“At What Point Does One Become Entitled to an Opinion?”

In the discussion following Jim Kalb’s Orthosphere post “Women, Catholicism, and Impending Architectural Catastrophe”, commenter Aegis asks

 

At what point does one become entitled to an opinion on such matters?

And if some of us can never get to the point of truly understanding certain matters, then how can we assent to them as true let alone defend or bear witness to them as true?

 

He was responding to Bruce Charleton’s assertion—in the same comment section—that

 

…it is a major error to engage in rational argument trying to convince people who have no right to an opinion…Some issues are way beyond us – we have no right to change things about which we know little, have thought little, and lack the necessary spiritual depth to understand.

 

What to say in response to Aegis? At what point does one become entitled to an opinion?

 

The basic answer is that there is no glib answer. Truth exists, but some reject it openly, and some take comfort—of a sort—in doubt. Doubt can be beneficial if it ultimately leads you to reject an error, but doubt per se is not a virtue. Eventually, after you have investigated things, you need to be able to acknowledge what is before your eyes.

 

But man is not omniscient. He could be mistaken.  And man also has an innate sinful tendency to reject the most important truths. For these reasons, the question of authority is crucial for the question of epistemology: How can you know truth?  A large part of the answer is that you must submit to the correct authorities, chief among which is God (the ultimate Authority) and the Bible, God’s Words to man.

 

When it comes to the lesser questions, for example, the questions that science investigates, man’s ability to perceive and reason is usually enough. But when it comes to the greater questions such as God, goodness, beauty, truth or, in the linked discussion, maleness and femaleness, man’s own resources are inadequate. They supply some of the evidence, but they are inadequate. In order to become wise, a man must trust the higher authorities.

 

The higher authorities do not “rule” intellectually by suppressing alternate beliefs. Instead, by virtue of their possessing genuine authority, they express the correct answer, and thereby settle the issue. Not in the sense that doubt and argument cease, but in the sense that the correct answer has now been identified, and so those who are able to trust the proper authorities know the correct answer. Disagreement does not mean that there is no truth, nor that there is no authority capable of identifying truth for the benefit of mankind.

 

Nor does it mean that there is no rational argument for a truth. There is always evidence, usually in abundance, for any truth. But as we all know, there is always evidence and apparently-rational arguments in support of the opposite falsehood that the truth corrects. Therefore it is easy for man to go astray, and so man needs intellectual authorities.

 

The ability to trust what you have good reason to believe, but for which there also exists contrary evidence, is called “faith.” Christians know that faith in God is a gift from God, not something that a man generates by himself. They also know that faith includes (but is not limited to) a trust in God, and therefore also a trust in those lesser authorities who correctly articulate God’s truth. Disagreement over first principles exists, ultimately, because not every man has been given the gift of faith.

 

And how can we know who these higher authorities are? As I said, there is no glib answer. The intellectual discipline of Christian apologetics offers reasons why the Bible is trustworthy, but not all Christian teachers and not all of Christian tradition, are trustworthy. Protestants like me would say that the Bible is the highest earthly authority, and so any person or tradition that contradicts it is wrong. Catholics would say that the Pope has the highest earthly authority, supplemented, as it were, by his Catholic (capital-T) Tradition. And Orthodox Christian would, I presume, say something like that their Tradition provides assurance of orthodoxy, that is, right thinking.

 

In connection to this, I must refer here to another point made by Dr. Charleton in many posts at his blog and many comments here at the Orthosphere, that Christians ought not subject Christian tradition to rationalistic scrutiny, where “rationalistic” means the attitude that human reason is capable of correcting either Scripture or tradition.

 

I agree that Scripture cannot be corrected by man, although minor errors of transmission and translation have occasionally occurred, and do need to be corrected. [None of these errors changes Christian doctrine.] But although tradition is to be honored, and presumed correct until there is a great mass of evidence against it, I cannot agree that Christian tradition is never to be corrected. Let me explain.

 

Although many Protestants foolishly believe that the Christian does not need pastors, teachers, theologians, or creeds, authentic Protestantism has always taught that these authorities are necessary. Authentic Protestantism (sometimes called “confessional” or “creedal Protestantism”) acknowledges that the Christian needs Christian tradition to guide him. In this respect, Protestantism is similar to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in that it acknowledges the need for tradition and other forms of authority.

 

What makes the Protestant view of tradition different (and, in my view, correct) is that it does not hold tradition to be the highest (earthly) authority. Tradition only possesses authority if it faithfully expresses biblical teaching.  Whereas Rome regards itself as something like the creator of Scripture, and Orthodoxy regards its Tradition as the true teachings of Christ and the Apostles, only Protestantism acknowledges that all earthly authorities other than the Bible are capable of being mistaken, and therefore must be in submission to Scripture.

 

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself asserted that human tradition was capable of being mistaken, and therefore in need of correction by Scripture. In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus answered the challenge of the Pharisees, who said that He taught his disciples to disobey the “traditions of the elders,” by saying

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:

But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free

And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

 

Tradition can be mistaken. But only Scripture—God’s words to us—can correct it. The great and satanic error of the liberal rationalists is to think that human reason (and often, in practice human emotion or whim) is sufficient to correct tradition and Scripture.

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36 thoughts on ““At What Point Does One Become Entitled to an Opinion?”

  1. How would you respond to the common Catholic counterclaim that tradition is prior to scripture — because it is only by tradition that we know which books are to be considered “scripture” and which are not? The Bible doesn’t say which books should be in the Bible, and it is only by tradition that you come to accept a particular set of 66 (Protestant), 73 (Catholic), or 78 (Orthodox) books as authoritative.

    • About the Catholic assertion that tradition is “prior” to Scripture, because only by tradition can you know which books are Scripture. Here’s what’s wrong with this ideas:

      First, there is a sharp distinction between, on the one hand, the reason why the 66 books of the Bible [yes, I’m Protestant] are Scripture and, on the other hand, how we know they are Scripture.

      The reason they are Scripture is because only these books were superintended in their writings by God, so that they say only what God says. God is the reason why they are Scripture.

      But there is no glib answer to the question, “How can I know these books are Scripture?” The basic answer is that you must trust Christian tradition [with a lower-case t] because it contains the wisdom of the holy fathers and wise men of Christendom.

      Of course there are reasons why tradition affirms that these texts are Scripture: Because these books have a unique organic unity, because these books have spoken to Christians down through the ages better than any other allegedly holy books, because many parts of them have been vindicated by prophecy, and so on. And, in the case of the New Testament text (which is not in dispute, as far as I know), these were the only holy books written by Apostles of our Lord.

      You say that tradition is “prior” to Scripture. It depends on what you mean. Tradition did not write Scripture, nor does it have the authority simply to declare a writing to be Scripture. Tradition is not like a legislature that can declare by fiat that a law is so. It is not the capital-t Tradition that Catholics speak of. Instead, real Christian tradition is like a scientist, testifying to a reality it did not create. This is the sense in which we must trust tradition.

      • What is tradition?

        The Latin verb tradere means “to hand over” and the word tradition, which is derived from the supine form of the verb, means “that which is passed down”.

        Tradition, then, includes everything which is passed down to us from those who have preceded us. If we are part of an organic community, which is the way the Church is spoken of in the New Testament (St. Paul’s description of the Church as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 13) and the way political societies were conceived of in pre-liberal thought, then tradition is vitally important. It is the life blood of the organic community.

        Note that St. Paul himself, only a few chapters after speaking of the Church as Christ’s body, refers to the Gospel itself as a tradition. ” For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received” (1 Cor. 15:3) Elsewhere, he tells the Thessalonian church to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15)

        It is not, therefore, a matter of Scripture v. tradition. The Gospel is a tradition. The Bible itself is a tradition. It is something which older generations of Christians had and passed on to us.

        Tradition comes with different kinds of authority attached to it. The older a tradition is, the more prescriptive authority it has, i.e. authority that is backed by the weight of the ages. There are other, more specific, kinds of authority.

        The Scriptures have a more direct authority. They are considered, in Christian orthodoxy, to be the written Word of God. Unlike many other things that are included in tradition, and contrary to the silly claims ignorant opponents of the faith make about the Bible, the Scriptures, due to their written nature, do not change from age to age.

        The Church hierarchy also has a more specific kind of authority. Christ chose His Apostles, commissioned them, and made them the leaders of His Church, giving them specific authority in doing so. As the Church grew and spread, and required more leaders than the Apostles themselves, they choose others to do that work, and conveyed that authority on them by ordination – the laying on of hands. These men in turn commissioned new leaders to join them and/or succeed them, and so on and so on.

        The difference between Protestantism and Catholicism is largely a difference in how the two interpret the relationship between these two specific kinds of authority. Protestants point to the unchanging nature of the Scriptures themselves as proof that they are the higher authority in the tradition. Catholics point to the fact that the canon of the New Testament was a matter decided upon for the Church by leaders possessing the authority that had been passed down in ordination from the Apostles.

        Both positions have something to be said for them. The authority of the Bible, as direct revelation from God, which does not change from age to age, is the kind of authority one looks for in a “court of final appeal”, which is the role the first Reformers claimed for the Bible. Its unchangeable nature, however, also means that it does not adapt to address changing circumstances. It must therefore be applied to the latter by another authority, and this, traditionally has been part of the teaching role of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. If Catholics often fail to appreciate the role of Scriptural authority as the “court of final appeal”, extreme Protestants often fail to appreciate the need for a living, teaching authority, to apply the eternal truths of Scripture to the circumstances of the present. A tradition requires a certain degree of fluidity to be a living tradition, and for an organic community like the Christian Church, only a living tradition is of any value.

      • Gerry, this is well put. I would only add that I have not been speaking of Scripture “versus” tradition (unless the two contradict one another.) Christian tradition generally affirms Scripture.

      • Amen. “The Bible itself is a tradition.” Great insight. The Word is given over to us in three concrete forms: the Scriptures, the Holy Church Universal (on Earth and in Heaven) and in the Bread of the Presence. The Words of the Institution recorded in Scripture establish the Presence in the Bread; the Bread of the Presence establishes the Communion of the Saints; the Communion of the Saints preserves and propagates the Words of the Institution; etc.

  2. By what authority I should accept Bible as an Authority?
    Does Bible itself tells me or does God?
    Or does my reason or my conscience?
    Or is it Divine Grace?

    • “By what authority I should accept Bible as an Authority?”

      Your question is something like a category error. The reason you should accept the Bible as the highest earthly authority is not because an authority says you should. It is because the Bible is God’s Word, and since God is the highest authority, His Word has the highest earthly authority.

      • One can also say that Christ is the word of God made flesh; that Christ gave authority to the Church; and that the Church says which books are the word of God. Therefore, we know which books represent the word of God through the Church’s authority, not by our own judgment.

        Thus, while the Bible has authority, it cannot be lesser than the authority of the people who selected the books as authoritative. You would agree that in their selection they had something that protected them from error. In the same line of thought one may also give this body of people to correctly interpret the meaning of the written word in light of the tradition taught first by the Word made flesh. I would expect that the Word made flesh encompasses a fuller view of the word of God than its projection into paper. Thus, while scripture is authoritative, the authority to properly interpret it is given to people. I mean, when he says that what you tie on Earth will be tied in Heaven is a clear statement of granting authority.

      • But Ralph, the church did not “select” the books of the Bible in the sense of making them Scripture. If a book of Scripture is Scripture because it contains God’s words to us, then no earthly authority can make it Scripture. A human authority can only recognize it as Scripture, that is, the church can only recognize which books have God as their Author.

        As for the “binding on earth” passage (Matthew 18:18), the immediate context makes it clear that this has to do with the earthly forgiveness of sins, not with the authority to determine Scripture or doctrine.

      • “Bible is God’s Word”
        But which Bible?
        The Hebrew Bible or the Greek Bible or the King James Version?.

        And what do I do about the corruptions in the ancient text, something that leaps up when the Hebrew Old Testament is studied (see Robert Alter’s translations and notes on Hebrew Bible). A lot of context is gone–who were Nephaliim anyway?
        A lot of Psalms exists as a corrupted text that has been put together as a guesswork by later scholars.

      • Bedarz:

        You ask “But who says that Bible is the Word of God?” Answer: The people who know the truth about the Bible.
        You also ask “And why should I believe them?” Answer: Because they tell the truth.

        Obviously these answers will not satisfy you. But that’s ultimately your problem, not mine. Evidence for the inspiration of the Bible is plentiful; you just need the ability to reject false and misleading evidence. If God gives you the gift of faith, you will possess this ability. If you sincerely ask Him to give you this gift, He probably will.

        Since you take a skeptical approach to this question, I have to ask you: Since you reject the authority of the Bible, what is your ultimate authority?

        You also bring up the question of textual variants. The basic answer to your objection is twofold. One, the differences between manuscripts are trivial in the sense that no Christian teaching is cast into doubt by them. Two, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself affirmed the Old Testament as being the Word of God, and He held people responsible for honoring it, despite the existence of textual variants (e.g., Hebrew text versus Septuagint.) As for the New Testament, the various Christian traditions all agree on which books are included.

      • AR: ‘You ask “But who says that Bible is the Word of God?” Answer: The people who know the truth about the Bible.
        You also ask “And why should I believe them?” Answer: Because they tell the truth.’

        Alan, you are making my argument. There is a need of an authority, outside the Bible, to acknowledge the divine origin of each of the books that forms part of it. The question is “who are they that tell the truth”? Answer: Those whose succession can be traced back to the apostles, consistent with the teachings of the word made flesh; those like, Irenaus of Lyon, who, when confronted with a bunch of apocryphal gospels, was able to say that of those out there, only 4 contained fully orthodox content.

        You are free to call this process something different than selection. But if I see a counterfeit expert telling me that “these $20 bills are false, and these other ones are legitimate”, I would assume that he detected the legitimacy of the notes based on his expertise and selected those that were legitimate as the set of good $20 bills.

        Now, as you say with the canon of scripture, you are right: “no earthly authority can make it Scripture”. The authority that the Church has is not earthly. It comes from the Holy Spirit, which protects her from error. So, while it does not have the authority to make (as write) Scripture, it has the authority to recognize it. This authority is so supreme, that is was able to recognize Scripture outside the Pentateuch, to which Paul was most likely referring to in 2 Timothy 3:16.

        I like this answer because it takes us away from the touchy-feely answer of “my opinion vs. yours”. Those type of opinions are like belly-buttons: everyone has one, but they are useless.

      • Here’s one of many problems with your answer, which is “We know the Bible is God’s Word because the [Roman Catholic] Church tells us.”

        The obvious question is then: How do you know that the Roman Catholic Church is correct?

        Saying “We can know because Rome tells us” is an inadequate answer, because now we need to know why Rome is correct.

        As I said earlier, there is no (valid) glib answer to the question “how can I know that the Bible is God’s Word?”

  3. I have difficulty believing Christian teachings (or any ‘truths’) which have only the authority of a tradition to justify my assent.

    While I’m quite ready to acknowledge the limitations of my education and understanding, and I also accept I might be arrogant, nevertheless I cannot honestly force myself to affect an opinion or believe something which I can’t be reasoned into.

    This is why I think of myself as an ‘independent Christian’ – some would say an heretic – who picks and chooses what to believe and what to reject.

    • “I cannot honestly force myself to affect an opinion or believe something which I can’t be reasoned into. “

      You personally may not be reasoned into them, but there is always valid evidence and arguments for any truth. Authority helps you to grasp these truths and to reject the contrary misleading evidence which always exists.

  4. This is slightly off topic, but the question about one’s right to an opinion leads to a second question about one’s responsibility to form an opinion. Not long ago I was in conversation with two scientist and remarked that I was agnostic with regard to anthropogenic climate change. I made it clear that I did not mean skeptical, as so many people do when they say they are agnostic. I meant that I had no opinion and gave voice to no opinion other than the opinion that I have no opinion. Nevertheless, both scientists became very agitated, almost angry, and rebuked me very sharply. They said the science was not that complicated, but even if I was too lazy to read the documents, I should nevertheless form a belief on the authority of the “scientific community.”

    I have some sympathy with their position, since I think religious agnosticism is, more often than not, an expression of laziness and cowardice, but the exchange got me to thinking about how the areas of tolerated agnosticism have changed in our culture, and about how the right to no opinion is just as important, and just as circumscribed, as the right to an opinion.

    All of this, and Alan Roebuck’s post, seem to make opinion formation far more voluntary than it actually is. I cannot pick up the Bible resolved to believe everything I read in it. I read it and find, remarkably enough, that I believe what I have read. I cannot read an article on ACC resolved to believe everything I read in it. I read it and find, remarkably enough, that no new beliefs have taken up residence in my brain. Our will enters into belief-formation only insofar as we can place ourselves in circumstances where belief-formation is more less likely, but in the event, belief-formation is mysterious and beyond our control.

  5. Authority helps you to grasp these truths and to reject the contrary misleading evidence which always exists.

    This seems to imply that Authority operates by encouraging me to accept inferences which have not been thoroughly reasoned, and that Authority always ‘knows’ the difference between true and false evidence. Neither sense nor experience give me grounds for confidence in this proposition.

    • “Having authority” means “possessing the right to be believed or obeyed.” There are therefore two types of authority: epistemological and moral.

      We have been speaking here mainly of epistemological authority: possessing the right to be believed. If an individual possesses this right, why does he have it? For two basic reasons: because he really does speak the truth, and because he has a publicly-recognized quality of speaking the truth. To be an authority, it is not enough to be an unknown. At least some other people must recognize his authority.

      I have said that a truth spoken by an authority is not true solely because the authority says it. There is almost always evidence for a truth. It is this evidence, strictly speaking, that are the real reasons why the truth really is true. It’s not true solely because the authority says so.

      On the other hand, there are some truths that we have no choice but to believe because of an (epistemological) authority. The truth that God is a Trinity, for example. Or the truth that God chose us, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy in His sight. (See Ephesians 1.) There can be no earthly evidence that supports these truths; we have no choice but to believe them because they come from a trustworthy Authority.

      And although truths are not true solely because the authority says so, there are times when we must trust the authority despite our doubts. Aquinas said something like this. Although I don’t have a direct citation, I recall hearing that Aquinas taught that although most [not all] of the truths of Christianity can be demonstrated from evidence and reasoning, most of us don’t have the time or the inclination to do the research. So in order to become wise, we need to trust Christian authorities.

      • Here is (perhaps) the Aquinas quote you have in mind, from the first article of the Summa:

        “Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation.”

      • Thanks, Alan, for your thoughtful answer to my question about why we should trust Authority.

        I’ve been reading The Reasonableness of Christianity, by John Locke, in my search for a clear demonstration that my shaky beliefs in the truths of Christianity are not unreasonable. (I know Aquinas has written a compehensive and canonical report on this subject – about which I have only read Edward Feser’s Beginner’s Guide.)

        Christianity is ‘reasonable’, according to Locke, because its fundamental doctrines are perspicuous and accessible to all, not because it is in every respect rationally demonstrable. It’s been noted that Locke’s apparent affirmation of the truth of Christianity masks the problem of reason’s inability to substantiate this truth. At which point Authority steps in, I presume.

  6. Dr. Charlton’s comment was made in the context of a larger discussion concerning traditional understandings of normative sex roles. Someone was disputing the duty of women to submit to their husbands as it has always and everywhere been understood, vigorously defended, and represented in the social order until approximately five minutes ago, when this arrangement was upset for no good reason and at ruinous expense.

    Because we are talking about issues elementary to human flourishing, none of us are entitled to an “opinion” anywhere, ever, except insofar as it conforms to objective truth. We are, in other words, entitled to believe and espouse truth; we are not entitled to believe or espouse lies, falsehoods, or other errors. This is basic to natural law; there is no moral right to error. So the question itself kind of misses the point.

    Maybe the question should not be “When is one entitled” (I hate that word) but “When is it prudent.” Well, if one wishes to argue that everyone everywhere got everything wrong about this fundamental issue until he came along just now and set us all straight, he should at a minimum at least know what he’s talking about. This means having read, lots. That includes philosophy (classical, medieval, and modern alike), theology, and history. He should be able to point to a specific pattern of errors, to explain how they are fatal to this system as it has always and everywhere been understood and implemented. He should be able to point out how the apparent social benefits of this system for previous societies are illusory and the apparent social ills wrought by its destruction in the present age are equally illusory. Preferably (but not necessarily) it also means having a relatively healthy and successful life himself, since everyone is perfectly within their rights not to take advice from palpable misfits, like the many childless/lesbian/divorcee feminists. In other words, one’s mouth must not write checks one’s mind cannot cash. Rejecting the consensus of, bare minimum, a few thousand years of thinkers’ is a monumental task and to undertake it without preparation requires equally monumental hubris. And no, “I don’t see the reason for this” is not a reason for rejecting it. Ignorance of such topics commands polite deference to one’s historical superiors, not the conclusion that what you don’t understand must just not make sense. Because, after all, maybe you’re just an idiot.

    • Just realized I was conflating two threads; the specific discussion related not to the duty of wives to submit to their husbands but the natural/theological symbolism of male/female relations. Doesn’t really change my point.

    • Well, if one wishes to argue that everyone everywhere got everything wrong about this fundamental issue until he came along just now and set us all straight, he should at a minimum at least know what he’s talking about.

      Which reminds me of one of my favorites, this from Chesterton:

      There exists . . . a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

  7. I’m not sure whether Proph’s comments were addressed to what I said previously. I’ll pretend they were for what it’s worth.

    Maybe it is monumental hubris not to place a childlike trust in a centuries old development of theological opinion. In which case I’m guilty as charged. But if we’re not to reject anything on the basis that “I don’t see the reason for this”, what other grounds have we for discriminating between what seems to be certain, or probable, or improbable, and so forth?

    Polite deference to one’s historical superiors isn’t, in my view, a recipe that will satisfy an inquiring mind. Sometimes there are good reasons for deferring to received opinion, sometimes there aren’t.

    It’s been said that what you have not been reasoned into, you can’t be reasoned out of. I have not claimed that, in principle, what is not understood does not necessarily make sense. I merely alluded to my difficulties in believing a number of Christian doctrines which have only the authority of tradition to command my acquiescence.

  8. Some of these comments seem to confuse what are sometimes described as “bureaucratic authority” and “charismatic authority.” A person has bureaucratic authority because he somehow came to be appointed as “the boss,” and everyone has to do what he says even if they think he is a total tool. A person has charismatic authority because he inspires trust, because what he says appears obviously correct or true or right. An assent to charismatic authority is not simply assent of the reason, although reason may ratify it so far as reason goes.

    Clearly this is the authority Christ had. He did not declare himself the Son of God. He showed himself to be such, to those with the eyes and ears to perceive it, by speaking “words of power.”

    The charismatic power of the New Testament will be evident to anyone who takes the trouble to read the “excluded gospels.” Some of them are interesting, but its very easy to understand why they were excluded. Such truth as they contain is encrusted with gnostic mythologies and there is no feeling that one is in the presence of something unlike anything else.

    The authority of the Church is, likewise, charismatic. Maybe this is more obvious to me as a Catholic convert than it would be to Protestants or cradle Catholics. I did not read pronouncement X and say, “the Catholic Church said that, so it must be true.” I read pronouncement X and said, “Who said that? They clearly know what they are talking about.”

  9. At What Point Does One Become Entitled to an Opinion?

    In this Internet age it’s when you use your real name to post and comment.

  10. I think that, in ordinary circumstances, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion” not because everyone is qualified by his character, intellect, and learning to hold an opinion, but because there are few people indeed who are qualified to decide who is entitled to express an opinion, especially in our own time. Can you imagine how ghastly it would be to have boards or single arbiters — probably professors or lawyers — who ruled on whether someone was entitled to have and express an opinion? (shudder)

    • In other words, there’s a kind of liberty that became essential when liberalism gave authority to the worst men?

    • I don’t think we should start issuing licenses to form opinions, and even if we did, the ignoramuses wouldn’t stop. I think the problem BC was talking about is how one is to deal with the opinions of these ignoramuses, and also, perhaps, how one is to remain on guard against forming ignorant opinions one’s self. Sometimes other people ought to shut up and listen, sometimes I ought to. In a democratic society we tend to forget this.

  11. It would seem that there are matters that cannot be questions of opinion. That God exists, for example, cannot be a question of opinion for a Catholic. One can reach the point, however, via recognition from the Church as a theological expert or by receiving the episcopacy, that one is able to offer opinions on matters of theological dispute, as distinct from areas requiring the assent of faith and those requiring religious assent.

    I understand Dr. Charlton’s argument: he is saying that there is a stronger motive of credibility for tradition because of the greater spiritual and intellectual insight of the collective Christian Church’s history over any motive of credibility we might impute to our own spiritual and intellectual insight. If one considers the holiness of the Desert Fathers, the intellects of Augustine and Aquinas, and the brilliant art Christianity has inspired, this appeal cannot be easily dismissed- I am even of the mind that following this path leads one to the Truth.

    A modern response would be: the tradition of Enlightenment thought as it has developed into its modern and post-modern forms has sufficiently disproved numerous traditional Christian doctrines (such as Biblical inerrancy) that one has a strong motive to examine the entire body of Christian tradition according to the standards of our time, because our time has proven it is closer to the truth than any previous one. On spiritual matters, the refutation of the past is so thorough that one is entitled to an absolute freedom of opinion or belief making in religious matters so long as said ideas flow from the true reflections of modern times.

    I suppose the best way to resolve the issue is this way: walk the traditional path, imitate the Desert Fathers, the great saints, read the treatises of the holiest men and women, consider the artistic output of Christianity. Those I know who have fallen away from Christianity either never walked the traditional path, or did so only tepidly. When I fell away in college it was by trusting in modern methods. God drew me back through traditional considerations.

    Finally, the conversation on women priests, in which my comment appeared, was an attempt on my part to find a more thorough explanation of the “why” for the all male priesthood than I had previously encountered. I think the difficulty was that I misunderstood how one could harmonize certain terms Holy Mother Church was using to explain the teaching, such as how the sexes can have “equal dignity” but differences in “symbolism” and role. As I said in the thread, my concerns have been addressed to my satisfaction.

  12. Alan,

    Isn’t it more correct to say that Orthodoxy considers Christian Truth to be Scripture, but Scripture as it is understood by Orthodox Tradition (as guided by the Holy Spirit via the Apostles and Holy Fathers) and not how Scripture is understood by any earthly organization or by the rational faculties of man.

    • I don’t know what you mean by this. “Scripture” means the books of the Bible. We may not fully understand all it says, but it is God speaking.

      • I suppose what it means is that when trying to understand what Scripture is telling us, what God is telling us, the thing to do is to consult the Holy Fathers. Consult those who were closest to Christ in time and are closest to God in holiness. What is the nature of man? Can man lose the image of God? What is life in the Church meant to be like? What is Grace? Consult the Church Fathers. Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote many times that I’m aware of that there is a remarkable consistency among the early Church Fathers on all aspects of dogma which suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit and thus fidelity to Scripture.

      • Yes, in general I would agree with what you say here. As a Protestant, I see the Reformation as the attempt to get back to the original understanding of the faith by reading Scripture and the Fathers.

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