Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Neither nature alone nor grace alone


Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity… Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason…

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I.1.8

Here’s one way to think about the relationship between nature and grace, reason and faith, philosophy and revelation.  Natural theology and natural law are like a skeleton, and the moral and theological deliverances of divine revelation are like the flesh that hangs on the skeleton.  Just as neither skeleton alone nor flesh alone give you a complete human being, neither do nature alone nor grace alone give you the complete story about the human condition.

By natural theology and natural law I have in mind, of course, the philosophical knowledge of God and of morality embodied in what is sometimes called the “perennial philosophy” -- the tradition represented by the classical (Platonic and Aristotelian) philosophers and brought to a higher degree of perfection by the great Scholastics.  By themselves natural theology and natural law as developed within this tradition are like a skeleton: striking, solid, and enduring, but also dry, cold, and dead.  That is to say, on the one hand the central arguments of natural theology and natural law are (when rightly understood, as they often are not) impressive and rationally compelling, but can also seem remote from everyday life insofar as they are sometimes hard to understand and deliver a conception of God and of morality that can seem forbiddingly abstract.  To be sure, I think the “coldness” and “abstractness” of natural theology and natural law are often greatly overstated, but I don’t deny that there is some truth to the standard caricature.

By the deliverances of divine revelation I have in mind, of course, what we know of God and of morality from scripture, from the creeds, councils, and tradition more generally, and from the Magisterium of the Church.  By themselves these deliverances are like flesh without a skeleton: warm and human, but also weirdly distorted and unable to stand on its own or to offer resistance.  That is to say, on the one hand the theological and moral deliverances of revelation are more profound than anything natural theology and natural law can give us, and speak to us in a more personal and accessible way.  But they can also seem (when wrongly understood, as they often are) to lack any objective rational foundation, and to reflect a culturally and historically parochial view of human life that cannot apply to all times and places.  To be sure, these purported defects of Christian theology are also, to say the least, greatly overstated, but there is some truth to this caricature too to the extent that Christian theology is not informed by natural theology, natural law, and the methods of philosophy more generally. 

There have of course been times when the significance of nature, reason, and philosophy have been overemphasized -- when the claims of grace, faith, and revelation have been deemphasized and religion reduced to a rationalist skeleton.   But the pressing danger today comes from the opposite direction.  Talk of “faith” has been bastardized, so that many believers and skeptics alike wrongly take it to refer essentially to a kind of subjective feeling or irrational will to believe.  Too much popular preaching and piety has been reduced to trashy self-help sentimentality.  Too many philosophers of religion have for too long been playing defense -- maintaining, not that theism is in a position rationally and evidentially superior to atheism, but instead conceding the evidential issue and pleading merely that religious belief not be regarded as less rational for that.  Too many theologians have turned their attention away from questions of objective, metaphysical truth to matters of aesthetics, or moral sentiment, or psychology, culture, or history.

In short, religious believers have been fleeing into a non-cognitive ghetto almost faster than skeptics can push them into it.  They are too often like the hypochondriac in Ray Bradbury’s short story “Skeleton,” who is pathologically fearful of his own bones and ends up losing them -- reduced in the horrific climax to a helpless, amorphous blob.  What Christian theology needs now more than ever is its traditional, Scholastic backbone.

717 comments:

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Eduardo said...

"maintaining, not that theism is in a position rationally and evidentially superior to atheism, but instead conceding the evidential issue and pleading merely that religious belief not be regarded as less rational for that."
-------------------------------------

This part was rather interesting, since I was thinking about just how we infer that something is evidence for something else.

It seems that evidence is mostly created by our own interpretation of data, we gather data mix it with some certain beliefs and violá we gotta ourselves evidence for something.

So it seems that deep down people will eventually disagree on evidence but most importantly they will disagree that there is any evidence for Theism since they will always choose to interpret data by eliminating G*d on the long run or eliminating from the very start.

So I think the theologians have noticed this... you just need like an hour talking to a typical critic to realize this, so they back off the attack, maybe in fear that this would just cause more harm than help, that the socially acceptable forms of analysis would demonstrate them wrong *yep argument of popularity, haven't we heard those wayyyy too many times?*

Well anyways...

Tom Esteban said...

Great post Dr Feser. I would suggest from the perspective of Catholicism that much of the weakness today in the Church in this area is a result of modernism and neo-conservatism which seeks to defend the Catholic faith using anti-Catholic or at least untraditional principles. We've given too much by opening our windows to the world and now the world can't take us seriously. Look for example at the liturgy. How can we give a defense (not philosophically mind) of the Real Presence when we have priests swaying to-and-fro while Sister Rainbow jams on her guitar? We've lost our foothold; we've lost our high ground in many ways. Philosophically, yes, back to Scholasticism. Back to tradition. This is what Catholicism needs; and it's what the world needs, because without Catholicism the world is meaningless and hellish.

DNW said...

"Talk of “faith” has been bastardized, so that many believers and skeptics alike wrongly take it to refer essentially to a kind of subjective feeling or irrational will to believe"




I know everyone has heard this before, but re. the error ...

Priest to class: Now children we will discuss the meaning of "faith". Tommy, can you tell us what having faith is?

Tommy: "Sure Fhada. Faith is just being a good Catholic by believin' what you know ain't true."

Glenn said...

I regret to report that Mr. Twain is presently indisposed, but he did once ask me to pass along the following:

"When I was a boy of 14, my fhadar was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

rank sophist said...

Calling natural reason the skeleton of faith seems to contradict ST I q1 a5, in which Aquinas states that theology uses philosophy simply "to make its teaching clearer". And this is only necessary because of "the defect of our intelligence"--not because theology is supported by philosophy like flesh by a skeleton.

Eduardo said...

Wow I think for the first time we actually had someone TALKING about the post at hand ... t_t gentlemen and anon ladies, I am so proud of you people.

Josh said...

Rank,

I think one can read this post entirely in line with that article: the "bones" of natural revelation serve to make clearer or "give shape to" the living "flesh" of divine revelation. The analogy isn't necessarily saying anything about theology being dependent for its truth on philosophy.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Rank,

The point is that there is no point in talking about what has been divinely revealed unless you have grounds for thinking that it really has been divinely revealed in the first place. That means you have to have grounds for thinking that there really is a God in the first place, that he really did cause such-and-such a miracle to occur and thereby confirmed the authority of a certain prophet, etc.

Aquinas would hardly disagree with this. Indeed, that's why he says that faith has "preambles."

Now of course, once you know that something has been divinely revealed, some of what has been revealed are going to be things you could not have known otherwise, and which philosophy can only elucidate and not discover from scratch. That's what Aquinas is talking about when he says that theology uses philosophy only to make its teaching clearer.

But he definitely does not mean: "How do I know such-and-such really has been revealed in the first place? Well, you know, I just believe it 'cause it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, or just because the people around me do, or just because I really really want it to be true, etc." There are always rational grounds for holding that something really has been revealed. There's no William James or Kierkegaard style leap, understood as an act of sheer ungrounded will or passion. That could be used to "justify"any purported revelation, which means it doesn't really justify anything.

This is in no way incompatible with the notion that faith is a gift of divine grace. I've discussed that issue in an earlier post:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-ii.html

Eduardo said...

Why did I follow the link .... I end up on the combox reading onebrown's blog... and seeing that he is clueless O_O.

Know what I need a doctor, gonna have to get me some anti-psychotics.

Daniel Smith said...

What about the fact that reason often has nothing to do with faith?

In fact faith can be totally irrational sometimes (as in the willingness to give up one's life for the faith when reason says to save yourself from harm).

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: In fact faith can be totally irrational sometimes (as in the willingness to give up one's life for the faith when reason says to save yourself from harm).

But that's not irrational. A madman who gives up his life for no reason is not testifying to anything (other than his own insanity). A martyr provides witness because he has reasoned the matter through: reason tells him that saving himself is a good; but also that sacrificing his life in this case would be a greater good. Otherwise in such circumstances, grace would not be perfecting nature but corrupting it.


[Robo-thwarting text: "salvation". Also "nflovir". Which represents the perfecting of reason and which the corruption is left as an exercise to the reader.]

Tony said...

The point is that there is no point in talking about what has been divinely revealed unless you have grounds for thinking that it really has been divinely revealed in the first place. That means you have to have grounds for thinking that there really is a God in the first place...

As well, philosophy and other disciplines (grammar, rhetoric, etc) help to determine HOW the revealed books are to be understood. It does no good for God to divinely tell Isaiah to put down X, Y, and Z if there is no way people can figure out what X, Y, and Z actually mean. The language itself doesn't come from divine revelation, nor do the principles of grammar, nor the critical distinction between the literal sense and the spiritual senses of Scripture.

DNW said...

Eduardo,

Since the matter of theodicies has been introduced, if inadvertently, and the topic of reason is central to Feser's posting, reason this out for me.

Given your own accumulated experience with the run of the mill atheist trolls' manner of expressing their indignation over "Jebus", they ...

1. Really are comically mad at a God they don't believe in because he hasn't done what they feel he should have done, even though on their own premise everything is meaningless anyway.

or

2. Are mad at people who don't act the way they want them to act, because they think that their own pain will somehow be lessened if we all pull with the same oar (and after all you should care about their pain 'cause we're all human) ... even though it's all ultimately pointless from a scientific and rational perspective anyway.

Or,

3. Admire Sam Kinison a real, real, real lot, and get a charge out of treading in his footsteps.

Or,

4. Provide some possible evidence that God exists and demonic possession is real; which implies that they are not all just crazy dweebs trying to get a rise out of folks who don't otherwise care about them.

[By the way, this last was inspired, believe it or not, by the captcha I was just about to have to enter "agguara possession".]

Goodness, if I keep reading this blog, I'll become a believer yet. But not for any reason the average atheist would grasp.

DNW said...



" Too many theologians have turned their attention away from questions of objective, metaphysical truth to matters of aesthetics, or moral sentiment, or psychology, culture, or history.
In short, religious believers have been fleeing into a non-cognitive ghetto almost faster than skeptics can push them ..."

The fact that the author of this blog does not, is what makes it worth reading.

And the fact that the pietists are going to ultimately be pursued down their self-comfort holes by by the "Jebus" hating totalitarians anyway, makes it a rational strategic proposition in itself.

Anonymous said...

This trend has pretty much been inside Protestant circles too. Probably longer compared to Catholicism in terms of ratios. As a protestant myself, i can't seem to find any cohesive local group that are willing to discuss the rational foundations of their beliefs. Catholics can legitimately rely on tradition, whereas Protestants only go back to Martin Luther. Ever since it's conception; there has been debate about doctrine. I guess all that division has really gotten to people's heads and they're relying on some sort Rev.Dr.FeelGood that they're correct.

Even when i bring up topics about natural theology without using technical terms, it gets hazy.

Eduardo said...

DNW

Feser scorched all the posts in a single move ... U_U and that is because I was in the zone in that comment XD. U_U I mean I did a Michael Sherman level of comment in the end, was wonderful!!!

Let me read your stuff!

*Reads them all*

Dude I laughed so hard XD...

My answer would be; definatelly 4 XD. I mean we all know atheys are all super rational and uncapable of acting outside reason, so it obviously must be dude to some kind of demonic possession when they act in non-rational ways... I mean it is a done deal.

Sobieski said...

@Anon 6:14

Those types of discussion occur frequently between Catholics and Protestants at Called to Communion. One over the historicity of Apostolic Succession is going on right now.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I'm not sure that Aquinas would have agreed with the idea that faith relies on reason as a structure of justification. (However, his understanding of faith obviously wasn't the modernist "ungrounded will or passion", either.) Faith--i.e. taking someone's word for something that you don't fully understand--is the core of most reasoning. As Aquinas points out in the prologue to On the Apostles' Creed, natural understanding is incredibly limited:

[I]f one were willing to believe only those things which one knows with certitude, one could not live in this world. How could one live unless one believed others? How could one know that this man is one’s own father? Therefore, it is necessary that one believe others in matters which one cannot know perfectly for oneself.

The category of "matters which one cannot know perfectly for oneself" is very large, though. As Aquinas says in that same prologue, "[O]ur manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly." Essentially, Aquinas is borrowing an argument of Augustine's (Confessions VI. v (7)), to the effect that almost everything we know is based on faith rather than on real understanding. An additional belief in the Christian articles of faith is not any huge break from the norm.

Christian certitude regarding truth is based on our assent to the articles of faith. Aquinas argues that these articles are "more certain" than the rational sciences, even though the rational sciences work from principles that cannot be doubted (ST I q1 a5 ro1). Plus, as he says in ST IIb q2 a4, articles of faith aren't just supernatural truths: they include truths accessible to natural reason as well. He gives three reasons for this, but the third has the most relevance here:

The third reason is for the sake of certitude. For human reason is very deficient in things concerning God. A sign of this is that philosophers in their researches, by natural investigation, into human affairs, have fallen into many errors, and have disagreed among themselves. And consequently, in order that men might have knowledge of God, free of doubt and uncertainty, it was necessary for Divine matters to be delivered to them by way of faith, being told to them, as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie.

This echoes his position in ST I q1 a8 ro2:

But sacred doctrine makes use even of human reason, not, indeed, to prove faith (for thereby the merit of faith would come to an end), but to make clear other things that are put forward in this doctrine. Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity. [...] Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason[. ...] Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof[.]

Natural theology is an "extrinsic and probable" endeavor, particularly when one takes into account the flaws of the philosophers. The works of philosophers outside of the faith are useful only as a means of elaborating what Christians already believe through assent to the articles of faith. Even though reason can help to elaborate faith, it does not ground it.

Aquinas's stray comments about the preambles of faith have been massively blown out of proportion, particularly if you look at them in light of his arguments about the fallibility of reason and the necessity of taking things on faith. It's arguable that the differences between ST I q2 a2 ro1 and ST I q1 a8 ro2, ST IIb q2 a4, and On the Apostles' Creed represent a contradiction in Aquinas's thought, though, in which case it's anyone's guess what he really believed.

Joe K. said...

Rank,

I don't totally understand what one would compare his "faith" to without natural reason. I know this is an age-old problem, but I don't understand why adherence to the articles of faith of Christianity would be any more valid than those of Islam or anything else. On their faces, that is. There's always going to be some truthiness to which those articles are necessarily compared. And it's this truthiness that we rely on to even evaluate the articles.

I'm not sure if this is what you're saying here, but I'm not certain I follow your point.

rank sophist said...

Joe,

I know this is an age-old problem, but I don't understand why adherence to the articles of faith of Christianity would be any more valid than those of Islam or anything else.

Logically, it isn't any more valid. And this is by necessity. As Aquinas says in ST IIb q1 a5, it is impossible simultaneously to know and to have faith in the same thing. If the Christian faith was logically provable over against rival traditions, then, as he points out in ST I q1 a8 ro2 (quoted above), "the merit of faith would come to an end".

Elsewhere, he states further that it is impossible in principle to present a logical argument for Christianity, unless the person with whom you're arguing shares premises with you. If someone rejects all of your premises, then all you've got is the knowledge that you're ultimately correct:

Hence Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation; thus we can argue with heretics from texts in Holy Writ, and against those who deny one article of faith, we can argue from another. If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections — if he has any — against faith. Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered. (ST I q1 a8)

Aquinas3000 said...

There's a difference between showing that the Catholic faith is true by pointing to all the signs that show forth its truth (miracles etc) and proving the articles of the faith true. Proving or establishing via reason that a source is reliable or true (and thus worth believing what he is saying) is not the same as proving the contents of what is said which may still be inevident.

So - that I can reliably put my faith in source X is something that could be buttressed up by a reasoned argument. That what he says is true may still be an object of faith.

Tony said...

I'm not sure that Aquinas would have agreed with the idea that faith relies on reason as a structure of justification.

I am lost in the weeds - what is the matter under dispute? Is it faith, or sacred doctrine (SD)? Is it certitude, or understanding?

One can have faith but be ignorant of sacred doctrine, as my 7-year old is. One can have the firm certitude granted by faith and yet be unable to discern any answer to a simple "difficulty" such as "how can Jesus be present in every Eucharist when he has but one body?" The fact that you have faith doesn't itself explain to you whether Christ has one hypostasis or 2.

Calling natural reason the skeleton of faith seems to contradict ST I q1 a5, in which Aquinas states that theology uses philosophy simply "to make its teaching clearer". And this is only necessary because of "the defect of our intelligence"--not because theology is supported by philosophy like flesh by a skeleton.

Rank, I am not entirely sure what Thomas means when he says that Sacred Doctrine doesn't "depend upon the philosophical sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer." But I don't think he means that you can pursue SD without having knowledge of any other discipline. You cannot truly carry out SD without the disciplines of logic (so that you know which kinds of argument is being made in a given passage), and grammar (so you can distinguish the literal sense from idiomatic expression), geography (so you can understand the progression of events in space), physics (so you can distinguish between accident and substance, etc.

I suspect that maybe what Thomas is doing is making a very narrow, principled point: within the arguments made by SD in which it draws out a definite theological conclusion in its own proper mode, it relies explicitly on premises from divine authority. But when the inquirer after truth first begins to ask the question that eventually he will answer using SD, he is going to employ all of the other disciplines as handmaidens to assist him along the right path and to sidestep many potential blind alleys. When he eventually arrives at a solid argument that is formally one of Sacred Doctrine (and not philosophy or grammar or physics) he can put all the background work into the background in expressing the definitive argument, (what all Thomas does in his "On the Contrary" elements), and draw the conclusion from divine authority. But nobody who is a fallen human would suppose that their understanding of the matter can be said to be complete merely in the simple argument made in the "On the contrary", they need the back-drop material as well. To be a master of a science is not only to know the conclusions of the science, but to be able to answer objections to those conclusions, etc. Since many of the questions and difficulties depend on other disciplines to be formulated, one cannot be complete in SD without having other disciplines as well as SD itself.

dguller said...

Rank:

Faith--i.e. taking someone's word for something that you don't fully understand--is the core of most reasoning.

Would faith count as a reason in this case? I mean, it seems that Aquinas is offering reasons that justify the validity of faith, e.g. the limitations of reason, the fact that for reason to operate, it must presuppose many truths on trust, and so on. Perhaps there are different kinds of reasons? Reasons of faith and reasons of reason? But then why not just say that there is reason, which has different applications in different contexts? And if that is true, then faith would be subsumed under reason, broadly construed.

Oh, and just so you know, I’m currently reading Paul Macdonald Jr’s Knowledge & the Transcendent: An Inquiry into the Mind’s Relationship to God, and it is offering a sustained critique from a Thomist standpoint on the modern conception of the mind as necessarily involving a boundary between itself and the world/God on the outside. He has a great chapter on the beatific vision, and how for it to be possible, there cannot possibly be such a boundary, and thus Aquinas’ conception of mind cannot involve the kind of boundary that modern and contemporary philosophy of mind presupposes. Anyway, it’s all very interesting, and I’ll let you know if it addresses some of my concerns that were raised during our previous discussion.

Take care.

asker42 said...

Natural law does not 'tack' something extra onto scripture. Rather, natural law is the explained logic behind what scripture affirms to be true.

We all recognize what is right and wrong because we apprehend the essence of goodness, which scripture highlights. But in order to understand the foundational reason as to "why" something is wrong we have to appeal to understanding final causes.

Scripture identifies that moral claims come from God, who is the ultimate final cause, but scripture does not explain the intermediary final causes which is what we need, not to recognize right and wrong, but to understand "how" something extends from God and makes an action right or wrong.

Natural law does not 'tack' something extra onto scripture it merely explains why scripture says the things it does and why we recognize one thing as right and another is wrong. Because the foundation for explaining something as right or wrong is done by appealing to the final cause of the act.

So again, natural law is the logic behind what scripture already affrms. In the same way that scripture affirms that God made the heavens and the earth, but then geology and astronomy further explain the intermediary processes.

Joe K. said...

Rank,

Then having faith in a belief that has as its tenets "abort all non-white children" would be as valid as one that says to protect all unborn children?

Similarly, a faith in a belief that says god does not exist would as valid as one that says god does exist and has certain attributes?

I agree that knowing and having faith in the same thing is impossible. But I need not have faith in everything; that is, the things I know. For example, I need not have "faith" that god exists, but I do need to have faith that he saved humanity through self-sacrificial love.

And I would agree that you cannot present a total argument for Christianity without some sort of sacred revelation, etc. But you also can not present Christianity as valid At All (even with sacred revelation) without a philosophical groundwork by which to judge it.

monk68 said...

A key confusion in these sorts of discussions can arise from failing to make a distinction between the rational grounds which underwrite the *fact* of a revelation given and assent to the *content* (articles of faith proper) of that which is revealed.

As to the *fact* that a revelation has been given, Aquinas holds that there are historical indicators which provide a rational basis for embracing the notion of a divine revelation - i.e. that God has communicated within the context of human culture above and beyond what can be known about God through contemplation of nature, etc. These include the national and religious history of the Hebrews, fulfilled prophecies, the birth and growth of the Catholic Church, etc (see Vatican I “Dei Filius” for a dogmatic account). Together, such indicators are often termed the "motives of credibility" (MOC); although neither Aquinas nor the scholastics - so far as I know -used that specific short-hand designation. For many persons without the ability or means to carry out careful philosophical reflection, such MOC's provide sufficient rational grounds (I do not say demonstrable grounds - but rational, see more below) for assenting to the *fact* of a revelation given, as distinct from assent to revelatory *content* per se. Indeed, general lack of ability and means for careful philosophical reflection among men is the very reason which Aquinas gives at the beginning of the ST, for the necessity of a divine revelation.

Nevertheless, for those who *do* have ability and means for careful reflection, it is apparent that such historically grounded MOC's are, themselves, known only within a broader noetic context, since the possibility of arriving at truth in history (like truth in any other area) depends upon fundamental epistemic-cum-ontic presuppositions, etc. Within the context of the “perennial philosophy” such fundaments lead, inexorably, to the conclusions of natural theology and natural law. Accordingly, the MOC’s, taken together with the conclusions of sound fundamental philosophy and its corollaries in natural theology and natural law, constitute broadly the “preambles” to faith. Sometimes also, discussions of mankind’s present and historical trans-cultural religious history are drawn within the ambit of preambles to faith. But the crucial point is that such “preambles” are specifically designed to facilitate rational assent to the *fact* of a revelation given, *as distinct from* the specific *content* (articles) of faith per se.

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

Many Catholic theologians hold that the cumulative array of such preambles (one can think of Newman’s converging probabilities), when sufficiently considered and understood by the inquirer, yield a “moral” certainty (as distinct from a metaphysical or mathematical certainty) with respect to rational assent *that* a revelation has been given. IOW, the rational basis for thinking that God has revealed Himself to mankind is such that *if one is sufficiently aware of the data*, one would be morally obligated to assent to, rather than deny, the fact of a revelation given. This I take to be the most common theological interpretation of the strong position upheld at Vatican I in “Dei Filius”. Certainly, this position does not entail fideism – far from it. Yet, neither does it entail rationalism, since the rational grounds (preambles) do not rationally compel or demonstrate (in the strict scholastic sense) the fact of a revelation given. Rather, such grounds are understood as eminently reasonable (since grace perfects nature, rather than destroying it), while leaving room for the work of divine grace whereby such rationally grounded moral certainly, built on multi-faceted and converging lines of preambular evidence, is elevated to a supernatural and firm certainty, at once both intellectual and personal, whereby one entrusts one’s life to the Revealer and assents to the content of that which is revealed.

As to the *content* of revelation itself, there are two general categories according to Aquinas. Some revelatory content is discoverable *in principle* through philosophical reflection alone (such as the existence of God or the immateriality of the soul); but has, nevertheless, been included within the deposit of faith because of the great need of men to know such truths combined with the difficulty for many in achieving and grasping such truths on strictly philosophical grounds. Such revealed datums are sometimes designated as “revealables”, since they do not entail *necessary* noetic dependence upon revelation since they can, in principle, be arrived at through natural reason. Beyond such as these, and perhaps for the majority of the *content* of the deposit of revealed faith (articles of faith in the strict sense), reason cannot *in principle* achieve through its nascent resources. Yet, even so, assent to the articles of faith proper is not fideistic, for one already has good reason for thinking *that* a revelation from God has been given and that God (as God) would be in a position to know that whereof He speaks. Nor, is the *use* of reason eliminated with respect to articles of faith proper, but rather shifts to a posture of either defense or elucidation.

Brian said...

Hello, monk68. I have several questions for you about divine faith.

Sufficient study of natural theology and fundamental theology seem to suffice for a kind of faith that is not divine but rather natural. If one can achieve certainty about the truths of general revelation and about the fact of special revelation, it seems that one can have a natural faith in the content of revelation.

Suppose an atheist, through natural and fundamental theology, respectively, comes to see that the Catholic Church is the bearer and guardian of special revelation. He has seen the miraculous character of the Church and has judged that her claims to supernatural authority are credible. He, as a rational person, simply believes the Church like he would believe a credible authority on some other subject. I have two questions about this:

1) Does this conflict with the teaching that the act of faith must be a free act? After all, in my example, the atheist is compelled, in a sense, because of the evidence.

2) It's not very clear to me how or why divine faith comes into this. How would it be different than the purely natural faith? You might say that divine faith elevates the certainty of the believer. How? Doesn't the certainty of the believe ultimately collapse into the certainty he has on the motives of credibility?

monk68 said...

Brian,

Before addressing your questions, I think it would be good to carefully clarify some terms. Firstly, one should distinguish between “Apologetics” and “Fundamental Theology”. Although these two fields are naturally discussed in close connection with one another, they are also sometimes treated interchangeably, and that gives rise to epistemic ambiguities which have an impact on your questions.

What you seem to have in mind by the term “fundamental theology” are technically concerns falling within the field of “apologetics”. Apologetics is the science or art (depending upon whether one is focused upon the objective or subjective dimension of apologetics) of advancing the plausibility or reasonableness of theism in general, and Catholic Christianity in particular. It involves the use of natural theology, natural law, and all the various historical motives of credibility (MOCs), which, taken together, constitute the preambles to divine faith. However, there is a substantial epistemic difference between natural theology and natural law on the one hand (which *demonstrate* theism and moral principles generally) and the historical MOCs which present a reasonable/probabilistic, convergent case for Catholic Christianity in particular. It is only Catholic faith in particular which is the focus of inquiries related to the nature/possibility of “divine faith” (more on the importance of that epistemic distinction vis-à-vis divine faith in a moment). The key point about the field of apologetics (as distinct from fundamental theology) is that it operates *without* the presumption of divine faith, nor does it presume that a revelation has been given. Instead, it relies (in its objective dimension) strictly upon evidences open to natural reason, by which the apologist hopes to illuminate the reasonable grounds for the fact of a revelation given, and for making a free act of divine faith in both the Revealer and His revelation.

Fundamental *theology*, by contrast, already presumes divine faith and in fact lays the foundation for theology proper. Its primary concerns are issues such as the nature, means, modes, sources, and interpretation of divine revelation (already supposing a revelation has been given), and the nature, means, modes, sources, etc., of divine faith (already supposing there is a God and deposit of faith in which to assent). Obviously, one cannot proceed in a *scientific* or systematic manner through the various integrated branches of systematic theology without establishing the nature and impact of such theological first principles on sacred science generally.

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

Now to your questions.

For context, you wrote:

“Suppose an atheist, through natural and fundamental theology, respectively, comes to see that the Catholic Church is the bearer and guardian of special revelation. He has seen the miraculous character of the Church and has judged that her claims to supernatural authority are credible. He, as a rational person, simply believes the Church like he would believe a credible authority on some other subject”

Then you ask:

“1) Does this conflict with the teaching that the act of faith must be a free act? After all, in my example, the atheist is compelled, in a sense, because of the evidence.”

In order for an act to be free, it must involve a choice (one must have the ability to do otherwise than one does). Not all acts are choices and therefore not all acts are free. In order to choose, one needs alternatives to choose between. In the particular case at hand, we are discussing divine faith, which is – at its root - an intellectual virtue (though it has many rich dimensions which extend beyond the cognitive). As such, the primary kind of choice we are discussing involves an intellectual choice between reasonable alternatives. With this in mind, it becomes crucial to distinguish between the sort of rational grounds which pertain to natural theology, and those which pertain to apologetics (which you have here termed “fundamental theology”, but which are really apologetic, such as the “miraculous character of the Church”, etc). In the case of natural theology, the conclusions are philosophical and arise from fundamental epistemic and ontic first principles, advancing logically in such a way, that to deny the principles or logical movement of the arguments, one faces the prospect of embracing macroscopic unintelligibility with respect to the realm of changeable being. In short, the proofs of natural theology are strict demonstrations. In so far as one grasps the principles and movement of the arguments properly, the conclusions follow. There is no *intellectual* choice in the matter. If the atheist is truly rational, he will have no choice but to embrace the conclusions, because the conclusions are demonstrations. Hence, there is no question of “divine faith” with respect to the conclusions of natural theology, since one who understands the principles and arguments “knows” - in the strictest sense – that theism is true, he need not “believe” it. But then, no Catholic philosopher or theologian that I know holds that the conclusions of natural theology, when they are arrived at through philosophical means, are necessarily objects of divine and Catholic faith.

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

So much for theism in general. However, when the matter turns to the *particular* claims of Catholic Christianity, one moves from the realm of philosophical demonstration to the dialectical science of apologetics wherein a wide range of datums (the various historical “motives of credibility”) converge to make a highly reasonable case for the fact of a divine revelation given, and specifically for the claim that the Judeo-Catholic cultural tradition has served as the historical and pedagogical pipeline for that revelation. But in this context, the arguments – by the nature of the case – do not rise to the level of demonstrations. Conclusions to the contrary do not land one in an embrace of macroscopic unintelligibility. As such, the gap between the reasonableness or plausibility of the specifically-Catholic revelatory claims and the possibility of their denial (despite the evidence) leave room for a real intellectual choice or assent between alternatives. This is true not only for the convergent datums which support rational assent to the *fact* of a revelation given; but most especially, such datums leave room for a choice concerning the theological *meaning* attached to the revelatory events.

For instance, one might provide a strong and reasonable apologetic case that Jesus, a first century Jew, arose from the dead. Such a case might provide good reason for thinking that something extraordinary (beyond the natural order) obtained with respect to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet, through sophisticated and sustained application of acidic skepticism to the historical texts and traditions in which the relevant accounts come down to us, one might produce a portrait of the data which enables one to choose an alternative reading of the data (that Jesus did *not* really rise from the dead): a reading which might be quite intelligible (given all the skeptical premises). In this way, one can see how various MOCs may yield a strong apologetic case, yet fall short of “compelling” anyone’s assent; leaving room for the possibility of both belief or unbelief, with respect to the resurrection of Jesus.

But in divine faith, there remains even more that is open to assent (and therefore free of compulsion); namely, the choice to believe Jesus and his apostles concerning the salvific *meaning* of Jesus’ resurrection and its implications for Jesus’ divine identity. Consider Jesus’ response to Peter’s Christic confession: “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven”. That something extraordinary was taking place in the life and ministry of Jesus was evident to all through his miracles, teaching, etc (he was the talk of the town). But that those events should be interpreted as entailing that Jesus was the Christ, involved a factor beyond (but quite compatible with) the objective events themselves. That factor was divine grace (My Father has revealed this. . .). Grace building upon what Peter knew through natural experience of Jesus the carpenter’s son and ultimately leading Peter to recognize Jesus as God’s son. In short, the rational force of apologetic arguments for the specific claims of Catholic Christianity allow precisely that space for the free act of divine faith which the conclusions of natural theology do not.

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

Secondly, you wrote:

2) It's not very clear to me how or why divine faith comes into this. How would it be different than the purely natural faith? You might say that divine faith elevates the certainty of the believer. How? Doesn't the certainty of the believe ultimately collapse into the certainty he has on the motives of credibility?

The impulse of divine grace, while adding nothing to the objective grounds for faith, can bring about a subjective confidence and adherence to revelatory claims which might not exist without the influence of divine grace. Divine faith is an operative habit within the human subject. Indeed, all talk of “certainty” is, in itself, predicated of the subject who is more or less certain, rather than the objects concerning which he or she is more or less certain about. Lastly, as just indicated above, the assent to the fact of an extraordinary revelation/communication/event (that Jesus arose from the dead for instance) is only part of what is involved in the assent of divine faith. What is also (and arguably more crucially) involved is assent to the theological *meaning* of revelatory events and their connection with one’s personal life and destiny (that Jesus’ resurrection has a deep meaning for the renewal of ma and the cosmos).

I hope that helps.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I am lost in the weeds - what is the matter under dispute? Is it faith, or sacred doctrine (SD)? Is it certitude, or understanding?

The matter under dispute is whether or not Aquinas saw philosophy and natural theology as the "bones" of the faith. My argument is that he saw the faith as primary, and natural theology as an extension.

But I don't think he means that you can pursue SD without having knowledge of any other discipline. [...] I suspect that maybe what Thomas is doing is making a very narrow, principled point: within the arguments made by SD in which it draws out a definite theological conclusion in its own proper mode, it relies explicitly on premises from divine authority.

Sacred doctrine (i.e. theology) "makes use of these [philosophical] authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof[.]" (ST I q1 a8 ro2) And sacred doctrine encompasses everything related to God: "all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end." (ST I q1 a7) That includes everything from the Trinity to man's nature. Philosophy and natural theology, then, are simply tools for detailing Scripture and the articles of faith, which alone are "incontrovertible proof" of any position. And this is because the first principles of theology are higher and more certain than those of any other science:

[S]acred doctrine [...] proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God. (ST I q1 a2)

Aquinas is not making a limited point, here. The products of natural reason are only valid to the extent that they are compatible with what Christians already believe. As he says:

[T]he knowledge proper to this science [sacred doctrine] comes through revelation and not through natural reason. Therefore it has no concern to prove the principles of other sciences, but only to judge of them. Whatsoever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false[.] (ST I q1 a6 ro2)

That's pretty conclusive, in my opinion.

he can put all the background work into the background in expressing the definitive argument, (what all Thomas does in his "On the Contrary" elements)

The "On the contrary" sections exist simply to show that the matter is under dispute. Plus, many of the arguments placed therein are not from Scripture, but from one or another philosophical or theological authority.

Since many of the questions and difficulties depend on other disciplines to be formulated, one cannot be complete in SD without having other disciplines as well as SD itself.

If you mean that we must rely on other sciences as handmaidens to aid in our understanding of the faith, then Aquinas would agree. But this does not imply anything incomplete about the first principles of sacred doctrine. It is the result of "the defect of our intelligence" (ST I q1 a5 ro2), which usually fails to grasp the truth of Scripture and the articles of faith immediately, and often must be led to the truth via natural reason. But this does not rule out mystical exegesis as a valid (and perhaps more valid) method of understanding the faith, as Aquinas implies through his regular use of mystics as authorities. This is likely the result of what Aquinas would call their superior intelligence.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

And if that is true, then faith would be subsumed under reason, broadly construed.

Aquinas uses reason in the sense of philosophical demonstrations derived from the first principles accessible naturally. Faith, on the other hand, is trusting in something that has not been demonstrated in this way. The principles of Christian faith are higher and more certain than those of reason (ST I q1 a5 ro1). So, no; I don't think that faith can be subsumed under reason, even if it's possible to give reasons why one should accept faith.

Anyway, it’s all very interesting, and I’ll let you know if it addresses some of my concerns that were raised during our previous discussion.

Sounds good.

Joe,

Aquinas's view is that positions like the ones you listed can be found false through natural reason. Human reason can, despite its constant errors, potentially discover moral or theological truths.

This is not to say that moral and theological truths are true because natural reason proved them, though. Again: "Whatsoever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false" (ST I q1 a6 ro2). Scripture and the articles of faith determine which discoveries of the philosophers are true and which ones are false. But we know that some of the philosophers were lucky enough to stumble upon our truths without the faith, and so their methods may prove useful to us.

But I need not have faith in everything; that is, the things I know. For example, I need not have "faith" that god exists

Aquinas agrees that natural reason can bring us to a belief in some version of God. But these conceptions, as even Prof. Feser admitted two comboxes ago, are often mistaken. Hence we have the One, the Unmoved Mover, Allah, the God of Maimonides and so forth--none of which are right.

But you also can not present Christianity as valid At All (even with sacred revelation) without a philosophical groundwork by which to judge it.

This is directly contrary to Aquinas's own view. He believed that Scripture and the articles of faith determine all truth and are prior to all philosophy, as I demonstrated in my response to Tony. "Philosophical groundwork" is valid because of Christianity; not vice versa.

monk,

As usual, I'm generally in agreement with you. However, another question arises even within your argument about the fact of the revelation: how do non-believers determine the truth in this situation? This is somewhat similar to a problem that Augustine encountered (see Menn's Descartes and Augustine, p. 191-192), summarized as follows: "[B]y what means will we fools be able to recognize a wise man?" Fundamentally, by being outside of the faith, we are benighted and cut off from certainty, as even Aquinas attests. How, in this state, do we recognize the truth even of the fact of revelation? As Augustine concludes, it seems that we must already in some sense be believers. That is, faith comes first and rational justification second.

Brandon said...

Rank Sophist,

Your answer to Tony is much too glib, and commits the very confusion he was worried about in the first place. You say,

The matter under dispute is whether or not Aquinas saw philosophy and natural theology as the "bones" of the faith. My argument is that he saw the faith as primary, and natural theology as an extension.

But then you go on and discuss sacred doctrine exclusively. Sacred doctrine, however, is not 'the faith'; it is the science appropriate to teachers of the faith, hence the name. The faith is related to sacred doctrine as principles to conclusions or understanding to knowledge; the two should not be confused. Likewise, sacred doctrine is not the highest science; it is a subalternate science, subordinate to God's own knowledge, which God shares with the saints in heaven and sometimes in glimpses with wayfarers, through special grace. These two should not be conflated, either. Sacred doctrine arises entirely because God has revealed, externally in Scripture and internally by the light of faith, truths that go beyond the scope of the first principles of reason, and these are then discursively explicated in inquiry.

Because of this, it is not a minor thing that philosophical arguments are used for clarification and defense: these are what one does in the inquiry involved in sacred doctrine, because that is what teachers, including teachers of the faith, do: clarify and respond to objections. Since faith involves first principles beyond the scope of the principles of natural reason, natural reason, whose discourse is philosophy, cannot prove anything to do with sacred doctrine in the strict sense. But Aquinas is very clear, particularly in the commentary on Boethius's De Trinitate, that philosophical arguments occupy a role in sacred doctrine analogous to the dialectical arguments Aristotle gives in support of the principle of noncontradiction. As the primary principle of reason, it is impossible for natural reason to genuinely prove it from any other principle; but reason can dialectically clarify the principle and defend it from objections. This is a quite substantial contribution.

Likewise, the inability of philosophical arguments to contradict the scientific conclusions of sacred doctrine is paralleled by the inability of arguments in sacred doctrine to contradict the scientific conclusions of philosophy, and Aquinas often recognizes this other direction. This should be obvious actually: truth does not contradict truth, and to say that something is demonstratively proven in any science is ipso facto to say that it is true. The only asymmetry is that sacred doctrine arises from principles that come from a much more powerful science than anything philosophy can provide, and therefore its conclusions are more powerful conclusions, allowing a more complete grasp of things on which even the best philosophical arguments can only allow us to grasp very incompletely.

As for the skeleton metaphor, it seems reasonable enough. Living flesh does not hang on bones like vines on a trellis; it makes them living bones and actively uses them as organs of support in tasks requiring support and defense of much more important organs.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: A martyr provides witness because he has reasoned the matter through

I don't know if that's always the case though. I remember reading Tortured for Christ - a book about persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain - and it seemed that the martyrs were often given supernatural strength and peace in their worst times of torture. It seemed to have more of a spiritual component - i.e. Christ living in them - than a mental reasoning of goods vs. greater goods.

IOW, it seems as if there is a divine assurance given to us when Christ takes up residence in our hearts. This assurance sometimes flies in the face of reason - like when the poor widow gave all that she had to the temple.

As the scriptures testify:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:17-31

Joe K. said...

Rank,

I really feel like you're avoiding the actual crux of the issue. Things are true or false because they are true or false. I never said they were true Because natural reason says that they are true. I just said that we can know they are true (and would remain true even if we had no idea) because natural reason allows us to see that they are true. And further, that we can properly move on to something like Christianity (or ANY religion) once we recognize certain unavoidable philosophical truths.

But more directly, how would you have Any idea that Christianity is correct without something by which to measure it? If Christianity called for the genocide of children, how would I even evaluate that claim? Why is Christianity the measuring stick by which you determine the truth or falsehood of something? It sounds like the Kierkegaardian fideism Feser criticized above, what you're describing here. Or like some philosophical bootstrapping. Why Christianity over anything (or everything) else? I've no problem with someone being a Christian, obviously. I've some problem with someone using Christianity as their entire epistemological framework, all while excluding Christianity itself from skepticism.

Unless you're making some strange point with this "because of Christianity" stuff. I'm not even sure what that means actually; it almost sounds like you're saying Christianity Causes something to be true. I think I may be misunderstanding you. But I'm just talking about being able to do Anything (including converting to Christianity or knowing Christianity is true) without first just blindly accepting Christianity as true.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

Sacred doctrine, however, is not 'the faith'; it is the science appropriate to teachers of the faith, hence the name. The faith is related to sacred doctrine as principles to conclusions or understanding to knowledge; the two should not be confused.

I didn't confuse them, though. I'm fully aware of the distinction. Sacred doctrine is the method of elaborating on what Christians already believe--namely, Scripture and the articles of faith.

Likewise, sacred doctrine is not the highest science

I'm merely repeating Aquinas's argument from ST I q1 a5. Don't shoot the messenger. I'm aware that he calls God's knowledge a "science" in ST I q1 a2, although what exactly he means by this is up for debate.

Sacred doctrine arises entirely because God has revealed, externally in Scripture and internally by the light of faith, truths that go beyond the scope of the first principles of reason, and these are then discursively explicated in inquiry.

I already covered this in my final comment to Tony. According to Aquinas, our use of reason (read: metaphysics; philosophy (ST I q1 a1 o1)) is the result of our limited intelligence. If we were more enlightened, then we could understand the truth of Scripture immediately. This is often the case with the mystical theologians and monks on whom Aquinas draws throughout his work, who were supernaturally enlightened.

This should be obvious actually: truth does not contradict truth, and to say that something is demonstratively proven in any science is ipso facto to say that it is true.

Christianity determines when something has been demonstrated and when it merely appears to have been demonstrated. If a demonstration contradicts the Christian truth, then it has not really been demonstrated and must be false (ST I q1 a6 ro2). As I pointed out to Tony, this is true of man's nature no less than it is of the Trinity, since sacred doctrine includes both.

As the primary principle of reason, it is impossible for natural reason to genuinely prove it from any other principle; but reason can dialectically clarify the principle and defend it from objections.

This is no different from what I've already acknowledged, though. It is the direct result of our dim intelligence.

rank sophist said...

Joe,

Things are true or false because they are true or false.

This would seem to imply that the truth can be separated from Christian tradition, though. As Aquinas and most (all?) of the Church Fathers affirmed, the only truth is the one revealed through Christianity. Other traditions are greater or lesser approximations of ours. We know that this or that philosopher was correct because what he said is in line with our absolutely certain truth; not because what he said is magically true without reference to Christianity.

But more directly, how would you have Any idea that Christianity is correct without something by which to measure it? If Christianity called for the genocide of children, how would I even evaluate that claim? Why is Christianity the measuring stick by which you determine the truth or falsehood of something? It sounds like the Kierkegaardism fideism Feser criticized above, what you're describing here.

I'm describing the traditional viewpoint held by Augustine, Aquinas and the rest. It is not fideism. The idea that truth is independent of Christianity--that Christianity is somehow "less than" and "determined by" the truth itself--comes from the Enlightenment, which gave us the myth that "pure reason" detached from all belief could find the truth. This could not be further removed from the Christian understanding. Augustine sums up our view nicely: "[W]e were too weak to discover the truth by pure reasoning and therefore needed the authority of the sacred writings" (Confessions VI. v (8)).

On a related note, Aquinas states in ST IIb q2 a10 that human reason diminishes the merit of faith if one believes on the basis of demonstrations. Perfect faith operates "not on account of human reason, but on account of the Divine authority." On the other hand, rationalizing the faith after one already believes "is a sign of greater merit".

I've some problem with someone using Christianity as their entire epistemological framework, all while excluding Christianity itself from skepticism.

Christianity is not a metaphysical claim, though. According to Aquinas, we're built on a set of revelations supposedly above reason, which allow us to judge all other sciences. You might claim that this begs the question against our rivals, but, then, Christianity does not pretend to play by the rules of lower sciences like philosophy. (Plus, the assertion that truth is independent of Christianity itself begs the question against us, since it can't establish itself.)

Unless you're making some strange point with this "because of Christianity" stuff. I'm not even sure what that means actually; it almost sounds like you're saying Christianity Causes something to be true.

This is roughly what Aquinas and the rest are saying.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

Then, what is wrong with fideism?

Glenn said...

Rank,

You have asserted that taking another's word for something one does not fully understand is at the core of most reasoning. Curiosity now leads me to ask three questions.

The first two questions are:

1) Whose word is at the core of your reasoning? and,

2) If it isn't someone else's word that is at the core of your reasoning, then what is it that is at that core?

The third question is:

3) Are you certain that your reasoning proceeds well and without error (or at least with none but insignificant error) from whatever it is that forms its core?

David B Marshall said...

I'm curious about a couple of points, here, which perhaps those more familiar with Aquinas and Kierkegaard than I can answer.

First, this phrase:

"Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason . . . "

Does Aquinas leave room for the possibility that some non-Christian philosophers may know truth in some cases by supernatural revelation?

Also, on Kierkegaard:

Edward assumes that Kierkegaard is properly read as a fideist, which was also my assumption. But recently I have seen this challenged, with the notion that even Kierkegaard is misunderstood on this point. Anyone here know Kierkegaard well enough to adjudicate? (I have read a little, but not enough to know.)

dguller said...

Rank:

Aquinas uses reason in the sense of philosophical demonstrations derived from the first principles accessible naturally. Faith, on the other hand, is trusting in something that has not been demonstrated in this way. The principles of Christian faith are higher and more certain than those of reason (ST I q1 a5 ro1). So, no; I don't think that faith can be subsumed under reason, even if it's possible to give reasons why one should accept faith.

Aquinas says that sacred doctrine “does not argue in proof of its principles, which are the articles of faith, but from them it goes on to prove something else” (ST 1.1.8), and that sacred doctrine is based upon “arguments from authority, inasmuch as its principles are obtained by revelation: thus we ought to believe on the authority of those to whom the revelation has been made” (ST 1.1.8). What that means is that the articles of faith are derived from religious authority figures and scriptures, and that those articles of faith can then be the premises in subsequent rational arguments. Furthermore, since sacred doctrine is the highest science, it cannot appeal to anything above it to justify its truth, but rather stands on its own as valid in its own right.

But then you have to walk me through this. Someone claims to receive a message from God, and to be an authority figure whose pronouncements are true. Should I believe him or not? In other words, how does one discriminate between genuine authority figures and deceptive authority figures without some standard to differentiate between them? That standard cannot be internal to the individual in question, because then we are arguing in a circular fashion: “You should trust that I’m telling you the truth, because I’m telling you the truth”. If there is no standard beyond the pronouncements of this individual, then you have fideism, which ultimately becomes relativism, because all you have are competing claims of authority with no external standard to differentiate between them.

One would first have to be justifiably led to have solid grounds for believing that person as an authority figure, and then his pronouncements can be taken as epistemically indubitable. That would require having good reasons to believe that God exists, that God communicates to people, that this person has the characteristics of those whom God communicates with, that he is unlikely to be misunderstanding or misinterpreting what God is saying, that I am not misunderstanding or misinterpreting what this individual is saying, and so on. Without this foundation, which must be external to the claims of the individual in question, there is no basis beyond aesthetic preference and emotional salience to decide upon the truth of the matter, and there is no evidence that these are reliable standards of determining truth. Sometimes the truth is aesthetically displeasing to many, and emotionally repugnant. However, the truth is never logically inconsistent or violates fundamental principles of reason and rationality.

grodrigues said...

@David Marshall:

"Edward assumes that Kierkegaard is properly read as a fideist, which was also my assumption. But recently I have seen this challenged, with the notion that even Kierkegaard is misunderstood on this point. Anyone here know Kierkegaard well enough to adjudicate?"

There are undoubtedly fideistic tendencies in Kierkegaard, but he is not a fideist, or at least not in the traditional sense of the word. See for example: Kierkegaard, Fideism and Subjective Reasoning.

Not an expert (or even knowledgeable), but for what is worth, I am in agreement with everything in the article and will just add a couple of incidental points by way of context.

(1) Kierkegaard is not a systematic philosopher; he had a life-long, this one systematic and relentless, feud with systematic philosophers, Hegel in particular. Not only that, his primary mode of communication ("indirect communication") is steeped in irony; he also uses several pseudonyms that engage in dialectical discourse but do not disclose any final answers for his reader. His phd thesis was on the concept of irony "with constant reference to Socrates" -- Kierkegaard as a modern-day Socrates is not that much off the mark.

(2) Bear in mind also the intended audience of Kierkegaard; he hardly addresses atheists, for example -- although he viewed many of his contemporaries as functional atheists. I am pretty confident that for the bovine contented Gnu sort, he would have only scorn and contempt (as would Nietzche by the way).

Brian said...

dguller,

Sounds good to me. Everything you wrote sounds like it could have come out of a manual of apologetics. For example, are two passages from books I picked from my apologeticsshelf at random:

"Before a religion can claim to speak with divine authority, it must prove that it was endowed with it by God. It cannot demand assent to its doctrines unless there is a solid basis for this faith. Before it speaks, it must present its credentials. If it demands faith without presenting these credentials, then it will be moving in a vicious circle for faith is believing on the authority of another." College Apologetics, p. 3

"But God's message must be authenticated, his messenger must present his credentials. In vain will the seer claim divine authority if he cannot vindicate his mission. Hence that all men might know that the words of the
prophet were the words of God, he marked their teaching with unmistakable signs of its divine origin. 'They will not believe me,' protested Moses,'nor hear my voice, but they will say: The Lord hath not appeared to thee... And the Lord said: Cast thy rod down upon the ground. He cast it down, and it was turned into a serpent...that they may believe, saith he,
that the Lord God... hath appeared to thee."
Faith and Revealed Truth, p.9

And, of course, these theologians are merely following the teachings of the First Vatican Council.

Brian said...

grodrigues! I have been trying to get a hold of you. Can you please email me when you have the chance? I have a question that your expertise in mathematics might be able to answer. Here's my email:

b-r-i-a-n-o-r-t-i-z-8-9[at]gmail[dot]com

Just remove the dashes and use the appropriate characters for [at] and [dot].

Thanks!

Brian said...

monk69,

Thank you for your reply! I have read it very carefully, and I appreciate the distinctions you made between apologetics and fundamental theology.

My understanding of the theology of divine faith is mostly informed by Rev. George Smith's essay, Faith and Revealed Truth. EWTN has the essay archived, and it can be read here:

http://www.ewtn.com/library/CHRIST/FTHRT.txt

Here is what Rev. Smith wrote about the probative force of the motives of credibility:

"The human mind, then, is able to learn with certainty the existence of God; is able, by the proper investigation of the facts, to conclude that Christ is the bearer of a divine message, that he founded an infallible Church for the purpose of propagating that message; and finally, by the process indicated in apologetics, to conclude that the Catholic Church is that divinely appointed teacher of revelation. These things, I say, can be known and proved, and by those who have the requisite leisure, opportunity and ability, are actually known and proved with all the scientific certainty of which the subject is patient. The preambles of faith, therefore, rest upon the solid ground of human reason." p.12

So does Rev. Smith have a higher view on how much certitude the motives of credibility provide for the fact of revelation? It seems to me that if the motives of credibility provide for all the "scientific certitude of which the subject is patient," I don't see how could the question could admit of reasonable alternatives from which one could freely choose. It seems to me that the disbeliever could only be unreasonable. But if that's the case, how does that affect the freedom of the act? Rev. Smith anticipates this dilemma:

"If a man is firmly convinced that a statement has been made by one who is certainly telling the truth, then he cannot possibly withhold his assent to it… If a man accused of murder admits a fact which is damaging to his case, the jury–granted that they find no other reason for his admission–cannot but believe his testimony… The jury accept his statement because they know that in the circumstances it must be true. Of a like nature is the credence that we may give to an historian whom, however otherwise unreliable, we have proved by the application of tests to be here and now telling the truth. Is not the case the same with the act of divine faith ? I know that God has revealed the Trinity. I know that God is Truth itself. Surely the logical conclusion is inevitable: the Trinity is true. Here is no free acceptance of God’s word, no free homage to his Person. I am forced by the laws of evidence." Faith and Revealed Truth, pg.20

He attempts to solve this dilemma, but I don't understand it! Maybe I am just repeating myself, monk68. Sorry! But I hope you can help me sort through this.

Scott said...

@Brian: I'm not monk68, but I'll hop in here anyway in hopes of having something helpful to say. I've only just read the passage myself, so the following is based on a first look and subject to all manner of correction.

"He attempts to solve this dilemma, but I don't understand it!"

In the paragraph immediately after the last one you've quoted, Rev. Smith explains the "radical difference between the assent of divine faith and the assent given under the circumstances above described." That difference is that in the case described, one's motive for believing is the evidence, whereas in the case of "divine faith," one's motive is that "God, who is infallible, has said it." He describes it as the difference between relying on one's own human knowledge and relying on God's divine authority.

The idea is supposed to be (adapting his own analogy) that the torch is initially lit by the exercise of reason, but thereafter burns on its own: the fire is started by reason, but once lit its fuel is divine authority.

It's a bit like learning through the exercise of reason that your doctor is a reliable authority, and thereafter taking his medical advice based solely on the fact that you trust him personally. "Reason has led [you] to faith" in your doctor.

That's my initial reading, anyway. Hope it helps.

Scott said...

Incidentally, that also seems to me to be what monk68 is getting at when he writes: "The impulse of divine grace, while adding nothing to the objective grounds for faith, can bring about a subjective confidence and adherence to revelatory claims which might not exist without the influence of divine grace. Divine faith is an operative habit within the human subject."

rank sophist said...

Anon at 2:33 AM,

Then, what is wrong with fideism?

Keep in mind that I'm just arguing about what Aquinas actually said and believed, here. I'm not trying to make a point of my own.

In any case, fideism is condemned as heresy by the Catholic church--so, if you're a Catholic, you can't be a fideist. Further, Aquinas was not a fideist. He clearly approves of using reason to rationalize and elaborate on the faith.

Glenn,

You have asserted that taking another's word for something one does not fully understand is at the core of most reasoning. Curiosity now leads me to ask three questions.

Again, I'm just trying to clarify what Aquinas thought and said, particularly through the filter of his Augustinianism. This is an argument about exegesis; not an argument about what I believe. As a result, I hope you'll forgive me for not answering your questions, because they aren't relevant to the argument.

David,

Does Aquinas leave room for the possibility that some non-Christian philosophers may know truth in some cases by supernatural revelation?

I'm not sure. From my reading, it seems unlikely. Could be wrong, though.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Someone claims to receive a message from God, and to be an authority figure whose pronouncements are true. Should I believe him or not? In other words, how does one discriminate between genuine authority figures and deceptive authority figures without some standard to differentiate between them?

Augustine wondered the same thing: "Here again arises a very difficult question. For in what way shall we fools be able to find a wise man, whereas this name, although hardly any one dare openly, yet most men lay claim to indirectly: so disagreeing one with another in the very matters, in the knowledge of which wisdom consists, as that it must needs be that either none of them, or but some certain one be wise?" (On the Profit of Believing 28)

Augustine's opinion is that belief is the only path out of this problem. So he says: "Rightly therefore has it been ordained by the majesty of the Catholic system of teaching, that they who approach unto religion be before all things persuaded to have faith." (Ibid. 29) This fits in with his famous slogan, "Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand" (Tractate 29.6 on John 7:14-18).

If there is no standard beyond the pronouncements of this individual, then you have fideism, which ultimately becomes relativism, because all you have are competing claims of authority with no external standard to differentiate between them.

How can it be relativism if Christianity claims absolute truth through the faith? That's no more relative than the Enlightenment counter-claim to absolute truth through pure reason. Also, fideism is defined by Plantinga (from Wikipedia) as "the exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason and utilized especially in the pursuit of philosophical or religious truth". That isn't what Aquinas, Augustine or the rest believed.

One would first have to be justifiably led to have solid grounds for believing that person as an authority figure, and then his pronouncements can be taken as epistemically indubitable.

This contradicts Aquinas and Augustine, though. In particular, see Augustine's quotes above and ST IIb q2 a10 from Aquinas.

Sometimes the truth is aesthetically displeasing to many, and emotionally repugnant. However, the truth is never logically inconsistent or violates fundamental principles of reason and rationality.

The Christian belief is that the truth cannot be aesthetically displeasing or repugnant in any way, because truth is interconvertible with goodness, beauty, nobility, etc. But I don't think anyone brought up aesthetics, so I'm not sure why you mentioned it.

dguller said...

What does Aquinas mean by “faith”? He says that “faith is a habit of the mind, whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent” (ST II-II, q1, a1).

By “non-apparent”, he means the assent to a claim that is unknown by the intellect and unseen by the senses: “Wherefore it is evident that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen either by the senses or by the intellect” (ST II-II, q1, a4). Therefore, the articles of faith cannot be demonstrated by either intellective or discursive reason, and cannot be observed empirically. If they cannot be confirmed rationally or empirically, then how do they become accepted by the mind at all?

A good clue is where Aquinas says that faith is a “habit” (ST II-II, q1, a4, ad3), and “[s]uch a habit is living faith” (ST II-II, q4, a5). That implies that it is something that we come to believe in the course of some kind of practice or activity. In other words, it is only by living and breathing a form of life involving certain religious practices and activities that one’s overall mentality and perspective changes to the point that one can see the truth of the articles of faith.

In this account, the will is of paramount importance. Aquinas says that “to believe is an act of the intellect inasmuch as the will moves it to assent” (ST II-II, q4, a2). So, faith does not come from the intellect discovering the truth using its own resources, but rather that one wills to live one’s life according to the dictates of faith, which forms a cognitive and behavioral disposition that orients the intellect into the direction of recognizing the articles of faith as true.

This is an interesting account, because it presupposes that those who do not live their lives truthfully within the Christian tradition will be cognitively unable to understand the articles of faith properly at all. It also implies a fundamentally action-oriented account of the mind’s ability to recognize the truths of faith, meaning that it is volitional conduct that is the key to the mental transformation involved in faith.

Brandon said...

I didn't confuse them, though. I'm fully aware of the distinction. Sacred doctrine is the method of elaborating on what Christians already believe--namely, Scripture and the articles of faith.

Except that you did: your immediate response about what the dispute was, was in terms of 'the faith', and you then only discussed sacred doctrine, which is related to it as scientia to intelligentia. But this is precisely the confusion that Tony was worried about. That you still don't realize this merely underlines the point I was making: your response to Tony was too glib, involving the same confusion he was asking the question about.

I'm merely repeating Aquinas's argument from ST I q1 a5. Don't shoot the messenger. I'm aware that he calls God's knowledge a "science" in ST I q1 a2, although what exactly he means by this is up for debate.

Nonsense, on both points. Aquinas explicitly refers to divine science in 1.1.5, and, what is more, his entire argument depends on the concept. If "what exactly he means by this is up for debate" then you have no way of interpreting 1.1.5, because it is the linchpin of that very argument: the conclusion in 1.1.5 cannot be derived without 1.1.2. The nobility of sacred doctrine is explicitly the derivative nobility it inherits from divine science. If you really regard the meaning of the foundational concept for understanding sacred doctrine is in dispute, you have no business pretending to have a definite interpretation of sacred doctrine itself. What's more, there doesn't actually seem to be any such dispute. We have an entire question on scientia divina (1.14), for instance, so it's not really difficult to figure out what Aquinas means by the phrase. Where is the dispute? Who is going around saying that when Aquinas talks about scientia divina in question 1 this is completely different from what he is talking about when he talks about scientia divina in question 14?

rank sophist said...

dguller,

You're partly correct, and I agree with much of what you said. However, it must always be remembered that Aquinas saw faith as an effect of grace: it's primarily infused by God (ST IIb q6 a1). The idea that we get faith purely by our own volition is Pelagianism.

Now, my personal understanding of grace is the one that John Cassian sets down in his Conference 13, which prevents Augustinian determinism. Aquinas, though, definitely tended toward an Augustinian view: God presents us with the articles of faith, and God causes us to accept them by infusing us with the habit of faith.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

Except that you did: your immediate response about what the dispute was, was in terms of 'the faith', and you then only discussed sacred doctrine, which is related to it as scientia to intelligentia.

By "the faith", I'm referring to the totality of Christianity--i.e. "the [Christian] faith" broadly conceived. On the other hand, when I'm talking about the objects of faith, I refer to "the principles of sacred doctrine" (i.e. the "first principles") or "Scripture and the articles of faith". When I refer to sacred doctrine, I call it either sacred doctrine or theology. I apologize if I wasn't clear enough, but I was not at all confused.

If you really regard the meaning of the foundational concept for understanding sacred doctrine is in dispute, you have no business pretending to have a definite interpretation of sacred doctrine itself.

A science is a structure of reasoning from principles to conclusions. If God and the blessed have a science in the same sense that we do, then it follows that they reason from principles to conclusions--which is a contradiction. That's why I said Aquinas's mention of divine "science" was up for debate: it seems like an equivocation, or at best an analogy.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

I admit, though, that I made a mistake in my first response to Tony. I broke my own rule regarding the difference between "the faith" and "faith". That's probably what caused the confusion. Apologies.

Brian said...

Scott, thanks for your reply. I think the answer he provided is neat and moving, in a way, but I don't understand how that resolves the difficulty I am having. How does that difference in motive provide for the freedom of the act of faith? Even though the strength of the evidence intellectually "compels" assent, the believer still has the freedom to choose the motive of that assent? And, more importantly, where does grace come in? Grace is required for assent, but I don't see a clear "in" for grace.

Glenn said...

Rank,

If you prefer not to answer the questions, that's fine.

However, I see no reason to accept that questions having to do with a claim upon which an argument is partly based are irrelevant.

Scott said...

"How does that difference in motive provide for the freedom of the act of faith? Even though the strength of the evidence intellectually 'compels' assent, the believer still has the freedom to choose the motive of that assent? And, more importantly, where does grace come in? Grace is required for assent, but I don't see a clear 'in' for grace."

As I understand his point, it's simply that without grace, I can't give assent from the motive of wanting to believe the God whom I trust.

I don't think he's saying I can choose my motive. I think he's saying that there's a sense in which this assent somehow involves my volition in a way that my assent based strictly on evidence doesn't: even though I come to accept the same belief on more or less the same evidence, in this case the process of my acceptance operates through my will in a way (or to a degree) that it doesn't in the other.

I'm not sure that Rev. Smith is fully clear in what he means by "free," so that's probably the best I can do b way of explicating his point. I expect he's probably just taking for granted that the will is "free" in some relevant sense, and regarding it as sufficient to show that the assent of faith involves the will in a special way that isn't just a matter of different outcomes.

The idea he's trying to put across, I think, is essentially that someone who (say) believes in the Trinity by reasoning that God is infallible and His revelation tells us that the doctrine of the Trinity is true isn't assenting to that belief directly out of a desire to believe what God says.

Your question is whether, and how, assent based on the "desire to believe what God says" is more free than the other sort; it's a good question, and I don't think Rev. Smith quite answers it. But at any rate, he's surely saying that it's in the having of that motive that "grace come[s] in."

Scott said...

And perhaps he's saying (or implicitly presuming) that, having been given by grace the motive to believe what God says because he says it, we then have the choice whether to act on that motive, i.e., whether to give our assent from that motive.

That doesn't seem to me to be quite the same thing as being able to choose our motive, but at the moment I don't think I can articulate the difference clearly.

Glenn said...

Rank,

I'm just trying to clarify what Aquinas thought and said, particularly through the filter of his Augustinianism. This is an argument about exegesis; not an argument about what I believe.

Then why partly base your argument on your beliefs that: a) faith is "taking someone's word for something that you don't fully understand"; and, b) "taking someone's word for something that you don't fully understand" is "the core of most reasoning"?

And if it is clarification of what Aquinas thought and said about faith, why not refer to where he actually says something about it?

o Knowledge can have two meanings: sight or assent. When it refers to sight, it is distinguished from faith.... But, in so far as there is certainty of assent, faith is knowledge, and as such can be called certain knowledge and sight. This appears in the first Epistle to the Corinthians (13:12): "We see now through a glass in a dark manner." And this is what Augustine says: "If it is not unfitting to say that we know that also which we believe to be most certain, it follows from this that it is correct to say that we see with our minds the things which we believe, even though they are not present to our senses." (Here.)

o [W]hen Augustine says (Tract. xl in Joan.: Questions. Evang. ii, qu. 39) that "faith is a virtue whereby we believe what we do not see," and when Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv, 11) that "faith is an assent without research," and when others say that "faith is that certainty of the mind about absent things which surpasses opinion but falls short of science," these all amount to the same as the Apostle's words: "Evidence of things that appear not"[.] (Here.)

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

I did reference passages where Aquinas wrote about such matters, though. Also, I'm not sure what those quotes you provided are supposed to prove. They're simply a reiteration of the point Aquinas was making in the sections I've been citing.

Tony said...

I don't think he's saying I can choose my motive. I think he's saying that there's a sense in which this assent somehow involves my volition in a way that my assent based strictly on evidence doesn't: even though I come to accept the same belief on more or less the same evidence, in this case the process of my acceptance operates through my will in a way (or to a degree) that it doesn't in the other.

Scott, I think that's partly the right way to answer it, but it can be clarified more.

Normally, the intellect assents to propositions that are established by it under the its own natural light - the light of reason operating under its proper internal mode provides the "motive" of assent (using "motive" only by analogy, because it operates as a mover of sorts) all of its own nature: to be shown *why* something is true is to be "complelled" to assent, but the compelling here is not any sort of violence, because the intellect is MADE to assent to such things, that kind of assent is exactly according to its own nature, not apart from or contrary to nature.

When we believe something (in the wholehearted sense, such as "I am a beLIEVer"), the will moves the intellect to assent, by an external instruction to the intellect to assent. This is not the intellect operating under its own natural light.

Faith comes when it is GOD causing the will to move the intellect to assent. God is always and everywhere the first mover who moves the will to operate by inclining toward the good, that is naturally how the will does and must operate. This is not any sort of violence of the will, this is exactly a part of what it means to say that the will moves freely. (The other part is that the will may - with any good other than the all-encompassing total good of the Beatific Vision - repudiate the motion toward the good thus set in motion by God, and refuse to cooperate with His operation in you.)

With faith, God is moving the will to direct the intellect to assent to the truth. This is, again, not violence, the will is moving JUST AS IT IS DESIGNED to move at God's initiation, and it is free to repudiate that motion in a freely chosen act of defiance, a defection from the good. The "motive" of belief is simply God "moving" the will as inclining to and pursuing a good.

This, however, regards "the faith" as a body of discrete propositions. What is also true of the gift of faith is that it is a kind of seeing - through a glass darkly - of God and His Truth as a integral whole, from which the discrete propositions pose as offshoots or branches. This sense of faith, of seeing, is not wholly reducible to propositions.

Scott said...

Tony, thank you for the clarification and elaboration.

Here especially:

"With faith, God is moving the will to direct the intellect to assent to the truth. This is, again, not violence, the will is moving JUST AS IT IS DESIGNED to move at God's initiation, and it is free to repudiate that motion in a freely chosen act of defiance, a defection from the good."

. . . I think you've directly addressed, and answered, Brian's question about what Rev. Smith was trying to say about grace and freedom.

You've also, I think, articulated what I was finding hard to articulate about the difference between "choosing a motive" and choosing whether to act on a motive.

Aquinas3000 said...

Science is certain knowledge of things in their causes. Science properly consists in the certain conclusions about the object of the science. God possesses certain knowledge of things in their causes. That we require reasoning in order to obtain science (certain knowledge)is incidental to us. It is not part of the notion of what science is.

I find references to the expression "pure reason" confusing. As if reason by itself without reliance on supernatural revelation could never attain anything with certainty. In the realm of metaphysics it most certainly can. It can also do so in mathematics. Revelation can act as a "negative guiding principle." If, granted that God truly made a revelation saying "X" and your philosophical speculation said something different you could know that you've gone off the path. But if it is a genuine revelation is not going to say something that contradicts anything that can be certainly established by reason such as a manifest contradiction in terms. If it did you could use that as a reason to reject the so called revelation as spurious. But as truth does not contradict truth then no rational argument can actually disprove what we know via revelation.

Christian said...

Hey Dr. Feser,

I know you have said in many other posts that it would take an essay of its own to explain why you chose Catholicism over other religions when you came back to theism. In light of this post about grace and nature, I was wondering if you could post in the near future about why you chose Catholicism? I know I and many other readers would enjoy it. :)

James said...

“In any case, fideism is condemned as heresy by the Catholic church--”

What is your source for this claim?

rank sophist said...

James,

Sure. It was anathematized at the First Vatican Council:

If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.

BenYachov said...

You beat me to the punch RS.

Anyway here is an article on Fideism from the Catholic Encylopedia.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06068b.htm

BenYachov said...

A feature of fideism is it teaches that all religious knowledge can only be known by Faith and that it is somehow impious to employ reason at any level.

Daniel Smith said...

If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.

That has to be a misquote. How can an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient being be "known with certainty"?

Now if they mean that some things about God can be known with certainty, then count me in! But to say that GOD can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason doesn't make sense.

rank sophist said...

Ben,

Ha! I didn't think that anyone else would be responding to James.

Daniel,

It isn't a misquote. It also isn't a particularly radical statement. It's just a paraphrase of Romans 1:20: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse". That is to say, God may be known through his effects. This is John Chrysostom's interpretation of Romans 1:20 as well:

Did ye then not hear the heaven sending forth a voice by the sight, while the well-ordered harmony of all things spoke out more clearly than a trumpet? [...] All things abiding in order and by their beauty and their grandeur, preaching aloud of the Creator? [... Yet] it was not to bereave them of all excuse, that He set before them so great a system of teaching, but that they might come to know Him. (Homily 3 on Romans)

To say that God can't be known from his effects is to reject both tradition and Scripture. Obviously, though, neither Paul nor Chrysostom intend to say that everything about God can be known from his effects. Vatican I clearly wasn't saying that, either.

Brian said...

It might help to specify that what the Church teaches is that [existence] of God can be known with certainty. In this, she is just following classical philosophy and Scripture.

James said...

rank sophist: Thanks. I thought that was the likely source. Problem is, it doesn’t actually mention fideism, does it? In fact, not once does the word ‘fideism’ appear in the canons of the first Vatican Council. There needs to be some reflection on what the word has historically been used to mean. I can think of several paradigmatically fideistic positions that don’t commit to the view anathematized by the passage you cite. They may still be errors, as, for example, those referenced in Fides et Ratio, but to suppose ‘fideism’ as such is heresy is wildly wide of the mark as far as I can see.

Tony said...

That has to be a misquote. How can an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient being be "known with certainty"?

Now if they mean that some things about God can be known with certainty, then count me in! But to say that GOD can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason doesn't make sense.


Daniel, I think you are basically right that the Council didn't mean "know God" in full. I like to think of it as the difference between knowing someone and knowing of them. I can be certain, for example, that Barack Obama exists and is the most politically powerful man in America, without actually knowing HIM. I can read about him in papers, watch his speeches on TV, i.e. use *evidence* regarding him without ever actually meeting the man much less getting to "know him" personally. Similarly, I can know God exists and that he is the cause of all other being through the evidence of caused things without getting to know Him personally.

Christ said to his apostles "I call you friends, for that is what you are." And this friendship with God requires grace (if nothing else, because friendship requires a kind of equality, and we cannot be equal to the Godhead in any sense on our own natural powers). Yet without grace we can know OF his existence and his basic divine attributes of goodness, omnipotence, etc through the evidence he provides in creation. No, that kind of knowledge is not sufficient to say we "know God" simply speaking, nor enough to be saved, but it's a lot more than the atheists admit.

The Vatican Council did not mean, by "know God" in the sense of the fullness of knowledge which requires grace, but the kind of remote knowledge about him from natural evidence, which still provides certain knowledge.

Daniel Smith said...

rank sophist: To say that God can't be known from his effects is to reject both tradition and Scripture. Obviously, though, neither Paul nor Chrysostom intend to say that everything about God can be known from his effects. Vatican I clearly wasn't saying that, either.

That makes sense then. The phrasing threw me. When they say that "God" (full stop) can be "known with certainty" it sounds like they mean that everything there is to know about God can be discovered through creation.

Of course if that were true, then creation would be equal to God so...

Joe K. said...

(Sorry, Ed; I screwed up the italics; I had to delete the comments and repost.)

Rank,

Sorry, I've been busy with school and family and stuff. But, I'm not totally sure how what you wrote is a response to my question(s).

This would seem to imply that the truth can be separated from Christian tradition, though. As Aquinas and most (all?) of the Church Fathers affirmed, the only truth is the one revealed through Christianity. Other traditions are greater or lesser approximations of ours. We know that this or that philosopher was correct because what he said is in line with our absolutely certain truth; not because what he said is magically true without reference to Christianity.

I don't think what I wrote implies that truth can be separate from the Christian tradition. The Christian tradition just represents the whole truth. But being able to acquire truth without revelation or the aid of Christianity is hardly the claim that the "truth" is somehow some separate thing. I'm not even sure where this is coming from. "Murder is immoral" is a truth, even in 500 BC, before Christianity hit the scene. All I'm talking about is access to truth, not what makes truth true (whatever this might mean). My point was merely that we wouldn't even begin to Know it was Absolutely certain, one way or the other, without the aid of reason.

I'm describing the traditional viewpoint held by Augustine, Aquinas and the rest. It is not fideism. The idea that truth is independent of Christianity--that Christianity is somehow "less than" and "determined by" the truth itself--comes from the Enlightenment, which gave us the myth that "pure reason" detached from all belief could find the truth. This could not be further removed from the Christian understanding. Augustine sums up our view nicely: "[W]e were too weak to discover the truth by pure reasoning and therefore needed the authority of the sacred writings" (Confessions VI. v (8)).

Again, I've no idea where this is coming from. Even Augustine in that quote uses the verb "discover," which implies that it's some thing we uncover or find, that it's invisible to us until we come upon it. I agree that discovering the whole truth is absolutely impossible without Christian revelation, as there are many truths that cannot be known without revelation, but this is not the same, at all, as saying "no truth can be discovered without the aid of Christian revelation." Which makes me want to ask ask, you say it's not fideism, but you don't explain why it's not. Can you explain the difference between the two as you've described them here? I think that might help.

And by Christianity, I am clearly referring to the actual Christian tradition. What Christ did in first-century Israel and what his followers were shown afterward. Which, I guess, leads me to my next point. What do you mean when you say that Christianity causes something to be true?

Joe K. said...

On a related note, Aquinas states in ST IIb q2 a10 that human reason diminishes the merit of faith if one believes on the basis of demonstrations. Perfect faith operates "not on account of human reason, but on account of the Divine authority." On the other hand, rationalizing the faith after one already believes "is a sign of greater merit".

I mean, I don't disagree. But if Christian authority held tomorrow that they were wrong in the past and God is not one, but is merely a collection of alien-like beings, I would say, "Well, you're wrong, because we Know that God is one." And we couldn't even begin to Evaluate the claim by Christian authority unless we first knew that God is one. Again, this isn't any sort of claim that truth is some separate thing. I'm merely describing how we'd, as humans, even be able to Be religious in the first place. (Incidentally, a lot of Christians who claim authority (mostly through the holy spirit) say things like "abortion is morally permissible" or "homosexual activity is morally permissible." I can immediately dismiss them as not-authoritative because they are simply wrong.)

Christianity is not a metaphysical claim, though. According to Aquinas, we're built on a set of revelations supposedly above reason, which allow us to judge all other sciences.

Even if I accepted it to be true (which I probably do, assuming I understand it correctly), it wouldn't have any bearing on my major point here. That is, even if it is something above reason that gives reason the power for us to attain truth, it wouldn't follow that reason isn't the thing we use to attain some part of truth. It would still be true that reason allows us to attain truth, and if a revelation is directly contrary to that truth we can attain, we would rightly say it is falsehood. As I would against atheism or scientology or any revealed religion that says God does not exist (or is many) or that the killing of innocents is a good.

rank sophist said...

Joe,

I'd like to ask you and whoever else is reading this to remember that my arguments below, once again, are not necessarily my personal beliefs. Everything I say in the following post is my analysis of Aquinas's actual position. Just thought I'd get that out of the way to avoid confusion.

I don't think what I wrote implies that truth can be separate from the Christian tradition. The Christian tradition just represents the whole truth. But being able to acquire truth without revelation or the aid of Christianity is hardly the claim that the "truth" is somehow some separate thing. I'm not even sure where this is coming from. "Murder is immoral" is a truth, even in 500 BC, before Christianity hit the scene. All I'm talking about is access to truth, not what makes truth true (whatever this might mean). My point was merely that we wouldn't even begin to Know it was Absolutely certain, one way or the other, without the aid of reason.

Let me try to explain.

"Murder is immoral" is the end of a line of reasoning approved by many philosophers and cultures. But some philosophers and cultures disagree. The problem is: how do you tell who's right and who's wrong? According to Aquinas and Augustine, it certainly isn't through your natural reasoning ability. Humans do not have a lot of intelligence, and even the most legendary philosophers are prone to errors and disagreements. Human reason "for the most part has falsity present within it" (SCG b1 ch4.5). We are groping in the dark. Our natural reasoning powers are far too weak to establish absolute certainty on most subjects.

Obviously, "murder is immoral" has always been true. But it isn't true because it's self-evident, or because we can deduce it logically, or anything else like that. It's true because it is a part of Christian revelation. It just happens to be the case that this aspect of Christian revelation can be demonstrated logically, which is why others before us knew of it. And yet still others didn't subscribe to it, on the basis of arguments. The only reason that we know who was correct is Christian revelation, which provided us with absolute certainty in place of our previous blind floundering. Without revelation, we could argue in circles forever.

rank sophist said...

Again, I've no idea where this is coming from. Even Augustine in that quote uses the verb "discover," which implies that it's some thing we uncover or find, that it's invisible to us until we come upon it. I agree that discovering the whole truth is absolutely impossible without Christian revelation, as there are many truths that cannot be known without revelation, but this is not the same, at all, as saying "no truth can be discovered without the aid of Christian revelation." Which makes me want to ask ask, you say it's not fideism, but you don't explain why it's not. Can you explain the difference between the two as you've described them here? I think that might help.

Fideism, as I understand it, is irrationalism with regard to faith. That is, it is the belief that faith and reason are opposed and that irrational faith is superior. It is marked by the wholesale rejection of logic. The view of Augustine, Aquinas and others is simply skepticism regarding the power of unaided reason: it is by no means a wholesale rejection.

No one said that no truth can be discovered without Christian revelation. What Augustine and Aquinas are trying to get across is that human reason is so flawed that we cannot have absolute certainty of most positions without revelation. Even the people who happened to discover the truth through natural reason were enmeshed in error, and many disagreed with their (true) beliefs. Almost everything was open to doubt. Hence Aquinas states that theology "properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof", and that anything within philosophy (or other sciences) "contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false". This is because revelation alone is absolutely certain, and so any deduction of human reason that contradicts it must be considered mistaken. The opinions of the philosophers are "extrinsic and probable": theology "has no concern to prove the principles of other sciences, but only to judge of them".

And by Christianity, I am clearly referring to the actual Christian tradition. What Christ did in first-century Israel and what his followers were shown afterward. Which, I guess, leads me to my next point. What do you mean when you say that Christianity causes something to be true?

I think this should be fairly clear from the above. According to Aquinas, the truth or falsehood of most philosophy is uncertain. Christ is the truth embodied. Therefore, Christianity alone, through its revelation, has the absolute authority to judge the truth or falsehood of philosophical claims.

rank sophist said...

But if Christian authority held tomorrow that they were wrong in the past and God is not one, but is merely a collection of alien-like beings, I would say, "Well, you're wrong, because we Know that God is one."

As Aquinas has it, our absolute certainty that God is one derives from Scripture. If a Christian authority contradicts this, then he's obviously wrong. Remember, according to Aquinas, not even the doctors of the church offer more than probable arguments in comparison to Scripture (ST I q1 a8 ro2). Similarly, if a philosopher claims that God is not one, he's obviously wrong. Can we rationalize our belief against his arguments? Yes. For this purpose we make use of the "extrinsic and probable arguments" of other philosophers.

And we couldn't even begin to Evaluate the claim by Christian authority unless we first knew that God is one. Again, this isn't any sort of claim that truth is some separate thing. I'm merely describing how we'd, as humans, even be able to Be religious in the first place.

It certainly isn't because we were able to scrutinize the claims of theology with metaphysics, since a lower science is incapable of judging a higher science. To my knowledge, Aquinas's argument against those who would question divine authority is explicated in the final two paragraphs of the prologue to On the Apostles' Creed. It runs like this.

First, Aquinas says that it's ridiculous to say that we should only believe what we know with certitude. And this is because little of what we know is actually known: most of it is based on the word of others. Second, Aquinas declares that God's word is the most trustworthy, and that God makes his word clear through miracles, just as "a king sends letters signed with his seal". Third, against the people who deny that miracles took place, he offers this argument:

If, however, you would say that no one has witnessed these miracles, I would reply in this manner. It is a fact that the entire world worshipped idols and that the faith of Christ was persecuted, as the histories of the pagans also testify. But now all are turned to Christ—wise men and noble and rich—converted by the words of the poor and simple preachers of Christ. Now, this fact was either miracle or it was not. If it is miraculous, you have what you asked for, a visible fact; if it is not, then there could not be a greater miracle than that the whole world should have been converted without miracles. And we need go no further. We are more certain, therefore, in believing the things of faith than those things which can be seen, because God’s knowledge never deceives us, but the visible sense of man is often in error.

rank sophist said...

Not really a demonstration, but it's something.

(Incidentally, a lot of Christians who claim authority (mostly through the holy spirit) say things like "abortion is morally permissible" or "homosexual activity is morally permissible." I can immediately dismiss them as not-authoritative because they are simply wrong.)

They are wrong because they contradict Scripture. That their positions can be shown to be false logically derives from this more original fact.

That is, even if it is something above reason that gives reason the power for us to attain truth, it wouldn't follow that reason isn't the thing we use to attain some part of truth. It would still be true that reason allows us to attain truth, and if a revelation is directly contrary to that truth we can attain, we would rightly say it is falsehood.

Aquinas agrees that we can attain part of the truth with reason, even if this is mixed with uncertainty. But the idea that we criticize revelation with reason is directly contrary to Aquinas's belief.

Tony said...

But some philosophers and cultures disagree. The problem is: how do you tell who's right and who's wrong? According to Aquinas and Augustine, it certainly isn't through your natural reasoning ability. Humans do not have a lot of intelligence, and even the most legendary philosophers are prone to errors and disagreements. Human reason "for the most part has falsity present within it" (SCG b1 ch4.5). We are groping in the dark. Our natural reasoning powers are far too weak to establish absolute certainty on most subjects.
(snip)
First, Aquinas says that it's ridiculous to say that we should only believe what we know with certitude.

Rank, you're changing the bar on "certitude". More than that, you are changing the bar on whether what we are asking is whether any moral truths are "known" with reason without revelation, or whether are "known with absolute certainty and without an admixture of error". When Aquinas says Human reason "for the most part has falsity present within it", he is referring to truth held with an admixture of error, not falsehood altogether, simple and complete. When men rightly held that murder was wrong, they held that trust rightly alongside other error that allowed them to think that killing deformed infants was OK.

When you say some philosophers and cultures disagree, who's to tell which is right, THE VERY SAME COMPLAINT may be levied against Christians who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture: some Christians hold contraception to be moral, others to be immoral - who's to tell? You are using a problem of one sort to imply a problem of another sort, and it doesn't work.

The mathematicians who rightly deduced the Pythagorean theorem really did know the theorem, even though there are plenty of people who, if you asked them whether the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the sides, would say no. The issue isn't whether those who rightly deduced the truth have been able to convey and convince everyone of their rightness, it is strictly whether they were RIGHT. And they were. One of the most famous mathematicians of the last 60 years made an error on a widely-known math problem - it doesn't mean that the ones who knew the right answer didn't really know it because an "expert" disagreed with them.

Likewise, the philosophers who rightly (with sound metaphysics, physics, and ethics) determined the nature of human virtue without basing it on revealed truth RIGHTLY ascertained those truths, even though they didn't convince everyone else of those truths.

What you are pointing to is that even the truths rightly determined by reason unaided by revelation will be attained with difficulty and therefore will not be widely held. In order for truth to be spread widely, then, revelation was necessary. Which Aquinas says explicitly.

Daniel Smith said...

Hence Aquinas states that theology "properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof", and that anything within philosophy (or other sciences) "contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false".

As Aquinas has it, our absolute certainty that God is one derives from Scripture. If a Christian authority contradicts this, then he's obviously wrong. Remember, according to Aquinas, not even the doctors of the church offer more than probable arguments in comparison to Scripture (ST I q1 a8 ro2).

It sounds like Aquinas and Luther had a lot in common!

The question remains, how can I know - with certainty - who has received revelation from God and who hasn't?

It would seem, in the end, that each one of us is accountable to God for our own level of revelation. And, that each one of us is responsible for discerning whether someone else's claimed revelation is valid.

This kind of leaves "church authority" out in the cold - since each church must be scrutinized through our own revelation.

Of course, our revelation could be wrong...

So, how do we know anything (re: divine revelation) with certainty?

Tony said...

Obviously, "murder is immoral" has always been true. But it isn't true because it's self-evident, or because we can deduce it logically, or anything else like that. It's true because it is a part of Christian revelation.

Well, that's a really weird way of saying it, and I think we can be forgiven for not assenting to it right away. If what you mean is "we KNOW it's true because of Christian revelation", that would be closer to the mark. But still not accurate. Closer still would be "we affirm it is true with faith, full confidence and with certainty because of revelation (which includes the revelation of the Law to the Jews)", but of course that affirmation out of faith is not "knowledge", it is faith.

The philosophers who affirmed it as known truth before Christ, from true philosophy, could rightly say they knew it to be true, even if their assent, and their certainty was of a lesser quality than that which we have with faith. The things we know demonstratively by reason we "know" in the proper sense of "know", and to know is to know with certainty. But there are different degrees or qualities of certainty even so: we know the principle of non-contradiction even more certainly than we know most derivative truths. The fact that the assent of faith is more firm than the assent of truths known certainly by reason does not imply that they are not known with certainty.

What Augustine and Aquinas are trying to get across is that human reason is so flawed that we cannot have absolute certainty of most positions without revelation.

Only if by "absolute certainty" you mean the kind of certainty that one has by faith. Which kind of certainty is foreign to the sort of certainty of the mind operating under the natural light of reasoning on naturally known truth, but does not preclude NATURAL certainty in the least. And that natural certainty is the correct correlate for the term "knowledge".

And, by the way, the "absolute certainty" of faith is eclipsed again by still higher forms of ascertaining truth: God's knowledge (that in virtue of which we assent to the faith) is higher than our certitude in faith. Also, the certitude of the blessed in the Beatific Vision exceeds our certainty here below: they see clearly, without any veil or dark glass, and thus the certitude of direct unimpeded vision is higher than the certitude of faith. Thus faith will pass away.

Tony said...

The question remains, how can I know - with certainty - who has received revelation from God and who hasn't?

It would seem, in the end, that each one of us is accountable to God for our own level of revelation. And, that each one of us is responsible for discerning whether someone else's claimed revelation is valid.


Daniel, if "revealed truths" originated solely by way of specific propositions which were revealed as propositions, your difficulty might be a grave one. But faith is more than that. In faith God moves us not merely to assent to specific propositions, but rather to adhere to Him Who is Truth, whole and complete. Thus our faith is in Christ who speaks the Word of the Father.

Now, the proposal for you to accept "the faith" comes (for most of us, though not for St. Paul) from the testimony of men: "faith comes through hearing". It is not that your faith is PRIMARILY in the things you hear from men whose testimony you credit with the assent of faith, it is that the proposal, the opportunity comes by hearing the testimony of men, but the gift itself comes from God, and the faith is faith in God. "Man proposes, God disposes" is one way of saying it.

Once God moves you to assent by faith, then there will necessarily be individual propositions which represent specific truths that must be true as revealed because they conform properly to the faith given by God. Yet, since man receives the gift of faith with more or less complete obedience, more or less perfect submission, more or less total conversion, and because we cannot discern our own complex motives and our own choices with perfect certainty, those of us who are imperfect must rely on a sure guide outside ourselves in discerning the right ways to express the truths which God reveals to us "through a glass darkly", ways that are (even when incomplete) not fraught with outright error. Which men do we trust? We trust the God-Man himself, Christ. Jesus said of his apostles "he who hears you hears Me." And he said to Peter "strengthen your brothers." Thus Christ, for the benefit of men of faith who needs strengthening, left behind a humanly visible authority to keep the faith as expressed in specific statements free from error. If Peter and the apostles operated in that authority by their own perfections alone, we would indeed have to ask "by what prior assent can I know I can trust Peter?" But Christ does not tell us to trust Peter because of Peter's own perfections, but because He Himself (by the Holy Spirit) protects Peter's teaching.

Thus our faith, which relies on the guidance handed to us through men, does not constitute FAITH IN MEN, but faith in God who tells us to rely on those men.

Brandon said...

As Aquinas has it, our absolute certainty that God is one derives from Scripture.

Joe K.'s choice of 'God is one' was very precisely chosen. Aquinas is quite clear that 'God is one' is demonstratively provable by reason as a preamble of faith, and says so explicitly (e.g., in Super De Trin). This is precisely Joe K.'s point in bringing it up, though.

Your entire response is somewhat unfortunate, because it seems to confuse certainty with certitude. Aquinas doesn't have the modernistic obsession with 'absolute certainty' that you seem to be attributing to him; even his 'certitudo' doesn't strict mean the same as our word 'certainty', since it has more to do with how well-founded something is. Two things can be equally certain in our sense and still one have more certitudo than the other, if it has a stronger foundation. Thus obviously anything genuinely founded on divine reason has more certitudo than anything founded on human reason, because divine intellect is infinitely superior to human intellect. But this doesn't have anything to do with our subjective certainty, i.e., our firmness of assent.

Daniel Smith said...

Tony,

As I read your words I find myself in complete agreement that our faith is in Christ - not men, and that men are here merely as instruments of Christ to help us along the way.

But...

It still doesn't answer my question as to how we can know whether Christ is actually in this man or that man.

The apostolic succession argument is lost on me given the sheer number of 'bad' popes. I also cannot accept that Christ's words to Peter pertain to a physical institution. I believe the church to be a spiritual institution. And I believe, wholeheartedly, that that belief came through Christ living in me, as a divine revelation, consistent with the totality of scriptural teaching on the subject.

It seems obvious that the only true authorities in the church are those who actually have Christ living in them - not just those who hold some office.

To discern who they are is a task that, IMO, can only be accomplished by Christ in me.

So, I guess it's "all Christ, all the time" - and that is the only answer that I will 100% agree with. But... How can I know for certain that the Christ in me (and I believe Christ really lives in me) is the same Christ that lives in you or other men - especially given our obvious disagreements?

rank sophist said...

Tony,

More than that, you are changing the bar on whether what we are asking is whether any moral truths are "known" with reason without revelation, or whether are "known with absolute certainty and without an admixture of error". When Aquinas says Human reason "for the most part has falsity present within it", he is referring to truth held with an admixture of error, not falsehood altogether, simple and complete. When men rightly held that murder was wrong, they held that trust rightly alongside other error that allowed them to think that killing deformed infants was OK.

I wasn't trying to give the impression that Aquinas saw human reason as being false altogether. All I was trying to say was that Aquinas saw our reason as a combination of truth and error, and that he didn't believe that we were intelligent enough to tell between the two most of the time. We believed errors with as much certainty as we did truths. This is more-or-less what Augustine says as well in Confessions VI. v (7-8). So, yes; we believed murder to be wrong but simultaneously found it moral to expose infants. And that was just in Greece and Rome. Far more horrifying and barbaric practices existed elsewhere, such as South America. Yet, the South American peoples were hardly idiots, as their writings, architecture and art attest. They clearly used reason, and some of their reasoning (given their scientific discoveries) was correct. But it had more than its share of error. Case in point: human sacrifice.

When you say some philosophers and cultures disagree, who's to tell which is right, THE VERY SAME COMPLAINT may be levied against Christians who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture: some Christians hold contraception to be moral, others to be immoral - who's to tell? You are using a problem of one sort to imply a problem of another sort, and it doesn't work.

Aquinas was not a Scriptural inerrantist, at least in the fundamentalist sense. In line with the Church Fathers, he believed that Scripture was infallible but that its truth was not necessarily apparent. As Gregory of Nyssa said while commentating on man's creation: "The true answer to this question, indeed, perhaps only the very Truth knows: but this is what we, tracing out the truth so far as we are capable by conjectures and inferences, apprehend concerning the matter" (On the Making of Man 16.4). Also, you seem to think that I'm the one making the argument about the philosophers contradicting each other. I'm not. That's from Augustine (see the passages cited above) and Aquinas (see ST IIb q2 a4 and SCG b1 ch4.5, among others).

One of the most famous mathematicians of the last 60 years made an error on a widely-known math problem - it doesn't mean that the ones who knew the right answer didn't really know it because an "expert" disagreed with them.

I didn't say that they didn't know it. I was saying that falsehood and truth are often confused by the faulty human intellect, so what's really known (truth) and what only appears to be known (falsehood) cannot be distinguished. This situation leads to paralyzing uncertainty, as Augustine tells us again and again.

Likewise, the philosophers who rightly (with sound metaphysics, physics, and ethics) determined the nature of human virtue without basing it on revealed truth RIGHTLY ascertained those truths, even though they didn't convince everyone else of those truths.

They didn't even convince each other, as Augustine and Aquinas regularly point out. They all disagreed with each other. Even the wisest philosopher is benighted without revelation. But everyone agrees that the philosophers were correct when they discovered truths compatible with our faith--Augustine makes this point very clearly in Christian Doctrine b2 ch40.60.

rank sophist said...

In order for truth to be spread widely, then, revelation was necessary. Which Aquinas says explicitly.

This is one of Aquinas's arguments for the necessity of revelation. The disagreement of the philosophers and the fallibility of the human intellect is another one of his arguments--which he borrowed, in particular, from Augustine.

Well, that's a really weird way of saying it, and I think we can be forgiven for not assenting to it right away. If what you mean is "we KNOW it's true because of Christian revelation", that would be closer to the mark. But still not accurate. Closer still would be "we affirm it is true with faith, full confidence and with certainty because of revelation (which includes the revelation of the Law to the Jews)", but of course that affirmation out of faith is not "knowledge", it is faith.

I don't disagree with you. It's just semantics, though. The point I was trying to make to Joe stands even in your second reformulation.

The philosophers who affirmed it as known truth before Christ, from true philosophy, could rightly say they knew it to be true, even if their assent, and their certainty was of a lesser quality than that which we have with faith.

I agree. But other philosophers had just as much certainty about positions that directly contradicted those of true philosophy. Hence Augustine's terror and uncertainty when he tried to learn the truth through philosophy: the fallible human intellect is often incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Brandon,

Aquinas is quite clear that 'God is one' is demonstratively provable by reason as a preamble of faith, and says so explicitly (e.g., in Super De Trin).

He says that the proposition "God is one" can be demonstrated in the ST as well. This is not news to me.

Your entire response is somewhat unfortunate, because it seems to confuse certainty with certitude. Aquinas doesn't have the modernistic obsession with 'absolute certainty' that you seem to be attributing to him

Have you read Augustine? He had that obsession. It was Augustine, in fact, who first devised Descartes's proof of one's own existence, in order to argue against the Academics. Aquinas was massively influenced by Augustine, and his comments about certainty reflect that influence.

rank sophist said...

Daniel,

The question remains, how can I know - with certainty - who has received revelation from God and who hasn't?

It would seem, in the end, that each one of us is accountable to God for our own level of revelation. And, that each one of us is responsible for discerning whether someone else's claimed revelation is valid.


"Revelation" in the sense I'm using it is just another synonym for the truths of Scripture. Aquinas did not put a lot of faith in personal revelations. He was even skeptical about the personal revelations of the doctors of the church. He quotes Augustine on this point:

"Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning."

The primacy of private revelation is a heresy of Luther's.

Also, Tony's response to your concern was great. I fully agree with him.

Brandon said...

He says that the proposition "God is one" can be demonstrated in the ST as well. This is not news to me.

But yet again you ignored precisely this, which was the entire foundation of Joe K.'s argument. Again, whenever people raise qualifications or nuances to your claims, you respond with glib handwaving that does not address their actual points. This is becoming a pattern.

As your claims about Augustine: The subject of the relation between Augustinianism and Cartesianism is actually an area in which I can undeniably claim to be an expert; I did my dissertation work on Malebranche, the most Augustinian of the Cartesians, I've looked specifically at Augustinian influences in Malebranche, and yes, I have read Augustine, and most of the literature on the relation between Augustine and Descartes. The influence of Augustine on the Cartesians is undeniable, but this does not make your case. Augustine's arguments are not Cartesian arguments; they are Platonist arguments, and they are concerned not with certainty and uncertainty, which is primarily a question raised by early modern skepticism especially post-Montaigne, but with truth and verisimilitude, the major question raised by the New Academy. With certain assumptions you can get from one to the other, but that does not make them the same, nor does it mean that one can uncontroversially move from one to the other on a given point. Reading Augustine in Cartesian terms is a good way to have a sympathetic understanding of the Cartesians; it is a poor way to understand Augustine's issues in dealing with Academic skepticism.

Moreover, this doesn't help much at all in the case of Aquinas, because Aquinas does not extensively draw on Augustine on these points. You might have an argument if we were talking about Scotus, who does draw on Augustine on precisely these points; but you cannot simply argue "Augustine influenced Descartes; Augustine influenced Aquinas; therefore Aquinas's Augustinianism are like Descartes's." This is an inference that fails at almost every point: the influences are not very comparable, the Cartesians go Platonist most places Aquinas goes Aristotelian, etc. And bringing up the Cartesians in this context simply confirms my point: this is a modern, post-Cartesian, concern that you are reading back into Aquinas.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

I was not saying that Augustine was a Cartesian. Where did I come even remotely close to making that claim? I said that Augustine had a fear of uncertainty generally associated with modernists. This led him to devise Descartes's argument to proves one's own existence.

Augustine's arguments are not Cartesian arguments; they are Platonist arguments, and they are concerned not with certainty and uncertainty, which is primarily a question raised by early modern skepticism especially post-Montaigne, but with truth and verisimilitude, the major question raised by the New Academy.

I'm not entirely sure how fear of the inaccessibility of the truth and fear of uncertainty are different. If there's a subtle distinction here, then I've missed it. My point all along has been that both Augustine and Aquinas saw the truth as something real but were skeptical of our natural ability to know it with certainty. This concern underlies Confessions VI. v (7-8) and numerous passages from Aquinas.

Obviously, I wasn't claiming that Aquinas and Augustine thought that we shouldn't believe anything that wasn't absolutely certain: both of them make arguments (which I posted earlier) against that idea. Rather, they thought that our reasoning ability was too weak to reach the truth without making a ton of invisible mistakes in the process.

Moreover, this doesn't help much at all in the case of Aquinas, because Aquinas does not extensively draw on Augustine on these points.

But he does, as I've been trying to show throughout this entire combox. If you would like to argue against my case, then by all means proceed. Dismissing it out of hand and without argument is not a good use of anyone's time, though.

Brian said...

Daniel, within your paradigm, there are no answers to the questions you asked. A whole website is devoted to those questions in the context of Protestant-Catholic dialogue:

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/

Daniel Smith said...

rank sophist: "Revelation" in the sense I'm using it is just another synonym for the truths of Scripture. Aquinas did not put a lot of faith in personal revelations. He was even skeptical about the personal revelations of the doctors of the church. He quotes Augustine on this point:

"Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning."

The primacy of private revelation is a heresy of Luther's.

But how do we know the truths of the scripture if not through personal revelation?

Augustine says that he only trusts the canonical authors - so it would appear that the truth of scripture - for him at least - does not come from the doctors of the church but from his own reading of the primary scriptures.

Man has several interpretations of each scripture (Augustine's being one, Aquinas' being another), but only God knows the right one. It would seem then that I would need personal revelation from God to know which one is right.

In fact, isn't all religion personal? Isn't that what we're doing here - discussing our own personal revelations? What other kind of divine revelation is there - corporate?

Anonymous said...

So, at least in your case, all personal revelation is divine? Hmmmmmm, that must be very satisfying.

Daniel Smith said...

So, at least in your case, all personal revelation is divine? Hmmmmmm, that must be very satisfying.

That's an absurd conclusion to draw from what I've said.

Why would I be asking how we can know whose revelations are correct if I thought that ALL personal revelations were divine?

No - what I'm saying is that all revelation is personal - only that which comes from God is divine.

The question is - how do we distinguish what's of God and what isn't?

Anonymous said...

I fail to see how my observation is absurd. I wrote "at least in your case". I wasn't including the personal revelation of others, just yours. Also, my comment wasn't meant to be insulting. It seems that any "personal revelation" YOU claim is automatically justified as divine in your own view. I admit the practice would be satisfying.

Daniel Smith said...

I fail to see how my observation is absurd. I wrote "at least in your case". I wasn't including the personal revelation of others, just yours. Also, my comment wasn't meant to be insulting. It seems that any "personal revelation" YOU claim is automatically justified as divine in your own view. I admit the practice would be satisfying.

Sorry, I misunderstood your meaning.

In MY case - no - I don't think all revelation is divine. I'm not sure about a lot of things - even things I thought were 'divine revelations' years ago.

It's kinda why I'm asking these questions.

rank sophist said...

Daniel,

But how do we know the truths of the scripture if not through personal revelation?

Augustine says that he only trusts the canonical authors - so it would appear that the truth of scripture - for him at least - does not come from the doctors of the church but from his own reading of the primary scriptures.

Man has several interpretations of each scripture (Augustine's being one, Aquinas' being another), but only God knows the right one. It would seem then that I would need personal revelation from God to know which one is right.

In fact, isn't all religion personal? Isn't that what we're doing here - discussing our own personal revelations? What other kind of divine revelation is there - corporate?


The Catholic and Orthodox solution to this problem is the certainty derived from the motion of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox view of the Holy Tradition, to my knowledge, is that it was protected from total error by the Holy Spirit. The Catholic view, to my knowledge, is that the magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit. For a Protestant, though, your worries are well founded. Without the solidarity of tradition, you're pretty much stuck with religious individualism.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: IOW, it seems as if there is a divine assurance given to us when Christ takes up residence in our hearts. This assurance sometimes flies in the face of reason

Certainly, but it doesn't actually "fly in the face" of reason. As you said, the martyrs were strengthened — grace builds on nature: it can strengthen our reason, but it doesn't destroy our rationality to replace it with irrationality. Talk of "the foolishness of God" is a figure of speech. God's ways are not literally foolish, as though they did not make sense or could not be understood by the intellect, but they can appear that way if you evaluate them only from a worldly perspective. Paul says as much in the passage you quoted: "Not many of you were wise by human standards". The problem is the yardstick, not the use of reason itself.

Glenn said...

Rank,

The Catholic and Orthodox solution to this problem is the certainty derived from the motion of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox view of the Holy Tradition, to my knowledge, is that it was protected from total error by the Holy Spirit. The Catholic view, to my knowledge, is that the magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit. For a Protestant, though, your worries are well founded. Without the solidarity of tradition, you're pretty much stuck with religious individualism.

It isn't clear to me that an appeal to tradition will necessarily resolve the difficulty Daniel raises. His Protestantism is subsequent to his Catholicism, and the introduction to the difficulty he raises has to do with differences in interpretations of Scripture by Doctors of the Catholic Church. My hunch is that the difficulty he raises is but one of several things which served as a springboard for his jumping ship. If my hunch is correct, then however much it may be a Protestant who is raising the difficulty, the difficulty he raises stems from his prior experience with the Catholic tradition.

Perhaps what Daniel sees as a difficulty may be more clearly seen when provincially boiled down to this: "On the subject of S, one Doctor of the Church, A, says X, and another Doctor of the Church, B, says Y. This difference of interpretation is within the same tradition. Wonderful. Now what?"

Daniel Smith said...

rank sophist: The Catholic and Orthodox solution to this problem is the certainty derived from the motion of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox view of the Holy Tradition, to my knowledge, is that it was protected from total error by the Holy Spirit. The Catholic view, to my knowledge, is that the magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit. For a Protestant, though, your worries are well founded. Without the solidarity of tradition, you're pretty much stuck with religious individualism.

Glenn: Perhaps what Daniel sees as a difficulty may be more clearly seen when provincially boiled down to this: "On the subject of S, one Doctor of the Church, A, says X, and another Doctor of the Church, B, says Y. This difference of interpretation is within the same tradition. Wonderful. Now what?"

Yes, that's pretty accurate Glenn.

My reply to rank was going to be: "so who's right - the Catholic or the Orthodox?"

And: "how do we know?"

And finally: "how do we know whether either of them is more right than say, the Lutherans, or the Baptists?"

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green,

I feel it is the light of the Spirit that makes us to understand the wisdom of God - not reason. I think that reason alone (that is: unaided by the Spirit) will not convince us of God's truths. And - many of the things we believe seem foolish to the natural mind.

Scripture says...
But the natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rank sophist said...

Glenn,

Perhaps what Daniel sees as a difficulty may be more clearly seen when provincially boiled down to this: "On the subject of S, one Doctor of the Church, A, says X, and another Doctor of the Church, B, says Y. This difference of interpretation is within the same tradition. Wonderful. Now what?"

I see that he's confirmed your interpretation. Well, I can understand why this can be troubling. But this is one of the many reasons that it's necessary to read the writings of the doctors and Fathers from a historicist angle. If you take them all out of context and consider their ideas side-by-side, then you end up with a mess. (Similar problems arise if you think of the Bible as the basis of our tradition rather than the core artifact of our tradition.) The solution is to locate the doctors and Fathers in the Christian tradition and then compare their views to what Christians have always believed.

From the beginning, Christianity has been a historical institution: we always have to reference back to Christ, a historical figure, and to the subsequent tradition of Christ worshippers. The ideas of the Fathers and doctors spring from and must comply with the lived tradition. This is the reason that certain propositions offered by the Fathers (such as Gregory of Nyssa's universalism or Tertullian's sexism) were rejected: they were simply incompatible with the lived tradition as it had been passed down. This is also why Arianism, Nestorianism and the like were condemned as heresy.

Christians are hung up on innovation and the apostolic succession for a reason.

Daniel,

My reply to rank was going to be: "so who's right - the Catholic or the Orthodox?"

And: "how do we know?"

And finally: "how do we know whether either of them is more right than say, the Lutherans, or the Baptists?"


Well, if you compare the Catholic and Orthodox churches, they're actually fairly close. And both of them see the movement of the Holy Spirit as the basis of tradition. They just have different ways of expressing it. Protestantism can be dismissed for the simple reason that it is based on a rejection of tradition, and so it can't be the church of Christ.

Tap said...

Daniel, not quite regarding Augustine:
Believe the Catholics

"Perhaps you will read the gospel to me, and will attempt to find there a testimony to Manichæus. But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.267 So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you;—If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel"

FZ said...

Hi, I apologize for the offtopic question...

I have been reading the exchanges between Feser and Oerter, and in the comments of one particular post, commenter grodrigues, mentioned that the aristotelian principle of motion is supported by positive and negative arguments. I understand why QM cannot be used to refute the APOM, but I was wondering where I could read about arguments in support of the APOM, either on this blog or elsewhere.

Also, for Aristotelians, is it things/beings that have causes or events that have causes, or both? Are events to be understood as efficient causes? To use everyone's favorite example, does it make sense to ask for the cause of the event of decay, or does it make more sense to argue that it is the resulting alpha/beta particle that requires a cause?

Glenn said...

(With errant character lopped off the end of the URL:)

Tap said...

Daniel, not quite regarding Augustine:
Believe the Catholics

"Perhaps you will read the gospel to me, and will attempt to find there a testimony to Manichæus. But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.267 So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you;—If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel"

Tap said...

Thanks Glen!

Daniel Smith said...

In the end though, isn't it all religious individualism to some degree?

I mean how many Catholics, even good Catholics, believe everything the Church teaches? (Or even most of it?)

How many here believe everything their church teaches?

We take in the authorities and scholars, but in the end, we all make decisions based on our own understanding.

And so it should be.

In Jesus day, it was the religious authorities who decided He was a blasphemer deserving of death. These were God's chosen people, the same people who could trace their line of succession back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses - yet error crept in and corrupted the tradition.

So there is precedence for man losing touch with God over the years. In fact, it happened over and over in the OT.

I'm not inclined to put much faith in tradition - given the track record in human history. I don't so easily dismiss the Protestant attempts at restoration either. I honestly don't know if any of man's institutions got it right.

BenYachov said...

>I mean how many Catholics, even good Catholics, believe everything the Church teaches? (Or even most of it?)

>How many here believe everything their church teaches?

I do & so does my wife and my Mother and my cousins Joe & Chris. Almost all Charismatics and Vatican II Traditionalists I have ever met too.

Of course don't confuse obedience with knowledge. When I was 20 I in error thought the incarnation meant Christ materialized in his Mother's womb as a fertilized egg. That objectively was a form of doscetic heresy.
My then girlfriend future wife showed me the texts of the Church's official teaching & naturally I changed my mind & conformed to the orthodox view. The authority of the Church moved me.

>I'm not inclined to put much faith in tradition - given the track record in human history.

How then can you even know what books even belong in the NT without Tradition? What do you do with 2 Thes 2:15 or 3:6? How do deal with major differences in interpretation of Scripture?

>I don't so easily dismiss the Protestant attempts at restoration either. I honestly don't know if any of man's institutions got it right.

No man made institution can but why would God leave us orphans with a divinely inspired but clearly unclear book to formulate doctrine using our own mere human strength? Therefore since the NT is according to Scripture a "better covenant" then the NT Church must be better than the OT one & not prone to Her short comings. The NT Church has the authority and the protection of divine providence to teach authoritative doctrine.

>"so who's right - the Catholic or the Orthodox?"

The Roman Catholics of course and the Orthodox Christians who are formally in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

After all the Pope's authority is testified early on. The problem with concilarism is there where times when the majority of bishops in the world where heretics & only the bishop of Rome stood against them.

Satan has asked for Peter's soul but Christ prayed his Faith would never fail.

Daniel Smith said...

why would God leave us orphans with a divinely inspired but clearly unclear book to formulate doctrine using our own mere human strength?

He didn't leave us that way. That book itself proclaims that it is only through the spirit of God (i.e. Christ in us) that one can formulate true doctrine. The question is - who has that spirit?

I respect your faith in the authority and tradition of the Catholic church. I don't share that faith however. It is my belief that the true church, throughout the ages, has consisted of only those who have had the spirit of God residing in them. I don't believe those people only belonged to the Catholic church. I believe that I too, have the spirit of God residing in me.

My belief is consistent with the old and new testaments - as you will see if you research "the remnant" (as in "God always has a remnant of true believers in every age.")

That's the thrust of my position here - God's spirit is the source of truth.

1 John 2:26-27

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

rank sophist said...

Daniel,

As Ben said, you wouldn't even have a Bible to read from if it wasn't for the tradition. It was the tradition that put together the current version from the disparate articles that had been floating around for decades and centuries beforehand. Without their work, you would have no way of determining whether certain passages of the Bible were false--or whether certain apocryphal texts (even Gnostic texts) were true. And modern scholarship only makes the issue fuzzier. If Paul did not write all of the epistles, then how are you going to declare Titus or Timothy (for example) as authentic teaching without the guarantee of the holy tradition? In fact, how are you going to guarantee the truth of any passage, outside of your own opinion?

Similarly, Scripture is absolute nonsense when you separate it from the tradition that produced it. Without that tradition and its methods of interpretation, you are left with a collection of largely unrelated, contradictory texts that can be understood in a limitless number of ways. Even that passage you cited is ambiguous--and I would argue that your interpretation of it is ahistorical, and that it would have been incoherent to the intended audience.

BenYachov said...

@Daniel

>He didn't leave us that way. That book itself proclaims that it is only through the spirit of God (i.e. Christ in us) that one can formulate true doctrine. The question is - who has that spirit?

I would say in regards to authority it resides in God appointed Prophets, Apostles, & or NT clergy (i.e. Bishops). I believe this objectively exists regardless of the personal holiness of the clergy in question.. Moses disobeyed God at the waters of Strife where he hit the rock instead of asking it for water yet Water still came out. King Saul was a putz but David would not lay hands on God's anointed for he feared God's wraith if he did so. The High Priest Cihaphas was a jerk and a half but he gave a binding prophesy that it is better one man to die then for the whole nation to perish. Pope Sergius III had his 15 year old Mistress & Pope Alexander VI had his own brood of wicked bastard children yet unlike Mohammed, Joseph Smith or David Koresh it never occurred to either of them to use their authority to change the Church's teachings on sexual morality?

That is good enough for me you are free to disagree. my brother

>I respect your faith in the authority and tradition of the Catholic church. I don't share that faith however. It is my belief that the true church, throughout the ages, has consisted of only those who have had the spirit of God residing in them.

I would disagree with that in so far that I think you are confusing those who are elect with those who have authority. Obviously the Spirit of God was with Chaphas when he made his prophesy even if the man was a reprobate dirt bag. I've known many a Protestant who was a better Christian then any one of the bad Popes but at the end of the day I still believe they taught false doctrine as far as they contradict the formal teaching of the Church.

>I don't believe those people only belonged to the Catholic church. I believe that I too, have the spirit of God residing in me.

IT would be heresy against the Council of Trent, Pope Alexander VIII(not to be confused with the VI who had the bastard children) and Vatican II to claim Protestants and other baptized Christians didn't have any sanctifying grace. Nor would I claim Protestants never had any original godly insight into the meaning of the Scripture. But as far as they formulate doctrines against those formulated by the church I believe they are in error.

>My belief is consistent with the old and new testaments - as you will see if you research "the remnant" (as in "God always has a remnant of true believers in every age.")

I don't deny there are "remnants" of people who by grace are faithful to God the best they know how but that didn't make any false doctrines they might have taught true. Jesus said there where good Samaritans but he also told the Samaritan woman at the well "Salvation is of the Jews" "We [Jews] worship what we know"

>That's the thrust of my position here - God's spirit is the source of truth.

Mine as well but I think God would put it somewhere consistently & never move it under the New Covenant.

Cheers Daniel. I do respect Protestants but I can't help but believe they would all make good Catholics.

God bless.

Glenn said...

Daniel,

First you state, I'm not inclined to put much faith in tradition - given the track record in human history. Then you quote from 1 John.

Now, amongst several definitions of 'tradition' offered by Merriam-Webster is the following: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.

And we find...

...in 1 John 1:1-3,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

...and in 1 John 2:7,

Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.

That there is a disparity here seems clear: on the one hand you haven't much faith in 'tradition', and on the other hand you seem to be placing a great deal of faith in 'tradition'.

And the gist of the 'tradition' in which you seem to be placing a great deal of faith has, amongst others, these salient points (as has been previously mentioned or called attention to):

a) God's spirit is the source of truth; and,

b) you do not need anyone to teach you.

The former is axiomatic, and the latter itself is a teaching.

A few points re the latter:

1. If you do not need anyone to teach you is itself a teaching, one may be excused for wondering whether there mightn't be other things one needs to be taught ere he no longer needs anyone to teach him. For example: God's spirit is the source of truth, yes; but how might one keep the truth from being compromised, distorted or mangled in or by its reception?

2. If one harbors resentment against another (be the other a 'him', a 'her', or (say) an institution), you do not need anyone to teach you can make for a rather convenient and attractive excuse for the thumbing of one's nose.

3. If one is going to use you do not need anyone to teach you to reject the teachings, instructions and/or guidance of the aforementioned others (especially on the grounds that they are either inadequate or not rightful intermediaries), then how does one keep the proprium (i.e., that which is one's own) from stepping in and filling the breech? And how might one ensure that that proprium does not compromise, distort or mangle the reception of truth?

George R. said...

Ben Yachov writes:
IT would be heresy against the Council of Trent, Pope Alexander VIII(not to be confused with the VI who had the bastard children) and Vatican II to claim Protestants and other baptized Christians didn't have any sanctifying grace.

Really? Where does Trent say that Protestants have sanctifying grace? Where does Pope Alexander say this?

Daniel Smith said...

Glenn,

First you state, "I'm not inclined to put much faith in tradition - given the track record in human history". Then you quote from 1 John.

I don't understand how you get "tradition" out of the verses you quoted. To me, John is saying "I was an eyewitness and I'm telling you what I saw, heard and felt". Unless you just mean tradition as in "handed down"? Then I guess it makes sense. Still, it's not like John is passing on something that was handed down to him. He is passing down something he witnessed directly.

I view "tradition" as the extra-biblical teachings of the church compiled over the years. You have scripture and tradition. The two should be in agreement of course, but they are not the same thing in my mind.

b) you do not need anyone to teach you.

This point is taken out of context. It also says "his anointing teaches you about all things", implying that we need to have God's anointing to learn the truth - not just human teaching. I don't think John literally meant that we don't need teachers (that would - as you said - contradict his own teaching), I think he was putting teaching in its proper context.

BenYachov said...

@George R.

>Really? Where does Trent say that Protestants have sanctifying grace? Where does Pope Alexander say this?

Council of Trent:

Canon 4. If anyone says that the baptism which is given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true baptism,[12] let him be anathema.


Canon 6. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer that grace on those who place no obstacles in its way,[3] as though they were only outward signs of grace or justice received through faith and certain marks of Christian profession, whereby among men believers are distinguished from unbelievers, let him be anathema.

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: I think God would put it somewhere consistently & never move it under the New Covenant.

My point was that your belief (stated in that sentence) is an individual decision based on the light of reason and the spirit of God within you.

Even believing 100% in tradition is still an individual choice. Each individual makes the decision what to believe and what not to believe. You have made the decision to believe that the Catholic church is God's institution on earth. THAT choice is yours.

I feel like I'm doing a poor job of stating my position clearly but hopefully you get my drift.

Everyone is accountable to God for his own decisions. If someone chooses to believe every teaching of a certain organization because they believe that organization is God's own, they are still liable before God for THAT decision.

Does that make sense?

I guess what I'm getting at is this - that no matter what the resume' or pedigree, we better have God's spirit or we may follow some teacher or prophet down the path of error.

We all need to examine our own beliefs daily to see if they stand up to the light of scripture and the spirit of God. Luke applauded the Berean Christians because they didn't accept Paul's teachings at face value but searched the scriptures diligently to see if it were true. I think it is easy to latch onto someone else's belief system and let them do all the work, but in the end it's we who stand or fall before God.

Hopefully that illuminates where I'm coming from a little bit at least!

BenYachov said...

Of course Alexander VIII – Decree of the Holy Office, Dec. 7, 1690 – Errors of the Jansenists

Where he condemned the following errors

". Although there is such a thing as invincible ignorance of the law of nature, this, in the state of fallen nature, does not excuse from formal sin anyone acting out of ignorance."

Pagans, Jews, heretics, and others of this kind do not receive in any way any influence from Jesus Christ, and so you will rightly infer from this that in them there is a bare and weak will without any sufficient grace.

Of necessity, an infidel sins in every act.END QUOTE

So there is hope even for a High Church Protestant heretic like yourself George.

Protestants have sanctifying grace in the two valid sacraments they still have Marriage and Baptism.

Assuming the whatever Sede Priests or Bishops George visits have valid holy order(& it's likely they do) then George has more then the Prots though he objectively needs to be in communion with Pope Francis & I beg you for the sake of your soul to return.

There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church and any non-Catholic who knowing the Catholic Church is the true church and refuses to enter it or remain in it will not be saved.

George R. said...

Ben, I don't know what questions you're answering, but they're certainly not mine. Here again are the questions I asked:

Where does Trent say that Protestants have sanctifying grace? Where does Pope Alexander say this?

The correct answer to both questions, of course, is, "Nowhere." -- which you should have had the honesty to admit.

rank sophist said...

Daniel,

I view "tradition" as the extra-biblical teachings of the church compiled over the years. You have scripture and tradition. The two should be in agreement of course, but they are not the same thing in my mind.

It's fairly absurd to think of tradition as "extra-biblical teachings", considering that tradition both pre-dates and post-dates Scripture. The Old and New Testaments are simply artifacts of the lived tradition--collections of histories, oral traditions and divinely inspired writings produced by people in the tradition. Even if there was no infallibly collected Scripture, and religion was passed down orally like in ancient Judaism, Christianity would still be here. The attempt to separate Scripture from tradition is a Protestant heresy, and, these days, a particularly fundamentalist endeavor.

Even believing 100% in tradition is still an individual choice. Each individual makes the decision what to believe and what not to believe. You have made the decision to believe that the Catholic church is God's institution on earth. THAT choice is yours.

I think that part of your confusion is the result of your individualist philosophy. The problem is that individualism is itself a tradition--one that you've unconsciusly accepted. In other words, even your claim about the primacy of decision is based on a tradition that pre-exists you, which you did not decide to accept.

On top of that, your claim begs the question against Ben. The traditional view is that the church is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit draws us to the church. For the traditional Christian, one has two options: either reject the draw of the Holy Spirit and live in error and heresy outside of the church, or accept it and join. Your unconscious acceptance of the individualist tradition has caused you to presuppose the primacy of subjective, individual choice. The church for you is just a collection of people who believe that the church is true, without any standard higher than their individual choices. This, in turn, means that you presuppose the falsehood of Ben's traditionalist position, viz. that our choice is correct only if we choose the church (i.e. if we comply our wills to the holy tradition, which is greater than the sum of its individual members).

BenYachov said...

@George R

>Ben, I don't know what questions you're answering, but they're certainly not mine. Here again are the questions I asked:

>Where does Trent say that Protestants have sanctifying grace? Where does Pope Alexander say this?

>The correct answer to both questions, of course, is, "Nowhere." -- which you should have had the honesty to admit.

I was under the impression your question was a response to my original statement which you cited above it QUOTE "IT would be heresy against the Council of Trent, Pope Alexander VIII…... and Vatican II to claim Protestants and other baptized Christians didn't have any sanctifying grace."END QUOTE

I in response quoted Trent and Pope Alexander VIII. My quotes are consistent with what I literally said. I naturally assumed your question was in reference to what I just said since you quoted it before asking it.

What you should have asked is "Where does the literal word phrasing `Protestants have sanctifying grace' appear in the text of Trent or the writings of Alexander VIII? if that is what you really meant" & leave out quoting my statement before it.

Naturally I would have said "Nowhere:" but that is about as remarkable as a Jehovah's Witness asking me "Where does the Bible literally say The Son is Consubstantial/homoousios with the Father?" Obviously the word "homoousios" is nowhere in the text of Holy Writ but clearly the Holy Church has taught that is what the Bible means in regards to the Nature of the Father and Son. Just as the same Holy Church teaches Protestant Baptisms are valid & Baptism objectively convey's sanctifying Grace and Pope Alexander condemned the Jansenist Heretics for saying non-Catholics had no Grace.

It's not hard when you belong to the True Church & follow the True Pope.

BenYachov said...

@Daniel Smith

>Everyone is accountable to God for his own decisions. If someone chooses to believe every teaching of a certain organization because they believe that organization is God's own, they are still liable before God for THAT decision.

>Does that make sense?

I am familiar with Sola Scriptura, Perspicuity and Private interpretation & I reject those doctrines on Biblical grounds as well as on logical and historical grounds as well. We must decide what we will believe and what authority we will accept but I believe once we accept it we need to stick to it and not rebel. Also I believe all Catholic doctrine is Biblical & I reject the big three Protestant doctrines I just mentioned as well as a few minor particulars specific to certain sects (i.e. anti-pedobaptism, Eternal Security, Limited Atonement., Sola Fide, Pre-Millianianism, etc). I've tested Catholic teaching according to Scripture & she passes with all A's. OTOH I can't get past James 2:24 when Luther spouts Sola Fide. Also verses in Scripture that condemn gnostic heretics for condemning all marriage as evil don't un-teach Jesus' teaching that "Some men make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God" or Paul teaching marriage is good but not marrying is better & those with that call should be free to follow it.

But at the end of the day I would need strong evidence to doubt Christ sent the spirit to protect his Church from error but if that succeeded then I might consider the Orthodox Church since that would be the only other alternative(even then that's iffy since the EOC is at it's worst Congregationalism with Crook and Miter).

That is how I see it.

rank sophist said...

Ben,

I see the Orthodox church and the Catholic church as the same church. JPII and Benedict did, too, with their talk about how the church "must breathe with her two lungs". The split between the Orthodox and Catholic churches split one true church into two, I think. Neither is complete without the other.

Glenn said...

Daniel,

>> First you state, "I'm not inclined to put much
>> faith in tradition - given the track record in
>> human history". Then you quote from 1 John.

> I don't understand how you get "tradition" out
> of the verses you quoted.

I provided an accounting for my use of the term 'tradition', and nothing I said can be rightly construed as suggesting that that 'tradition' comes out of the verses I quoted. Rather, the verses I quoted are appealed to or serve, in part, as a foundation for the 'tradition' I referred to.


>> b) you do not need anyone to teach you.

> This point is taken out of context. It also says
> "his anointing teaches you about all things",
> implying that we need to have God's anointing to
> learn the truth - not just human teaching. I don't
> think John literally meant that we don't need
> teachers (that would - as you said - contradict
> his own teaching), I think he was putting teaching
> in its proper context.

And if a person does not (or does not yet) have that anointing (or for some reason is unaware that s/he does), what then?

It doesn't seem likely that giving utterance to the truth that God's spirit is the source of truth will sufficiently offset the lack. Neither does it seem likely that knowing that "his anointing teaches you about all things" is a legitimate substitute for the actual anointing.

So, again, in the absence of that anointing, what then?

Glenn said...

s/b: So, again, in the absence of that anointing (i.e., until such time as it may take place), what then?

BenYachov said...

@RS

>I see the Orthodox church and the Catholic church as the same church. JPII and Benedict did, too, with their talk about how the church "must breathe with her two lungs". The split between the Orthodox and Catholic churches split one true church into two, I think. Neither is complete without the other.

I believe that as far as I believe the Latin Rites or Latin western Catholic philosophy isn't the only legitimate Christian Philosophy. IF anything eastern forms of rites are in most cases older then the latin counter parts.

But I am thinking in terms of authority. The Pope as successor to Peter holds the supreme primacy. The Orthodox have become a fraternity of brothers who have lost their Father figure. Now in historic disputes between the Popes and the east my natural sympathies usually lie with the east. Like watching a Father being a jerk too his children and unnecessarily alienating them. Morally I must council the kids to obey to their stupid father. Even though I believe the Father is being a tyrant and a putz.

Popes who have stepped on the toes of the East I think of in the same way. Indeed not that I am insulting him or calling him a putz but I've grown to believe Paul VI would have better served the Church if he left the Latin Mass alone. But of course what the SSPX did in response to that was even more wrong & more evil IMHO.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, gentlemen, for a dialogue that's given me much to consider. I find interesting the discussion between Rank Sophist and Daniel Smith, and their differing ways of using the term tradition.

For his part, Daniel seems to argue that for a person today there can be no tradition. We live in a context in which everything is chosen--not given--and that assenting to the body of beliefs found within a certain Church tradition amounts to the choice of an individual. In an intellectually pluralistic world (that is becoming increasingly more so, thanks to the internet), the reality of individual interpretation is inescapable, even if that interpretation is to embrace the teachings of an ancient Church.

Rank Sophist argues that moderns do have a given tradition, accepted more or less uncritically as the air we breathe, and that that tradition is modernity (including individualism, etc). This might be little more than a brilliant rhetorical move, in which case, I applaud it without irony. But I can't tell whether there is something more to it. Isn't it problematic that you can't escape this "tradition" of modernity without finding yourself inscribed within it? Is modernity not a tradition that subsumes all others?


--Patrick C.F.

dguller said...

The interesting thing about appealing to a tradition is that it must be passed on by virtue of the fact that one trusts the source of the tradition itself. Since the source of the tradition cannot appeal to the tradition itself, because the source is founding the tradition, then where does the source get the justification to found the tradition at all? Therefore, there must be something other-than-tradition that one must appeal to in order to ground the tradition itself upon a justified basis.

dguller said...

Rank:

The traditional view is that the church is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit draws us to the church. For the traditional Christian, one has two options: either reject the draw of the Holy Spirit and live in error and heresy outside of the church, or accept it and join.

But that itself is a claim that must be justified. It cannot be justified from within the tradition, because that simply begs the question and engages in circular reasoning: “I know that the Holy Spirit guides the tradition, because the tradition says that it is guided by the Holy Spirit.” So, one must know, independent of the tradition itself, that someone is guided by the Holy Spirit, which means that there must be some criterion, independent of the tradition itself, by which one can identify when one is guided by the Holy Spirit. What is this criterion, and where did it come from?

Your unconscious acceptance of the individualist tradition has caused you to presuppose the primacy of subjective, individual choice. The church for you is just a collection of people who believe that the church is true, without any standard higher than their individual choices. This, in turn, means that you presuppose the falsehood of Ben's traditionalist position, viz. that our choice is correct only if we choose the church (i.e. if we comply our wills to the holy tradition, which is greater than the sum of its individual members).

Would there be a church without individual church members who congregate as a church? Would there be a football team without football players? Furthermore, isn’t it also true that since the church is composed of the individuals in the church, then Daniel is correct to focus upon those individuals and the justification that they individually have to choose to belong to that church in the first place?

BenYachov said...

@dguller

First Monophysite Christology, then Tritheism & misunderstanding the Trinity, & now you want to defend Sola Scriptura and Private Interpretation?

Lovely another 500 posts of dguller talking about crap he hasn't taken the time to understand.

>The interesting thing about appealing to a tradition is that it must be passed on by virtue of the fact that one trusts the source of the tradition itself.

Wrong! Doctrinal tradition is certain based on unanimous consent. What is taught everywhere by everyone. For example all the Fathers taught the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the Mass or the authority of the Church & the Bishop of Rome. Therefore barring mere infallibility it is reasonable to assume this was handed to them from the Apostles.

>Since the source of the tradition cannot appeal to the tradition itself, because the source is founding the tradition, then where does the source get the justification to found the tradition at all?

At some point you start with reason, philosophy and historical evidence and make a judgment as to wither or not it is reasonable to accept the authority of Scripture, Tradition and Church. No Catholic denies this.

Now if you wish to reject the authority of reason, philosophy or historic evidence that is your affair. If you wish to question individual persons analysis of the same that is fair game too. But you must be specific not general.

>Therefore, there must be something other-than-tradition that one must appeal to in order to ground the tradition itself upon a justified basis.

Interesting skeptical hermeneutic & taken to it's logical extreme & applied elsewhere I have no reason to believe George Washington was the first constitutional President of the United States since I must appeal to the historic Tradition of America which by your radical skeptical standards has no basis in itself therefore we should doubt it.

dguller are you going to actually learn about Tradition before you comment or are you going to bore the shit out of us with your strawman misrepresentations of it?

Which is it going to be?

BenYachov said...

>then Daniel is correct to focus upon those individuals and the justification that they individually have to choose to belong to that church in the first place?

No one doubts Daniel should know our reasons for believing Catholic teaching is Biblical. But Daniel believes in God. dguller you are an Atheist. Daniel believes in miracles. You don't. Daniel accepts the authority of 66 of the 73 books in the Bible. You don't accept any of them. Daniel at minimum believes in the historical Jesus & the gospels as historical documents. You don't. Daniel accepts the supernatural. You don't.

We have a lot of common ground with Daniel. You we are still stuck on the existence of God.

Don't you see that as a problem if you are going to insert yourself here?

Do you?

dguller said...

Ben:

First Monophysite Christology, then Tritheism & misunderstanding the Trinity, & now you want to defend Sola Scriptura and Private Interpretation?

You never refuted my argument against the Trinity and simplicity. It is impossible for the divine relations to come from the divine essence, because they would necessarily have to be identical, which falsifies the real distinction between the divine persons that is necessary for the Trinity to be true. That means that the divine relations must be other than the divine essence, but if that is true, then since the divine essence is Being itself, it would also have to follow that the divine relations are other than Being itself. Since only creation and non-being can be other than Being itself, it would follow that the divine relations are either creatures or non-being, both of which falsify the Trinity. Thus, it is impossible for the Trinity and divine simplicity to both be true.

What this ultimately comes down to is that either the divine relations are absolutely identical to the divine essence, which means that they cannot differ from the divine essence in any way, except in our minds via notional distinction, or the divine relations are not absolutely identical to the divine essence, which means that there is a real distinction between the divine relations and the divine essence. If the former is true, then either the divine essence involves real distinction of some kind, which falsifies divine simplicity, or the divine relations do not involve real distinction of any kind, which falsifies the Trinity. If the latter is true, then the divine relations are either creatures or non-Being, both of which falsifies the Trinity, or you reject that the divine essence is identical to Being itself, which falsifies divine simplicity.

Wrong! Doctrinal tradition is certain based on unanimous consent.

First, this fails to incorporate the fact that the consent in question was often rooted in power struggles and exclusion of alternative viewpoints from the consensus. The church of scientology also excommunicates and excludes alternative viewpoints in order to achieve a consensus. Would you therefore grant their claims the status of truth?

Second, just because a group of people agree upon the truth of X does not necessarily make X true. There must be something other than their consensus that they are appealing to in order to justify their claims about X. Otherwise, you are involved in circular reasoning and begging the question.

What is taught everywhere by everyone. For example all the Fathers taught the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the Mass or the authority of the Church & the Bishop of Rome. Therefore barring mere infallibility it is reasonable to assume this was handed to them from the Apostles.

How do you know this to be true? Does the church have an exhaustive record of early Christian texts such that a comprehensive analysis can be conducted? Were no heterodox texts destroyed or hidden? Perhaps only those who agreed upon your claim were included in who counts as part of the consensus, and those who disagreed were labeled heretics and excluded? Again, that would simply be an instance of circular reasoning that would justify any religious belief that is held by a group of people.

At some point you start with reason, philosophy and historical evidence and make a judgment as to wither or not it is reasonable to accept the authority of Scripture, Tradition and Church. No Catholic denies this.

What is your criteria to determine whether “it is reasonable to accept the authority of Scripture, Tradition and Church”?

dguller said...

Interesting skeptical hermeneutic & taken to it's logical extreme & applied elsewhere I have no reason to believe George Washington was the first constitutional President of the United States since I must appeal to the historic Tradition of America which by your radical skeptical standards has no basis in itself therefore we should doubt it.

The evidence for George Washington is much more substantial than the evidence for Jesus Christ, which includes documents signed by Washington, written documents mentioning him by those who knew him directly, paintings of him, and so on. Even his body remains at Mount Vernon. Therefore, it is more likely that the former existed than the latter existed. So, you actually have more reason to believe in the former than in the latter. Ultimately, what this means is that historical evidence is a matter of probabilities and the claims of truth exist in a continuum between highly unlikely and highly likely. The more trustworthy evidence, the more likelihood of truth, and the less trustworthy evidence, the less likelihood of truth. So, there is no need for absolutes here when it comes to evidentiary warrant for historical claims. Thus, you do not have to say that you “have no reason to believe” and that there is “no basis in itself”.

BenYachov said...

>You never refuted my argument against the Trinity and simplicity.


Pretty much I did & your argument was a straw man presentation on the Trinity which you repeated ad nauseum.

No orthodox definition or formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinctions between Persons is any type of real distinction in essence. Just like no orthodox definition of the incarnation assumes God changes his Divine Nature into a human one.

So your straw men are unworthy of response. They only show your obstinate willful ignorance & bad faith in arguing with me.

>First, this fails to incorporate the fact that the consent in question was often rooted in power struggles and exclusion of alternative viewpoints from the consensus.

I am unconcerned how Divine Providence causes the Church to formulate doctrine. Wither it is threw a successful power struggle or a Pope about to teach heresy getting sick and dying before he was able too.

You are begging the question here since you are implicitly assuming here a naturalistic origin of doctrine because you don't believe there is a God guiding the process. Well that is fine but even without God I can look at the extra biblical Writings of the early Bishops & see what they all believed and held in common.

>How do you know this to be true? Does the church have an exhaustive record of early Christian texts such that a comprehensive analysis can be conducted? Were no heterodox texts destroyed or hidden?

So basically you haven't studied Patristics & yet want to spout skepticalist crap on a subject you haven't bothered to study?

dguller argue the existence of God with us. Settle that then we can move to the next level.

Otherwise don't waste our time.

>The evidence for George Washington is much more substantial than the evidence for Jesus Christ,

Naturally but is the evidence for Jesus Christ substansive enough to believe he existed, did miracles and what is the historical philosophical
criteria to judge this?

Do you know? Have you studied it? We still haven't gotten past the existence of God with you chief.

>which includes documents signed by Washington, written documents mentioning him by those who knew him directly, paintings of him, and so on.

Ignatius of Antioch 107 AD a disciple of Peter & John calls the Roman Church the chief church who taught others which he has no authority to command but commands others. He also in his seven letters explicity teaches the real presence. Justin the Martyr in the middle of the second century testafies to the real presence. Irenaeus,in the late second century who was taught by Polycarp taught by St John testfies to the Authority of the Bishop of Rome as Peter's successor & the real presence. In the first century while St John the Apostle is still alive living on Patmos the Corinthian Christians have an issue so the WRITE the Bishop of Rome Clement who orders them to settle the matter & reinstate the clergy they overthrew.

Even if I deny God I can conclude it is reasonable these doctrines believed today where believed in the beginning.

BenYachov said...

Tradition & Church authority is all about interpreting Scripture.

dguller you don't even believe there is a God much less one who inspired Scripture?

>Were no heterodox texts destroyed or hidden?

The Father testified to the content of the teachings of the heretics and surviving documents written by heretics for the most part line up with their testimony.

We have copies of Gnostic texts and Gospels referred to by the Fathers. We found a cache of them in Egypt. Even some orthodox writings like the Sayings of Jesus referred to by Papas a disciple of John are lost. But we have enough that is sufficient for knowledge.

Brian said...

Again, Called to Communion. Take a look at the blog, dguller.

dguller said...

Ben:

No orthodox definition or formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinctions between Persons is any type of real distinction in essence. Just like no orthodox definition of the incarnation assumes God changes his Divine Nature into a human one.

So, when I deny any kind of real distinction in the divine essence, then that does not include the kind of real distinction between the divine persons? In other words, the divine essence lacks all kinds of real distinction, except the kind of real distinction between the divine persons? But that would mean that the divine essence involves some kind of real distinction, and how does that square with divine simplicity, which is the absence of any kind of real distinction whatsoever?

I am unconcerned how Divine Providence causes the Church to formulate doctrine. Wither it is threw a successful power struggle or a Pope about to teach heresy getting sick and dying before he was able too.

But if any other tradition involved the same claim, then you would be highly suspicious of it. If a scientologist told you that their claims were absolutely true, and the evidence was the absolute consensus between their members, then if you found out that members that disagreed were excommunicated, I suspect that you would believe that the consensus was artificially imposed by senior members of the hierarchy, and not an organic and spontaneous eruption of consensus.

You are begging the question here since you are implicitly assuming here a naturalistic origin of doctrine because you don't believe there is a God guiding the process.

Not at all. My question is how one infers from “X claims that their belief is divinely inspired” to “X’s claim that their belief is divinely inspired is true”. So, some early Christians made a number of claims that they believed were true. If someone heard them make those claims, then should they believe them? If they should believe them, then why? After all, a number of religious groups and sects occurred during that time, and they made competing claims. How did a truth seeker decide which claims to accept and which claims to reject?

Well that is fine but even without God I can look at the extra biblical Writings of the early Bishops & see what they all believed and held in common.

Did that include the heretical bishops and church figures?

So basically you haven't studied Patristics & yet want to spout skepticalist crap on a subject you haven't bothered to study?

I’ve read a few books on the subject a while ago, and as I recall, there were texts that included forgeries and distortions, and that there were heterodox texts that were either destroyed, copied over, or kept hidden away. Anyway, the details are less important than the fact that perfect transmission is impossible, and variation is inevitable, given human limitations. And even a tiny variation when multiplied over many iterations leads to pretty significant error. Say that only 1% of a message is distorted from one person or text to another person or text, then by the 10th transmission, you already have a 10% error rate. By the 20th transmission, you have an 18% error rate. Furthermore, the fact that these events occurred 2,000 years ago also adds layers of skepticism. Why put so much faith and trust into something so inherently unreliable?

Naturally but is the evidence for Jesus Christ substansive enough to believe he existed, did miracles and what is the historical philosophical
criteria to judge this?


You tell me. What is the criterion that you use to determine whether it is a justified belief that Jesus Christ existed in the form presented in the Gospels?

dguller said...

Ignatius of Antioch 107 AD a disciple of Peter & John calls the Roman Church the chief church who taught others which he has no authority to command but commands others. He also in his seven letters explicity teaches the real presence. Justin the Martyr in the middle of the second century testafies to the real presence. Irenaeus,in the late second century who was taught by Polycarp taught by St John testfies to the Authority of the Bishop of Rome as Peter's successor & the real presence. In the first century while St John the Apostle is still alive living on Patmos the Corinthian Christians have an issue so the WRITE the Bishop of Rome Clement who orders them to settle the matter & reinstate the clergy they overthrew.

None of this comes close to the evidence we have for George Washington.

Tradition & Church authority is all about interpreting Scripture.

But tradition and church authority are two sides of the same coin, and the question is whether the coin is genuine or not. Again, what criterion are you using to decide that church authority is valid, but rabbinical authority – or Buddhist authority, or Hindu authority, or Confucian authority, or pagan Greek authority – is not.

BenYachov said...

>So, when I deny any kind of real distinction in the divine essence, then that does not include the kind of real distinction between the divine persons?

No orthodox definition or formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinctions between Persons is any type of real distinction in essence!

500 posts and you still haven't learned the correct formulation of the Trinity? You are still casting real distinctions between Persons as real distinctions in essence? Even after that Anonymous fellow ;-) tried to set you straight on the different senses?

If you are not going to do the reading & merely repeat the same boring Straw man nonsense I am not going to help you or answer your questions.

Your straw men are unworthy of response. They only show your obstinate willful ignorance & bad faith in arguing with me.

Should I even bother correcting your misunderstandings on Tradition?

What is the "sense" if you refuse to learn?

dguller said...

Ben:

No orthodox definition or formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinctions between Persons is any type of real distinction in essence!

I understand that. The question is whether that position is logically possible, given divine simplicity.

I think that we can both agree that the real distinction between the divine persons is one kind of real distinction, and I think that we can both agree that divine simplicity prohibits any kind of real distinction in the divine essence.

Given that, the question is whether the divine relations are completely and absolutely identical to the divine essence in the sense that they do not differ in any way in reality, or whether the divine relations are not completely and absolutely identical to the divine essence. What do you say? In other words, are the divine relations only notionally distinct from the divine essence, or are the divine relations really distinct from the divine essence?

You are still casting real distinctions between Persons as real distinctions in essence?

I’m providing an argument to the effect that if the divine relations are only notionally distinct from the divine essence, then either divine simplicity or the Trinity is false, and thus they must be really distinct. But if they are really distinct, then either divine simplicity or the Trinity is false. Either way, divine simplicity contradicts the Trinity.

Even after that Anonymous fellow ;-) tried to set you straight on the different senses?

Except that he never said what he meant by “different senses”. “Different senses” could either mean “different linguistic and cognitive constructs about a referent” or “different aspects of some thing”. The former is about our mental construct about a referent, and the latter is about the referent itself. So, when you are talking about the “different senses” involved in the Trinity, are you talking about different linguistic and cognitive constructs about a referent, or about different aspects of the referent itself. It’s an important distinction, I think.

Brian said...

Speaking for myself:

By reason, we can know quite a few things about what revealed religion should be like before we even endeavor to discover which, if any, of the world's religions is revealed. For example, among the features that a revealed religion must have is a principled means to determine divinely revealed truth from human theological opinion - what truly is revealed by God and what is merely opinion. Catholicism is one of the few religions that even claims to have such a principled means, let alone plausibly possess one. That does not suffice to show that Catholicism is true, but it does make it a candidate for consideration. Mike Liccione over at Called to Communion has articulated this argument, and you should take a look at it for more information.

Anyway, philosophical considerations such as these serve to rule out entire religions as candidates for special revelation - all of Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, etc. are ruled out as candidates before we even begin any historical investigation. Again, that does not suffice to prove the truth of Catholicism, but it does narrow our search.

Now, as I wrote in my earlier comment in this thread, a religion must, finally, present its credentials if its to prove its divine authority, and that means a miracle at some point. So after candidates for special revelation have been eliminated by philosophy, we look for God's special activity in history. For Christians, that primarily means the life and deeds of Jesus Christ, but for specifically Catholic Christians, we have more to draw from, I think.

Don't get me wrong, Christian apologetics is rightly concerned with the Resurrection, but I think that gives the false impression that God's special activity stopped at some point in the past. Rather, Catholics believe that when we encounter the Church, we encounter a living tradition that stretches back to the Resurrection, and it has never stopped. From age to age, physical and moral miracles by the saints and the Catholic Church's holy people give proof to the Church's divine authority and mission. In that sense, Pentecost never stopped, son. ;)

And so, I think BenYachov and others are right on in defending the historical credibility of the Christ event (and I'll join them when my studies reach there), but I also think there are modern and historical miracles - that have great documentation and evidence, btw - that are often overlooked.

Brian said...

Besides those more objective considerations, there are also more subjective arguments that suffice for me. For example, I am just continually amazed by the coherence and strength of classical philosophy and theism. I see opposing philosophies and their multifaceted inferiorities, and then I see that the Catholic Church, pretty much, is the only one sticking to the truth on many of these issues. This is all awfully impressive, and it gives me great confidence, for sure. Indirect arguments like this all add up to give me a firm conviction that we've got it right.

BenYachov said...

No orthodox definition or formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinctions between Persons is any type of real distinction in essence!

>I understand that.

No you clearly don't. This is just something you say to pretend you are arguing against the Trinity & to blow off criticism and re-state your Straw man.

>The question is whether that position is logically possible, given divine simplicity.

To violate the divine simplicity you must create real distinctions in the essence.

Since by definition the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinction between Persons is NOT any type of real distinction in essence then by definition the divine simplicity can't be violated!

We don't have to say what the real distinction between Persons is or what it means we only have to say IT IS NOT a distinction in essence!

Mystery and all that!

You can't even comprehent this simple concept after 500 posts & you insist on wasting time restating your straw man!

You are both clueless and hopeless.

That breaks my heart & infuriates me! Since I've always admired you dguller now you are no better than Paps or djindra.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

that simply begs the question and engages in circular reasoning

Actually, it's just an assertion. It isn't an argument: it's a premise. Dig deep enough in any tradition and you will find an assertion--even in your own rationalism.

So, one must know, independent of the tradition itself, that someone is guided by the Holy Spirit, which means that there must be some criterion, independent of the tradition itself, by which one can identify when one is guided by the Holy Spirit.

So, you're saying that there must be something on earth higher than the highest institution on earth. That doesn't work. And yes, that is another assertion. It's the premise of the Christian tradition.

What Christianity has is tradition and the actual practice of tradition, which is what brings certainty. Pope Francis has recently talked about this here.

The evidence for George Washington is much more substantial than the evidence for Jesus Christ, which includes documents signed by Washington, written documents mentioning him by those who knew him directly, paintings of him, and so on. Even his body remains at Mount Vernon. Therefore, it is more likely that the former existed than the latter existed.

What do "likely" and "unlikely" mean? These are terms always already embedded within a tradition. Thus they are not totally neutral tools of reasoning that can be applied to judge all traditions. "Likely" and "unlikely" are relative terms that depend entirely on what we see as likely or unlikely as a culture: they have no validity outside of that. You're the one begging the question.

Brian said...

rank, why are you fighting dguller on that? What he said is true. You can't prove Tradition by Tradition (btw, what we're really talking about here is Revelation. So the previous sentence should read, you can't prove Revelation by Revelation). Luckily for you, you never claimed that, though. dguller just jumped the gun.

BenYachov said...

@RS

I think dguller is confusing the questions "How do you know which religion is true(Hindusm, Mormonism etc)?" with "Given the NT is true how do you know which denomination is true?".

Confusing "senses" is his thing these days.

BenYachov said...

>rank, why are you fighting dguller on that? What he said is true. You can't prove Tradition by Tradition..etc...

Yup!

You got that right and will one of you (Brian or RS) do me a solid and tell dguller the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity DOES NOT TEACH distinctions between Persons are the same as distinctions in essence or that Persons are distinct from essence?

I think at this point he just doesn't believe me and maybe needs to hear it from other Catholics?

Daniel Smith said...

I missed a day and - whew!

A few thoughts:

BenYachov,
You may have forgotten this but I don't subscribe to Sola Scriptura - I subscribe to Prima Scriptura.

rank sophist,
You kinda lost me on your response. I understand the argument that scripture is part of tradition, but I don't get how the individual is not accountable before God for the system of beliefs he chooses to live by (that was, after all, my argument).

Glenn,
Without the anointing (i.e. the spirit of God) you cannot understand the truth. I believe that God's spirit strives with every man in his conscience - so the anointing is right there, ready to reveal God to us - but we have to make a conscious choice to let it.

dguller,
You raised an excellent point about our criterion for belief, then you went off the deep end with the "copying errors" argument (amongst others). This is not a game of "telephone" with largely uninterested parties transmitting information, these were mostly monks whose sole duty in life was to accurately copy, what they firmly believed to be, sacred God-breathed texts. It is not surprising therefore, that when archaeologists unearth ancient manuscripts, they are largely in agreement with what we have today.

Brian,
Implying that Protestantism does not have "a principled means to determine divinely revealed truth from human theological opinion" is inaccurate. Protestants use scripture as the yardstick to do just that. Now maybe you don't agree with that, but that doesn't change the fact that it's true.

benYachov said...

@Daniel Smith

>You may have forgotten this but I don't subscribe to Sola Scriptura - I subscribe to Prima Scriptura.

Well so do I but I still reject private interpretation, Perspicuity and I accept the authority of the Church.

It would save a lot of confusion if you could give your denominational profile as it where.

You know like Eternal Security, Yes or No?

End times views?

Eucharistic doctrine? Consubstanciaton? Calvin's Dynamic Presence? Zwingli's Its just a Symbol?

Justification?

Baptismal regeneration? Yes or no?

Pedobaptist or anabaptist?


I don't really do well with "I'm just a Christian" types since I come from a Tradition whose dogmas' are explicitly spelled out & I need a profile to interact.

Plus it levels the playing field.


That is just the way I am wired.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

There is no excuse for your obtuseness here dguller!

>I think that we can both agree that the real distinction between the divine persons is one kind of real distinction, and I think that we can both agree that divine simplicity prohibits any kind of real distinction in the divine essence.

You error here is to assume that the "kind" of real distinction between the divine persons is somehow "any kind "of real distinction in the divine essence no matter how many times it's explained to you that it is not & no matter how many Catholic theologians are cited to you saying it is not you ignore that brute fact & after 500 posts of refusing to listen to and "another" you have lost my respect I no longer believe you are an honest atheist seeker. You are just a jerk who wants to "win" an argument by wearing out his opponent. & getting the last word.

>Given that, the question is whether the divine relations are completely and absolutely identical to the divine essence in the sense that they do not differ in any way in reality, or whether the divine relations are not completely and absolutely identical to the divine essence. What do you say?

I say with Reginald Garrigou-Lagrqange "No real distinction exists between the essence and the persons, but a real distinction exists between the persons among themselves." You OTOH want to discuss "something" with me other then that concept, that "something" which is not the definition of the Trinity and you dogmatically refuse to even entertain the idea it isn't.

There is no Trinitarian Christian here who believes distinctions between Divine Persons means that there both are and are not distinctions in the divine essence.

Not one.

Your whole argument that the Trinity violates divine simplicity is a straw man objection.

How can a "kind" real distinction exist between the persons among themselves but "no kind" of real distinction between the Persons and Essence? We don't know & we can't know! Because we don't know WHAT GOD IS?

I know this is futile. I know dguller you will disrespect me & ignore what I have said here and continue to pretend the Trinity is somehow the claim distinctions between Divine Persons means that there both are and are not distinctions in the divine essence at the same time and in the same sense. All your questions to me will presuppose this & even when you give lip service to this explanation you will still act as if your Straw man is the correct presentation of the Trinity.

What is the point of this dguller? What you can't handle admitting you don't understand the Trinity & you have wasted 500 posts arguing a Straw man? Because I can give into the sin of despair now if I wanted too. Deny the existence of any God & I would still think your argument is bullshit without question!!!!!

benYachov said...

That last Anonymous was me!

I near confirm nor deny I was even another anonymous.

Glenn said...

Daniel,

Without the anointing (i.e. the spirit of God) you cannot understand the truth. I believe that God's spirit strives with every man in his conscience - so the anointing is right there, ready to reveal God to us - but we have to make a conscious choice to let it.

So, now you explicitly introduce 'conscience'. Very well. With the subject shifted to 'conscience', we can still explore the general concerns you have expressed regarding reliability and trustworthiness.

And we can do this by asking questions such as:

a) whether a person's conscience is fully developed from the get-go, i.e., is never not fully developed?

b) whether a person's conscience is always free of corruption, and never susceptible to the same?

c) whether the judgments of a person's conscience are always free of error and flaw (whether that conscience is fully developed or not)? and,

d) whether, say, Prov. 14:12 and 16:25 haven't anything to do with or say to the one who has consciously chosen to let that ready, willing and able 'anointing' reveal God to him in or through his conscience?

BenYachov said...


My anger at this point at this point is crossing the line from "sin not" to rather dark territory.

But unfortunately like Bruce Banner from the Avengers I am always angry. So what can I do?

BenYachov said...

@daniel smith

QUOTE from your blog"I am also a non-Darwinist ID opponent; a Protestant Thomist and a heavy metal lover (Black Sabbath rules!)."

So are you like Norman Geisler sans the love of Metal and opposition to ID?


PS. Iron Maiden can't be fought! Iron Maiden can't be sought!

Brian said...

Daniel's just trying to make the same distinction that Reformed Protestants do when accused of "biblicism": they believe in "sola" rather than "solo" Scriptura. The former, they say, allows for the consideration of secondary authorities that are subordinate to Scripture while the latter does not. In any case, the distinction does nothing to allay the accusation as Bryan Cross and Mike Liccione showed:

Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority

Mathison's Reply to Cross and Judish: A Largely Philosophical Critique

Daniel, you should read both articles to see why sola (or prima, if you like) Scriptura cannot serve as a principled rule of faith to determine divinely revealed truth from human theological opinion. When I wrote that Protestantism does not pass the test for revealed religion, I had specifically in mind the Reformation's primacy of Scripture for determining doctrine. Your reply, then, misses the point. You do not understand the force of the objection.

Further upthread, though, you asked important questions that begin to show Protestantism's inherent doctrinal individualism and relativism. Pursue your questions much deeper and you'll arrive at the problem: there is no principled way in Protestantism to distinguish divinely revealed truth from human theological opinion. In Protestantism, doctrines are backed up by interpretive appeals to Scripture that are of merely human origin. All you will ever get is that Protestant's arguments for doctrine x and this Protestant's belief for interpretation y and on and on. All you get from Protestantism are traditions of men. As long as the individual Christian is the final interpretive authority of Scripture, there is no way of crossing the gap from human theological opinion to divinely revealed truth.

What is needed is a living, divinely authorized interpreter and teacher to cross the gap, but inherent to the Reformation is a rejection of the living authority of the Catholic Church, which just is that divinely authorized voice.

BenYachov said...

@Brian,

Prima Scriptura or "Scripture First" is something I've heard Catholic Apologists say Catholics can believe.

But it can be an ambiguous term. Like let us say the "Sufficiency of Scripture". Catholics (like Newman) can believe the Bible is materially sufficient where as Protestantism sees it more as formally sufficient.

>Daniel's just trying to make the same distinction that Reformed Protestants do when accused of "biblicism": they believe in "sola" rather than "solo" Scriptura.

That takes me back when I used to get my subscription to THIS ROCK magazine & argue with Protestants all the time.

Brian said...

Ben,

In prima scriptura, does the locus of ultimate interpretative authority remain with the Christian? If so, there is no difference between prima, solo, or sola scriptura.

BenYachov said...

@Brian

>In prima scriptura, does the locus of ultimate interpretative authority remain with the Christian?

Not for us as children of the True Church. Our Mother the church has that authority. At best it means in a certain sense the Church gives a primacy to Scriptures because it is the divinely inspired Word of God.

>If so, there is no difference between prima, solo, or sola scriptura.

Yes I agree. But it is hard arguing with Protestants since you might more often then not to be shooting at a moving target.

BenYachov said...

BenYachov rules for discussing the Trinity that must be followed to the letter or you are arguing a Straw man.

1 "No orthodox definition or formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinctions between Persons is any type of real distinction in the divine essence!"

2 To violate the divine simplicity we have to say there is a real distinction in the divine essence.

3 Since by definition the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinction between Persons is NOT any type of real distinction in the divine essence then by definition the divine simplicity can't be violated.

4 We don't have to say what the real distinction between Persons is or what it means we only have to say IT IS NOT a distinction in the divine essence!

5 Thus by definition, the doctrine of the Trinity can't violate the divine simplicity.

6 It is an error in the definition of the Trinity to assume that the "kind" of real distinction between the divine persons is somehow "any kind "of real distinction in the divine essence or between the Persons and the Essence

7 "No real distinction exists between the essence and the persons, but a real distinction exists between the persons among themselves."-Reginald Garrigou-Lagrqange

8 "The Trinitarian does not say: “I clearly see what the propositions are saying, and they seem contradictory” but rather “I do not see any contradiction between them, but then I do not see clearly what they are saying in the first place.”-Edward Feser

9 It is a mystery.

10 There is no informed orthodox Trinitarian Christian who believes distinctions between Divine Persons means that there both are and are not distinctions in the divine essence or between the Persons and the Essence.

11 If you can't take 1 threw 10 as givens then you are not interested in discussing the Trinity but wish to bore the shit out of me discussing something other then the Trinity.

12 As pertains to 11 If the former lovely if the later get lost!

dguller said...

Ben & Anonymous:

Just two questions:

First, what does "No real distinction exists between the essence and the persons" mean?

Second, is the divine essence absolutely identical to the divine relations in the sense that they do not differ in any way in reality?

Thanks.

dguller said...

Rank:

Actually, it's just an assertion. It isn't an argument: it's a premise. Dig deep enough in any tradition and you will find an assertion--even in your own rationalism.

To avoid relativism, there must be truths that are applicable to all traditions, and those truths are not mere assertions. The bottom line is that if all truth is relative to a tradition, then you have relativism such that there is nothing beyond each particular tradition that justifies those traditions themselves. And that means that the very claim that all truth is relative to a particular tradition is itself a relative claim, and thus contradictory. So, much like arguments about God ultimately take reason beyond its tether, arguments about what is absolutely true of all traditions go beyond the tether of those traditions themselves. Otherwise, it is all just a matter of competing claims with no independent standard of comparison between them.

So, you're saying that there must be something on earth higher than the highest institution on earth. That doesn't work. And yes, that is another assertion. It's the premise of the Christian tradition.

No, I’m saying that there must be something beyond tradition that individuals can appeal to in order to justify tradition itself. If there is such a “something”, then obviously it is higher than tradition. After all, before that tradition existed, there was only one person advocating for its views, and that person could not simply appeal to the very tradition that he was trying to establish in order to justify it. There must have been factors outside of that person’s inchoate tradition that he appealed to in order to encourage others to follow him. Otherwise, it is all just blind faith and trust.

What do "likely" and "unlikely" mean? These are terms always already embedded within a tradition. Thus they are not totally neutral tools of reasoning that can be applied to judge all traditions. "Likely" and "unlikely" are relative terms that depend entirely on what we see as likely or unlikely as a culture: they have no validity outside of that. You're the one begging the question.

I am talking about probabilities involving historical facts within the empirical world, given how the empirical world works.

Also, I think that you are slightly equivocating upon “tradition”. There is a difference between an agreed upon set of beliefs and practices that people do just because they’ve always been done that way, and because they have been found to work in some way for the achievement of some goal. An example of the former would be a family tradition of always getting together on Sundays. There is no deeper reason for that kind of tradition other than the fact that is has always been done that way in a family. An example of the latter would be empirical science, which works to achieve understanding of the empirical world. It is only because it works in that way that scientists continue to do it. It is an instrument that scientists use to discover empirical truth about the world.

BenYachov said...

>Just two questions:

I have actually answered those questions in one way or another before in 500 posts if you don't like the answers I gave that is too bad. If you don't remember them then that proves conclusively you are not interested in actually discussing the Trinity or even in paying attention to what I tell you but in looking for ways to construct a Straw man.

The BenYachov Rules of Trinity discussion are now in effect.

rule 11 If you can't take rules 1 threw 10 as givens then you are not interested in discussing the Trinity but wish to bore the shit out of me discussing something other then the Trinity.

rule 12 If the former lovely if the later get lost!

BenYachov said...

BTW anyone else not dguller who might question my knowledge of the Trinity doctrine.

What does "No real distinction exists between the essence and the persons" mean?

It means the Divine Persons are the One God without distinction. The Father is God & The Son is God & the Holy Spirit is God yet there are not three Gods but One God.

Is the divine essence absolutely identical to the divine relations in the sense that they do not differ in any way in reality?

The Divine Essence is God and the divine relations are subsistances in the Essence and thus they do not differ in any sense or in anyway in actually being God in reality.

Thought they differ from each other in being distinct Persons because of their relations toward one another but not from the Essence in being God.

See rule 7. & rule 8.

dguller said...

Ben:

It means the Divine Persons are the One God without distinction.

But it cannot mean that each divine person is totally and absolutely identical to the divine essence in the same way that each divine attribute is totally and absolutely identical to the divine essence. As you pointed out, one cannot identify the divine persons with the divine attributes, because that results in a logical contradiction. The problem is that if it is false that each divine person is totally and absolutely identical to the divine essence, then it must be true that each divine person is different in some way from the divine essence, and since they are different, they must be distinct in some way, as well.

The Divine Essence is God and the divine relations are subsistances in the Essence and thus they do not differ in any sense or in anyway in actually being God in reality.

First, I have no idea what you mean when you say that the divine relations are “in the Essence”. Does that mean that they are contained within the divine essence in some way? How does that work? And if they are contained within the divine essence, then that would mean that the divine essence contains really distinct components, which falsifies divine simplicity. So, again, what do you mean by “in” here?

Second, that doesn’t answer my question at all. Look at it this way. You have God’s power and God’s goodness. Are they identical in every way in reality? Yes, they are. They only differ in our minds via a notional or conceptual distinction. We also have a distinction in our minds between the divine persons and the divine essence. The question is whether they are also identical in every way in reality in the same way as the divine power and the divine goodness are identical in reality in the same way. This cannot be the case, because otherwise you have a logical contradiction, and thus it follows that the divine persons and the divine essence are not identical in every way in reality, which is just another way of saying that they are different from one another in some way, and that this difference or distinction is a real one that does not solely exist in our minds.

they differ from each other in being distinct Persons because of their relations toward one another but not from the Essence in being God.

Right. Their differences cannot come from the divine essence, which is both formally and numerically identical and one. But this just raises my question from before, i.e. if the differences between the divine relations cannot come from the divine essence, then where do those differences come from? They must come from something other than the divine essence in God.

dguller said...

Brian:

By reason, we can know quite a few things about what revealed religion should be like before we even endeavor to discover which, if any, of the world's religions is revealed. For example, among the features that a revealed religion must have is a principled means to determine divinely revealed truth from human theological opinion - what truly is revealed by God and what is merely opinion.

Why is that necessarily the case? If God preferred blind faith to reasoned belief, then there would be no way to rationally determine what is divinely true and what is mere human opinion.

Mike Liccione over at Called to Communion has articulated this argument, and you should take a look at it for more information.

Any posts in particular that you would recommend?

Anyway, philosophical considerations such as these serve to rule out entire religions as candidates for special revelation - all of Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, etc. are ruled out as candidates before we even begin any historical investigation. Again, that does not suffice to prove the truth of Catholicism, but it does narrow our search.

Why would that apply to Islam and Judaism? They are both revealed religions that claim to have standards to determine theological and religious truths, i.e. based upon the consensus and determinations of religious scholars sincerely engaged in a search for divine truth using traditional means of studying holy texts. In fact, Islam would have the strongest claims, because it went to the greatest lengths to standardize and preserve its historical information through a painstaking analysis of the chains of transmission (Arabic: isnad) and evidence for its information to ensure that it is valid. Christianity and Judaism have nothing like this.

Now, as I wrote in my earlier comment in this thread, a religion must, finally, present its credentials if its to prove its divine authority, and that means a miracle at some point. So after candidates for special revelation have been eliminated by philosophy, we look for God's special activity in history. For Christians, that primarily means the life and deeds of Jesus Christ, but for specifically Catholic Christians, we have more to draw from, I think.

Why is a miracle a necessary “credential” for a religion?

And so, I think BenYachov and others are right on in defending the historical credibility of the Christ event (and I'll join them when my studies reach there), but I also think there are modern and historical miracles - that have great documentation and evidence, btw - that are often overlooked.

As long as it is understood that the claims about the life of Jesus Christ in the Gospels is the foundational miracle of Christianity such that if it were false, then irrespective of the other miracles, Christianity itself would be false.

BenYachov said...


Since by definition the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinction between Persons is NOT any type of real distinction in essence then by definition the divine simplicity can't be violated!

We don't have to say what the real distinction between Persons is or what it means we only have to say IT IS NOT a distinction in essence!

Mystery and all that!

I am not going to write anything new I am just going to repeat myself till it sinks in.

Glenn said...

dguller,

The problem is that if it is false that each divine person is totally and absolutely identical to the divine essence, then it must be true that each divine person is different in some way from the divine essence, and since they are different, they must be distinct in some way, as well.

Perhaps the real problem is it is not rightly understood that Trinitarian theologians...are not using ["is"] to express what modern logicians understand by the identity relation. -- Trinity Sunday

Just sayin'.

BenYachov said...

>But it cannot mean that each divine person is totally and absolutely identical to the divine essence in the same way that each divine attribute is totally and absolutely identical to the divine essence.

Lovely bait and switch further proof you are not interested in respectful debate. You didn't ask me about the difference between Persons and Attributes or HOW they are the One God in different senses(which has been explained to you) you asked "What `No real distinction exists between the essence and the persons' means?". Without any qualifiers! No mentions of Persons or Attributes & which has already been explained to you HOW Persons and Attributes are the One God in different senses.

You really don't care what I say do you? You really are not interested in honest debate are you?

Nice djindra move!

>First, I have no idea what you mean when you say that the divine relations are “in the Essence”.

Which proves you have NOT done any of the reading that was recommended to you & you are flying blind pushing a Straw Man!

Ladies and gentlemen dguller wants to make up his own taylor made contradictory doctrine slap a label on it called "Trinity" and then crow how "logically contradictory" it is or how it contradicts other doctrines. While ignoring the actual doctrine taught by the Church.

He has done this before. He once tried to argue against the Incarnation by repeatedly presenting the incarnation(ignoring correction) as the Divine Nature changing into a human nature instead of uniting to one without change. He created that straw man so he could claim God changed his unchanging nature in the incarnation which would be a contradiction.

He is no better with the Trinity except here he jumps between treating Divine Persons as Attributes to create a Straw Man Modalist Trinity or treating Persons as distinct essences so he can create Tri-theism.

Then like Bagdad Bob he has the gall to deny he is doing it while he is doing it right in front of me!

BenYachov said...

As for the rest of the mind numbing dishonest horse shit you wrote in June 4, 2013 at 9:36 AM I am going to ignore it because I addressed it before & it seems to go in one ear out the other.

Bottom line dguller. U'R KNOT arguing the Trinity with me & I am not interesting in some doctrine you made up off the top of your head piecing together bits of Trinitarian Lore in a heterodox fashion.

Also you are not arguing honestly.

WHAT THE F*** happened to you? You where so humble once! If you didn't understand a topic you owned up to it and backed off promising to learn more. Instead you have become this troll who argues more like a cheap politician then a philosopher?

I'm at a loss!!!

BenYachov said...

BenYachov rules for discussing the Trinity (which dguller ignored)that must be followed to the letter or you are arguing a Straw man.

1 "No orthodox definition or formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinctions between Persons is any type of real distinction in the divine essence!"

2 To violate the divine simplicity we have to say there is a real distinction in the divine essence.

3 Since by definition the doctrine of the Trinity assumes the real distinction between Persons is NOT any type of real distinction in the divine essence then by definition the divine simplicity can't be violated!

4 We don't have to say what the real distinction between Persons is or what it means we only have to say IT IS NOT a distinction in the divine essence!

5 Thus by definition, the doctrine of the Trinity can't violate the divine simplicity.

6 It is an error in the definition of the Trinity to assume that the "kind" of real distinction between the divine persons is somehow "any kind "of real distinction in the divine essence or between the Persons and the Essence

7 "No real distinction exists between the essence and the persons, but a real distinction exists between the persons among themselves."-Reginald Garrigou-Lagrqange

8 "The Trinitarian does not say: “I clearly see what the propositions are saying, and they seem contradictory” but rather “I do not see any contradiction between them, but then I do not see clearly what they are saying in the first place.”-Edward Feser

9 It's a mystery.

10 There is no informed orthodox Trinitarian Christian who believes distinctions between Divine Persons means that there both are and are not distinctions in the divine essence or between the Persons and Essence.

11 If you can't take 1 threw 10 as givens then you are not interested in discussing the Trinity but wish to bore the shit out of me discussing something other then the Trinity.

12 If the former lovely if the later get lost!

dguller said...

Ben:

I am not going to write anything new I am just going to repeat myself till it sinks in.

That’s fine, but you should know that you are just avoiding the issue altogether. You already agree with me that the divine persons/relations must be different from the divine essence/attributes. Aquinas also agrees with us when he writes that “the relations themselves are not distinguished from each other so far as they are identified with the essence” (ST Ia, Q39, A1). And that makes perfect sense, because if “they are identified with the essence”, then they could not possibly be really distinct with one another without violating divine simplicity. So, we are totally on the same page here.

The problem is that Aquinas has also written that “relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility; as in relation is meant that regard to its opposite which is not expressed in the name of essence. Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same” (ST Ia, Q28, A2). So, the divine relations cannot possibly be identical to the divine essence in reality, and yet they are identical to the divine essence in reality.

Naturally, you will respond that the “identity” in question refers to different senses of “identity”. And that would make perfect sense, because perhaps the divine relations are identical in reality to the divine essence in one respect, but are different in reality from the divine essence in another respect. So, considering God under one particular aspect, there is a real identity, but considering God under a different aspect, there is no real identity. But then the further question is whether these different respects, aspects and senses are all really in God himself, or just distinctions in our minds.

If they are really in God himself, then God admits of some kind of composition. That doesn’t necessarily negate divine simplicity, which is simply the negation of all kinds of real distinction or composition, and does not negate virtual composition, which is necessarily involved in the multiplicity of divine ideas, for example. However, even virtual composition implies that the virtual components are distinct from one another. For example, the divine idea of human nature is distinct from the divine idea of dog nature. Human nature is not identical to dog nature, after all. What this all means is that in God, there must be a distinction of some kind between the divine essence and the divine relations, which correspond to different aspects or respects of God.

The problem occurs, because Aquinas also writes: “Everything which is not the divine essence is a creature. But relation really belongs to God; and if it is not the divine essence, it is a creature” (ST Ia, Q28, A2). What that means is that anything that is other than the divine essence is a creature (or non-Being), and that is solely on the basis of divine simplicity, because the divine essence is identical to Being itself (i.e. ipsum esse subsistens), and anything other than Being itself is either a creature or non-Being. If that is true, then if the divine relations are distinct in any sense from the divine essence, then they cannot be completely and absolutely identical to Being itself, and thus must either be creatures or non-Being, both of which falsify the Trinity.

And this all ultimately comes down to the same point I have been making during our discussion of the Trinity. If the divine relations cannot come from the divine essence, then they must come from other than the divine essence. And since anything other than the divine essence is either a creature or non-Being, then it follows that the divine relations must come from either creation or nothingness, both of which are impossible.

dguller said...

Glenn:

Perhaps the real problem is it is not rightly understood that Trinitarian theologians...are not using ["is"] to express what modern logicians understand by the identity relation. -- Trinity Sunday

Just sayin'.

I totally agree, but I think they all ultimately come down to either total and absolute identity in reality or partial and relative identity in reality. An example of total and absolute identity in reality would be the identity between the divine power and the divine goodness. In reality, they are exactly the same thing, and any differences only occur in our minds. An example of partial and relative identity in reality would be the identity between two different human beings who are partially identitical in that they share formally the same human nature, which is numerically distinct in that it is instantiated in two different human beings. It seems that partial and relative identity would involve highlighting different parts or aspects of different entities that are the same in some way, even though there are other differences that differentiate them and avoid total and absolute identity.

And the problem with this analysis, if it is correct, is that if one admits of partial or relative identity in the reality of God, then one has admitted a kind of composition into God. Even if one rejects real composition, and only focuses upon virtual composition, then the virtual components must be distinct from one another in order to be different components. And if that is true, then God is a virtually composite entity that includes the divine essence and the divine relations are virtually distinct components.

Would this be acceptable Catholic doctrine?

BenYachov said...

Speaking of arguing the Trinity this article by James Anderson arguing against Dale Tuggy an ex-Christian turned Unitarian. It looks good. I read it last night he & I & the other anonymous share many ideas in common. Thought I am more predisposed to Feser's Negative Mysterianism (which some people don't try to understand or get the hint) I might say this alternative is valid as well.

http://www.proginosko.com/tag/trinity/

http://www.proginosko.com/2012/02/positive-mysterianism-undefeated/

http://www.proginosko.com/docs/Positive_Mysterianism_Undefeated.pdf

Positive Mysterianism Undefeated

BenYachov said...

>That’s fine, but you should know that you are just avoiding the issue altogether.

The issue is YOU ARE NOT ARGUING THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY WITH ME BUT A STRAW MAN OF YOUR OWN CREATION!

It's that simple and of course all the mindless shit you post as a tangent in June 4, 2013 at 10:33 AM to deflect & obfuscatefrom this simple truth can be ignored.

dguller said...

Ben:

If the divine relations cannot possibly come from the divine essence, then they must come from other than the divine essence. Do you disagree?

BenYachov said...

>If the divine relations cannot possibly come from the divine essence, then they must come from other than the divine essence. Do you disagree?

What does " come from the divine essence," even mean?

Did G-L say it? Or Pope St Damascus? Or Nicea? Aquinas? You cite Aquinas profusely in his treatise on Natural Theology but the Trinity is not Natural Theology and you complain about Aquinas on the Trinity and refuse to read anything beyond Q28 or 29.

Like I said the issue is YOU ARE NOT ARGUING THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY WITH ME BUT A STRAW MAN OF YOUR OWN CREATION!

Anonymous said...

Dguller has a point with respect to a scholastic model of the trinity.

But he doesnt if person is ontologically prior to essence, the divine person IS God the Father, and the two other persons of the trinity derive from him. The East has this right. Ironically, the coherence of divine simplicity depends on the monarchy of the Father.

--Patrick CF

BenYachov said...

Glenn you are wasting your time with dguller.

For him the Straw Man doctrine of the Trinity that he made up off the top of his head is what he wants to argue against not our Church's actual teaching teaching or formulation.

500 posts & it's in one ear and out the other.

Look at this shit?

>I totally agree, but I think they all ultimately come down to either total and absolute identity in reality or partial and relative identity in reality.

You know as well as I do none of the Divine Persons can be Partially God & if either you or I took that belief we would be heretics.

The Persons are each fully God. We have tried to explain it too dguller. Indeed he has been told outright the Persons can NOT be partially God. They don't each own a 1/3 of the divine nature. Infinity can't logically be divided.

But as we can see he ignores what you tell him. Indeed you can see he didn't read Feser's post at all.

Also he is ignoring Feser who explained the Trinity must be a Mystery & remain incomprehensible to us.

He is trying to understand what it is!

Rule 8 "The Trinitarian does not say: “I clearly see what the propositions are saying, and they seem contradictory” but rather “I do not see any contradiction between them, but then I do not see clearly what they are saying in the first place.”-Edward Feser

We don't have to say what the real distinction between Persons is or what it means we only have to say IT IS NOT a distinction in essence!

Mystery and all that!

Don't waste your time with him. It took him a very long time to drop his nonsense against the Incarnation being God changing his unchangeable divine nature into a human one.

I suspect if there is any hope he will return to reason it might take him just as long to see he is not arguing the Trinity with us like he wasn't arguing the incarnation.

BenYachov said...

@Patrick CF

I am not against the East being right thought I might quibble that only the east can be right.

Thought granted that goes both ways I hate how the Catholic Encylopedia disses the East and lauds the Western Latin View of the Trinity.

I'm with RS I think the Body of Christ needs to breath with both lungs.

BenYachov said...

additional:

>Dguller has a point with respect to a scholastic model of the trinity.

Actually he is arguing against the doctrine in general or more precisely his making up his own version of the Trinity and arguing this Straw man against the actual doctrine.

He has dismissed Sullivan the Scotus defense because he can't accept the Someone vs Something distinction.

If he was just arguing against the scholastic view I wouldn't have said a word(I owe faith to the dogma not one school even the school I prefer) but he is attacking the doctrine in general with a Straw Man.

Glenn said...

dguller,

I totally agree, but I think they all ultimately come down to either total and absolute identity in reality or partial and relative identity in reality.

Which is to say in effect either that: a) the Trinity theologians are wrong in not using "is" in the aforementioned manner; or, b) even if they not wrong in not using "is" in that manner, if what they are hold to be true is indeed true then it ought to be the case that the truth they hold should be amenable to expression, without loss or distortion of meaning, while using "is" in that manner. I am unaware, however, of any argument which might successfully establish either a) or b) as being necessarily true.

Brian said...

dguller,

You entirely misunderstand the problem being posed. Islam, paradigmatically, is not much different than conservative Protestantism. Both assume a set of inerrant scriptures and secondary authorities from which to draw. Both also rely on "the consensus and determinations of religious scholars" to arrive at religious truths. And that is precisely the problem.

Without a living and divinely authorized interpreter and teacher to adjudicate among competing interpretations of Scripture, divine revelation is reduced to "a matter of opinion," even assuming that Scripture itself is inerrant. As I told Daniel earlier, the best such a paradigm could produce are provisional human theological opinions that are supported by human arguments and reasoning. Those opinions could be rigorously argued and may even be correct, but we would not know if they were truly revealed since they rely on natural authorities. So your "consensus" of religious scholars could not ever produce an infallible, divinely revealed truth - just arguments that cannot command the assent of divine faith (this, btw, is another philosophical defeater for candidates of special revelation that lack an infallible authority). They cannot give what they do not have.

So a principled means to distinguish divinely revealed truth from human theological opinion is practically necessary for a religion that claims special revelation. Without such a means, a revealed religion is practically no different than a non-revealed one since we would not know, in principle, if it was truly revealed or not. Conservative Protestantism and Islam, since ultimate interpretative authority in both religions is assigned to individuals, every man does what is right in his own eyes. A supernatural religion about God turns into a natural religion about men.

Any religion lacking in a divinely authorized and living authority can be ruled out as a candidate for special revelation. So, yeah, all of Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, etc. hit the dust before we even begin a historical query.

You can take a look at the two articles I linked to above, for starters. The comments sections are just as important as the article, so take a look at them, too.

Glenn said...

("if what they are hold to be true" s/b "if what they hold to be true")

dguller said...

Glenn:

Which is to say in effect either that: a) the Trinity theologians are wrong in not using "is" in the aforementioned manner; or, b) even if they not wrong in not using "is" in that manner, if what they are hold to be true is indeed true then it ought to be the case that the truth they hold should be amenable to expression, without loss or distortion of meaning, while using "is" in that manner. I am unaware, however, of any argument which might successfully establish either a) or b) as being necessarily true.

With respect to the relationship between X and Y, then wouldn’t the logical possibilities be exclusively:

(1) X is the same as Y in every respect
(2) X is the same as Y in some respect
(3) X is the same as Y in no respect

(1) would correspond to my total and absolute identity, (2) would correspond to my partial and relative identity (as well as partial and relative difference), and (3) would correspond to total and absolute difference.

dguller said...

Brian:

Without a living and divinely authorized interpreter and teacher to adjudicate among competing interpretations of Scripture, divine revelation is reduced to "a matter of opinion," even assuming that Scripture itself is inerrant.

But the consensus of Islamic scholars, or `ijma, is itself “a living and divinely authorized interpreter”. That is why the reception of a permission to teach Islamic texts, or ijaza, is an absolute prerequisite to proper understanding of those Islamic texts in question. It is precisely to preserve the transmission of holy teachings that unbroken chains of transmission that are painstakingly recorded is necessary. Ultimately, every chain of transmission is traced to the Prophet Muhammad in order to guarantee the preservation of divine truth. So, I think that your critique would fail when it applies to Islam.

So a principled means to distinguish divinely revealed truth from human theological opinion is practically necessary for a religion that claims special revelation. Without such a means, a revealed religion is practically no different than a non-revealed one since we would not know, in principle, if it was truly revealed or not. Conservative Protestantism and Islam, since ultimate interpretative authority in both religions is assigned to individuals, every man does what is right in his own eyes. A supernatural religion about God turns into a natural religion about men.

But with respect to Islam, those individuals are part of an unbroken tradition extending to the original expositor of Islamic doctrine, i.e. the Prophet Muhammad, and thus are part of a living and breathing chain of transmission to preserve religious truth.

Brian said...

Ah, ok, perhaps I will learn something new right now. So you are telling me that, in Islam, there is an infallible authority that has the power to bind the consciences of faithful Muslims on matters of divinely revealed truth? Note, I am not saying a valid succession of interpretative authorities stretching back to Muhammad, but infallible authorities. Otherwise, Protestants can and do claim the same thing. They have elders and councils that interpret the scriptures, but they do not claim infallible authority.

Glenn said...

Ben,

Glenn you are wasting your time with dguller... 500 posts & it's in one ear and out the other.

What comes out the other may enter another's and take root.

But this is a quip, and not why I chimed in.

Basically, it seemed like attention should be called to something previously said, so I called attention to it. I'm not being drawn in; misunderstandings have abounded for hundreds of years, and I'm under no illusion that anything I might say will resolve certain misunderstandings presently entrenched.

I chimed in coated with Teflon, so to speak, and not wrapped in Velcro.

Thanks for looking out.

Brian said...

Why the hell is it so hard to get a direct answer? I've been researching this Islamic consensus thing for about an hour, and it seems 1) there's no centralized body in Islam that lays out, clearly, what it teaches and 2) there's no consensus on the consensus. So that the very notion of 'ijma is determined by human and scholarly analysis and, therefore, recapitulates the very problem I am talking about. These guys need a magisterium, and they need a freaking catechism that lays, clearly, what they believe and teach.

dguller said...

Ben:

What does " come from the divine essence," even mean?

It means that the divine essence is the principle of the divine persons, i.e. the divine persons are derived from the divine essence as from an origin. For example, when Aquinas is discussing the divine processions, he writes that the order of the processions is “derived from the nature of the will and intellect.” (ST Ia, Q27, A4). Since the nature of the divine will and the divine intellect is identical to the divine essence, then it follows that the order of the processions is derived from the divine essence. As you will agree, the essential problem here is that if the divine intellect is the divine will, which is the divine essence, then they are all the same in reality, and thus one cannot derive the different processions from the divine intellect and the divine will, because they are exactly the same as the divine essence, which cannot differ in any way due to its formal and numerical unity.

Again, the key issue remains. If the real distinction between the divine relations cannot be derived from the divine essence, then they must be derived from other than the divine essence. As Aquinas says, “the relations themselves are not distinguished from each other so far as they are identified with the essence” (ST Ia, Q39, A1).

And as Gilles Emery says in his The Trinitarian Theology of St Thomas Aquinas (Oxford: 2010): “the essential attributes are incapable of giving an account of personal distinction. Because they are essential attributes, understanding and will cannot create such a distinction. St Thomas rigorously forbids us to conceive the personal plurality as if it were a derivative of the divine essence: this leads to Sabellianism” (p. 122). He also says that the “alterity of persons [is] based on a relation-distinction, but not an alterity of essence, nature or substance” (p. 133), and that “the essence does no engendering” (p. 148). So, Emery agrees with me that the source or origin of the distinction between the persons cannot possibly be due to the divine essence.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

To avoid relativism, there must be truths that are applicable to all traditions, and those truths are not mere assertions. The bottom line is that if all truth is relative to a tradition, then you have relativism such that there is nothing beyond each particular tradition that justifies those traditions themselves. And that means that the very claim that all truth is relative to a particular tradition is itself a relative claim, and thus contradictory.

I never said that the law of non-contradiction was not above tradition. What I was trying to get across is that there is no way to use the law of non-contradiction outside of a particular tradition that informs its judgments. So, in a sense, there is something "higher" than tradition even though that thing itself must always be determined by tradition. This does not apply to those within a tradition whose claims are above logic, though, as you'll see in a second.

Otherwise, it is all just a matter of competing claims with no independent standard of comparison between them.

This is more or less how it works, anyway--unless an ideology refutes itself. Are you familiar with Alasdair MacIntyre's writing? I'm not totally in agreement with him, but he outlines this system fairly well and explains how it is not relativism.

No, I’m saying that there must be something beyond tradition that individuals can appeal to in order to justify tradition itself. If there is such a “something”, then obviously it is higher than tradition.

Then it can't exist, according to the Christian tradition. The only things above Christian tradition are supernatural. Human reason is not among them.

After all, before that tradition existed, there was only one person advocating for its views, and that person could not simply appeal to the very tradition that he was trying to establish in order to justify it. There must have been factors outside of that person’s inchoate tradition that he appealed to in order to encourage others to follow him.

We believe that God himself became a man and started Christianity. Seeing as Jesus is considered to be the embodiment of all truth, I don't really see how your objection regarding "inchoate tradition" applies. Also, he is supposed to have presented miracles to his disciples as an example.

I am talking about probabilities involving historical facts within the empirical world, given how the empirical world works.

And how does the empirical world work? This is not simply an obvious point. Again, depending on your tradition, your calculation of probability will change dramatically. If you're from a tradition and time period that finds miracles commonplace, then your equation will change. If you're from a tradition and time period that finds miracles unlikely, then your equation will change. If you're from a tradition and time period that finds miracles impossible, then your equation will change. Your equation will change if you're a Jew waiting for the Messiah or if you're a modern atheist. Your equation will change if you believe that God exists and sends messengers or if you're more of a deist. Probability is totally relative.

rank sophist said...

There is a difference between an agreed upon set of beliefs and practices that people do just because they’ve always been done that way, and because they have been found to work in some way for the achievement of some goal. An example of the former would be a family tradition of always getting together on Sundays. There is no deeper reason for that kind of tradition other than the fact that is has always been done that way in a family. An example of the latter would be empirical science, which works to achieve understanding of the empirical world. It is only because it works in that way that scientists continue to do it. It is an instrument that scientists use to discover empirical truth about the world.

There is no difference. All tradition exists because those within that tradition have found that it works. If getting the family together on Sunday ended in disaster and in-fighting every single time, then it would stop. (Same goes if no one ever showed up, etc.) If no Buddhist had ever achieved something like enlightenment, then no one would bother joining. Traditions that don't work perish, because people reject them. History is littered with examples of this.

dguller said...

Brian:

Ah, ok, perhaps I will learn something new right now. So you are telling me that, in Islam, there is an infallible authority that has the power to bind the consciences of faithful Muslims on matters of divinely revealed truth? Note, I am not saying a valid succession of interpretative authorities stretching back to Muhammad, but infallible authorities. Otherwise, Protestants can and do claim the same thing. They have elders and councils that interpret the scriptures, but they do not claim infallible authority.

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “My Community shall not agree upon misguidance. Therefore, you must stay with the congregation, and Allah's hand is over the congregation.” This, and other religious texts are cited as evidence for divine protection of the consensus opinion in Islam.

Why the hell is it so hard to get a direct answer? I've been researching this Islamic consensus thing for about an hour, and it seems 1) there's no centralized body in Islam that lays out, clearly, what it teaches and 2) there's no consensus on the consensus.

With regards to (1), the consensus is decentralized and rather organic, which actually adds to its validity, because if numerous individuals separated by time and space can agree upon principles and understanding, then that simply adds to the validity of that consensual understanding. It is like if two scientists separated by space and time come to identical empirical conclusions by conducting similar studies, then the conclusions will be more valid. And in Islam, when a consensus is achieved upon a speculative matter, then that consensus is considered infallible and binding upon all responsible Muslims. For example, there is no possible innovation in which Muslims no longer have to pray five times a day.

With regards to (2), there is a consensus on the consensus, particularly in traditional Islamic jurisprudence. Consensus is one of the four fundamental principles of Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh, the other three being the Qur’an, the hadith, and analogical reasoning (or qiyas). The only difference being whether the consensus should be understood as between the entirety of the Muslim community (i.e. the ummah), or between the entirety of the Muslim scholarly community (i.e. the `ulema).

So that the very notion of 'ijma is determined by human and scholarly analysis and, therefore, recapitulates the very problem I am talking about. These guys need a magisterium, and they need a freaking catechism that lays, clearly, what they believe and teach.

As I mentioned, the community is believed to be divinely protected from error by virtue of the consensus achieved, generally by the community at large, and particularly by the scholarly community.

dguller said...

Rank:

I never said that the law of non-contradiction was not above tradition. What I was trying to get across is that there is no way to use the law of non-contradiction outside of a particular tradition that informs its judgments. So, in a sense, there is something "higher" than tradition even though that thing itself must always be determined by tradition. This does not apply to those within a tradition whose claims are above logic, though, as you'll see in a second.

I think that you have an overly restrictive account here. There are surely more than logical truths that human beings can agree upon. Can anyone deny that the sun appears to shine during the daytime? Can anyone deny that a rock is harder than a feather? These are all empirical claims that humans can achieve consensus over, and would be independent of any particular tradition and not simply a truth of logic. Sure, how these empirical truths are described and talked about would depend upon the historical contingencies of a particular tradition, but the reality that is being referred to remains true independent of that particular description.

This is more or less how it works, anyway--unless an ideology refutes itself. Are you familiar with Alasdair MacIntyre's writing? I'm not totally in agreement with him, but he outlines this system fairly well and explains how it is not relativism.

It’s funny that you mention it, because I have recently ordered his After Virtue, just because it looked interesting! I really wonder how he can show that a system in which there are competing claims with no independent standard by which to determine which claims are true and false is not the textbook definition of “relativism”.

Then it can't exist, according to the Christian tradition. The only things above Christian tradition are supernatural. Human reason is not among them.

But it must exist, according to the rationalist tradition (amongst others). So, who is right, and how does one determine who is right? That is one reason that I like John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith. The general idea is that if you would reject the arguments that other traditions use to justify their beliefs, then you should equally reject those same arguments when they are used by your tradition to justify its beliefs. So, if you would reject another tradition’s claims when they say that their tradition says their claims are true, then you should equally reject such an argument for your own tradition.

We believe that God himself became a man and started Christianity. Seeing as Jesus is considered to be the embodiment of all truth, I don't really see how your objection regarding "inchoate tradition" applies.

Put yourself in the position of a Jew in antiquity who saw and heard Jesus. Jesus utters the claim that he is God himself, embodied in the flesh as the Son of God. Should you believe him? If you should, then why should you?

Also, he is supposed to have presented miracles to his disciples as an example.

Lots of figures from the ancient world allegedly performed miracles, many similar to those allegedly performed by Jesus.

dguller said...

And how does the empirical world work? This is not simply an obvious point. Again, depending on your tradition, your calculation of probability will change dramatically. If you're from a tradition and time period that finds miracles commonplace, then your equation will change. If you're from a tradition and time period that finds miracles unlikely, then your equation will change. If you're from a tradition and time period that finds miracles impossible, then your equation will change. Your equation will change if you're a Jew waiting for the Messiah or if you're a modern atheist. Your equation will change if you believe that God exists and sends messengers or if you're more of a deist. Probability is totally relative.

But you forget that Bayseian probabilities change with new evidence, and thus one’s probability calculations will involve prior knowledge and current knowledge in order to calculate future probabilities. So, say that you are part of a tradition that accepts miracles are possible, then that would factor in to the prior knowledge. Furthermore, say that the majority of purported miracles have been found to not be miracles, which would then be built into future priors, which would increasingly become smaller and smaller, and then ask yourself what the likelihood is of a future miracle being a real miracle or a false miracle. Even if you believe in miracles, the odds become unlikely that a future miracle is a real miracle. That is why I said that this involves empirical phenomena, which one can check and test to see if one’s predictions are right or wrong, which then transforms future probabilities. (I’m sure I’ve screwed up some details here, but I hope the general idea remains clear.)

There is no difference. All tradition exists because those within that tradition have found that it works. If getting the family together on Sunday ended in disaster and in-fighting every single time, then it would stop. (Same goes if no one ever showed up, etc.) If no Buddhist had ever achieved something like enlightenment, then no one would bother joining. Traditions that don't work perish, because people reject them. History is littered with examples of this.

You’re right. If a tradition didn’t work for something, then it would die off.

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov:
You know like Eternal Security, Yes or No?

No.

End times views?

I guess I would call it post-tribulationism. I'm not sure what all you mean by this though.

Eucharistic doctrine? Consubstanciaton? Calvin's Dynamic Presence? Zwingli's Its just a Symbol?

Symbol: "Do this in remembrance of me" (I take "real food" and "real drink" to mean spiritual food and drink - which is more real than physical food and drink).

Justification?

By faith in Christ (not just "faith" but "faith in Christ")

Baptismal regeneration? Yes or no?

Spiritual regeneration ("you must be born again") with baptism an act of obedience and submission.

Pedobaptist or anabaptist?

Anabaptist. Faith in Christ is a conscious choice.

Daniel Smith said...

Brian: What is needed is a living, divinely authorized interpreter and teacher to cross the gap, but inherent to the Reformation is a rejection of the living authority of the Catholic Church, which just is that divinely authorized voice.

That's the thing, the Reformation rejects the claim that the Catholic church IS the divinely authorized voice. They looked at the Catholic church and found it wanting. ("By their fruit you shall know them" and all that.)

You can assert that the Catholic church is the divinely authorized voice of God on earth, but that just begs the question.

How do you KNOW that to be true?

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: Iron Maiden can't be fought! Iron Maiden can't be sought!

Ha!

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