Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Another Fine Mess

...I've gotten myself into.

The *one* thing that gets my blog noticed beyond myself and a small circle of friends is this whole mess about Mary. *sigh*

Paul Owen and Eric Svendsen are slugging it out over the details of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary (or PVM), so I'll refer interested parties to those blogs. (After cramming for a final this week, I haven't had time to fully digest either argument myself.) For my part, I will reply to Kevin Johnson's reply to my last post.

First off, I am well aware of the venerability of the PVM doctrine. So my criticism of it is not based on any animus towards the Roman church (which didn't evolve until the Middle Ages in my viewpoint, but that's another matter). The extent to which the Reformers held to PVM is another matter, currenly being debated in the blogs listed above, so I'll withhold comment.

RE: the question of tradition vs. modernity - for me, this is not a question of blind rejection of tradition. I speak as one who has already come from such a viewpoint. I have moved from indifference to liturgy and the centrality of the Eucharist, to one who ardently embraces both. I have moved from a strict credobaptism (including the denial of faith and salvation to infants) to a broad paedobaptist position - clearly the *traditional* position. I am no longer so blind as to think that the traditons of the Church (including Biblical interpretations) are to be ignored on the basis that *we're* so much more knowing and informed than they were.

However, let me also make a few counterpoints. I am still, self-consciously, a Protestant - which means, among other things, that I hold that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority and court of appeal in matters of doctrine and practice. *Any* tradition, no matter how venerable or ecumenical, has the right to be brought before the bar of Scripture and examined. (Of course, the interpretations of the Scriptures used are another matter, and that is where the problems I have with Paul Owen began.) In abandoning the modernist acid of total distrust, let us not leap blindly into a total acceptance of all things received either. Error and truth were co-mingled from the start, as any reading of the Pastoral Epistles will show.

Kevin asks, "(A) doctrine such as the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is so widely attested that we shouldn't abandon it at the very least without reviewing our own presuppositions and understandings of the issues at hand in rejecting such a doctrine."

A fair question, and I am trying to lay my cards out on the table in this post. However, as the comments section in Kevin's own post attests, the "presuppositions and understandings of the issues" by those who initally put forth the PVM should also be on the table. And here is my second biggest beef with PVM - the very idea of it smacks of Platonism and a denigration of the sexual nature of our Lord and those who surrounded Him. Why is the idea that Mary and Joseph had normal marital relations - and children - so abhorrent to some of the Early Fathers? And how much of that attitude went into the establishment of PVM?

Kevin also asks, "My question back to our almost-Reformed-Catholic friend and other interested parties is this--What does it hurt to embrace the majority opinion of the Church on this matter? A more important question is this, 'How seriously do we take the traditions of the Church and how much do these traditions form our thinking in this matter and others?'."

To answer the first question - in the whole question of "reformed catholicism", Protestants are being asked to give up a *lot*. Our sectarianism, our theological snobbery, our biblical reductionism. What are *we* bringing to the table in return? If we cannot bring what makes us distinctly Protestant - if we still think there is any worth in identifying ourselves as Protestant - to the table, is this really a dialogue? I have often said in other venues that for there to be true ecumenism, *everybody* would have to bring something, and everybody would have to give up something. I think Protestants *can* bring something to the table, as Protestants - our high view of Scripture's role in theology. And I think a reasonable result of that (pardon the word choice) would be a re-examination of the PVM by other communions.

In answer to the second question, the answer is probably "Not much, and not enough." Historical ignorance is an American badge of honor, especially it seems in evangelicalism. I am trying to rectify that in my own life, but I am still a "work-in-process". (Side note - One aspect of that work is my working on the Ancient Christian Commentary series by IVP. The volume on Judges arrived yesterday. Tell Paul Owen that everybody listed in the section on Judges 11 - Ambrose, Augustine, Origen, Chrysostom - thinks Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter.)

In some aspects, I am sorry the rupture had to occur at this point - however much I may think the PVM to be mistaken, it's not something I would withhold fellowship with someone over, and there are bigger fish to fry in ecumenical matters. It does, however, serve to highlight the tensions that still exist between modern Protestants and the other communions.


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