Tradition and Reality

Vatican

If you want to observe a highly interesting discussion on the Catholic conception of Tradition, go here. The 19th-20th century development in Catholic theology from a more, as they say, “static,” to “dynamic” (or “open”) view of Tradition is significant for all Christians to understand, because we are all (whether Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox) in the same boat in needing to re-situate our dogmas in the contemporary historical and scientific setting. The Catholic Church has, on the whole, done a better job than anyone else, steering a course between historical positivism and biblical positivism, respecting both the evidences of nature and the miracle of revelation.

Thus, in the discussion, linked above, between Arturo and Jonathan et al., I believe Jonathan is right. I don’t see how “slippery slope” accusations are helpful. It is true that Jonathan etc. are applying a kernel-husk method to protology, but does this necessarily extend, to be consistent, to christology? Not when the historical is constitutive of the dogma, and this is where the debate centers. Is the historicity of the Edenic Fall necessary for an orthodox understanding of creation, evil, and moral responsibility? Those who deny the historicity here are not inconsistent to also argue that the historicity of Christ’s bodily resurrection is necessary for an orthodox understanding of creation, justification, and reconciliation. Those who think otherwise cannot simply point-out that the apostles and most early fathers taught a Creationist protology, as if the apostolic deposit of faith contains its own inherent restrictions against a different scientific and historical setting. After all, we do allow different philosophical and semantic settings. If you believe that Tradition, for it to have any meaning, must not allow such paradigm shifts, you must argue why this is the case. That’s what I’m not seeing from the opposition. In fact, the Catholic Church especially should find such development to be unproblematic. For example, all Catholics allow for a rather extensive openness in the Tradition to accommodate the social and ecclesial situations that, in Catholic perspective, require the universal jurisdiction and infallibility of the pope (or the seven sacraments, or Mary’s sinlessness from conception, etc.). Since this is the case, why not polygenesis in human protology? I don’t see any rules restricting this development, which seems rather in line with how the Catholic Church has developed in the past.

Advertisements

9 comments

  1. The 19th-20th century development in Catholic theology from a more, as they say, “static,” to “dynamic” (or “open”) view of Tradition is significant for all Christians to understand, because we are all (whether Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox) in the same boat in needing to re-situate our dogmas in the contemporary historical and scientific setting.

    If the historical belief in a six day creation, a belief shared by Protestants and Catholics (and I’m assuming Orthodox), is an example of the challenge and need to modify our beliefs in the face of modern scholarship, then do you think that Rome has the most difficult part in this due to her having claimed to be infallible as well as having dogmatized now-incredibly difficult teachings to hold?

  2. Kepha,

    I suppose it becomes a matter of how Rome understands her dogmatic definitions. So, using the Eden example, the Catholic Church has made definitive doctrinal definitions using the historical Adam-Eve model (e.g., Trent on Original Sin), but can this model be discarded (or, at least, made strictly literary, not historical) while preserving the intent of the decrees (e.g., to teach the inherent sinfulness in all men)? Since the historical nature of Eden was not up for debate (no one disputed it), the council cannot be seen to have made that the object of irreformable teaching. The history of Eden is taken for granted. However, when historical veracity is being considered and made a part of the definition (e.g., the Bodily Assumption of Mary), then the historicity cannot be called into question.

    That seems to be a plausible way for Catholics to have a liberalizing principle within their conservative dogmatic structure. From this perspective, Rome is not in the most difficult position. Arguably, she is in a better position than Protestants, because she can put limits on how far the modification of beliefs can go, while still allowing genuine modifications. Protestants, however, often close themselves off to any modifications for fear that everyone will become a Bultmann or Tillich. So, fundamentalism rises. Just the other day, I read an evangelical blog that said if we reject Creationism, then we have no ground for maintaining the Resurrection. He said it as a matter of fact, and his opinion is echoed in the halls of many evangelical seminaries.

    I don’t think Eastern Orthodoxy is all that relevant at this time, since they seem to prefer ignoring historical criticism, philosophy, and science. I guess that will change.

  3. This is a very complex issue. For one thing, it makes the Roman church look like a “flip-flop,” which is a big deal in light of the previous belief about Tradition, witnessed to in old catechisms, dogmatic manuals, apologetics, etc. This is like Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction.” Once it was clear that there were none, the Bush administration wanted everyone to focus on “the bad guy.” The Roman church has been saying for centuries that there are teachings of Apostolic origin in Tradition; now, however, that it has become clear that this is not the case with her peculiar teachings, she wants us to focus on her authority. The point of this analogy being, the dramatic shift in both focus and emphasis.

    When you see these kinds of epistemological challenges and circumstances facing all Christians, what do you think about Christian epistemology?

  4. Oh, I haven’t checked Facebook in several weeks. I’m not really into it, except to keep-up with friends from high school and college.

    The Roman church has been saying for centuries that there are teachings of Apostolic origin in Tradition; now, however, that it has become clear that this is not the case with her peculiar teachings, she wants us to focus on her authority.

    As you know, I agree that this is a problem. However, in the spirit of generosity, I don’t think that Rome has been trying to shift the focus to her own authority. If that were the case then contraception and women’s ordination would have their own extraordinary dogmatic definitions by now. Instead, the best theologians in Rome have been trying to get people to look at the Apostolic faith anew, in a deeper sense, as more than a collection of teachings. As you know, Henri de Lubac not only thought that the old scholastic conception was wrong and ahistorical, it was also lame. Instead, the “organic” and “living” Tradition demonstrates the agency of the Holy Spirit, alive in the Church, adapting the apostolic faith in new and exciting phenomena. Instead of weakening the original deposit of faith, this nouvelle theology demonstrates its intrinsic vitality. To be a Catholic is to believe the authority structures of the RCC keep/preserve/confess this faith and this vitality.

    When you see these kinds of epistemological challenges and circumstances facing all Christians, what do you think about Christian epistemology?

    Each tradition highlights an aspect of the faith that the other traditions (relatively) neglect. So, for example, evangelicals are great when it comes to emphasizing the gift of Christian freedom for the individual, including fantastic dogmatic systems centered on Jesus Christ, but the Catholics are far better at the ramifications of the Incarnation in the whole of one’s life and society — a holism which has produced wonderful reflections on human existence (philosophy) and the finest art the world has ever seen (e.g., high medieval architecture and late medieval choral polyphony). This is a positive way to consider the difficulties in Christian epistemology, whether desired by God or not. Christians have, and will continue to have, varied apprehensions of the Christian revelation. This is either a defect in the revelation itself, or it is a defect or limitation in ourselves. We have to say the latter, but, when we do, we must recognize the positive contributions that have even come out of our limitations. Even in our schismatic divisions, the Lord is at work to make his love and glory known, in ways peculiar to the strengths of each group.

  5. I’ve watched a lot of “thinking Evangelicals” lose their confidence in fundamentalism and start searching for a new foundation for their faith. The Roman Catholic Church is an attractive option in many ways. I’d rather go with those who KNOW they are following their own traditions (Catholics) than people who are trapped in the traditions of men but don’t even know it.

    But that’s faint praise…

  6. Scott,

    You are right. I would add that many find neo-orthodoxy attractive for much of the same reasons — it preserves the best in evangelicalism, without the dubious foundations (=plenary verbal inerrancy). The problem is that there is no “neo-orthodox church.” The mainline liberals and the fundies (including old school confessionalists) control the denominations.

  7. Hi Kevin/Kepha,
    “can this model be discarded (or, at least, made strictly literary, not historical) while preserving the intent of the decrees”

    “she can put limits on how far the modification of beliefs can go, while still allowing genuine modifications”

    I wonder if art. 24 of Donum Veritatis was referring to such an “open door” in considering continuity with the past, emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between the solid immutable principles and contingent elements; indicating that recognition of the mixture of the two is sometimes only revealed with time:

    “24. Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent.

    In fact, the theologian, who cannot pursue his discipline well without a certain competence in history, is aware of the filtering which occurs with the passage of time. This is not to be understood in the sense of a relativization of the tenets of the faith. The theologian knows that some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, because while the pronouncements contained true assertions and others which were not sure, both types were inextricably connected. Only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress.”

  8. Interlocutor,

    I think you’re right about article 24. It seems that Donum Veritatis was written, at least in part, by Ratzinger, and he very much represents the sort of progressive orthodoxy that I am thinking of. I especially like, It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent. Exactly! Thus, we have to say that a scientific realism has forced us to recognize that the Edenic story was contingent. Thus, the natural sciences work with theological science in order to make the requisite distinctions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s