Author Topic: How much weight to theological notes?  (Read 318 times)

Offline Graham

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How much weight to theological notes?
« on: October 14, 2020, 12:19:53 PM »
Exactly how much credence do we owe to the system of theological notes found in e.g. Ott's Fundamentals, particularly to notes beneath the dogmatic level?

I have in mind some recent discussion of the Atonement. Ott attaches or appears strongly to attach a theological note of sent. fidei proxima to a theory first made explicit in the 11th C., concomitantly sweeping the previous theological consensus into the trashbin of proximity to heresy.

At this level the system seems to become self-referential and recursive, in that it represents a kind of evolving theological consensus about the degrees of theological consensus. Which would offer a valuable guideline but hardly seems like it could bind the conscience.

A few questions occur to me: what is the authority behind this system? What is theological note of the system of theological notes? What theological note would 10th C. theologians have attached to their theory of the Atonement, and if that level of certainty can be discarded after further consideration, where does that leave the system of notes?
« Last Edit: October 14, 2020, 12:21:33 PM by Graham »
 
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Offline Daniel

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2020, 03:32:09 PM »
Pardon my ignorance. By "notes", do you mean the labels that are applied to the various categories of doctrine and to the various penalties for rejecting them?

I think the whole thing is suspect. Ott isn't infallible, and, while he might be a good scholar, there's no guarantee he classified everything correctly. And with regard to the system itself, the way I see it is that any particular doctrine X is either taught by the Church explicitly, taught by the Church implicitly, or not taught by the Church at all. Ott wants to add more categories for some reason, and bind us to believe in the fallible opinions of theologians.

As far as I know, nobody is bound to believe in stuff that the Church doesn't actually teach.

(Well, technically, I suppose we are all bound to believe everything that is true, even the truths that the Church doesn't teach. But forcing people on pain of sin to blindly accept other people's opinions makes no sense.)
« Last Edit: October 14, 2020, 03:58:39 PM by Daniel »
 
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Offline Graham

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2020, 03:43:56 PM »
Yes, theological notes refers to the grades of certainty such as fides ecclesiastica or sent. fidei proxima.

Quote
taught by the Church implicitly

There's the rub. Ott would say that the grades of certainty below the dogmatic refer to things taught implicitly.
 
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Offline Daniel

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2020, 07:47:37 AM »
Ok, I see the problem.

Just intuitively, I would qualify my definitions as follows:
- explicit = any truth found in sacred scripture or tradition, rightly understood
- implicit = any truth that follows by way of pure deduction only from explicit truths, prior implicit truths, and other a priori knowledge.
Within these two categories, everything is 100% certain. There is no room for doubt, so everybody is required to believe it all.

But theological conclusions which follow from a posteriori premises, or theological conclusions which follow by way of induction rather than deduction, aren't 100% certain (and would not fall into my "implicit" category). Because of this, I don't think anyone should be required to believe them (at least not on epistemological grounds).

But yeah, now I guess I see the reason for additional categories. Because it's still better to believe in a well-reasoned inductive argument than to just believe whatever you want willy nilly. The latter would generally be prideful and foolish.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2020, 07:50:40 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline The Theosist

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2020, 08:40:12 AM »
My first thought is that grades of certainty and their degrees of obligation are not divine revelation. How are they themselves binding?
 

Offline John Lamb

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2020, 02:12:43 AM »
Synagoguery.
"Let all bitterness and animosity and indignation and defamation be removed from you, together with every evil. And become helpfully kind to one another, inwardly compassionate, forgiving among yourselves, just as God also graciously forgave you in the Anointed." – Paul

The Question of Catholicism.

An ominous dream.
 

Offline truly-a-philosofan

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2020, 02:37:19 AM »
My first thought is that grades of certainty and their degrees of obligation are not divine revelation. How are they themselves binding?

Authority of the Church.
For the evil of the soul, its own will takes the initiative; but for its good, the will of its Creator makes the first move; whether to make the soul which did not yet exist, or to recreate it when it had perished through its fall.

St. Augustine, City of God XIII:15
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2020, 07:25:42 AM »
My first thought is that grades of certainty and their degrees of obligation are not divine revelation. How are they themselves binding?

Authority of the Church.

But does the Church actually bind us to accept them?
And if so, does the Church even have power to bind us to accept novel teachings not revealed by God?
 

Offline Graham

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2020, 12:35:28 PM »
My first thought is that grades of certainty and their degrees of obligation are not divine revelation. How are they themselves binding?

Authority of the Church.

I'm glad someone is taking this position. Could you explain why you believe the notes beneath the dogmatic level are backed up by binding authority?

I'm going to draw Kent's attention to this thread and see what he might have to say.
 

Offline Nazianzen

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2020, 02:02:41 PM »
My first thought is that grades of certainty and their degrees of obligation are not divine revelation. How are they themselves binding?

Authority of the Church.

But does the Church actually bind us to accept them?
And if so, does the Church even have power to bind us to accept novel teachings not revealed by God?

Remember that each note has its own character, so that we are not obliged to believe anything by some of them - we may be obliged to reject something, or hold it to be unsafe (in the present state of knowledge) etc.

Also, the Church herself employs them in her teaching activity, so they are certainly not a purely private matter.

There’s no question here of new truths, the issue is the degree of certitude and the compatibility with truth of a particular formulation. 

Any approach which tries to demean these notes implicitly undermines the plain fact that divine revelation is accepted by the intellect, which comprehends it (to some degree).  You cannot talk sensibly about divine revelation as if it weren’t received by limited, created, intellects, which themselves have particular qualities, limitations, etc.  We’re rational beings, which means that we understand, and we understand how and to what degree we understand.  The notes are our scientific expression of the latter - that is, our understanding of our understanding, and the degree to which we understand. 

I hope this helps!
 
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Offline Daniel

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #10 on: October 17, 2020, 03:14:20 PM »
Thank you.

By "novel", I just meant that the system as a whole is not something that was revealed by God.

I don't really have much objection to the system itself, apart from the fact that it seems prone to error.

I think this may be part of the OP's concern. Suppose the notes system existed a thousand years ago, and the earlier atonement theory was at that time classed as "proximate to faith". Every Catholic at that time agreed that it was a revealed doctrine... just not one that had yet been solemnly defined. But then later a new atonement theory comes along, and displaces the old one. The old one is then re-classified as "proximate to heresy", and Catholics are more or less forbidden from believing it. This seems really weird and, in a way, looks like the Church has changed her teaching. Because everyone believed that the old theory was true AND revealed. And now nobody believes that the old theory is true or revealed. Additionally, suppose the new theory is actually revealed. (Can that even happen? Can a revealed doctrine fall under the radar for like a thousand years and then make a comeback?) So suppose that were to happen, and the new theory is solemnly defined and is promoted to the grade of "ecclesiastical faith" or "divine faith". The old theory then becomes "heresy". So what are we to make of the thousand years' worth of Catholics who believed in the old theory?


We’re rational beings, which means that we understand, and we understand how and to what degree we understand.  The notes are our scientific expression of the latter - that is, our understanding of our understanding, and the degree to which we understand.

This seems to be a helpful way of looking at the notes system. I do see it as useful.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2020, 04:03:44 PM by Daniel »
 

Offline Nazianzen

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2020, 03:56:48 PM »
Daniel, I haven’t looked up the contention that there was a theory of the Atonement that was superseded, etc, and I have no interest in doing so.  It sounds decidedly fishy on the face of it.  So, I think at this stage that the entire problem is a question of fact.  If your fact is right, then there’s something to explore, but not otherwise.

Leaving that aside, it’s certainly possible for a revealed doctrine to be obscured, by the raising of new questions, which themselves arise from a deeper understanding of revealed principles.  This happened in the case of the Immaculate Conception, and in a different way, papal infallibility. 

The spirit of faith is able to tolerate with patience and equanimity this torturous process, which is entirely a matter of human limitation, and from which a greater clarity and security of doctrine arises.

Our era is, of course, faithless.  We must make acts of faith and trust in God and be grateful that we have the precious gift of faith.
 
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Offline Kent

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2020, 02:40:54 PM »
Exactly how much credence do we owe to the system of theological notes found in e.g. Ott's Fundamentals, particularly to notes beneath the dogmatic level?

I have in mind some recent discussion of the Atonement. Ott attaches or appears strongly to attach a theological note of sent. fidei proxima to a theory first made explicit in the 11th C., concomitantly sweeping the previous theological consensus into the trashbin of proximity to heresy.

At this level the system seems to become self-referential and recursive, in that it represents a kind of evolving theological consensus about the degrees of theological consensus. Which would offer a valuable guideline but hardly seems like it could bind the conscience.

A few questions occur to me: what is the authority behind this system? What is theological note of the system of theological notes? What theological note would 10th C. theologians have attached to their theory of the Atonement, and if that level of certainty can be discarded after further consideration, where does that leave the system of notes?

I struggle to find an appropriate analogy, but the question is a little bit like asking 'what degree of credence do we owe to the encyclical format?'  Not the teachings in encyclicals, mind you, but the format itself.  Or like asking 'what credence we owe the existence of distinguishable fields of theology-- ecclesiology, hagiography, Christology, etc.?'  You're not going to find any 'dogmatic decrees' instituting the encyclical format, the distinctions between theological areas of inquiry, or the system of theological notes.  Rather, you simply see that the Church makes ubiquitous use of them without ever stopping to 'solemnly acknowledge/approve' the usage.

I hate strained analogies and I think this approximates one so I won't go too far, but: what each of these has in common is that they are somewhat conventional in regard to their purpose and emergence.  As time goes on and as new questions raise new insights, understanding deepens and complexities arise which require categories to better systematize articles of faith.  Theologians at a certain point realized it was useful to distinguish between various fields of inquiry, popes realized it was useful to employ the encyclical format, etc.

Just so with the system of theological notes.  That this system only exists after the rise and institutionalization of competing Christian faiths is telling.  Such a system would be close to purposeless in a world where there is only one organized Christian religion to which one can belong.  In a world where there are forty thousand, it suddenly becomes relevant and useful to begin to more systemically organize propositions in a way that assigns them various weights, so as to better understand the relationship between the believer, the proposition, and the deposit of faith.  Not to imply that such an enterprise would have been worthless in (say) 190 AD-- but it certainly would have seemed extraneous, so much so that no one was likely to undertake the enterprise (and as history tells, that was in fact the case).

I hasten to point out the following, which may be obvious: the system of theological notes is not something that laity were ever intended to give any significant acknowledgment.  You won't find them in Deharbes, the Baltimore Catechism, the Roman Catechism, etc.-- their use really is quite exclusive to the advanced and scientific study of theology (which of course some laity do partake in, but none are expected or required to) as well as to the realm of inquisitional auditors. But no lay Catholic has ever (or will ever) be expected to sit down and categorize propositions according to the notes.  Catholics just believe what the Church teaches.  There is of course room for obscurity on this or that item, in which case further study (or consultation with one's pastor) is encouraged.  But in general, one simply believes that there are guardian angels, that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity, and that Our Blessed Mother was perpetually a virgin-- without stopping to grade the theological note of each of these propositions.  That isn't just 'how it works' for the laity, that is how it is supposed to work.



« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 02:43:15 PM by Kent »
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Offline Kent

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Re: How much weight to theological notes?
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2020, 03:56:44 PM »
The Church herself tolerates differences between how theologians apply the system. The differences from one theologian to the next should not be overstated, but they do exist.  As with many things, we learn as much (if not more) from the Church's actual behavior and praxis as we do from any solemn pronouncement.    This (tolerance of hers) helps further reveal the character of the system as a scholarly and governmental convention, not all that dissimilar from the Church's use of Latin. 

Would one say that the Church's use of Latin is an 'article of faith?'  No, it's just what the Church does.  Ditto the system of notes.  Neither are arbitrary decisions or systems-- they are demonstrably reasonable and with good purpose.  And yet neither fall into the category of propositional dogma, either.  They are a different kind of thing, which is all I am getting at.
I do profess to be no less than I seem, to serve him truly
that will put me in trust, to love him that is honest, to
converse with him that is wise and says little, to fear
judgment, to fight when I cannot choose, and to eat no fish.
 
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