Friday, March 09, 2007

The Modernist, Secularist Historicism of Raymond Brown and Brian Tierney

-- including lengthy citations from St. Thomas Aquinas on papal infallibility, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Msgr. George A. Kelly, and Protestants J. Gresham Machen and Os Guinness on Liberalism --

Brian Tierney's words will be in blue.

* * *

My position on historical matters that involve Christian differences, such as ecclesiology, papal infallibility, etc., is that the objective, fair inquirer ought to read all sides: read orthodox Catholic historians, read liberal Catholic historians (who no longer accept the dogmas of their own professed affiliation), read liberal and conservative Anglican and Reformed and Baptist and Orthodox ones, secularists; whoever has the credentials. That is my position. I wasn't, therefore, arguing in the last paper of this series:

1) Don't ever read or consider Brian Tierney at all because he is a liberal, and ignore any facts he gives because he can't be trusted!
Rather, my point was:
2) If you're going to seriously discuss the issue as a professed 'orthodox' Christian (from either a Protestant or Catholic framework), then don't mock and dismiss those who approach historical questions from a particular perspective which they deem to be orthodox, and cite almost exclusively those historians who are not orthodox from any Christian perspective.
It is precisely because everyone is biased that all sides need to be read on these vexed issues. I'm not arguing (nor would I ever) that orthodox Catholic historians are perfectly objective and liberal historians utterly worthless and despicable people, etc. I'm saying (and it has been my position for some 25 years, since college) that everyone is biased in some fashion -- much as they try not to be if they are serious about the pursuit of truth. Therefore, we ought to read all major sides of a debate, rather than be selective and read only the ones who agree with our own particular take at the moment (and then go out and wax dogmatic, scornful, and triumphalistic).

Hans Kung is not a professional historian, either, yet Kung is cited by Tierney as allegedly superior in reasoning and methodology to orthodox infallibilists. This is not "guilt-by-association" (by linking Kung to Tierney) but rather, merely noting that Kung was a scholar recommended by Tierney as an alternative to orthodox views. So the logic ran as follows:

1. Tierney claims that historians who believe in infallibility ignore historical facts, engage in "Pickwickian" and "Alice-in-Wonderland" thinking, etc.

2. Tierney informs us, however, that some Catholic historians are starting to "get it."

3. He cites Hans Kung -- since he wrote the book, Infallible? An Inquiry --, as one of these.

Avery Cardinal Dulles (not exactly a "triumphalist" or "polemical" sort of Catholic, and no intellectual slouch), also falls prey to a bit of skepticism concerning Brian Tierney and Hans Kung, in his review of the book, The Church in a Postliberal Age, by the Lutheran George A. Lindbeck:
. . . he maintains that the doctrinal controversies of the past can now be surmounted. Each doctrine functions as part of a system, which takes on different shapes in changing contexts. “Dogmas, from this point of view, are statements which seek to summarize, defend, or explicate those aspects of the symbol or action systems of the community which are seen as particularly important within a given situation.”

Lindbeck illustrates this with his account of the dogma of papal infallibility. It was formulated in extreme language by Vatican I, he believes, under the influence of seventeenth-century monarchical absolutism and the nineteenth-century cult of personality. Since Vatican II there has been a “demise of papalism among the better theologians, and eventually, one may suppose, though at much longer term, in all parts of the Church.” It is now generally conceded, Lindbeck writes (in an essay of 1972), “that the conciliarism of the Constance decree Haec sancta has as good a historical claim to dogmatic status as Pastor aeternus itself.” To judge from the references, the “better theologians” turn out to be authors such as Brian Tierney, Francis Oakley (whose name is misspelled), and Hans Küng . . .

Lindbeck’s resolution of intra-Christian doctrinal disputes is likewise too facile. His accounts of the true meaning of papal primacy and infallibility, overinfluenced by authors such as Hans Küng and Thomas Kuhn, are reductive, as is his interpretation of the Lutheran sola fide. It would be better to deny the doctrines than to explain them so relativistically.

(First Things 136, October 2003, 57-61) (

I don't see how my perspective on Brian Tierney (not to mention, Hans Kung) is all that different from J. Gresham Machen's treatment of Presbyterian liberals in the 1930s, in his book, Christianity and Liberalism -- which I read years ago, or Francis Schaeffer's perspective towards Presbyterian and other Protestant liberals in the 1970s or 1980s, in his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster. We have our liberals; Protestants have theirs. Liberals are the scourge of the earth. They're as numerous as particles of sand. It seems to me that this opposition to orthodoxy within the ranks ought to unite those who see themselves as continuing the authentic traditions of their own communion, rather than separate and divide them.

Sam Shamoun, a Reformed Protestant friend of mine who specializes in outreach to Muslims, wrote in a letter dated 12-19-03:

By the way, do you plan on writing an expositon of Father Raymond Brown's unorthodox, liberal views? I would love to see you tackle this from a Catholic perspective. I find myself having to expose his heretical viewpoints due to the fact that the Muslims love to appeal to his writings. It would be nice to see a Catholic write a response against him, seeing that he was a member of the Roman Catholic [Church] and was considered one of the great NT scholars.
Sam understands full well (from a Protestant perspective) that Fr. Brown was a liberal (by either Catholic or Protestant standards). The Muslim apologists with whom he deals understand it also, because they cite him, and they are notorious for citing Christian liberals in their attempt to run down the inspiration and inerrancy of Holy Scripture over against the supposedly inspired Koran. We make it easy for them: all they have to do is cite our many liberals and "higher critics" who are mocking and tearing down the Bible every day.

Would the following beliefs be considered an instance of "liberalism" by Catholic standards (and, I dare say, even by many Protestant denominational standards? Several of these beliefs certainly would have been "liberal" to me when I was a Protestant):

Fr. Brown drew sharp criticism from the late Lawrence Cardinal Shehan and others for his pioneering role "in a new Catholic theology founded on modern exegesis" that cast doubt on the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith.

These articles of faith, proclaimed by Popes and believed by the faithful over the centuries, include Jesus' physical Resurrection; the Transfiguration; the fact that Jesus founded the one, true Catholic Church and instituted the priesthood and the episcopacy; the fact that 12 Apostles were missionaries and bishops; and the truth that Jesus was not "ignorant" on a number of matters.

Not least, though, was Fr. Brown's exegesis concerning the infancy narratives of Saints Matthew and Luke that calls into question the virginal conception of Jesus and the accounts of our Lord's birth and childhood.

In addition to Cardinal Shehan, such eminent peers of Fr. Brown as Msgr. George A. Kelly, Fr. William Most, Fr. Richard Gilsdorf, Fr. Rene Laurentin, and John J. Mulloy were highly critical of the Brown revisionism of the Catholic Church's age-old theology of inspiration and inerrancy.


The above was written by Henry V. King, in an article about orthodox Catholic biblical scholars' opposition to Brown's theories. Msgr. George Kelly (raving fundamentalist and President Emeritus of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars) has also been critical of Brown, and wrote an entire book responding to his heterodoxies, entitled, The New Biblical Theorists: Raymond E. Brown and Beyond (Servant: 1983). In an article in The Catholic Dossier, Kelly offered this delightfully satirical, half tongue-in-cheek blast at the liberal playing-with-words mentality:
During my early priestly years, I was involved in the Church's social apostolate, with activities like the implementation of Quadregesimo Anno in the United States, and with labor unions. I learned quickly in that world how "truth"and "right"were politicized almost everywhere. We "labor priests" were not right or wrong; we were right-wing or left-wing. A priest-advocate of Pius XI's program of reconstruction of the social order earned the label "progressive," but should he also favor with any vigor the same pope's reconstruction of the family in Casti Connubii, he was looked down upon as a reactionary. By 1940 some of us stood on Columbus Circle speaking on what labor unions could do for the American family, but not until 1970 did our attention turn to what the new biblical theories were doing to the family called Church and to the Church's right to speak authoritatively on the Bible as the Word of God. So we learned all over again how to be right-wing or left-wing, never surely right or wrong.


Having written a book against Brown's views, one would expect Fr. Brown to offer a respectful, scholarly retort, perhaps clarifying some things where he may have been misunderstood, etc. But instead, he engaged in name-calling: the age-old technique of last resort for the liberal when he is revealed (by rational or biblical argument) as inconsistent or heterodox:
Some of his critics, like some of his associates, were better at hurling epithets than at debating, but Fr. Brown was a match for them. He became one of the Church's best rhetoricians for biblical criticism, fully conscious of the strengths in his positions, unwilling to admit weakness in his method or to let his critics off his rhetorical hook. He publicly questioned the competency of bishops to deal with biblical questions. His favorite terms for the critics of his theories were the following: "ultra-right," "fundamentalist," "ultra-conservative," "right-wing vigilantes," and "extremists." Their opinions, he insisted, had "no scholarly respectability." Labeling like this, which in our society creates impressions not necessarily true or valid, raised doubts in many Catholic quarters about traditional religious formulas.
This sounds a lot like Brian Tierney's descriptions of those of us Neanderthals who actually believe in papal infallibility (as defined by Vatican I): "rather eccentric," "Pickwickian infallibility," "content to pretend that the past did not happen," "a kind of
Alice-in-Wonderland logic," "the Cheshire Cat," etc.

Apologist-types like myself are used to the usual liberal name-calling. One of their favorite epithets for orthodox Catholics (and those who defend same) is "fundamentalist." So, for example, in a review of my second book, More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, someone wrote (on that this was merely "Catholic fundamentalism," and that readers ought to read some solid books of (by implication) right-down-the-center (read, "progressive") Catholicism, by none other than Raymond Brown. So the orthodox folks become "fundamentalists" and the liberals become mainstream and "orthodox." Very interesting. Just like opposition to homosexual behavior and "marriage" will soon, no doubt, also be considered "fundamentalist," etc. (just as opposition to divorce, abortion, and contraception now is). Here is the entire review:

(1 star out of a possible 5)
More Catholic Fundamentalism, June 11, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Trenton, NJ

Like the first book, this book suffers from the same weaknesses. Dave is to be commended for his zeal for the Catholic Church, but he needs to develop a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to Catholicism. This is more of the same - Catholic fundamentalism posing as orthodoxy. I put Dave in the same boat as James Akin, Karl Keating, Bob Sungenis, and the other fundamentalist Catholic apologists (fundapologists). Save your money and buy the Catechism of the Catholic Church is you want to learn about Catholicism. If it's biblical exegesis that interests you, pick up anything by the best Catholic scripture scholar of all time - Raymond E. Brown.


The same guy wrote in his negative Amazon review of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

(1 star out of a possible 5)
Catholic Fundamentalism, June 11, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Trenton, NJ

Dave writes well and has good intentions, but he brings to Catholicism an
evangelical/fundamentalist mindset. If you want to understand Catholicism buy a copy of the Catechism. If you want to read the best in Catholic biblical scholarship, pick just about anything by Raymond E. Brown.


The liberal Catholic priest and sociologist Andrew M. Greeley exhibits this same mindset, in his article, "Catholic Culture Wars: The Search for a New Archbishop":

Those who insist on the importance of the traditional values emphasize institutional authority. For them Catholicism for all practical purposes is authority. In this paper they are called FUNDAMENTALISTS because for them church authority plays a role not unlike the bible plays for fundamentalist Protestants. Those who want a continuation of the more moderate policies of the late Cardinal would argue that Catholicism has never been a rigidly exclusionist tradition. They are therefore called PLURALISTS . . . the FUNDAMENTALISTS believe that to be true to Catholic authority a new Archbishop must "crack down" on those who advocate the ordination of women, on those who practice birth control, on priests who engage in absolution services at Christmas and Easter, and on politicians who do not fight against abortion. The PLURALISTS would rather have an archbishop who is more tolerant on these matters. It is worth nothing that this toleration might not necessarily indicate infidelity to doctrine, but a prudential judgment about what is most likely to effective in a given set of circumstances.


Note the curious shifting and re-defining of terms. Fr. Greeley refuses to use the category of "orthodox Catholics." Instead, those who simply accept the Church's teaching are "fundamentalists" and those who do not are the very tolerant- and open-minded-sounding "pluralists." These folks recognize the astounding reality that Other People Believe Different Stuff Than We Do. They must never be described as "liberals" or "dissenters" or "heterodox," for that would mean calling them what they in fact are, and conceding the terminology to the "fundamentalists." Instead, terms such as "progressive" or "pluralist" or "moderate" or "centrist" are (and must be) used (just as in politics). I find this both silly and an insult to one's intelligence.

Msgr. Kelly noted some of these troglodyte "fundamentalists" who disagreed with Fr. Brown:

In the world beyond journalism, Fr. Brown did acquire his own share of scholarly critics, but he paid them no mind. Msgr. Jerome Quinn, at one time (1980) the only U.S. member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, disagreed with Browns views on the ordination of women. Paulist Neil McEleney, a 1979 President of the Catholic Biblical Association, considered Brown's view of Mary's role in Christ's life as "minimalist." John McKenzie, S.J., author of the impressive Dictionary of the Bible, thought that Brown hedged his controversial conclusions with the appearance of objectivity, while marshaling his evidence in favor of the position to which he was committed. Dennis McCarthy, S.J., a professor at the Biblicum in Rome, suggested (1979) that Brown operated out of a "squirrel cage," i.e. he ran round and round in circles, always returning to the same place -- doubt.
Here is an example of liberal tolerance for dissenting views:
What really brought me into the world of biblical controversy was meeting Fr. Manuel Miguens, O.F.M., in 1975. Fr. Miguens had studied Scripture in Rome and Jerusalem, held doctorates in both Sacred Scripture (SSD) and Sacred Theology (STD), taught for thirteen years at Jerusalem's Studium Biblicum Francicanum and for six years at The Catholic University of America, where he was the highest degreed professor in his field, well-accepted by his students, and praised to me by the head of his department. He was the author of two books: The Virgin Birth: An Evaluation of Scriptural Evidence and Christian Ministries.

After his six successful years at Catholic University, Fr. Miguens was denied tenure because he was a critic of modern historicist exegesis as practiced, and of Fr. Brown. A Spanish-born visitor to the American Church, a private personality without powerful friends, he later came to St. John's University in New York, but never again taught students worthy of his intellect or his learning. The very academic freedom proposed in theory to protect unpopular opinion was no help to the modest Miguens. If his likes could be driven so easily from a bishop-owned university without defense by anyone in authority, and Charles Curran given tenure in the same period, the Catholic world was itself in a "squirrel cage."Miguens, a victim of politics, was himself uninterested in the politics of self-defense. He left CUA quietly.

Based in part on disgust at "power politics" nonsense like this, Msgr. Kelly wrote his book critiquing Fr. Brown. Here is his story about it:
Fr. Brown did not ignore The New Biblical Theorists. He looked upon it as nothing more than "ultra-conservative propaganda." Nor could he resist adding: "It was astonishing to me that Rene Laurentin had written a foreword to such a book." Psychic transference of a kind also appeared in print, when Brown's friend, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., who knew nothing about my psyche or me, analyzed my state of mind as follows: "Kelly's book generates anger; the thinly veiled animosity, the incessant slurs, the pervasive bitter righteousness." The same Murphy-O'Connor later accosted Laurentin in Europe, to whom he vented indignation that the Frenchman could have written such a foreword which, he said, places Laurentin outside of the mainstream of American biblical scholarship. By 1983 it was clear that "the knowledge class" had acquired in their own mind "counter-magisterium" status, and its chief spokesmen had come to resent challenges to their views of early Christianity . . .

As the evidence makes clear, regnant academics in our day exercise unusual authority over Catholic opinion, and have become somewhat choosy about who is allowed to criticize their work. They also take umbrage at critics outside their mainstream, and are not happy with the likes of Cardinal Ratzinger either.

In spite of these limits placed on amateur commentators, permit this outsider to critical exegesis to single out the kind of problem historicists create for the Church, which they do, not by educing new facts, but by spinning unprovable theories. And then calling their deductions "science."

Fr. Brown's position on the virginal conception of Jesus is a good example. The Sulpician believed, as a matter of faith, that the Churchs teaching on this subject was true. At one point in his deliberations he also presumed that the teaching had been infallibly defined by the Church's Magisterium. However -- because some Protestants and some Catholics deny it, we must study the question again. Brown studies it and finds (at first) that "the scientifically controllable evidence" leaves Mary's virginity an unresolved problem. Challenged by other scholars for ignoring the place of dogma in Catholic exegesis, Brown later modified his scholarly doubt by locating the problem instead in the lack of "scientifically controllable biblical evidence." At the end of his analysis he raises one more question: Suppose, in view of the new historical insights, that the doctrine of the virginal conception is not really infallible, after all?

Fr. Brown was a good, orthodox Catholic? What does that mean, then? Msgr. Kelly summarizes Fr. Brown's dissenting opinions:
In conclusion, permit me to capsulate the scientific conclusions of historical criticism about the origins of Catholicity, based on what Fr. Brown called "my detective work."
* The stories of Christ's birth are dubious history.
* Early Christians understood themselves as a renewed Israel, not immediately as a new Israel.
* We must nuance any statement which would have the historical Jesus institute the Church or the priesthood at the Last Supper.
* In the New Testament we are never told that the Eucharistic power was passed from the Twelve to missionary apostles to presbyter-bishops.
* Only in the third and fourth century can one take for granted that when "priests" are mentioned, ministers of the Eucharist are meant.
* The Twelve were neither missionaries or bishops.
* Sacramental powers were given to the Christian Community in the persons of the Twelve.
* Presbyter-bishops described in the New Testament are not traceable "in any way" to the successors of the Twelve.
* The episcopate gradually emerged, but can be defended "as divinely established by Christ" only if one says it emerged under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
* Peter cannot be looked upon as the Bishop of the early Roman Church community. Succession to his Church fell to the Bishop of Rome, the city where Peter died. However, that concentration of authority produces, says Brown, "difficulties such as those we are now encountering within Catholicism."
* Vatican II was "biblically naive" when it called Catholic bishops successors of the Apostles.
* It is dangerous to assume that second century structures existed in the first century.
But we're all supposed to be good little Catholics and accept Fr. Raymond Brown as a fully-orthodox "one of our own" because the liberals say so and because to not do so would open us up to the horrifying, discussion-stifling charge of being "fundamentalists," "ultraconservatives," "reactionaries" and other "shut up"-type epithets from the liberal overlord catalogue of censorship-and-evasion of the issues by-name-calling.

Msgr. Kelly wrote in his book, Inside My Father's House (New York: Doubleday, 1989), about the Oh-So-Tolerant-and-Smart-and-Superior liberals' reaction to his book, The Crisis of Authority (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1982):

. . . an interlocking directorate of Catholics and non-Catholics, of theologians and academic freedom fighters, was heaping praise on the critical exegetes and fending off complainers with charges of fundamentalism or scholarly ignorance. Father Brown and Father McCormick, each time they would suggest a change in a Catholic doctrinal position, would defend themselves by appealing to dogmatist Father Dulles, who at the time was calling his critics "right-wingers" and accusing Rome of making doctrinal statements which evaded "in a calculated way" the findings of modern scholarship.

(p. 280)

Kelly offers an insightful critique of the Brown / Enloe "historicist" mentality:
. . . defenders of the Faith are surely correct when they maintain that the conflicts over faith and morals following the Council, are related to the scholarly obsession with the historical method divorced from Church tradition. Historicists argue that all human propositions (in scripture, in dogmas, in morals), including those about Christ and the Church, are conditioned by the historical situation from which they derived, limiting their value or truthfulness for later centuries. When historicist exegetes so interpret scripture, independently of anything the Church has said about it, they assert for their class an authority over the final determination of what God, Moses, and Christ really said or did or they raise doubts about the truth of Church determinations which they cannot resolve by their "science." Within this framework whatever is historically relevant to Christianity, indeed to religious life of any kind, no longer belongs to the successors of the apostles to determine.

(p. 285)

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger made a similarly devastating critique in 1984:
The link between Bible and Church has been broken. Historico-critical interpretation of Scripture has made of it an entity independent of the Church: The Bible is read not starting from the Church and in company with the Church, but starting from the latest method claiming to be "scientific." Only thus it is asserted, can the Bible be read correctly . . .

Thus the final word on the Word of God no longer belongs to the lawful pastors, to the magisterium, but to the expert, to the professor, to everchangeable hypotheses. We must begin to see the limits of an exegesis which really is itself a reading conditined by philosophical prejudices, by ideological pre-understandings, and which does nothing but substitute one philosophy for another.

(in Kelly, ibid., 291)

In his book, The Crisis of Authority, Msgr. Kelly shows us what Fr. Brown believed about Scripture:
Brown may fully accept, as he says (Theological studies, March 1981, p. 4), "the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Bible as the word of God", but it is difficult for an open-minded reader of this article to be sure after reading it just where that word would be found. Brown compiles a long list of places where the word of God may not be found -- neither in the Wisdom books, nor in the Psalms, nor in the Prophets and Moses, not even in the "sayings of Jesus" which often are "Church-foundational", not the words of Jesus at all. Says Brown: "Although theoretically these words were spoken in the early 30s, often there is little evidence that they influenced Church life in the next few decades" (ibid., p. 12). If the believer at a loss with the Bible thinks he can then turn to the Church to discover there whatever simple word of God might ever have been contained in scripture, he will learn from Brown that it is not possible to accept the stated Church view that the Bible was inspired of God and inerrant. Brown puzzles why our own "insecurity" keeps pushing us to look for "absolute answers" in our search for biblical meaning. The Brown Bible is a very different book from what "Catholics who have little knowledge of the Bible and make simple assumptions" believe. . . . At best Christians must depend on scripturists to discover what little bit of God's word might be found there . . . Brown downgrades all the Church's most solemn statements about scripture.

(pp. 104-105)

For more about Raymond Brown's treatment of Holy Scripture, see: "The Magnificat According to Raymond E. Brown," by Thomas W. Case (

In a letter to the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, March 2000, Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., wrote:

Editor: Rev. Philip M. Stark’s defense of Fr. Raymond E. Brown’s orthodoxy (HPR, Aug.-Sept. 1999) is based principally on the consistent approval given to the late biblical scholar by Vatican authorities, who secured his appointment for two terms as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

While such approval would seem to create a strong presumption in favor of Brown’s orthodoxy, I believe that such a presumption is overturned by the hard evidence of Brown’s clearly and constantly expressed positions and their equally clear contrast with two doctrines infallibly proposed by the Catholic Church’s universal and ordinary magisterium: (a) that the Holy Spirit—who cannot err—is the simultaneous author of everything affirmed by the Biblical writers; and (b) that the canonical Gospels “always” (not just “usually” or “sometimes”) tell us what is historically true about Jesus (cf. Dei Verbum 11 and 19, with their accompanying official footnote references).

. . . Fr. Brown was an exegete, not a dogmatic theologian. My own recently awarded doctorate in Theology (summa cum laude, from a Pontifical Roman university) is precisely on the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to Sacred Scripture, as expressed and confirmed in the conciliar and post-conciliar documents of Vatican II and their chief signatory, Pope Paul VI. My research has persuaded me that Fr. Brown’s undoubted erudition in Scriptural matters, far from guaranteeing him any special competence to interpret the relevant Roman documents, as Fr. Stark supposes, made him a far from impartial judge of what those documents really mean and teach.

Like countless other post-Enlightenment exegetes of all denominations, Brown had become convinced by his own brand of historical-critical “science” that the Biblical writers sometimes make mistaken affirmations, and that parts of the Gospels very probably belong to certain less-than-historical literary genres. But since, by all accounts, he was also strongly motivated to remain a loyal Catholic as well as a “critical” exegete, Brown seems to have been unable to resist the temptation to indulge in “concordism,” i.e., to translate and read the pertinent magisterial documents with a strong liberal bias, so as to harmonize them at all costs with his own “scientific findings.” Unfortunately, the Catholic Biblical “establishment” since Vatican II has generally followed him in this.

I suspect that the harm which Raymond Brown has unwittingly done to the Church and to souls has been more grievous than that done by theologians more outspokenly liberal than Brown himself, precisely because the “moderation” and “nuances” with which he sugar-coated his pernicious doctrinal principles made his work seem responsible and orthodox to many high-ranking bishops and cardinals who would never have been swayed by the more blatant (although perhaps more logically consistent) biblical skepticism of those such as Küng, Boff, Schillebeeckx, Knitter, or Drewermann.


Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger offered an insightful analysis of the mindset and mentality and false presuppositions of this sort of "post-Enlightenment" historicism (which is, sadly, very common today):
Broad circles in theology seem to have forgotten that the subject who pursues theology is not the individual scholar but the Catholic community as a whole, the entire Church. From this forgetfulness of theological work as ecclesial service derives a theological pluralism that in reality is often a subjectivism and individualism that has little to do with the bases of the common tradition . . .

In this subjective view of theology, dogma is often viewed as an intolerable straitjacket, an assault on the freedom of the individual scholar. But this loses sight of the fact that the dogmatic definition is rather a service to the truth, a gift offered to believers by the authority willed by God . . .

Some catechisms and many catechists no longer teach the Catholic faith in its harmonic wholeness -- where each truth presupposes and explains the other -- rather they try to make some elements of the Christian patrimony humanly 'interesting' (according to the cultural orientations of the moment). A few biblical passages are set in bold relief because they are viewed as being 'closer to contemporary sensibility'. Others, for the opposite reason, are set aside . . .

The bond between Bible and Church has been broken. In the Protestant sphere this separation began at the time of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century and of late has also found entry into some Catholic scholarly circles. The historico-critical interpretation has certainly opened many and momentous possibilities for a better understanding of the biblical text. But by its very nature, it can illumine it only in its historical dimension and not explain it in its present-day claim on us. Where it forgets this limit it becomes illogical and therefore also unscientific . . . for many the traditional faith of the Church no longer seems justified by critical exegesis but appears only as an obstacle to the authentic 'modern' understanding of Christianity . . .

. . . a church without a credible biblical foundation is only a chance historical product, one organization among others, and the humanly constructed framework of which we spoke. But the Bible without the Church is also no longer the powerfully effective Word of God, but an assemblage of various historical sources, a collection of heterogeneous books from which one tries to draw, from the perspective of the present moment, whatever one considers useful. An exegesis in which the Bible no longer lives and is understood within the living organism of the Church becomes archaeology: the dead bury their dead. In any case, the last word about the Word of God as Word of God does not in this conception belong to the legitimate pastors, the Magisterium, but to the expert, the professor with his ever-provisional results always subject to revisions . . .

. . . Scripture has again become a closed book. It has become the object of experts. The layman, but also the specialist in theology who is not an exegete, can no longer hazard to talk about it. It seems to have almost been withdrawn from the reading and the reflection of the believer, for what would result from this would be dismissed as "dilettantish'. The science of the specialists has erected a fence around the garden of Scripture to which the nonexpert now no longer has entry . . . . .

Every Catholic must have the courage to believe that his faith (in communion with that of the Church) surpasses every 'new magisterium' of the experts, of the intellectuals . . . The rule of faith, yesterday as today, is not based on the discoveries (be they true or hypothetical) of biblical sources and layers but on the Bible just as it is, as it has been read in the Church since the time of the Fathers until now. It is precisely the fidelity to this reading of the Bible that has given us the saints, who were often uneducated and, at any rate, frequently knew nothing about exegetical contexts. Yet they were the ones who understood it best.

(The Ratzinger Report, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, translated by Salvator Attanasio and Graham Harrison, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985, 71-72, 73-76)

There is such a thing called "orthodoxy" which is able to be discerned, identified and believed by rational people who are not reactionary kooks and anal-retentive fundamentalist anti-intellectuals. The liberals amongst us Catholics very frequently act as if they have a lock on the interpretation of dogma and Catholic belief -- a lock which gives them the right to speak as if their own viewpoint is inherently superior to the Magisterium's.

For people who like to opine about the alleged "de facto" infallibility and irrationalist, fideistic triumphalism of "conservative" Catholics, "liberal" Catholics (and their Protestant "useful idiots") are weirdly prone to acting that way themselves when it comes to the facts of Church history and their relationship to dogma and Christian Tradition. Attempting to reduce "the Catholic position" to whatever the "liberal" Enlightenment-inspired zeitgeist and latest scholarly fashion and craze of smarter-than-thou-lay-apologist-imbeciles Higher Criticism dictates is itself a form of subtle attack upon Catholicism.

Liberals and some Protestant critics act as if there is no such thing as a Received Orthodoxy or Tradition. It must always be suspect to revision and overthrow by the Self-Anointed, Self-Appointed Priesthood of the Oh-So-Much-Smarter-Than-the-Old-Fuddy-Duds -Who-Run-the-Church Liberal Scholars. There is no such thing as a "liberal" or a "dissident" either (just as in secular politics, where "liberal" has been a "dirty word" -- rather than a proud self-description -- for some 30 years now!). All liberals must immediately be defined as "centrists" and all orthodox Catholics relegated to the intellectual dung-heap of "fundamentalism" or "ultra-conservatism" (one wonders how long it will take to be compared to Neo-Nazis or Flat-Earthers).

The faithful Catholic is bound to dogmas that have been declared ex cathedra by the pope or at the level of extraordinary magisterium by an Ecumenical Council (as this doctrine was in 1870). But that's not good enough for liberal "Catholic" historians who follow historical method to the exclusion of a theological understanding of received tradition and dogma. They don't care what the proper authorities in the Church say. They know better, because they are smarter, and experts in Church history.

We all "know" that "conservative" (read, "orthodox") Catholics are all Dumb Troglodyte Fundamentalists. The stereotype of "conservatives" or "traditionalists" (i.e., faithful, obedient, orthodox Catholics) as stupid and out of touch is the oldest trick in the book. We see the same thing in politics. Conservatives are dumb people. One need only read any biography of Ronald Reagan by a political liberal, or note how Dan Quayle was treated and how President Bush is treated today by his political enemies. The liberals are the really smart, relevant, up-to-speed people. Thus we see that the mentality of partisan politics is very much with us in theological discussions as well.

One wonders who liberals think are the orthodox, "smart," intellectually-respectable and (actually honest) Catholics? Where are these people? Is Pope John Paul II one of them? If so, then why is someone like myself not classified with the pope as simply an orthodox Catholic (as he is my hero and theological inspiration)? If the Holy Father is not so classified, on what grounds? Who is the Catholic out there who knows more than the pope about what orthodox Catholicism is? Is Cardinal Ratzinger, for example, a "Dumb Historically-Obscurantist Conservative"? He has certainly been called plenty of names by the liberals.

Instead we are fed smarmy, condescending, patronizing, warmed-over, half-baked Freudian liberal pablum about the alleged emotional and intellectual shortcomings and "psychological crutches" of people who are simply orthodox and who dare to believe in the Catholic faith that has been passed-down lo these many centuries. There actually are Christians in the world who hold that some tenets of faith are non-negotiable. So why is it that only when Catholics hold to their distinctives, all the patronizing name-calling and infantile psycho-social secular-soaked analyses come out?

Liberalism, of course, came out of Protestantism originally. They ought to be well familiar with it from their own history. So, for example, the Presbyterians fought their own battles to preserve Calvinism against an encroaching liberalism and even Unitarianism in many cases (particularly in New England). Virtually everything that liberal Catholic historians or Protestant critics say about Catholics could have been said in one way or another about past Presbyterians, who fought to retain traditional Presbyterian beliefs. Their opponents called them outmoded relics and ignorant of the latest trends of theology and "assured results" of the Higher Criticism of Scripture, and many other names. The same thing happened (up to our own time) to those who held to the inerrancy of Scripture, trying to fight the onslaught against Scripture in academia and in denominations (see, e.g., Harold Lindsell's book, The Battle for the Bible).

In the second chapter of Presbyterian J. Gresham Machen's book, Christianity and Liberalism (1923), entitled, "Doctrine," he writes:

. . . is it really doctrine as such that is objected to, and not rather one particular doctrine in the interests of another? Undoubtedly, in many forms of liberalism it is the latter alternative which fits the case. There are doctrines of modern liberalism, just as tenaciously and intolerantly upheld as any doctrines that find a place in the historic creeds. Such for example are the liberal doctrines of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. These doctrines are, as we shall see, contrary to the doctrines of the Christian religion. But doctrines they are all the same, and as such they require intellectual defence. In seeming to object to all theology, the liberal preacher is often merely objecting to one system of theology in the interests of another. And the desired immunity from theological controversy has not yet been attained . . .

It is no wonder that the modern invectives against doctrine constitute a popular type of preaching. At any rate, an attack upon Calvin or Turrettin or the Westminster divines does not seem to the modern churchgoer to be a very dangerous thing. In point of fact, however, the attack upon doctrine is not nearly so innocent a matter as our simple churchgoer supposes; for the things objected to in the theology of the Church are also at the very heart of the New Testament. Ultimately the attack is not against the seventeenth century, but against the Bible and against Jesus Himself.

Even if it were an attack not upon the Bible but only upon the great historic presentations of Biblical teaching, it would still be unfortunate. If the Church were led to wipe out of existence all products of the thinking of nineteen Christian centuries and start fresh, the loss, even if the Bible were retained, would be immense. When it is once admitted that a body of facts lies at the basis of the Christian religion, the efforts which past generations have made toward the classification of the facts will have to be treated with respect. In no branch ofscience would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation of the past seems to be thought essential to progress. And upon what base slanders the vituperation is based! After listening to modern tirades against the great creeds of the Church, one receives rather a shock when one turns to the Westminster Confession, for example, or to that tenderest and most theological of books, the "Pilgrim's Progress" of John Bunyan, and discovers that in doing so one has turned from shallow modern phrases to a "dead orthodoxy" that is pulsating with life in every word. In such orthodoxy there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love . . .

Far more serious still is the division between the Church of Rome and evangelical Protestantism in all its forms. Yet how great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today! We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.

That does not mean that conservatives and liberals must live in personal animosity . . .


One can more profitably illustrate how historian Brian Tierney falls into the same trap that Cardinal Ratzinger warned against: a sort of non-dogmatic or sometimes anti-dogmatic historicism, ultimately divorced from the Church's authority and changeable at the whim of the new "priesthood of scholars." The following is a portion of an article with a discussion between the orthodox Alfons Stickler (later a Cardinal) and Tierney ("Papal Infallibility -- A Thirteenth Century Invention? Reflections on a Recent Book", The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. LX, October 1974, No. 1 / "Infallibility and the Medieval Canonists: A Discussion with Alfons Stickler", The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. LXI, April 1975, No. 2). Fr. Stickler wrote:
Dr. Tierney, starting out from the dogma of the First Vatican Council, should have borne in mind that he was in the field of theology and therefore he should have taken this into account also in his historical research on the origins of this theological datum [papal infallibility] by applying the rules proper to the science of theology.

Theology deals with revealed data, and all scholarly research in theology, therefore, must begin with the acceptance of a valid revelation even when it exceeds rational verifications, and it must accept as its own scientific criteria not only written revealed truths but also their cognitive development and their binding definitions through the living magisterium supported by a tradition which is likewise under the guidance of a higher revealed light. If, therefore, a historian sets up criteria of research, with the results derived therefrom, of a purely rational nature, he is not a historian of theology.

. . . he asserts that his historical findings are opposed to the theological tradition called to witness by the First Vatican Council. In this way he shows that beginning (in the introduction) with theology for the purpose of explaining it through historical data, he ends (in the conclusion) with the historical demonstration that the theological data are an erroneous result. This means inverting the function of historical research in the field of theology because it substitutes fothe verification of historical facts the evaluation of theological data, or, in other words, it challenges the very validity of the theological method, even in the properly theological field. And this approach, in our opinion, has kept him from correctly evaluating even on purely rational grounds the historical data of the canonical literature that he has examined.

Tierney replied:
Modern theologians teach that the pope is also endowed with an "extraordinary magisterium" and that, when he teaches by virtue of it, he teaches infallibly. But the medieval canonists knew nothing of any such doctrine. For them the pope was an erring mortal who could err, so far as they knew, in any of his decisions.
This is highly interesting. Is Tierney suggesting that the medieval canonists were ignorant of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on the papacy? For those canonists who lived after St. Thomas, we might reasonably assume they should have known his teaching or could have, if they had sought to find it. Gratian (d.c. 1159), "the father of canon law," lived before him, however; St. Thomas cites his work in two places in the following citation. Here is what St. Thomas taught:
Whether it belongs to the Sovereign Pontiff to draw up a symbol of faith?

Objection 1: It would seem that it does not belong to the Sovereign Pontiff to draw up a symbol of faith. For a new edition of the symbol becomes necessary in order to explain the articles of faith, as stated above (Article [9]). Now, in the Old Testament, the articles of faith were more and more explained as time went on, by reason of the truth of faith becoming clearer through greater nearness to Christ, as stated above (Article [7]). Since then this reason ceased with the advent of the New Law, there is no need for the articles of faith to be more and more explicit. Therefore it does not seem to belong to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to draw up a new edition of the symbol.

Objection 2: Further, no man has the power to do what is forbidden under pain of anathema by the universal Church. Now it was forbidden under pain of anathema by the universal Church, to make a new edition of the symbol. For it is stated in the acts of the first* council of Ephesus (P. ii, Act. 6) that "after the symbol of the Nicene council had been read through, the holy synod decreed that it was unlawful to utter, write or draw up any other creed, than that which was defined by the Fathers assembled at Nicaea together with the Holy Ghost," and this under pain of anathema. [*St. Thomas wrote 'first' (expunged by Nicolai) to distinguish it from the other council, A.D. 451, known as the "Latrocinium" and condemned by the Pope.] The same was repeated in the acts of the council of Chalcedon (P. ii, Act. 5). Therefore it seems that the Sovereign Pontiff has no authority to publish a new edition of the symbol.

Objection 3: Further, Athanasius was not the Sovereign Pontiff, but patriarch of Alexandria, and yet he published a symbol which is sung in the Church. Therefore it does not seem to belong to the Sovereign Pontiff any more than to other bishops, to publish a new edition of the symbol.

On the contrary, The symbol was drawn us by a general council. Now such a council cannot be convoked otherwise than by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, as stated in the Decretals [*Dist. xvii, Can. 4,5]. Therefore it belongs to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to draw up a symbol.

I answer that, As stated above (OBJ 1), a new edition of the symbol becomes necessary in order to set aside the errors that may arise. Consequently to publish a new edition of the symbol belongs to that authority which is empowered to decide matters of faith finally, so that they may be held by all with unshaken faith [Ad illius ergo auctoritatem pertinet editio symboli ad cuius auctoritatem pertinet sententialiter determinare ea quae sunt fidei, ut ab omnibus inconcussa fide teneantur]. Now this belongs to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, "to whom the more important and more difficult questions that arise in the Church are referred," as stated in the Decretals [*Dist. xvii, Can. 5]. Hence our Lord said to Peter whom he made Sovereign Pontiff (Lk. 22:32): "I have prayed for thee," Peter, "that thy faith fail not, and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren." The reason of this is that there should be but one faith of the whole Church, according to 1 Cor. 1:10: "That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you": and this could not be secured unless any question of faith that may arise be decided by him who presides over the whole Church [qui toti Ecclesiae praeest], so that the whole Church may hold firmly to his decision [ut sic eius sententia a tota Ecclesia firmiter teneatur]. Consequently it belongs to the sole authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to publish a new edition of the symbol, as do all other matters which concern the whole Church, such as to convoke a general council and so forth [Et ideo ad solam auctoritatem Summi Pontificis pertinet nova editio symboli, sicut et omnia quae pertinent ad totam Ecclesiam, ut congregare synodum generalem et alia huiusmodi].

Reply to Objection 1: The truth of faith is sufficiently explicit in the teaching of Christ and the apostles. But since, according to 2 Pt. 3:16, some men are so evil-minded as to pervert the apostolic teaching and other doctrines and Scriptures to their own destruction, it was necessary as time went on to express the faith more explicitly against the errors which arose.

Reply to Objection 2: This prohibition and sentence of the council was intended for private individuals, who have no business to decide matters of faith: for this decision of the general council did not take away from a subsequent council the power of drawing up a new edition of the symbol, containing not indeed a new faith, but the same faith with greater explicitness. For every council has taken into account that a subsequent council would expound matters more fully than the preceding council, if this became necessary through some heresy arising. Consequently this belongs to the Sovereign Pontiff, by whose authority the council is convoked, and its decision confirmed.

Reply to Objection 3: Athanasius drew up a declaration of faith, not under the form of a symbol, but rather by way of an exposition of doctrine, as appears from his way of speaking. But since it contained briefly the whole truth of faith, it was accepted by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, so as to be considered as a rule of faith.

(Summa Theologica, Benziger Bros. edition, 1947; translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province; Second Part of the Second Part, Question 1, Article 10: complete)
Fr. Brian Mullady, in his article, "The Charism of Infallibility," published in The Catholic Dossier, wrote:
His reply to this question formed the basis for the discussion of papal infallibility for many centuries and culminated in the definition of the infallibility in Vatican I . . . The Lord has promised to support the faith of Peter and his successors so that they will know the truth about Him so that he might support the faith of the bishops and through them that of the whole Church. Therefore questions which arise concerning the faith can only be resolved "by the one having care over the whole church" . . .

Some scholars believe that St. Thomas based this opinion on forged Patristic sources. St. Thomas had to write a work which was to aid in the union of the Western Church with the Eastern Church and there he does use doubtful Greek Patristic texts. Though this is true, St. Thomas held this opinion in many other works which are very early. Hans Kung sees this opinion as a kind of remote preparation for the doctrine of infallibility in Vatican I. "There is no doubt that Aquinas, basing himself — we may assume, in good faith — on the forgeries, in this way laid the foundations for the doctrine of infallibility of Vatican I."

(citing Hans Kung, Infallibility? An Inquiry, Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972, 106)

Here are the other works of St. Thomas Aquinas cited by Fr. Mullady: Summa contra Gentiles, IV, c 76; Catena Aurea, XVI, 18-19; Comm. In Matt., XVI, nn. 1382-1385; De Potentia, 10, 4, ad corp. I shall cite the first two:
Of the Episcopal Dignity, and that therein one Bishop is Supreme

There must be some power of higher ministry in the Church to administer the Sacrament of Order; and this is the episcopal power, which, though not exceeding the power of the simple priest in the consecration of the Body of Christ, exceeds it in its dealings with the faithful. The presbyter's power is derived from the episcopal; and whenever any action, rising above what is common and usual, has to be done upon the faithful people, that is reserved to bishops; and it is by episcopal authority that presbyters do what is committed to them; and in their ministry they make use of things consecrated by bishops, as in the Eucharist the chalice, altar-stone and palls.

1. Though populations are different in different dioceses and cities, still, as there is one Church, there must be one Christian people. As then in the spiritual people of one Church there is required one Bishop, who is Head of all that people; so in the whole Christian people it is requisite that there be one Head of the whole Church.

2. One requisite of the unity of the Church is the agreement of all the faithful in faith. When questions of faith arise, the Church would be rent by diversity of judgements, were it not preserved in unity by the judgement of one. But in things necessary Christ is not wanting to His Church, which He has loved, and has shed His blood for it: since even of the Synagogue the Lord says: What is there that I ought further to have done for my vineyard and have not done it.? (Isai. v, 4.) We cannot doubt then that by the ordinance of Christ one man presides over the whole Church.

3. None can doubt that the government of the Church is excellently well arranged, arranged as it is by Him through whom kings reign and lawgivers enact just things (Prov. viii, 15). But the best form of government for a multitude is to be governed by one: for the end of government is the peace and unity of its subjects: and one man is a more apt source of unity than many together.

But if any will have it that the one Head and one Shepherd is Christ, as being the one Spouse of the one Church, his view is inadequate to the facts. For though clearly Christ Himself gives effect to the Sacraments of the Church, -- He it is who baptises, He forgives sins, He is the true Priest who has offered Himself on the altar of the cross, and by His power His Body is daily consecrated at our altars, -- nevertheless, because He was not to be present in bodily shape with all His faithful, He chose ministers and would dispense His gifts to His faithful people through their hands. And by reason of the same future absence it was needful for Him to issue His commission to some one to take care of this universal Church in His stead.* Hence He said to Peter before His Ascension, Feed my sheep (John xxi, 1) and before His Passion, Thou in thy turn confirm thy brethren (Luke xxii, 32); and to him alone He made the promise, To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xvi, 19). Nor can it be said that although He gave this dignity to Peter, it does not pass from Peter to others. For Christ instituted His Church to last to the end of the world, according to the text: He shall sit upon the throne of David and in his kingdom, to confirm and strengthen it in justice and judgement from henceforth, now, and for ever (Isai. ix, 7). Therefore, in constituting His ministers for the time, He intended their power to pass to posterity for the benefit of His Church to the end of the world, as He Himself says: Lo, I am with you to the end of the world (Matt. xxviii, 20).

Hereby is cast out the presumptuous error of some, who endeavour to withdraw themselves from obedience and subjection to Peter, not recognising his successor, the Roman Pontiff, for the pastor of the Universal Church.

(Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, Chapter 76; An Annotated Translation -- with some abridgement -- by Joseph Rickaby, S.J., London: Burns and Oates, 1905)

According to this promise of the Lord, the Apostolic Church of Peter remains pure and spotless from all leading into error, or heretical fraud, above all Heads and Bishops, and Primates of Churches and people, with its own Pontiffs, with most abundant faith, and the authority of Peter. And while other Churches have to blush for the error of some of their members, this reigns alone immoveably established, enforcing silence, and stopping the mouths of all heretics; and we [ed. note: The editions read here, 'et nos necessario salutis,' the meaning of which, says Nicolai, it is impossible to divine], not drunken with the wine of pride, confess together with it the type of truth, and of the holy apostolic tradition . . . But if there were many heads in the Church, the bond of unity would be broken.

(Catena Aurea ["Golden Chain"], commentary on Matthew 16:18-19; translated by John Henry Parker, London, 1842)

Tierney continues, in his reply to Alfons Stickler:
Father Stickler’s basic assertion is that a scholar who sets out to write the history of a theological doctrine must write as a theologian. This apparently involves, not only accepting the truth of current doctrinal formulations, but also interpreting the data of the past in accordance with them. Obviously this is not the way in which historians do their work. The whole vocation of being a historian consists in an effort of self-discipline whereby the historian seeks to free himself from the presuppositions of the present in order to understand the past in its own terms. It will sometimes happen then that the historian’s enhanced understanding of the past will change his perception of the present. This was my own experience with papal infallibility.
This is a goldmine of liberal presuppositions and blind spots. Historians are not theologians; granted, yet a so-called "Catholic" historian (i.e., one who actually follows his Church's teaching, rather than merely using the word "Catholic" as an identification like, say, Ted Kennedy and pro-abortion politicians do) must do his work in light of his theological beliefs. This is common sense and self-evident. One believes that the two do not conflict, in faith, and one doesn't overthrow the dogmas of the Church by "finding" various "anomalies" in Church history. Difficulties can always be found. It is the same in science, where the scientist works according to hypotheses and theories which he accepts beforehand as a "grid" through which he interprets the raw empirical data from observation.

Now, to use the analogy of Calvinists and their liberals (as defined by them) again, a Calvinist exegete is not permitted to look at texts such as can be found in Hebrews 6 and many other places, and conclude that, therefore, Christians can fall away from regeneration, justification, and salvation. It is believed to be impossible a priori. No biblical text, no matter how seemingly contrary to Calvinist dogma, prima facie, can contradict it, and must be explained in another fashion. To explain such anomalous biblical texts in an Arminian way, contrary to doctrinaire, confessional, Synod of Dort, Westminster Confession Calvinism, is simply to cease being a Calvinist, and to quickly lose one's reputation in the Calvinist, Reformed community. Contrary positions are considered "liberal" and rejections of God's sovereignty, semi-Pelagianism, "Romish soteriology," a denial of the "Gospel," etc.

The behavior of fellow Calvinists is also subjected to the same (what might be called) "anti-empirical dogmatism" in Reformed circles. A person might be considered an upstanding Christian and member of the community (in some cases, even a pastor); he is (consciously or subconsciously) regarded as one of the "elect." But if that person then rejects Christianity and falls into serious sin, the community immediately assumes that he never was a Christian in the first place (because their belief-system disallows the concept of ever "falling away"). The inexorable logic of this stance is that one can never be sure that oneself or anyone else is a Christian now (because one doesn't know the future, which may "prove" that so-and-so never was a Christian).

So critics of the Catholic Church who happen to be Calvinists don't require this "intellectual integrity and open-mindedness" of Calvinist Bible scholars and exegetes; they don't require them to be open to alternate viewpoints (contrary to their own dogmas) under pain of social and intellectual ostracism and banishment from the "smart people" and being accused of being called "conservatives" and "fundamentalists" if they do not do so. They only require it for Catholics in dealing with historical elements and considerations that Brian Tierney thinks "obviously" contradict some Catholic dogmatic claim (in this case, papal infallibility). Calvinists understand that Calvinist dogma is true and non-negotiable. They simply assert, in faith, that nothing in the Bible in fact contradicts it. There is nothing wrong with this, in and of itself. What is wrong is is the double standard when such people approach Catholics and history.

All we are doing is believing in faith -- backed up by documentation -- that history does not contradict Catholic dogma. Does this mean no "difficulties" in historical interpretation exist? No; no more than it means that all difficulties in exegesis have been resolved. In both cases, the person must fall back on faith and axioms at some point. These things cannot be absolutely proven. Faith does not reduce to reason, and Christianity does not reduce to philosophy.

To a Calvinist, it is "clear and obvious" that the Bible teaches distinctive Calvinist doctrines, and never contradicts those (as it cannot contradict itself -- the prior faith assumption of the "Bible-believing" Christian). To Catholics, it is "clear and obvious" that history does not contradict Catholic theology. Why the double standard, I wonder? And why is it that so many Calvinist critics of Catholicism cannot clearly see this; that there is no qualitative distinction between the methodology of the Calvinist with regard to "dogmas" in the Bible, and that of the Catholic concerning dogmas in history?

Tierney speaks of the necessity to "free" oneself of presuppositions in order to understand the past "in its own terms" (as if this is possible). In other words, one has to suspend their theological beliefs as a Catholic, and allegedly approach history with a clean slate (tabula rasa) and find whatever one finds there, and then proceed to mold and modify the beliefs (which meant little enough to him to suspend in the first place), pending verification from secular historiographical techniques. Why have faith at all, with this mentality? Clearly, this is pitting reason against faith, and setting Enlightenment "reason alone" on a higher plane than Christian beliefs.

Tierney quite openly is willing to modify the "present" and Catholic beliefs based on past historical considerations. But he is not willing to modify interpretations of historical facts based on the input of development of doctrine and theology and historical hindsight: through which such facts can be interpreted. He acts as if he has no philosophy of history. Yet it is impossible to not have any such preconception. One can either take a Catholic view of history, or a secular view (where many competing theories exist) or one of the several Protestant views, or the Orthodox view. It is foolish to deny that one takes no view, and simply objectively looks at "facts" and interprets theology in accordance with these findings.

This is the triumph of the Enlightenment over dogmatic Christianity, since all dogmas bow to secular historiography. This mentality is what brought Raymond Brown to a place where he hardly knew where the word of God could be found in the Bible, or knew what Jesus said. Why even bother being a Catholic, if it comes down to this? It involves the complete merging of faith with scientific presuppositions; themselves inevitably axiomatic. One merely substitutes one unproven axiom with another. In the meantime supernatural faith is jettisoned.

The liberal goal is to make all historical appeals to Catholic dogma or Tradition impossible or endlessly malleable and changeable in principle (evolution, rather than development of dogma), so that the faith of Catholics can be decimated. One person runs this "conspiracy" to bring down authentic Christian faith and his name is Satan. Usually those who aid in such deconstructions are well-intentioned and sincere, but misguided, internally inconsistent dupes. They have not sufficiently harmonized their Christian faith with their academic and intellectual outlook.

Meanwhile, Western Civilization (hardly consciously Christian at all at this point) is rapidly going to pot due to the secularizing of law and the removal of all biblical moorings for law and morality and cultural solidarity. In defiance of that, orthodox Catholics and orthodox Protestants (within their own denominational frame of reference) are asserting the reality of a supernatural faith which is not irrational, but which is also not to be conceived as subservient to or dominated by, purely secularized methods of research and inquiry.

Protestant social analyst Os Guinness analyzed theological liberalism and how it infiltrates Christianity, in a brilliant book, The Gravedigger Files (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), written in the style of C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters (one demon writing to another on how to corrupt human beings and Christian beliefs and institutions). With his marvelously insightful thoughts I shall conclude my observations and criticisms:

You will remember that liberal, as we are using the term, is not a matter of theology only. It is an index of cultural involvement and therefore of the degree of worldliness, so it refers to practice as well as theory and includes institutions as well as ideas. The professing conservative (defined theologically) may therefore be a practicing liberal (defined culturally) . . .

The faithfulness principle (of the conservative) and the flexibility principle (of the liberal) are two sides of the same coin. They are both necessary if Christians are to be simultaneously "in" the world but not "of" it.

We gain only when we isolate and exaggerate the insight of each extreme until it becomes self-defeating. In other words, when conservatisim stresses faithfulness without flexibility, it ends by stifling the truth; when liberalism stresses flexibility without faithfulness, it ends by squandering the truth . . .

Modern Christians rarely notice the fateful shift from changing tactics (a matter of adapting to the style and language of the other side) to changing truth (a matter of adopting the substance of the other side's beliefs) . . .

At the outset, nothing may be further from the liberal's mind than compromise, but like the Chinese journey of a thousand miles, the liberal road to compromise must begin somewhere. This step is taken when some aspect of modern life or thought is entertained as not only significant, and therefore worth acknowledging, but superior to what Christians now know or do, and therefore worth assuming as true.

You can see this step most readily in the area of thought. Do you know of the celebrated theologian who argued that modern people cannot use electric light and radio or call upon medicine in the case of illness and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles? This is a clear example of the sort of assumption made in the first step. Without realizing it, Christians pass from a description which is proper ("The scientific world view has tended to increase secularism") to a judgment which does not necessarily follow ("The scientific world view makes the New testament world of spirits and miracles incredible") . . .

All we need do then is circulate the judgment with a growing chorus of conviction ("Today it is no longer possible to believe x, y or z . . . ") and it will soon become self-evident and unquestionable.

What we are sure they will not see (at least at first) is that this leap from description to judgment, or from analysis to assumption, is theologically decisive too. It imports a new source of authority into Christian thinking. Whatever is assumed is then used as the Christian's new yardstick. It is no longer weighed and measured; it weighs and measures all else . . .

Only rarely does this happen consciously and deliberately. Most people do it without realizing it. This lack of consciousness is how we can take theological conservatives and turn them into cultural liberals, and how we can move theological liberals toward heresy . . .

Some aspect of modern experience is assumed uncritically, so that it is made authoritative in practice. In the process the authority of modernity replaces the authority of the Adversary . . .

The next step in the seduction follows logically from the first. Everything which does not fit in with the new assumption (made in step one) is either cut out deliberately or slowly abandoned to a limbo of neglect . . . What is involved in this step is not merely a matter of altering tactics, but of altering truth itself . . .

Something modern is assumed to be true and proper. Therefore anything in the tradition which is no longer assertable in the face of it must go. Is it embarrassingly unfashionable or just superfluous? In either case, . . . it has to go.

In effect, what we achieve is anti-revelation, revelation recycled in line with the size and shape of modern assumptions. And the dividend for counter-apologetics is reductionism, the voluntary abdication of Christian truth by a thousand qualifications . . .

. . . what remains of traditional beliefs and practices is altered to fit in with the new assumption . . . What is not abandoned does not stay the same; it is adapted . . . Assumptions produce conclusions as seeds produce fruit . . .

We must always work particularly to encourage positions which sound moderate but are radical in implication . . .

. . . the original half-truth of liberalism (flexibility) develops into full-blown compromise or worldliness, and Christianity capitulates to some aspect of the culture of its day . . .

The clearest example of the first surrender is theological liberalism. Its history is virtually the history of the philosophical and cultural presuppositions of its day. Thus theology follows philosophy as predictably as a tail follows a dog. The average liberal would dispute this, but the best evidence is found in the liberal theologians' criticism of their own predecessors. And what do they criticize? Their predecessors' uncritical adherence to the philosophical and cultural presuppositions of their own day . . .

Modern theology . . . "mixes history with everything and ends by being proud of the skill with which it finds its own thoughts." [Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, London: A. & C. Black, 1954, 398]

There you have it. Study today's philosophy, and tomorrow's new theology will come as no surprise. The former Queen of the Sciences has lost her throne and is now earning her living as a fashion model. Scientific positivism? Existentialism? Process philosophy? The dictates and whims of the best European houses determine each season's new lines . . .

The liberal road to compromise is rarely taken knowingly. Nor, regrettably, is it always traveled completely. Simple factors like character and time sometimes frustrate our best efforts and keep some Christians from going the whole way . . .

In stark contrast to its claims to be sharp, critical and tough-minded, extreme liberalism is often theoretically inconsistent and quite unself-critical. The reason is that extreme liberals adopt their assumptions in an inconsistent and unself-critical way, although the subsequent steps they take may be logically proper and unquestionable.

How does this happen? In the first place, they fail to make a Christian critique of the assumption in question, so that it is not adopted "Christianly" -- it is instead assumed before it is assessed in the light of any Christian belief . . . The new truth is assumed not only un-christianly (in a narrow sense proper to Christians) but uncritically (in a broader sense common to all thinkers) . . .

What liberals don't see until too late is that they have indulged in a sort of favoritism with a hidden double standard, adding insult to injury. Traditional Christian assumptions have been rejected and abandoned, criticized for being products of their time. And by what criteria? By those of a modern assumption, no less a product of its time and assumed in many cases with even less criticism . . .

The mistake of the extreme liberal might be called the fallacy of the newer-the-truer . . . It's only a pity that this inconsistency is seen by so few . . .

Quick to alter faith as soon as it puzzles or repels anyone, they become susceptible to the special silliness and subservience to fashion of the easily swayed thinker. Far from being pioneers of change, extreme liberals are remarkably peer conscious . . . fearful above all of being caught in postures which to modern people might look absurd . . .

Trendier than thou has eclipsed holier than thou, and our gain is evident . . .

. . . liberalism . . . creates a gap between ordinary believers and the intellectual and bureacratic elite in the churches . . . almost any extreme liberal would feel more ashamed of affirming the Apostles' Creed than of refusing to give to charity . . . the extremes of liberalism make ordinary believers so confused and angry that they harden into the concrete mentalities of extreme conservatism . . .

The Christian elite are getting themselves into a position where it is almost impossible for ordinary believers either to understand them or to take them seriously . . .

. . . of those intellectuals and artists who have been converted in the last two centuries the overwhelming majority have been attracted to traditional and more conservative churches. Take T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers . . . They took their faith neat and couldn't stomach the tepid and diluted offerings of liberalism . . .

(pp. 198-206, 208-209, 211-214)

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 8 December 2003. Revised on 20 January 2004.


Ken said...

Did Sam Shamoun ever say how Muslims are using Raymond Brown?

The reason I ask is because the list by George Kelly does not affect anything significant except the Virgin Birth, and Muslims believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ! ( Al Massih) - Qur'an 3:45-48 and 19:19-21

All the other issues in the list by Kelly are differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics. (Eucharist, bishops, papacy) and others have written that he denied the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

I don't understand how Muslims use Brown for their advantage unless there are other issues - like denying that Peter actually wrote 2 Peter, etc.

Did Brown deny Jesus was the eternal Son of God or God in the flesh? (Maybe he did; since he didn't believe in the virgin birth, apparently.)

Did Brown believe in the resurrection of Christ as real time and space history?

Ken said...

Taking a break from Adomnan - Dave did you see this question?

(Post above)

How do Muslims use Raymond Brown?

Ken said...

Did you see the above 2 posts?
Any thoughts?