dimanche, avril 10, 2005


Jeremy Pierce has posted an entry on a strange issue:

Catholics and the Galatian Heresy

Many Protestants say that Catholicism is simply not part of Christianity. They say that Catholic views about justification and salvation in general are not compatible with what the Bible teaches about such matters, and in fact Catholics are teaching what Paul in Galatians calls another gospel, which is not really a gospel at all but something else. Paul was right to condemn the Galatian heresy as another gospel, which is not really a gospel at all but something else. It's quite clear to me that Catholics do not teach or believe the Galatian heresy, however. That leaves it open that Catholic teaching is another gospel besides the Christian one, but if so it's not the one Paul was confronting in Galatians, as many Protestants seem to insist on.

My own view is that some elements within the Catholic church do teach and believe something that might be characterized as another gospel and thus might not saved according to what the Bible teaches about salvation. I'm not sure if this view is another gospel, but it might well be. However, I also firmly believe that many within the Catholic church do not believe another gospel at all. Now that I've said both those statements, let me point out that what I said is consistent with saying that from the top the Catholic view is another gospel, and many within the RCC are faithful to the true gospel despite that. It's also consistent with saying that from the top the view is the true gospel, and many within the RCC depart from that. I actually think both of those would be false, and the reasons are fairly complicated. The fact is that there isn't a teaching that can be said to be from the top, because the Pope John Paul II and the catechizing wing of the Vatican have endorsed conflicting theologies, one of them as far as I can tell fully consistent with Reformation theology, at least on the matter of justification.

Nestorians could make the same accusation against the Chalcedonians, i.e., that no Chalcedonians are part of Christianity, based on the assumption that what Chalcedonians believe implies that there are two Jesuses.

Jeremy's post has activated a series of comments by some of his Protestant fellows that support the view he attacks. The support to such view, however, shows not only a deep prejudice against Catholics, but also a half-knowledge about the Bible and Christianism itself. This is the sort of confusion that happens when People consider themselves great experts in Religion without proper cultural baggage and try to study any religious book without considering the historic context, without a strong background in Philosophy and/or without taking the words figuratively. In the following I shall try to dispel some confusions about what the biblical passage means, and make a brief point on why these Historic controversies, which ended up in factions accusing each other of heretic, are deeply nonsensical medievalism:

Firstly, underlying the discussion Jeremy mentioned, there is an assumption that the relationship between good works, faith, salvation and divine grace is intermediated by time. The opposite factions in the debate you refer to seem to want to find the right chronological order for such things. That is not possible in any monotheist religious system, for these things are interrelated in an atemporal way. Of course, there is a temporal sequence for each work a man does in his life, but the interrelation with faith, divine grace and salvation is not constrained by such time line, as one ordinarily would think. Time is a property of the material world, while spirituality transcends it.

Secondly, there are two important conceptions when one mentions the expression salvation by works. When Christians, regardless of their affiliation, talk about salvation by the works, they mean that Christianism is an ethical religion and that ethics cannot be dissociated therefrom. But that is not the exact sense in which Paul uses this expression in the Epistle in question.

In the Epistle to the Galatians, the heresy Paul condemns is attachment to the Mosaic law and perpetuation of Jewish practices. It is not just any work he is talking about, he means works in pursuance of Mosaic law. This point is crystal clear for anyone who reads the Epistle. In this respect, a Church that claims to be evangelical but wants to perpetuate old Jewish teachings, such as the day to rest is Saturday, do not eat pork, circumcise your kids, etc. is Galatian in essence. By the way, in practice what we see is that the so called Evangelical Churches are much more inclined to base their doctrines on the Old Testament than on the Gospel. So, before accusing the Catholics of being Galatian heretics, Protestants should look at themselves first. (He, who has no sin, shoots first.)

When Paul criticises the idea of salvation by works as opposed to salvation by grace, he is also rejecting the idea of an ethics without mercy and intolerant towards human failures. An ethics without such elements is humanly impossible and the ethics of the Gospel is for humans with their characteristics.

In order to attack an opposite inflexible legalist view, which, according to Paul, goes directly against Jesus' teachings of mercy and mutual love, he has to destroy the key conviction of its proponents: the conviction that there are People who are morally inferior. Proponents of an ethics without mercy and without mutual understanding often claim to have great merits and deserve the divine consideration, and so may be stern and pass judgement on the others. So, argues Paul, those who propose such stern and merciless ethics make the wrong idea of themselves, if they think they are so good, that they have earned salvation by their merits. He says that if they are saved that is due to God's grace= mercy. A merciless ethics is thus another Gospel, which is to say, an ethics other than the ethics the Apostles are teaching.

But in no way Paul dispenses with the notion that Christians are required to try to make good works, i.e., to behave in accordance with Christian ethics. Luther does not deny that either. But Luther had to fight against other practices, in a context where the subjacent assumption was that salvation could be somehow bought.

Besides these specific aspects of the Epistle to the Galatians, there are more general aspects to be considered. The historic controversies between Reformers and Catholics and between different factions within the same Western Church could not yield any consensus, except by blind obedience to the doctors thereof. The problem is simple and has to do with the manner the Western (or Latin) Church, now split into Roman Catholics and Protestants, approach the Gospel. What priests with basic Catholic background, like Luther and Saint Augustine, do is what nowadays we could call Catersian interpretation of the Gospel.

Westerners at the dawn of Christianism seem to have expected a Philosophical or Scientific work when the Gospel was a novelty. So, they would try to find a chapter defining the basic vocabulary and after a set of theorems with their respective demonstrations. But nothing like that exists in the Gospel, and this manner of structuring a text was not common in the Eastern tradition the Apostles emerged from.

Of course, if one wants to explain the Gospel, one may try to present it in a form of maieutic or dialectic argumentation or through Cartesian schematisations. That is possible, but that is only a representation for didactic purposes. None can expect these schematisations to yield uniform results and that people will be able to agree thereon. Simply because these Cartesian views are not in Paul's writings or in the writings by any other Apostle.


At 10:50 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I think Romans 14 disproves your claim about the meaning of Galatians. Paul is happy to tolerate people who want to continue to practice the traditions of Judaism, and he even commands Christians who don't do that to tolerate it. It's not the practice of Judaism's customs that he's worried about but the placing of things like that as foundational to being Christian.

At 6:08 AM, Blogger Tony Marmo said...

Well, if Saint Paul was dumb to extent of acting and speaking in a 'rigidly consistent' manner in all of his writtings, I would agree with you that inter-text comparison should be a key. But he has a quality that Cartesian mentality does not approve: he insists in being consistent within the same writting and in being consistent with his broader goals through his life. From one text to another he reserves to himself the right to change opinion or to adapt the message according to the context and the audience addressed. That is what every normal and clever human being does, including you and me.

In the context of Galatians there is a well-known historical situation, and it can be only understood in that context. In the Context of Acts 14 the problem is the same. Romans 14 is different. He talks about human development, a comparison between physical state and spirituality, using ideas like growth and weakness/ strength. Now, in essence, he talks about tolerance overall and addresses the relation between Christians and non-Christians and between newly converted Christians and older Christians. So it is about learning and progressing. In Galatians the problem is different: he talks about what the teachers are teaching. In this case he could not be tolerant. Tolerance and acceptance is only with those who are still learning, but wrong teachings is what he cannot permit.

But mind that to understand this does not mean that you have to agree with Saint Paul. What he says is clear, although a great number of persons nowadays think the other way round, which is their right.


Enregistrer un commentaire

<< Home