Friday, March 4, 2011

Is my house on fire?

One sure way to bring out the trolls: Give your post a triumphalist title.

Simcha Fisher had a wonderful reflection on a recent study done by Florida State, showing that: 1) there is a causal connection between a woman’s fertility peak and men’s perception of her as attractive; and 2) men already in a romantic relationship with another woman don’t find her as attractive as do unattached men. With her impish sense of humor, Simcha titled the post “New Study: The Church Is Right About Everything”.

It wasn’t long before “Wayne” showed up with: “Yes, the catholic church is right about everything. Limbo, purgatory, paying to out of purgatory. My fave is; there is no salvation outside of the catholic church. The billions payed [sic] out in lawsuits proves that. Another fave of mine is[] that catholic priests are little Christs. Well, the billions in payouts testify to that.” And again: “When in the coffer a coin rings /out of purgatory a soul springs.”

Simcha and another commenter tried to respond; I simply said, “Please don’t feed the trolls.” Their responses got lengthy, semi-coherent jeremiads. I got: “Anthony, if your house was on fire and you were asleep, wouldn’t you was [sic] someone to beat on the door and wake you up?”

“Wayne”, if I understand the substance of his claims correctly, isn’t an atheist. Rather, he’s the nadir of sola scriptura: He’s abandoned “churchianity” for his own interpretation of Scripture.

Martin Luther stated the cardinal fallacy of sola scriptura just so: “Scripture is its own interpreter.” In Evangelical circles, this is restated as, “Scripture speaks clearly.”

The only thing clear about the matter is that, if dogma and doctrine were so easy to derive from Scripture alone—for that’s what sola scriptura means—then there wouldn’t be tens of thousands of Protestant churches; there would only be one. Saint Vincent of LĂ©rins illustrated this fact admirably in the fifth century simply by listing all the early Christian heretics who had come up with conflicting conclusions from Scripture:

For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation (Commonitory, 5).

But doesn’t St. Peter say that Scripture isn’t a matter of interpretation? Not precisely. Let’s look at the passage more closely:

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:12-21 NIV; emphasis mine).

Placed in context, it’s clear from the bold-type phrases that Peter is basing his testimony not on the Old Testament but on the apostles’ first-hand experience of Christ. The prophetic message isn’t something derived from Scripture, but something separate from it.

The phrase in italics, which is the centerpiece of the Evangelical’s argument, is simply a notation that the OT prophets didn’t get their foresight from reading tea leaves and astrological charts. But neither did they get their prophecies from reading Scripture; rather, they were given their prophecies directly from God without the mediation of Scripture.

Saint Paul tells us that “God’s household” is “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15 NIV). The Spirit which Jesus was to send to “teach and remind [us] of everything” (John 14:26) and to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13) was specifically promised to the apostles, especially St. Peter, the rock upon which Jesus would build his church (Mt 16:18).

There have been any number of attempts to generalize or spiritualize the specific delegation by Christ of authority to his Church. But they all founder on the same problem as sola scriptura. To return to St. Vincent: “… [O]wing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters” (ibid.). Granting the divine authorship of Scripture, then a single interpretation must be derived by a body of men equally vested with divine authority, else the whole exercise is one of hubris.

I’m certain of the Pope’s and bishops’ succession to the apostles’ authority. I have no such assurance of Wayne’s. So he should let me sleep.