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Saturday, January 05, 2013


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Overall, I thought this was a pretty good post. I disagree with much of what Bill thinks about Catholic doctrine, but the questions raised are good and worth serious reflection. My biggest complaint with this post is that it lacks sympathy. Having followed this blog for several years, I am confident that Bill's disagreements with Catholic doctrine are honest, but this particular post seems to lack Bill's usual effort at considering the strongest arguments for the other side. For instance, the question is raised numerous times about how one might conclude the Catholic church is an authority on doctrine and morals, but the only suggestion given in the post is circular reasoning. As an evangelical protestant who converted to Catholicism, this feels a bit unfair. And while I'm sure Bill acknowledges that Catholics will give other reasons for accepting the authority of the Church, that just highlights what bugs me about this post, since he gives no reason to think these other reasons exist.

Similarly, a big deal is made about how Catholic doctrine goes beyond scripture. And while this raises a number of interesting questions, I'm not sure it supports Bill's implication that Catholic doctrine is somehow excessive. My own study of history and the development of Catholic doctrine suggests a different picture. Theology develops as the logical implications of facts of both special and General revelation are flushed out, and the Catholic idea is that this process is guided by the Holy Ghost. But Bill makes a distinction between the fact of original sin and the formulation of original sin as expressed in Catholic doctrine without considering how that formulation developed. Sometimes, the implications of an idea are surprising and seem excessive when they are not. I remember when I first read Edward Feser claim that Aquinas' five ways prove the God of classical theism ( as opposed to, say, just some vague " unmoved mover" and a couple other things). That seems a bit excessive, until you follow the reasoning. But this is true of doctrine as well. Sure the facts of original sin might seem few, but when you combine them with the other facts we have to deal with and draw out the implications they are many. Pointing out the difference doesn't show us that the dogmas are in error or excessive, neither does it show us that these proposition of dogma are somehow incompatible with an open- ended journey.

Finally, Doctrine is usually defined in response to heresy when it has been seen that a particular solution to a particular problem undermines a revealed truth. Doctrine is not so much the result of wanting "religion pinned down and dogmatically spelled out for purposes of self-definition, doxastic security, other-exclusion, worldly promotion, and political leverage". Rather it is a roadmap of our progress drawn by considering the failures and successes of proposed routes along the way and whether they really have a common point of origin. But just as a roadmap of the routes one has traveled is not incompatible with an open- ended journey, neither is doctrine. Doctrine records the progress we have made, and combined with the authority of the Church and the presence of the Holy Ghost gives an infallible one, but it makes no proclamations about where we have not yet gone. It surprises me that Bill talks about Catholic dogma this way, when I doubt he would talk about the minds who formulated dogma that way or the processes by which it was formed. Were Athanasius, Augustine or Aquinas just looking for security blankets? If the Church was so driven by insecurity or selfishness, why is doctrine always formed defensively? A much more accurate way to characterize Catholic dogma would be to say that it invites the open- ended journey and is largely the product of some of the best minds who have taken that journey, but it also provides checks against the propagation of error.

And there is practical value here as well. In defining dogma the church makes the fruit of its labors available to those who by trade or necessity cannot partake of them otherwise. The humble carpenter or mother of six can gain some knowledge of the trinity or Eucharist by checking a catechism or a council who may not be able to read the Gnostics or Augustine or Aquinas. It also prohibits a rogue priest from passing personal conjecture along as revealed truth. Bill's emphasis on avoiding dogma is often good advice for the philosopher or theologian, but not for a church.

I am with you on dogma.
I believe my experience to be more unusual than most.
I have a deep and direct internal observation that there is pure being, unchanging eternal, pure love and openess, it is the source of all the world and yet is completely untouched by it--it is a great sweetness that I have access to upon introspection. It is as indubitable as the taste of a peach or the sunrise. Also as indubitable to me is a deep understanding or intuition--not sure how to categorize it--that, in fact I have no idea what I am. The self seems like another part of the passing landscape--but what I am I have no idea. So, I see the world as a mirror without which I have no face, no knowing of a self. Yet it is the unknown that is the valuable thing, for in that I feel a great freedom, freedom from a self.
All the above I do not doubt---because it never goes away and neither does its patency-- and it bases and informs my life.
This is all to me empirical stuff, as empirical as the moon.
It is the case to me that the world arises from that beautiful
sweet thing and is of the same stuff. Ultimately however, if the universe goes, that sweet being stays. So what is permanent and foundational is untouched by this universe.
Yet, this is all more stuff arising as what is, stuff we divide into all sorts of things: mind and matter, inner and outer, subjective and objective and so on---but in that sweet space of being ---none of the universe; none of mind and none of matter or however you divide it up, exists at all and it is what is basic.
Yet, if all these things are-- and if words are part of what is--what contains these words and all?
What would there be without the words? What is there without the question, "what is there?" Is it necessary to form an image in words or concepts or what have you?
If all of it is what is--- experience and paradox and all points of view and all dogmas and reasoned arguments and transcendence and pure being and just all this stuff arising as so-as what is. Then what?
I guess my point is that here there is writing in an attempt to encapsulate what is, in words and notions and so on.
But what is always seems to escape the attempt. But then again, this is words too! If I say no scheme is valid, I describe a scheme.
Paradox. See what I mean.
Yet at the same time, there is the realization, no, the taste, that, ultimately, I am not or don't know what I am at all---which seems to co-exist with that I am a self and all is and transcendence is -- but all this is words!
If everything is so, absolutely everything then what is so? But that is a scheme too! thus must take the whole enchilada-all of it--but that is a scheme too! Only silence is truth then? No, that's a scheme.
And so, one is left with the marvelous mystery! Do you see what I mean?

Dear Bill,

Thank you for your stimulating reply.

Some truths are formally revealed: for example, the dogma of creation ex nihilo. The revelation is either explicit (when made in express terms) or implicit (when it is obscure). Truths inferred from formal revelation are only virtually revealed. DDS is virtually revealed. There is an infinite gap between nothing and something, so creation ex nihilo requires infinite power. Having infinite power, God must be absolute, and therefore simple.

The claims of the Roman church can and should be confirmed by miracles. The Resurrection confirms Christ’s authority, and the authority of the Catholic Church derives from its having been, alone among all churches, founded by Christ personally and not, say, Luther or Henry VIII, so its dogmatic propositions are not merely ‘human formulations of what is revealed by God’. Pieper’s concept of tradition is illuminating here, as is the etymology of ‘tradition’ (from L. traditionem, "delivery, surrender, a handing down").

‘More dogmas need to be added, as they were added in the 19th century’, because they clarify, when necessary, virtually revealed truths or truths implicit in formal revelation; however, they add no new truth.

If a dogma is a mystery, and a mystery, as the Scholastics said, is an area of reality so intelligible that we can never understand it all (e.g., Augustine and the child by the seashore), though, then none of the above is incompatible with mature religion’s being more quest than conclusion.

Also, ‘there were no first parents’ is plainly false if ‘first parents’ is defined in the relevant theological sense, i.e., the first pair of humans to whom God endowed with souls and thus intellects.




Yes, I know what you're driving at.

I would say that fundamental to any genuine religion is the belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.

We could call this Unseen Order Being or the One. You say it is as empirical as the moon. I agree, with the following qualifications. It cannot be be experienced through the outer senses, or by what philosophers call inner sense either. So I wouldn't use the word 'introspection' as you do. It is by introspection that I know that I feel anxious or have a headache. What you are talking about I would call mystical intuition.


You did well to swim the Tiber. If you must belong to a church then the Roman church is superior to the Protestant denominations. As for myself, I don't see that my post is unfair. (You may be a bit defensive about your new-found commitment.) To be honest, I would love to return to the Catholic Church of my pious youth. As an old man, the usual things that might cause one to lapse (ambition, sex, the hunt for money and power, name and fame, etc.) don't affect me. My objections are on the intellectual/spiritual plane.

But I can see that I am not getting through to you guys. But I wish you the best, and my advice would be to not get hung up on doctrine and dogma and theological controversy. After all, doctrine is secondary to practice. The main thing is not to subscribe to dogmas but to live wll and be as morally decent human being as one can be. If you live a good Catholic life you will be doing quite well.

I'm going to build a little on what Bill has to say here.

There is no way that one can think that Divine Simplicity is a revealed doctrine once one starts looking outside of the Abrahamic religions. If it is, then it has been revealed to everybody from Egypt to India, even in their proto(first!)-rational contexts.

For my part, looking at Catholicism, from the context of Late Platonism, it equivocates on their use of simplicity. Simplicity admits of no distinctions whatsoever, not even Trinity or Triads. The doctrine of simplicity is deduced from the Platonic Parmenides: <<το γαρ αυτό νοείν εστίν τε και είναι>>; Being is what is there for thought. Thought implies distinctions for some-thing to think about. Therefore, what is there for thought is derived from what is beyond-beingly being <<υπερουσιος ουσία>> or as the Areopagite says ουδέν : Nothing. How can there be Trinity ad intra to Simplicity? The Triad is the first declension from simplicity : Nothing --> Abiding Cause & Indefinite Dyad.

From the context of Late Platonism (and the Areopagite!), Augustine collapses together the Simplicity of the One (Undifferentiated) with the intelligibility of the Nous (Trinity). This does not seem workable without equivocation of both logic and terms.

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