Speaking out Ouldly
Two recent articles over at Stand Firm attempt to draw a clear line between Reformed and Roman Catholic faith: one by David Ould critical of efforts to canonize JPII, and another by Matt Kennedy trying to clarify a Reformed/RC contrast. While others have helpfully pointed to flaws in these short works and engaged the authors in debate, I thought it imperative to point out the principle I see coming to the surface amidst the turbulent waters.
It is, in short, what Tillich called the Protestant Principle, "the prophetic judgment against religious pride, ecclesiastical arrogance and secular self - sufficiency and their destructive consequences" embodied in refusing to take the finite as infinite, the creature as Creator, a mere existent as Being Itself. Protestantism has this principle as necessary--though of course by itself insufficient--content in its faith, and that principle renders prophetic judgment against any human, creaturely attempt to attain or embody divinity for itself in any form: in creeds, in confessions, in writings, or in ex cathedra pronouncements. Ould, and to some extent Kennedy, seem to have recovered for the time being a genuine application of the principle, and a kind of laudable, undiluted protestantism much to the consternation and annoyance of no few of their readers.
The way Tillich wielded the principle--in my humble opinion--left little logical room for the reality of the Incarnation traditionally conceived. He is always, so far as I can tell in my limited reading, very cautious in his language regarding the divinity of Christ, but I cannot help feeling he would reject high Chalcedonian christology. Alas! I can see someone posing this dilemma:
Either the Protestant Principle or the divinity of Jesus, but not both.
But Tillich's hesitation over Chalcedonian christology seems to me a move per accidens, driven not by the Protestant Principle itself but other, outside considerations which end up getting tacitly reinforced by the principle. The principle itself seems logically consistent with Chalcedonian christology, inasmuch as the divinity of Jesus is no human attempt to embody the infinite, but the inbreaking of Being itself in union with his humanity, a unique initiative of God. We need not take history-driven criticism, for instance, of Jesus' divinity as properly basic; the results of such criticism are not demonstrative, whatever other probability they may have, and so they leave open "logical space" for contrary starting points. Thus the dilemma above is falsely posed; we may pry the Protestant Principle away from Tillich's skepticism of Chalcedon.
In effect, the principle serves to check a particularly Anglican tendency to read Incarnational theology in a sloppy way, extending hypostatic unity to cover events other than Jesus' life and ministry. At an extreme, one might try to see hypostatic union everywhere--a kind of neo-Spinozism or perhaps panentheism. Or somewhat short of the extreme, one might see a hypostatic union or some other rough equivalent merely elsewhere than with Jesus, but not everywhere: in Scripture, icons, offices, et al. The Protestant Principle says No to our claims for such extensions of the infinite. But the Protestant No extends beyond misunderstandings of the Incarnation to any human attempt to lay claim to possession of the infinite; all of our actions are always here below under the judgement of the Cross. Ould seems to have extended the Protestant Principle to apply to (a certain interpretation of) the RC tradition of canonization.
Good. I suspect where protestantism abandons its principle it loses its center, God, and drifts into various and sundry idolatries, eventually losing its reason for being and rightfully fading from view. While sudden assertions of the principle are bound to scandalize and offend, the loss entailed by forgetting the principle seems infinitely greater.