Thursday, July 17, 2008

Morerod on the elephant in the room

“The dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans must [now] confront seriously the philosophical question whether it is possible for two agents to perform one and the same action simultaneously, each of them performing the whole of it on its own level of being. This question is philosophical from the get-go, and touches on the conception of being and the possibility of analogy.”

Charles Morerod, O.P., "La philosophie dans le dialogue catholique-luthérien," Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 44, no. 3 (1997): 238, italics mine. Kathryn Tanner, who defends the coherence of the claim that "it is possible for two agents to perform one and the same action simultaneously, each of them performing the whole of it on its own level of being", has probably the more comprehensive view, however: "Granting the general accuracy of both Protestant and Catholic accusations of distortion in Christian discourse, it is difficult to accept either side's diagnosis that the source of the error lies with some philosophical seduction of Christian purity. The general disruption of Christian discourse that occurs in mutual charges of impropriety between Christian factions crosses all philosophical lines distinguishing those factions. This general disorder suggests, not the accidental corruption of any particular theological faction through the untoward outside influence of flawed philosophical principles, but a curious forgetfulness about the rules for proper Christian talk on the part of the church itself as a whole" (God and creation in Christian theology: tyranny or empowerment? (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 5 (2.1 ff.)). A seduction of sorts has taken place, and from the time of the Reformation approximately, but it was a seduction of Protestants and Catholics alike by "a specifically modern source" (4), a "modern framework for discourse" (124 ff.) that issues in a Pelagianism of those--Catholics as well as Protestants--who mishandle the traditional "negative" emphasis on the sovereignty of God, as well as a Pelagianism of those--Protestants as well as Catholics--who mishandle the traditional "positive" emphasis on the integrity of the creature. (For this "two-sided character of the rules", see pp. 105 ff., 121.5, and, for the modern context prescriptively, 161-162; for a more complex account of the rules themselves, see pp. 90 ff., 47.2; for historical examples, mostly Catholic (Biel; Banez and Molina), but influential also in Protestant circles (pp. 142-143), see pp. 132 ff.) The Pelagianism here, modernist, Protestant, and Catholic, consists in the assumption that the creature is in some sense independent of (i.e. not, as in Aquinas, utterly and in every respect dependent upon) God's creative agency (157.2, 159.1). And it results in "What is odd about the modern situation": "the degree to which difference takes on the character of mutual exclusivity" (4, cf. 123.1), and "what might have been a complementary difference of theological priorities turns into a theological conflict" (148).

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