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Current Theology Thoughts: Pt. 1, Inscrutability & Authority

I’ve not written any personal reflections in quite a while. For one reason, it is because I went through a brutal divorce. For another, it is because I’ve been pondering a lot, and I hate to release anything that isn’t based in well-researched writing. But, now I’ve decided that I should just write about what I’m thinking through for my own benefit, and see if anyone has interesting or fruitful comments to have a discussion about this.

Nominalism / Inscrutability

I have a number of different theological questions or thoughts about which I’m circumambulating. One of these ideas is that of God’s inscrutability, otherwise called His ineffability, otherness, Creator-creature distinction, or else ontological nominalism. What I’m wondering about is basically a series of logical steps. IF God is ineffable, that is, if He is, in se (in Himself) unknowable, being a distinct type of thing from created things, THEN to what extent do we know Him? IF we know God by analogy, THEN to what extent do these analogies accurately portray aspects of Him, and IF they portray aspects of Him, THEN in what way may we know any in se things? My conclusion is that we may not know anything in se, even if we use logic from analogies. For, this is entirely the purpose of the doctrine of ineffability. But, IF that is the case, then to what extent is ineffability itself a creaturely thing, known only as an analogy? For example, I can only know so much about creaturely things. I cannot know a created thing in se in perfection or completion, and to some extent one could argue that I cannot know a created thing in se in any way whatsoever anyway. That may be a solipsistic type of argument, but I don’t think it is inaccurate to propose that we may not know things in se, regardless of what they are. We may only know their accidents, and their inner realities are only hinted at or circumscribed. And IF this is the case, then the analogy of ineffability is what we apply from created things to the Creator of all things. And IF that is the case, then even ineffability is an analogy to which we cannot know the in se referent in God. This then would apply to all things we refer to God–to His names, attributes, energies, Persons, and to the concept of Personhood, Being, essence, nature, etc., since all of these things are creaturely analogies to something in se, but something not truly known.

All of that said, and to paraphrase Augustine–we use these words to speak of God because silence is not fitting. And the types of words and ideas we utilize to refer to God are vital because He Himself has revealed which words and ideas are appropriate analogies to Him, and which He finds blasphemous, heinous, and revolting. This is why I think when people say nominalism destroyed society (ie The Benedict Option), they simply miss the conclusions that result from nominalism. To say we know God in name only, but not the referent in se, is not to conclude that we may speak of God as we wish, or behave as we wish. It is, rather, to conclude that since He revealed Himself and His manner of action in the world, we must constrict ourselves to those forms and actions that He has expressly stated (or what we may deduce by logic) are appropriate to append to Him or do in His honor. It ends in a concern for honoring Him by restricting ourselves to the names and words He utilizes and which may summarize Him according to His revelation.

On the other hand, that nominalism could give birth to Protestantism is no far-fetched argument. If we must restrict ourselves to what God has revealed, then we must question the ‘canons’ of the Church in its ecumenical and local councils, the purported consensus of the fathers, the statements of various bishops (regardless of their titles), and compare them to what we know God has expressly stated regarding Himself.


Lack of Evidence

But this leads me to the next theological issue over which I’ve been percolating: what exactly is the authoritative basis of Christianity/Christian life. I’ve spent the last few years reading through Eastern Orthodox works (formal and informal), and have been considering their arguments with a slow but steady thought. My conclusions at this time are that there is no evidence that the Church prior to the mid-3rd century had or utilized these structures or elements: bishop-priest structure, private confession before a priest, prayers to Mary or to the saints or invocations of them, a view of the distinction between the saints and the Church, icons utilized in private or corporate worship, and the use of prayer ropes or candles in private or corporate worship.

Now, a lack of evidence for something does not mean that the concept is untrue. For example, one could posit that King David existed, without having any archaeological evidence for his existence, and the reality of King David’s existence could be true regardless of the absence of evidence. The same could be true of all of the above-mentioned concepts. These could all theoretically have existed, though we have no evidence of their existence until the mid-3rd century.

Simultaneously, another argument that could be made (and which I’ve heard argued) is that the Church progressively developed its structures and ideas, and that this progressive development is good, natural, and necessary to be accepted as authoritative today. What if, for example, the Church did indeed change its structure from a body of elders (also called presbyters, bishops, priests) appointed to a congregation by the apostles, and developed distinct bishops, and distinct priests (also called presbyters)? And if this structure changed, who is to say that that was wrong or inappropriate or no longer the authoritative structure of the Church? This last question is kind of the vital point of distinction between both EO/RC and Prots. One side says that since the Church is a continuous and mystical body of Christ, it’s adaptations and alterations are good and important (unless these alterations violate certain criteria–which, one could argue is inconsistent or questionable). The other side says that the norm of Church structure or doctrine is the Scriptures, and that things altering the plain reading of it or the good and necessary consequence of it must be brought back in line with it (ie Reform).

But a point I know to be a fact is that these two issues can’t be held together at once: the Church either adapted and changed, or it did not. It either practiced these things from the start, or it did not. And if it did not originally practice these things, there must be some standard or rationale to explain why the changes are acceptable, and how they do not violate the precepts and commands of God as given to us in the Scriptures.

Read More:

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

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