Saturday, 28 November 2015

opinion

Richard Beck Owning Your Protestantism: We Follow Our Conscience, Not the Bible

Peter Ormerod The Guardian We need the Church of England more than ever. That’s why we need it to die

Frank Cranmer Law & Religion UK The end of banns in England?

Lizzie Lowrie Saltwater and Honey The Mug

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 28 November 2015 at 10:59am GMT | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Opinion
Comments

On Richard Beck, firstly I am inclined to think that Luther and other 16th Century protestants *did* seek to put the Bible before all else - the conscience they sought to assert was the conscientious right to assert the Bible their way. So the Protestant ethos was predominantly submission to Biblical authority, not exercise of individual conscience to override the Bible if they saw fit.

Secondly, Richard seems to be asserting the need for a group to achieve consensus, and some kind of agreement on uniform faith.

I'd argue that that isn't where we are at today in the Anglican Communion. I'd suggest that perhaps God is challenging us not to find consensus around uniformity, but rather to seek grace and love and forgiveness and kindness to seek unity in our differences, because of our primary unity in Jesus Christ.

That way of 'doing conscience' is less about arriving at consensus than about opening our hearts to grace and love.

The democratic arrival at a doctrine based on conscience will still demote the conscience of the minority of dissenters, unless their conscience is also protected and included.

What we need is not arrival at some kind of democratic consensus on what in conscience the majority will accept as doctrine, but rather the grace to live in community with others who hold diverse or contrary views (also in good conscience), because of our unity in Jesus Christ.

Whether you call that Protestantism or not I have no idea, and don't really care, but I'd prefer to call it 'following the greatest commandment'.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 28 November 2015 at 12:25pm GMT

Thanks for the link to the Richard Beck article. Most interesting. The comments below the original article are interesting as well. Especially interesting is the Q & A with Jurgen Moltmann on the issue of sexuality and divisiveness in the church. I've snipped out an abridged version below; but folks will find the whole exchange ( text/audio) if they scroll down to comments, intriguing.

J.M. "Because the church is about the Gospel and not about sex. And we believe in the justification of human beings by faith alone, and not by faith and heterosexuality or whatever....I don’t know why this is more important than the question of war and peace, for example."

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 28 November 2015 at 9:25pm GMT

I like Riuchard Beck's contribution to this thread. He asserts the primacy of the individual Christian conscience over bibliolatry.

However, the human conscience is not just primary for Evangelicals. It extends are far as the Roman Catholic Church - with this recent response of Pope Francis to a Lutheran woman whose husband is a Roman Catholic.

When visiting the Lutheran community in Rome, the Pope was asked: "Why is it that I, a Lutheran Christan, cannot receive the Holy Communion at the Catholic Mass with my husband?

The Pope's answer, though qualified by the statement that he was not competent to issue a specific permission; was for her to: "Listen to your own conscience and act accordingly"

If that is not primacy of the conscience, over dogmatic principle - which for some is contained in the literal reading of the Bible, or response to a human magisterium - what is it?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 28 November 2015 at 11:16pm GMT

I'm guessing Richard Beck has not met many Sydney Anglicans. Or other members of GAFCON. It's such a sweeping statement to make about Protestants. Leadership (i.e. clergy/elders) can effect subtle, but powerful, influence on a congregation. What of those who may not share particular viewpoints? Conscience is important but I know I need the Bible to guide me. Hermeneutics is individual. But congregations operate as groups. Nice to be able to read comments on Richard's blog.

Posted by: Pam on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at 5:51am GMT

My conscience is in continual need of education. The question is, to what source do I turn to educate it, and what is it that makes that source specifically Christian?

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at 3:04pm GMT

@ Tim Chesterton, "My conscience is in continual need of education."

Concisely put, and with good questions. Classically, conscience is that interior personal voice that compels us to do good and avoid evil. It both precedes action and then judges action. As your questions imply, formation of conscience for the Christian requires the formation of faith.

However, and I suggest this goes to the point being made in Beck's article, it's not simply a matter of reading what's in the bible. Conscience leads to taking a decision. Decisions pertain to an object. So, I am attentive to religious counsel; but I also have to be understanding of the phenomena that confronts or troubles my conscience.

Take, for example, the issue of sexuality and the controversy over same sex marriage in the church, expounded in the comments section under Beck's article.

In practical terms, my conscience has to be informed not just by religious tradition or sacred literature but by a proper understanding of the object of decision, of human sexuality, the range of the human sexual response, the phenomena of sexual orientation, issues of harm, and so forth. Confusing highly contextualized cultural mores from the bible with a full understanding of the nature of human sexuality impairs conscience/moral consciousness. In short, Christians can agree on values, but disagree on the nature of the phenomena to which those values are applied. In that sense, I think Beck has an engaging point of view with regard to the interior voice grounded in faith but distinct from ecclesiastical authority.

Something of this is discernible on the matter of Indulgences in Luther's 95 Theses, especially perhaps #s 90--95.


Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at 7:05pm GMT

IN considering the supreme importance of conscience it might be well to recall Newman's definition, which does indeed differ markedly from the common contemporary meaning:

"[N]ow let us see what is the notion of conscience in this day in the popular mind. There, no more than in the intellectual world, does "conscience" retain the old, true, Catholic meaning of the word. There too the idea, the presence of a Moral Governor is far away from the use of it, frequent and emphatic as that use of it is. When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman's prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one's leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will."

Posted by: rick allen on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at 8:43pm GMT

"Luther and other 16th Century protestants *did* seek to put the Bible before all else - the conscience they sought to assert was the conscientious right to assert the Bible their way." -- Susannah Clark

Ms. Clark, this is using one's conscience, according to how one interprets the Bible. Biblical authority according to one's own conscience.
For me, the emphasis in your opening sentence ought to be on the last two words. Biblical authority "their way".
If that is not acting on one's conscience, I don't know what is.

Posted by: peterpi -- Peter Gross on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at 9:50pm GMT

As Pastor John Robinson of the Pilgrim Fathers said in his farewell address in 1620:
"If God reveal any thing to you, by any other instrument of his,be as ready to receive it,as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I am verily persuaded, I am very confident, that the Lord has more truth, yet to break out of his holy word."

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at 10:38pm GMT

"...I am very confident, that the Lord has more truth, yet to break out of his holy word."

- Pastor John Robinson, via Jeremy -

And, is that not the whole point about the biblical inerrancy crowd? They seem to have no expectation of the Holy Spirit bringong further revelation of the deeper meanings residing in the Scriptures (than those already discerned by conservative fundamentalists).

There seems to be a tednency, there, to major on the Old Testament style shibboleths rather than the liberating freedom of Christ in the Gospels.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at 11:50pm GMT

Perhaps it's impertinent for a non-Protestant Anglican (tautology? or oxymoron?) to comment, but it seems to me that conscience is not merely an individual faculty but primarily a collective one. If we are suspicious of our own fallible intuitions, we will want to test them against those of other Christians, and ultimately against the whole ekklesia, past and present. So yes, conscience is partly about 'consensus' - or, better, about community. If the Protestant ideal of conscience has always been the lone individual boldly following his/her God-given insight, the Catholic one has been a mode of experience formed in a sacramental community and ultimately liable to the judgement of that community.

Posted by: rjb on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 1:05am GMT

Re Peter Ormerod, "But at the heart of this story is a telling irony. The cinemas bracket the Lord’s Prayer alongside political advertising and fear it may cause offence; the church’s leaders disagree. In this dispute, the cinemas are quite right, for the Lord’s Prayer is indeed deeply political and offensive to many. As the activist Symon Hill writes, it is a 'prayer for the overthrow of all existing social conditions ' ”.

Dead on!

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 1:42am GMT

In this dispute, the cinemas are quite right, for the Lord’s Prayer is indeed deeply political and offensive to many. As the activist Symon Hill writes, it is a 'prayer for the overthrow of all existing social conditions ' ”.

That's as may be; but have no fear of this, for the church has done its job so well that I see little danger that cinema patrons will read the Lord's Prayer as anything other than hackneyed greeting-card sentiments.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 11:48am GMT

@ rjb, "...conscience is not merely an individual faculty but primarily a collective one." Only if one uses the term "conscience" in an equivocal sense. The use of the term "primarily" further muddies the waters.

The heart of conscientious objection is when individuals dissent from the stated policy of the community or society.

So, it is probably important to distinguish between conscience in the classical psychological sense, the sense in which it is used in Christian anthropology, and the more recent sociological sense in which you deploy the term in the compound notion of " collective conscience". The thrust of Beck's article would seem to be based on such a distinction of terms.

Besides, one could argue that Catholicism, Anglo or otherwise, tends in some instances toward "group think" which is the opposite of conscience.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 12:29pm GMT

Conscience--and lack thereof--is formed through social construction. RJB is correct.

An 'individualized conscience' is a legacy of 19th century German idealism.

'Natural Law' in St Thomas is a subset of the doctrine of creation as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Russell Hittinger has done a good job reminding liberal Catholics of this reality.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 12:51pm GMT

@ Daniel Berry, "the church has done its job so well that I see little danger that cinema patrons will read the Lord's Prayer as anything other than hackneyed greeting-card sentiments" Lol! Your view is probably dead on as well.

This controversy is very interesting to a Canadian. For example, the CBC, Canada's public broadcaster, which carries advertising, would not entertain running an ad like the Lord's Prayer, given its stated advertising policy.

See bullet four in the very brief CBC policy statement wherein religion and cigarette smoking are treated with equal disdain.

http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/advertising-standards/1-3-11/


Question: What is the policy of the BBC? Does the Beeb run ads? Would it run the CofE ad as a PSA? What about private broadcasters in the U.K.?

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 2:14pm GMT

@ C Seitz, "Conscience--and lack thereof--is formed through social construction. RJB is correct." Actually neither you nor rjb is correct in that you both are wedging a false dichotomy.

There are several problems with your statement. I'll mention just two related ones. It is important not to confuse but rather make the distinction between the personal and the merely private. Additionally, it is important to consider the relationship between conversion which is personal and the social group, whether or not to belong, or whether to belong to the social group in the same way. Instance Bernard Lonergan's treatment of the same in, Method in Theology (Foundational Reality) pp. 267-269, or Insight (Possibility of Ethics) p. 596 ff. Lonergan, of course, knows more than a little about Aquinas, and is hardly a "German Idealist". I understand him to mean that the personal and the social are in a kind of dynamic tension, even if the social may at times be the more "senior partner".

Besides, social constructs are themselves open to correction by the decisions and actions of individuals acting on conscience. Without the ability of individuals to achieve new insight into the object of a social consensus that was previously formative, social reform would not be possible and social determinism would remain. It would not be possible, in such a circumstance, for example, to move from myth to metaphysics, or even to re-evaluate the myth in the face of empirical updating. Which brings us back to the question of the authenticity of the social construct by which one is formed.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 5:48pm GMT

@ Rod Gillis: I don't know the answer to your question. Full disclosure: I'm a New Yorker. However, I believe that the UK is only slightly ahead of us in the indifference most people feel toward religion - no matter how many people in the US claim to be churchgoers. The difference between us and the Brits is that the Brits have outgrown their fear of being known not to give a rat's behind about the church, whereas, in the US, for complex reasons, that charade continues.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 10:23pm GMT

"Conscience--and lack thereof--is formed through social construction. RJB is correct."

What if the Bible itself is a social construct?

Is compassion a social construct? I don't believe so. I don't believe in a socially constructed compassion. I believe in compassion that bursts and flares and where necessary defies social construct.

And I believe compassion is the heart of God and the heart of conscience and the heart of what we find in the person of Jesus.

In short, I don't believe 'conscience' - which flickers and emanates from the divine compassion - is socially constructed at all.

Conscience is what is left when society and societal mores and constructs are stripped away.

Conscience is the expression of compassion, again and again and again.

It is what we find when we de-construct the Bible and read it honestly. It is what we find when our hearts of stone get touched and changed, and we find new hearts that come from God.

The trouble is, that biblical inerrantism, which was *still* what Luther was about, and much Protestantism is about, may even constrain conscience. It may anaesthetise us from the compassionate response we might otherwise make... about gay fidelity and marriage... about a God who consigns non-believers to Hell... about a God who supposedly orders the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites... it may even anaesthetise some from scientific realities and plunge them into ghetto mentalities and cul-de-sacs.

Many of these suppositions have been 'social constructs', because of the social production that the Bible embodied for its believer communities. And yet...

Somewhere in all this... the enigmatic Jesus who wrote only words in the dust... who demonstrated love and compassion... not as a social construct... but because of who God is, and can't help being.

Conscience is the renewal of our hearts and minds, not as social products, but again and again as the action of the Holy Spirit. It is the outburst of love in the midst of societies. It makes us sometimes do things we'd far rather not do... because compassion urges us to.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 11:15pm GMT

Lonergan? Glad to know he has any readership still.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 30 November 2015 at 11:24pm GMT

And now 'compassion' is 'conscience'.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 1:01am GMT

"My conscience is in continual need of education. The question is, to what source do I turn to educate it, and what is it that makes that source specifically Christian?"

Whatever I, or anyone else says in response to that question, Tim, YOUR conscience will decide for you. Which is precisely as it should be/as God made you to decide.

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 1:59am GMT

@ csetiz "Lonergan? Glad to know he has any readership still." Funny you should say that. See: The Journal of Moral Theology Vol. 4, no. 1 2015. Natural Law in a Digital Age by Nadia Delicata. Footnote # 5 references Russell Hittinger. Footnote # 7 references Bernard Lonergan (Insight).

@ Daniel Berry "The difference between us and the Brits is that the Brits have outgrown their fear of being known not to give a rat's behind about the church, whereas, in the US, for complex reasons, that charade continues." Hilarious. As a guy who grew up on the streets of a coal mining town, I appreciate your candor.


Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 2:16am GMT

@Rod Gillis - the BBC does not run ads in the UK.

On the question of Luther - he very plainly rated some Biblical books/passages above others. For instance he resolved any conflict between The Epistle of James and the doctrine of justification by faith as he understood it by giving a clear priority to justification by faith. What most of us who believe in the equality of same gender relationships are doing is to prioritise in the same way, believing that the theology that 'it is not good for people to be alone' and that Christ is come to enable people to enjoy 'life in all its fullness' takes priority over forbidding of same sex genital acts when they were culturally inclined to be adulterous at best and abusive at worst.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 9:49am GMT

Responses to my question about conscience (which was a genuine one, and in no way designed to elicit any particular answer) would seem to indicate two truths about the general TA consensus:

1. When it comes to the right private interpretation of scripture, whatever we may say about catholic beliefs, most people here seem to be radical protestants.

2. Not only radical protestants, but in fact, almost Quaker, with a firm belief in the 'inner light' that will guide each individual believer, whatever anyone else might say.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 10:09am GMT

JCF: 'Whatever I, or anyone else says in response to that question, Tim, YOUR conscience will decide for you. Which is precisely as it should be/as God made you to decide.'

I don't have quite that degree of confidence in the reliability of my own conscience, JCF. I know from past experience that I'm pretty good at self-deception when I've got a vested interest in the issue, whatever it might be.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 10:13am GMT

Tim,
I think it's impossible to believe something just because we're told to believe it. Genuine belief requires intellectual and emotional assent, otherwise it's just acceptance.

Once you have understood the deep equality of all human beings, you can no longer follow a church that tells you that some races are favoured by God and that others are inferior, for example. At the most, you can say that you "ought" to believe it because your church teaches you to believe it. But your heart will not be able to follow that belief and there will be a tension inside you. If you believe it would be wrong to try to change your church, then all you would be able to do is to accept the teaching of the church against your own heart and to live with that tension inside you.

I don't think there is a single person who can truly believe what their conscience tells them to be wrong.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 11:08am GMT

Christopher, if you can show me an example of 'conscience' that is not driven and infused by compassion, then I suspect I may be able to show you the difference between 'conscience' and 'belief in certain facts'.

Of course conscience is compassion.

If I feel I have to support a gay couple's request to marry, so their lives are not diminished, then that is compassionate conscience. If I believe I should not steal, because of the harm that does somebody else, then that is compassionate conscience. If I am opposed to nuclear weapons because of their potential to devastate lives of millions of innocent civilians, then that is compassionate conscience.

But if I simply 'believe' something is true, as a belief... such as the idea of an inerrant bible, when the bible is clearly erroneous in places... then I may start to see the difference and gap between the compassionate nature of conscience - that may fly in the face of social constructs, whether societal or the bible itself - and dogma that is often a social construct of a particular religious group.

Indeed, it is not unreasonable to propose that the bible itself is socially constructed by the religious communities that generated it... groups of fallible men and women, writing fallible ideas, like my own fallible ideas.

And that though men and women may in good conscience believe in certain dogma, out of a sense of the compassion of God, the essential hallmark of 'conscience' is its underlying compassion.

'Conscience' is essentially compassion, in the same way that the indivisible God is essentially compassion.

The life of Jesus, as reported, appears to be a continuous example of the contiguous and merged nature of conscience and compassion... what is 'there' after you strip away the social constructs around you... what drives and defines you, even when you sometimes wish it didn't have to. 'Take this cup from me...' etc.

All these words of mine here, just thoughts for reflection, all fallible, like the words of the bible and the authors of the bible.

Our God is a compassionate God, and conscience is the compassionate Spirit of God at work, within God, and in our human and fallible lives. Where accounts of conscience conflict, we can still find unity in our diversity, in the compassionate God of good conscience and tender loving care, in whom we find our union, with the eternal Trinity and one another, or not at all.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 11:35am GMT

When someone steals a watch and later it is said that her 'conscience pricked' her, leading her to return it, at issue is how 'conscience' may be said to prick one person and not another.

Trying to make 'compassion' move into this space strikes me as a confusing category mistake.

Re: Lonergan. Glad someone is still footnoting him somewhere. I thought he had pretty much fallen off the grid of those few who found him insightful in his day.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 12:32pm GMT

Following on...

To me, forgiveness is one of the supreme examples of conscience, and driven by compassion, and the compassionate nature of God.

To me, conscience is not some arid and dispassionate assertion of facts (which I have to confess, I think academic theology can sometimes seem, but not always)... it is the Spirit of God somehow at work in our actual lived lives, making difficult calls, and insistent demands on our hearts, but inciting compassion.

Again and again, Jesus homes in on forgiveness, and the very life of Jesus lived on earth, appears to be a disclosure of the conscience and compassion of God, and invitation to try to live the same.

God's compassionate nature, and compassion for each one of us, demonstrates conscience and incites conscience.

May we try to live, one with another, even with our conflicting senses of conscience, drawing close by faith to God, and seeking grace to try to understand one another, even if we don't always agree.

For this we need a lot of grace, forbearance, forgiveness and loving kindness.

We all fall short of that.

The compassionate nature of God should inform our consciences. Conscience cannot be contained in a book, not even the Bible. We see the compassionate conscience of God in between the lines of the Bible - it shimmers, trembles and breaks through. But God cannot be contained by the Bible, and neither are our consciences contained by it.

As I said, Jesus is an enigma, just as God is an enigma, not contained by our minds or our writings. He came to earth and lived an actual life with actual people, and defied many social constructs. So may we.

The Spirit of God is alive and active, and the compassion of Jesus lives in our hearts, again and again, if and when we open our hearts to this mighty compassion, however difficult it may be at times. As Jesus is reported to have said, we have a sacrificial baptism to undergo, the dying to self, the dying even to the societal conformities around us, letting go into the compassionate love and desire of God.

Feeling really matters in all of this.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 12:54pm GMT

"...the bible itself is socially constructed by the religious communities that generated it... groups of fallible men and women, writing fallible ideas, like my own fallible ideas."

Fortunately this isn't the view the Bible has of itself.

But of course that could mean it is wrong about that as well!

It does make it a rather odd thing to pay the Bible so much attention in our worship, and in the hands of the long history of interpretation where it is viewed so centrally, on the terms of its own deliverances.

This is probably one good reason why Christians are just talking past one another today. Radically different foundational claims.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 3:25pm GMT

Erika, you said, 'I don't think there is a single person who can truly believe what their conscience tells them to be wrong.'

And yet other people's consciences tell them that the same belief is right. And unless God is hopelessly confused, at least one of them is wrong.

See, I don't really see how you can avoid basing your position on the idea that conscience is infallible. I don't think my conscience is infallible. I have changed my mind on some things over the years. I expect to do so again.

So I repeat my original question (and emphasize that I'm not driving at 'an infallible Bible' as the answer to it). I haven't yet heard in this discussion an answer that I find satisfying. I'm still asking, given the fact that my conscience is in continual need of education, to what source do I turn to educate it, and what is it that makes that source specifically Christian?

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 3:32pm GMT

@ Rosemary Hannah, tks for the BBC clarification. Your point about Luther's use of NT texts is a helpful reminder that a particular focus of a great thinker needs to be contextualized within their entire outlook.

Notice where Beck says, "Luther famously declared: 'To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.' " Aquinas, and subsequent 'Thomisms' would agree with that as generalization--even if the goal is conscience informed by revelation. But that does not resolve all the problems. Beck further notes, "That's Protestantism. The elevation of the individual's conscience over the magisterium (teaching authority) of the church." However,even in a Roman Catholic context the tension between conscience and the magisterium remains unresolved. Evidence the battle between otherwise aligned R.C. theologians over Humanae Vitae and the counter point Winnipeg Statement issued by Canadian R.C. Bishops on these very matters. I'll bet ya Luther would roll up his sleeves and wade in.

I found Beck's article engaging; but I was especially taken with the comment by Moltmann in Beck's comment section. But again, one would need to hear more from both Moltmann and Beck.

On same sex issues, marriage, ordination, and the like, I tend to come at things this way. Conscience comes under the category of cognitional theory. It is an act based on knowledge but directed toward something, towards things as they relate to us and as they relate to each other. However a conscience formed by faith still requires a correct understanding of the thing, the case, the target situation. Empirical updating has changed, or ought to have changed, our understanding of same sex attraction as an object for conscientious response. New knowledge brings with it new responsibilities.

I simply cannot base my response to GLBTQ folks on mytho-poetical fragments in the bible devoid of modern insight on human sexuality. Which brings me back to Beck's neighborhood--even if none of us can completely resolve the tension between individual conscience and church authority.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 3:36pm GMT

Very interesting discussion.

Conscience is complicated. It certainly contains elements of compassion, but probably other elements as well. Christopher, I don't think conscience can be separated from other elements.

I'm thinking about the example of Selma, Alabama, and the two marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. The first one was quite brutal but did not move the dial on legal justice for African Americans. It motivated those already sympathetic to help out on a second effort. The second one was also brutal, but it was broadcast on live national television - one TV network cut into "Judgement at Nuremberg" to show the live coverage. This second march, the televised one, pricked the conscience of Americans and translated into the political will to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, removing stumbling blocks for blacks to vote.

What was going on in terms of individual conscience and the collective conscience of the US? Outrage? Compassion? Shame? The brutality happened in the heart of the "Bible belt" of the US, where whites in power had misused the Bible to justify slavery and white supremacy.

Martin Luther lived in a time when the RC's were selling indulgences to help rich people out of purgatory, regardless of their sins. Right, yeah. That is some "church teaching."

I was raised Greek Orthodox and I say "go Protestants!!!"

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 4:30pm GMT

Tim,
yes, in clear-cut human right questions there can only be one right answer. Which one? Well, seeing that both sides use the Bible to defend their position, using Scripture alone as your guide seems to me to be as shaky as trusting your own instinct.

Of course you can rely on Scripture and other sources to make your decision, but you will still not have 100% certainty.

I don't think I have said that my conscience is infallible. But neither is anyone's interpretation of Scripture.

The question was what we “believe”, not what “truth” is.
I have no idea what “truth” is.
But I know that I cannot believe something that goes against my innermost conviction.

On the contrary, when compassion (I agree with Susannah here) and my understanding of people’s reality bring me into conflict with Scripture, I tend to believe that my understanding of Scripture is wrong. Especially where Scripture seems to come to the crueller, more hurtful conclusion.

My a-priori assumption is that God is precisely not cruel or unjust. When my reading of the Bible makes him so, then it is my reading that is wrong. Especially when a different reading is possible.

It’s not an entirely unbiblical position. Ignatian prayer with its emphasis on consolation and dislocation taps in to the understanding that we can know deep inside us what is from God and what isn’t.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 6:13pm GMT

"Fortunately this isn't the view the Bible has of itself."

How can a collection of books (noting in passing that Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Coptic all have different sized collections) possibly exhibit anything as anthropomorphic as a view of itself?

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 9:09pm GMT

Great discussion. Rick Allen's reference to Newman was very thought-provoking and pertinent. My conscience lets me know how very often I am weak, devious, thoughtless and unloving. And I am a repeat offender. Thank God for grace.

Posted by: Pam on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 9:13pm GMT

Hi again Erika.

You said, 'Well, seeing that both sides use the Bible to defend their position, using Scripture alone as your guide seems to me to be as shaky as trusting your own instinct.'

Interesting observation. I think I have a good idea of which controversy you are referring to when you say 'Both sides...' (although I think you agree with me that there are more than two).

But the phrase 'using the Bible' (I'd italicize 'using' if this comment platform let me) was a little jarring for me. Not that I dispute that the Bible has indeed been 'used'. I would hope, though, that we would all recognize our call to stop 'using' it, and rather to find our place within the story it tells.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 10:52pm GMT

"And now 'compassion' is 'conscience'.?
Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday,

Strange as that may sound, Christopher Seitz, one only has to examine how people today respond to requests for financial contributions to charities, to understand how one's consicence is affected by compassion.

But then, there is such a thing as selective compassion. For instance, American Republican Fundamentalists feeling the need to prop up African Churches that support the extermination of LGBT people, and their supporters and families.

Like it or not, God has given each one of us the gift of free-will - a precious freedom that ought not be suborned to a collective lynch mentality.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 10:55pm GMT

apropos Fr Andrew's point...

How can a collection of books (noting in passing that Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Coptic all have different sized collections) possibly exhibit anything as anthropomorphic as a view of itself?

Indeed: in fact, how can a collection of books whose cultural context encompasses the entire Levant, and whose composition (oral and written) cutting, pasting, editing, reworking and fighting over which spanned at least a millennium and a half be said to have a view of itself?

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 10:59pm GMT

"How can a collection of books ... possibly exhibit anything as anthropomorphic (sic) as a view of itself?"

That this seems odd to you speaks volumes.

Do you genuinely mean you have no familiarity with texts like Romans 15:4f; 2 Timothy 3:14f; 2 Peter 16f; Rev 22:18f? The list could go on.

Cranmer based his famous collect on the first of these (Almighty God who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning...)."

It is clear that ships are passing in the night. Such basic understandings the tradition has assumed are now so many 'anthropomorphisms.'

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 at 11:01pm GMT

Exactly, Father Andrew. The Bible can't have a view of itself, because the Bible isn't a living, sapient being.

The authors of the Bible - a multiplicity of people, in different ages, writing for multiple religious communities - may have had views about the writings.

So might the religious communities themselves, and their successors.

However, the concept that 'the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true' needs to be handled with great caution.

And that is before one even starts on what we mean by 'true'.

Are the creation myths 'true'? And in what sense? Was Noah's Ark true, and if not, why should other parts of the Bible be infallible. The received knowledge or traditions around creation and around Noah appear to be believed by these early religious communities, but turn out to be fallible in the light of later scientific knowledge?

Was the Bible true (and inerrant) when it claimed that God commanded and sanctioned and mandated the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites? Every last child, animal, old person, the disabled, the innocent? Were the foundation myths of Israel true, and the great plagues in Egypt, and the engraved commandments in Sinai, and all those details?

Or were they the products and social constructs of a later community, shoring up the religious establishment in which context these accounts were written? Did God endorse Jephthah carrying out the abomination against his daughter? Did the earth stop rotating for a day when the sun stood still?

Were women to accept male headship because a mythical and non-existant Eve 'committed the first sin'? Were the social views on male-male sex to be perpetuated as universal truths because those were the social beliefs of a specific society and religious community? And so on.

'The bible is true because the bible says I is true' is a huge self-mandating claim, that seems almost incredible when one considers that it is actually a personal and social product of fallible humans like you and like me, 'trying to make sense' of religious experience, and in Paul's case trying to systematise religious ideas around the aforementioned 'Fall' (while in fact, people and animals died before the 'Fall' and the Fall was a social construct and myth). And so on.

Or... we can understand the bible as an astonishing record of fallible people and communities trying to capture and describe probably profound and confusing religious experiences, and encounters with the living God... just as you or I do too... struggling towards understanding.

If we read the Bible as fallible and written in contexts, then we start to attribute the bible with authenticity which the wider public can begin to take seriously.

Of course this has all been explored time and again, but to base our entire conscience on 'the Bible's view of itself' is to raise an inerrant bible to an elevation that risks reducing it to idolatry, rather than authenticating it, and the extraordinary explorations of generations. An exploration that can continue to today.

Conscience is not set in aspic in the Bible. We cannot abdicate our own consciences. We were not made to. We need to seek compassion - that sharing of profound love, and sharing even of consciousness and awareness - that is the nature of God, in whom (as we open our hearts to God's perfection, we may encounter the One, and become part of it). For 'the greatest of these' turns out, not to be the bible, but to be... love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 1:34am GMT

"@ cseitz "Lonergan? Glad to know he has any readership still." Funny you should say that. See: The Journal of Moral Theology Vol. 4, no. 1 2015. Natural Law in a Digital Age by Nadia Delicata. Footnote # 5 references Russell Hittinger. Footnote # 7 references Bernard Lonergan (Insight)."

Rod, as Prof. Seitz teaches in the Toronto School of Theology, one of whose member colleges includes a Lonergan Research Institute, I suspect he has his tongue firmly in cheek on this one!

Posted by: Geoff on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 4:09am GMT

Christopher, please try to believe that I am not getting at you, and indeed this is Anglicans thinking and discussing together, across an interface and sharing that reflects big challenges for the Communion as a whole.

You write:

" 'How can a collection of books ... possibly exhibit anything as anthropomorphic (sic) as a view of itself?'

That this seems odd to you speaks volumes."

It does not seem odd. It simply seems open to challenge and de-construction. It was not the bible that 'had a view of itself'. It couldn't have. It was the authors who had views, but their veracity was limited by their contexts (for example, limited scientific knowledge pre-Enlightenment). That's not odd, it's understandable. The bible was written in contexts, and written by humans who are fallible, and who wrote from within cultural contexts that were also fallible and subject to later change. It is reasonable to question and challenge the assertions in the text that the text itself is infallible. It is over generous to allow the bible to mandate its own infallibility. Would you allow the Pope to mandate his own infallibility? Well the biblical authors were humans too. They wrote within their own limits, culture and social prejudices.

"Do you genuinely mean you have no familiarity with texts like Romans 15:4f; 2 Timothy 3:14f; 2 Peter 16f; Rev 22:18f? The list could go on."

Of course the list goes on. Let's not suggest that different opinions to your own are based on lack of familiarity - in detail - with the Bible. We may all be perfectly clear about the biblical authors' claims. We may not all agree with them uncritically.

"Cranmer based his famous collect on the first of these (Almighty God who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning...)."

In my opinion, Cranmer was a giant. A giant influence and agent in the emergence of Anglicanism. There is so much grace in his use of language and, I believe, his desire and openness to inclusion of catholic elements as well as protestant ones. The prayer book is incredibly carefully worded. There was also the personal witness of his life and death.

However... while Cranmer wrote about all scripture being written for our learning, in a sense he was right, and in a sense he was limited in his insight. Because, yes, I believe the Spirit of God can speak to our hearts and open us to divine encounter, as we open ourselves to the divine encounters which the biblical authors attempt to describe. The bible works like a portal, an opening, through which our hearts and the Spirit may engage.

But at the same time, Cranmer's view of the bible was limited, in the sense that the Enlightenment hadn't yet happened, much science hadn't yet happened, and the arguably divine plan and challenge of God's continuing revelation and disclosure of Herself had not yet reached the parameters we now face, in Cranmer's time. In short, it was more excusable for Cranmer to believe in biblical infallibility than for those of us who live in the light of Darwin, and scientific method, and modern psychology, etc. It is arguable that God, in our day, challenges us to expand our minds, and open our minds and our consciences, and - as always - seek grace.

Which brings us back to Luther. Both Cranmer and Luther were products of an age that still had cause to view the bible as literal, infallible, and authoritative. In short, both believed that conscience should be framed and curtailed by what the bible commanded. Yes, Luther's conscience may have been framed by a different reading of the bible to Rome's. But he was still submitting to the bible to define and contain and limit his conscience. Same with Cranmer (who was martyred for it).

In fact, there is huge grace evident in the life of Cranmer, even though he was fallible like we all are. A grace was at work, I believe, in the formation of Anglicanism, and is still (or should be) at work in Anglicanism if we open our hearts to the radical Jesus. Grace, rather than biblical literalism, seems to me to be the key to the Anglican charism. Including the grace to seek Oneness in Jesus, even with differing doctrinal slants.

(...continued...)

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 10:29am GMT

(part 2... continuing...)

Which brings me to your last point:

"It is clear that ships are passing in the night."

To me that is defeatism, and sectarianism, and contrary to this gift of grace in Anglicanism, and its inclusive instincts. We are not some Protestant sect. Cranmer himself was more than that.

To me the real challenge in our time is not 'Which group within our Communion is right?' It is not 'What should be our uniform belief?' It is - as always - the challenge of grace. The grace to find our radical unity in the radical Jesus - radical in the sense of roots, but I don't need to tell you that. Our unity and communion only, ever, comes from faith in Christ and union with Christ, and that divine communion of the eternal and holy Trinity.

The real challenge is not 'Who is right?' It is 'Can we open up to Grace?' Grace to co-exist, grace to respect different consciences to our own (even if, as I do, we may argue our cases vehemently). Grace to open to God in our daily lives, perhaps in differing ways, but seeking grace, forgiveness, generosity and joyful co-existence in Jesus Christ.

The fallible Cranmer may have had no idea of the journey of grace he was helping to launch. But if it is about anything, Anglicanism is about grace and inclusion and diverse consciences, which distinguishes it from narrow sects and cults.

We are not 'ships passing in the night'. We are a motley crew of fallible human beings, as motley as the first disciples, who were also trying to make sense of mystery. And we are on a journey.

Attempts to enforce uniformity (such as the ill-fated Covenant or the Bishops' recent Pastoral Letter) are, I would argue, contrary to the spirit and charism of Anglicanism. Demanding a narrow 'Who is Right' ends up crushing conscience. It is grace, not doctrinal uniformity that should power our vessel, and the wind of the Spirit, and all along the great journey, God is with us, as we open our hearts to love.

It is possible to include variant consciences, not schism and part, and to co-exist, and live in communion with wide diversities and expressions. Because our communion and unity is only in Jesus Christ, not ourselves, but Christ offers grace and generosity and much joy, if only we open our hearts to Him.

It is absolutely not necessary to be 'ships passing in the night' unless we engage in macho demands that 'members' must be 'right' and everyone else is wrong. What I fear is that some parts of our Communion are posturing, and using the language of schism as threat, and I'm not referring to you, but to certain provinces, and if you'll excuse the seeming sexism, that is a very masculine way of resolving differences - the idea that everyone should submit to the dominant group, or set of beliefs.

My God is like a female friend who lives next door, who pops in through my unlocked back door, and sits and chats and drinks coffee and laughs, as the sunlight slants in through the window across the potted plants. And the fact she also has other friends, who she also likes, who are quite different to me... matters not in the least.

She is worth it for herself. And grace is in those moments. We are all friends of God in our different ways. Every one of us is different. It doesn't matter. In the exploration of grace, our uniqueness is actually something She loves about us, for She made us that way.

Grace, not rectitude, matters most of all. We are invited, again and again, to open our hearts to that grace. To open our hearts to God.

Domination, the Covenant, uniformity of doctrine... that seems to fall sadly short of what Anglicanism is all about, and what it may become.

Truly, God bless you. And bless your ardour and love of God.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 10:46am GMT

Tim,
apologies for sloppy language!
I think that in every dispute, not just in the same sex discussion, people of all shades of opinion draw from Scripture to either inform their belief or to affirm it. It's a trite observation to say that the bible has been used in defence of slavery, racism and misogyny.

I don't want to state that as a purely "your way wrong, my way right" question, either, because all of the above were once genuinely questioned and assessed by deeply moral people on all sides. It's only in retrospect that one particular view has come to be seen as immoral and abusing Scripture.

Honourable people still refer to the Bible to affirm their support for war, as do those who affirm their support for pacifism.

It is also being read in order to work out how we respond to what we perceive to be wrong-doing. Focusing on our own sin is as biblical as is calling out the sin of other’s. Disciplining others is as biblical as emphasising our inability to judge. Many learned disputes have been had about what “by their fruit…” means in practice. And who, looking at trends society vs. individual lives, could say that they are even capable of assessing “fruit” in a 100% objective way.

How we read the Bible depends on our understanding of the God it describes. And it also depends on our temperament - on whether we’re more persuaded by the letters of the rules, or whether we are more persuaded by what we believe to have been the intention of the rules. That is probably our greatest dividing point.
It informs what we are capable of believing and it informs how we read Scripture.

Ultimately, what we each read and what influences and shapes us and informs our views and responses, depends on the lens through which we read. And that lens depends on our innermost convictions and beliefs.
We cannot believe what we find impossible to believe.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 11:37am GMT

@ Susannah Clark: Thanks for doing your homework.

I especially like the part where Samuel hacked the king of the Amorites to pieces (out of zeal for the Lord, don'tcha' know) for being, well, king of the Amorites. But I also like the part where Saul's god got angry with Saul because, although Saul had followed the god's commandment to slay every man, woman, child and infant among the Philistines, he spared the livestock. This made the god so angry that he took the kingship away from Saul.

And some people call stories of such barbarity "holy writ."

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 12:14pm GMT

'Do you genuinely mean you have no familiarity with texts like Romans 15:4f;...'

Of course I have the familiarity: what I don't have is a conservative interpretation of them. I don't believe in magic books.

A handful of cherry-picked verses do not make an inanimate object like a book self-aware to the point where it can have a view of other books. I'd say that the writers of Romans, 2 Tim etc. and even Cranmer were self aware; I'd say they thought scriptures (which for the NT writers probably means the Septuagint) inspired by God: but to go from there to say that what they wrote is self interpreting is , to put it mildly, implausible and, yes, anthropomorphic.

The 'basic assumptions... the tradition has assumed' are the basic assumptions of literalist Puritan Protestantism, a small if vocal sect within Anglicanism. There are many, many other Christian and indeed Angiican traditions.

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 12:42pm GMT

Interesting debate, one is left with the impression then that conscience is the final arbiter of truth. For those arguing for greater inclusion in the sexual debate (that any discussion of TA must ultimately become about) then they have no more moral case than those opposed, since ultimately truth is only relative and morality merely a inner construct.

If I believe the bible says one thing or another and my conscience confirms that, surely then that is my truth and others must accept it, even if their own says differently?

Posted by: Paul on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 12:58pm GMT

Geoff--I prefer my Aquinas 'neat' and not mixed with Heidegger and Kant. But Aquinas will continue to cast long shadows of constructive influence all the same, in spite of 'transcendental' efforts to modernize him.

Susannah-- you confuse 'truth' with lack of fallibility and/or congruence with your own fallible thoughts. "The word of God is living and active sharper than any two edged sword."

The NT constantly adverts to the special character of prophets and apostles, whose privileged accounts are lamps unto their feet.

But of course one can reject this position. As you do.


Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 1:43pm GMT

@ Geoff, I am well aware of the program at Regis College (and Boston College too!) and that Prof Seitz is at Wycliffe. While not a Lonergan Scholar, I have been an avid enthusiast of Lonergan since completing a senior class in Theological method decades ago at theological college, and like to keep updated on the explosion in Lonergan studies ever since.

I took the good prof's comment to be dismissive sarcasm; but then I may be projecting my own debating tendencies on him ( :.

Notwithstanding, whatever the intention behind C. Seitz's comment, I thought the best rejoinder for anyone following this was an offhanded corrective one. Everyone who is anyone in the Thomism field is aware of Father Lonergan's work and his ongoing significance, whether they concur with his insights in whole, part, or not at all. Delicata's article, by the by,is very interesting.

cheers, eh!

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 2:00pm GMT

Indeed the Bible is not a living, sapient being.
But The Word lives!
And The Word brings life!

There is often a problem when people confuse these things!

Posted by: Fr Alan on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 4:05pm GMT

Precisely, Fr. Alan. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" - the Living Word, as accessible to us as the nearest Celebration of the Eucharist!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 8:35pm GMT

"We cannot believe what we find impossible to believe."--Erika Baker

“When the facts don’t fit the frame, the frame stays and the facts are ignored”--George Lakoff

[By "Frames," Lakoff means ideas about how the world operates -- what one uses in thinking; they’re neural structures. http://www.salon.com/2014/11 ]

It's necessary to seek truth -- accurate understanding of how things work. All our understanding is held and perceived in language -- and language is a very coarse screen of meaning. Words change meaning over time and at best have different shades of meaning to different people. They are notoriously untranslatable -- associations and nuances are different in different languages. "The Bible" is a collection of translations of lost original texts. Most translations seek clarity even where the original has none (Lev., anyone?).

To seek truth is necessary, but possession of Truth is a license to kill.

Posted by: Murdoch on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 11:50pm GMT

Fr Alan said:

Indeed the Bible is not a living, sapient being.
But The Word lives!
And The Word brings life!

There is often a problem when people confuse these things!


I'm down with you, bro: I'm more than done with people who haven't reflected on biblical text enough to see what's right in their faces: these texts were composed, written down, edited, crunched, sliced, diced and hacked so many times that the idea of "inspiration" and "inerrancy" are cartoonish caricatures of the whole idea of the Word of God.

And we need to stop calling the lectionary readings "The word of the Lord" at the conclusion of the reading. A great deal of the time it's darned near offensive; and at other times, just plain silly.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Wednesday, 2 December 2015 at 11:57pm GMT

"I don't believe in magic books"

"basic assumptions... the tradition has assumed' are the basic assumptions of literalist Puritan Protestantism"

Thanks for the substantive response.

Posted by: cseitz on Thursday, 3 December 2015 at 1:46am GMT

"I don't have quite that degree of confidence in the reliability of my own conscience, JCF. I know from past experience that I'm pretty good at self-deception when I've got a vested interest in the issue, whatever it might be."

...for which someone may criticize you, Tim (while at the same time, another praises you). Again, YOUR conscience will decide whether to take this criticism/praise to heart.

We can't (at least in this veil of tears) escape our own subjective consciences (no matter how informed, how prayerful, they may be). So "accept what you cannot change", while "changing what you can" through continuous (and humble) formation.

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 3 December 2015 at 3:25am GMT

@ Chris Seitz, " I prefer my Aquinas 'neat' and not mixed with Heidegger and Kant." My, my, what a substantive response.

Lonergan's work is a critique of Kant.
(Similarly, One of the most interesting and knowledgeable views of Martin Heidegger is that of Anglican theologian the late Ian Macquarrie}.

Life would be so much simpler if the theologians and philosophers of the past several hundred years had not lived and published, no?

http://www.academia.edu/3365191/A_Dialectic_of_Thomist_Realisms_John_Knasas_and_Bernard_Lonergan

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 4:04am GMT

I've read the comments above (quickly), and I am puzzled by one thing. No one asks what 'conscience' means! Susannah suggests it is roughly equivalent to compassion. Almost everyone thinks it to be somehow distinct from scripture or the words of scripture (which is in one sense doubtless correct). But no one asks the simple question: what does 'conscience' mean?

Some seem to think it a peculiarly Protestant term, as though Catholics have no conscience. So we have conscience primarily as protest, as with Luther, standing before the Emperor (though even Aquinas believed it was better to die excommunicate than to betray conscience). But scripture underlay Luther's determination to hold his course. Conscience, without scripture as its mooring, was, for Luther, a very risky thing. Richard Beck seems to suggest that it is somehow an independent, private thing, unrelated to scripture.

Thus Fr Alan writes, rather paradoxically, that while the Bible is not a living, sapient thing, yet the Word lives! (Very uplifting, no doubt, but it does not bear on the question of conscience, except insofar as it trades in the unstated rejection of Jewish formalism - see Kirk’s “Vision of God” on conscience.) Keep in mind that the Bible has been declared to contain 'the lively oracles of God' (that is, God's living law), as we are told in the coronation service:

"To put you in mind of this Rule and that You may follow this Example, We present You with this Book, the most valuable thing that this World affords. Here is Wisdom ; this is the Royal Law ; these are the lively Oracles of God."

Which reminds us that conscience is not a matter of feelings as such, but properly a matter of (practical) knowledge. Conscience, in Christian tradition, has been held to be that "faculty" by which we apprehend the natural (or divine) law. One of the duties of conscience is to seek knowledge of how we ought to act, what we OUGHT to do. Here is where the passions (as Hume called them) come in. The OUGHT contains the driving force of what we know is right or wrong. But it is a duty of conscience to distinguish responsibly the right from the wrong, the good from the bad – that is, to seek to know (remember the ‘scire’ in ‘conscience’). In which task, for the Christian, surely the scriptures are, if not paramount, at least reasonably prominent.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 5:10pm GMT

I thoroughly enjoy teaching Aquinas as exegete within the long history of interpretation. He is unfailingly wise and a good close reader of the literal sense (which means for him the spiritual sense). He knows the tradition but strives to hear the text afresh.

That is Aquinas 'neat.'

Have a good day.

Posted by: cseitz on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 7:34pm GMT

Thank you, Eric.

Posted by: cseitz on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 10:21pm GMT

Eric,

What is right from wrong, unless it is the exercise of compassion as opposed to the suspension or absence of compassion?

Compassion is what makes something right, in terms of conscience.

That is why rules alone may hollow out religious belief. What makes something right is that it is fundamentally compassionate.

That is why the hearts of stone, to use the biblical concept, need to be changed, need to be enlivened by the Spirit of God.

And God seems to me to see 'right' from a loving and compassionate heart.

Why shouldn't we (with God's help and grace of course)?

Conscience, in a sense, is the opening up and awakening to the compassion of God, making us recognise from the divine impulse that something needs doing or not doing.

The knowledge is discovered in the heart.

I cannot really buy into "Which reminds us that conscience is not a matter of feelings as such, but properly a matter of (practical) knowledge."

We may indeed find insight and compassion in the biblical texts, whose authors opened up to God, and tried to report their encounters and experiences. In reading these things, our own hearts may open to grace as well. The texts may prompt us. I believe the (fallible) bible can have that effect.

But equally, we may open up to God, and God's grace, through opening up to people and situations in the world we live in.

To me, compassion can't really be divorced from feeling. The opening of the heart cannot simply be objective and intellectual. I believe the kind of 'knowledge' it is about, is the knowledge that comes imparted whole, direct to our hearts, as we open them up to God, and to God's grace, mercy and compassion.

It comes to us as a compassion that we recognise as God's, and it may rock us, and rock our certainties, but we 'feel' it, or recognise it. A recognition takes place, that something is right or wrong, and we recognise that from within our heart and its interaction with God, its opening up to God.

The exercise of conscience shimmers with conscience, even if the application of it may, at times - to use Yeats' phrase - be as cold as dawn. Compassion - the divine compassion - is at its root.

Obviously, this is simply what I understand, and others may view things differently.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 10:28pm GMT

Re C. Seitz, "....Aquinas as exegete within the long history of interpretation...." Sure, that's a view of Aquinas from a historical perspective. As an historical judgement of Aquinas in his time, there is nothing particularity new or controversial in that as far as it goes.

However, one may ask to what extent the whole enterprise has moved on, has had to grapple with questions that arise from developments that come after Aquinas and his era. In fact, Russell Hittinger has written about some significant aspects of the problem as it exists even within the dynamics circumscribed by Roman Catholic official teaching.

An historical appreciation of the kind of exegesis and interpretation that Aquinas may have done in his time does not preclude important contemporary considerations of the nature of neo-Thomism(s), or so called transcendental Thomism, or even how particular specialties like exegesis or interpretation can be understood in a world where the "omnicompetent theologian" is now obsolete.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 10:37pm GMT

@ Eric MacDonald, "I've read the comments above (quickly), and I am puzzled by one thing. No one asks what 'conscience' means!"

Oh I don't know Eric. I suggested above, (1 Dec. 2015), and I stole it right out of the Thomist party platform, that "the goal is conscience informed by revelation. But that does not resolve all the problems...Conscience comes under the category of cognitional theory. It is an act based on knowledge ..." Is that not consistent with your view, that,
"...conscience is not a matter of feelings as such, but properly a matter of (practical) knowledge. Conscience, in Christian tradition, has been held to be that "faculty" by which we apprehend the natural (or divine) law."

Is not the problem, as your post implies, that the term conscience is equivocal, and very much depends on where you look and when you look? There is the view of medieval scholastic psychology, or the same updated via cognitional theory; but definitions vary, for example, if one is a Freudian, or Jungian or a devotee of Piaget, to drop a few names?

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 10:59pm GMT

If I have a problem w/ defining conscience as "compassion", it is only because one may have competing compassions. It would seem to me that conscience is the means by which one discerns between them.

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 5 December 2015 at 12:13pm GMT

The hermeneutical insights re: Aquinas' reading of scripture are of enormous contemporary significance. I believe you imported the term 'of historical interest', probably reflexively. The field of biblical studies is at present turning to the long history of interpretation precisely because it represents a mother lode of corrective theological instincts -- not to be blindly imitated in our day (the history of interpretation is too varied) but to chasten historicist reflexes.

Aquinas is of special importance because he carried with him the influence of Augustine, but also can break free due to a more flexible handling of the literal sense.

I find this of much greater interest than trying to merge Thomas with German idealism in some fresh presentation of transcendence. Which also is going nowhere in the field of systematics, but that is another topic.

Fortunately the lines that demarcate biblical studies, theology, and historical studies are being questioned and dismantled in formal theological studies at present.

Saturday blessings.

Posted by: cseitz on Saturday, 5 December 2015 at 1:54pm GMT

For the purpose of what people believe deep down it is not necessary to define "conscience". It's whatever makes it compelling to an individual to believe some thing and impossible to believe another.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 5 December 2015 at 2:31pm GMT

Decades ago, one of the bishop's examining chaplains, an internationally recognized patristics and Anglicanism scholar, used to ask candidates for ordination about, among other things "sacral kingship".

Now, the notion of sacral kingship had a pretty good ground in biblical theology. Yet despite the notion of sacral kingship, despite the support of Church of England clergy in the colonies for the same, patriots of good conscience, lead by landed gentry, actually took up arms to rebel against the crown, and establish a government they believed was created by the people. There was no shortage of Christian religionists, bible believers all I'm sure, who were pleased to soothe the patriot conscience as it cried 'sic semper tryannis'.

Now, if the tyranny of the crown can be overthrown by people of conscience with armed rebellion, why cannot people good conscience armed only with knowledge and a contrary hermeneutic not rebel against the tyranny of hetero-sexism

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 5 December 2015 at 4:32pm GMT

@ cseitz, Thanks for your Saturday reply, which I found very helpful in terms of getting a better handle on your position. When you write, "The field of biblical studies ...the long history of interpretation ...represents a mother lode of corrective theological instincts ..." There is nothing there I would quibble over.

Regarding the demarcations among various specialties, you are much closer to the issues there. So, I'll take that as a point to ponder. Any hesitation I have about that is based on what I consider a fairly self-evident state of affairs i.e. we live in an interdisciplinary world. Whether its relationships among disciplines or the relationships among fields within an overarching a discipline, such seems to be the case. This raises questions about the integration of both data and insights. Certainly as a parish priest and preacher, it was a constant and often losing struggle to keep up with, and make connections among, the flood of new information from a variety of disciplines.

We disagree on the point of how interesting, or not, Aquinas is with regard to transcendentalism, a label that is as broad as it is unavoidable. Attempts to make Lonergan a Kantian, and of what sort,are long standing and ongoing, as Thomistic studies literature illustrates.

Lonergan wanted to take what he called the Kantian Copernican revolution seriously while reaching up into the mind of Aquinas, if I may crib his turn of phrase to stay within 400 words. Remember, Aquinas the 'angelic doctor', fell off to the margins within the R.C. tradition before enjoying a revival, and this state of affairs contributed to Lonergan's handling of Aquinas in a post enlightenment post Vatican One context.(Insight was published in 1957).

Lonergan was not keen about appropriating the moniker "transcendental' Thomism; but there he resides for the time being.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 5 December 2015 at 7:56pm GMT

oops! 4:32 pm, grammar, grammar and punctuation, that final sentence ought to read:

Now, if the tyranny of the crown can be overthrown by people of conscience with armed rebellion, why can't people of good conscience, armed only with knowledge and a contrary hermeneutic, rebel against the tyranny of hetero-sexism?

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 6 December 2015 at 1:07am GMT

Well, yes, Rod, I could have mentioned what you said about conscience and knowledge, but then I would have had to go on to say that in fact conscience is not an act based on knowledge, but that conscience is (generally speaking) that which informs our acts. And judges them too, in hindsight. No doubt the meaning of the word 'conscience' constitutes, like any word, as Wittgenstein pointed out, a family of uses. But it is always helpful to try to analyse the concept in an effort to identify that family. If there are no limits to what a word can mean then it means nothing.

Erika, for instance, suggests that it doesn't really matter what the word means. "It's whatever makes it compelling to an individual to believe some thing and impossible to believe another." Which sounds profound, but what is it that compels a person to believe something and impossible to believe another? Is it knowledge, or is it just (as in the case of homosexuality it seems often to be) a sense of disgust (which I inherited, without being aware of the existence of same sex attraction). But that disgust is not conscience, though it is often understood as such. Nor, of course, is it in itself an act of any sort, though it may lead one to act in morally deviant ways.

Of course, we may theorise about conscience, but that doesn't so much make the word 'conscience' equivocal (I don't think it is), though it may shelve off into different realms of meaning, and may even be examined by psychologists, but if so, they must already have some idea of what the word indicates, otherwise what are they investigating?

In brief, then, we have reasons for all sorts of actions which are unrelated to conscience, but there is a core of uses where the question arises whether we ought or ought not to do something (or refrain from something) because of its relationship to its effect on others (or on ourselves), something that is related to what used to be called character (now, alas, largely ignored). This is not only about believing something (deep down or otherwise) about our acts, but of knowledge (and personal formation). Jihadi John thought it was an honour due to Allah that he cut off the heads of innocents, which goes to show how our holy books can lead us astray, just as the Bible for centuries shaped the Christian conscience regarding Jews in a morally disastrous way, though Christians felt compelled to act (would we say conscientiously?) with inhumanity towards Jesus' own people. If our understanding of scripture doesn't root out these ancient prejudices, then Winnie the Pooh would probably teach us more about humanity than the Bible.

And, in response to Susannah, I don't think it is only compassion that directs our conscientious actions. The sense of our own dignity is closely related to conscience. And, of course, sometimes we must make hard choices in which compassion itself plays little part. We may put this epigrammatically (and paradoxically) when we say that it is sometimes necessary to be cruel to be kind (which oversimplifies, of course, since it is at times morally appropriate to harm others in defence of ourselves and others). And, in any event, compassion itself requires a sensitive knowledge of the human condition in order to be expressed at all.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Sunday, 6 December 2015 at 2:21pm GMT

@ Eric Macdonald " ...but then I would have had to go on to say that in fact conscience is not an act based on knowledge..."

The reference I made to conscience as act was lifted, as I said, right out of Aquinas.
"Properly speaking, conscience is an act and not a power." The context is: Summa Theologiae 1, q. 79, Article 13 (responsio). When read in the context of the entire question, I don't see a huge global difference with your opinion. Q.79 is a consideration of what might be called a family of issues.

One's cognitional theory does contextualize one's definition of a technical term, so the equivocal aspect comes into play when various cognitional theories are compared.

However, one does not need to to have a systematic grasp of a cognitional theory in order to have a conscience and act on it. Most people probably do the work intuitively. In that regard, Erika has a good point.

You mention character. Good point. Of course, there are differences between someone reading a text through the lens of a character flaw, or suffering from a compulsion, or reading it while being in a psychotic state. The connection between radical extremists and clinically grounded personality disorders is not unknown--even when in the latter case culpability may apply.

Our reading of sacred texts may lead us astray; but, alternatively, our reading may move us toward righteousness. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,but in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 6 December 2015 at 4:44pm GMT

Rod, you are moving here into a completely different realm than the one I assumed was being discussed here. In Aquinas' ontology everything is either in act or in potency. Some things, like prime matter, have being only in potency. Other things, like mental acts, say, or God, exist in act (though of course mental acts are not actus purus in the way that God is, though they are intrinsically related to the Ideas in the mind of God according to which the universe is (and not was) created and ordered: thus Augustinian Platonism).

So, when Aquinas asks, in ST Q79, 13 (responsio), whether conscience is an act or a power (potency), he must consider it an act, since a power (or potency) can be "laid aside" (it need not be actualised), but mental acts cannot be laid aside in this sense, since they are already in act. This follows from his metaphysical premises.

But, in another sense (cum alio scientia), conscience (as mental act) informs our actions in the ordinary sense of the word. As he says:

"... conscience, according to the very nature of the word [recall my reference to the 'scire' in 'conscience'], implies the relation of knowledge to something: for conscience may be resolved into 'cum alio scientia,' i.e. knowledge applied to an individual case."

That is, that which is already in act (our knowledge of right and wrong, good and bad) is related to that which exists in potency by way of actualising our potential for (moral) action.

I was referring, and thought we were discussing, what conscience is, and in the ordinary use of the word 'act', conscience is something prior to our acts, and applies to them as knowledge to an individual case (to use Aquinas' terms). But conscience is, in this sense, a matter of knowledge of right and wrong, and the character informed by such knowledge (which, as act, in Aquinas' metaphysics, cannot be laid aside, and therefore does not exist only in potency), as applied to our individual actions, which both informs, and, when we go astray, judges them. And this is to use the word 'act' in an ordinary sense, not with Aquinas' ontological presuppositions.

Nor do I see that Aquinas is discussing (in the article you refer me to in ST) a "family of uses", and certainly not of the term 'conscience,' which for Aquinas (I think) is quite straightforwardly unambiguous.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Monday, 7 December 2015 at 2:52pm GMT

@ Eric, I'm doubtful this is of great interest to others; but re, " 'act' in an ordinary sense, not with Aquinas' ontological presuppositions." Not at all. The sense is Thomistic indeed, conscience as the discernment and then application of knowledge.

I thought your "family of issues" motif applicable to the distinctions and connections among intellect, reason, will, potency, act, etc. It's like the debate over transubstantiation. A focus on one term assumes that it is being understood within the whole context of that Thomistic/Aristotelian outlook.

As a short hand, the actual exists in the potential, if memory serves.

What may be helpful here is a an update by Lonergan in overcoming the issues of an older metaphysics. See technical note in Method in Theology second para. beginning p. 120. On those rare occasions when I consult Aquinas I tend to read him with Lonergan in mind, which is not always helpful when not spelled out I suppose.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 7 December 2015 at 5:46pm GMT

Rod, it is worthwhile following up on your last comment:

"Our reading of sacred texts may lead us astray; but, alternatively, our reading may move us toward righteousness."

That is no doubt true, but it really undermines the sense of sanctity that applies to them when we call them holy. For interpretations are, in a sense, permanent possibilities. In other words - to ride a hobby horse of my own - the New Testament writings include the permanent possibility of their being read in anti-Jewish ways. In fact, it is hard to think of this as only a possibility. There is, you might say, a permanent probability that they will be interpreted in anti-Jewish ways. And the fault, while it certainly has nothing to do with stars, does have to do with two finite things: first, of course, ourselves; but second, that the written (and often the spoken) word has the kind of plasticity of meaning that in a sense contains multitudes. (Whether a language is possible in which individual words have a univocal meaning with an algorithmic grammar is perhaps doubtful.) This is the danger of setting the biblical writings (or the qur'anic ones) apart as sacred or holy writ. Because words, as TS Eliot said (in one of the Four Quartets?), do not stay put, and just as words on paper (or parchment or whatever) cannot, in themselves, be holy.

The problems that this occasions are manifold. Thus, when Fr Alan writes that the Bible is not a living, sapient thing, yet the Word lives!, he may be thought to have neglected the fact that, to a large extent, the living Word is mediated to us by the written word. Hence "the lively oracles of God." And it is really hopeless to suggest that we have an unmediated experience of God or of Christ, whether through the Holy Spirit or not. Religions are, to a large extent, literary traditions. That is why Christians may have experiences which are expressed in terms of Christ or Mary, and even have visions of these heavenly luminaries, but not likely to have visions of Vishnu, Rama or Krishna (the three forms of deity - the trimurti - of Vaishnavism - a distinct form of Hindu belief). Don Cupitt pointed out in his book on mysticism that male Christian mystics have shown much more understanding of female sexuality than is to be expected in ascetic men. But that is because there is a literary tradition of mystical experience. Otherwise, it would be impossible to identify it as in any relevant sense religious or mystical. The same thing occurs in a dumbed-down version in the Alpha Course (with due apologies to its votaries). It is also why people who experience religious rites of passage do not, as a rule, have religious experiences as they do so (and are often sorely disappointed), because there are so few perduring literary expressions of what is going on in the context of these rites. Unlike the Eucharist, of course, which still has a fairly rich literary presence.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Monday, 7 December 2015 at 9:40pm GMT

Rod, your reference to Lonergan does not help me at all. (His use of the Hegelian term 'sublation' seems to me just hand waving, for example.) I find Lonergan impenetrable where Aquinas is pellucid, and I'm not altogether convinced that the scholastic idea of interiority is as different as he supposes from our own sense of interiority, and there are still disputes about the priority of will over intellect, or the practical over the speculative. Metaethics is still full of such discussions. Lonergan bases his own sense of what constitutes interiority on his ideas put forth in Insight, which I found as tedious as Joyce's Ulysses to read (never finished either). My acquaintance with Thomism or neo-Thomisms is strictly limited, but I wonder how much influence Lonergan has had on them. Indeed, the paragraph you refer me to is to a large extent just gobbledegook (well, that's not quite fair, but I do not find it helpful); but to import it into Aquinas' language in the Quaestio you cited makes (at least to me) no sense at all. It's not that Aquinas does not have the language of intentional acts of "experiencing, understanding, judging and deciding," but simply that there have to be ontological correlates of mental acts. So, of course the actual is present in the potential, but simply not as act but as potency. Act and potency are totally different in (ontic) valence, since pure potency is, basically, nothing, and pure act is the perfection of eternal being. But you have to remember Aquinas' own words, where he differentiates between conscience as act (that is as mental act, or understanding, or practical knowledge), and conscience cum alio scientia (which I take to mean with or in another sense), where it applies to actions of a moral or practical nature (as in judging and deciding). I have been speaking of conscience as mental act informing our moral actions (to make the distinction in words), which is a distinction of vital importance in Aquinas, and in MacDonald, if it comes to that, but you seem to want to conflate the two. But conscience is, for us, like the act of creation is, for God, to bring to actuality what exists merely as potency, that is, as bringing to actuality our potential for moral action (which we sometimes fail to do). I don't see how Lonergan's language makes this any clearer.

Regarding family of uses (which is a Wittgensteinian point), Wittgenstein was not talking about (nor was I) a cluster of different words or functions such as "intellect, reason, will, potency, act, etc.," but about the meaning of a word, which is the outcome of a family of uses. Wittgenstein, in the Philosophical Investigations, uses the word 'game' as an example, which includes board games, card games, games with balls such as tennis, football, cricket, etc., children's games like hopscotch, hide and seek, etc., and all of this is neatly summed up within the word 'game', whose meaning is in one sense indeterminate, yet can be derived from the family of uses to which it is put, for we can fairly flawlessly say whether or not something is a game or comes within the scope of the word 'game'. (And we can argue about it too, and understand why some would call X a game and some would not.) Thus meaning is not, as Wittgenstein took it to be in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a one to one relationship between words and things, as, for example, Carnap thought in his Logical Construction of the world (Der logische Aufbau der Welt - which is what prompted my question about the possibility of a language where each word had a univocal meaning and grammar was somehow algorithmic), which was a product of the Vienna Circle which Wittgenstein visited a few times, and which birthed the philosophical movement known as Logical Positivism, which morphed into philosophical analysis. But Aquinas was already ahead of Wittgenstein in at least this respect, because he recognised conscience as mental act, and also as that which informs and actualises our potentiality for moral actions, which has been, bascially, my point all along, even though others have passed on to other things.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Monday, 7 December 2015 at 11:51pm GMT

The Starry Night hangs on wall at the The MoMA. It's beautiful to look at; but its as close as one can come to answering the question, what did Vincent Van Gogh see when he painted this? There is a kind of connection between his life and the viewer, porous and mediated, but with a boundary that is ultimately as solid as it is permeable.

My first recollections of those wonderful stories in the Gospels are as a child looking at pictures in a prayer book. I had an adult reprise of that experience looking up from the ground at Gaudi's Sagrada. Again, the only thing I can know about the artistis inspiration is in contemplating the artifact.

The stories in scripture are artifacts of a theophany here a Christophany there. Narrative often functions as mere guide and commentary.

What was the nature of the original theophany? Perhaps one theophany is placed alongside another, like a suffering servant and a crucified redeemer? The only answer available is in the story. As a window on God, as a window on the life of a saint, its a sacred story.

Seeing the scripture as mere words on a page seems so forensic, a framework designed to fail both sacred story and the saints who keep coming back to hear it. When I hear church folks rationalizing a war here and a bombing campaign there, the sacred stories effect a kind of cultural dissonance. That's all I got.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at 1:08am GMT

@ Eric, "Conscience is ... bringing to actuality our potential for moral action" And on Dec. 1st I wrote paraphrastically
"Conscience comes under the category of cognitional theory. It is an act based on knowledge but directed toward something, towards things as they relate to us and as they relate to each other. However a conscience formed by faith still requires a correct understanding of the thing, the case, the target situation." I don't see that there is much more than quibbling involved in parsing the difference in turns of phrase.


"I don't see how Lonergan's language makes this any clearer." I find Lonergan more helpful to the modern view which does not work with ancient metaphysics or epistemology. Lonergan talks about values, knowledge, self-authenticity and decision for example, which is more, not less, comprehensible to folks in other disciples, for example.

Anyway, if anyone else is left reading this particular exchange on Aquinas, their eyes are probably glassing over.So I'll leave it there.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at 2:04pm GMT

Rod, you'll get little argument from me over a narrative reading of scripture, which is certainly richer, I think, than arguing about the meanings of particular words or verses. It is always in the wider context that the writings must be seen, if they are to be seen at all as in any sense sacred. That nomenclature for scripture still worries me, because the narratives do not all have the same lines of continuity or lines of fracture, and they are, after all, texts, which as the post-modernists showed, are always multifaceted. Even children's stories, which we take to be quite benign, often were used (which is why monsters and evil people so often featured in them) to prepare children for a fairly dangerous an unwelcoming world.

However, there is a passage from Hooker which, I think, needs to be better known (from the Everyman edition, vol 1, 274-5):

"Shall I add further, that the force of arguments drawn from the authority of Scripture itself, as Scriptures commonly are alleged, shall (being sifted) be found to depend upon the strength of this so much despised and debased authority of man? Surely it doth, and that oftener than we are aware of. For although the Scripture be of God, and therefore the proof which is taken from thence must needs be of all other most invincible; yet this strength hath not, unless it avouch the selfsame thing for which it is brought. If there be either undeniable appearance that so it doth, or reason such as cannot deceive, then Scripture-proof (no doubt) in strength and value exceedeth all, But for the most part, even such as are readiest to cite for one thing five hundred sentences of holy Scripture; what warrant have they, that any one of them doth mean the thing for which it is alleged? Is not their surest ground most commonly, either some probable conjecture of their own, or the judgment of others taking those Scriptures as they do? Which notwithstanding to mean otherwise than they take them, it is not still altogether impossible. So that now and then they ground themselves on human authority, even when they most pretend divine."

For the time, that is extraordinarily insightful, and indeed testifies to the multivocality of scripture as contemporary hermeneutics has demonstrated. It is this which convinces me that it is wrong to take texts, in themselves, as holy. Not that I want to think of the biblical texts forensically, as simply words on the page, but simply because words are never just words on a page. They evoke traditions of interpretation, and for good and sometimes for bad reasons, the visions they evoke may lead to holiness or to horror, to depth of insight and theophany, or to pedestrian moral absolutes that may lead us to sarcophilia or (often much more likely) to sarcophobia.

Here endeth the lesson.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at 2:21pm GMT

I teach Luther's exegesis and have directed several dissertations on his dictata super psalterium. His first teaching assignment was lecturing on the Psalms and he was a tireless Bible translator--making several revisions of his work in his lifetime--and biblical interpreter. The later Luther held that the doctrine of the trinity was revealed in the colloquies of Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, and so confirmed "who spake by the prophets" activity of the Holy Spirit -- against the claims of Eck on the Roman side and Servetus on the 'socinian' side.

The idea that his appeal to conscience was something other than conviction regarding God's word written--in this case against the claims of the papacy, as he interpreted it--is preposterous. Page after page of Luther's work shows him to be a man determined to show that scripture ruled all aspects of the human condition and showed God and the duty of humanity coram dei.

When he was stuck in Wittenberg Castle and fighting doubt and depression he literally translated, exegeted, and preached himself back to health (the postilla).

In this he felt he was also continuing the legacy of Augustine, Aquinas, and all good doctors of the church, for his own day.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at 8:52pm GMT

Re cseitz, "The idea that [Luther's] appeal to conscience was something other than conviction regarding God's word written--in this case against the claims of the papacy, as he interpreted it--is preposterous. ...he felt he was also continuing the legacy of Augustine, Aquinas, and all good doctors of the church, for his own day."

That is perfectly correct, I'm sure. (See my post above Dec. 1 3:36 pm). There I suggested something similar, although more paraphrastically,in reference to Beck i.e. where Beck says, "Luther famously declared: 'To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.'" Aquinas, and subsequent 'Thomisms' would agree with that as generalization--even if the goal is conscience informed by revelation.

Beck's argument may seem a little strange because one usually connects Protestantism not just with faith alone but also scripture alone, grace alone, etc. However, Beck's concern has a different focus. It appears in his piece.
" ..you are never going to land on an uncontested "biblical view. ...Just look at all the Protestant churches." He makes reference to conscience and sociopolitical hermeneutical consensus in his article. However, he does not define clearly what he means by conscience, which prompted Eric's question.

On that latter point, you stated earlier, and I think with some degree of accuracy, "This is probably one good reason why Christians are just talking past one another today. Radically different foundational claims."

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at 10:07pm GMT

@ Eric. " ..you'll get little argument from me over a narrative reading of scripture..." I'm not sure you got my meaning.

Here is the thing. Keep in mind this post is theology on the back of an envelope. It's my position that we encounter God first and foremost not in a book, or in "creation" but as an interior event which is an encounter between persons, human and divine.The gold standard for revelation, in my view, is a person, Jesus the Christ.

That's the segue into my post which begins with the reference to The Starry Night. It's how I have come to understand my own reading of sacred literature over a life time. Scripture is largely a scaffolding that cradles a mediated presentation of those rare theophanies that are at the heart of the community. As such it informs, hopefully, my faith and my conscience. Sacred literature, sacred art, its all of a piece as a thin place that opens unto the Divine.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at 10:34pm GMT

Someone above suggested that religious narratives frame the visions and religious experiences that people have, and that the narratives of different religion's texts are likely to result in religious experience and visions drawn from those texts.

I take a slightly different view. Although, in our human limits, I think it can be demonstrated that many mystics recounted experiences drawn in the terms of their own religion's narratives... visions of the Cross etc... I personally believe that there are also striking similarities of religious experience *across* different faiths and traditions, drawing the individual beyond the text-specific, and towards an awareness and encounter that leaves individual religion and text far behind.

In short, that where the deeper consciousness manifests, words trail off.

There are striking similarities between, for example, Carmelite contemplation when perfection comes, and some of the experiences reported in Eastern traditions. And again, there seems to be some commonality of experience between the ecstatic experiences of different religion's followers, as expressed as an experience of almost sexual love.

I would suggest that one effect of religious texts can be to provide various pathways towards the divine and the holy, but that the holy may lead us beyond words and texts, through - if you like - a 'cloud of unknowing' - to a deeper and wordless kind of knowing, not framed by human religious parameters, but rather, an unknown country and encounter, not constructed, but breaking through.

When perfection comes, even terms like Christ or Vishnu may fall away, and there is an opening up to the astonishing act of sharing, of God's own consciousness and God's own awareness, so that there seems - on one level - that there is not God and us separate, but rather a union, and one and the same awareness going on, along a vast sea or plain of being.

Variant religious texts may be ways in which different religious communities have tried to express our interface with deeper reality and the holy and divine. Christianity happens to be the pathway that works for many of us here, but that need not be seen as necessarily limiting or exclusive, but rather, doing what pathways do, leading us towards and opening up what lies before us, in the being and becoming that the Word - the divine Word - summons and creates by its very power and efficacy.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 9 December 2015 at 7:53am GMT

Christopher: "The idea that his appeal to conscience was something other than conviction regarding God's word written--in this case against the claims of the papacy, as he interpreted it--is preposterous. Page after page of Luther's work shows him to be a man determined to show that scripture ruled all aspects of the human condition."

Well we agree on this. It's exactly what I asserted in the first sentence of the first post of this lengthy (and interesting) thread.

Submission to scripture curtailed Luther's assumed 'right to individual conscience' in any way divergent from what he believed scripture commanded.

The view of how to interact with the Bible - in the Protestantism of his time - was not an opening up to a free-for-all conscience. It was about submitting to the tramlines of scriptural authority, as the perceived best way of opening up to the grace, love and wholeness of God.

My take is that though this was understandable at the time of Luther, it may not be the way we are challenged to handle the bible in our own times. It may be that God has ordained the emerging knowledge of the Enlightenment, and Darwin, and geology, and palaeontology, and psychology - for the very grace and purpose of challenging us to exercise our own God-given consciences, and 'take responsibility' for our new parameters.

In retreating into a 16th Century protestant mentality and way of handling text, we may be limiting the way God actually wants to expand our communities, our minds, our consciences, and our lives.

So I agree with Christopher's analysis of Luther's scripture-based version of conscience and how it should be formed, but fundamentally disagree that it is still the right way to respond to scripture and understand it today.

My whole premiss is that God has given us conscience, not so it can operate on the automatic pilot of 'scripture telling us what we must do', but in developing us as God-bearing people, opening our hearts and our moral decency to the actual world we inhabit and the actual lives we lead.

If Darwin, palaeontologists, psychologists challenge the inerrancy of the bible, maybe that hasn't 'just happened' unknown to God. Maybe it has happened as part of the plan of God, to grow Christianity on its journey, to open up and expand us, to make us dare to be created - the the eternal Word who continually calls us into being and becoming... and to challenge us to date to exercise conscience in a different way from Luther and the early Protestants.

I argue that understanding the Bible today involves taking responsibility for the knowledge we have, and that too many Churches revert to early Protestant, almost Islamic submission to text, even though new knowledge has been delivered to us under God's ordinance and plan... and that that is abdication of responsibility, and the reason, or one reason, why the wider public finds it hard to take us seriously.

Treating the bible the way I suggest, much more as a fallible exploration written in contexts, may actually enlarge the power of the scripture to the world, not diminish it. And may actually treat the scriptures with more respect and authenticity, than ignoring the post-Enlightenment knowledge that God has surely allowed us, that calls into question the way our own generations are supposed to view scripture.

Revelation, in the sense of what we may open up to, always continues. In many senses, scriptural texts are an unveiling. But that unveiling may take many forms, and occur in many stages. Conscience, in the individual heart, and shared, is an exploration of compassion: the compassion of God. It is not a retreat into a boxed up pre-packaged set of rules, which does our thinking (and our conscience) for us.

We need to take more responsibility and, in a sense, grow up to become more of what God calls us to be. Conscience is not pre-packaged and done for us. Post-enlightenment, we are not children any more. Christianity, actually, *can* move on. It is not set in stone, it is God using the creative Word to call us into our becoming and everything that can be unlocked when people learn to exercise conscience for themselves, in relationship with God.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 9 December 2015 at 10:05am GMT

What Professor Seitz says about the biblical foundation of Luther's conscience is, of course, what I have been saying from the start. It is preposterous to think that Luther's "Here I stand ..." had no biblical underpinnings. For an informed conscience must always have some basis upon which to base the processes of judgement and decision (to use Lonergan's terms), and Luther's was undoubtedly scripture largely without the church's hermeneutical tradition since the Bishop of Rome became first the nominal and then the official pontifex maximus, vicar of Christ, and all the other titles affixed to the office.

As to the narrative reading of the Bible, that is, so far as I can tell, the only way one can have an encounter with the Christ, and of course through the community gathered in his name which is known through scripture. This is, as you say, Rod, the scaffolding which mediates the relationship to the divine as understood in Christianity. I don't quite understand how you get from there to the gold standard of revelation, namely, the Christ, since the Christ is mediated by the scripture as received by the community. Without the stories that you read with such a deep sense of presence every Christmas and Easter, I'm not sure how the Christ could be encountered. But then I was trained as a philosopher, not a theologian, and find mystical-religious language just a bit difficult to apprehend in the way that Susannah does, for example. I don't have experiences where the Christian narrative template simply falls away and one is somehow face to face with the divine.

Of course, the Buddha thought that all these narratives were really diversions, and he thought by meditation to bypass them to achieve what really mattered, the disappearance of self and its unification with the universal (or as Sir Edwin Arnold said in The Light of Asia, "the dewdrop slips into the shining sea"). For myself, I don't know how to individuate gods, and to say of them that, say, Muslims worship the same god as Christians, so that we can somehow transcend our divisions, as Susannah says, and we and God are not separate, but that, rather there is "a union, and one and the same awareness going on, along a vast sea or plain of being" (which is wonderfully Buddhist in its expression).

But this, of course, is a digression from the main theme of our discussion so far.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Wednesday, 9 December 2015 at 1:38pm GMT

"Post-enlightenment, we are not children any more."

I would myself be very reluctant to call St. Paul, or St. Augustine, or Meister Eckhart, or St. Teresa, or Pascal "children."

At best I would say that we might have a few newer toys to play with.

Posted by: rick allen on Wednesday, 9 December 2015 at 8:32pm GMT

Re, "What Professor Seitz says...about Luther's conscience is ...what I have been saying from the start." Yes.It never occurred to me that Luther, or Aquinas or Augustine , would have thought otherwise.

What Beck is exploring, and its interesting, is the role of conscience as it pertains to appeals to the same bible resulting in conflicting positions.

However,one must also understand as correctly as possible, the object, the "case study", if you will, to which a formed conscience intends. Example: I disagree that the bible provides any real detailed insight into the specifics of human sexual orientation as we know it now. So, my view on the "ought" of that, while governed by the broad values that may be found in scripture and tradition, must take into account modern insight. That of course is where conscience turns and polarization has its genesis. Frankly,its not that difficult to understand. Prof Seitz is correct. It goes to differing foundations.


Re, "...the only way one can have an encounter with the Christ ... is known through scripture." That is an eventual outcome perhaps. However, the initial step in faith formation is God presenting Godself to us as an interior event. I am unconvinced that we come to know God by reading about Jesus from the bible in the hotel nightstand, or from confirmation class, or by a 'How Great Thou Art" walk in the countryside. If these vehicles give shape to faith over time they do so because of God's prior transcendent reach into one's interior self.

That same dynamic was the genesis for any normative theophany that ultimately found shape in a bible story.The scripture writer reflects upon, shapes,relates, mediates, what was once a theophany or Christophany that someone once had.

We cannot recover the original interior phenomena of saints past; but we can engage the story of their religious experience and lay it along side our own initial awareness of the Divine which may give the latter more form and content. In that regard, I like a number of the ideas in Susannah Clark's post of Dec. 9 at 10:05 am.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Thursday, 10 December 2015 at 2:14am GMT

Susannah: "We are not children anymore."

Rick: 'I would myself be very reluctant to call St. Paul, or St. Augustine, or Meister Eckhart, or St. Teresa, or Pascal "children." '

As Carmelite spirituality is hugely valuable to me, I would tend to agree.

When I say "We" are not children anymore, what I am trying to say is that with the information that God has let us be presented with, Post-Enlightenment, we may be challenged and confronted to review exactly how the bible should be read and understood.

And because of that 'new information' that - if you like - God has released... we need to 'take responsibility' in our own times.

That is what I mean by 'growing up'.

It is the refusal to take responsibility for the new information which I suggest is a retreat and a preference for a childish outlook, based on an earlier time's parameters... a kind of running away from the revealed knowledge of our own time.

If we just let the bible do all the thinking for us, when science and the Enlightenment has revealed that it is not infallible, then I believe that is a kind of avoidance of individual conscience - if I was being contentious I would suggest it was a moral cowardice - and a preference to live in the preconceptions of the past.

That risks making Christianity more and more out of touch with the present, as recognised and understood by truth-seekers in our own time.

We need to take responsibility for the parameters of understanding God has provided us with, which have expanded and been unveiled to us historically, as a fact.

St Paul, Luther etc inhabited their own world in their own time with their own range of scientific knowledge. They were not reverting to childhood, or abdicating responsibility for known facts.

However, to advance as adult Christians today, I believe there is a challenge (set down by God and the new knowledge that has been revealed) for us to take responsibility for what this means for Genesis, for Exodus, for Joshua, and on that basis for the nature of biblical text as a whole.

To 'take responsibility' over how the Bible is to be received in our own time, with the contexts we now have, is to enhance the bible, to make it more authentic, not less authentic, and to start to make it more relevant to sincere and decent truth seekers today who often feel alienated by biblical claims at odds with the reasonable world they inhabit with their friends.

I have already stated (above) that Cranmer was a giant. He was no child. But Cranmer's way of understanding how to read the bible was based on the knowledge parameters of his own age. Since then, dramatic new frontiers and parameters of knowledge have emerged. Good frontiers. Legitimate knowledge.

Knowledge which leads a person trying to 'take responsibility' to concede: 'You know what? God has allowed the emergence of new information on geology, on evolution, on astronomy, on psychology, on ways of reading texts, etc, that incite us to recognise fallabilities in the biblical texts, and to understand text differently to the way Luther or Cranmer understood text.'

(...continued in part 2)

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 10 December 2015 at 9:59am GMT

(...continuing from part 1)

To understand text as written within contexts, and within parameters, and within limits, and within the fallibilities of its authors. And to seek message not in 'automatic writing' of an infallible script, but in the process and the contexts and the limits and the reported encounters of those texts.

In the context of how science challenges us to interpret and handle the bible, we may actually diminish the authenticity of the gospel message if we retreat into a medieval 'simplicity', and run away from the responsibility to read the scriptures with the maturity of new data and a new paradigm for handling biblical text.

God may have provided, historically, the platform for us to expand our understanding, by opening up to this new paradigm and way of 'doing scripture', and what I was trying to say, Rick, was that it might be a reversion to childhood for people with our knowledge to hang on to the 'comfort blanket' of an infallible/inerrant bible, when we no longer have the 'get out' clause of 'We didn't know that accounts in the bible had actually been repudiated by scientific knowledge and new disciplines.'

Luther was trying to frame conscience along the presumption that biblical text was infallible. However we, today, perhaps need to develop conscience from a fallible bible interacting with knowledge that has now been unveiled, and with our understanding now of psychology and sexuality, and our actual lived lives and the world around us. We should not be trying to 'repeat Luther'.

Perhaps God did not give us human conscience simply to subordinate it to a pre-packaged set of biblical assertions, when in fact those assertions were written by faithful but fallible people in the contexts of their own times.

The bible gets things wrong as well as right, and that's okay, because that's what people are like, and we share a more authentic bible if we explain it that way. Conscience is not done for us by submission to an infallible text. Conscience is given to us to open up to the compassion of God, which can happen in many ways.

The world around us needs us to take responsibility in the exercise of conscience, and that is hugely true (for example) in how we ought to view human sexuality. To the outside world beyond church, our intransigence on issues like this becomes deeply alienating.

I'd argue the blame for that falls not on them (and their generosity of spirit) but on a church that still too often treats the bible as 'automatic writing' rather than words set down in contexts in a different time, that can become hard bonds of iron, and burdens on people, crushing and diminishing lives, and mandating prejudice, when... actually... God is a God of compassionate love, longing for us to frame the whole bible, and the way we live in the world, in subordination to the primary and all-important commandment to love one another.

We should try to subordinate ourselves to the compassion of God, not to the Bible, even though we can find compassion in the Bible as well... think of the lovely way Boaz treated Ruth, and Ruth cared for Naomi.

We do not demean the bible by acknowledging limits and fallibility. But perhaps, by reading it with authenticity in our times, its like looking down the right end of a telescope, making things look bigger instead of smaller.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 10 December 2015 at 10:01am GMT

Rod, I think Beck's position is much more radical than that, which is probably why, in his quote from what Luther is supposed to have said at Würms, he leaves out altogether Luther's reference to the Bible. When Beck says this:

"To be sure the Bible is a part of all this, but at the end of the day what holds a Protestant community together is conscience, hermeneutical agreement. When conscience is violated by a hermeneutical choice Protestants schism. Yes, the Bible is in the mix but unity and schism is fundamentally about conscience and hermeneutics."

Maybe he should have said 'what divides a Protestant community is conscience and hermeneutics.' Indeed, as he writes it, conscience and hermeneutic agreement are equated, which seems a bit of a stretch.

In any event, it seems to me, that you are putting far too much stress on (to echo Whitehead) the alone with the alone. In Williams' "Varieties of Religious Experience" most 'religious' experiences that don't already emanate from within a religious context are very amorphous, something like Otto's mysterium tremendum. These only take an explicitly religious dimension when there is already a religious framework within which they can be understood. I agree we don't come to an encounter with God or Christ by reading about Jesus in a Gideon Bible in a hotel room. (Indeed, for some like Sir Ian McKellan, Gideon Bibles may lead to attempts to expurgate it by tearing out pages that offend them!) But if our minds are not already to some degree biblically informed (and this is hard to avoid - or at least used to be for those in the West in particular), our 'religious' experiences are likely to be fairly amorphous and ambiguous, and only interpretable in terms of encounter with God when we have the idea of God at hand to characterise the experience. Our experiences are, to a large extent, linguistic all the way down. (Which is why Cupitt points out, and provides examples for, mysticism as a literary tradition.)

But at this point we come to Susannah's point about taking responsibility for our biblical hermeneutic. She interprets this in a very 'Armstrongy' way as directing us towards God as compassion, but the God of both the Old and New Testaments is made of harder and sometimes even more flint-like material than that: "I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord, that doeth all these things." (Is 45.7)

And this is where I disagree with your claim that:

"That same dynamic was the genesis for any normative theophany that ultimately found shape in a bible story.The scripture writer reflects upon, shapes, relates, mediates, what was once a theophany or Christophany that someone once had."

On the contrary, I think that the dynamic must be the other way round, that expressing experiences within, first, an oral, and then a literary tradition, gradually gave rise to the refinement of interpretations of experiences that people continued to have, and these traditions became scriptures and gave those experiences a canonical shape.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Thursday, 10 December 2015 at 2:46pm GMT

You could use a look at Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine wherein three models for how the Bible declares its truth are ranged heuristically. The one you seem to appeal to is what he calls experiential-expressive. It holds that there is some distillate in the world of ostensive reference (the mind of an author; the experience of biblical person; the religious encounter) that is not only prior to but detachable from and superior to the text's own account of it. For the pre-modern world this distinction was unavailable in large measure. But it arose with historicism and became the business of 'history of religion' accounts of the Bible. So the psalms were about Israel's alleged religious festivals; the prophetic books were recast into complex theories of development in a history of religion; Q was such a distillate in the NT; or the genuine, earliest Pauline letter or tradition, and on it goes.

In the forms we know them, these accounts arose in the late 19th century and thrived in the post war years and have lost in large measure their magisterial hold...they are too difficult to verify, and bore most millennials with their claims to objectivity and reconstruction and distance from the actual narrative form in the canonical text.

One could send you to scores of books that trace this development. Even the massive volumes produced by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht and edited by Saebo are reflexively able to label the 20th century "The Age of Historicism" and then move to the deficits and present neuralgia this approach heralded. No one attends an SBL meeting any longer to hear about assured results in religious reconstruction. Ironically one of the final purveyors of this kind of conception is someone like NT Wright, though in a kind of inverse form of what you likely have in mind. The shape of the Pauline Letter Corpus is pretty much meaningless to him, and needs some kind of recalibrating into early and later development.

Posted by: cseitz on Thursday, 10 December 2015 at 7:20pm GMT

I apologise. My comment was to Mr Gillis. This is otherwise confused.

Posted by: cseitz on Thursday, 10 December 2015 at 10:07pm GMT

@ Eric MacDonald and C.Seitz. Thank you both for your detailed and erudite posts. There are several things in the posts of each of interest for follow up. Notwithstanding, trading erudite references tends to end like the battle of competing expert witnesses.

My goal in these past few posts is simply to lay out my own sense of how I come at the issues at play.

What is the origin of the phenomena we call "religion"? Perhaps it stems from ancient ancestors who experienced the ongoing presence of the dead in dreams and concluded that the dead continue on some how, somewhere. Perhaps it stems from appeasing the tempestuous elements,which sometimes worked. Perhaps all religion is an elaborate set of artifacts evolved from such naivety. No divinity need necessarily be involved.

Or, perhaps it is that God acts completely in the exterior world, in history and in nature, in such a way that, if we had tagged along behind a Moses we too would have seen a bush burning but not consumed, or we too could have placed our own fingers in the stigmata. I don't think that's it either.

Rather,transcendence reaches the interior person, faith in a transcendent reality becomes a viable enterprise. Interior experiences can be communicated, they can become communal, social. No need to repeat what I've already posted above which follows on from this perpsective.

However, I will tag on one last erudite and recent reference, not to convince, and certainly not as covering fire, but as a kind of navigation point for the road I'm on. If you read Frank Carpinelli's article you should know I'm aware I'm not in complete agreement with the author; but I like the direction he is taking.

http://www.lonerganresearch.org/site/assets/files/1232/carpinelli_jan__2015_luke_and_lonergan_interiority.pdf

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Thursday, 10 December 2015 at 11:47pm GMT

@ cseitz, "My comment was to Mr Gillis." Yes, that is how I understood it, and wrote my previous post of 10 Dec. 11:47 pm with your reply in mind. Again, thanks, Rod

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 11 December 2015 at 1:30pm GMT

"Or, perhaps it is that God acts completely in the exterior world, in history and in nature, in such a way that, if we had tagged along behind a Moses we too would have seen a bush burning but not consumed, or we too could have placed our own fingers in the stigmata."

As James Barr once remarked, what is special about the biblical account is not events in the 'exterior world' qua events, but rather the announcement to special agents that God would be about his work in specific ways that he would then confirm. This is what his Name bespeaks. Not everyone at the Sea saw the same thing in respect of God's work, anymore than the witnesses at the Crucifixion. But some were given to see Him at work.

It is their accounts that in turn, in written form, provide access to these same events and the power they have to bring about faith in us. This is the total perlocutionary act the Gospel of John insists is available to us. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe: these things are written that you might believe.

St John is not speaking about erudition. He is speaking about the capacity of the word written to give access to the original perceptions of key witnesses.

Posted by: cseitz on Friday, 11 December 2015 at 1:35pm GMT

Well, Rod, now I know why I find Lonergan so antipathetic. I have tried to read Carpinelli's article (got somewhere near half way), and then realised that he was actually writing like Lonergan, and it makes no sense to me. Much like when I tried reading "Insight" all those years ago. I was reading philosophy at the time, and despite Lonergan's claim to be providing an epistemology which at once takes into consideration science and religion, it was, to me, anyway, irrelevant to what I understood philosophy to be about. Still is. Indeed, for all his "genius" it ended up being just words strung together without any obvious meaning, just like Carpinelli's article. If that's where you're going, I can't go with you.

What it seems to be doing is to confuse intentional language, and intentional language at different levels, as somehow providing a map of consciousness, of interiority. Whereas I might see some aspect of investigation as in some sense dependent upon a level below it, as an historian refers to objective things like documents, archaeological remains, etc., and then subsumes these within an historical narrative, which tries to give us a sense of how it was to act at that time in those circumstances and in that way. To put that in context, I am just reading Browning's "Ordinary Men" about the attempt to make eastern Poland *Judenfrei*, and about the Order Police Battalion 101 from Hamburg, which has been most thoroughly studied, and with the surviving members of which so many post-Holocaust interviews have been conducted, which provide a basis for at least attempting to understand what it was about those 'ordinary' men that made it possible for them to do such barbaric things. I am now at the point where he is attempting to justify his interpretation of events against Jonah Goldhagen's criticisms. The question here is not so much of interiority, but of the difficulty of achieving any remote idea of what it was about those men which enabled them to act as they did.

When I say that things are linguistic all the way down I am saying that we cannot share our "interiorities" with each other except in language, and Carpinelli's attempt to plumb the depths of Luke's "interiority" seems to me to be so much misplaced effort. Whatever the history of religion it is clear that at some point it was the power of language which exteriorised whatever was interior about "religious" experience, which Otto called the uncanny (the unheimlich), which is strictly speaking inexpressible. Think of the creation story and the place of the Word and naming within it. God spoke, and it was so. The animals paraded before the first man, and whatever name he uttered was its name.

Think of Shakespeare's poet (Midsummer Night's Dream):

"... The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen/ Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name."

Which is perhaps helpful in relation to "unheimlich" since das Heim is home (habitation), Heimat is one's native land, and so on. The thing is that phenomenology (which to me seems to be roughly what Lonergan was doing), despite trying to provide a solid basis for knowledge in consciousness, ended up pretty much empty handed, or, rather, played the analytic game by speaking about interior experiences, which is a matter of how we speak about how we experience the world, which is not so much a description of interiority or of levels of consciousness (in Lonergan's language), but of how we use language to account for our perspective on the world, which is somehow intrinsically shared or inexpressible, as Aquinas seemed to acknowledge at the end.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Friday, 11 December 2015 at 3:49pm GMT

Oh, I hope not, Professor Seitz! John's gospel, as perlocutionary act(s), is full of such awful things, accusations and condemnations, and such unChristlike claims which has made Christianity very violent (towards the Jews, for instance), and very exclusionary (so that the Pope has to say that it is not for Christians to try to convert the Jews). I cannot read this gospel without cringing. For me, it is the least spiritual of the gospels. I know that others think otherwise, but I can only see it in the context in which I first heard it, as a son of a missionary family in India, and I could feel how it must have felt to those who first heard it. It's a bit like a spiritual sledge hammer. Compared to the richness of Hindu spirituality, which extended all the way from crude superstition to elevated speculation and forms of meditation, it made Christianity seem altogether too parochial and narrowly focused. The synoptics, on the other hand, had the sheer spiritual force of ordinary narrative. If God cannot be seen at work there, then it would be better (in my view) not to seek God at work anywhere. And yet they say John is somehow peculiarly Anglican, though I can't quite say why that should be. I know it is figurative and allegorical and all that sort of thing, but, like Blake's more mystical works, it simply turns me cold.

Nor, if I may add a word to your point about erudition, and Rod's about yours or my erudition. I am certainly not trying to be erudite. I write very quickly, and put things as they come to me, and very seldom go back to change a word. I pull out of my treasure chest things new and old, though as I age it seems a bit more haphazardly packed than it used to be.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Friday, 11 December 2015 at 7:12pm GMT

@ C. Seitz, I have read James Barr, although it has been awhile. I'm not dismissing the notion of "chosen witnesses" in the manner described. I'm not dismissing the drive to check one's experience of the divine against an existing tradition and its sacred texts, liturgical life and so forth. Indeed the gospel authors appear to have done just that with prior tradition. I understand John's passion narrative as a window on a theophany/Christophany, for example. Great artists like Raphael depict it as such. I'm suggesting that those chosen witnesses, or their counter part in any religious tradition, only have something compelling to say to a hearer who is seeking based upon some awareness of divine transcendence as interior event.

@ Eric, I'm not asking anyone to go anywhere with me. I'm stating as simply as possible how I resolve for myself the fundamental problem of religion, the origin and nature of a relationship with Divine transcendence.

"Think of the creation story and the place of the Word and naming within it. God spoke, and it was so. The animals paraded before the first man, and whatever name he uttered was its name." Which came first for humankind, the animals or the names they were given? Perhaps pictorial images preceded words? Perhaps mimicking the sounds of the animals preceded words? Who knows. Does it really matter, since encountering animals is to encounter them in the exterior world. What came first, the experience of displacement or the word Eureka?
Besides, the creation stories, biblical or otherwise, come after an interior experience of the divine, otherwise they remain just a story.

Anyway, if this were a physical forum and not a virtual one, I'm guessing the janitor would have turned out the lights on us long past.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 11 December 2015 at 9:13pm GMT

Rod, if you are really concerned about the origin of religion and religious experience, then perhaps you should at least address yourself to some who have tried to understand the origin and sources of religious belief. There are plenty of good studies around that try to produce that kind of thing, from Scott Atran to Pascal Boyer. Then there is "Wings of Illusion" by Schumacher, and David Lewis-Williams' fascinating study, "Conceiving God: the cognitive origin and evolution of religion," and even Julian Jaynes' "The Origin of Consciousness in the breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind." David Hay's "Something there: the biology of the human spirit" is an interesting contemporary study (something along the lines of Williams James' "Varieties."

My point about the Word in the creation story, and the prominence of language and meaning in it is that there seems to have been an awareness that language was somehow at the root of the beginning of religion, so it is unsurprising that religion and the evolution of canonical texts should have taken place in tandem. In other words, it is hard to see how you can separate the linguistic expression of religious experiences from the actual development of religious traditions and the origin of those traditions. McGilchrist's book "The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World" has a lot to say about the origins of religious experience and the ascendence of science.

You ask questions that are, in a sense, unanswerable. Which came first, the experience of displacement or Eureka! I suspect they occurred at the same time, but we wouldn't have known anything about it unless Archimedes had jumped from his bath on suddenly putting two and two together. The same with the first inchoate religious experiences, which, as Lewis-Williams points out, were probably originally experienced at a time when consciousness was extremely permeable to other than everyday experiences, which provided a kind of dimensionality to consciousness that doesn't really exist in a time when we can isolate certain experiences as other than normally conscious ones, dream states, experiences produced by things like rhythm and music, drugs and alcohol. It probably took a long time for such experiences to be thought of as specifically religious, as in fact providing a realm of experience that existed in parallel with our ordinary everyday consciousness.

Indeed, we don't even know how abstraction first occurred, which is why Plato is such an interesting case. When did people first separate our experience of seeing X with the idea that, not only were there other X's, but that X's preserved their identity from one time to another, and that X's were not time-slices but enduring entities that preserved their identity through time? If you read the early Greek philosophers, you will see how this process of trying to understand the world conceptually was closely tied up with religious experience, and how distinctions came to be made between time-bound things like sticks and stones and transcendent ideal entities. It was Thales, the earliest of the Ionian philosophers who said that the world was full of God or gods. And the transition from this to Plato and then Aristotle marked a transition, you might say, from religion to materialism, with residual questions as to the nature of being, which retained their religious dimension.

Sure, the janitor would probably have turned out the light by now, but we need not walk in darkness. But principally, I would like to say, in response to your idea that biblical witness to transcendence is only possible for someone who has had an interior experience of the divine, that these transitions can be spotted everywhere in intellectual/religious history, and it is really as much of a chicken and egg question as anything. They come together, if they come at all. You seem to belong to James' twice-born category. You have an experience, quite independently of cultural or literary artifacts, and then recognise the resonance between that experience and the artifacts. In general, I suggest, it doesn't happen that way. We are far too literary and linquistic, from the word go, for that type of encounter to occur.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Saturday, 12 December 2015 at 1:50pm GMT

Returning to the article...

Richard Beck: "The ultimate authority in Protestantism isn't the Bible, it's the individual conscience."

I simply don't accept that Luther and most 16th Century protestants would have agreed.

I'm pretty sure they regarded the Bible - not themselves, not their own consciences - as the ultimate authority, under God.

'Individual conscience' for Luther would have operated as an agent in coming to understand the Bible's authoritative teaching, but the authority was invested in God, and God's written word, not themselves.

* * * * * * *

In contrast, this side of the Enlightenment - which threw up huge questions about the nature of the Bible and how to interpret it - Luther's assumptions about the nature of the Bible (and its assumed authority) may no longer be consistent with the way we exercise conscience.

If you like, some of the ground rules and assumptions have changed since Luther's time. I didn't feel Richard's article acknowledged this, but that instead he was trying to suggest that Luther and modern Christians had the same paradigm for handling the Bible and the limits of its authority.

In Luther's day, there weren't meant to be limits to the Bible's authority and it was regarded to be authoritative right down to Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the spontaneous creation of the Human Race.

The principle of biblical fallibility and errancy has since then been demonstrated - and it is that change which I feel modern-day Christians (whether Protestant, Catholic, Baptist, Orthodox, whoever) need to take responsibility for, if they are seekers of the truth.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 12 December 2015 at 4:08pm GMT

@ Eric, " ...the origin of religion ...address yourself to some who have tried to understand [it].." Done That. It was the opener for a university course on World Religions I once taught. I've studied the pre-Socratics by the way. I'm trying to stay away from the battle of bibliographies for the moment.

Interesting remarks in your previous post on John's gospel, " ... as a son of a missionary family in India ...I could feel how it must have felt to those who first heard it. " Here is a clue perhaps as to how you are working out your own interior experience?

It is suggestive of why we come at this differently, why I find myself less connected to linguistics than you appear to be. It hints perhaps at the nature of your difficulty with Lonergan and Carpinelli. After all, you're a bright guy and quite capable of getting beyond frustration to a legitimate critique. The ground is perhaps differences in originating theological cultures. I was formed in a Roman Catholic parochial school. We learned about the Gospels; but we also learned about grace in fine detail, prevenient grace, cooperating grace, sanctifying grace, and examination of conscience for confession. The church was a gallery of images. Liturgy was the mystery of the Latin mass. My protestant peers were at Sunday school with the KJV and worshiped where preaching was the thing. My Jewish peers in the neighborhood had a different context still at Hebrew school.

Now please, no diversions into the theology of Grace. I'm not talking about that.I'm simply reflecting on the fragments of childhood religious formation. We become adults but these things are like mother's milk and one's native tongue. Lonergan comes naturally to someone like me. By contrast, I really had to work at reading Karl Barth. Only my Highland tenacity kept my eyes from glassing over.

God exists; but If one knows this it is only because of God's initiative in interiority. Scriptures, liturgies, sacred art, spiritual direction, are simply tools for the journey. Interesting how much energy the word "conscience" has used up?

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 12 December 2015 at 6:26pm GMT

Sussanna, thank you for your reply. I thought it discourteous not to answer, and wrote a response that turned out to be about three to four times too long--then I thought I should at least try to answer with a little something, but work and family have come to monopolize my time (not too unusual for the weeks before Christmas, of course).

So I write just to say I hope to get back to you, and if these others keep up their rather involved conversation the thread might even still be active.

If these hopes are not realized--well, perhaps another time. I just didn't want to to think I didn't appreciate your effort or was ignoring it.

Hope you and yours are having a good approach to Christmas.

Posted by: rick allen on Sunday, 13 December 2015 at 4:08am GMT

Susannah, agree with you completely regarding Luther and the Bible. Conscience, independently of the Bible, would have been to Luther unintelligible. It was the interpretation of the Bible, after all, which put him at odds with the Church, for, in his view, not only did the Church read the Bible incorrectly, but it also to a large degree acted without reference to the Bible at all, as in the matter of indulgences (mainly to fund the building of St Peter's). So Luther would have been unable of understanding conscience without the Word of God as an essential basis for acts according to conscience.

Rod, I am basically Kantian in my approach to being. There may be a noumenal something beyond the horizon of language, but what we know and experience is somehow essentially understood through the linguistic overlay. What I find irritating about Lonergan (and Carpinelli is just a secondary knockoff) is that he seems to think that language is somehow transparent, and can lead us through levels of consciousness. Regarding interiority, this is still mediated by language, which objectifies the subjective. Without that objectification, subjectivity itself would be impossible to communicate.

What I object to most strongly in Lonergan is the idea that (what you are calling interiority) the subjective is somehow unproblematic. But, like Wittgenstein, who was fairly Kantian in his understanding as well, I have a problem with the idea of a private language (interiority). What is interior can be made intelligible to others, or we can simply cancel through by it. The problem lies in the identification of the interior as the same. We know how to do this with external things, but how could we convince another person that I have the same experience as he if we were unable to exteriorise the experience in language?

And here's the interesting thing (without going off on a tagent about the theology of grace): if you look at Roman Catholic approaches to the question it is very detailed and literary, whereas Protestantism has used 'grace' very much as an ambiguous word referring in a hand waving way to the experience of salvation. The Church's Magisterium, on the other hand, dealt with the question of grace in a very detailed and differentiated way, without any clear reference to interiority, whereas Protestant ideas of grace are always indeterminate, referring in an ambiguous way to whatever constituted for the individual their experience of something called grace (but without any sense of continuity of meaning between one use and another).

So, when you suggest that in my experience in India I was "working out [my] own interior experience," I would have to answer no, because I have no clear sense of what interior experience would be like, aside from the language I might use to describe it. The school in which I grew up was very Protestant in orientation, and its Christianity was long on emotion and short on description, and very short on what one might call the beauty and the mystery of holiness. I think that there are incommunicable somethings that lie at the heart of religious experience, which is why Anglican worship (of the Anglo-Catholic variety) was so attractive to me (still is), but this was because it inducted one into the holy mysteries, not because there was language to describe what this consisted of. If that is the interiority you are speaking of, I have no problem. But if you think that Lonergan is actually dealing with interiority, then I do have a problem, because his language is explicitly exteriorising. He wants to lay bare the interior experience of coming to insight, and that, I think, is a lost cause, and I find the language he uses extremely artificial and with little tendency to ground itself either in real experience or in the world in which his supposed interiority is based. If he would only have taken a cue from Aquinas, who was said to have, towards death, an experience of the holy which reduced all his weighty tomes to so much straw (and which was, as a consequence, itself incommunicable), then Longergan's "philosophy" might have come closer to what he thought that he was doing, namely providing the basis for a modern epistemology. That Lonnergan has been almost entirely ignored by philosophers is an indication of how little philosophers think he succeeded in his quest.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Sunday, 13 December 2015 at 1:51pm GMT

@ Eric, I did caution you that a debate about grace, which I anticipated, would be a digression.

My reference was to those "cultural cues" that happen early on, in my case, I listed some, examination of conscience, parsing grace, the Mass, the notion of the soul and so on, that make the ideas behind Lonergan's language so user friendly. (As an aside, its why so many of my fellow Anglo-Catholics strike me as more in love with the idea of Catholic faith than with Catholic faith itself. They seem perplexed by the faithful women who don't take communion but say their rosary during mass).

Theories are only as good as their ability to explain the evidence, You can decide whether mine fits your situation; but you can field test it by going to funerals. Compare Roman Catholic funeral homilies to protestant sermons for example.

"That Lonergan has been almost entirely ignored by philosophers is an indication of how little philosophers think he succeeded in his quest." Or, more likely, and indictment against linguistic analysis as philosophy.

"If he [Lonergan] would only have taken a cue from Aquinas..." I can't take this seriously. You might find, if you have not tried it already, wrestling with Lonergan's "Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas". The material was written in the 1940s and re-published. He has extensive quotations from various of Aquinas' works ( in Latin) with copious footnotes. It's a way in to his latter works.

There are only three arenas where one may look for confirmation of the reality of Divine transcendence. (1) Religious practice and tradition including Scriptures where applicable; (2) The exterior world of nature and the universe (3) The interior world, the heart-mind, one might say. The first is ultimately artifact, allowing us only an exegesis of the compounded mediated presentation of others' interior experience(s). The second, as we know from science, allows only a kind Iesegesis of the intelligible by intelligent faith. It's in the third, interiority, the arena of heart-mind which transcends the human experience as human, that one first encounters the initiative of ultimate Divine Transcendence. I participate in the Holy Communion this morning, and I ask myself, is this the God whom I know loves me?


Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 13 December 2015 at 5:56pm GMT

Rod, re your three arenas this simply doesn't make any sense to me: "It's in the third, interiority, the arena of heart-mind which transcends the human experience as human, that one first encounters the initiative of ultimate Divine Transcendence." I don't know what that means. That was my point about Aquinas (that was the cue that I was referring to), not that Lonergan hadn't dealt with Aquinas on logical subjects like words and concepts, but on the fact that, having encountered the transcendent towards the end of his life, all that he had written seemed to be so much straw, because this was a realm that simply transcended language. You say transcended the human, but that is not quite right, because it is human beings who have such experiences, but they are experiences that do not lend themselves to language. I remember Paul van Buren's book entitled something like "The Edges of Language," and that is where he placed the transcendent. I'm not denying that. I'm simply saying that this is not expressible. Interiority of the type you suppose is, and, I suggest, can only be, a sedimentation of language in human experience which has reached the limits of expression. You have to start with the language, as Aquinas did, in order, in the end, to achieve the experience of transcendence. You want the initiative to rest with God, but that is simply not the way the mind works. You have to have the means of identifying the holy as holy, and this is done in language and in community.

Mental acts are already language shaped. And we will find that language is like a dictionary, it is reflexive, and always turns in upon itself. That's what Cupitt means when he speaks about the outsidelessness of language, and I think he is right. That's why what you call interiority, the interior Ich-Du of the confrontation with the divine must always be experienced beyond where language can take you. So far as I can tell you are speaking of interiority, not in a categorical sense, but in an absolute sense (you use the word 'ultimate'), and that is a sense which cannot be communicated (this is where Tillich places idolatry, as you may remember, the attempt to express the ultimate in finite terms). Language may point the way, but in the end, whereof we cannot speak we must remain silent (as Wittgenstein said at the very end of the Tractatus - "Wovan man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.") You may point the way to that transcendence, but you cannot express it, which is why the great Buddhist teachers always, at that point, spoke in paradoxes or riddles (like the sound of one hand clapping). What I am saying is that this is not a prelude to our language about God, but the outcome of it at its farthest reach. Cupitt, I think, would say that at that limit there is nowhere else to go, but I am not saying that; I am merely pointing out that at this point we reach the limits of language and of mental acts. And you seem to recognise this too, since you say it transcends the human as human. But that is one of those paradoxical things, as I pointed out at the start (I can't understand this language), since it is as a human being that one achieves such transcendence. Which may explain the women you remember, saying their rosary, but that also may have been that it was also common in the Catholic Church that you remember, for people not to take communion every Sunday, sometimes very rarely, sometimes only on the highest of high holy days. That is much rarer now that masses have been jazzed up and become community celebrations.

And none of this, by the way, speaks of grace, nor did my earlier comment which you suggest fulfilled your expectation of a digression at this point. I am speaking of the limit of what are reasonably called mental acts, which are always at least instensional (in that they have Sinn (sense) in the sense in which Frege distinguished between sense and reference, Sinn and Bedeutung, and your interiority has neither).

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Sunday, 13 December 2015 at 7:24pm GMT

@ Eric, "You want the initiative to rest with God, but that is simply not the way the mind works." I'm thinking it is the way Divine transcendence "works".


"masses have been jazzed up and become community celebrations" Depending on how that looks, I think I prefer the sound of one hand clapping.


Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 13 December 2015 at 8:49pm GMT

St John for basic epistemology: how we know what we know, and how we know it from privileged witnesses. Perlocutionary act as John himself states it at the conclusion of his witness (see, if interested, my essay in Figured Out, 2001).

Of course you can object to what you regard as the substance of what John commends.

But that was not the point in the context of a discussion about how we know what we know and how 'conscience' might be affected by that.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 14 December 2015 at 1:13am GMT

Rod, you seem to misunderstand. Our experiences are identified by and in language. There is no other way of individuating internal experiences, so it is necessary to have some concept of the divine and transcendence before an encounter with God is possible. Otherwise, whatever experience there is is simply unidentifiable even as the same experience (supposing a sequence of such experiences existed), since language, as early peoples soon discovered, is the only way to keep what James called "the blooming buzzing confusion" from moving around unpredictably. (I can remember that I was very much taken with Piaget at the time that Alex was an infant, and tried at one point to teach him the word 'banana,' by showing him a banana, and repeating the word 'banana' as I peeled it. But when outside shortly thereafter, we came upon a guy wire holding a corner power pole in place, with the typical yellow plastic tube covering the wire at the bottom, and Alex pointed at it with great excitement, saying, 'Banana, banana!') It identifies things, even internal things, by, to some extent, objectifying them, giving them, as Shakespeare said, a local habitation and a name. And, in any event, language must of necessity precede any (supposed) experience of God, since that is the way children develop a mind or any sense of self apart from others. Divine transcendence would have to work through some regular means of mental appropriation, such as language, to be of any effect.

C Seitz. I will certainly have a look at the essay in "Figured Out" which, from my search, is available at a local university library. However, I guess my point was precisely that what we know and how we know it cannot be very effectively filtered through the gospel of John, since there is no evidence whatever that this was the product of original witnesses, but rather consists of a dramatic symbolical re-editing of what we may suppose original witnesses to have seen and heard, and even the Synoptics are not completely reliable sources of such witness either, as their disagreements (and their agreements, which are often based on the possession of similar manuscripts whose accuracy is hard to establish) indicate. This applies especially to the birth and passion narratives, but also to many other parts of the gospel story as told, from differing theological viewpoints, by each evangelist. While I agree that moral conscience may be informed by some of this, I would still say that, as Socrates suggested (if Plato is right in his attribution of the argument to his mentor), some sense of the good must precede our appeal to any scriptural record, no matter how important in shaping the conscience. The Christian conscience, I think, has been poorly served by, amongst other things, many of the claims made for Jesus in the gospel of John - which is why, despite their inconsistencies, the Synoptics, especially apart from the birth and passion narratives, are a better basis for the Christian conscience. And I do in fact object to much of the substance of what John commends.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Monday, 14 December 2015 at 8:31pm GMT

Mr MacDonald, Might have a look at Richard Bauckham's several works on John and on eyewitness testimony. If you are interested. I have my own adjustments in Nova et Vetera. Kind regards.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 1:39am GMT

@ Eric, " ...it is necessary to have some concept of the divine and transcendence before an encounter with God is possible."

The compound term 'Divine transcendence' is theoretical; but it correctly theorizes a reality that encounters us even if we cannot define it in complex terms such as 'Divine transcendence'. The Divine encounters us even before we are capable of expressing the encounter in theory, or even in myth. Analogously, displacement is a reality even if one does not yet know Archimedes' Principle.


Clearly expression is an eventuality otherwise community would not be possible. But a distinction is possible. Remember, I said earlier that we cannot recover the religious experience of another, all we have is how it is expressed. As an analogy, which by definition has its limits,what did Van Gogh see when he painted The Starry Night? The only answer to that question is to be had by looking the painting. I once stood on the same spot as Paul Cézanne; but did I 'see' what he 'saw', and 'saw' somewhat differently perhaps each time, when he painted Mont Sainte-Victoire?

I'm guessing, your son saw "round", saw "yellow", saw "small". Perhaps if he had drawn a picture you would have thought, "He has drawn a banana !" Perhaps he would have thought so too, even if he thought a banana and plastic sheathing to be similar enough.

"For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known." We are known, and may have a sense we are known, even though we are not clear on how or by whom we are known.


"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

If I discover more about God existentially in religion and the intelligible universe such discovery proceeds from interiority. At least, that's the way I see it, so to speak.


Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 3:44am GMT

Professor Seitz, I would be glad to read Richard Bauchham's book on the "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses." However, I have to say, after reading Ben Witherington's review of the book, that I am a bit sceptical. After having studied the gospels for so long in terms of their literary debts to each other, to shared documents, and so on, it is hard to think that they were written with close attention to what eyewitnesses had to say. If so, why the Synoptic problem? How do you take books that were often interdependent, or at least dependent on shared or independent sources, and translate that into eyewitness testimony? Since Bauchham is particularly known for his work on the Apocalypse, which has a close relative in John (perhaps the only Gnostic (or proto-gnostic) book to have made it into the NT), the apparent suggestion that John is based on eyewitness testimony strikes me as far-fetched (this, of course, without the benefit of reading the book). If it is eyewitness testimony, then the historical Jesus turns out to be less congenial as a religious model than the Jesus of the synoptics, in my opinion, since it so clearly divorces him from his Jewish context, enough so that he can call his Jewish brothers (and sisters?) children of the devil, who were murderers from the beginning, etc., something that has had a fateful development in Christian antisemitism.

I am not convinced that, on the basis of the evidence that we have (notwithstanding Eusebius on Papias), we can unproblematically speak of eyewitnesses here. To what degree we can take Greek protocols regarding the writing of history as being applied in the writing of gospels is surely questionable, despite Luke's prelude, especially since he almost immediately launches into the birth narrative, which is clearly myth-making (or midrash) on the basis of some OT texts; but what seems most decisive is the dependence of the evangelists (except John) on existing documents, without any clear indication of where they were written and for whom, despite what appears to be Bauchham's conviction to the contrary. So, I will record by doubts right up front. Reading the synoptics side by side, they do not read like eyewitness testimony. Of course, this is for experts to determine, but I suspect Bauchham will remain an outlier so far as his opinion regarding eyewitness testimony goes. That there is a residuum of eyewitness testimony in the gospels is probably true, but it is so obviously overlaid by diverse theological hermeneutic as to be raise doubts as to what specific parts are eyewitness testimony and what are not. I am reminded of the "eyewitness" testimony that created the very different narratives of Mary's (supposed) appearances at Medjegorje, and how the obvious theological overlay created completely separate and independent traditions in less than a generation.

My reply to Rod must be left for another comment.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 2:58pm GMT

Rod, it is all very well quoting Shakespeare, but we don't 'know' that. And, by the way, my point about the banana is that the only meaning Alex could have taken from it is not likely to have been round, edible, or small. It is a reasonable interpretation that it was the experience of yellow that struck him most forcefully - though he had no way of saying that, so it must remain a question what was going on in his head. The point is that to make that determination takes a more complex linguistic ability than he had avaliable at the time.

The same goes for religious experience, I think. Lewis-Williams' book on the origin of religious consciousness is probably the most helpful here, because he does not label it religious from the start, but as somehow uncanny (unheimlich), since it arose at a time when such experiences bled into ordinary experience, but were seen as distinctive in some way. So that is perhaps the unquestionable datum that comes out of that. But whether that is simply a abnormal experience or an experience of encounter is less certain. However, such experiences were recognised as somehow unearthly, and came to be recognised in ritual ways, and perhaps eventually came to be interpreted in terms of levels of consciousness, since they can be reflectively examined by everyday consciousness. If you want to take such experiences as proto-religious in some sense, that's fine with me, but at the time they were simply inexpressible, or expressible only in terms of dreams, altered states of consciousness (drugs and alcohol, rhythm and sound (music), and the mystery of darkness, since many of their celebrations, in Lewis-Williams' interpretation, took place in caves, for which he gives some archaeological evidence).

However, we are too literary today to find this very helpful, I suspect, since most religious experience is actually experienced within a religious tradition, which already has the language in which to distinguish those experiences which are religious from those that are not. We can even perhaps make determinations (as James does) as to whether such experiences are pathological or otherwise, as good spiritual guides would do for their acolytes. However, thinking of such guided experiences as more refined descendents of those early experiences might be justified. I don't know.

And quoting from Paul is scarcely to the point, because he did have the language in terms of which he could individuate experiences. One thing that I think misleads you (if I may be so bold) is Lonergan's habit of taking mental operations, and operations upon operations, and then talking in terms of "levels of consciousness" (instead of a hierarchy of reflective mental operations). When Lonergan then kicks away the ladder that got him to higher levels of consciousness, he goes on theorising. When Wittgenstein did the same thing, he lapsed into silence, since, at that level, there is no applicable shared language (and could not be), and thus darüber muß man schweigen. I think that there is almost certainly a level at which the sound of one hand clapping is precisely the only option. And that's the point. I think, of the Buddhist master who first asked his chela to reflect on one hand clapping.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 3:17pm GMT

The article, Seeking Christian Interiority: An Interview with Louis Dupré, is most interesting. I really like what he had to say in the main. It also addresses the inter-faith issue as raised earlier and above in a post by Susannah Clark. It's long but readable.

It should be fairly easy to figure out when I'm in the same ball park as Dupré, and when I'm engaging in a theological free flight and improv of my own.

http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=214

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 6:19pm GMT

I have my own problems with Bauckham's model. I rehearse them in the essay in Nova et Vetera.

His work on John in that same volume I find the best of the lot. His earlier essay on john for readers of Mark is genius and body blow to Q and typical synoptic reconstructions.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 7:06pm GMT

@ Eric, " ...quoting from Paul is scarcely to the point..." I think it is. I quoted him from the poetic KJV because the turn of phrase suits my meaning. Likewise with regard to Shakespeare. For a guy who is so ortho-linguistic, appreciation for a turn of phrase does not seem to come easy.

"One thing that I think misleads you... is Lonergan's habit of taking mental operations, and operations upon operations..." Seriously? Not Lonergan on a ladder but Lonergan the Central Processing Unit is a better analogy. Lonergan, like Jacques Maritain and Joseph Maréchal, has been the object of criticism by the fans of a more medieval Thomism; but I think the vast expanse of scholarship one finds in current transcendental Thomism and the sizable Lonergan studies cohort meets the criticism expertly. Besides, I'm riffing on Lonergan, and will take responsibility for my own sins.

Re: Wittgenstein, Zen koan, silence, and so forth, that is actually a good place from which to begin contemplation, as long as one realizes, with respect to interiority, that silence, " ...is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 10:05pm GMT

Well, it looks as though I have my winter's reading list all pegged out for me! Anyway, without reading further in Bauckham (missed the 'k'), I can scarcely judge fairly, although I really do doubt that he has given a body blow to the synoptic hypothesis. Also, having searched a bit online, I do not think his identity theory regarding a high christology in every book of the NT will wash. This should mean that Arianism was simply an impossibility, but it had a wide following, so historically it is clear that the first readers of the NT writings did not read into it a high christology of this sort. Those are my two preliminary judgements, and we will see how they come out. Regarding the second, I do not think I will move. There is no reason to make this assumption, and, indeed, some NT scholars have been at some pains to find *anywhere* in the NT signs of a high christology, which certainly developed in later Christian worship and devotion, but was not obviously present from the start. Besides, even an Arian could easily accommodate to a Jesus-centred worship.

As to the synoptic hypothesis, the idea that there is a good historical basis for the claims made as to the authorship of the gospels seems a bit far-fetched to me, and one has to wonder what background acts of faith are being made in order to defend such an account. I am very much an observer of publishers' biases, and identify Lion, in Britain, with questionable evangelical perspectives, and Baker, in the US, with the same. I note that a number of Bauckham's books are published by Baker, which suggests an ideological inclination which I do not favour, and which, in my experience, has tended towards special pleading (or, 'methinks the lady doth protest too much'). However, we shall see what we shall see. Thank you Professor Seitz.

Rod, I have your Louis Dupré interview all ready to read, and when I have given it a once or twice over (I am also trying to read myself back into the philosophy of mind and moral philosophy, so I have a fairly full plate), I will get right back to you. Perhaps it is time that we gave this particular thread a rest.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 10:30pm GMT

Well, despite what I said, Rod, let me say a little about the Dupré piece. And I have to say that if this is what you have in mind by interiority, then I have no problem. The interiority that you seemed to explain was an interiority without either linquistic or cultural support. God calls us first, before we have ever been introduced to a language that is appropriate to such an encounter. However, Dupré is very different, pointing out that Bishop Butler, for example, was right, and that religion is a matter of analogies; speaking of the inculturation that that is a necessary dimension of genuine faith, and so on. I could quote a number of statements that seem to me to be in agreement with what I have been trying to say, and contrary to what I heard from you.

Take this, for example:

"A genuine Christian interiority must provide the inspiration for a humanism capable of living a vigorous, free and open life within one’s culture, whatever its condition may be."

Unquestionably, but consider the theological and anthropological underpinning that must exist for this interiority to develop.

Or this:

"In their perplexity they still may turn to the Word. Even when we have no more religious words of our own, the ones on which our faith rests remain with us. No advanced biblical criticism is needed to let these words speak and to give voice to our own feelings of joy or sadness and even of despair."

But, of course, the Word and words are always closely related. Have to be. Doesn't make sense otherwise.

Or take what he says about Bishop Butler:

"Spiritual life, as Bishop Joseph Butler knew, rests entirely on analogies. The Bible provides the analogies that enable the believer to convey meaning to private experience."

Do you see what I mean? The analogies, the language to convey meaning to private experience. That's all I've been saying all these last few days, again and again, until I despaired of making the point.

Take one last quote:

"Religion cannot survive on mere feelings or moral intentions. It needs symbols of transcendence, and symbols are by their very nature specific."

Precisely, mere feelings are not enough. There have to be symbols of transcendence. That is the only way that interiority achieves meaning. Oh, I agree with much that he says. And, as for enjoying a turn of phrase, I was raised on the KJV and at one time knew a good bit of it by heart. If I remember a verse, it is always in that language, because, even though Elizabethans didn't speak that way, it has, in many places the melody that only Cranmer, of all the liturgists, has been able to capture in English. (There are bits of truly tortured prose in it too, I'm afraid.) I simply meant that your quotations didn't help me understand your point of view, but if Dupré represents only a fraction of your meaning, I can only say, of course, yes, I agree.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 at 11:12pm GMT

@ Eric, Richard Bauckham is an interesting guy to read, time well spent, although I think you are likely to find your preliminary suspicions confirmed. Notwithstanding, I have a copy of his Jesus And The Eyewitnesses ( Erdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge U.K.) I found it extremely interesting. Happy to loan you my copy. Can also loan you my copy of his, God Crucified. (Erdmans also).

As for the thread, I don't know about you, but I could use the rest. Very kind of the folks at Thinking Anglicans to let us go on like this.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 at 3:26am GMT

Rod, this paragraph was fabulous:

"The compound term 'Divine transcendence' is theoretical; but it correctly theorizes a reality that encounters us even if we cannot define it in complex terms such as 'Divine transcendence'. The Divine encounters us even before we are capable of expressing the encounter in theory, or even in myth. Analogously, displacement is a reality even if one does not yet know Archimedes' Principle."

Everything commences from the Divine initiative.

The Archimedes analogy is brilliant.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 at 11:27am GMT

Sorry to pop your balloon, Susannah, but the Archimedes analogy is not brilliant; it's misleading. I'm sure there's a logical term for the error being committed. Displacement is an obviously empirical fact. That Archimedes, thinking about such things, should suddenly say Eureka! while sitting in the bath is simply connecting two empirical facts with, when you think about it, as Archimedes did, relationships which are empirically verifiable. The Divine transcendence, on the other hand, is not something of the same sort, and the relationships between my subjective experience and an encounter with the divine is neither empirically verifiable, nor even capable of clear description.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 at 1:33pm GMT

@ Susannah Clark, I said my own "Eureka" when I read your post. I think I'll take your rejoinder as a high note to take my leave from the thread. Thanks, and cheers.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 at 1:57pm GMT
Post a comment









Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.