Friday, September 30, 2005

The Catholic faith
Scripture, tradition, reason and experience?
The three bases of the faith according to classical Anglicanism (said to come from Richard Hooker) are scripture, tradition and reason, to which some recently have added experience.

Whether this is right or wrong as a working definition depends on how you define those words.

It has seemed to me that ‘reason’ in the Anglican three-legged stool was a leftover from the ‘Enlightenment’ to cancel out scripture (not that we should be literalists/fundamentalists/bibliolaters) or tradition when they get in our way. ‘La foi, c’est moi!’ Likewise ‘experience’ can be a relativising dodge of Broad Churchpeople, basically the logical conclusion of Protestant private judgement.

But not necessarily if, I’m guessing, you understand ‘reason’ as Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas did as from God and about conforming yourself to objective reality, and ‘experience’ as the shared experience of the Church Catholic, simply another way of saying ‘tradition’!

Which, I understand, is what Hooker meant by ‘reason’, not what Modernists mean today.

The Eastern Orthodox have it right when they describe the basis of the faith not as a three-legged stool, or even two sources, scripture and tradition, like Roman Catholics often do*, but simply tradition, shocking in its simplicity as well as fun for scaring Protestants as it sounds like exactly the opposite of what they were taught about only the Bible being really important.

Of course as Kallistos (Ware) points out, scripture is part of tradition. All Catholics know that the two never conflict, just like defined doctrines can’t go against earlier definitions.

St Jerome, patron of biblical scholars: pray for us.

*Not that this working definition is wrong. Far from it! Like the classical Anglican one it simply needs explaining (and is less problematic than the Anglican one) and isn’t the only description one can use.

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