Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How reliable is the Catechism?

I claimed, and still do, that sola scriptura is not responsible for all the doctrinal disagreements between Protestants that my friend and CatholicNick had listed. Rather, I cited varying presuppositions, degree of education, study, spiritual maturity or the sinfulness of the individuals involved as other drivers of doctrinal disagreements. My friend disagreed and reasserted that sola scriptura is the reason. But I had offered an argument, regarding intra-Catholic disagreement regarding free will and predestination. He responded by saying:

“The main problem here is the seeming assumption that these matters must be defined in an "either/or" fashion rather than "both/and." Catholic teaching on matters such as these is often both/and, for example, the Catechism addresses the relationship of freewill and predestination by stating:

To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27-28; Psalms 2: 1-2). For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness. (Matthew 26:54; John 18:36; John 19:11; Acts 3:17-18) (Catechism of the Catholic Church 600)

Freewill and predestination are not in opposition because of the nature of God, we humans only perceive that they are opposed due to the limits of our own understanding.”

This I think only extends the problem. First, the statement in the Catechism is not sufficient to resolve the dispute between Catholic Molinists and Catholic Dominicans. Molinists define freedom in terms of contra-causal power. Bob is able to choose chocolate or vanilla. He is not causally determined to one or the other. Dominicans disagree – they assert God’s concurrence with Bob determines what he will do, such that he cannot do otherwise.

It’s one or the other; it cannot be both. The both/and distinction only works when the two do not contradict each other – if there is a contradiction you must use either/or. We are either free in a Molinist sense or we are not and the catechism does not resolve this dispute.

Second, the Catechism states “to God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy”. This echoes Thomas Aquinas’ ‘eternal now’ doctrine. Certainly, Catholics have disagreed with this. Occham and Molina come to mind off the top of my head. The counter argument is that if God views April 1st as now and I don’t, then my perspective is wrong. It’s impossible for April 1st to be now and not now simultaneously. If God thinks April 1st is now, then it’s now. So my view that April 1st is future is God playing an April fool’s joke on me by making me think it’s future when it’s actually now.

Now I think the ‘eternal now’ doctrine is wrong, but my point isn’t to argue that. For my present point, it’s enough for me to note that other Catholics have disagreed with it as well. And it doesn’t seem to matter that they do, because 1) the Catechism is fallible and 2) in this case the Catechism is not underwritten by supposed infallible documents. So the Catechism can’t resolve this one.

But what about cases in which the Catechism is underwritten by supposed infallible documents? My friend uses the example of the Mass. Well, first off, if we limit the scope to only issues Rome has infallibly defined, we pair the list down quite a bit – I am guessing only a handful of items would remain. And that would go to my original point that most of the theological disagreements were not caused by sola scriptura.

The remaining items that are infallibly defined by Rome (and not also by scripture) are all examples of Rome causing division where scripture does not, because infallible definitions are affixed with anathemas.


Jnorm said...

Molina and Occham(maybe I really don't know at this time about Occham) are not doctors of the Roman Catholic church but Thomas Aquinas is and so he will always have priority in Roman Catholicism. Molinism is tolerated but the Dominican school is probably looked at in higher esteem. Very similar to how Calvinism is in the non Pentecostal/Charismatic conservative higher education circles within American protestantism. However the difference is, Rome have disagreement under one roof, whereas within the protestant family of churches it is both under one roof as well as under hundreds to thousands of different roofs. Also, Rome may have lesser disagreement within itself as well as with it's Old Catholic break off groups than the disagreements found within the various protestant family of churches. In Rome, they have the right to bind the conscience of their adherents. In protestantism the Bible is suppose to bind the conscience of the protestant individual. And so I think the magnitude of disagreement is a difference of degree. In Rome it seems controllable, in non state church protestantism it seems somewhat uncontrollable.

I personally think Sola Scriptura makes disagreement easier. The Sola Scriptura state churches were able to keep the splits low, but once you have a separation of Church and State and the concept of freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech then the rise of different groups exploded.

Most of the different groups come from America as well as other countries in where we have great influence. And so I see it as a difference in degree.

Godismyjudge said...


Good point about Aquinas being a doctor. It may be in the upper echelons, Dominicanism is held in higher regard, but I doubt many Catholics are Dominicans or at least I find very few Catholics denying libertarian free will.
For every theological disagreement Rome resolves; they create real division by anathematizing dissenters. So sure they less disagreement - but the cost is creating division. By definition, sola scriptura causes less division than scripture +. Disagreements on non-essentials is permissible to both Rome and Protestants. So Rome’s objection to sola scriptura seems fundamentally unsound. Probably they are simply begging the question by assuming the divisions they cause are necessary and that the Church must be viewed as a FIN rather than all who are gathered to Christ through the call of the Gospel.

God be with you,