Sunday, January 04, 2009

Why "Sentire Cum Ecclesia"? A Concise Answer from Josef Pieper

One of the reasons that I put off answering Brian Coyne's insistent requests that I give a comprehensive defense of the dictum after which this blog is named ("Sentire Cum Ecclesia") is that I knew that sooner or later I would come across a defense fully and simply formulated by a theologian of greater abilities than myself. I have, just today, found exactly this defence, in the little book by Joseph Pieper called "Scholasticism". I have been reading Fraser Pearce's copy of this book and intend to purchase it ASAP. I highly recommend it to you if you are not familiar with it.

Anyway, here is the passage. It is lengthy (for a blog entry) but rather pithy as an rational argument for thinking with the Church. It comes from pages 132-3 of the 1960 English translation published by Faber and Faber. The intent of the passage is to defend the reasonableness of Church's claim to have the right to condemn propositions contrary to divine revelation. It occurs in the context of a consideration of the 1277 condemnations of "philosophism" by the bishops of Paris and Canterbury. I have divided the quotation up into paragraphs for easier understanding of the line of argument.
First: If there is something like "Revelation", that is to say, speech of God audible to man, in which something is made known which is not knowable in any other way (I am not speaking of whether there is Revelation; yet it is clear that Christianity rests upon this fundamental assumption; but even in the pre- and extra-Christian worlds, in Plato, for example, there has always been a living conviction that "divine speech", theios logos, exists);

and if--secondly--what is revealed in the divine speech is not immediately accessible to every man, if rather this Everyman must depend upon the divine speech's being communicated and passed on, "handed down as tradition" from generation to generation by those who first received it (those who partook of "inspiration",

so, then it is simply in the nature of the thing that not everyone is capable of interpreting the meaning of the Revelation. Not everyone can know what was truly meant by it.

It is necessary to conceive a definitive authority of some kind which not only preserves and passes on the tradition, but also gives a binding interpretation to it: an authority which, for example, also says what was not meant by the divine speech, and what is incompatible with it.

Precisely that is the meaning of such "condemnations."

Like theology as a whole, they are a matter fundamentally fraught with conflict (indeed, that is to be expected), for one reason because the interpretation of the Revelation (which can be binding in many different degrees) is itself subject to the conditions of history.

Nevertheless, if and as long as men retain the conviction that God has revealed Himself to those He has chosen, they will consider it imperative that this Revelation be protected against all pollution and all misinterpretation.
that is the conclusion of his argument - and I think that (as it is stated) it is fairly watertight. You might disagree with the conclusion, but I would say that if you do it is because you disagree with one or the other or both of his first two suppositions at the beginning. This, in fact, is what I think Mr Coyne and his friends do. It also includes the important recongition of the fact (which has arisen in our discussions with Cardinal Pole and PE et aliter) that authoritative pronouncements about the correct interpretation of Revelation are "fraught with conflict" at least to the extent that such pronouncements "subject to the conditions of history". This is a simple and inescapable consequence of an Incarnational ecclesiology. Nevertheless we have assurance from Christ himself that all along the rolling stream of time the Holy Spirit will continue to lead the Church "into all Truth".

I am going to include a sentence or two from what follows this passage in Pieper as I think they are relevant to our current situation, and with which I think Pope Ratzinger (who, not incidentally, is an admirer of Pieper) would agree. It concerns what I have called elsewhere on this blog the "New Orthodoxy":
...As everyone will realise, we are here touching upon a phenomenon that has become a daily occurrence in the totalitarian world these days, where "deviations" are constantly being condemned with an absolute claim to rightness--but without appeal to a standard of truth which alone can properly uphold authoritarian claims.

No such appeal is possible, nor is it even thought necessary. Men like Thomas Aquinas [whose work was included in these condemnations], or even bishop Tempier or Robert Kilwardby [the bishops of Paris and Canterbury respectively who issued the 1277 condemnations], would regard such authoritarian claims as not only a violation of the dignity of human reason, but also and above all as an absurdity from the theoretical point of view.

On the other hand, the sorry fact remains that in these times of ours there are not a few secularised intellectuals who accept both the degradation of dignity and the absurdity... All this as an aside from the subject of "condemnation of propositions".

13 Comments:

At Tuesday, January 06, 2009 4:40:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Flying Judas in the refectory, and you say metaphor + symbol + model = gnostic nonsense?

God has spoken! God has spoken! Just one thing though, nobody knows what the hell it means! Crap, it's as if he hadn't spoken then. Whadrwe gonna do? The Oracle at Delphi is no more, the angel Moroni took back the Urim and Thummin after Joseph Smith translated the golden plates -- wait, the pontifex maximus and his collegium pontificum got Christian but still have their old pagan powers!

Yes, a circle of initiates to tell us what God said when he said what he said whatever that was! Happy us!

Nostic gnonsense.

 
At Tuesday, January 06, 2009 9:31:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Thank you, PE, for finally starting a discussion string on this post. I thought for a while I might have missed the mark. It looks as if most of you were simply getting over your new year's day hangovers...

So, translating your usual superfluous invective and reducing it down to your actual point, you would agree with Josef Pieper's (not Smith's) first premise (that there is a realm of knowledge that can only derive from divine revelation and is not achievable by the use of human reason), but not his second premise (that if a realm of knowledge is not achievable by the human reason of Everyman but depends upon divine revelation to God's "chosen ones" then logically it cannot be simply understood by the application of Everyman's human reason either but relies upon the "chosen ones" to whom the revelation was made).

Now, I can understand that you might not like Pieper's second premise, but you have not shown where the flaw in his argument lies.

You also fly in the face of the history of the Christian church, which very early (precisely in opposition to "Gnostic nonsense") decreed that only that teaching which was directly traditioned from the apostles could be relied upon to accurately convey the revelation of Christ.

The fact is -- and scripture is quite clear on this (check out Sirach 45, Luke 6:13, John 15:16, Acts 1:2,26, and countless other places) -- that God intentionally did not reveal his word to everyone but chose special ministers (apostles and prophets) to be his spokespersons.

What makes you think that God's ways changed after the death of the last apostle?

 
At Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:06:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

The fact is -- and scripture is quite clear on this (check out Sirach 45, Luke 6:13, John 15:16, Acts 1:2,26, and countless other places) -- that God intentionally did not reveal his word to everyone but chose special ministers (apostles and prophets) to be his spokespersons.

Which is neatly wrapped up in the New Testament: "In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he has made heir of all things and through whom He created the worlds" . . . which leads neatly to Christ's instructions to his apostles: "He who hears you hears me."

There is a consistent apostolic witness in the Church from the beginning about Jesus Christ and who he is for us.

Unfortunately, Joseph Smith and some others missed the boat. But then the Lord did warn us about false teachers, did he not?

God must always be true to himself. He alone does not change and the truth of his revelation certainly did not change with the death of the last apostle.

 
At Wednesday, January 07, 2009 4:30:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

God bless me sideways, I stopped too short!

Interpretation for the interpreter!

(In case you're missing all the fun and thinking that is just superfluous invective, I'll unpack it for you, it is a parody of something from Wagner's Parsifal, a much more profitable production than the bogus ordo missae -- "redemption for the redeemer".)

The holy oracle has spoken, now we know what God meant when he mumbled. Crap, that was an hour ago. What does the interpretation mean now. Great Judas leaping in the apse, that was tied to a time and place, let us consult the oracle about what the oracle meant!

So the creaky celibates who form the board of directors of a multimillion dollar multinational corporation don their period costumes.

Certainly not did his revelation change when the last Apostle died.

And certainly did he warn us about false teachers. Such as those who arise in the very temple of God, making a second beast (Roman church) worse than the first (Roman empire). Liars who would fancy themselves the "you" in he who hears you, appropiating the form of pagan Imperial religion to Christ himself.

God has spoken, but it's useless, it needs an oracle. God has inspired writings, but they're useless, they need an oracle. The oracle has spoken, but it's useless because ten minutes later the oracle needs an oracle.

Pretty good gig for the oracle!

Nostic gnonsense again!

(I won't unpack that one, it should be obvious.)

 
At Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:04:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Okay, so lets try that again, shall we, PE? Pieper's point was that God CHOSE specific persons to whom he would make his revelation.

Those persons were also in charge of clarifying the meaning of his revelation.

We see this specifically in Scripture, with (for eg.) St Paul appealling to his status as an apostle which gives him authority to interpret the meaning of God's revelation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.

See eg. Gal 5:1 "2 Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you" - that is most definitely an "interpretation" of the Paschal Mystery for the particular circumstance of the Galatians. He is appealing to his personal "chosenness" as "Paul the Apostle" as his authority in making this pronouncement.

BUT, circumstances have changed. I have been circumcised. Nothing religious in it. Does that mean that "Christ is of no advantage for me"? Of course not. The circumstances are different. What among the Galatians in the time of Paul would have been a denial of Christ was, when I was an infant, a common enough medical practice even among gentiles.

I'm getting off the track here a bit, I know, so I will come back to it. Paul interpreted the gospel against his "Judaizing" opponents. He had the authority as an apostle to say his interpretation was correct, they didn't. Today, in a different context, the Revelation still needs to be interpreted; it still needs someone with authority to get up and say definitively "That's right" and "That's gnostic nonsense" when there is a dispute about matters of Revealed dogma.

Nothing has changed since 50BC. If someone was in charge of saying what interpretations of the gospel were right and wrong in 50BC, why should that be any different today?

 
At Thursday, January 08, 2009 1:20:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

This isn't about Paul -- who wasn't Peter -- it's about the pope. Everything always is, in RC. Everything else comes down to that. Everything else depends on that. Everything else is OK if that.

So where is the verse that says after the Apostles are gone their successors will be the bishops who will speak with their authority, and then only when agreed with the Bishop of Rome?

I have it on the most respected of authorities that the verse comes right after the one that says everything will be settled at voter's meetings.

 
At Thursday, January 08, 2009 2:55:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

And certainly did he warn us about false teachers. Such as those who arise in the very temple of God, making a second beast (Roman church) worse than the first (Roman empire). Liars who would fancy themselves the "you" in he who hears you, appropiating the form of pagan Imperial religion to Christ himself.

Hooray, Jack Chick will join ya right in on that one, PE! Me, I see Roman emperors who had the audacity to consider themselves divine. Last I looked Papa Benny did not claim divinity.

So where is the verse that says after the Apostles are gone their successors will be the bishops who will speak with their authority, and then only when agreed with the Bishop of Rome?

Nowhere for those who rely on sola scriptura and dismiss the witness of the early Christian communities called [T]radition.

 
At Thursday, January 08, 2009 4:05:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Sola ecclesia. Great.

 
At Thursday, January 08, 2009 4:59:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Nice try, PE :)

Sola ecclesia? No. The worshipping community which was there from the beginning nourished by Word and Sacrament.

Papa Benedict had some wonderful thoughts about the meaning of the church, the Bible and the roles of both at his Mass for Epiphany.

He very clearly states that the church has no glory of her own, it is the grace of the Lord that animates her and his Word and Sacraments that nourishes her.

Christ is head of the Body. No Body, no Christ. No Christ, no Body. They can't be separated. He died for his Body, the church.

The Bible is not a "lone wolf" entity. It belongs to the church.

 
At Thursday, January 08, 2009 6:07:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Who disagrees with that?

The problem is when you make "church" code for Roman Catholic Church.

Bit of a jump except according to, guess who, the Roman Catholic Church.

Sola ecclesia.

 
At Thursday, January 08, 2009 7:28:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Not by a long shot. Not all churches believe what I posted.

 
At Thursday, January 08, 2009 6:04:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

So where is the verse that says after the Apostles are gone their successors will be the bishops who will speak with their authority, and then only when agreed with the Bishop of Rome?

Actually, you will probably find that verse in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Not in the canon, I grant, but early enough and widely accepted enough to be accepted by the entire Church, Roman or otherwise.

 
At Friday, January 09, 2009 6:34:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Not in the canon, you grant.

 

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