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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Quick Hit Responses to Bill.

Not so much a fisking (and I don't think the first set was, either--at least not as incendiary as some) as an attempt to converse.

Quite possibly fruitless, but worth a try.

Original reply from Bill here.

I said I didn't read any of the SuperApologists before I became a Catholic (in fact, the whole SuperApologist phenomenon has developed since then). I have read them in the twelve years since.

OK, noted on that--as written, though, your statement was ambiguous, and could be interpreted to mean you hadn't read them at any time. Regardless, that leads to a follow up. I am genuinely curious about this: which of the NAs did you read, and what books? It would help me understand the rejection.

Of the names Dr. Gaillardetz lists, I do not think Mitch Pacwa and Peter Kreeft fit the mold. I've appreciated Fr. Pacwa's work on the New Age, and Peter Kreeft is no man's fundamentalist (and having hosted him, I can affirm he is quite capable of holding his own at a secular institution like University of California [or Boston College]).

At a minimum, that concession is a strong indication that Prof. Gaillardetz' analysis is deeply flawed, and he is unable to make crucial distinctions. In other words, he's guilty of the same simplistic overgeneralizations and broad-brushing he (and you) accuse the NAs of. If nothing else, he's managed to poison the well for America readers who are less familiar with these gentlemen and needs to be called on it.

"Mainstream biblical scholarship" is not an elusive term at all. Go read "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church," and you will see that the historical-critical method is said to be the necessary starting point for Biblical interpretation.

Here's the question: how do you define "fundamentalist"?

I actually own a copy of it, and I think you overstate the PBC document's position. It calls the historical-critical method "the indispensable method for the scientific study of the meaning of ancient texts" [emphasis mine]. If you're not engaged in such a study, it's not mandatory. Or is a parish bible study that passes up a discussion of Q and M in favor of a "four senses" analysis of the Gospel According to St. Matthew "fundamentalist"? Does Joe Weekly reading his RSV-CE have to drink deep from the well of Wellhausen before he can derive value from Genesis? Evidently not, or the bishops wouldn't have recently dropped the hammer on catechetical texts which exalt the method.

[Amongst the problems noted in the texts is that t]he interpretation of Sacred Scripture tends to rely almost exclusively on the historical-critical method and does not generally draw on the rich patristic and spiritual interpretation in the Church. The implication is that the Scriptures are to a large degree merely human texts. The divine role is usually stated, but often then obscured in the way in which Scripture passages are treated. In some instances miracles are explained away as ordinary phenomena, not of supernatural origin. We have even seen some of the miracles of Jesus explained as a result of lucky timing!

Then there's the rather disturbing fact, as noted by Catholic scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson who use the method, that sixty years of Catholic historical criticism haven't borne much fruit, either for theology or for transmission of faith. Finally, what about those Catholics who choose to reject current HC theories popular (for the moment) with Catholic exegetes, such as the lack of biblical support for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Markan priority, post-70AD dating of Matthew and Luke, pseudonymous authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and the like--does this make them "fundamentalists"? In light of the bishops' actions, the answer appears to be "no"--rejecting dubious fruits of the method makes no one a "fundamentalist."

It has weaknesses that need to be supplemented, but to reject it is to risk falling into fundamentalism (which is the one approach to the Scriptures that the Vatican has nothing positive to say about).

Catholic scripture scholars have found the document's approach to "fundamentalism" to be one of its great weaknesses--people like Dr. Peter Williamson, who heads up scripture studies at the archdiocesan seminary in Detroit.

Re: "Lutheran-Reformed knife fights"--the Lutheran side will always be the one standing at the end, because the Lutheran knife rips open the fatal flaw at the heart of Reformed theology, and exposes it as merely a revival of Nestorianism. See Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ and The Lord's Supper, which are the most detailed analysis of the problem. Reformed views of the Eucharist, and denial of the title "Mother of God" to Mary, are rooted in a Christology which imagines that the human and divine natures of Christ can be spoken of apart from one another; i.e., that the (infinite) divinity is present in the Eucharist, but not the (finite) humanity ("the finite is not capable of the infinite"); that Mary gave birth to the humanity of Christ, but cannot be called "Mother of God" (because of the same principle). The Reformed theologians of the 16th century and later developed all sorts of clever arguments for their position, bolstered by a legal form of argumentation and a remarkable skill at systemitization; this was the base from which the distinctive Reformed approach to apologetics grew (and I think it fair to say that Westminister Theological Seminary, and denominations like the PCA, are prime examples of this approach).

Very interesting, although being from neither a Lutheran nor Reformed background, I'm not in much of a position to judge the relative merits of the dispute. Still, I'll have to add the title to my book list.

I admit that this take does jibe with one of the more fascinating and worthwhile critiques of the approach towards justification taken by many Reformed writers, written by S.M. Hutchens for Touchstone. He manages to reiterate the same points, I think.

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