Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Scholastic Heresy

I made the mistake recently of reading the introductory foreword to a newly released edition of H. Rider Haggard’s book, The Brethren, which is about the Crusades. In the Introduction by the Protestant editor we are told that it is all right to read about the Christian Crusaders of old because their spirit, although misguided, was to bring forth the glorious Protestant Reformation, after which all things were right in the Church. I find such drivel offensive. But it should not surprise me; I have read and heard similar drivel on the Catholic side. In both camps, the question of “By what authority,” has been settled, but in my mind it has not been settled; it is still an open question.

The Catholic answer to the question, ‘by what authority,’ is the organized Roman Catholic Church with the Pope at its head. Ultimately then, the will of God, the word of God, is known through the Pope, the vicar of Christ.

The ultimate authority in the Protestant church is the Bible. Just as a Catholic would be justified in claiming someone who denied the Pope’s authority to be no longer Catholic, so would a Protestant be justified in claiming that anyone deviating from the ‘inerrancy of Scripture’ doctrine is no longer a believing Protestant. That doctrine is more essential to Protestantism than any subsequent interpretation of Scripture. Hence one could not claim a Protestant ceased to be a Protestant Christian because he no longer followed Luther or Calvin; he would only cease to be Protestant if he denied the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

In theory, the Roman Catholic solution to the ‘by what authority’ problem makes more sense to me than the Protestant one does. But in practice the Protestant solution seems better. It seems better because I think a sincere struggling pilgrim would get a clearer picture of Christ from an unaided reading of the Gospels than he would from an immersion in the Catholic whirl of Novus Ordo vs. traditionalism, and infallible vs. fallible arguments.

When reality proves your theories wrong, you must go back to the drawing board and make an effort to find out where you went wrong. I believe that I went wrong when I saw a straight path from Protestantism to the Enlightenment to modernity. In reality, the path of modernity runs like this: the very modern medieval scholastics, the Protestant rebellion against them, the scholastic inspired Enlightenment, and then modernity. The Protestant world finally caved in to modernity not because Protestants were in rebellion against medieval scholasticism but because the intellectual upper crust of the Protestantism abandoned fundamentalism for the pagan inspired scholasticism of the Catholics. I really see that this was the pivotal turning point of western Christendom. Scholasticism, smooth it over how you will, was the revolt of man against God. Man’s reason was placed on a summit above revelation. The scholastics maintained more of the traditional God language than the Enlightenment philosophers, but the Enlightenment thinkers were the natural heirs of the medieval scholastics.

The Catholic party line, which I have often used myself in the past, is that the Catholic Church does not change its doctrine, it simply makes explicit that which was implicit. But that explanation is not tenable. The Catholic Church, at least since Aquinas, has been an evolutionary and a revolutionary Church. No doctrine is safe from possible revision, not even the bodily resurrection of Christ. The fundamentalists remain the last static, the last non-evolutionary, branch of Christendom. But they have no intellectual support. The Protestant intelligentsia is with the Catholics as are the secularists. The secularists often quarrel with the Catholics over sexual matters (the Catholic hierarchy is squeamish about facing the logical conclusions of their modernism), but both groups are united against the fundamentalists, who desperately need some intellectual support.

N.B. One example (among thousands) of the Catholic Church’s desire to be in step with the times and against the fundamentalists was Cardinal Paul Poupard’s recent support of the evolutionists against the fundamentalists on the ‘intelligent design’ issue.

I certainly can’t prove my next assertion, but I’ll make it nonetheless – the first century Christians were Catholic fundamentalists. Their beliefs about God were in line with the modern fundamentalists and their worship services were similar to those of modern Catholics. There should be a fusion of Catholicism and fundamentalism, but so long as the Catholic Church remains wedded to the Enlightenment the fundamentalists are right to regard the Catholic Church as a vessel of evil.

The medieval scholastics wanted to throw more light on God by freeing reason from the passions. What stops reason from serving our passions? Nothing. An evil passion cannot be overcome by reason because reason is ethically neuter. It will serve whatever passion predominates. It is passion that rules us all. Only a stronger noble passion can defeat an evil passion. Our passion must be grounded in His passion.

There is something incredibly repulsive about the fundamentalists and something incredibly noble. They repulse one when they articulate and expound, and they inspire love, the love one has for steadfast courage in behalf of a noble cause, when they defend the inerrancy of Scripture against all comers. I find, in the ranks of Catholicism, that only converts have some understanding of the fundamentalists. A convert knows that belief in Him is greater than the system. A cradle Catholic who has been brought up to believe that incorporation into the Catholic system is the whole of Christianity is completely unsympathetic to the fundamentalists. (The argument between the Novus Ordo Catholics and the traditionalists is not doctrinal – both believe that the system is all – their argument is simply a difference over systems.)

The Catholics (one hopes not irretrievably) have gone completely wrong, because they have eliminated that essential personal component of religion: man, poor unaccommodated man, standing before the abyss with only a single divine thread and a divine promise keeping him from total annihilation, is the stuff that our dreams are made of. If you take away that dream and replace it with a system derived from the stuff of this world only, you have consigned man to satanic oblivion.

The fundamentalists at least place man where he belongs, in front of the living God. They err when they attempt to reason because they have but poorly learned the art of reasoning, for they believe it to be the art of the devil. No, it is the art of the devil to use reason in order to serve his regime. But to reason in the service of His reign is no sin. Reason unfettered, as practiced by the scholastics, always becomes demonic. But reason willingly placed at the service of the living God is one of the rungs on Jacob’s ladder.

The medieval scholastics wanted to throw more light on God by freeing reason from the passions. What stops reason from serving our passions? Nothing. An evil passion cannot be overcome by reason because reason is ethically neuter. It will serve whatever passion predominates. It is passion that rules us all. Only a stronger noble passion can defeat an evil passion. Our passion must be grounded in His passion. We always come back to the Shakespearean solution – strip off the layers. He is not up there – He is not contained in a golden bowl on top of a tower built with the bricks of philosophy. “Oh no, He is there,” says the pilgrim shade, pounding his chest, “He is at the center of the human heart which is all too often surrounded by briars and thickets too dense to be cut down.” But when we get close, the briars and the thickets fade away, just as they did for the faithful prince in “Sleeping Beauty.”

In the coal town where my father grew up, there was a town character named Bup-Bup Schupp, who always said, “Space is no place.” Some fifty years later, the American astronauts confirmed what the town character knew, that space was indeed no place. And light is not light when it merely lights up a vast empty space that is no place. The light must illuminate the human heart, thus revealing His heart, before it can be said to be the true light that leads us to a place that is the complete antithesis of no place.

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