Some Remarks on the “Obscurity of Scripture”

Full disclosure: I’m not trying to support the Protestant use of the “perspicuity” of Scripture here. I’ve written books, given talks, hosted podcasts, given interviews, and authored many blog articles that explain why I don’t think Protestantism is persuasive to me. However, I think some additional things need to be said and/or recognized by us Catholics who are of the mindset that Protestants are just simply in a debilitating situation, epistemically speaking, because of the dreaded thing we consistently call “private judgment” and all their divisions.

Often enough, and this interview between Trent Horn and Casey Chalk is one instance, Catholics will try to say that the Catholic “paradigm” of authority has the remedy for this debilitating epistemic paradigm in the Catholic magisterium. When I get this impression, I get the urge to say something that doesn’t always get said in this discussion on our side of the line.

Some of my readers will remember a slightly controversial post that I made back in 12/20/22 (it will be linked in the first comment), and if you have not read it, I recommend checking it out. In that post, I explain with a basic mock Q&A why it is that Catholics can sometimes overplay the authority card as if it is something to severely contrast ourselves from everyone else. There is, of course, truth to this, but it can often be presented in a way that obscures the unwanted (by the Catholic) similarities between Catholics and Protestants at a basic epistemological level. Too often this gets missed in the self-congratulatory presence of the online Catholic echo chamber, until you get a knowledgeable Orthodox or Protestant who has specialized in historical theology comes into the room (cough, Dr. Gary Jenkins, cough, Dr. Gavin Ortlund) and you have to actually speak with them back and forth (and not just some online chat where you can leave).

I’ll have to wait until I can read Chalk’s book to give a review on it, but I still wanted to document some of my thoughts based on this interview in hopes that the book addresses these things. I also do not think Horn or Chalk would take anything I’m saying here by surprise. I don’t think for a minute they haven’t thought about this. Nevertheless, what I’m about to say gets curiously forgotten in the foray of “Yeah those Protestants can’t ever figure out what to agree on, let alone defend the perspicuity of Scripture.”

Might it be said that if Protestants suffer in their attempts to defend the perspicuity of Scripture because the practical consequence of sola scriptura is, ironically, a tyranny of obscurity and diverse human opinion, the Catholic, in contrast, avoids this suffering because the complex of the Catholic Magisterium yields a kingdom of clarity?

This thing might be possibly conceivable 100 years ago, but especially since the 2nd Vatican Council, there has been no end of scholarly efforts to show that the “hermeneutic of continuity” actually has a basis. Dignitatis Humanae (State is stripped of coercive action in matters of religion), Nostra Aetate (no more turn or burn), Lumen Gentium (atheists can be saved and whatever else), and many other documents led to many more dubia and more dubia which required assemblies of theologians (not least the CDF) to issue documents “clarifying” this or that. The recent revision on the death penalty, amoris laetitia, and the inter-faith meetings (bordering on indifferentism and religious pluralism), continuously surprising levels of unforeseen ecumenism, and many more things have Catholic apologists running like energizer bunnies with hours upon hours of “nuance” to prove continuity.

Oh, I don’t think the mere fact of magisterial documents being “unclear” to everyone is a debilitating issue. Please, don’t go there. I am well aware of this feature, if it is not a less intense symptom, going back to the Council of Nicaea (325). Horn, at the end of the audio, even brought up this oft-made rebuttal from Protestants (i.e., “Catholics have the obscurity of magisterial documents to deal with and so they are in the same boat”). As always, the answer to this is that the clear, tangible, visible, and sensible magisterial office that is permanently stationed in the episcopate surrounding the Petrine throne has the potential to make things more and more clear until things are undeniably clear, unless someone has a defect which can’t otherwise be remedied.

But it is not just the obscurity of magisterial documents that Protestants find obscure, you see. Protestants also find obscure the very basis upon which it is thought that there exists this visible, clear, tangible, and easily sensible machinery called the magisterium to do precisely what it claims to do. You can’t just make a claim to this kind of machinery as if that alone upgrades our epistemology! You have to make it credible or show it to be credible. And not just that, but compelling! And if there is anything I’ve learned in my 10 years of going deep into the defense of Catholicism, it is that there has always been far more difficulty than I originally thought there was to make a nice clean case… one that leaves all opponents instantly decapitated. We can get there, but not without a mountain climb.

In the first place, you need this machinery to be consistent with itself. That’s number one. Protestants, both in the 16th century and today, have always made it a point to apologize for their non-adherence to this appeal to magisterial machinery by their claim that this supposed machinery doesn’t live up to its claim by the “presence” of discontinuity and contradiction.

I said above that perhaps 100 years ago the Catholic magisterium could boast of an easy demonstration of her consistency, but not since then. But I said, “might be possibly conceivable.” Even before 100 years ago, you had a number of controversies come up whose intellectual puzzles still cannot be said to have been “resolved.” We could survey some of these throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, but I’m more looking at the pink elephant of the Council of Constance (1414) and its decree Haec Sancta. While this problem has been dwarfed by internet apologists, real historians and theologians have made it clear that this is still a monster to face, let alone the fact that we’ve had no magisterial “clarification” on the matter. Close in proximity is the matter of what to do in the case of a heretical Pope? Catholic apologists all have different answers, but they might funnel down to what Bellarmine, Suarez, Cajetan, John of St Thomas, and others have to say. Ever wonder why there is still no resolution to this Rubix cube? It is not simply because the magisterium “hasn’t gotten around to it.” That is for sure.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Eastern Churches, the whole array from Byzantine-Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, to the Assyrian Church of the East (add what you may), who themselves have a claim to apostolic succession, oral tradition, the sacramental constitution, the priesthood, etc., etc. One will have to get deep into the study of these controversies going back to the 5th century, a time when Christendom (here I follow Philip Jenkins’ “The Lost History of Christianity” and “The Jesus Wars”) was just as divided as 16th century religious Europe was, and then perhaps they can begin to say that the Roman narrative is perspicuously correct. In fact, Eastern Orthodox theologians and academics (Khomyakov, Kireevsky, Sobornost thinkers, and its enduring legacy) have also criticized the “Roman magisterium” as a construction foreign to its own understanding of sacred tradition. No one is going to accuse these thinkers of being adherent to sola scriptura.

I won’t venture to get into every past controversy where not only are the magisterial resolutions themselves difficult to follow (in terms of coherence), but the presence of these puzzles affect directly whether the magisterium itself, as an entity, is a perspicuous fact for Christian doctrine. To the degree, then, that the case for magisterium is itself perspicuous, it is to that degree that a Catholic earns the right to terrorize the Protestant because the doctrine of sola scriptura leads to the tyranny of obscurity on “essential doctrines.” If we can’t make a perspicuous demonstration of the continuity and coherence of the magisterium itself, especially on those points where its very being is persuasively demonstrated, let alone its documentary output, then I’m afraid the attempt to prove the “obscurity” of Scripture as a way to highlight the need for a supremely authoritative interpreter only makes a full circle right back into the same problem that is being described by the protagonist. And if we are making a full circle over and over, might we cease spending so much time on the “epistemological advantage” of Catholicism and get into the meat of the arguments from the best of both sides?

Long Overdue, Preliminary Thoughts on Traditionis Custodes

π΅π‘’π‘π‘Žπ‘’π‘ π‘’ π‘œπ‘“ π‘ π‘œ π‘šπ‘Žπ‘›π‘¦ π‘π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘—π‘’π‘π‘‘π‘  π‘‘β„Žπ‘Žπ‘‘ 𝐼 π‘π‘œπ‘’π‘™π‘‘ π‘›π‘œπ‘‘ 𝑔𝑒𝑑 π‘‘π‘œ π‘‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘–π‘›π‘” 2020-2022, 𝐼 π‘€π‘Žπ‘  π‘›π‘œπ‘‘ π‘Žπ‘π‘™π‘’ π‘‘π‘œ π‘π‘œπ‘šπ‘šπ‘’π‘›π‘‘ π‘ π‘π‘’π‘π‘–π‘“π‘–π‘π‘Žπ‘™π‘™π‘¦ π‘œπ‘› π‘‡π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘›π‘–π‘  πΆπ‘’π‘ π‘‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘’π‘ . 𝐼 β„Žπ‘Žπ‘£π‘’ π‘“π‘œπ‘’π‘›π‘‘ π‘ π‘œπ‘šπ‘’ π‘π‘œπ‘π‘˜π‘’π‘‘π‘  π‘œπ‘“ π‘‘π‘–π‘šπ‘’ π‘‘π‘œ π‘π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘‘π‘’π‘π‘’ π‘šπ‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘’ π‘π‘œπ‘šπ‘šπ‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘¦ π‘™π‘Žπ‘‘π‘’π‘™π‘¦, π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘ π‘œ π‘‘π‘œ π‘ β„Žπ‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘’ π‘ π‘œπ‘šπ‘’ π‘π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘™π‘–π‘šπ‘–π‘›π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘¦ π‘‘β„Žπ‘œπ‘’π‘”β„Žπ‘‘π‘  (π‘Žπ‘  π‘‘β„Žπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘’ 𝑖𝑠 π‘ π‘œ π‘šπ‘’π‘β„Ž π‘‘π‘œ π‘ π‘π‘’π‘Žπ‘˜ π‘Žπ‘π‘œπ‘’π‘‘ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘’π‘›π‘”π‘Žπ‘”π‘’ π‘€π‘–π‘‘β„Ž) π‘œπ‘› π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘π‘’π‘›π‘‘ π‘ π‘’π‘π‘π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘ π‘ π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘œπ‘“ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ πΏπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘› π‘€π‘Žπ‘ π‘ , 𝐼 𝑔𝑖𝑣𝑒 π‘¦π‘œπ‘’ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘π‘’π‘™π‘œπ‘€:

The bare fact of forcing the Roman Missal of 1962 (aka TLM in use prior to the Novus Ordo) practically out of use is not something that I’m happy about. I have no dogmatic attachment to it, and I’ve made it clear that I am in support of reforms to it (some of them were attempted in the Missal of Paul VI). With that said, I must add that the current context wherein the Missal of 1962 is being suppressed as a matter of Papal law for the Roman rite gives enough clarity with which to deem the act reprehensible and disgusting. There are many reasons why.

In the first place, the 1962 Missal has been confirmed as part of the wood of the Catholic faith and should be given the liberty to flourish especially where it serves the good of the faithful in their pursuit of salvation. Taking from this, the liturgical praxis of the Roman rite with the usage of the Missal of Paul VI has, together with a combination of other things, been for the greater harm of the Church by certain means which are alien to itself.

What “other things”? The loss of orthodoxy, reverence towards God, solemnity of worship, and passionate evangelization (ironically, given Vatican II). There was also concurrent the active feminization of Catholic discipline (it wasn’t anywhere near perfect pre-V2) together with the practical (untheoretical) religious pluralism and indifference that resulted from a disordered enthusiasm for “other religions.” Unfortunately, the Missal of Paul VI was sown together with these combinations, and it is terribly difficult to see the Novus Ordo in its beautiful isolation. Though, a liturgical discipline doesn’t exist in isolation. Its inception was also combined with other elements, as they always are. Perhaps the “reverent” Novus Ordo that exists in some places (very rare) could eventually achieve the status of universality, but there is no evidence of that.

Though alien to the Missal itself, the combination of these things sown together with the Novus Ordo has caused many Catholics, especially the young men with families and the world of converts (both old and young), to be starving and thirsty for some strong branch of Catholicism upon which to establish a foundation for their familial walk with Christ as they seek to achieve heavenly glory. They don’t want to be entertained and treated like children who, metaphorically speaking, show their honor for Christ with spiritual version of crayons and finger paint. They want ardor, devotion, sacrifice, voluntary pain, and a sober participation in the cross-carrying life that Jesus demanded from the greatest and the least of His disciples. Consequently, these thirsty and starving Catholics, like a deer panting in the wild for the lack of water, have all rushed to the active celebration of the Mass in the TLM. We are past the point of needing proof of this.

Therefore, the nixing of the TLM puzzles the rational mind more than anything. We are told, and I’ve said, that there has been a schismatic mentality developing in the TLM world which, even if they aren’t aware of the consequences of many of their ideas, breeds evil in the minds and hearts of traditional Catholics. I haven’t seen this as the norm, but even if it were, I find that taking just 30 minutes to educate a trad on some points here and there quickly fixes some of their misunderstandings and alters the bad trajectories. But even if the presence of such a trend were to be significant enough to warrant the attention of the spiritual watchtower of the Vatican, the proposed solution of nixing the TLM still puzzles the mind. Why?

If one has been following what I’ve been saying, there is a much bigger pink elephant in the room that is being ignored in this violent suppression of the TLM, and that is the combination of factors that were sown together with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo. Instead of building an army against the TLM, an army should have been made for dealing with that problem first and foremost.

“Oh, but Erick. You don’t get it. The trads have now not just become reactionaries to the ‘liberal’ Novus Ordo’s. They have sought to prove that Church history, liturgical law, and a new sense of limiting the power of the magisterium grounds their opposition to the reforms of Paul VI!! Therefore, it has now become a internal battle over essential pillars of the Church itself! Thus, even a reverent Novus Ordo done in such a way that makes it nearly indistinguishable from the TLM (at least for novice eyes/ears) is still illegal!”

I get that. Such a phenomenon is unhelpful. However, I still don’t see this as the overwhelming majority of those who have wedded themselves to the TLM. It seems to be a smaller community within. But even so, let’s go ahead and grant this. Would it not have been better to attack the root of such misunderstandings, knowing that the root is the place that not only produced but keeps producing harm to the masses? I think this is obvious. Then, concurrent with this, you can then propose a way to confront those Catholics who have developed these robust “arguments” against the Church.

In fact, I think if Rome took 20 years, beginning full force at the get go, of cracking down on the psuedo orthodoxy, banality, irreverence, and feminization that has taken place and still takes place in the ordinary use of the Roman rite, such that immediate laws were instilled to prevent careless attacks against the faith (via practical lukewarmness), many of the TLM’ers would be able to salute the Pope and the hierarchy for making a due effort. Perhaps then the congregations and dicasteries of the Vatican would have some credibility in their forthright corrections to the radtrad myths on Church authority and whatever else (the recent statements of Bishop Athanasius Schneider are a case-in-point).

And here I don’t just mean general solutions being recommended. I mean enforced libelli which makes the commitment of every bishop, priest, and deacon a public vow to obey Christ and His Church, similar to the public subscription to the Syllabus of Errors, only this time with a long-lasting and keen monitor on implementation. If the Church has been at the inception of a mess (1960’s and following), or rather making a bigger mess from the already existing mess (1960’s and prior), it can afford the work at recuperating from it. I think this, while also giving a balanced support for the TLM to flourish where it is requested, would have gone a much longer way in gaining the hearts of the growing community of traditionalists (which aren’t very large anyway, and probably won’t be for a very long time).

But I am under no allusions. I know the latter won’t happen. And guess what? It is largely because the current administrations in Rome are still under the effects of the combinations that I described above in the first place! LOL. So, what we really have here is leadership that is formed and accepting of the problems that came with the breeze sent through the world in the 20th century by the prince of the powers of the air attempting to try and fix the problem that I have specifically outlined above. Aside from this, it is also just nearly impossible to instill worldwide reforms. But it is possible. Heck, it happens with the Novus Ordo and post-Vatican II Catholicism.

The crackdown on traditionalists from Rome also shows a curious method of parenting. There is this passionate desire to cleanse out from the Church the “schismatic” mentality of the trads as if the already existing structures (themselves alien to the Church’s official decrees) have not been combined with their own unhealthy doses of poison against the Catholic faith. And the solution is to outlaw and discipline the traditionalists. Maybe it is because I’m a Father and I have to deal with teen discipline, but harsh discipline that kills the life of your teen and leaves him without a wing is never a way to create an environment of reform. And if I were to do something like this while also giving mere “advice” to other teens in my house who were doing things equally worse as the one I punished, this would be something to be ashamed of as a Father.

Again, reprehensible and disgusting are the words that describe my feelings. And what comes close to this is seeing well-meaning Catholics trying to talk their fellow Catholics off the ledge towards leaving the Church by magnifying the “irrationality” of the traditionalists (of which I’ve commented on before), emphasizing the tiny good that can be, with a magnifying glass, seen coming from hierarchy, while then either ignoring or belittling the greater mistakes and destructive acts that come from Rome, ascertaining them as less harmful than schism/heresy in light of its being “mere imprudence.” This shows no respect for the sensitive nature of the human soul, and it attempts to use legal technicalities as a way to blind people from seeing a genuine problem that cannot be overlooked. If it was ever said that the “road to hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lampposts that light the path,” it can also be said that the road to hell is paved with imprudence.

Lastly, since I am often criticized for not providing ready-made solutions with which people can be motivated to move forward from a set of paralyzing set of news, I recommend people to be very patient with any big decisions. If you work in the fields such as medicine, engineering, or finance (et. al.), you know that a crisis is not fixed by quick and easy reactions. Its the same in the spiritual life. It is important to keep the basics still in place. You have to continue to be holy, lest you be found unworthy when the Master returns at the hour you do not expect. That’s first. Though, people often need motivation even for this. One might gain a sense of stability by looking at alternatives to Catholicism. I encourage people to do that, depending on the stature of one’s faith. If one is confident in Catholicism, then being reassured that there is no place to go where one can evacuate having to give the same excuses for sticking around can often help in that it shows there is no need to be hasty with what you are to do. A decision that comes from a patient, calm, prayerful, educated, and anxiety-free disposition will always be better than one which comes from the opposites. Meanwhile, you can focus your time learning something deeply. For me, I benefit from Scripture studies and reading biographies of men and woman who lived through times that they thought were impossible to get through. Even if you must suffer in ways you can’t describe to others, you can find relief knowing that you have company in the vast history of the human family.