October 2, 2009

natural reason and revelation

Out of my comments to the last post:

The problem of natural reason and revelation is certainly not new to Orthodoxy, and it is not a problem that is going to go away. Just this evening I had to disagree with a fellow parishioner who asserted that the Latins were the sole cause of atheism. There's a lot to be said for the assertion that atheism in its current form exists in a space granted to it by Christianity, but I do not see how those conditions are unique to the Roman and Protestant churches. In any case, Orthodoxy has provided no sure cultural inoculation against the philosophical horrors of the last 200 years, so I do not know why we'd brag about it.

"Because the Church said so" was never a great line to begin with, because the teaching authority of the Church in Orthodoxy is not understood in the terms of a Magisterium. That is to say: We believe the Creed because the Church confesses it, but there was the use of natural reason in formulating it. What the Church protects us from is the self-defeating, insular use of the reason against its own products, which tell us nothing.

The amount of room to discuss and debate within the Church is sometimes frightfully large, especially to those who maybe saw Orthodoxy as a refuge from the total voluntarism of our modern condition (unfortunately, when voluntarism is the default option, it is hard to "escape" it). We're like children who have been allowed infinite license: We desperately want the adults in charge again.

I should add that I am not in any way denying the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the councils which gave us the Creed. However, I do not think that the precise wording of the Creed was inevitable; reason and the products of philosophy shaped it, and not just in the use of homoousios (though that is probably the most important example, at least because of its prior history in theology at that time).

To say that the precise Creed was inevitable would be akin to the idolatry that says there is only one true language, or true text, for Scripture. Scripture is understood in the context of the Church, especially in its use for the Liturgy. The concern for a "truly literal translation" or the constant pursuit of "the best" Greek text (even at the expense of all reason) is a sort of madness.

One of the few good fruits of current philosophy is the increasing number of persons who realize that no text exists independently of interpretation; we have, however, a whole basis for ours.

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