The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Inspired, Not Inerrant

So over at Stand Firm, our Worthy Opponents are harshly critiquing an excerpt from Called to Teach and Learn (1994), titled "An Anglican Approach to Scripture." The comments are, as is so often the case, illuminating of a mindset that I can't really call Anglican, especially as they degenerate into a challenge to a more liberal commenter to "think of one example where the Scriptures have been reinterpreted in the light of contemporary knowledge and experience in the last 2,000 y[ea]rs?" They ask, especially, for one prior to the Twentieth Century, but "anything will do for us to examine."

Well, I'm somewhat surprised that a self-identified Anglican would need this example pointed out to them, but how about Mark 10:11-12 ("Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery"); Luke 16:18., compare Matt. 19:9: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery"; and 1 Cor. 7:10 (divorce allowed for abandonment by an unbelieving spouse). Beyond the easy gibe that the English Reformation was precipitated in part by, and Thomas Cramner endorsed, a divorce for King Henry VIII, the fact is that these texts conflict, and some interpretation of them is needed.

How about this one: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Exodus 22:18. That text, as endorsed and interpreted by Thomas Aquinas, led to half a millenium's persecution from the Middle Ages through colonial times. To quote Louis Brandeis, "men feared witches, and burned women." Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927)(Brandeis, J., concurring). As recently as 1999, this text was deployed by Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.), Paul Weyrich and Rev. Jack Harvey to argue for civil laws excluding Wiccans from the armed services, despite the clear terms of the First Amendment prohibiting federal laws burdening the free exercise of religion.

And, to take an example I have previously noted, Matthew 27:24-25--in which the people--meaning the Jewish people--say to Pilate "His blood be upon us and our children"--is just one of many New Testament passages that has been cited to justify anti-semitism. (There's a helpful collection of anti-semitic applications of the New Testament here; a more complete account is James Carroll's book Constantine's Sword (2001)).

Now, these three passages have clearly either been reinterpreted in the very formation of Anglicanism, or, in the case of the latter two, have led to appalling acts of cruelty and even genocide. I strongly suspect that no Anglican would argue for the "plain meaning" interpretation of any of the three--or else they are ceding the illegitimacy of the Anglican Reformation, or advocating mass murder in the name of Christ. These three scriptural passages are not, by the way, the only examples one could find (I once wrote about "The West Wing Conundrum", which featured several other examples as well--although some interesting rebuttals were posted to that one).

Which is why, in my prior post above linked, I tried to suggest that St. Paul's statement that "we see now through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12) and St. John's recording in his Gospel that Jesus told us that He has "yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now," (Jn. 16:12), suggest that revelation is still unfolding, and we should be cautious in our judgments. And, as truth is the daughter of time, and the Gifts of the Spirit may be known by their fruits, when the result of a scriptural interpretation is disaster--murder, cruelty and pain, in the name of Christ--perhaps we need to consider if our reading of scripture is at fault. Arrogance can take many forms--including an inflexible assumption that what seems the obvious reading of the text is in fact the right one.


Ecgbert said...

Inspired not literal is of course the Catholic position but not what the conservative Protestant SF's liberal Protestant targets are trying to get at although the latter appeal to tradition/antiquity when it suits them (obey the bishop) but otherwise not (communion with non-episcopal churches and of course the flash-point of the Episcopal row, sex).

As you doubtless know the saw about Anglicanism being founded on a divorce is common knowledge which is often wrong. (Like 'high church means dressing up, end of story'.) Old Harry was a open and notorious evil liver like a lot of kings but never a Protestant: he got annulments (one of which was the reason for the schism with Rome) and had wives killed on trumped-up charges but never a divorce! Actually, traditionally/historically divorced Anglicans just like divorced RCs could not remarry in church and... it was harder to get an annulment in the Episcopal than in the Roman Church.

As some liberal apologists have pointed out the conservative Anglicans like evangelical Protestants have gone along with upper-middle-class society on this matter as on contraception (which all Christians before 1930 agreed was wrong, nothing peculiarly Roman about that at all) so they're hypocrites. Be that as it may it doesn't affect the objective rightness or wrongness of their favourite Controversial Issue™ at the moment.

I've been told the claims about persecuting witches are overblown common knowledge as well.

Regarding Wiccans in the services I'm with you and against Weyrich and Harvey.

or else they are ceding the illegitimacy of the Anglican Reformation

I cheerfully do! Whatever you think of the later claims of Pius IX at Vatican I the Pope was England's lawful patriarch. (So logically those on the left preaching 'schism is the ultimate ecclesial sin' and 'unity above all' in their property wars should be urging ++Cantuar to hand over his cathedral to the nuncio and Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.) I love much of the culture of Anglicanism, that is, English culture, but that's not the same as believing the plain meaning of the Articles of Religion. The only good the 'Reformation' did was services in English and you didn't need schism and heresy to accomplish that. Everything else was a mistake.

...revelation is still unfolding.

Which to me seems a dodge to allow 'whatever the king/squire/modern upper middle class want right now'. As this suggests, this is nothing new: Anglicans have been doing it since the 'Enlightenment' including the nominally Anglican unbelieving founding fathers of the US. And only a jump removed if that from the Angel Moroni and magic glasses.

Anglocat said...

First, welcome. I enjoyed our exchange over at Fr. Jake's, so I'm very glad to have you here, and to continue to learn views on these issues.

I find your comment provocative--in the good way, I hasten to add!--and reassuring,in that it helps sharpen the distinction between an Anglo-Catholic and a Roman Catholic--and re-emphasizes where I fall on that distinction.

So, with that in mind, a few thoughts in response:

1. "Inspired Not Literal"

As you can imagine, I find this to be an eminently acceptable articulation of a profoundly important point, well made by Catholic scholars and the Magisterium over many years: that discernment, reflection and wisdom are needed to distinguish between Scripture as meant to be understood, and that which is mixed with allegorical, symbolic or mystical meaning. We agree here, and even (with some qualification) on the teaching authority of the Church as important in helping to draw these distinctions.

My point in using "inspired not inerrant" is a little different, though, and one which you may find objectionable: that is, that the human recordation of inspiration can only be perfomed through the mind of the inspired, who may conflate cultural background with the kergyma of inspiration. So, for example, the first century view of women's place in society bleeds into St. Paul's teaching in a manner that does not necessarily reflect God's vision of women's fitness to lead congregations, or speak in Church. Paul's own knowledge of this seems reflected in 1 Cor. 13, as cited in the main post, and in the rather personal terms in which he discusses the restrictions on women.

2. Henry VII and Divorce

Well, this is a convoluted one, and, as you note I referenced it as "an easy gibe." Still, I'd suggest that the record's a bit more complex than your summary would indicate. In the letter linked in the main post, Cramner himself refers to "the matter of divorce between my Lady Catherine and the King's Grace," although giving later as the grounds that it "was indispensable for the Pope to license any such marriages." At a minimum, this usage suggests that the distinction between a divorce and an annulment.

You suggest that the English Reformation is illegitimate (perfectly reasonable position for a Catholic to hold), and that those who I am chiding are hypocrites. Well, I don't know what defense (if any) they could deploy to the latter statement (I tend to agree that they are best guilty of selective recall), but don't agree with you on the English Reformation.

I certainly agree that state and personal interest played a precipitant role, but would urge that the primacy of Rome was in fact a medieval accretion, a phenomenon having its origin not in Peter and the other Apostles (look how Paul disputes with him over keeping kosher, and at the leading role played by James, "the brother of the Lord" in Acts and early Church history), but in the centralization of authority begun under Constantine. Denying such cultural accretions are not, in my opinion, in esse sinful.

By the way, I don't think that leaving TEC (or any other branch of the catholic Church) is in esse sinful; I think taking the buildings may be wrong, and claiming that the rules permit seccession is inaccurate. I further think that the cause is a poor one, and the willingness to affiliate with the likes of Peter Akinola, who has affirmatively used his office to advocate for civil laws penalizing gays and lesbians, and those who wold defend their rights to free association and speech, is nothing short of monstrous. Just as I think Christian (including Catholic) use of secular power to persecute the Jews was monstrous. It's the same mistake, with a different target.

3. Persecution of Witches

You will note that I am not attempting to quantify the persecution of witches, but am pointing to a consequence of an assumption that all scriptural texts posed as moral adjurations should be treated as binding on Christians today--a position that, I acknowledge you do not hold, and that is in fact far from Catholic. The school of thought I was criticising was a Bible-based school, which tends to be more protestant. Still, I think we could agree, one is too many. And Salem reminds us that persecution did happen, and was quite brutal.

4. Revelation is Still Unfolding

I understand the discomfort here. This difficult teaching does leave the door open for the Angel Moroni--and Xenu!--but it's there, along with Paul's confession of his own limited knowledge. So too is the teaching to beware false prophets and messiahs. This is why discernment is such a difficult charism to wield, and yet so critical.

Again, welcome. I'm glad you stopped by.