Friday, May 25, 2007

The Bible and the Magisterium

The Bible was written by human hands, and its many books were assembled by human hands. What are we to make of the doctrine of Sola Biblia in light of this? Let us consider only the assembly of the Bible.

Nowhere in the books of the Bible do you find any instruction about what books to include in its final canonical form. So, then, when in the 3rd century the Bible took its current form (let us put aside for the moment the dispute between Catholics and Protestants about the inclusion of the Apocrypha), the men responsible for its assembly were not guided by any explicit Biblical instructions.

Nor as a matter of logical necessity could they have been guided by Biblical instruction, whether explicit or implicit. It's quite possible that a book say of itself that it should be included in the Bible. But this alone does not mean that it should be. I could at this very moment produce a document that said of itself that it should be made part of the Bible, but this does not mean that it should be. Books can tell falsehoods. Moreover, when in the process of assembly, the assemblers did not yet know what should be included and what should not. They thus could not point to this or that book and say of it that it was canonical and thus authoratative, and this of course means that they could not rely upon the supposed authority of this or that book in the decision to include the books they did. Their decisions were of necessity not Bible-guided. They were Spirit-guided, I should think.

Now, what must we say today of those men who assembled the Bible? Assume that we wish to place a supreme and unshakable confidence in the Bible (as Biblical inerrantists wish to do). We must place a supreme and unshakable confidence in them and their work, else we would have to admit the possibility that they erred; and if we were to admit that, we could no longer cleave to the Bible as we wish.

My point is this: trust in the Bible requires an extra-Biblical trust in the work of the men who assembled it. We must trust to their authority, and must do so for reasons that cannot be culled from the Bible.

Thus as the Catholic Church teaches, there are two sources of religious authority: the Bible and the Magisterium. Sola Biblia undermines itself. One we think through what must be true if we are to trust the Bible, Sola Biblia becomes (at least) Sola Biblia et Magisterium.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

First Communion

The twins - Curtis and Katie - had their first communion a few weeks ago. Since they're only eight, I don't think they understand much about it. (I'm not certain how much that I understand about it.) But they did see to appreciate the seriousness of the occasion, and they did enjoy the many friends and family who came to see them.


We in the West (and it seems as well part of the East too) have arrived at a strange view of marriage. It is this: the love that binds husband to wife is of a weaker and less valuable sort than the love that binds parent to child. We see evidence of this continually. Husband and wife divorce and no longer longer care about the good of the other (or perhaps care no more than they do about a mere acquaintance), and yet they still care about the children. Though they no longer feel responsibility for the other, they still feel responsibility for the children. (I know that there are exceptions to this. I mean to speak only in generalities, but they strike me as true generalities.)

Thus it seems as if divorce betrays a certain ugly truth about marriage in the West: the love of children is unconditional, but the love of a spouse is quite conditional (or at least the former is much closer to unconditional than is the latter).

Wherever this view is taken, it is a perversion. Within a family, there must be no distinction made as regards the strength of the bonds of love. Wife and husband should love another as much as they loves their children. Even when children are not present, the bond between husband and wife should be no less strong that the bond of parent to child.

Though parents do sometimes take this view, children do not. They love all in their family equally, and would be just as devastated by the loss of one as the loss of another. This I believe explains why divorce exacts such a heavy toll on children. For themselves, they would never choose to have their family split up. But it is chosen for them, and at the hands of another they suffer a loss of that which they value most. Moreover, since to a child the natural view is that family love - whether between parent and parent or parent and child - knows no condition, once that love has shown itself conditional in divorce, the child will inevitably wonder whether it will show itself conditional in the love the parents have for her. A bond that breaks once can be broken again, and a parent's reassurance to the contrary will ring hollow.

I do realize, of course, the divorce is in come cases a necessity. But we ought to recognize it for the great evil it is. It implies a profound lack of love by at least one spouse.

Since I've talked almost exclusively about the evil of divorce, perhaps I should end with a word or two about the good of marriage. As I've said many times at The Philosophical Midwife, I believe that we are for one another. This is our purpose. We are to seek our good, and the good of others, in the company of others, and we are to delight in their presence. We are to bind ourselves to others absolutely and unconditionally, and in this way and this way alone is our true felicity found. Marriage is thus a vehicle - indeed I would say the primary vehicle - through which the human good (at least on this Earth) is realized. So then let husband and wife make between them a bond unshakable, and let them thereby show that they are capable of the highest of goods.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My Creed Revisited

Some time ago I decided that I would write Franklin's Creed. It was this:

My Creed

The world revealed to the senses is not the whole of the world. The self revealed to the senses is not the whole of the self. The world did not come to be from nothing. Rather it had a cause that stands outside it. The cause is single, not multiple. The cause is God. The self did not come from nothing. It did not come from blind physical processes unwatched and not chosen. Rather the self was made by another and greater self. It was made by God. God wishes that we love both him and one another for eternity. But in our present state this is impossible. We live in a state of spiritual infancy, and our purpose in this life and in the life after is to learn to love perfectly. All are immortal. All will fulfill their purpose. The opportunity for spiritual growth does not end when we die. Rather it persists for so long as we fall short of perfection. Perhaps I will be perfected in this life. Perhaps my perfection will require the life-age of the universe. But no matter how long it takes, it will happen. Christ was perfect love made flesh. He came not to pay a price, but rather to evince love, give hope, and form a body of followers in which love might grow. Scripture is a human record of God's relation to the world of his creation and as such is subject to the very errors that plague all human work. Scripture is not inerrant. Scripture answers in us a felt need for guidance in our moral quest. We know that its ethic of love answers to our most fundamental need. Its sole authority rests in this.

I would like now to make a pair of revisions. The first concerns my talk of spiritual infancy. I suspect that it is inadequate. A few months ago, I had a minor religious experience. In it I became convinced that the whole of creation was radically transformed - ruined I should say - by the Fall. While this does not contradict my prior view that we humans now exist in a state of spiritual infancy - a child, while still a child, may still rebel and do harm both to himself and to those around him - it yet transforms that prior view.

Here is my proposed revision:

We came into the world as spiritual children, and while still children rebelled against God and thus ruined both our perfect, albeit infant, nature and the world in which we live. Both we and the world now bear the unmistakable signs of our rebellion.

Moreover, this revision requires that we rethink the work of Christ. I think now that in my Creed I trivialized that work. Christ was no mere teacher. He was no mere founder of the Church. Rather in a way that as present I only dimly understand, he came so that he might put right the damage we did to ourselves and to the Fall. Christ's work is not merely pedagogical or organizational. It is rather ontological. By His life, and His death, he reaches into the innermost recesses of our being, and the being of the world, and thus effects a transformation that could not be effected in any other way. In the original creed, what I say suggests that Christ could carry out his purpose and yet only act upon us externally. That's wrong. Christ has to, as it were, cut into the soul, remove what's ruined so that what's good might flourish. Christ isn't so much a teacher as a surgeon, or perhaps we should say that he wasn't only a teacher but was a surgeon too.

So, then, a second correction to the Creed is needed.

Christ was perfect love made flesh. He came not to pay a price, but rather to evince love, give hope, and form a body of followers in which love might grow. By his work, and by that work alone, our ruined natures, and the ruined world around us, are made whole again.