14 June 2018

Convivium 2018 Part 3: Natural Theology

(For Part 1 go here and for the three-parter on Part 2 go here, here, and here.)

Now that I've demonstrated the bona fides of Reformed Catholicism--that it's catholic--let's go on to look at a specific example, natural theology. Many for good reason might believe that Protestantism generally and the Reformed specifically reject natural theology tout court. Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til didn't agree on much but they concurred that we can learn nothing true, or virtually nothing, anyway, about God from either the created order or human reason. But the many who think that Barth and Van Til are representative of their tradition would be wrong. Just how wrong could be seen in the papers of Steven Duby and David Haines.

It would be very hard to do justice to Duby's paper, Reformed Catholicity and the Analogy of Being, so I won't try. I can imagine that vast swathes of twentieth-century Reformed theologians would gag at anyone who argued that there was a place for the analogia entis in orthodox Reformed theological circles. But I would suspect that most of the naysayers would not know how theologians in the medieval and early-modern eras understood the concept of the analogy of being. They would likely think that the analogy of being meant that God "had" being and that we somehow shared in the substance of being. Analogy as substantial participation, if you will. But they likely would not have know the careful work of Thomas Aquinas who distinguished three modes predication generally, including the predication of being. Were I to go on I would merely cut and paste what Duby wrote so I'll let you buy the book when it's published later this year (or early next). Okay, one teaser:
In the commentary of the Sentences [of Peter Lombard], he [Thomas] writes that the unity of Creator and creature is "by a community not of univocation but of analogy." Analogical "community," though is twofold: either by posterior things participating in a prior thing or by one thing receiving its existence and ratio from another. God does not participate with creatures in something prior to both himself and creatures ... Later in this commentary, Thomas remarks that univocity assumes a "community according to the ratio of nature" with diversity according to (individual) existence, which community cannot apply in the case of God and creatures ... Accordingly, ... a predicate like being ... is predicated analogically of God and creatures [only] insofar as creatures imperfectly imitate God and are thus "like God" (even as God is, strictly speaking, not "like" creatures).
Those into theology proper will find this helpful and recognize that Protestant theologians in the 16th and 17th centuries would have agreed. Perhaps had Barth and Van Til better understood scholastic distinctions they wouldn't have steered the generations who followed in the wrong direction.

David Haines's paper, The Role of Natural Knowledge in Biblical Interpretation as Key to Solving the Protestant Problem, was, I think the longest of those presented. It was also a work-in-progress. But in a brief summary, what, according to Haines, is the problem and what's his solution?

First, what is "the Protestant problem" anyway? In brief, and citing Karl Rahner, it is that Protestantism "places priority on individual conscience in response to revelation (i.e., the Bible or the Bible plus the experience of salvation) as its defining characteristic. As such it must create the possibility of interpretive difference in doctrine, practice, and polity." In other words, a catholic Protestant is a happy accident.

Second, what's the solution to the every-Protestant-a-Pope problem? For that, Haines turns to natural theology to sort between those beliefs that are primary (and thus catholic) and those with respect to which interpretive pluralism remains an unhappy fact of life. I must admit that while I appreciated Haines's vigorous defense of natural theology, I didn't quite see how it solved the Protestant problem. Oh well, that gives all of us something to which we can look forward as we await publication of the book.

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