Friday, November 21, 2014

Montanism and objectivity

Many liberals in the Church have big problems when justifying their arguments. I often hear statements such as, "You're telling God what to do!" or "How dare you try to limit God!"

The trouble is, this is more or less what the Montanists said. The idea is that Catholic Authority can be bypassed at any time in order to make an action considered unlawful/invalid in the past lawful/valid in the present

Essentially, the arguments in which this phrase would be used take this sort of form.

1) Catholic Authority says X is not permitted.
2) The Holy Spirit cannot be limited by human beings.
3) X is permissible despite Catholic Authority.

The premises may indeed be true; the second certainly is! However, the conclusion simply does not follow unless there are extra assumptions. Let us try and fill in those assumptions.

1) Catholic Authority says X is not permitted.
A) Catholic Authority is human in origin.
2) The Holy Spirit cannot be limited by human beings.
B) X is permitted by the Holy Spirit.
3) X is permissible despite Catholic Authority.

For the argument to become valid, the assumptions must themselves be shown to be true.

I'll take them in reverse order, i.e, B first.

We have an issue X and we wish to know whether it is permitted by the Holy Spirit. How would we find out?

There are lots of spirits about which tell us many things. Let's say that we receive some spiritual guidance that killing politicians is not a sin. If this doesn't seem very palatable, then let's make that politician Hitler or Stalin, someone whose death would have made the difference in the lives of millions.

It may seem like a no-brainer. Many people would not think twice if the opportunity to go back in time to kill Hitler was a real possibility. However, what would the Christian do? Would they just go along with this? Of course not: the Will of God must always be considered. They would need assurance that the message of this spirit was from God. They could just trust the spirit, but how would they know that this was the Holy Spirit? Just because it felt like the right thing to do?

Feelings are not the arbiters of right judgement. If they were then my waistline would increase as I feel that a second chocolate bar is in order. Clearly a revelation from the Divine must be consulted against what we understand already about the Divine. We know that we must test the spirits to see if they be from God. That's not just St John, it's common sense surely! What revelation can there be?

Well, there is Holy Scripture, there is Holy Tradition, there is Reason and there is personal revelation. Is the personal revelation enough? Even for St Paul, personal revelation was only the starting point for his mission. He had to be guided and taught. One cannot go just by a big crash-bang-wallop explosion of revelation without it being consistent with what we know of God Himself. There must be two witnesses to support a claim, ideally three. For Anglicans, these witnesses must be Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

If X is contradicted by Scripture and Tradition, then Reason dictates that it is not established as Christian Doctrine.

Of course, one might reject that idea, which brings us to Assumption A.

Is Catholic Authority human in origin? I.e. did human beings make the rule book?

The "rule book" is Holy Scripture as interpreted through Tradition supported by Reason. Holy Scripture is the supreme authority. If we reject that, then we cease to be authentically Christian. After all, to be Christian means to believe in the Divinity, life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church gathered all the evidence pertaining to these facts into the New Testament. Thus to reject the authority of the New Testament is to rely upon one's own personal revelation apart from the Catholic Church, but this personal authority then becomes self-supporting and impossible to verify objectively that the revelation that one receives is correct.

What about different interpretations of that rule book. Well, this is where the splits between Christians begin to show. The circumstances of our salvation occurred at one point in Time as the Passion of Our Lord played out. These temporal circumstances have an Eternal effect, because they communicate God's love for us. God is Eternal and God is changeless. Thus Christian Doctrine of Grace and Salvation must be changeless. The same rules, same covenant, same Law, same grace, same sacrifice, same source of justification, sanctification and glorification must apply to all Christians at all time and in all places. This is Catholicism. Thus the Catholic Authority is reasonably believed to be not of human origin but of God's direct revelation.

To see, then, Holy Scripture as possessing the same vicissitudes as human philosophy denies its applicability to all Christians in the same way. If some part of Scripture hitherto accepted is now to be rejected then why not another part, or another? We're back to Sorites paradox. Surely, we either accept all Holy Scripture as it always has been read in Tradition by the Catholic Church, or we reject all of it as unreliable and thus make it subjective, and thus subject to the individual understanding.

Holy Scripture contains all that is necessary to Salvation. It describes the means of grace by which mankind is first justified, sanctified and glorified. If Holy Scripture become suspect and subjective then salvation and grace become completely subjective too. If Salvation is to apply to every Christian, if Grace is to apply to every Christian, then the law by which we know we have sinned applies to every Christian and the means of distributing that promised Grace must apply also to every Christian.

The Ten commandments are not subjective, they are completely objective. They are meant for everyone regardless of person. Laws that are subjective are not laws. Covenants that are subjective are not covenants. Human beings need to learn what is God and what is not-God and are to seek that which is truly God, and God is not subjective  He is objective. Far from the Holy Spirit being limited by human beings, we have the opposite: human beings being limited by the Holy Spirit!

That's the key error that this sort of argument makes. It isn't Humanity limiting the Holy Spirit, it's the Holy Spirit limiting Humanity. Those of a liberal bent rail against this because they perceive that, because Catholic Authority denies X when X is reasonable, that it is the Holy Spirit that is being prevented from working. They do not see that Catholic Authority denies X precisely because the Holy Spirit denies it. Indeed, it is sheer human pride to say that they have special knowledge of what the Holy Spirit wants beyond what human beings have been taught by Divine Revelation. I is Gnosticism of the Montanist variety.

To say that human beings cannot be objective and thus Holy Scripture cannot be seen as an objective statement of Revelation, Salvation and Covenant, is to reject Catholicism: Catholicism which exists in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, most Old Catholic and Anglican Catholic understandings of the Faith. It also rejects mathematical statements such as 1+1=2 ("The Holy Spirit is telling me that 1+1=4 today.") as well as scientific statements by which mankind has benefitted.

If a Christian hears another say "I believe in God," then for both of those Christians, an objective statement has been made pertaining to the existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent, Creator who deserves worship Who exists as Trinity in Unity, the Second person of Whom died to save mankind from their sins. That is an objective statement because it is a central tenet of the Christian Faith. But then, isn't that a matter of opinion?


Ken said...

There aren't many new heresies are there?

Warwickensis said...

Do you know, Ken, I don't think there can be. People seem to forget that, perhaps in the 2000 years of Christianity, all the big questions pertaining to the Gospel message have already been asked and answered.