Intellectual Modesty — an Example

Last year I wrote a brief article about intellectual modesty, and my point was that truths of faith are not necessarily subject to comprehension by human reason. Our intellectual powers cannot rise above nature to the supernatural.

Here is a personal example. The Catechism has this to say about the Eucharist:

The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ… [CCC §1333, emphasis added]

Transubstantiation surpasses my understanding. When I first read Aquinas on the subject I did not find his presentation to be comprehensible nor persuasive. But what occurred to me was that neither of those were necessary things. What I know to be a fact is that it is a truth of the Faith, and therefore I know that it is true whether I understand it or can explain it.

We must not presume to subject God’s truth to human judgment. He is infinite and perfect; we are the very opposite, being both limited and flawed. We are not the measure of all truth. We must be willing to say assent to what God says is true just because He says it is true. It will not do to reduce revelation to what our brains or imaginations can conceive of Scripture saying. That is rationalism disguised. This is why Bryan Cross has rightly described Protestantism as baptized humanism. For the Protestant, revelation can only be said to teach what he can himself believe it possible to be teaching. He thereby makes himself the measure of revelation’s content rather than being measured by it.

Advertisements
Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Epistemology, Fides et Ratio, Protestantism, Sacraments
8 comments on “Intellectual Modesty — an Example
  1. Susan says:

    Hi Fred,

    Isn’t that the truth though. According to Protestants it’s… on one hand;
    “It isn’t permitted us to see God face to face. You( person seeking answers in Catholicism) are asking for more than what scripture offers. You are asking to see God unveiled by seeking a schema less messy than what is available in Protestantism. You are just going to have to learn to be content with scripture.”
    …..and on the other; ” Jesus wasn’t advocating that we literally believe that we eat his flesh and drink his blood. That’s just insane. How can you believe in transubstantiation?”

    It’s really pick and choose. I was told that John Chrysostom believed miracles had ceased. That almost killed my faith.
    Do you see how it works?…..It’s ok to believe that Enoch and Elijah were transported out body and soul, but not in the assumption of Mary. It’s still ok to believe in the devil, but we don’t take him seriously, but more like the excuse Flip Wilson gives. Forget angels, unless you are old enough to still be wearing a beehive hairdo and have a couple of nice angel brooches for good luck.
    What belongs to faith is being chipped away, and sooner or later this causes a crisis of reason when you look to see what the bible says and compare it to what your denomination accepts.
    Good article!

    Susan

    • aquinasetc says:

      Hi Susan,

      (Commercial break from The Doctor here!)

      Thanks for your comment, and thanks for stopping by! Yes, sadly, Protestantism is caught on the horns of a dilemma that is utterly insoluble on their terms: they reject magisterial authority one the one hand, but they likewise reject the theological anarchy which is the only alternative.

      Fred

  2. You can probably imagine my shock when I first learned of your conversion to Catholicism via facebook some time ago. Vast hundreds of miles of distance separated us as we each criss-crossed the country with our respective families, so I was not able to observe the slow process that those closer to you must have seen. One can be aware of one’s own growth and change, and one can grasp that such change must occur in everyone else to some degree. But in spite of that, I still had an image in my thinking of the young man I knew at Covenant who tended to be a bit dogmatic at times, rather than searching. Forgive me for saying so, but you did your best to avoid certain topics (such as immersion vs. sprinkling), so thoroughly convinced were you that you were in the right. (To this day I wonder if you ever did study that out…)

    I’ve read through some of your posts on Called to Communion describing your conversion process, and the one thing that struck me most was your faith in the Church as being free from error. When it came down to deciding which best had a grip on the truth, you or the Church, you automatically assumed it was the Church. I would say neither. Only the Bible contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    “We must be willing to say assent to what God says is true just because He says it is true,” you say. Yet who interprets that truth? Churches of all denominations, cults, and what have you, have evolved over the years. There is always change, sometimes leading us closer to the truth, sometimes leading us further away. Change, whether good or bad, occurs because we are, as you say, “both limited and flawed.” All churches change in one way or another because they are made up of finite, flawed, sinful men and women. This is why I have more faith in the faultless Word of the infinite, perfect, sovereign God than I ever could in any creed or catechism, be it mine or another’s.

    I am reminded of a woman with whom I once had brief contact. She had such faith in her Westminster Confession, and the men who wrote it, that she could not even consider Scripture to the contrary. Such is the faith many Catholics seem to have in the teachings of their Church.

    “…If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” –John 8:31-32

    • aquinasetc says:

      Dear Cathy,

      Thanks for your thoughtful, gracious comments.

      You said:

      You can probably imagine my shock when I first learned of your conversion to Catholicism via facebook some time ago. Vast hundreds of miles of distance separated us as we each criss-crossed the country with our respective families, so I was not able to observe the slow process that those closer to you must have seen. One can be aware of one's own growth and change, and one can grasp that such change must occur in everyone else to some degree. But in spite of that, I still had an image in my thinking of the young man I knew at Covenant who tended to be a bit dogmatic at times, rather than searching.

      It may seem surprising, but I wasn’t searching for anything, really. I was perfectly content to be Reformed. I mentioned in one CtC article that I had done a search of sorts, but it wasn’t a search for theological truth; it was a search for the un-Christian elements and presuppositions that I knew must be in my head. I wanted to root them out so that I could be purely and fully Christian (by which I meant Reformed) in my thinking. So I wasn’t searching for the truth, because I thought that already I had it. I was searching for the errors in my own head, so that I could eradicate them.

      And what wound up happening was not so much the result of a process of search but really more like a bolt out of the blue. I realized in one day that what I believed could not possibly be true. And this left me in the uncomfortable position of being a man without a country, after a fashion. I knew that I was no longer Protestant, but I had no idea at all what the consequences would be. I “knew” one other negative as well at that time: that I was not interested in the Catholic Church and had no interest in investigating her. Well obviously the course of time changed that, but the point is that I wasn’t seduced by the beauties of the Catholic Church (as some critics say of us), and I wasn’t discontent to be Reformed.

      Forgive me for saying so, but you did your best to avoid certain topics (such as immersion vs. sprinkling), so thoroughly convinced were you that you were in the right. (To this day I wonder if you ever did study that out…)

      Not as a Presbyterian, no. And, well, not as a Catholic either. Sorry! But it is not an issue for the Catholic. The Catechism says that immersion was the original form of it, but pouring came to be accepted early on.

      I've read through some of your posts on Called to Communion describing your conversion process, and the one thing that struck me most was your faith in the Church as being free from error. When it came down to deciding which best had a grip on the truth, you or the Church, you automatically assumed it was the Church. I would say neither. Only the Bible contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

      But even on your own terms you must be able to get that truth out of the Bible in some way. Yes? And is there to be no certainty about when that has happened?

      “We must be willing to say assent to what God says is true just because He says it is true,” you say. Yet who interprets that truth?

      That is the $64 zillion dollar question right there.

      Churches of all denominations, cults, and what have you, have evolved over the years. There is always change, sometimes leading us closer to the truth, sometimes leading us further away. Change, whether good or bad, occurs because we are, as you say, “both limited and flawed.” All churches change in one way or another because they are made up of finite, flawed, sinful men and women. This is why I have more faith in the faultless Word of the infinite, perfect, sovereign God than I ever could in any creed or catechism, be it mine or another's.

      But would you not say that there are certain truths that a person must believe in order to be saved? If so: what are they?

      I am reminded of a woman with whom I once had brief contact. She had such faith in her Westminster Confession, and the men who wrote it, that she could not even consider Scripture to the contrary. Such is the faith many Catholics seem to have in the teachings of their Church.

      What Catholics believe is that it is impossible for the Church to err in matters of faith and morals.

      “…If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” –John 8:31-32

      Yes. And what is that truth in which we must continue? And who says it is that truth, and why should we believe him/her/them?

      Cathy, I really appreciate your comments. I hope that I have been at least somewhat as gracious.

      Fred

  3. If it truly is impossible for the Church to err in matters of faith and morals, then why has she changed her stance on certain things over the years? (The most recent, off the top of my head, being whether or not un-baptized babies are “in limbo” or go straight to heaven. Also the statement that Protestants are no longer considered heretics; rather, we are now “fallen brethren”. I could research others that my husband and I have discussed.)

    As to the cardinal doctrines that all must accept in order to be saved, a careful, prayful reading of 1 John will reveal that list to any who wish to understand.

    As to being able to get the truth out of the Bible, Jesus Christ said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” –John 16:13-15

    But I wasn’t trying here necessarily to change your mind. You’ve come full circle, in a sense, and there’s not really any going back unless God so moved it upon you as to be inescapable. Thank you for reading my response as gracious. I truly meant it to be so. :)

    • aquinasetc says:

      Hello Cathy,

      You wrote:

      If it truly is impossible for the Church to err in matters of faith and morals, then why has she changed her stance on certain things over the years? (The most recent, off the top of my head, being whether or not un-baptized babies are “in limbo” or go straight to heaven. Also the statement that Protestants are no longer considered heretics; rather, we are now “fallen brethren”. I could research others that my husband and I have discussed.)

      The Church has never dogmatically declared that Limbo even exists, nor that unbaptized babies go there. It was, as I understand things, a pious opinion that was not out of accord with what the Church does formally hold (the necessity of Baptism, and the denial that original sin amounts to personal guilt meriting eternal punishment in hell). Since it has never been a dogma of the faith, its present denial cannot be considered a change of anything other than a given prevailing opinion, not a dogmatic change.

      With respect to what the Church says about Protestants today (as opposed to the original Protestants of the 16th century or those Catholics who leave the Church today to become Protestant: as it turns out, the present practice is by no means a historical nor theological novelty. St. Augustine referred to the Donatist heretics as “separated brothers,” for example, and in the 16th century St. Peter Canisius did the same with respect to Protestants. I will grant you that it was not a common thing until more recently, but it has never been out of accord with Catholic dogma to do so.

      More relevantly, there is a necessary distinction between those Catholics like Luther and Calvin who left the Church in favor of their own opinions, and people born and raised as Protestants or who become Protestant after never having been Catholic at all. As the Fathers of Vatican II rightly observed, Protestants today can hardly be held responsible for the sins of their theological forebears. It is a man’s baptism which makes him our brother in Christ; it is his separation from the Church which makes him a separated brother. This is not to say that the Church has changed its views on Protestant theology at all—Trent is still in force—but its anathemas cannot and do not apply to those who have never been Catholic.

      In sum: the Church would most likely consider some of your religious beliefs to be heretical, yes. But Trent’s anathemas do not apply to you. And by virtue of your baptisms it is proper to consider you my brothers and sisters in Christ.

      As to the cardinal doctrines that all must accept in order to be saved, a careful, prayful reading of 1 John will reveal that list to any who wish to understand.

      I do not mean to be glib, or to sound rude, but why 1 John? Why not Matthew or Mark, or the whole NT for that matter? More importantly, let me share with you an experience I have had. I have asked more than one Protestant what these essential beliefs are, and I have got different answers from each of them. Literally. Personally, when I was Protestant I could not have provided such a list and yet I absolutely believed in the perspicuity of the Bible for just that purpose. But the question isn’t about things that are non-essentials or “nice-to-haves”; it is about essentials. I could never provide such a list, and most Reformed types flatly refuse to even try to offer one (which is just bizarre); a Reformed Baptist I asked couldn’t stop adding to his list and it wound up containing things that other Protestants would have rejected. And I notice that you did not actually offer such a list yourself :-) (you’re not obliged to do so of course; it is just something I noticed).

      Why, if the Bible is sufficiently perspicuous that a due use of proper means would allow even the uneducated to discern these essential doctrines, is it so difficult (or impossible) to obtain that list? And why do Protestants differ on these essentials?

      As to being able to get the truth out of the Bible, Jesus Christ said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” –John 16:13-15

      I think that the answers I have already given both in this comment and in my Called to Communion articles are a sufficient reply here, but in brief I think the same observation that I just made above applies: why then do Protestants differ on essentials if in fact the Holy Spirit is guiding their interpretation of Scripture? God is not the author of confusion, so this is a real problem.

      But I wasn’t trying here necessarily to change your mind. You’ve come full circle, in a sense, and there’s not really any going back unless God so moved it upon you as to be inescapable. Thank you for reading my response as gracious. I truly meant it to be so. :)

      I am not trying to start a conversation that you may not be interested in having. I know you are busy, and my own lack of substantive posting for quite a while now is due to my own busyness. Ugh. I merely feel some obligation to try and answer, if I can, the questions or objections asked here on my blog. :-) God bless you and keep you, and I hope you won’t mind my occasional comments on your Facebook posts.

      Fred

  4. About Protestants at large: There are so many of us, each with different creeds and catechisms, that I really don’t even like to refer to myself by that term. Thus, I don’t try to explain why Protestants believe/practice this or that. I speak only for myself, and for my own local church fellowship.

    I am, if I need to state an exact denomination, an Independent Particular Baptist. This means that I hold to the five points of Calvinism with regards to the doctrine of salvation: total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and preservation of the saints. However, I am not reformed, since I differ in my understanding of eschatology, church government (as implied by the term “independent”), and some other things. And you know about the Baptist part. :)

    More importantly, I am a biblical Christian, meaning that I hold the Word of God to be the sole authority in my life, since it alone is true and without error. Where creeds and the Bible disagree, I hold that the God is true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). This is what I should have focused on in my last comment regarding the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church. In areas where the RCC is in direct contradiction to the Word of God, which is truth? For instance, why does the RCC forbid marriage in the priesthood when Scriptures tell us that a pastor/bishop is to be the husband of one wife, with the two raising children together (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6)? Not even the Levitical priesthood was forbidden marriage. Your “first pope” Peter was married (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38), and there is no biblical record of him ever forsaking his wife for the sake of the gospel. In fact, it appears as though she traveled with him in his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:5).

    We always refer to 1 John when anyone asks for a list of the essential beliefs one must have to be saved because of the many “ye know that ye have passed from death unto life because…” statements found in that book. We like to encourage people to read the book for themselves to find the list on their own, but we also have a list we give out to help with that. It’s compiled by John MacArthur, and is based on the book of 1 John. You can find it here: http://so4j.com/is-it-real-11-biblical-tests-of-genuine-salvation-john-macarthur.php#a1

    No, I don’t mind your occasional comments on facebook. I’m not that kind of person. :) You wouldn’t believe the variety of friends I have on there, from all walks of life, religious and non-religious, including at least one lesbian. And you’re not the only Catholic. I am, after all, or at least I would like to be, evangelistic. I am IN this world, not OF it. I only reserve the right to delete offensive, vulgar, blasphemous, immoral, filthy comments, but most people respect me enough that I have rarely had to do that.

    As for my time, well, I’ve been sick for the past 4-5 days, and have not been able to be out of bed much. My laptop has been keeping me company. So if I go for long bouts of not answering you, rest assured that I got well and got back to the normal routine of life. Either that, or we got rid of the internet–something we’ve been considering lately. :)

    • aquinasetc says:

      Hello Cathy,

      You wrote:

      About Protestants at large: There are so many of us, each with different creeds and catechisms, that I really don’t even like to refer to myself by that term. Thus, I don’t try to explain why Protestants believe/practice this or that. I speak only for myself, and for my own local church fellowship.

      And it is this circumstance which drove me out of Protestantism. There is no plausible way in which it can be said that Protestant differences over essentials—differences which very understandably prevent you from speaking for any but the most local group you know—there is no plausible way in which those differences can be reconciled with the idea that the Holy Spirit guides the Church (however defined) to the truth. I sympathize with the problem, and I have lived it (not wanting to be associated with various other groups of Protestants by virtue of some larger label that would have implied that our differences were trivial).

      More importantly, I am a biblical Christian, meaning that I hold the Word of God to be the sole authority in my life, since it alone is true and without error. Where creeds and the Bible disagree, I hold that the God is true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). This is what I should have focused on in my last comment regarding the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church. In areas where the RCC is in direct contradiction to the Word of God, which is truth? For instance, why does the RCC forbid marriage in the priesthood when Scriptures tell us that a pastor/bishop is to be the husband of one wife, with the two raising children together (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6)? Not even the Levitical priesthood was forbidden marriage. Your “first pope” Peter was married (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38), and there is no biblical record of him ever forsaking his wife for the sake of the gospel. In fact, it appears as though she traveled with him in his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:5).

      Who decides whether creeds disagree with the Bible? On what authority?

      Clerical celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrinal position nor even a specifically moral one. The Church could change that policy tomorrow. But it is a discipline with value. 1 Cor. 7:32. And not all the Apostles were married, nor has every last minister in every Protestant denomination been so. I will concede of course that there may be Protestant communities (whether denominations or congregations) who make marriage a condition of service as a minister, but it is by no means the universal rule. The point being: St. Paul’s rule concerning marriage is to eliminate polygamy, not to enjoin marriage on all the clergy.

      We always refer to 1 John when anyone asks for a list of the essential beliefs one must have to be saved because of the many “ye know that ye have passed from death unto life because…” statements found in that book. We like to encourage people to read the book for themselves to find the list on their own, but we also have a list we give out to help with that. It’s compiled by John MacArthur, and is based on the book of 1 John. You can find it here: http://so4j.com/is-it-real-11-biblical-tests-of-genuine-salvation-john-macarthur.php#a1

      Interesting, but perhaps we are talking past each other. For starters I know many Catholics who could affirm (practically) everything in that list, but I seriously doubt that MacArthur would give them or me the benefit of the doubt. :-) The single issue I can find is with his description of this world as “evil,” which is a Manichaean viewpoint. He mostly takes it back with the details, but no Catholic would object to rejection of false religions or materialism or immorality. There are other things, of course, such as that sometimes Christians backslide (so that they sin more, not less), and what he means by “spiritual truth and error” undoubtedly is not exactly what we mean by it. But that is really the point of my question. Not even Protestants agree about that among themselves, and their differences are not just about adiophora. Who says what constitutes “spiritual truth and error,” and why should we listen to him/them?

      I’m sorry you have been sick. I had the flu a few years ago, and it was absolutely no fun. :-(

      Fred

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories
Pages
Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 162 other followers

%d bloggers like this: