Saturday, February 21, 2004

When did hierarchy develop in Church history?

Most Protestants see no evidence in Scripture or tradition of any sort of hierarchy in the New Testament Church. Increasingly today, Catholics who have been influenced by protestant traditions of interpretation--especially since Vatican II in the early 1960's--agree with that assessment. They would be far more inclined to accept the view that Jesus set up a kind of egalitarian community of believers with nobody having any unique authority over another. For example, one author whom I shall refer to only as E. Foster, writes the following:

Jesus taught his apostles that the greatest disciple in their midst would be the one who served his brethren. Jesus further said that all of you (i.e., the apostles) are brothers without a human leader (Mt 23:8-10). Furthermore, Eph 4:11-16 depicts the apostles as "gifts" bestowed upon the church of the living God in order that all might attain to the oneness of the faith and maturity as the entire body of Christ "promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" under the invisible leadership and headship of the one greater than Moses, to wit, Jesus Christ. We have no need of human hierarchies or human leaders, according to the Messiah.
However, Jesus' teaching in in Mt. 23-8-10 is a moral exhortation not to arrogantly lord it over others, not a literal prohibition of the use of the term "father." If one reads on, he also tells them not to be called "teacher," but few who find themselves in the vices of literalist gridlock over the term "father" (because of the Catholic tradition of calling priests "father") find themselves similarly gridlocked over the use of the term "teacher." The most obvious meaning of the passage to me seems to be an exhortation to humility later echoed by Paul's remark that none of us ought to think more highly of ourselves than we should, or that the "head" cannot say to the lowly hand or foot, "I have no need of thee," but that all form a unity in Christ, in whom there is neither "male nor female," "slave nor free," etc. But none of this betokens the suggestion that the Body of Christ has no "head" to govern it, or that it has not parts with different functions, some subordinate (as means to ends) to others, as in any organism. Even the Pope has from earliest times referred to himself, in keeping with Christ's injunction, as the "Servant of the Servants of God"; and when this sentiment is authentically incarnated in the pontificate of a truly holy and faithful Pope--as in, for example, St. Pope Gregory I (the Great) or John Paul II--it would be silly to dismiss it as so much hot air.

There is, I think, plenty of evidence of a distinction in authority between apostles and non-apostles. For starters, otherwise, why should Christ have explicitly called, out of the masses that daily followed him in his Galilean ministry, only Twelve, in conformity to the number of Tribes under the Old Covenant; and why should Peter have led the eleven apostles left after the apostasy and death of Judas, in choosing a successor to him ("...let another man his bishopric [EPISKOPEIN] take"-- KJV), carefully seeking the Holy Spirit's lawful guidance?

Yet there is an engrained resistance among most Protestants to the notion of apostolic succession, or that one should attach any such significance to the appointment of a successor to Judas in the Book of Acts. Again, E. Foster writes:

Concerning the "successor" of Judas Iscariot, reading Luke and Acts does not reveal that Peter "presided" over the appointment of anyone to fill Judas' office. Acts 1:23-26 (in translation) uses the plural pronoun "they" instead of "he" to describe the process of selecting another apostle (the Greek verbs employed are ESTHSAN, EIPAN and EDWKAN).
I would agree that the matter cannot be settled conclusively one way or the other by appeal to the New Testament alone; but I don't believe the New Testament was ever intended by its authors to be used in this way. But I think the New Testament, at the very least, is wholly consistent with the kind of claims from Catholic tradition that I've mentioned above, and, at best, attests to their veracity amply, if not conclusively.

In the passage to which Foster refers, for example, it's true that the term "they" (and not "he") us used to describe the actual process of selecting a successor to Judas, but it is also true in this passage, as in numerous other texts, that Peter is singled out for special attention in some way. Here, for example, it says that "Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said..." (Acts 1:15) There is a similar pattern at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:7, where Luke writes: "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up and said ..." Again, it will be raised as a counterexample that Acts 15:13 brings James into the picture in a similar light, when Luke writes: "And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying..."; and it may be supposed that this "counter-example" annuls the singularity of attention called by Luke to Peter. Yet, despite the fact that the case cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the text alone, Luke's entire account remains utterly consistent with traditional Catholic practice, as the Council of Jerusalem would have taken place in the Diocese of Jerusalem where James was bishop, and after Peter had given his authoritative word as Prince of the Apostles (or the first Pope), it is only natural that the bishop of that diocese, James, "answered, saying..."

Almost no Catholic Bible scholars or Church historians today, let alone Protestant ones, would accept the notion that the New Testament Church had a hierarchy or even an organization to speak of until much later. Protestant Fundamentalists see these as the creation of Medieval Catholicism. Yet careful and honest scholars will admit that some sort of hierarchical structure is evident very early in Church history. A scholar of integrity such as E. Foster is willing to admit that at least a primitive analogy to the structure the Catholic Church now has may be found as early as the time St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome between AD 98 and 117. Foster writes:

Granted, the "diocesan structure" is clear from Ignatius onward. However, it is not clear prior to Ignatius of Antioch, not even in Clement of Rome. Scholars are evidently right on target when they argue that the notion of parishes existing under bishops first appears in Ignatius and not before Ignatius. Hence, support for such an arrangement is apparently not found in the NT.
Yet, while anything like a "diocesan structure" obviously didn't exist early in Jesus' ministry when he first began preaching, any more than the practice of celebrating and commemorating the "Lord's Supper," it seems clear to me that this structure developed rapidly in the aftermath of Christ's Great Commission (Mt. 28). Thus, already in Acts 1 there is Peter's concern to choose a successor to Judas, signaling a desire to sustain the apostolic episcopal structure that Jesus had called into being and commissioned. And it seems quite clear to me in the rest of Acts and in Paul's accounts of his missionary journeys, that when he established churches throughout Asia Minor and Greece, sooner or later one of the presbyters ordained to the pastoral ministry in those communities was elevated and/or ordained to the office of an overseer or bishop, to assist in the governance of the several churches in any given area. This is suggested, I think, as I've mentioned before by some of his remarks regarding Timothy and Titus. Though the terms 'bishop' and 'presbyter' were often used interchangeably, it is also apparent that the term 'bishop' was soon reserved for the presbyter presiding over a parish or a number of parishes (of course, all bishops are also presbyters), and that each city or area (or what would eventually be called a diocese) had one bishop, as well as perhaps a council of presbyters, along with deacons; and that the authority of the bishop was relatively autonomous, save for the pastoral jurisdiction of the universal bishop, suggested, e.g., by Clement.

To be continued...

The interpretation of St. Paul in Harold Bloom's Genius

Sat Feb 21, 02:10:02 PM - Philip Blosser

Harold Bloom's book, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, was named a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year" in 2002. It is, without doubt, a monumental achievement of scholarship and work of considerable genius itself. Bloom, who holds dual appointments as Yale University's Sterling Professor of Humanities and New York University's Berg Professor of Humanities, has authored more than twenty-five books, most of which have been greeted by critics with wild accolades. Yet even an intellect so learned and fecund as Bloom's can betray signs of inadvertent influence, if not entrapment, by uncritically received ideological trends of his age. His treatment of St. Paul, whom he considers a genius and compares to Muhammad, is telling in this regard.

In twelve short pages (133-142), Bloom offers a widely ranging, idiosyncratic interpretation of St. Paul, drawing on unconventional and esoteric as well as the expected sources. In the course of his analysis, his discussion betrays the influence of some of the most radical trends in contemporary hermeneutics. One finds postmodern tendencies stemming indirectly from the influence of the French deconstructionists, such as Jacques Derrida, and from the legacy of Nietzschean thought, which Alasdair MacIntyre classifies under the rubric of historicist "Geneology." (Excellent critical analyses of these currents of influence can be found in Alasdair MacIntyre's Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, Allan Megill's Prophets of Extremity: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, and John Martin Ellis's Against Deconstruction.) One also finds radically desconstructive tendencies of biblical interpretation, such as one finds today in the works of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Burton Mack, which can be traced back to earlier influences from the Enlightenment critics and the development of a decidedly anti-supernaturalistic historical-critical approach to the Bible such as one finds in classic Protestant Liberalism. (Excellent critical analyses of these currents of thought can be found in Roy A. Harrisville's and Walter Sundberg's The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Kasemann, J. C. O'Neill's The Bible's Authority: A Portrait Gallery of Thinkers from Lessing to Bultmann, and Luke Timothy Johnson's The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels.)

The following is a page-by-page analysis of Bloom's twelve pages on St. Paul:

p. 132:
Here Bloom suggests that both the Corinthians and Paul had Gnostic qualities, which Bloom associates with the phrase, "Jesus first rose, then died." This latter phrase is typical of Gnostic beliefs, which often take the biblical story and turn it on its head--for example, suggesting that the Genesis 3 story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden was actually the first step of salvation, since Eve was responding to the Serpent (seen as the embodiment of wisdom) who offered Adam and Eve knowledge, whereas the repressive 'god' who had forbidden them to eat of the Tree wished to keep them in ignorance. Eve's sin thus is interpreted as the first step of 'obedience' in the occult plan of 'salvation' through knowledge (=Gnosis, the root word from which we get "Gnostic"). Yet I see no evidence that the members of the Corinthian church believed anything of the kind, and certainly not Paul.

Further, Bloom describes Paul as a Hellenistic Jew who followed the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX, or Septuigint), as opposed to the Torah, and as repudiating the notion of a reciprocal covenant implicit in the Torah in favor of a plan of redemption imposed by God's will (divine voluntarism). Thus, Bloom claims that Paul misreads Judaism, placing him (Paul) over against the Hebraic or Jewish paradigm, as a representative of a new Hellenic paradigm in the development of 1st century AD religious ideas. Hence, Bloom calls Paul, "not the second founder of Christianity, but the first," suggesting that orthodox Christianity as it eventually developed was a Hellenic distortion of Hebraism. But, again, I see no evidence whatsoever that one should think that. Rather, Bloom's whole construction at this point is highly reminiscent of the very influential neo-Hegelian school of classic F.C. Baur's Protestant Liberalism at Tubingen, which, following the triadic pattern of the Hegelian dialectic, interpreted the development of historic Catholic Christianity as a hybrid resulting from the synthesis of (a) Hebraism, stemming from the Torah and manifest in the more 'Jewish,' earlier religion of Jesus in the Gospels and NT writers like Matthew, Mark, John and James, and (b) Hellenism found in first-century Mediterranean culture, and allegedly exhibited in Paul's writings. But, again, I see no reason for accepting these neo-Hegelian philosophical interpolations. It is a fact that the NT was written in Koine Greek, that Paul and the other NT writers used it, etc. But none of this requires the absurd supposition that their thinking was not typically Jewish or infected by the categories of Greek philosophy.

p. 133:
Bloom is clearly skeptical about the "historical Jesus," by which he means he is skeptical of the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. This skepticism, again, reflects a pattern of influence stemming from Enlightenment skeptics like David Hume and Immanuel Kant, whose arbitrary bifurcation between (a) "historical, natural empirical fact" and (b) "untenable superstitions of faith in the supernatural" led to the classic Liberal Protestant distinction between the "Jesus of History" and "Christ of Faith." The latter ("Christ of faith") was consigned to a realm beyond historical data, evidence, and rational debate, but the former ("Jesus of History") was also rendered inaccessible by arbitrarily disqualifying the four distinct Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as historically unreliable because--it was alleged--as men of faith, they imputed properties of the "Christ of Faith" to the "Jesus of History," such that we can't admit their accounts as reliable testimony. However, can you give me one good reason why such a supposition shouldn't be dismissed out of hand as so much rubbish? Why should the reliability of an historical witness be impugned because he is a man of faith rather than a skeptic? The problem is not that the man of faith is a gullible fideist (blind believer) while the skeptic is a reasonable and judicious fellow; rather, the problem is that the skeptic is no less biased by his commitment to his disbelief in the supernatural than the man of faith is. There's no more reason for writing off the witness of the Gospel writers, who were by all accounts men who put their lives on the line for what they believed (John was the only one of the Twelve who was not martyred), than for putting our faith in the trendy-lefty spin-masters of the The New York Times, network television news, or National Public Radio. The ultimate question is: whose witness do you trust? And that question can't be answered apart from a personal commitment.

p. 134:
Here Bloom suggests that Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist implies that Jesus was some sort of "disciple" of John, that since John's baptism was a "baptism of repentance," this whole relationship is "embarrassing" to the Christian community, who professes the sinless divinity of Jesus. Bloom even suggests that the NT writers are "evasive" about Jesus' relationship to John. But, yet once again, I find not one shred of evidence for this assumption. It strikes me, rather, as a rather cavalier and free-wheeling reading of the Gospels, much like the deconstructive interpretations of texts, which invariably ignore authorial intent (which is declared to be inaccessible) and consequently conclude by doing violence to the text.

p. 135
Along these lines, Bloom playfully suggests that God and Jesus are both "literary characters," much as Hamlet is. Jesus is a character, or better, a "construct" of the apostle, Mark; just as YHWH (Yahweh) is a "construct" created by the "Yahwist" (one of the purported authors of an OT fragment or document); and that the "genius of Jesus" is therefore something parallel to the "genius of Hamlet." In other words, Bloom seems to be suggesting here that we can have no more access to the "historical Jesus" than we can to the "historical Hamlet," since both are "constructs," works of "fiction" "created" by authors. Yet the rub comes in the fact that postmodern writers like Bloom do not necessarily contast "fiction" with "reality"; at least the most radical deconstructionists insist that there is "nothing outside the text," by reference to which one can adjudicate its authenticity, no "transcendental signified." Thus all are left with, on this reading, is a web of texts that refer to one another, but not decisively to any "historical reality" beyond them. Michel Foucault, one of the most radical deconstructionists, even views history as "fiction," so that he felt little compunction about re-writing history in imaginative ways that depart grossly from traditional accounts.

p. 136:
"So as to avoid all churches and their polemics," he says, Bloom here quotes the words of Jesus from The Logia of Jeshua (the publication spells the name Yeshua), "a little volume blessedly free of theological tendentiousness." This implies that the four traditional Gospels of the Church, then, must be "theologically tendentious" and unreliable. But why think this? The Logia of Jeshua, which Bloom favors, draws its "sayings of Jesus" from sources such as the quasi-Gnostic pseudo-Gospel of Thomas, regularly put to use by the so-called Jesus Seminar in behalf of lunatic fringe interpretations of Christianity that fly in the face of academic sanity. Why should Bloom turn to these sources rather than traditional Christian ones? Because he doesn't believe Christianity is true; and since the Gospel writers were obviously believers, this "prejudices" their accounts, rendering them "unreliable." But why should orthodoxy render someone's testimony "unreliable," and heresy render it "reliable"? What nonsense! At the very least, he should be willing to give even-handed treatment of all sources. (It is noteworthy that in Marvin W. Meyer's edition of the Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus an appendix appears offering "A Reading by Harold Bloom, in which he states that Meyer's rendering of Jesus' Zen master-like sayings offer a gospel that "spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus. No dogmas could be founded upon this sequence (if it is a sequence) of apothegms. If you turn to the Gospel of Thomas, you will encounter a Jesus who is unsponsored and free.")

These prejudices that Bloom brings to his reading of the literature about Jesus leads him to make such astonishing statements as the following: "We know more about James the Just, 'the brother of Jesus,' than we do about Jesus"! This is preposterous. There are four separate biographical treatments of Jesus (the four Gospels), and only a few statements in them about James. We know comparatively little about James. The only thing that can lead Bloom to make such an assertion is his prior judgment (pre-judice) that the testimony of the four Gospels are "biased" and therefore must be written off as historically worthless. This prejudice comes out of the skeptical and anti-supernatural tradition of Enlightenment scholarship that has led to sharply distinguishing between the "Christ of Faith" and the "Jesus of History" (as discussed above), but there is absolutely no reason for accepting such a distinction. Thomas Jefferson literally took a scissors to his copy of the New Testament and cut out all the supernatural references, which he considered unbelievable. Needless to say, the pages that remained were very few in number and a relative bore to read: a colorless figure named Jesus walked here and spoke there, saying a few nice things about loving others. This is what Bloom is buying into: the view that we really know almost nothing about Jesus.

p. 137
This is why Bloom goes on to say: "Paul, who was the earliest New Testament author, had virtually no interest in the historical Jesus, probably because those who had known Jesus were almost all opponents of Paul"; and then immediately suggests, incredibly, that the historical Jesus has about as much to do with Paul's (and Christianity's) Jesus Christ as the historical Simon Magus has to do with the legendary Faust, for whom he was ostensibly the inspiration!

First of all, one cannot possibly say that "Paul had no interest in the historical Jesus" unless he has already bought into the fable that the supernatural Jesus of Paul's epistles is a later fabrication of having no credible relationship to the Jesus of history, and that any support for Paul's Jesus found in the supernatural Jesus of the Gospels is discredited because it is a still later fabrication by the community of believers duped by Paul's vision. Secondly, one cannot say that "those who had known Jesus were almost all opponents of Paul," unless one is already committed to the premise that those who knew Jesus believed he was only a man and witnessed none of the healings and other miracles such as the Resurrection attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. But again, why should anyone want to think that unless he's committed to the premise of rejecting anything supernatural? Thirdly, the whole notion that Paul's beliefs about Jesus are opposed to those of the eyewitnesses of Jesus is a convoluted fabrication of the historical-critical tradition of skeptical scholarship honed to a fine Hegelian point in F.C.Baur's Tubingen School. But there is plenty of evidence in Paul's own writings that this kind of opposition between the beliefs of Paul and that of the earlier disciples cannot be sustained. For example, at the end of Galatians ch. 1, Paul relates how, after his conversion, he spent some years in Arabia (probably in a kind of spiritual retreat, collecting his thoughts after his life-shaking encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road). Then he writes: "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days." Now this is worth stopping to ponder: here's Paul, the most brilliant protege of Rabbi Gamaliel, with a sophisticated education in theology, going up to Jerusalem to meet with the leader of the disciples, Peter, who is an uneducated, common fisherman! Why would he do this? Paul refers to him by his Aramaic name, "Cephas," which means "Rock," for which the Greek translation, of course, is "Petros," and is anglicized as "Peter." His name had been "Simon," but Jesus had renamed him "Cephas" (or "Peter") in the famous incident recounted in Matthew 16:18. Re-naming a person was a divine prerogative, and a gesture that always signified something momentous (as when God renamed Jacob "Israel" in the Old Testament). Jesus had changed "Simon's" name to "Peter" to signify that he would be the "rock" upon which He would build His Church. This is why Catholic teaching names Peter as the first Pope. The word "Pope" in Italian is "Papa," and means nothing more than that the man occupying that office is the visible head of the household of Faith. If Paul's beliefs about Jesus were different from earthly eyewitnesses of Jesus, such as Peter's, he would have had nothing to do with Peter. Obviously, the reason he went up to Jerusalem and spent fifteen days with him was because he recognized Peter, despite his lack of education, as having some kind of authority within the community of believers. This is further underlined in the opening verses of Galatians ch. 2, where Paul, after having launched in his missionary journeys among the Gentiles, relates a similar event: "Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem ... and laid before them ... the gospel which I preached among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain." Again, Paul checks in with the Church authorities (Peter, and James, who was the first bishop of Jerusalem) to make sure that what he has been preaching to the Gentiles is true to the apostolic teaching. What humility, on Paul's part! This hardly sounds like there was a radical difference between the beliefs of the earliest disciples and Paul! In fact, Paul declares that "when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars [in the believing community], gave to me and Barnabas the right had of fellowship ..." (Galatians 2:9) But of course Bloom wouldn't buy this, since he's already committed to the Baur hypothesis that the division of labor between them--Paul to minister to the Gentiles, and Peter and the others in Jerusalem to the Jews--represents irreconcilable differences in their views about Jesus, a hypothesis I reject as preposterous.

p. 138:
Not surprisingly, given his presuppositions, Bloom here declares of Paul that "he never knew" Jesus. This pinpoints the difference between Bloom's standpoint of unbelief and the Christian believer's standpoint of faith. The only way Paul could have known Jesus, in Bloom's view, is for him to have spent time together with Jesus during His sojourn on earth. But in the Christian's view, one can also come to know Jesus (1) indirectly, through the testimony of trusted witnesses (as Jesus says to the doubting Thomas in John 20:29--"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe"); , and also (2) directly, through personal experience (what Kierkegaard called experiencing the "contemporaneity of Christ"), as Paul did in his Damascus Road experience.

p. 139:
Here Bloom begins his excursus on Paul's personality, temperament, and genius itself. In keeping with his earlier-discussed premises, he views Paul, essentially, as the historical figure who supplants the merely human Jesus of history and proceeds to "invent both Jesus Christ and Christianity"! And to whom does Bloom turn for what he considers an insightful analysis he says "cannot be bettered" (p. 140)? To Nietzsche!

p. 140:
Nietzsche's account of Paul, which compares him to Luther, is based on his "hermeneutic of suspicion," according to which Christians (like the Jews) are animated by a basic impulse of resentment against all that is represented by power, wealth, and status. For the ancient Jews in captivity in Babylon, this was because they were an oppressed people who didn't have power, like their oppressors, and secretly wanted it. (For an excellent critical analysis of Nietzsche's concept of resentment, see Ressentiment, by Max Scheler, whom Ernst Troeltsch called "the Catholic Nietzsche.") And this translates, in Paul's case, just as in Luther's, into resentment against the Law (Torah), which represents a standard so high that it cannot be kept. Hence resentment stems from an unfulfillable desire. Paul and Luther desire to keep the Law, but can't, and therefore resent the Law. I find it presumptuous to think anyone can quite surmise what is going on in the soul, mind, or heart of another; and I am loathe to think that anything quite like this animated the thought of St. Paul, though I may be more willing to consider it in the case of Luther. In any case, Bloom is right in drawing, at least, some distinction between Luther, who denied that keeping the Law has any role in our salvation, and Paul, who stressed the "obedience of faith" under the aegis of Christ's reign, even while acknowledging our justification by faith apart from works of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision, which he relegated to the supplanted dispensation of the Old Covenant.

p. 141:
Here Bloom describes Paul as an arrogant man with a quasi-Messianic complex, wishing practically to supplant Jesus as the Christ. He suggests that Paul is angry because he is regarded as a comparative "latecomer" by the other apostles who knew Jesus from the beginning. He quotes Luther to this effect, for support. "Galatians seems to me a very angry epistle indeed," Bloom writes, "and I think Luther's hint as to the source of Paul's fury is accurate: the apostle Paul would not accept the idea that he was a latecomer. And yet, in relation to the Jerusalem Christians, he was a latecomer; unlike them, he had arrived long after the events of Jesus' life and death."

I think this completely misses the nature of Paul's concern that animated his Epistle to the Galatians. There are indeed parts of this letter in which Paul "raises his voice," but to categorize it in terms of a Nietzschean psychology of resentment is to utterly miss the point. In the opening chapter of Galatians, Paul writes (Galatians 1:6ff.)--"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel … But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed." We learn what this "other Gospel" was In Acts 15, which describes the proceedings of the Council of Jerusalem, which was called to address this problem. It is stated plainly in the opening verse (Acts 15:1)--"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'" Since the first Christians were predominantly Jews, it is natural that some may have held such views. And Bloom very likely assumes he finds support for his view that a fundamental difference existed between his own Gospel and that of the early disciples in a later passage (Galatians 2:11ff.) where Paul opposes Peter for his hypocrisy in eating with the Gentiles while visiting the Christians in Antioch, but then withdrawing from their company when Jewish Christians came, "fearing the circumcision party." But Peter's was a moral failure and not a doctrinal one, for he himself concurred in the decision of the Council of Jerusalem (of which he presided with James, the local bishop), which unanimously condemned these views. Those who held these views were called Judaizers, believing one had to first become, in effect, a Jew and be circumcised, in order to become a follower of Christ. Of these Judaizers, Paul even goes so far as to say (in Galatians 5:12) that he wishes they would "go castrate themselves"! This is strong language, indeed! But there is no hint of doctrinal dissention between Peter and Paul. This is clear from the earlier-cited passages in this same epistle where Paul declares that he went up to Jerusalem for fifteen days after his conversion and then, fourteen years later, once again to check in with the authoritative "pillars" of the believing community to see whether his preaching meshed with the apostolic Faith.

p. 142:
In conclusion, Bloom compares the genius of Paul with that of Muhammad, because he sees them both as founders of their respective religions. This view of Paul, which divorces his beliefs from those of the earliest followers of Jesus, is fundamentally flawed and contaminated by centuries of classic Protestant Liberal hermeneutics. There is no more need to discuss that here. However, one remark of Bloom's is right on the mark. He notes that "It is easy for many Americans to mistake Paul as a revivalist, whose total emphasis is upon rebirth through the forgiveness of sin. That is a weak mis-reading of Paul, who was more than an apostle of grace." This is certainly true. In fact, unlike Luther, it seems that Paul rejected only the continuing role of Mosaic law in the salvation of believers. Thus, when he declared in Romans 3:28 that we are "justified by faith apart from works of the law" (emphasis added), it seems apparent from the context that he specifically has in mind the "works" of the Old Covenant demanded by Judaizers--such as circumcision. There is no place in Paul's thought for the Lutheran interpretation of justification by faith alone. When Paul speaks of "faith" in 1 Corinthians 13, he distinguishes it from "hope" and "love," and says "if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing," and, in the comparison of the three virtues--faith, hope, and love--he insists: the greatest is love. In fact, while Bloom may be right in noting that James emphasizes more than Paul the need to care for the poor, orphans, and widows, he is wrong in supposing that the Christianity of James is fundamentally opposed to Paul's. True, the only place where the New Testament speaks of "faith alone" is in James' epistle, where James condemns the idea: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). But this is hardly opposed to Paul's Gospel in Romans when it is rightly interpreted, as suggested above. It is Paul who stresses, as we have seen, that love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13), and stresses the importance of the "obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, and 16:26) and of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).

For an excellent, if dated, classic rebutting the view that Paul's religion was somehow opposed to that of Jesus and his disciples can be found in J. Gresham Machen's The Origin of Paul's Religion, which is still given rave reviews and continues to be reprinted (as recently as 2002), although it first appeared in 1925. Machen, one of the conservative Presbyterian founders of the Westminster Theological Seminary, is a scholar of uncommon common sense who still deserves to be read widely.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

America magazine on the "New Apologetics" of Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, Peter Kreeft, et al.

In an article entitled "Do We Need a New(er) Apologetics?" in the February 2, 2004, issue of America, Richard A. Gaillardetz reviews the "so-called new apologetics" of figures like Scott Hahn, Gerry Matatics, Karl Keating, Mitch Pacwa, S.J., Peter Kreeft, and Patrick Madrid." He finds some strengths in their approach, and some weaknesses.

In the first place, Mr. Gaillardetz has some very positive things to say about these apologists and their approach. He writes:

A distinguishing feature of the approach of the new apologists is their obvious enthusiasm and passion for their faith. These are individuals who find Catholicism not a stifling, burdensome or irrelevant religion but a vital faith capable of transforming lives. Moreover, they effectively communicate that love and passion in their presentations....

Second, the new apologists are not afraid to talk of doctrine. And when they do so, it is not defensively but out of a deep-seated conviction that Catholic Christian doctrine is meaningful, relevant and communicates the truth of God's loving plan for humankind. There is a hunger among active Catholics for a reappropriation of their Catholic doctrinal heritage; yet in some circles of contemporary pastoral ministry, it is no longer fashionable to talk about church doctrine. Sometimes this reluctance reflects a certain embarrassment regarding one or other church doctrine. At other times, however, I fear it is the result of the still inadequate theological formation of many pastoral ministers. Too often, their ministerial formation has given them only the barest of surveys of the history and development of Catholic teaching.

Third, the new apologists have responded effectively to Protestant fundamentalist attacks on the Catholic faith. They recognize that many Catholics are not well catechized and therefore are often vulnerable to attacks on the biblical foundations of the Catholic faith. These apologists are often quite successful in exposing Protestant fundamentalist caricatures of Catholic belief and offering demonstrations of the biblical foundations of central Catholic beliefs--about the Eucharist, for example, or infant baptism.
These are welcome observations. It is refreshing to see a magazine so perennially and tendentiously critical of the Vatican as America publish an article recognizing the life-transforming power of traditional Catholic teaching, as well as the the importance of enthusiasm for the Catholic Faith, sound doctrine, catechesis, and effective responses to Protestant fundamentalist attacks on the Catholic Faith. This is heartwarming, to say the least, and Gaillardetz is to be commended for his willingness to seriously address these issues as straightforwardly and honestly as he does.

But even amidst his discussion of the "strengths" of these new apologists, Gaillardetz writes:

.... Indeed, many who purchase their books and tapes or attend their many speaking events seem unaware that the material presented represents a particular ideological perspective. I recall one graduate student who was genuinely surprised when I positioned Hahn's theology on the far right of the contemporary Catholic theological continuum....
Note that here, even while discussing the "strengths" of these apologists, Gaillardetz tips his hand (though, frankly, I'm not sure he is even aware of having a "hand" to tip). Not only that, but he tips his hand with a gesture freighted with irony, for he points out that many who purchase the books and tapes or attend the conferences of these apologists "seem unaware that the material presented represents a particular ideological perspective," all the while seemingly unaware of the particular ideological perspective that animates his own, all-too-critically-unreflective perspective. This is clear when he describes Hahn's theology as "on the far right of the contemporary Catholic theological continuum," offering no indication of where on that relativistic "continuum" a position of Catholic orthodoxy might be located, or, indeed, so much as a nod of awareness of such a need or possibility.

Next, Gaillardetz turns to what he considers problematic about these new apologists:
The apologetical refutations of fundamentalist assaults on Catholicism often mirror the very methodology they condemn in their opponents. Many of the new apologists enter too willingly into "Bible wars," in which Protestant biblical proof-texts are simply parried with a Catholic proof-text in support of a particular Catholic teaching or practice. Moreover, their theological methodology often assumes an overly propositional view of revelation, that is, a tendency to locate divine revelation in a particular text or propositional formula. There is little sense that while divine revelation is encountered in a set of propositional truths, it is ultimately more than this.
First, let me try to be sympathetic with what Gaillardetz is saying here. I think it may be true, in some cases, that a Christian believer (Catholic or Protestant) who wandered into a debate between a Catholic apologist like Gerry Matatics and a Protestant fundamentalist apologist like, say, James White, might find himself alienated by the seemingly arcane biblical and theological jargon, as well as, in some cases, the tone of the exchange. In some cases, this may be due to the unfamiliarity of the interloper with the terms and issues of the debate, though in other cases it may be due to the fact that the debate degenerated into needlessly technical details or random biblical proof-texting divorced from any sensitivity to historical or literary context. Yet I must admit that, on the whole, I have found these apologists to be serious and able students of Scripture and Tradition who generally avoid these pitfalls.

Second, however, let me offer a caveat. It may be true, as Gaillardetz says, that divine revelation is "more than" what we encounter in propositional truths--though he doesn't tell us how it is "more"--but it is surely safe to say that apart from these propositional truths (communicated through Scripture and Tradition and Magisterium), we have next to nothing by which to intellectually define the content of the Catholic Faith. Even Gaillardetz's concession that divine revelation may be "encountered" in a set of propositional truths could easily be interepreted according to the canons of existentialist theories of revelation to refer to my personal, subjective "experience" of the "numinous" or "transcendent," or whatever; but this would be to sever our "encounter" with "the divine" from any propositional definitions, leaving our faith adrift on a sea of subjective impressions far removed from the Church teachings that define the content of The Faith (what was traditinally defined as de fide). Hence, I would agree with Gaillardetz that a view of revelation focused on propositions to the exclusion of other dimensions of the Faith, such as its historicity, historical enculturation, as well as our personal experience of God and His grace, needlessly impoverishes itself. Such views have been practically rampant in certain currents of American Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in the last couple of centuries, as I note in my review of Mark Noll's book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Yet I would insist on the indispensability of the propositional dimension of revelation, as I believe that St. Thomas Aquinas does, for example, in designating the "literal" sense of Scripture the backbone of all other possible senses of the text in the opening treatise of his Summa Theologiae.

Gaillardetz continues:
......This view, in turn, tends to encourage a neo-triumphalism that can undermine ecumenical endeavors. Dialogue with other Christian traditions is reduced to comparing various sets of truth claims. This is evident in the stories of how many of the new apologists journeyed from a Protestant faith to Catholicism. These accounts testify to an intellectual and spiritual journey that ends in the conviction that other Christian traditions are fundamentally erroneous when compared to the truth claims of Catholicism (see Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Rome Sweet Home; David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic; Patrick Madrid, ed., Surprised by Truth).
Here, again, I am somewhat sympathetic with Gaillardetz' remarks, to start with. The tone of Catholic apologists can sound triumphalist, at times; and, especially when this tone edges toward the ecumenically insensitive, it can begin to seem obnoxious. But I have rarely heard any of the named apologists say anything completely untoward or out of hand--even though I have to admit that Karl Keating's sense of humor can sometimes get a little naughty, as when he once suggested that the Archbishop of Canterbury is in fact just a Christian layman in clerical vestments; or Patrick Madrid's list of "Pat's Top Ten" fictional Broadway shows based on the life of Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses in his magazine Envoy.

On the other hand, while these apologists have not backed away from exposing and criticizing fundamental errors in the biblical interpretations or theological reasoning of various anti-Catholics, I disagree with Gaillardetz' assertion that they entertain any notion that "other Christian traditions are fundamentally erroneous when compared to the truth claims of Catholicism." In fact, more often than not, I find these apologists willing to affirm the broad body of doctrines and beliefs that they usually hold in common with their Protestant counterparts. More often--like Louis Bouyer, the Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism and became a leading Catholic liturgist, in his book on The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, or like Thomas Howard, the Evangelical English professor from Gordon College who converted to Catholicism, in his book Evangelical Is Not Enough--I find that they are ready to describe Evangelicalism, despite its differences with Catholicism, as a "good nursmaid" in the Faith, a good preparation for the Catholic Faith in terms of intimate familiarity with the Bible, high view of Scriptural inspiration and inerrancy, and serious view of fundamental Christian doctrines, emphasis on a life of prayer and personal devotion to Jesus Christ, such as might put most Catholics to shame.

Gaillardetz continues:
A third weakness lies in the ahistorical presentation of the Catholic faith. In defense of papal primacy and infallibility, for example--dogmatic teachings that I firmly accept--Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism is far too reluctant to acknowledge the historical difficulties with some traditional Catholic claims regarding the origins of the papacy (e.g., that Peter functioned as a residential "bishop of Rome"). This ahistoricism is reflected in the failure to apply accepted hermeneutical principles in the interpretation of conciliar and papal decrees. An example of this can be found in a series of audiotapes by Scott Hahn, in which he insists that Vatican II's Dei Verbum virtually reiterates the teaching on biblical inerrancy of Pope Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus (1893). One could arrive at such a conclusion only if one avoided studying the textual history of Dei Verbum and focused exclusively on the final text.
Ordinarily, if someone accused an apologist of an "ahistorical presentation" of the Catholic Faith, I would assume he meant that the apologist displayed ignorance of Church history, historical theology, the development of doctrine, and so forth. That anyone would accuse the likes of these apologists of such ignorance strikes me as ludicrous. So I must assume that Gaillardetz has in mind something else. He notes, by way of example, the reluctance of Keating to acknowledge the "historical difficulties with some traditional Catholic claims regarding the origins of the papacy" and singles out as an example, the claim that Peter functioned as a "residential 'bishop of Rome.'" But I am more than confident that Keating is amply familiar with the fact that St. Peter's initial home base was in Jerusalem, that he arrived in Rome only later, and that there is probably no historical record describing Peter as a "residential bishop of Rome." Yet I am equally confident of Keating's awareness of the biblical data supporting the primacy of Peter and the historical data supporting his presence in Rome and role as the first bishop of Rome, as attested in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, for example. So I must assume, yet again, that Gaillardetz has something else in mind.

What he has in mind becomes more apparent when he refers to these apologists' "failure to apply accepted hermeneutical principles in the interpretation of conciliar and papal decrees." Now just what are these "accepted hermeneutical principles," and how have these apologists violated them? He writes:
An example of this can be found in a series of audiotapes by Scott Hahn, in which he insists that Vatican II's Dei Verbum virtually reiterates the teaching on biblical inerrancy of Pope Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus (1893). One could arrive at such a conclusion only if one avoided studying the textual history of Dei Verbum and focused exclusively on the final text.
Now what does Gaillardetz have in mind here? What "accepted hermeneutical principles" would render untenable Hahn's interpretation of Vatican II's Dei Verbum as a virtual reiteration of the teaching on biblical inerrancy of Pope Leo XIII's Provindentissimus Deus? Gaillardetz tacitly concedes that there is nothing in the "final text" of Dei Verbum that would contradict Hahn's conclusion. In fact, despite the fact that the Pontifical Biblical Commission's document of 1994, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, encourages Catholic biblical scholars to take every possible advantage of the latest developments in historical-critical methods of Bible study, I can find in it nothing--not even in its cautions against "fundamentalist" approaches to biblical interpretation--that would contradict Hahn's affirmation that the Church continues to teach, as she has always taught, a high view of biblical inerrancy.

Now, when Gaillardetz asserts that one could arrive at Hahn's conclusion "only if one avoided studying the textual history of Dei Verbum," what does he mean? What is the "textual history" of Dei Verbum? What Gaillardetz probably has in mind is the various drafts and editions the document underwent on its way to its final form. It is a fact, of course, that there always are competing views of what should go into such a document, and it is well-known that at the time of the drafting of the documents of Vatican II, there was a large faction of Catholic revisionists who dissented from the Church's historical dogmatic and doctrinal traditions and wished to refashion Catholicism to their own liking. Doubtless many of these Catholic biblical scholars found embarrassing the views in Pope Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus, which affirmed a high view of literal inerrancy and biblical inspiration, such as many liberal Protestants and Catholics today would readily accuse of being "fundamentalist"! Doubtless, too, this is why even most Catholic biblical scholars who accept this teaching of the Church avoid discussing it. What's the last time you heard any Catholic scholar of national standing defend the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible? But the fact that it isn't discussed much any more, that the Vatican II documents barely mention it, that the Pontifical Biblical Commission is utterly silent about it, or that Catholic modernists and dissidents have repudiated it, does not mean that the Church has abandoned this teaching. (For a defense of the traditional Catholic teaching on biblical inerrancy up through the Vatican II documents, see Willaim G. Most, Free From All Error: Authorship, Inerrancy, Historicity of Scripture, Church Teachin, and Modern Scripture Scholars.)

In conclusion, Gaillardetz writes:
Finally, the new apologists evince a peculiar kind of Catholic romanticism that speaks easily of the transcendent truth and beauty of the Catholic Church and its teachings but fails to acknowledge its pilgrim status as a human community. Belief in the indefectible holiness of the church does not preclude one from also holding that the church itself, understood as the whole people of God, the congregatio fidelium, is always only more or less faithful to its call to holiness. Especially in the wake of the recent clerical abuse scandal, does it make any sense to continue to hold that one may speak of the sinfulness of individual Christians but not, in any sense, of the sinfulness of the church itself? To insist on this is to overlook the way in which the sins of the church's members are never strictly private failings, but acts and omissions with communal ramifications that can weaken the sacramentality of the church as a sign and instrument of salvation before the world.
Here, it seems to me, Gaillardetz wants Catholic apologists to adopt a posture of humility. But why? In answering this question, it quickly becomes apparent that he confuses (inadvertently, I hope) two things he's asking us to be humble about: truth and holiness. It's one thing to want Catholics to be humble because of the sins of Catholics (a failure of holiness); but it's quite another to want Catholics to be humble because of supposed errors in Church teaching (a failure of truth), which would be a denial of the dogma of ecclesiastical infallibility. Gaillardetz states the matter confusedly. On the one hand, he chides these apologists for "a peculiar kind of Catholic romanticism that speaks easily of the transcendent truth ... of the Catholic Church and its teachings...." What's wrong with this? This would seem to be nothing more than a faithful reiteration of what the Church herself teaches. The problem, Gaillardetz suggests, is that these same apologists fail to acknowledge the Church's "pilgrim status as a human community." What is this supposed to mean? That we members of the Church are human and fallible, that even the most knowledgable of us only "sees through a glass darkly," as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 13:12)? Well, what's new? We all know that. But what how is that supposed to undermine our confidence in the infallible truth of Catholic teaching?

Gaillardetz explains: "Belief in the indefectible holiness of the church does not preclude one from also holding that the church itself ... is always only more or less faithful to its call to holiness." Okay, but here Gaillardetz has switched from the question of the truth of Church teaching (the question of infallibility) to the question of the holiness of those who make up the Church membership (the question of impeccability)--a shift he muddles by conjoining with "holiness" the adjective "indefectalble," which is typically reserved for questions of Catholic belief, not Catholic behavior. The latter, he says, is "always only more or less faithful to [the Church's] call to holiness." Well, of course: but who wasn't aware of that? It didn't take the recent priestly sex scandals to remind us that we are all sinners. But here Gaillardetz also makes a move whose implicit danger seems to escape him. He asks: "Especially in the wake of the recent clerical abuse scandal, does it make any sense to continue to hold that one may speak of the sinfulness of individual Christians but not, in any sense, of the sinfulness of the church itself?" This, of course, may have a plausible ring to it--until we remember that in the Nicene Creed we affirm, as a matter of defined dogma, that the Church is "holy"! So what should one think here?

On the one hand, Catholicism teaches that the Church itself is holy. On the other hand, the recent sex scandals embarrass us with the reminder that even the Church's priests, in some cases, are notorious sinners, if not perverts and--in some cases--child molesters. It's one thing to humbly confess the failings of these Catholic priests, just as we confess our own failings, and Pope (who goes regularly to Confession, like every good Catholic should) his failings. But it's another to ask us to humbly confess that the Church herself is sinful, for this would constitute a denial of the biblical declaration that the Church herself is the spotless Bride of Christ. This is why Catholics, when they go to Sacramental Confession, are not only being reconciled to God, but also to their Church; for just as God is holy, so the Church is holy; and when we sin, we separate ourselves not only from Christ, but from His Body, the Church. This, of course, is a matter of Church teaching, for as the Catechism declares: "The Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the soul, as it were, of the Mystical Body, the source of its life, of its unity in diversity, and of the riches of its gifts and charisms." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 809)

But if it's one thing to admit that Catholics are sinners, even if the Church as the Body of Christ transcends the temporal sinfulness of her members, it's yet another thing altogether even to suggest that the Church is fallible in her teaching. And that, I'm afraid, is what Gaillardetz' remarks do, despite, let us hope, his best intentions. It's a very good thing indeed for Gaillardetz to want Catholic apologists to be humble. But humility, as G.K. Chesterton knew, is a funny thing. Chesterton once wrote:
But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.... The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether. (G.K. Chesterton, "The Suicide of Thought," from Orthodoxy)
We may be thankful that Mr. Gaillardetz has written such an article highlighting the work of these Catholic apologists, which, in the first place, is appreciative of their work and aims in many respects. It is heartening to see their work taken seriously in the pages of a magazine like America, as I have said. We may be grateful, in the second place, that Mr. Gaillardetz has written such a provocative article, calling us to review what we understand to be the aim of Catholic apologetics, and warning us against some genuine dangers. These, I sincerely believe, are not to be dismissed lightly. On the other hand, it is to be regretted that Mr. Gaillardetz's article offers so little critical reflection on the ideological positions that animate his own perspective, on the assumptions underlying the historical-critical approach to biblical studies, or even the general tenor of contemporary Catholic revisionism, which bears every indication--as in so much contemporary Catholic biblical scholarship--of thoroughgoing contamination by the legacy of classic Liberal Protestantism and its naturalistic Enlightenment assumptions, as well as by the contemporary fallout of deconstructive postmodernism. This is not surprising, however, as these assumptions have seeped down into the general population in our own time and permeate the outlook of most rank-and-file Catholics, to say nothing of Protestants and non-religious secularists.