Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura With a "Reformed Catholic" Protestant

This is a new fictional dialogue that I wrote today.

[based (in spirit and tenor) mostly on the repeated mantra-like arguments of a former frequent "dialogue" opponent of mine, whose initials are TE. See my many past "dialogues" with this person on my Dialogues page]

CC = Catholic Catholic [i.e., in this case, myself]
RP = Reformed (Protestant) "Catholic" (green)

Past "Catholic" comments of mine from the old fictional dialogue on sola Scriptura will be in blue. Past "fictional Protestant" coments will be in purple.

*****

CC: Hey, how are ya?

RP: Okay, but I'm sick to death of how much you misrepresent Reformed Catholic beliefs.

CC: [astounded look] Huh??!! What did I do now?

RP: Oh, I'm thinking of that silly fake dialogue of yours with a "Protestant" on sola Scriptura . . . but of course I could mention many of your million and a half papers where you either distort what Protestants as a whole believe or act like there is no difference between your typical Anabaptistic Protestant and we Reformed Catholics. If you understood epistemology and had read (in Latin) the canon law of Sigmund of Engelbert Humperdinckburg (1092-1206), complete with glosses by Hugo of Yugo (1434-1448), then you would understand this. Instead you rely solely on the Great Infallible Oracle Newman who said that idiotic thing that torments - oops, I meant to say "bugs" - me to no end (that I have devoted my life to obsessively disproving): "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant". If I ever had the time to read Newman, I would rip his arguments to shreds.

CC: I see. Well, what can I do? I'd be glad to revisit the dialogue with you, to see how you would answer differently from my hypothetical Protestant. Is that fair enough?

RP: No, because you'll distort what I say, or edit it unfairly or something. I don't trust you. And I change my mind every six months anyway, so it'll be obsolete by then, but you will have it forever on your blasted website, and people will see the silly things I have said in the past.

CC: Then how about if you post it on your website, too, so you can edit it however you like? I'll even post a link to that on my posting. If you take it down, I'll agree to take my version down, too. Game?

RP: I've had enough of your "socratic dialogue" where everyone is expected to play by your rules or else you will pout and whine and go home. You act like you have a lock on Plato and Socrates.

CC: I'm just talking to you. People who disagree ought to talk to each other and try to reach a better understanding or resolution of their differences if possible. I prefer this method, but of course there are many other good ways to do it as well. I say that we should each post our versions of the conversation, so that no one can cry "foul". If you like, we can do an audio tape. I'm not scared of what might happen, and I promise to post everything before we start.

RP: It's still not fair. I have to have a way to flee for the hills if you ask a question that I can't answer, but you never allow me to have an exit strategy so I can save face and my superior view can always appear superior despite my refusal to ever fully defend it against critiques. You're so arrogant that you think conversations actually have to be followed through, and I don't have the time to do that. Even if I did, I have read so much that you would never be able to keep up with all this book knowledge I have accumulated. All you do is rely on second-hand scraps and the Great Irrefutable Triumphal Newman.

CC: What you do is up to you. You have claimed that I misrepresent both Protestant and "Reformed Catholic" views and (elsewhere) that I can't provide any answer to them. I deny it, and am willing to go through the matter with you point-by-point, to explain why your accusation is untrue. What else can you ask of me? For the last time: do you want to do this or not?

RP: Yes [dander now up and blood boiling but heroically subdued for appearance' sake].

CC: Good. So, then, I propose that we go through the past fictional dialogue. I'll give my original comments (represented by the Catholic in that dialogue), and you can answer differently if you think I misrepresented the Protestant. But first let me point out that when one is generalizing about Protestants, there are always exceptions to the rule, and this is understood. I tried to fairly represent what a typical Protestant (not absolutely every conceivable type of Protestant) might say; how he would argue.

Of course, the natural bias is towards the Catholic view, but I do try my best to present a plausible Protestant argument. After all, I used to be one myself, and made most of the same arguments I now critique. It's understood that there are more sophisticated Protestants who would answer differently and provide a better answer. That's why I am offering this opportunity to you. Okay; here we go:

Protestant (P): X is a true, biblical doctrine because it is biblical.

Catholic (C): According to which denominational tradition?

P: Ours.

C: How do you know your tradition is true, while others which contradict it are false?

P: Because we are the most biblical.

RP: No!!! See, now this is exactly what I mean. You make the Protestant out to be this know-nothing, Bible-only ignoramus.

CC: I don't see how. Protestants' last appeal is to the Bible, over against Tradition. It was Martin Luther who said at the famous Diet of Worms in 1521 (close paraphrase) "here I stand; unless I can be convinced by plain Scripture and reason I do not recant." Protestants (virtually all of them) DO appeal to the Bible, and we catch misery whenever we make an argument that doesn't include the Bible. It is not making them out to be "ignoramuses" to merely point out this obvious fact.

RP: The Protestant magisterial reformers also appealed to the testimony of Tradition. They didn't believe in this radical rationalistic notion of "Bible Only."

CC: I know that (and nothing in my fictional dialogue denies this, because it is understood to be a generalization). Yet Protestants do believe Scripture is the final and only infallible authority, right?

RP: Yes. Thank heavens you finally have figured this out after my educating you for six years.

CC: I always knew this. I knew this as a Protestant. My earliest papers as a Catholic back in 1991 made this distinction, as I have pointed out to you many times now.

RP: Don't confuse me with the facts! We are trying to be rhetorical, polemical, and sophistical here, and to portray your opinions in the worst possible light!

CC: Oh, sorry to mess up the plan. Occasionally I slip and some facts fall between the cracks of your rhetoric.

RP: Rhetoric is an honorable field of ancient classical Christian education. If you had read Cicero like I have you would know this.

CC: [laughing] I never denied that. I was using the word in the common, more derogatory sense [more smiles]. Anyway, moving on:

C: How do you know yours is the most biblical?

P: Because our exegesis is the most all-encompassing and consistent, and true to the clear teaching of Scripture.

C: But the other Protestant traditions claim the same superiority . . .

P: I must say in love that they are wrong.

C: How do you know they are wrong? I thought that Protestants were supposed to be tolerant of each other's "distinctives," especially in "secondary" issues, yet you are calling fellow brothers in Christ "wrong."

P: I am compelled to because they have a faulty hermeneutic and exegesis, and I must stand firm for biblical truth.

RP: C'mon, Dave; you have distorted the presentation again to a Bible-only mentality, by ignoring the role of legitimate Protestant tradition in the scheme of things. Calvin is always citing not only the Fathers but also classical writers. He was not ahistorical.

CC: Granted. But if you appeal to Protestant tradition (in the lesser, non-infallible sense of "the most biblically-based and honorable tradition" available among the options), you still must decide which Protestant tradition among many, right?

RP: No, because we are merely going back to the pure biblical tradition of the Fathers, and getting rid of the unbiblical Roman Catholic addditions. We're not these rebels you make us out to be, who have no respect for precedent whatever. You have to understand how rotten the conditions were in the medieval Church because of the oppressive, arrogant papacy, which usurped all power to itself and ignored the cries of all the great conciliarists (many of whom were semi-Pelagians, but we can easily overlook that if they help our cause of anti-papalism).

CC: You miss the point. As soon as Protestants disagree, they have to have some means to determine who is right and who is wrong (or that both are wrong; but logically-speaking, both cannot be right when they contradict each other). So what is that means or method?

RP: We simply go back to the fathers and the unbroken Christian tradition. See, if you could only figure out that we respect tradition, you wouldn't even ask these silly questions. But I understand why you answer in this way because you have mostly dealt with dough-head "reformed [Anabaptistic] Protestants" like Eric Svendsen and James White (whom I idolized for years, and imitated when I first tried to goad you into a live chat back in 1999 so I could kick your butt in debate, to prove that I was a man and valiant defender of White Orthodoxy and smarter than you are).

CC: Yeah, we finally had that "live chat" in late 2000 in White's chat room. I seem to remember you not holding to our prior agreement, apologizing to the crowd, and handing the chore of defending Protestantism over to your good buddy James White.

RP: I don't recall that . . .

CC: You wouldn't. We all repress painful, embarrassing memories, don't we? In any event, this "debate" did NOT turn out at all like you had hoped and prayed. Your potential Finest Hour turned out to be a mere Whimper and Retreat. And we have clashed ever since then, with few exceptions (not having anything to do with this encounter, of course; needless to say). But back to the topic at hand:

C: How do you know they have a faulty method of interpretation?

P: By Scripture and linguistic study, and the consensus of scholarly commentaries, and because R.C. Sproul said so [ :-) ]

RP: This is inaccurate! I would say because Peter Leithart, Andrew Sandlin, Alastair Roberts, Paul Owen, Kevin Johnson, and Douglases Wilson & Jones said so!

CC: Great, but the problem is: you are not Protestant Everyman. Not every Protestant thinks as you do, and many think the way this hypothetical Protestant does. What's wrong with that (in terms of the alleged "inaccuracy" of my presentation)?

RP: It doesn't present we Reformed Catholics! This is an outrage! After all, there are about 256 of us now, and we ought to be counted as representative of Protestantism as a whole.

CC: Yeah, you're right. I do owe you an apology. Hopefully, this clarifying paper can make amends for this horrendous and inexcusable oversight on my part.

C: But again, the others claim the same prerogative and abilities.

P: Then if they are wrong, they must be blinded by their presuppositional biases, or else by sin.

C: How do you know that?

P: Because they come to the wrong conclusions about the perspicuous biblical data.

RP: It is true that White, Svendsen, and their ilk show such blindness . . .

CC: You mean your former comrades-in-arms?

RP: [ferocious anger] I've paid a great price for disagreeing with them. You don't know anything about being lied about on the Internet.

CC: No, I don't. It must be terrible, huh? But then again, I have never been a former anti-Catholic and former anti-intellectual Protestant like you, so I wouldn't be able to relate.

RP: You act like White and his attitudes are the only Protestant options. You don't point out that there are those of us who are far more nuanced than that.

CC: I have done so many times, and am doing so again now. But a brief fictional dialogue cannot possibly cover all that ground. It's not required to, anyway. Every generalization has exceptions. Besides, when I wrote it ten years ago there were only 39 Reformed Catholics. Now y'all have impressively multiplied six-and-a-half times to 256. But let's cut to the quick. How do you know how to identify the perspicuous meaning of the Bible?

RP: I never discuss exegesis and hermeneutics.

CC: Why not?

RP: Because I don't know enough to do it. That's for the scholars.

CC: What becomes of Luther's proverbial "plowboy," then, interpreting the Scriptures on his own?

RP: That's a distortion: back to the radical Bible-only view again.

CC: It's not a distortion of classic or "magisterial" Protestantism; it's right from Martin Luther, whom you classify as a "magisterial reformer".

RP: Sure; but Calvin understood this better.

CC: Okay; how does he determine the perspicuous meaning of Scripture?

RP: By following the consensus of Christian tradition.

CC: Oh, so then he must have believed in episcopacy and papacy, right (as well as the traditional understanding of apostolic succession)?

RP: No.

CC: No??!! How could that be? After all, the papacy was a clear feature of Church government, at least in the West, where Calvin came from. Episcopacy is even more clearly an aspect of ecclesiology - accepted by the Orthodox as well. Apostolic succession was clearly the final court of appeal of the Fathers over against the heretics. No historian of Church doctrine (whether Kelly, or Oberman, or Pelikan, or Schaff, etc.) denies that for a second.

RP: Ecclesiology is not made clear enough in the Scriptures. Men of good will can disagree on that.

CC: So now you are back to the radical "Bible Only" outlook that you say you despise [big "gotcha" smile]? You claim that Scripture doesn't make it clear enough, yet nevertheless, you fall back on Scripture, rather than accept the very clear testimony of Church history. There's that bugaboo of Protestants and difficulties with history again . . . what a nuisance . . .

RP: You know, Dave, it is miserable dialoguing with you because you think you know everything, and you distort Protestant views, and refuse to be fair to us. I explain over and over how the Reformed Protestant view explains all of these questions you have, but you ignore that . . .

CC: Please, by all means, explain how it accounts for the difficulties just raised. This is your opportunity. I beg you to continue defending your view. How about if I give you $100? Naw, make that $1000. I'm sure I could raise that much from my friends, just to watch you participate in a dialogue and defend your view without losing it and flying off into the Hyper-Polemical Stratosphere, leaving everything unresolved yet again, for the umpteenth time.

RP: . . . and you go off on your endless tirades, citing Newman for everything you argue as if He Can Do or Say No Wrong, and is Next to God . . .

CC: I haven't cited Newman once here, to back up any argument I made (I only gave that one quote that I provided merely to make it known that you hate it so much).

RP: . . . ah, but you WANTED to. He was always in your mind . . .

CC: What is this? The "Willie Nelsonization" of apologetic discussion? LOL "YOu were always on my mind . . ."

RP: . . . because you despise Protestants so much and can't get any to talk to you at all and you think we're all anti-Catholic and that we are radical Enlightenment individualists and "rebels" because you are a self-appointed "apologist".

CC: Is that why the late Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., close adviser to Pope Paul VI and Mother Teresa, enthusiastically recommended my first book [one can read that here]?

RP: That means nothing. He was probably just a Newman nut like you.

CC: Well, being a Jesuit, he rather stressed St. Ignatius of Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises. I heard little from Cardinal Newman in the marvelous classes of his which I attended.

+ + + + + + + + + + +

RP: Don't change the subject! And don't bring in facts. That drives me nuts!!!!! Don't you know that I know more about your history, motivations, and opinions than you do yourself? After all, all you do is post outdated, ill-thought through broken-record Catholic apologetic propaganda. Nearly everything you write about Protestantism is utterly irrelevant to everything we Reformed Catholics are doing. Perhaps someday you'll get a new record and be able to actually join in a substantive conversation.

CC: That may be, but how about we get back to the subject: how Protestants resolve their differences and their relationship to this Christian consensus-tradition you refer to? How is that resolved with regard to ecclesiology (which is what I brought up as a problem for your point of view to grapple with)?

RP: I don't have time to spell it all out for those who are inordinately attached to the brilliant utterances of Cardinal Newman, or unrealistically convinced that they understand Christological metaphysics so well that all they have to do is throw terms around and they've won. I suppose I just shouldn't post at all. I have a life now, sorry.

CC: No, you should post! You should defend your view and demonstrate how it can provide plausible answers to the hard questions I have asked, and those from others. I encourage you; I beg you; I'll give you $1000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Cheboygan, Michigan, including the boat ride to Mackinac Island . . . please, PLEASE!!!! Just make it to the end of ONE dialogue without exploding in a fit of rage . . . that's all we ask, We'll never ask again, or make such a generous offer.

RP: We see self-styled "apologists" for Catholicism all the time, and particularly those who convert and then instantly start preaching the glories of their newfound "fullness of the faith." Been there, done that, so I know how it goes. Nevertheless, orthodox Catholic apologists need to stay on their own websites, because intelligent interaction with critiques of Catholicism requires a LOT more than memorizing Newman and learning to talk big about "the" Church.

CC: Yeah, I agree. You call for "intelligent interaction with critiques of Catholicism." I couldn't agree more. I try to make such responses all the time. But do you have no similar obligation to defend your views?

RP: I ceased engaging orthodox Catholic apologists (who are actually - egads!!! - confident in their beliefs and not always simultaneously fashionably tentative and temperamentally dogmatic like I am), some time ago on my own website, since it was clear that for the most part they weren't interested in anything but their little boxes construed in the most narrow way possible. But some of these folks (like you) won't return the favor of basically minding their own business and doing their own circle-running routine with equally narrow Protestant apologists. Some of them keep coming around reading my stuff and then purporting to refute it either in my comments boxes or on their own sites to which they gratuitously link.

CC: What a shame. Everyone knows that no one can refute Reformed Catholicism.

RP: That's right, and that's why I never try to defend it, because it can't be refuted, so why waste that time? If someone doesn't get it, they're just ignorant.

CC: But can we please get back to the subject of ecclesiology and the Protestant rule of faith? You already have the $1000 and the free trip to Cheboygan on the table. Now you gotta earn that!

RP: There are EXTREMELY SERIOUS problems with your way of carrying on discussions.

CC: You mean, like not staying on the subject or descending into personal attack? Sorry I fell into those things. I shall try my very best to do better next time. Now where were we after I got us off track?

RP: Please stop all the silly one-sided pontificating and actually have real discussions.

CC: What did I "pontificate" about? Please do tell.

RP: I'm a Protestant, but I guess it's just news to you that I'm not a "business as usual" Protestant, and you can't dispose of me with catenas of blustering from Newman, vague hand-waving about the "DNA" of Protestantism, and all the other comfortable grooves of polemics that have created so much ill-will between our communions for the last 500 years. It's time to grow up.

CC: I'm not trying to "dispose" of anyone. I had a few questions that I think your side needs to seriously consider . . .

RP: We don't subscribe to the theory of historical discontinuity that drives the Catholic propaganda about Protestantism that you promote. We aren't fazed by your Great Hero Cardinal Newman because he's not even in the same world of conceptual discourse as we are.

CC: Yeah, I know that; so how would you answer the questions I raised, then?

RP: Your historical apologetics, based as they are it seems exclusively in Newman, are simply irrelevant to what I do. None of the devices which you have gathered up from the writings of Newman have any relevance to my program, and indeed, because of the dogmatic fervor with which you hold to Newman, they merely make you incapable of even processing my program, much less intelligibly responding.

CC: I said already: Newman has played no part in this discussion at all.

RP: Sure he did. He's behind everything you write. The Newman-derived construct about "private judgment" which you rely upon as the foundation of your view of the work of the Protestant reformers is something which entirely misses the classical Protestant views, derived from Medieval catholic theology, of ministerial government and conciliar-based publicly-binding arbitration of disputes.

CC: Now that may get us back to the subject: ecclesiology (cuz you mentioned "government").
Thanks. Glad to be back there . . .

RP: Your apologetics are based on the need to create and exploit the purely angst-driven concerns of conversion mania.

CC: Huh? [dazed, befuddled, frustrated look - I would certainly be angry too if I weren't so nauseatingly familiar with this routine] Fiddlesticks! I actually thought we were back on the subject . . .

RP: An excellent example of this deep hermeneutical failure on your part is your "plain texts" approach to Scripture and history, for instance, which is a leftover hangup from your Evangelical days, and which constantly self-sabotages your interactions with other Christians.

CC: Well, if it's left over from evangelical Protestantism and the "perspicuity" of Luther and Calvin, I should think that you would rejoice in that, since it is a remnant from the days before my terrible apostasy into Unbiblical Catholicism. Perhaps I have a warped, stunted version of hermeneutics, but for all my faults, at least I discuss and write about Holy Scripture a thousand times more than you do. How ironic, huh? I stress biblical arguments and you stress (besides vapid, boorish, endless jeremiads) . . . what?

RP: You are a quirky Evangelical-ish conservative with narrow and rigid self-contained, self-justifying paradigms from which you cannot entertain the slightest doubt. You exude a Protestant Fundamentalist angst which has produced no end of historical caricatures and total failure to engage with different paradigms.

CC: Can we please get back to the subject? My shortcomings (which are many, but not usually what you think they are) can be the topic of another post . . .

RP: Your apologetics is the subject, because it can bring nothing to the table of intelligent discussion except shrill, childish, sectarian demands. These criticisms are just off the top of my head. You are as bad as James White, I swear. I have to get in that dig because I am still mad at myself for being stupid enough to idolize him, and mad at you because you were never so stupid. Why couldn't you believe the stupid things I have in the past so my constant projection-lecturing you about things you have believed for many years (as if I tell you something new) would be the remotest bit plausible?

CC: Well, folks, I tried. There you have it. We can all learn something from the above "discussion." Not sure what, but something . . .

*****

NOTE: "RP"'s words underneath the plusses (+ + + + +) heavily rely on recent actual quotes from this real person "TE" - found here.

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