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Theological Studies and Editorial Independence

NCR has published a report and an editorial on the Jesuit-run journal Theological Studies being pressured to run an essay without peer review. In 2004, Kenneth Himes and James Coriden co-authored an essay in TS calling for the re-evaluation of the Church's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage on grounds of a deep disconnect between the Church's doctrine and its pastoral practice. The new essay, co-authored by Peter F. Ryan and Germain Grisez, forcefully rebuts that call. Nothing new so far--theology is a discipline whose practitioners disagree, sometimes profoundly. Most of us recognize that it is precisely in the engagement with those who disagree with us that our arguments are tested and honed. Theological discourse is a testing ground for ideas, a place where we feel free to launch new ways of thinking about the tradition, trusting our colleagues to help us identify powerful new vehicles of understanding, and to help us see which of the new vehicles are just theological Edsels. Of course, recognizing the integrity and value of positions we do not hold ourselves is also a basic virtue of teaching. Good teachers do not expect ovine obeisance from our students, but thoughtful engagement with ideas. It seems eminently appropriate for differing voices to be heard in TS. What's troubling here is the apparent imposition of an essay without peer review and the consent of the editor. TS editor David Schultenover, S.J., has not confirmed that he was forced to publish this piece, but NCR reports:

After years of mounting pressures, exchanges, and at least one rejected rebuttal submission written by Jesuit Fr. Peter F. Ryan, the Vatican finally mandated that Theological Studies publish -- unedited -- an essay coauthored by Ryan and theologian Germain Grisez titled Indissoluble Marriage: A Reply to Kenneth Himes and James Coriden.

On a good day, peer review helps to insure academic merit, not by imposing ideological criteria, but through the advice of other knowledgeable professionals in the area. It need not imply editorial approval or agreement with the author's thesis, but only that he or she finds the piece worth discussion. Peer review and editorial approval are especially helpful when scholars read outside their own area of expertise, for example when a scripture scholar reads an essay in systematics. I might not agree with the thesis of a particular piece, but it's helpful to know that other scholars in that area feel the ideas are worth a look.And peer review need not shut down diversity of opinion. One of the hallmarks of TS is its willingness to publish back-and-forth from authors in the name of ongoing dialogue, with peer review at each step. Indeed, Grisez' work has graced TS' pages many times, with peer review. One of the unfortunate effects of side-stepping peer review is the risk that doing so may diminish the reception of this work by scholars leery of the process for this essay. So what to do? This essay is published with a superscript that indicates that "except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received." I'd hope for a more explicit label for pieces that are published without peer review (at least for items normally subject to that process.) That fact may not be apparent to the reader, and is relevant to the reader's--especially the non-specialist reader's--approach to the text.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Fr. K. - Thank you for the response.I see nothing explicit or implied in "The proper response to the commands or laws of legitimate authority is obedience" to indicate that the properties of a particular law or command have, in your view, any bearing on the propriety of obedience as a specific response. I disagree based on observations of legitimate authorities in Church and State, in peace and war, and in military, science, and business. The legitimacy of the source does not ensure the legitimacy of individual pronouncements. Similarly on assent and teacher. As for assent, In some areas, wisdom based on experience leads to granting assent in degrees - maybe, probably, certainly (as far as we know at present), or equivalent. While, ideally, one's judgment to assent or not is based on weight of support presented for the matter and on foreseeable consequences of a possible error in the judgment, other influences act. Ann O raises a relevant example of the conflicted theologian at 9/2 8:22pm, although she stops short of the mental reservation option that he might have available as an escape. Resolving uncertainty is the challenge. Ignoring it leads to what I meant by "blind obedience", which leads to "It wasn't my fault. I just did what I was told."

"Resolving uncertainty is the challenge. Ignoring it leads to what I meant by blind obedience, which leads to It wasnt my fault. I just did what I was told."I agree that moral issues of obedience as well as issues of assent often revolve around questions of uncertainty. It's in cases such as this one, I think, that I think Charles Taylor's article in Crisis is so relevant to matters that *perhaps* require obedience -- or requiredisobedience. While the official Church does indeed possess general moral principles that are valid, the application of them to individual, contingent circumstances is in no case a matter of faith or morals. It follows that commands based on them are intrinsically iffy == never totally sure. I think the reason I have never been able to admire the special Jesuit vow of obedience to the pope is because the vow is a definite commitment to as yet undetermined, undescribed circumstances, circumstances which in reality could well imply that a command of a pope is a misapplication of a principle. In other words, how can you agree to something when you don't know what it is you're agreeing to? This is indeed blind obedience. But that's another thread, I suppose. Still, I suspect the issue of the special Jesuit vow *is* a factor in this dispute and no doubt was involved in Fr. Reese's troubles over at America. Complexity, complexity.

It wasnt my fault. I just did what I was told. is more properly replaced by It was my fault. I just did what I was told. I should not have trusted him.

Yes, those vows of obedience are baffling.Already in marriage vows, promising lifelong sexual fidelity is a pretty bold step. How can we make a commitment on behalf of our future self, decades into the future, when we (and our spouse) will change in unpredictable ways? In some ways that is preposterous. The Jesuit's vow of obedience is even more extreme: not only does it stretch decades into the future, but it also concerns some unknown successors to the current pope, and it is much broader than just fidelity. Both, I guess, are based on hope and on some foolish trust that those vows will turn out to be wise.

Mr. Barry: For St. Thomas Aquinas, a law was "an enactment of reason promulgated by someone responsible for a community." He also maintained that an unreasonable law was an act of violence. I took these views for granted when I wrote the sentence you cite. Clearly I shouldn't have. To be clear now: I do not favor blind obedience.As for assent, there will be degrees depending among other things on what trust one has in the person whose judgment is presented for your belief. And there is, of course, no guarantee here that one's trust will not be disappointed or betrayed. Unintelligent and unreasonable people tend to trust people they shouldn't and to distrust people they should. One of the problems with many Catholic presentations of the functioning of authority is that they seem to think that it works mechanically, that it does not require human and Christian authenticity not only in those subject to authority but also, and no less, in those who wield authority. There is no substitute for conversion, for virtue, in either group. Authority, whether sacred or secular, is not given in order to relieve us of the responsibility to be intelligent, reasonable, and responsible ourselves.

Ann O. - Parallels to science are limited in applicability. In science, truth is recognized as an ideal, a goal toward which people strive, and not a final product beyond examination, revision, or rejection. In practice, the "truths" du jour are re-examined to increase understanding and confidence in their validity and identify their limits. If this process were not routinely practiced long-term, we would still be trapped by concepts dependent on the strange notions of human biology that Aquinas adopted from Aristotle. It has been said of science that old ideas don't die out - the holders of them do - and that is how scientific intellectual paradigms change. Church authorities are selectively more reluctant to bury some old ones, notwithstanding their long history of having selectively done so. Science by its nature makes allowance for ignorance, error, and human imperfection in thinking in ways that the Church does not permit in certain areas, as the current TS discussion illustrates. (Peer review is one of the tools of the truth-seeking.)

Jack B. --Yes, science is intrinsically less than sure, and these days scientists talk about its assertions as more or less "probable". But the concept of probability itself is rather fuzzy, at least metaphysically speaking if not mathematically speaking. So what does it really mean to say that science is a matter of probability? And how shall we describe the assertions of faith -- dogma -- as probable, even less probable than scientific ones? I think not.This issue is, I think, part of that whole nebulous field of theological epistemology which, I insist, desperately needs to be charted much better than it has been. Certainty, probability, alternate explanations, the various sorts of evidence, semantic problems and problems of translation, the various sorts of competence, authority, limits of human knowledge, and some or the old topics such as judgment itself, all of these need to be worked on -- preferably by a giant of a mind. Sigh.

Fr. Komonchak - Recently nearby, you referred in passing to the distinction between political authority (the power to affect actions) and epistemic authority (the power to affect thought or belief). That and the corresponding obligations and both proper and improper options of those subject to the authority seem to me to be central to the ongoing discussion. Space precludes adequate amplification here. Is it addressed it elsewhere? Unrelated question. The Editor-in-Chief of Theological Studies aims to comply with Benedict XVI's call to "do theology 'on the frontiers' while necessarily remaining 'rooted in the center'". Vague geometric metaphors aside, how does a creative, thoughtful theologian starting work on a worthwhile question and not yet knowing her conclusions decide whether it is worth the effort since she may end up on the wrong side of the frontier as Himes and Coriden did in TS? http://www.ts.mu.edu/editorials/2010/12_2010.html

I think a conference that would be worth having would be how different fields deal with dissent. The idea that a law review cannot /should not publish articles criticizing a Supreme Court decision (arguably the "ordinary magisterium" of American law) is preposterous, for example.

Here is Newman's brilliant response to Mr. Barry's question:"It is the very law of the human mind in its inquiry after and acquisition of truth to make its advances by a process which consists of many stages and is circuitous. There are no short cuts to knowledge; nor does the road to it always lie in the direction in which it terminates, nor are we able to see the end on starting. It may often seem to be diverging from a goal into which it will soon run without effort, if we are but patient and resolute in following it out; and, as we are told in Ethics to gain the mean merely by receding from both extremes, so in scientific researches error may be said, without a paradox, to be in some instances the way to truth, and the only way. Moreover, it is not often the fortune of any one man to live through an investigation; the process is one of not only many stages, but of many minds. What one begins another finishes; and a true conclusion is at length worked out by the co-operation of independent schools and the perseverance of successive generations. This being the case, we are obliged, under circumstances, to bear for a while with what we feel to be error, in consideration of the truth in which it is eventually to issue."The analogy of locomotion is most pertinent here. No one can go straight up a mountain; no sailing vessel makes for its port without tacking. And so, applying the illustration, we can indeed, if we will, refuse to allow of investigation or research altogether; but, if we invite reason to take its place in our schools, we must let reason have fair and full play. We cannot use it by halves; we must use it as proceeding from Him who has also given us revelation; and to be ever interrupting its processes, and diverting its attention by objections brought from a higher knowledge, is parallel to a landsman's dismay at the changes in the course of a vessel on which he had deliberately embarked, and argues surely some distrust either in the powers of Reason on the one hand, or the certainty of Revealed Truth on the other. The passenger should not have embarked at all, if he did not reckon the chance of a rough sea, of currents, of wind and tide, of rocks and shoals; and we should act more wisely in discountenancing altogether the exercise of Reason than in being alarmed and impatient under the suspense, delay, and anxiety which, from the nature of the case, may be found to attach to it. Let us eschew secular history, and science, and philosophy for good and all, if we not allowed to be sure that Revelation is so true that the altercations and perplexities of human opinion cannot really or eventually injure its authority. That is no intellectual triumph of any truth of Religion, which has not been preceded by a full statement of what can be said against it."Do we know whether Himes and Coriden have been subject to any ecclesiastical discipline? The disciplinary actions, if I understand what has been stated here, affected the editors of TS, and have not gone beyond requiring them to publish a counter-argument to the Himes/Coriden piece.

" Let us eschew secular history, and science, and philosophy for good and all, if we not allowed to be sure that Revelation is so true that the altercations and perplexities of human opinion cannot really or eventually injure its authority."IF truth is a relationship of mind to what is, then the statement above prompts this question: whose mind is it that possesses the truth-relation to Revelation that Newman is referring to? In other words, who interprets rightly what Revelation says? Who is it who has the truth which cannot be overcome by arguments? Who is this religious authority and how do we recognize that authority when we find it?So we've ended up with still unanswered epistemological questions.

I don't see a reference to a "religious authority" in this particular text of Newman. It is revelation that is said to have authority, and I would say that revelation resides as true in those who believe it to be true, and who do so with a conviction that its truth cannot be overcome by arguments. Aquinas, for example, was convinced from the start that no argument could demonstrate anything that contradicted a truth of faith, and he was furious with those who thought that something could be true in philosophy (to which I suppose we might today add: in history, in science, etc.) and false in theology, or true in theology and false in philosophy.And would one really hold as true something that one believed could be overcome by arguments?

Newman *says* that there is Revelation and that it is known truly. My question is: by whom?? Wherein does Revelation lie truly? Given the arguments for and against different interpretations of. for example, Scripture, how does anyone know which of the interpretations is the true one, and that includes one's own interpretation?Sometimes I think the big theological problem is that on the one hand the Church teaches that faith is not a matter of proof and cannot of itself alone convince anyone of its truth -- it is not self-confirming, but on the other hand it teaches that the faith is the surest of knowledge because God guarantees it. But that begs the question -- it assumes that we know *through faith* that God guarantees the faith. It is similar to the belief of Protestants in the Bible -- they say they know thta it it is true because God says it is. Same begging of the question.

To understand the long quotation from Newman posted about four hours ago, it helps to know that it is from THE IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY, a lecture entitled "Christianity and Scientific Investigation," written for the School of Science, and immediately preceded by the following:"I am not, then, supposing the scientific investigator (1) to be coming into collision with dogma; nor (2) venturing, by means of his investigations, upon any interpretation of Scripture, or upon other conclusion in the matter of religion; nor (3) of his teaching, even in his own science, religious parodoxes, when he should be investigating and proposing; nor (4) of his recklessly scandalizing the weak; but, these explanations being made, I still say that a scientific speculator or inquirer is not bound, in conducting his researches, to be every moment adjusting his course by the maxims of the schools or by popular traditions, or by those of any other science distinct from his own, or to be ever narrowly watching what those external sciences have to say to him, or to be determined to be edifying, or to be ever answering heretics and unbelievers; being confident, from the impulse of a generous faith, that, however his line of investigation may swerve now and then, and vary to and fro in its course, or threaten momentary collision or embarrassment with any other department of knowledge, theological or not, yet, if he lets it alone, it will be sure to come home, because truth never can really be contrary to truth, and because often what at first sight is an 'exceptio,' in the event most emphatically 'probat regulam.'""This is a point of serious importance to him. Unless he is at liberty to investigate on the basis, and according to the peculiarities, of his science, he cannot investigate at all. . . ."

Newman eloquently answered no question of mine. I am aware of the process. Q: How does a creative, thoughtful Catholic theologian starting work on a worthwhile question and, not yet knowing her conclusions, decide whether it is worth the effort and potential for official criticism if she should end up on the wrong side of the frontier as Himes and Coriden apparently did in TS, 7 years ago? One individual, this year, not the global process over ages that Newman describes. Consequences of this little TS incident publicly affect the journal, editor, and 4 authors. A professional journal that can be required to print an article against its editorial judgment becomes suspect for its integrity. The editor is held responsible for what comes out. Two authors have become noteworthy and, next time they show up to publish, an editor may have cause to wonder on behalf of his journal who may be specially monitoring them for suspect publications. The other two, next time they show up to publish, will automatically raise the question of who may be behind them now pressuring publication, notwithstanding their prior reputations. I lack capability and motivation to unravel 94 pages of dense, footnoted journal. However, my wife, friends, neighbors, I, et al. have cause and right to get an honest, accurate understanding of the Church's present situation on the indissolubility of marriage. The imposition of the rebuttal after 7 years suggests something strange going on. If the situation was "No change. Business as usual.", that would have been useful. Why wasn't it?

JAK --I would say that Revelation is the supreme religious authority. But the meaning of "Revelation" with a capitol "R" needs clarification.I don't argue that the so-called "Two-Truths" theory. All truth must be consistent, or there is some problem somewhere.Yes, I think that Newman is right -- the acquisition of truth in science and any other discipline is a communal project, or, rather the *process by which it is reached* is communal. But I also have to admit that my use of "truth" just now is ambiguous. The ancients' distinctions between mental, verbal and ontological "truth" can help clarify matters, I think.Mental truth is the relationship between a mind and what is, verbal truth is a verbal expression of what a mind actually thinks is so), and ontological truth is what is so.So what does scientific "truth" mean? Well, it can mean true thoughts about what is which scientists have discovered/explained, verbal expressions about what scientists have discovered/explained, or the facts that the scientists have discovered/explained. It can also mean the sum total of all such truths established by scientists, and sometimes it even means all three sorts of things at once.And, hopefully, there are also mental, verbal, and ontological theological truths. The question then becomes; what kind of truth(s) does "Revelation" with a capital "R" refer to? Somebody's thoughts? Somebody's words/symbols? Or does it meanhe facts referred to by those thoughts and those words/symbols? I fear that Newman doesn't always make it clear which sort of truth he's referring to in the quotations above.At any rate, my original question in this context becomes: which thinker of true theologicall thoughts can be trusted to always reveal truth? I suspect that there is only one real theological authority: the Holy Spirit, and it's hard to know, just what He is trying to tell us

Prof. Grisez --Thanks for the Newman quotation. He certainly showed an appreciation of the scientiifc project. But although theology theology also is a communal project and proceeds by fits and starts, so to speak, Catholic theology (at least the theology(ies) of the popes and bishops) have a very different object, and some of the popes/bishops have made different sorts of claims for it.First, science is general knowledge, concerned with (hopefully) necessary relations among all things of one kind. Theology is concerned with contingent, singular events.Second, science proceeds by observation and experimentation. Theology does include some initial observation (the witnessing of the early Christians) but it is experimental only an analogous sense, if that.Still, the popes and bishops (at least some of them) make claims of which they are supremely certain -- even though they admit that belief is not something that can be proven. So what guarantees, or even just supports, the claims of the theologians/popes/bishops/faithful?Most particularly, how do the faithful find the religious authority(ies) they crave without begging the question I pointed out above? How to sift out the (ontological) truths presented in conflicting (verbal) claims from (authoritative) claimants?I'll say it yet again: we need a new Aquinas to develop a theological epistemology to answer these the epistemic challenges that are plaguing the Church..

Ann:I agree that much work is needed to clarify how believers in Jesus are to identify the truths they are to believe. The first question that needs to be answered is: Where is the entire divine revelation that was completed in and by Jesus? I think that the answer is: The whole of that revelation exists in the faith of the Church.That answer, of course, needs to be defended and clarified. That, however, is not a task that I discern to be mine. I still have other work to do.Not only what belongs to divine revelation but what is absolutely indispensable to explain and defend it is--unlike any merely human knowledge--sacred and inviolable. Theology should be thought about divine revelation. Insofar as such thought clarifies what is sacred and inviolable, its results are sacred and inviolable. But insofar as such thought results in other propositions, which are only more or less likely to be true, theology necessarily develops as human inquiry in general develops. (Of course, the general conditions of inquiry always need to be adapted to the subject matter being investigated.)I have three thoughts about theology's development with respect to what does not pertain to faith. (1) A great deal of it has been handed on and is received by many believers with undue deference. (2) Popes and bishops propose some--and sometimes propose too many--propositions that do not pertain to faith for acceptance by the faithful, and it is here that there is a need for religious assent that is not the assent of faith, and so also here that there is a possibility of reasonable dissent. (3) Theologians whose minds are conformed to this world regularly propose propositions for acceptance by other believers that at least implicit contradict truths that are sacred and inviolable, and in doing so claim the authority of their expertise and/or the consensus of like-thinking theologians in an attempt to legitimate their views.

Mr. Barry: Your question is: "How does a creative, thoughtful Catholic theologian starting work on a worthwhile question and, not yet knowing her conclusions, decide whether it is worth the effort and potential for official criticism if she should end up on the wrong side of the frontier as Himes and Coriden apparently did in TS, 7 years ago?"I suppose she decides this in terms of her sense of the importance of the question, of her personal scholarly aims, her competence, her willingness to risk official criticism, and many other elements that would enter into this existential decision. Newman himself postponed work on his Grammar of Assent for many years, even decades, because he knew that it would likely be misunderstood in Rome, as indeed proved to be the case to the point that well into the 20th century he was regarded by some as a Modernist. Some scholars will shrink from a fight; others seem to enjoy it. But certainly the Church does not benefit if scholars are frightened into silence on important issues. Newman's great statement of principle is often quoted, that the believer "is sure, and nothing shall make him doubt, that, if anything seems to be proved by astronomer, or geologist, or chronologist, or antiquarian, or ethnologist, in contradiction to the dogmas of faith, that point will eventually turn out, first, not to be proved, or, secondly, not contradictory, or thirdly, not contradictory to any thing really revealed, but to something which has been confused with revelation." Perhaps less often noted are the principles that will guide the representative of the "imperial intellect" in his investigations: "If he has one cardinal maxim in his philosophy, it is, that truth cannot be contrary to truth; if he has a second, it is, that truth often seems contrary to truth; and, if a third, it is the practical conclusion, that we must be patient with such appearances, and not be hasty to pronounce them to be really of a more formidable character." That plea for patience is very important, I think, and it involves both the assessment of the scientific or historical claim and the evaluation of the claim to dogmatic authority. Free inquiry and conversation will hasten the clarification needed on both sides.

Ann: Only God can neither deceive nor be deceived, and this wisdom and righteousness is what the First Vatican Council meant as the authority of God on which the act of faith rests. That Council, which is often unjustly accused of hyper-rationalism, followed the tradition in maintaining that divine revelation was absolutely necessary for truths that are either utterly supernatural (e.g., the Trinity) or state things that depend solely on the divine will (e.g., that the world had a beginning in time). Revelation is morally necessary for truths that of themselves could be known by simple human reason but because of human weakness and sin would be likely to be known only by a few, only after long effort, and only with much error mixed in (this last paraphrases Aquinas' argument) (e.g., the existence of God, the immateriality and immortality of the soul). No purely rational proofs can demonstrate the first category of truths, and in all cases the act of faith is impossible without the light and grace of God.By the way in the modern era theologians worked on what was called the analysis fidei, an analysis of the concrete way in which people come to believe. Some of these analyses were over-rationalistic [all the proofs were "objective"]; others followed Newman in giving attention to the subjective elements involved. Newman's great effort, of course, was to show how it was not unreasonable for the unlearned to believe.But another element you mention has been relatively neglected: what might be meant by the "assistance of the Holy Spirit" which is said to be promised to Church leaders in their teaching role. If, as everyone agrees, this "assistance" is not the same thing as divine revelation (we aren't to follow the pope because Jesus talked to him last night) nor the same thing as biblical inspiration, then what is it? Is it, as some have maintained, merely negative (the Spirit would not allow pope and bishops to lead the whole Church into error) or is it something positive? If so, what is it? And what is the relationship between it and scholarly inquiry? What virtues does it entail? Etc., etc.

"The first question that needs to be answered is: Where is the entire divine revelation that was completed in and by Jesus? I think that the answer is: The whole of that revelation exists in the faith of the Church."PRof. Grisez --It seems to me that "divine revelation" is ambiguous -- it can mean the symbols which reveal (e.g., the Bible), the thoughts accompanying those symbols, and the referents of those symbols and thoughts, i.e., that is the actually realities to which the symbols and thoughts refer.When you say "The whole of that revelation exists in the faith of the Church", the question becomes: "revelation" in which sense exists in the faith of the Church? If you mean the symbols themselves, then they do not exist in the faith of the Church but are independent of the faith of the Church. If you mean the thoughts, i.e., the direct meanings of those symbols, which are attached to those symbols, then we must ask: whose thoughts? Surely not all Christians understand all of the thoughts accompanying the symbols, and certainly not all understand them without contradiction.So the problem is to find whose thoughts we're talking about. ISTM that the thoughts which those symbols express are first, foremost and completely only the thoughts of God Himself. No one and no group of people have all the meanings intended by those symbols. If that were true, then there would be no development of doctrine. Yes, there is a sense in which *most*t of the Church is a repository of the meanings of the symbols (e.g., those who assent to the Creeds), but even among those who accept the Creeds, there are some which thoughts about the Creeds which are false. And we are left looking for criteria to distinguished the true meanings of the Creeds from the false. In other words, there really haven't been any universal understandings of the meanings of the Creeds (much less the Bible, etc.)Enter the question of the authority of some to interpret and/or teach what those symbols mean. (Note: to interpret and to teach are not necessarily the same thing.) I believe that Christ did indeed found an apostolic Church, meaning, among other things that the popes/bishops have a special charism to teach the meanings of the sacred symbols as best they can, OR, I would say, they have the authority (power to warrant) that certain interpretations of those symbols are what they (the bishops) think are the best interpretations of the meanings of the symbols, at least the best interpretations of the symbols so far. Now the very knotty problem of the meaning of "hierarchical authority" rears its difficult and sometimes ugly head. Entangled in that knot are threads concerning the power(s) of the bishops to interpret/teach/explain Revelation, powers which (as best I can make out), are the grounds of their authority: it is because they have special powers (graces) that we ought to trust their thoughts about Revelation. I think so. But how do they come by these graces (beyond their ordinations) and how are these powers to be exercized? And what are their limitations? Further, to what are those powers directed? Interpreting Sacred Scripture and Tradition? If their function is only to teach, where do the interpretations come from ? The theologians? Other bishops? The people of God?????And still further, how do the bishops themselves distinguish those powers -- those actions of grace within their own souls -- from their other inclinations that are not Heaven sent? (Lordy, Lordy, that's a really BIG question.) In other words: how do *bishops* know they aren't making mistakes? Not to mention the question we Faithful must ask: how do *we* know the bishops aren't making mistakes?So far as I know, no bishop claims that their charism protects them from error in their interpretations and teachings. ( Indeed, popes regularly excommunicate bishops whom they say are in error.) But the epistemological question is not answered for all that. We still don't have any fail-safe method to distinguish the bishops who are right from the bishops who are occasionally wrong.My brain is worn out, so I'll quit here :-)

At the beginning of this thread I mentioned external pressure applied to climate science journals. BBC: "The editor of a science journal has resigned after admitting that a recent paper casting doubt on man-made climate change should not have been published. The paper, by US scientists Roy Spencer and William Braswell, claimed that computer models of climate inflated projections of temperature increase. It was seized on by "sceptic" bloggers, but attacked by mainstream scientists. Wolfgang Wagner, editor of Remote Sensing journal, says he agrees with their criticisms and is stepping down."It's a different situation -- a marginally relevant journal, incomplete bibliographical references, unwisely chosen incompetent reviewers and, as a result, faulty decision by editor -- but it leads to a relevant discussion on peer review. http://moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com/2011/09/peer-review-and-wagner-r... and http://moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com/2008/07/peer-review.htmlThey have a funny nugget: "It's peer review, not God review"! Very apt!!The hero there is not Newman but Feynman, and here is what they quote from him: "We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science. "

Claire --No doubt Feynman was talking about the same sort of self-deceptive inclinations that I was thinking of when I asked: how do the bishops themselves distinguish those powers those actions of grace within their own souls from their other inclinations that are not Heaven sent?Unless one holds that the bishops are somehow divinized by their teaching authority, I don't see how we can avoid being skeptical of their claims to always be right in certain circumstances (.i.e., their claims to infallibility at times).

We still dont have any fail-safe method to distinguish the bishops who are right from the bishops who are occasionally wrong.Ann,Isn't that what faith is? We are not certain, and are skeptical of individual assertions or even everything from a bishops, but we trust them and the God who placed them in their positions. This is a heavy responsibility to place on a person, and I am surprised anyone accepts the job, since it better for a millstone to be placed around their neck and they be thrown into the sea than for him to mislead God's children.That is probably why the gift of office is to teach, sanctify and govern, not simply to teach. These not entirely separable things, so that one governs by teaching and sanctifying etc. So teaching should not be torn out of the context of sanctifying, but must be understood as embodying the unpredictable Holy Spirit. Laws, eg a way of determining truth that does not rest on the Spirit, are notoriously susceptible to distortion and misapplication.NB saying "the whole revelation exists in the faith of the Church" does not mean it, or the understanding of it, exists within every individual. Or in any individual. It means collectively as in 1 Cor 12, where the members of the Church are compared to the members of a body. A brain is not the whole body, but the body is not whole without a brain. Revelation is entrusted to the whole Church like the human form is entrusted to a body, with interdependence rather than independence.

"Isnt that what faith is? We are not certain, and are skeptical of individual assertions or even everything from a bishops, but we trust them and the God who placed them in their positions."Well, we used to trust them. Now we know that some bishops lie easily enough, and other bishops let them get away with it easily enough. So, no, faith is not trust in bishops, it is trust in God.Neither did God ever tell us to trust in them as we trust in HIm. In fact, in Scripture we find Jesus calling the very first pope "Satan". So, no trust in the bishops is not faith."That is probably why the gift of office is to teach, sanctify and govern, not simply to teach." Yes, those are their specific functions (though not exclusive to them). And though it is undoubtedly more efficient to have all charisms in the same persons, it also allows for even greater mischief to be done by one person. We have no reason to trust that they will indeed support sanctity nor govern fairly and well. Not only graven images can be idollized.My problem with the whole truth of Revelation residing in the faithful as you put it is that you seem to think that the faithful even collectively have the *whole* truth. History shows this isn't true. At least if you grant that there is development of doctrine, it is obviously not true that all of Revelation is present whole and entire at all times in the Church. If it were, the theologians, including the bishops, could just go read the old theology books.

Ann: You wrote: "We still dont have any fail-safe method to distinguish the bishops who are right from the bishops who are occasionally wrong."First, I suspect that all bishops are occasionally wrong. Second, what would a "fail-safe method" be like? As "objective" as a yardstick that we can use to measure the length of a piece of wood? Some method that doesn't require the use of their intelligence, reason, and responsibility by limited and sinful human beings? There are no "fail-safe methods" in any area, not in the interpretation of the Bible, not in the assessment of the tradition, not in the reception of magisterial pronouncements. That notion of an objective "fail-safe" method is a myth.

JAK --I think that absolutely speaking there is precious little that is certain, and it's going to stay that way, though I would grant that there are certain simple truths that are accessible to us (e..g, a small thing is not larger than a large one), and we can know that we are now perceiving certain sensory data), but beyond those few there is no complete certainty. A fail-safe method would make all mistakes impossible, and there ain't no such animal, and, true, probably all bishops make theological mistakes.But speaking within the frame of common sense, there are some ways of sifting out many sorts of truth (reason being the primary one) that only a mad person would reject. Further, there are certain propositions which are, I would say, reasonable to accept rather than reject e.g., that man did go to the moon. But even with regard to these, there is still the possibility of error. (I wouldn't call them "more probable" than there opposites, but that's a different kettle of worms we can ignore.)Which brings us to the problem at hand: the magisterium of the Church, and how to discover when theologian is thinking what God knows to be true. As I've argued in other threads, the notion of infallibility in human beings is untenable. But, speaking within the common sense frame, it is reasonable to think that some theological views have more evidence in their favor than others, and some views are so obviously part of fundamental assumptions of Christianity that we'd be crazy not to adopt them (e.g., the Creeds). It is at this point we have to ask: if there are differing views about a subject within the Church how do we proceed to discover which of the views is the more reasonable one, the one more likely to be true? It is here that I think it is possible to use certain methods of discovery (e.g., reason, historical methods of gathering evidence, linguistic principles, psychology, etc.) which will likely take us closer to what are the true meanings of God's Revelation (the symbols, that is). These methods, and their philosophical grounding, would make up the specifics of the theological epistemology that we need so badly. Granted, the methods even when taken as a whole and as correcting each other, are not fail-safe. But it would be reasonable to try to systematize them so as to reach some agreement about how to proceed on the paths leading to Truth.

Ann,You have misunderstood some of what I have said, and I am not sure how to convey it properly. Faith entails trusting without certainty. Your active distrust of bishops is based on certainty; is in no way universal in the Church; but is a component of the uncertainty that elicits faith. It serves as a foundation for faith but also challenges it. Many have walked, or drifted, away from that challenge. Others ignore it. Some deny it. Simply, it is not simple.The old theology books do not contain Revelation. The only book that comes close is the Bible. Interpretation intervenes in either case. V2's Dei Verbum, on Revelation, defined Tradition: "what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes." It is not just the old theology books, which are a small part of "teaching" but also the Church's life and worship that carries the faith. That is why we can speak of Revelation ending with the last of the Apostles, and yet still understand doctrine as developing.

Ann: My objection was to your term "fail-safe". I'm glad to see you agree. Elements of your desired theological epistemology, of course, have been elaborated for centuries, even millennia--think of Vincent of Lerins. Fr. Congar wrote a very lengthy article for the Dictionaire de Thologie Catholique that was mostly devoted to the idea of theology, its methods, etc. over the history of the Church. It was long enough to make a whole book when translated into English. What is lacking is something similar for the idea of the teaching office, although he also did two preliminary articles on that.

JAK --I'm sure a very great deal has been done in the relevant disciplines, but what we need is the systematization of the findings. What we especially need are not just principles of judging theological matters (ranging all the way from hermeneutic ones relating to Scripture to psychological ones relating to the very nature of being human) but also principles which *prioritize* which principles should obtain when there is a conflict of principles. For example, in the case at issue, does the Vatican have a right to demand that TS publish a rebuttal? To say Yes seems to infringe on the independence of theologians. To say No is the infring upon the duties of the Vatican that all sides should be heard even if it takes some muscle from them.True, I'm asking for principles of prudential judgment which sounds like a contradiction in terms. But I dare say there are some such principles of *guidance* if not principles that obtain in every case. By the way, I think that the nature of "prudence" also needs a huge amount of attention from the philosopher/theologians. Like so many lingering philosophical problems it is concerned with *contingent* values, and so the topic is not entirely amenable to scientific thinking. Ethical judgments have to be a matter of *both* scientific knowledge and shall we say some sort of *art* of reaching fair conclusions not wholly based on what is necessary. Aquinas recognized this, but he didn't get very far with it, unfortunately.

P. S. What I just said doesn't even touch on the ordinary epistemological matters that ground *all* knowledge. As you might have gathered, I think the official theologians have officially ignored the most severe epistemological problems going all the way back since Hume. (See the Index of Forbidden Books.) Any new theological epistemology would have to include metaphysical and epistemic grounds of knowledge in general as well as considering the nature of religious intuitions of various sorts. The latter is a particularly knotty area, but I think that the new neurosciences could be a help in clarifying just what is natural knowledge and what is supernatural (to use an old, unpopular term). Much has been done in the philosophy of the self in recent years, and some of it could also be of help in analysing religious experience. OK, so I"m asking for a new Aquinas. No surprise there.

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