Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cogito, Ergo Sum [Protestant]?

On his blog Pontifications, Fr. Kimel puts forth a kind of Van Tilian, presuppostional defense of the papacy, building his case on the argument of Cardinal Manning, whom Kimel quotes at length:

The doctrines of the Church in all ages are primitive. It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church? No individual, no number of individuals can go back through eighteen hundred years to reach the doctrines of antiquity. We may say with the woman of Samaria, “Sir, the well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with.” No individual mind now has contact with the revelation of Pentecost, except through the Church. Historical evidence and biblical criticism are human after all, and amount at most to no more than opinion, probability, human judgment, human tradition.

In the same way that a Reformed presuppositionalist would argue that it is a subtle display of rationalism to demand evidence for God's existence or the veracity of Scripture, so Kimel, echoing Manning, is insisting that it is also rationalism to insist that the Catholic Church's claims about its papal authority be historically proven.

The reason why such evidence is demanded, Kimel admits, is that the pope is the very icon of scandal and offense in the eyes of many.

I grant Manning’s point, yet still it seems appropriate to ask for evidences to support the Church’s teaching on the papacy. The Pope is, after all, is the rock upon which so many stumble. Even Paul VI conceded that “the pope—and we know this well—is without doubt the most serious obstacle on the ecumenical road.” The pope hypostatsizes the skandalon that is the Catholic Church.
I must admit, this argument is clever (if not a bit too convenient as well), for it puts Protestants in the unenviable position of having to sift through the historical data on the church and weigh it in the balances, all the while disassociating it from the testimony of the very church it is seeking to understand. Better, Catholics would argue, to simply believe the Church on its own authority than to subject it to the bar of human reason and inquiry.

In a word, apply all the stuff Van Til said about Scripture to the Catholic Church, and voila!, all our problems will be solved.

What do you think? Clever or convenient?