And The Discussion Continues…

Well, they’re still at it. Or I should say, we’re still at it, since I’ve managed (against my better judgment) to insert myself into this discussion as well.

As I mentioned not too long ago, over at the Philosophia Perennis blog some excellent discussion has been had over the topic of the development of doctrine (DD for short). In the few comments that I put forward (both at PP and fides quaerens intellectum) I’ve been fairly insistent (annoying?) about bringing the issue of DD back to an assumption of authority. Now it seems Dr. Mike Liccione has done the same, albeit with much more intellectual acumen than I could ever muster.

It’s been noticeable in the comments made by Catholics regarding the issue of DD, not to mention in the original post by Mike, that a necessary assumption is being made that the Church can teach authoritatively and infallibly (under certain circumstances). This is simply part of the Catholic mind. I prefer to call it, joyful obedience. And that’s really what it is. Any faithfully committed Catholic can attest to this. And of course, this is not a blind faith, an ignorant faith, or mere fideism, as some Protestants have assumed.

Mike sums up the necessary assumption of authority in his concluding remarks:

What goes for orthodox christology and triadology goes a fortiori for the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to be infallible under certain conditlions. Whatever reasons might, collectively, constitute reason enough to accept that claim, they cannot themselves constitute proof for such authority, if by ‘proof’ one means a perspicuously valid deductive argument based on premises that all parties to the discussion would accept. If, contrary to fact, such proofs were available for dogmas, then in this case such a proof would retorsively obviate the need for the very authority it is meant to support. This means that, if there is some rational justification for the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to authority, it cannot, in the very nature of the case, yield a result that is intellectually compelling. It can only yield a result which can be seen, retroactively, to cohere with and illuminate the agreed-upon data, and thus supply reason enough to make an act of faith in the Catholic Magisterium—an act that would thus be one of informed faith, rather than blind faith.

Accordingly, the question whether there is reason enough to accept distinctively Catholic dogmas as de fide ultimately hinges on that of whether there is reason enough to accept the Magisterium’s claim to authority. Unless and until that question is settled, everything must remain purely a matter of opinion…

Notice what Mike says here; essentially that no argument for the Church’s claim “to teach infallibly under certain conditions” can be be proved deductively, for to do so would undermine the very authority the deductive argument would be trying to prove. In other words, why would we need authority if deductive arguments based on commonly held axioms would work? As someone flippantly (although, I think correctly) said in one of the comboxes, if this were true, why not just replace the Magisterium with a computer? Of course, the answer is because the “unpacking” of divine revelation (i.e. DD) is not linear. It’s much more dynamic and complex than that. Doctrinal development does not always derive from easily followed deductive arguments based on commonly held axioms. If this were so, theology would have been an exhausted project long ago.

Instead, in matters of faith some (at least implicit) claim to authority must be made. And both Protestants and Catholics do this. Whether it be the Holy Spirit working through the individual or the Holy Spirit working through the Church (however you define “Church”), a claim to authority is made. And this authority must of necessity have an element of infallibility (i.e. particular teachings that are considered irreformable such as the divinity of Christ). For if there is no element of infallibility, how could any Christian believe anything de fide?. It seems to me you couldn’t, and you’ve traded in your faith for a doubt. Authority is one of those theological axioms every “orthodox” Christian stands on, whether he be Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox.

It is for this very reason that I have long maintained that a belief in the authority of the Church to teach infallibly is foundational to Catholicism. And I assume this is why so many Protestants reject it out of hand. It’s, so to speak, the Protesters theological axiom that the Church cannot do so.

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1 Response to “And The Discussion Continues…”


  1. 1 Bruce Wells February 19, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing


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