power of scripture whether small or large has mounted a consistent and persistent following almost everywhere in the world. Apparently not many here have actually spent time with fundamentalist scholars, these discussions about the accuracy and veracity of scripture are common place among even fundamentalists.

Take this last commentary about the book of Isaiah. That several writers recorded it . . . and . . .

in light of the oral tradition, it’s so what. It becomes even less significant because Christ himself reads from Isiah and makes the following claim,

Luke 4: 16-17

which in my view makes the question of its number of authors moot and its veracity veracity a given.

#20 Comment By Rob G On January 22, 2016 @ 6:25 am

“The sacraments are by and large purely symbolic.”

‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ ~~~ Blessed Mary Flannery of Milledgeville

“One need never attend the traditional understanding of communion and yet live a life in and by Christ.”

Virtually all Christians prior to about 1530, including the major Reformers, would disagree with you there. But hey, when you’re your own pope…

#21 Comment By Turmarion On January 22, 2016 @ 10:08 am

dominic1955: I don’t know about you, but I’ve had conversations with Catholics who’s faith probably would have been shaken to bits if you suggested that the Bible really did have human authors and it wasn’t dictated word for word.

Alas, one of my daughter’s CCD teachers a few years back spoke of looking for the ark and the Deluge story as true-as-written. Whether or not there was something like the flooding of what is now the Black Sea from the Mediterranean that was a basis of the Flood narrative (personally, I’m happy to take it as pure allegory with no need for a literal event), it’s certainly true that it couldn’t have happened as narrated, e.g. every species of animal on a single ship, water five miles deep, etc. I had to have a long discussion with my daughter on the correct Catholic way of interpreting the Bible, and to explain to her that while she always has to show respect for her teachers, she can’t necessarily believe everything that comes out of their mouths.

There are other Catholics I know whom I”m pretty sure are YEC. Sigh.

You’re probably right about Fr. Longenecker–the Evangelical aura he gives off is probably a big part of why I dislike him. Your take on the Galileo affair is interesting, too. That’s about the only way it makes sense to me–trying to show the Protestants “Hey, we’re just as Biblical as you guys!” It’s a bad idea, though–it’s sort of like the old saw about getting into a pissing contest with a skunk.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 22, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

The notion that one’s salvation, or one’s theosis turns on whether one is or is not admitted to, and faithful in consummating, a specific ritual, even if that ritual is Holy Communion, seems to me the same sort of thinking espoused by the Pharisees, as recounted in the Gospels, and repeatedly challenged or condemned by Jesus. Thus, when he said what he said at the Last Supper, while breaking bread and serving wine to his disciples, I hardly think he meant it in the pharisaical sense. He said “This do in remembrance of me.” He did not say “And when you do this the bread will magically turn into my centuries old flesh.” But hey, if you follow a Pope who tells you its all true, its no skin off my nose. Probably none off my salvation either.

As to the major Reformers, they each believed and said what they believed and said. But their significance is not that they were Right — they couldn’t all be one hundred percent right — their significance is that they broke the iron grip of the Papacy on western Christian thought, belief and practice, and thank God they did.

#23 Comment By Rob G On January 22, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

“The notion that one’s salvation, or one’s theosis turns on whether one is or is not admitted to, and faithful in consummating, a specific ritual…”

And again, to paraphrase FO’C, if it’s just a ritual, to hell with it.

#24 Comment By Jack Waters On January 22, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

“To the extent that today’s conservative Christians are alien to the Great Tradition, they (we) are not much better off than the progressive Christians”

Christianity is not based on a tradition of man! Any tradition of man. I’m a follower of Christ first, follower of the Anglican Church second. Also, man is fallen, so whether you have a Pope or just yourself reading the scripture, you can absolutely be led astray, and make mistakes. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way”- Isaiah 53:6.
Abraham was saved, according to Romans 4:3, because he “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Not because he held to some “great tradition”. We are released from having to follow the Law, for it says in Romans 14:5 “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
In I Corinthians 3:7 Paul says “Only God gives the growth”, not any apostle or saint or denomination. Again in Ephesians 4:15-16 it says “Rather…We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Once again, it is our connection to Christ which is solely through our faith, not through affiliation with a tradition.
II Timothy says “All scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for training in righteousness.” Why should we be afraid to look only to our scripture, and look to the teachings of tradition (man), when it is the perfect inspired word of the very being who made the ground we stand on?
Mr. Dreher, you have a great vision with the Benedict Option, but as long as you believe that “the Great Tradition” is necessary to the Christian Faith and to the Benedict Option, you will never fully succeed, because it is through God alone, in his inspired word, that we can find perfect, untainted truth.

#25 Comment By red6020 On January 22, 2016 @ 10:29 pm

@dominic1955 & Tumarion:

I would like to say that your characterization of Catholic doctrine and the Church Fathers is inaccurate.

Those faithful Catholics may have been “shaken” because the Catholic Faith does advocate those views. Dictation is the traditional method of expressing Catholic teaching on the subject. As is the belief in biblical inerrancy, whole and entire.

Fr. Longenecker is not just being polite to the Evangelicals or giving in to Protestant “nuttiness”.

E.g.,
“On my own part I confess to your charity that it is only to those books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honor and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand. …” St Augustine of Hippo

“It would be wholly impious to limit inspiration to only certain portions of Scripture or to concede that the sacred authors themselves could have erred.” St. Jerome

“You will not find a page in [St. Jerome’s] writings which does not show clearly that he, in common with the whole Catholic Church, firmly and consistently held that the Sacred Books – written as they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – have God for their Author, and as such were delivered to the Church. Thus he asserts that the Books of the Bible were composed at the inspiration, or suggestion, or even at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; even that they were written and edited by Him…” (Spiritus Paraclitus)

“The books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council [Trent] and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without errors, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their Author.” Vatican I

“For some go so far as to pervert the sense of the Vatican Council’s definition that God is the author of Holy Scripture, and they put forward again the opinion, already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters…” (Humani Generis, 22)

The Council of Trent uses the word “dictation” to refer to the writing of Scripture and held that “the entire books with all their parts, as they have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old vulgate Latin edition, are to be held sacred and canonical.”

In reference to the above, “[w]hen, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the ‘entire books with all their parts’ as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals…[Pope Leo XIII] justly and rightly condemned these errors.” (Divino Afflante Spiritu)

“For the Sacred Scripture is not like other books. Dictated by the Holy Ghost, it contains things of the deepest importance, which in many instances are most difficult and obscure” (Providentissimus Deus)

“But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred… For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true” (Providentissimus Deus)

The Holy Spirit assisted the authors of the books of the Bible so that they “expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers.”
(Providentissimus Deus)

“It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration, or make God the author of such error” (Providentissimus Deus)

“For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true” (Providentissimus Deus)

“Yet no one can pretend that certain recent writers really adhere to these limitations… Their notion is that only what concerns religion is intended and taught by God in Scripture, and that all the rest – things concerning ‘profane knowledge,’ the garments in which Divine truth is presented – God merely permits, and even leaves to the individual author’s greater or less knowledge…” (Spiritus Paraclitus)

“Finally it is absolutely wrong and forbidden ‘either to narrow inspiration to certain passages of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred,’ since divine inspiration ‘not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and constant faith of the Church'” (Divino Afflante Spiritu)

“For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, except sin, so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error.” (Divino Afflante Spiritu)

On Vatican II debates about Sacred Scripture, “In the voting which followed one hundred and eighty-four council fathers asked for the adjective ‘saving’ to be removed, because they feared it might lead to misunderstandings, as if the inerrancy of Scripture referred only to matters of faith and morality, whereas there might be error in the treatment of other matters….If therefore the Council had wished to introduce here a new conception, different from that presented in these recent documents of the supreme teaching authority, which reflects the beliefs of the early fathers, it would have had to state this clearly and explicitly. Let us now ask whether there may be any indications to suggest such a restricted interpretation of inerrancy. The answer is decidedly negative.” (Augustine Cardinal Bea)

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 22, 2016 @ 10:46 pm

Rob G, after all the eloquent essays Rod has offered about the value of ritual to put a human in the proper frame of reference toward the divine…

#27 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 23, 2016 @ 12:28 am

“Virtually all Christians prior to about 1530, including the major Reformers, would disagree with you there. But hey, when you’re your own pope…”

I think my simple response he would be – certainly symbols have a use and often a powerful one. I would go as far as to say Christ will use whatever people, tend to to make himself this savior. . But symbolic expression while valuable is not a substitute for scripture.

Would the spiritual meaning and intent of marriage be any less in Christ, if we removed the symbolic and sacramental fixtures — of course not. Because the sacraments are reflective of spiritual

Sacramental practices help root or anchor spiritual realities. Baptism dos not save a person. it is reflective of a spiritual commitment or in the case of children not of age, a signal that their parents intend to raise them in accordance with a spiritual realm of Christ’s love. realities. But if a person accepts Christ in the desert and there is no water to be found, would that diminish in any way their life in Christ? Not being sprinkled or immersed would change the reality of salvation.

Communion is considered one of the most sacred practices in christendom, yet , it has not secure footing scripture. It is derived from the last supper in which Christ calls us, to remember his broken body and blood spilled out for us. Whenever you eat and drink, remember my sacrifice for you. In this every meal is to that effect, hence the practice of grace at every meal — a remembrance of Christ.

Rituals are valuable in that they create a common practice of acknowledging him. But neither communion as we practice among many churches is derived from scripture as a practice. There’s nothing amiss in it. The call to return to an acknowledgement of sacramental practice is a call to bring people home to the anchors of their faith – no issues. But they are not a substitute for the value of scripture alive in the lives of the Christians.

And just note, I have great respect for the papacy. But it is not something derived from scripture. Not only does Peter not establish it, none of the Apostles do either. Has Christ used it to his gain, absolutely as he does many of our created practices and organizational tools to serve Christ. I always set the Papacy as the Pastor of the Catholic Church. There are a myriad of ways to make peace with tradition, at least for me without turning scripture on it head or telling others they are bound for hell.

There is no intent to demean the power of symbolic and sacramental practice, they are beautiful, and powerful used by Christ no doubt. But they are to take a back seat in light of scripture in my view.
_________

I responded mildly to the Isaiah authorship, here are some more indepth analysis that answer the contend more than sufficiently.

[5]

[6]

#28 Comment By Turmarion On January 23, 2016 @ 4:43 pm

red6020, all I can say is that 1) dominic and I disagree on a lot, but are in agreement here, which says something; and 2) All quotations you give are essentially “proof-texting” the Fathers and previous documents, which always need to be read in the context of current teaching. Your perspective is definitely not the way the Church interprets the Bible, nor is it congruent with the teachings of the last several popes.

Heck, by your logic, the Bible teaches young-Earth Creationism and denies evolution, which has been explicitly repudiated (cf. St. John Paul II, “Evolution is more than a theory”). Beyond that, I’ll leave it to dominic if he wants to address you at greater length.

EliteCommInc, I notice that neither link you give actually looks at the original Hebrew of Isaiah, nor discusses the original text in terms of style, etc. Both more or less assert that Isaiah must be written because otherwise the Bible is unreliable, and prophets must make accurate predictions. This is a profound misunderstanding of what the Semitic concept of a nabi–“prophet”–actually does; and it dodges around the actual content of Isaiah. The accuracy of the manuscript tradition from the Dead Sea Scrolls is irrelevant. All that means is that the book has been handed down accurately after it attained its present form. That has nothing to do with its composition.

[The papacy] is not something derived from scripture.

Not directly; but then again, neither are most things in most Christian churches. Gothic spires (for that matter, even separate buildings for churches at all), church choirs, and Contemporary Christian praise bands aren’t in the Bible, either–are churches who have these violating Scripture, then? The number of denominations that have been founded in an attempt to get back to how the New Testament Church reeeeeally was–the Anabaptists, the Amish, the Disciples of Christ, the Church of the Nazarene, etc. etc. etc.–is large. The only thing they all agree on is disagreeing with each other.

It’s also worth pointing out the following:

1. Not being in the Bible is not ipso facto a problem. Acorns don’t have leaves, but that doesn’t mean oaks ought not to. Likewise, along the lines of Newman, I’d argue that changes and development in the Church over time are not necessarily perversion or accretions, any more than the growth of an acorn into an oak is.

2. The same church that had the Papacy is the one that canonized Scripture to begin with.

All that said, if you disagree with the Papacy, fine–that’s your prerogative. “Not in the Bible” is an insufficient argument, though.

#29 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 23, 2016 @ 6:24 pm

Sacramental practices help root or anchor spiritual realities. Baptism dos not save a person. it is reflective of a spiritual commitment or in the case of children not of age, a signal that their parents intend to raise them in accordance with a spiritual realm of Christ’s love. realities. But if a person accepts Christ in the desert and there is no water to be found, would that diminish in any way their life in Christ? Not being sprinkled or immersed would change the reality of salvation.

Elite sets this forth very well, in depth and detail. I might note that there ARE advocates of baptism by immersion who will publicly rant and rave that if someone was baptized in the desert with a few drops of extremely precious water, then they are damned because only baptism by immersion of valid in the eyes of the Lord. Which is not far off from “if its just a ritual, to hell with it.”

#30 Comment By Aaron On January 24, 2016 @ 10:22 am

Although you talk mountains of c**p, its gems like this that keep me reading your blog. Love this. Thanks, Rod.

#31 Comment By red6020 On January 24, 2016 @ 11:31 pm

Turmarion: “All quotations you give are essentially “proof-texting” the Fathers and previous documents, which always need to be read in the context of current teaching.”

This is the first time I’ve heard of citing evidence as “proof-texting”. Also, that’s not how Catholic teaching works. There’s no way you can “interpret” the doctrine to mean a denial of what it explicitly says. Read the quote by Cardinal Bea, if the Church could change its teaching (which it can’t), it wouldn’t be like in Dei Verbum. Besides, if past Catholic doctrine is mutable, then what is the authority of current teaching?

“Your perspective is definitely not the way the Church interprets the Bible, nor is it congruent with the teachings of the last several popes.”

1. That’s just an assertion, not argument or evidence.
2. I suppose by “Church” you mean “many Catholics today”.
3. You’re proposing a clear and explicit change in Catholic doctrine which does contradict “the teachings of the last several popes”, (as if that’s all that matters) since even the “Church today” affirms the immutability of the Deposit of Faith and the infallibility of the Magisterium.

“Heck, by your logic, the Bible teaches young-Earth Creationism and denies evolution, which has been explicitly repudiated (cf. St. John Paul II, “Evolution is more than a theory”).”

1. That’s not what I was saying. And Biblical inerrancy doesn’t imply literalism. E.g., some took the Genesis creation account as non-literal, even before the 1960s. Heck, not even Biblical “literalists” take all verses literally. Cf. John 6.
2. As a matter of magisterial interpretation, the authority of John Paul’s address is very little to non-existent.
3. Infallibility of the papal magisterium extends to matters of faith and morals. That means that papal assessments of a scientific theory doesn’t make it infallible.
4. Even if there’s some conflict between popes pre-John Paul II and JPII, then why should I side with JPII? That’s 265 vs 1 (or 262 vs 4 if you include Paul VI, Benedict XVI, and Francis). That applies to the other points about “current teaching”.
5. Didn’t you just “proof-text”? (If what I was doing was “proof-texting” that is). If not, doesn’t that make “proof-texting” a word for something you don’t like?

#32 Comment By Turmarion On January 25, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

red6020, you asserted: Dictation is the traditional method of expressing Catholic teaching on the subject. I’m assuming, by the way, that you mean “dictated” in its usual sense, i.e., that God transmitted word for word the exact text he intended Scriptural authors to use.

Chapter III of Dei Verbum seems clearly to teach that Scripture was not, in fact, “dictated” in this way, and that God reveals what is necessary in terms of faith:

In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. (11:1-5, my emphasis)

Note well this is a conciliar, dogmatic document; and whatever Bea may or may not have said, it’s clear that the actual Conciliar teaching seems clear in asserting a model of revelation that is not dictation, and that does not require infallibility on historical or scientific matters.

Now if you want to argue that this is wrong, you’ll either have to argue that Dei Verbum doesn’t mean what it says, or that it is somehow not binding. Both routes seem to me problematic.

Perhaps “proof-texting” was flip. Maybe I should say this–Tradition is always interpreted by the Church in light of current circumstances, and this gives the appearance of change sometimes. One could cite as many Fathers as you do arguing that interest of any kind is usury, and thus sinful. The Church does not teach that now. Thus, either the teaching has changed, or developed (i.e., reinterpreted more fully in light of modern conditions). Likewise, there are all kinds of interesting arguments that can be made from quoting various Fathers where they seem to be saying X when the contemporary Church, with full magisterial approval, does Y.

The point is this: Citing a raft of Fathers, Councils, popes, etc. from the past in support of X does not ipso facto “prove” X is correct. In fact, that would be almost a Protestant way of doing things–“Both cite the Fathers day and night/ But thou read’st black where I read white,” to misquote Blake. That’s why we have a Magisterium in the first place.

Now if (as it seems) you have a problem with the fact that the Magisterium has been fully supportive of evolution, or that no major Catholic scholar endorses a “dictation” model of revelation (or if one does, I’d like to know who it is), then your problem is with the Magisterium, not me. But that leads towards possible schism, if not sedevacantism. dominic is a Trad–more on your end of the spectrum–and I disagree with him a lot on many things; but we’re pretty much on the same page here. As he said, if the ancients didn’t sweat the details, no problem; and I doubt he has trouble with evolution, either. That’a not a Trad/modernist issue. If you think otherwise–well, all I can say is, that’s not my problem.

#33 Comment By red6020 On January 26, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

@Turmarion:
The purpose in my citing all those sources was to demonstrate two things: a) dictation and Biblical inerrancy have Catholic origins (not Protestant), and b) that Biblical inerrancy is the irreformable and infallible teaching of the Church. It was inspired by a) dominic1955’s assertions regarding the beliefs of the Church Fathers, and b) the assertions regarding the teaching of the Church in regards to Biblical inerrancy. The biggest point I wanted to make was that Biblical inerrancy is the infallible teaching of the Church.

This was the purpose of citing these documents: to show where the Magisterium has spoken.

It’s all meant in good will.

Addressing your points…

The quote from Dei Verbum that you cite doesn’t prove that Vatican II teaches that only moral or religious truths are inspired. It may not cite the whole teaching, but it doesn’t deny the traditional teaching (once again, already dogmatically defined).

Example: A – I teach that X, Y, and Z are true. B – I teach that X is true. B might have omitted Y and Z, but that doesn’t entail an explicit denial of Y and Z. Maybe B had other motives in omitting Y and Z, but with the Second Vatican Council we’re talking about thousands of men and imputing motives to them which they didn’t explicitly lay out in the document all to overturn something which has been infallibly asserted by the Church’s Magisterium.

Dei Verbum also has this passage: “[I]t was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.” That could be interpreted as supporting Biblical inerrancy since “no more” reasonably means no false facts.

In addition, Dei Verbum cites to Providentissimus Deus and Divino Afflante Spritu which clearly teach inerrancy.

And, yes, I’m not interested in fighting battles about the status of VII since it’s beside the point.

Also, you can’t just cite Vatican II against Trent or Vatican I. Vatican II does not “cancel” previous councils. If Vatican II is supposed to be binding on Catholics today, then so is Trent and Vatican I.

Turmarion: “Now if (as it seems) you have a problem with the fact that the Magisterium has been fully supportive of evolution”
Once again, I never said I had a problem with Evolution. I said that explicitly in my last post. I was making a side point about papal infallibility in regards to scientific theories and the weight of papal addresses to scientists.

Turmarion: “Citing a raft of Fathers, Councils, popes, etc….would be almost a Protestant way of doing things. That’s why we have a Magisterium in the first place.”
Deposit of Faith was given once and for all to. It can’t change. Only non-infallible teachings can change. However, the inerrancy of Scripture is a doctrine taught by the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, conciliar infallibility, and papal infallibility. There’s no reset button on the Magisterium. What was binding doctrine yesterday can’t just go down the memory hole tomorrow.

A relevant quote from the Catechism:
“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”

To tie this back in to Rod’s post, I think a view that the Magisterium is some sort of floating island unmoored to any base is a dangerous idea. This leaves Christianity without any roots since it is not tied down to any unchanging doctrines.

Turmarion: “Tradition is always interpreted by the Church in light of current circumstances, and this gives the appearance of change sometimes.”

But what you’re asserting is a change. See my above commentary on Dei Verbum. Where you and I differ is that you are saying the “current” Church denies what the “previous” Church held as infallible. Current clergy (who I would like to distinguish from “the Church”) might not address this or that

Turmarion: “Citing a raft of Fathers, Councils, popes, etc. from the past in support of X does not ipso facto “prove” X is correct….If the ancients didn’t sweat the details, no problem”

Ok, not to beat a dead horse, but the reason I included quotes from and about Church Fathers was to demonstrate that what dominic1955 originally contended was incorrect. I could have quoted more, but I didn’t because those quotes clearly prove my contention. “Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers” And, yes, that’s the whole reason for quoting a “raft” of Fathers.

And noting that fact doesn’t mean you are leading “towards possible schism, if not sedevacantism”.

Also, why does everybody have to go around accusing others of being simultaneously “schismatic”, “sedevacantist”, and “Protestant” for not agreeing with them? I noted this was unfair to Fr. Longenecker (who I don’t always agree with), and I think it’s unfair here.

Turmarion: “no major Catholic scholar endorses a “dictation” model of revelation (or if one does, I’d like to know who it is)”

Well, that’s not really what I wanted to get at with citing the stuff about dictation (see above), so I don’t have a “problem”, necessarily.

That said, I would rather come up with a view that reconciles the traditional use of “dictation” in Church teaching (see Leo XIII, Trent, etc.) with the passage from VII, rather than imposing a rupture where there need not be one.

Read Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus:
“For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth.”

That’s compatible with the authors using their own “powers and abilities”, just with the assistance of the Holy Ghost. And it is this inspiration of the Holy Ghost that makes God the author of the scriptures, indeed the primary author (see Vatican 1). It does not mean that the writers of the Sacred Books are not also “authors”. Indeed, there can be multiple “authors” to a book. Don’t believe me? Read the current Catechism.

#34 Comment By Turmarion On January 28, 2016 @ 8:12 pm

I’ll keep it brief. There are demonstrable historical, scientific, and geographical errors in the Bible. E.g. the world was not created in six days; the Earth is not flat with reserves of water under its surface (as is implied in the Flood narrative); it is not possible that there was a Deluge that covered the highest mountains; the number of Israelites said to have been in the Exodus is bigger than Egypt could have even supported to begin with; the chronology of the kings of Babylon given in the book of Daniel is wrong; Quirinius was not governor of Syria when Jesus was born, as Luke asserts; Jesus is given two different genealogies; and so on and so forth.

These facts indicate two things:

1. Any “dictation” theory can’t be correct, since God would presumably not dictate incorrect information.

2. The infallibility of Scripture does not–cannot–apply to history, geography, etc., except in the most extremely limited sense (e.g. if Jesus is dogmatically the Son of God, the he as a real person must have existed historically).

Now the documents you cite could be taken to support a dictation model; or they could be interpreted otherwise. To my awareness there has never been a declaration that makes this perfectly, 100% clear. However, given the indisputably incorrect statements to be found in the Bible, interpreting Church teaching in according to a dictation model seems prima facie to be erroneous.

Now I’m not sure if your main objection to dominic was that he doesn’t follow the dictation model, at least not as you frame it, or that he said that the authors didn’t “sweat the details”. Your stressing of “inferrancy” again and again seems to indicate to me that you have an issue with both; but I may be wrong.

In any case, it seems to me that the only way one can square inerrancy in all matters is to argue that some things are allegorical (e.g. much of Genesis and Exodus), or to make claims about the proper interpretation of various passages. E.g., the claim that the Flood was not really global (despite the fact that the Bible says it was!) but the breaking of the Mediterranean into the Black Sea; or that Quirinius had another term we don’t know about; or that the word translated as “thousands” in the account of the number leaving Egypt should be “clans” or “families”; etc.

The problem with all of these (which I address in a different context [7]) is first, that they’re ad hoc; second, that they often make totally unwarranted assumptions; and third, that they inappropriately privilege historical and scientific details out of a fear that if they might be incorrect, the spiritual and moral teachings might be, too. Which is absurd.

Whether or not your agree, is this a clearer statement of where I’m coming from?

#35 Comment By red6020 On January 29, 2016 @ 7:19 am

Turmarion: “Now I’m not sure if your main objection to dominic was that he doesn’t follow the dictation model, at least not as you frame it, or that he said that the authors didn’t “sweat the details”. Your stressing of “inferrancy” again and again seems to indicate to me that you have an issue with both; but I may be wrong.”

My main objection with dominic1955 was a) his historical characterization that dictation theory is Protestant in origin and not found in the Church Fathers, and b) his historical characterization that the Church Fathers didn’t “sweat the details”.

I stressed inerrancy because of contention “c”, namely that Catholic teaching unequivocally denies Biblical inerrancy. Note that inerrancy is technically distinct from “dictation”. “Dictation” refers to the method of inspiration (although not in a simplistic way as I tried to lay out above). “Inerrancy” refers to the teaching that Scripture is inspired, whole and entire, by God and is, therefore, without error.

Turmarion: “Whether or not your agree, is this a clearer statement of where I’m coming from?”

Yes, I perfectly understand where you are coming from. In fact, I once held the position myself. At one point, I thought, as you currently do, that Catholic teaching required me to believe in a sort of limited inerrancy or limited inspiration. Further research revealed this isn’t the entire picture. Like I said before, I just don’t see anyway to get around the infallibility of the statements above. So that’s where I’m coming from.

Nonetheless, I think we can both agree it’s not so cut and dry as “Inerrancy/dictation=Protestant” and “Church Fathers/Catholic=Skepticism”. That was my main point in detailing the previous arguments/quotes. While my position is that Catholic doctrine includes Biblical Inerrancy, that is separable from the point at hand. Even if we assume that the previous Catholic teaching was non-infallible and that is has changed on the subject, inerrancy and/or dictation wasn’t just invented out of thin air by Protestants. That was the heart of what I was getting at.

#36 Comment By red6020 On January 29, 2016 @ 7:30 am

I also meant to point out that the Historical/Critical Method (meant in the sort of deconstructionist method that is common today and for the past 200 years) is Protestant in origin. Another reason for me to be skeptical of it. And that many of the “pioneers” of pointing out the inconsistencies in the Bible were secularists and liberals and intensely hostile to traditional Christianity/Catholicism. Another reason why I tie this in to Rod’s post. I don’t trust their judgment because they have a creeping bias and a goal often in mind (i.e. the dismantling/deconstruction of the Christian religion itself). Not always the case, mind you, but common enough. In the end, I tend to find the allegorical, metaphorical, etc. arguments more persuasive. Plus there were Christians proposing them long before contrary evidence came along to refute those Biblical passages, i.e. evolutionary theory or the like. In addition, I think that’s why we have an enduring Magisterium, to clear up such points. That’s just my viewpoint.

#37 Comment By Turmarion On January 29, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

red6020: Nonetheless, I think we can both agree it’s not so cut and dry as “Inerrancy/dictation=Protestant” and “Church Fathers/Catholic=Skepticism”.

Well, I can agree with you on this–one can find various models in both traditions. That said, I still hold to the other points I made and definitely reject the dictation model. At the very minimum, I’d contend it’s certainly not de fide.

[M]any of the “pioneers” of pointing out the inconsistencies in the Bible were secularists and liberals and intensely hostile to traditional Christianity/Catholicism.

Actually, as far back as the age of the Fathers, there was much debate about things like the incompatible genealogies of Jesus and whether or not some NT books actually were written by their purported authors. It is true that many modern scholars were and are either non-believers or non-traditional believes, and that many have a bias against traditional Christianity. Even one’s enemies are sometimes right, though.

I won’t go into detail, having done so [8]. In general, though, I tend to take a middle view of the Old Testament (not minimalist, but not literalist either, as there is much that can’t be historical), and I view the only non-negotiable parts of it the parts that prophesy and/or prefigure Christ (even if, like the Flood, a type of baptism, it can’t be literal history). I think the New Testament is by and large mostly historically accurate–I believe Jesus’ words are mostly correctly reported, even if not word-for-word as he said them, that the miracles happened, etc. It is likely that there is some confusion in places–the diverging genealogies, the confusion over the identities of the various Marys, and the likely mythical or semi-mythicized Infancy accounts. Still, I take most of the NT as fairly straight history. I’m hardly a Jesus-seminar advocate!