Sunday, October 12, 2008

salus populi est suprema lex

Derek replied some time ago to my reflections on Mary--and though this is perhaps now an ancient controversy, I still have something left to say.

Things seem to have "wound down" considerably, as we might have reached bedrock conviction on a number of issues.

Consider the distinction between dogma and doctrine; "[t]his," he says, "as far as I’m concerned, is why this is worth fighting over." He is right to say that if the fifth Marian dogma is in fact a true dogma, I should wish to see him converted to it, as dogma by its very nature is mandatory. I agree with him. But look: timing is everything. I would wish him to be converted--but when? When I want to see it happen? No--in God's time. Sure, we have to sow the seeds of dogma, but that doesn't imply they will sprout on my schedule. At the suggestion he might be an anonymous Marian--that he might have already, anonymouosly have accepted the fifth dogma regardless of his conscious dissent here below--he is offended:

I hate to say it, but this completely rubs me the wrong way. If a roshi told me that I was an anonymous Buddhist, or if I were told by an imam that I was an anonymous Muslim, I’d thank them nicely for their complement of my character but feel a bit annoyed at their condescension.

Well, what if the roshi or the imam were right? John reflects on our preference for darkness and shadow in his gospel--annoyance would be an expected reaction to confrontation with dogma--on Scriptural grounds even. That may be condescending, but I think John would say I prefer darkness on other issues and practices; who can stand to leave the shade for long?

But, on the other hand, this may be bedrock for him: the notion of an anonymous Christian or Marian or whatever is--perhaps--just inconceivable. To the contrary, it strikes me that this is just how God operates elsewhere. Who would have guessed you'd be born--exactly you and not some other? Approximately nobody--and God didn't ask your permission first. You were thrown into the mix, and that's all there is to it. Who's to say you won't get tossed around again? I think of God as throwing us into new--even scarcely conceivable--existential situations, but Derek does not. And that seems to be a bedrock difference.

Consider too how Derek develops the theological notion of recapitulation to help make sense of Marian dogmas. He writes:

The central question for me, then, is origin and volition: was the choice of obedience at the annunciation Mary’s free, “unaided” will, or was it her choice assisted and inspired by the Spirit already at work in her life? I can’t see it any other way than the second. To my way of thinking, even Mary’s “yes” was at God’s initiative through grace. It was surely not a coerced “yes”, but the prime mover for the action, its true origin, was in God and not Mary herself.

He has come to several large issues here--how human will relates to divine will, the nature of human action, how grace impacts action and the will, et al. These issues are so large, reasonable people may well be expected to disagree--like Banez and Molina, say. If settling on whether to accept the fifth dogma depends on addressing these issues, it may be each side has at least a prima facie reasonable case, and tolerance is called for from each side toward the other. We can probably agree on that.

Even so, another bedrock difference might emerge. It seems Derek has a rather Lutheran view of freewill--taking Luther's debate with Erasmus as defining where Luther stood. On that view--if I understand Derek correctly--Mary is no more an autonomous agent when she says "Yes" to God than an axe is when I swing it and split firewood, to adapt a figure from Luther. Surely in each case Mary and the axe play a role, perhaps an essential role, but their roles have nothing to do with autonomous freedom or incompatibilist freedom, to use the technical term. But on just this point, I side with Erasmus. To put it crudely: Mary and God act together in producing her "Yes," but she contributes something apart from God, which God could not contribute on his own, without which there would be no "Yes" at all--and could not be. Pressed, I would fall back on an amalgam of Scotus and Molina (as yet unpublished, mea culpa) in defense. Anyhow, here we seem to have another bedrock difference.

Given these differences, it's a good thing we can tolerate each other. There is something in our compatibility that recommends the Anglican ethos; for instance, neither of us are obligated as Anglicans to refuse to participate in the Eucharist with the other. To him, I'm probably confusing dogma with doctrine, but the doctrine is relatively harmless if a bit bizzare. To me, he is in for a big surprise.


At 11:51 AM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...


Yeah...try again.

In the first part you suggest that I'm wrong through the sophisticated method insisting that you're right. Hardly compelling.

In the second, you misread me. While as a post-Lutheran I certainly have sympathies towards much of his theology, you've landed on a point where we have some serious disagreements. I'm actually closer to Cassian than Luther on this one. I'd say that--through grace--Mary *cooperated* with God's initiative. Luther, the Luther of on the Bondage of the Will, on the other hand, would have a flaming fit with the language of cooperation as being entirely to close to facere quod in se est. (And before you try to pin *that* on me too, I don't go that far either...)

So at the end of the day what do you hope to have achieved here? I don't see that you've moved the discussion forward at all---unless this is how you concede...

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

I have to say, this post itself comes across as condescending. These metaphysical escapades of speculation serve nothing if you have treated another in such manner, which is more a monastic than scholastic perspective. And the close kind of is the point, as Anglicans, we refuse to require more of one another than what we term core doctrine or dogma.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an outsider minimal, but sufficient, understanding of the situation, I don't really see the posts as condescending. Misunderstandings happen.

At 12:32 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Christopher is right--the post is condescending, though I hope in a benign way.

Christopher may think that that talk of anonymous Marianism is condescending, just as talk of anonymous Christians would be condescending to a Moslem or Hindu or atheist. That would be an interesting topic to pursue further, as I would plead "Not Guilty." Anyway, that was not the post's intended condescension.

Rather, I felt that the argument was not getting anywhere. The fault is mostly mine--I felt you were holding obviously false or irrelevant positions, and then instead of calling them out, I beat around the bush. So:

First, pointing out that my position is condescending does not seem relevant to whether it is true; that is "'X' is condescending; thus, 'X' is false" seems obviously invalid. A gaffe on your part? It seemed so. Who cares if the argument is condescending? Is niceness necessary to truth? Does its absence imply sin? It does not seem so.

Moreover, you have not clarified the argumentative role of the distinction between dogma and doctrine. It keeps popping up, but does no apparent work. Maybe a substantive point is buried in these references; it would be nice if you could bring it to the surface. Hide not your light under a bushel, if light there be!

Finally, your point on freewill seems like a false dichotomy: free and unaided will vs. inspired and assisted will. No decent historical theologian in the Christian tradition would hold to free and unaided will--not me either. Is there any act of will outside grace, outside the assistance of God? Even the Episcopal Church, in its Catechism on Creation, accepts the notion of continuous creation and concurrence--along with Malebranche, Descartes, Augustine, Aquinas, etc etc. Coercion is a red herring. So it is very difficult to see how insisting that Mary's will was inspired does anything significant to support your position.

Of course, then there is a wobble which seems like a contradiction: in one post it seems as if "the prime mover for the action, its true origin, was in God and not Mary herself" while in a second post you espouse the semipelagianism of Cassian, on which the first steps come from Mary. Is there a consistent position at all here? Is there anything to pin anywhere?

Seeing the paucity in your text taken as an argument, I sincerely thought you were instead merely expressing bedrock convictions, convictions you were merely Stating--that you had given up on Argument in favor of mere Assertion.

You seem to be saying that is a Misreading, nay a risible misreading, and (presumably!) that you meant to Argue all along. I hope you can see why I find that puzzling--granted that such puzzlement may indeed be condescending: "guilty" I fear.

At 12:28 AM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

Just saw your comment today; will respond...


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