Sunday, December 9, 2007

Credo Epilogue: Anticredalism

All churches have Creeds. Creed, of course, is of the Latin word "Credo", or "I believe". I've said before that the non-denominational utterance "no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible" is itself a creed. Some churches believe that no one set of beliefs can be right; that too is a belief. The PCA has its own little creed. All churches have a set of beliefs, so all churches have Creeds.

Protestants necessarily teach that all statements of belief are valid (i.e., Truthful) only insofar as they agree with the Scriptures. [I will set aside for now the antecedent problem that this belief follows a priori a belief subject to untruthfulness.] If formulations of belief are only valid where they agree with the Bible, then their worth is as a forum for discussion, an opportunity to strive toward the Truths within the Bible.

Consequently, creeds should always be open to debate, handling, picking apart, and modifying. And that means that no one should be bound ever to subscribe to a belief in one system of theology as Truth. No one should be bound ever to submit to a particular form of ecclesial governance. These things can only be right insofar as they agree with the Bible, and whether they agree with the Bible needs to remain open for debate (for the individual's determination). To lock one into a particular fallible articulation of Truth locks one out of considering that that articulation may be inaccurate, which locks one into a belief that it is accurate, which conflicts with the protestant view that nothing but Scripture is infallible. Phew.

So, to the Protestant mind, no vows for church membership or officership should be taken, other than a vow to the Prior of Priors, that the Bible is God's only Authoritative Revelation. And how the Prior of Priors obtained to infallible status is (as I humbly see it) the great logical flaw of the Reformation.


Principium unitatis said...


I think you have nailed it. This is why, as I have tried to show in my review of Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura, there is no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura. And this is why Protestantism reduces to the individualism of solo scriptura, an individualism which Mathison himself is trying to reject.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jim said...


The problem with your reductio is that you need to demonstrate that the law of the excluded middle applies.

As you know this from your legal training, "anything goes" is not the only alternative to a per se rule.

There is a continuum of presumptions between a per se rule or no deference at all. There is a continuum of "burdens of proof" that can be required to overcome a given presumption.

So it's easy to articulate a system of authentic submission or deference that does not also entail affirmation of a per se rule.

Or to put it a little differently, a "per se rule" is not of the essence of submission. It rather defines one point of a continuum.

Thos said...


I'm no logician, so I may not entirely follow. I made several assertions in my post, which was not intended to be a strict logical formulary. So if I speak up on the wrong assertion, please correct me.

I believe the essence of my post was a drawing of conclusions from what I saw to be the Protestant canon of handling the Scriptures: the Bible is the Sole Truth (T), and other writings that try to state T are only right insofar as they agree with the Bible. Now that I think of it, "protestant" was probably over-inclusive (as it often will be). The Calvinist view is: "nothing but what's in the Bible". So I think the canon I articulated follows from Calvinism handily.

The Lutheran view is: "nothing that conflicts with what's in the Bible". Perhaps that's my improperly excluded middle. That leaves the Lutheran, though, looking for T from broader notions of Natural or Moral Law, no? The Lutheran can debate T in a given Creed, then, not just based on its conformity with the Bible, but with other Revelation (also T). Fine. But the Creed is still only valid insofar as it agrees with whatever Primary Sources of T you accept. It is a secondary authority, fallible, so should remain constantly open to debate and correction.

If ancient creeds are a primary authority (so T, not just 'maybe T'), then by what authority were they defined as T? To say that the Church could infallibly articulate T after the Apostles had all died is foreign to my Calvinistic understanding. If the Spirit was still breathing T into the Church in the 4th and 5th centuries, when and why did He stop? If the Spirit was not breathing T after the last jot of the New Testament was written, why cannot the decisions of the fallible 4th Century church still be open for debate (within the Church)?

You proffered a system of deference as the via media. I am attracted to this proposition, but to whom do I defer? Why does one party deserve my deference, and not another? Why not defer to Chesterton's electorate of the dead (for surely there have been more "true Christian" Roman Catholics than Calvinists in the history of Christianity)? It was Calvin's position, as I've read him in his Institutes, that one should defer wherever one is, so long as where one is meets the definition of a true church (i.e., preaches the word and practices the sacraments), as he sees it. That would mean that I should practice credo-baptism, not paedobaptism, if I find myself in a Southern Baptist Church (out of deference). But paedobaptism is either T or Not T (right or wrong). There is no via media.

Thank you for your challenging post. I have feeble abilities in this area of reason, which is at the hub of my discernment.

Peace in Christ,

Jim said...

Hi Thos,

Here's how I understand your argument:

[1] Protestants submit to their creeds as authorities.

[2] But because Protestant creeds affirm the inerrancy of Scripture and the possible fallibility of creeds, then their creeds may be in error.

[3] But if a creed may be in error, then you cannot submit to that creed (because you cannot submit to a creed which may be false).

[4] But [3] contradicts [1]. Therefore, as you conclude, "That means that no one should be bound ever to subscribe to a belief in one system of theology as Truth. No one should be bound ever to submit to a particular form of ecclesial governance."

So, at a minimum, if a religious authority (whether creedal or ecclesial) does not at least claim to be inerrant, then you cannot submit to it.

So it's either individualism OR submission to a tradition claiming inerrancy. (And because Protestant traditions eschew claims of inerrancy, then we know automatically that they cannot teach or implement any form of religious submission, properly understood. But since we also know that the Bible teaches submission to religious authorities, then Protestantism cannot be a coherent theological system. It is self-contradictory.)

The problem with the argument (assuming I've reproduced it correctly) is with item [3].

To wit, you assume that inerrant authority is of the essence of submission.

That seems clearly incorrect to me. I can submit in robust ways to religious authorities that I (and they) concede may error.

We can defer to an authority, setting aside our own individual judgment, unless a certain standard of proof is met. ("Clear error," "beyond a reasonable doubt," "beyond all doubt," "the preponderance of the evidence," whatever.)

That's real submission, in that we follow the judgment of the authority in these cases rather than following our own individual judgment.

So it seemed to me that your argument works only if submission requires an inerrant authority.

To be sure, God never errs, so we submit wholly to God. But God is unique here, and that attribute necessarily limits our submission to human authorities of all kinds (including religious authorities).

But just because it is God alone who receives our unreserved submission, does not mean that the human authorities (whether religious or other kinds) receive no submission whatsoever. Rather, they receive the mediate submission appropriate to their (critical) roles in mediating and facilitating our relationship to and with Jesus Christ.

I hope that's a bit clearer.


- Jim

Thos said...


I did not mean to start with the argument that Protestants submit to their creeds as authority. I only see that full submission in my denomination where the creed/belief is this: ‘the Bible is sole authority’. We accept ancient creeds only where they agree with that creed (at least, according to my PCA’s Book of Church Order).

But then I learned from your post that we use the word "submit" differently, and am thankful to have this fruitful point of discussion brought to light.

I mean "submission" as a wholly giving over of oneself to a particular authority. I give myself over to the Bible (as I gather you do) in this way. The only deference I engage in is a per se (per jure?) one.

You proffered as an alternative to individualism a system of deference to ecclesial or creedal authority. That seems to me to be a type of individualism light, where the hardest instances of submission won't ever happen, whether the authority properly imposes Truth or not.

Who has the authority to set the standard of deference you are to give to your denomination? Who has the authority to define which denomination gets your deference to begin with? If we all defer to our denominations until their rule appears very likely to be wrong (we’ll call that clear and convincing), then we defer to mutually exclusive claims of Truth. Some defer to a credo-baptist church. I defer to a paedobaptist church. But the credo- and paedobaptists are NOT both right. Therefore, either the sacrament of baptism should be open for individual exercise, or those submitting to the wrong camp should have had a higher standard before submitting to that camp in the first place.

Take another example, that of birth control. My denomination allows it. Its forebears did not a few decades ago. Do I defer to it now or over time? Do I defer to the Catholic view, since there are more Catholics than Presbyterians? Or do I defer to my PCA merely because happenstance (or Providence) has me here, whether or not its views are truth? It’s either permissible or not. Those who say not say those who practice it sin. Those who say it is permissible say that it is sin to have more children than one can bear, or sin to abstain from the marital act for very long periods. To whom do we defer? What standard of deference do we offer? It seems that in the hard instances, where the rubber meets the road, individual will prevails.

At the heart of it, on any given issue, one as an individual is deciding how a church or credal teaching measures up to one’s view of Truth. If it's wrong enough that that person’s deference standard won't give it a go, that person’s submission stops. This is conditional submission, and the condition is the degree to which one’s individual view conflicts with the authority.

Peace in Christ,

Jim said...

Hi Thos,

"Submission" occurs when you follow another person's decision when that decision would not be the one that you would make. I don't believe that is a controversial definition of submission.

I'll take your argument that my view doesn't account for submission in "the hardest instances" to be a stipulation that my view accounts for submission in all but the hardest cases.

Before moving onto the "hardest cases," I want to note that even by your account, we've just accounted for "submission" in 99% of the cases church officials typically face. (If not 99%, then some large percentage.)

You may call that individualism lite, but relative to a system in which an individual is accountable ONLY to his own conscience in EVERY decision -- which, I believe, is what you've been suggesting is the Protestant baseline -- then I'd suggest that I've outlined a pretty robust account of religious submission, at least relative to that baseline.

So that you've implicitly conceded that I've accounted for submission in all the non-hard cases, then we can consider the "hardest cases."

My goal is to account for the Scriptural data, absolutely including Mt 23.1-3 and Heb 13.17, but also including Acts 4.19 and 5.29.

Scholars can refine the categories (just as we do in law), but that doesn't mean that the categories are non-obvious: God wants his people reflexively to defer to the human authorities he has appointed. Sometimes those human authorities can err (as can individuals). When that err concerns a matter of eternal consequence, then we must obey God rather than the mediate human authority.

To be sure, individuals can err as well. And God holds the authority responsible for what he teaches and requires (Jas 3.1). That is why we should do what they tell us (Mt 23.3) unless what they require directly conflicts with God's command (Acts 4.19, 5.29).

Different jurisdictions can reach different conclusions. Jesus instructed his disciples to follow the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees even though we know that Jesus disagreed with some of those teachings. I trust Jesus' promise that the Spirit will lead all men of good faith into accord.

More than anything, though, is that I believe myself responsible for following Jesus' commands as best as I can, where I am. This includes submitting to the ecclesial authorities God has placed over me.

But this is just part of a seamless web of "submitting to one another in the fear of Christ" (Eph 5.21).

There are a lot of things that I might change about my church if I was the one in charge. But I'm not. So I submit to my pastor and to my fellow Christians in the congregation.

I want my pastor to be able to give an account of me "with joy, and not with grief" (Heb 13.7b). This doesn't mean that I don't disagree with him, and it doesn't mean that I don't let him know when I disagree with him. But at the end of the day I need to defer to him presumptively as though he were Jesus himself.

I think the discussion about the authority, and the views of authority, in different churches is important. So don't get me wrong. But my main interest in the topic springs from a rather more modest question -- how should I interact with my pastor and the fellow members of my congregation?

As a very practical, personal matter, bending my knee to my pastor and my fellow congregants seems vitally important, however the larger issues shake themselves out.

I'm not interested in a type of submission that effectively says, "I submit to Christ, but there is no person on earth to whom I bend my knee." But I also do not see that God gave us the luxury of never asking -- humbly and deferentially -- whether "these things were so" (Acts 17.11).

Back to grading.

Joseph said...

Hi Jim,

I don't want to interfere with the conversation you are having with Tom. Please don't let my interjection shoot you guys off into another direction. I just had a question in regards to something you said.

"Jesus instructed his disciples to follow the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees even though we know that Jesus disagreed with some of those teachings."

I think you are referring to Matthew 23:1-10. In the Douay-Rheims it says:

"Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, Saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men's shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them. And all their works they do for to be seen of men. For they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge their fringes. And they love the first places at feasts, and the first chairs in the synagogues, And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi. But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master; and all you are brethren. And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is you master, Christ."

You interpreted this as Christ saying He disapproved of the teachings of those who sat on the seat of Moses. But, it doesn't appear that way at all, even reading it literally.

Here is what St. Chrysostom says about these verses (Matt. Hom. LXXII):

"But these things He saith, showing by all things His full agreement with Him that begat Him. For if He were opposed, He would have said the opposite about the law; but now He commands so great reverence to be shown towards it, that, even when they that teach it are depraved, He charges them to hold to it. But here He is discoursing about their life and morals, since this was chiefly the cause of their unbelief, their depraved life, and the love of glory. To amend therefore His hearers; that which in the first place most contributes to salvation, not to despise our teachers, neither to rise up against our priests, this doth He command with superabundant earnestness. But He does not only command it, but also Himself doth it. For though they were depraved, He doth not depose them from their dignity; to them rendering their condemnation heavier, and to His disciples leaving no cloke for disobedience."

The Church's interpretation of these verses, which seem to agree with a literal reading, suggest that Christ was admonshing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes, who were bolding claiming to be following the law as God would have them and were not, and was not condemning the teachings.

God gave the Law directly to Moses and then gave Moses the authority to build on that Law (always organically) according to the "hardness of their hearts". Christ did not come to abolish His own Law, part of which was bound by His servant Moses, and He certainly wasn't opposed to it.

So, your interpretation, I think, is contrary to the literal text and to the Church's interpretation. According to your interpretation, if I'm correct, Christ would be teaching disobedience and rebellion.

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Jim,

More than anything, though, is that I believe myself responsible for following Jesus' commands as best as I can, where I am. This includes submitting to the ecclesial authorities God has placed over me.

If I remember correctly, you don't say this about Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. You agree that people in those institutions should leave those institutions, even if their 'authorities' insist that they not leave. You agree that the 'authorities' in those institutions are not actual authorities, and were not placed over their 'sheep' by God. So you agree that not every *apparent* authority is an actual authority. And you agree that not every *apparent* authority was placed over its 'sheep' by God. Otherwise heretics would be required to submit to their heretical leaders, and schismatics would be required to submit to their schismatic leaders. Who gets to determine whether the institution one is in is heretical/schismatic? And who gets to determine whether the so-called authority is an actual authority or merely an 'apparent' authority? It can't be only the institutional authorities who get to decide this -- otherwise lay Mormons and lay Jehovah's Witnesses would be required to remain in those institutions, so long as their 'authorities' required them to stay. Therefore the answer must be: every individual.

In that case, then (within Protestantism) every creed is always likewise subject to the evaluation of every individual for its conformity/lack thereof with Scripture. Catholicism does not have this problem in part because of the infallibility of the sacred magisterium. For a Catholic to reject some dogma of the Church is to excommunicate himself and become Protestant. Protestantism rejected the sacred magisterium, and thus rejected its infallibility. As a result, within Protestantism, everything is still 'up for grabs', since (from the point of view of Protestantism) no ruling or council has definitively settled anything at all. This is why some professors at my Presbyterian seminary called into question various lines of the Nicene Creed, and others actually rejected certain terms and lines (e.g. "eternally begotten of the Father", "homoousious"). "I don't see that in Scripture", they would say. Or, "That is just some Greek philosophy mixed into the purity of the Gospel." If Protestant seminary professors can call into question lines of the Creed, then so can laymen. No Protestant leader can excommunicate someone from Protestantism; the 'excommunicated' person can simply start his own 'church', and remain a Protestant-in-good-standing. The Protestant rejection of the sacramentality of magisterial authority entails this individualism. For if magisterial authority is not limited to those in sacramental succession from the Apostles, then anyone can claim it, which is functionally equivalent to denying ecclesial authority altogether. But very few people see this -- that's why the system keeps on going. It is still living on Catholic inertia. Ever more gradually, however, the individualism is manifesting itself more and more as denominationalism deteriorates into non-denominational evangelicalism.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...


Thanks for sharing the anecdote from your seminary days. You don't know this, but it tied incredibly well with a difficult conversation my wife and I were having the night before about the slippage from fidelity to the Creeds that I sense is coming within our denomination.


Thank you again for this fruitful discussion. I'm blessed to have an attorney of your acumen challenge me in Christian fraternal love. I'm especially thankful that you never turn the conversation toward my character or motivations, but keep it about the quality (or lack thereof) of my views.

I do not stipulate that you have accounted for submission in 99% (or some other high figure) of the cases where one does what the church where God has one expects. I understand what you have described to be this: 100% of the time we should *conditionally submit*.

It is the condition placed on every conformity with the authority's norms that makes me think the conformity is not true submission, but rather individualism + some deference that the individual chooses to give to the authority proportionate to the degree of trust the individual has in the authority's judgment (so individualism + individualism = individualism).

Back to Finals studying.

Peace in Christ,

Jim said...

Hi all,

Thanks for the interaction.

Joseph: I'm happy to be corrected, but you seem to be equating Chrysostom's exegesis with "the Church's interpretation" of the passage.

One thing I learned from my Catholic friends very early in our discussions (not ya'll -- this was years and years ago) is that citing one father does not a Church teaching make.

Now perhaps Chrysostom's specific exegesis has been accepted as the only acceptable exegesis by the Church's infallible teaching magisterium, in which case you're right. But without some citation on the matter, it seems to me you're gliding too easily from the exegesis of one theologian to a more general claim about what the Church infallibly affirms.

As I said, though, I'm happy to learn otherwise from a specific citation to a text that clearly speaks authoritatively for the Catholic church.

We can talk more about correctly exegeting the passage. But it would be helpful to me to clear up this question first.

Bryan: I didn't reproduce a full view of submission here -- I think I posted at greater length on an earlier conversation we had here on Thos's blog.

In any case, the deferential presumption for authority can be overcome only by some high level of evidence, something like “beyond all doubt.” I personally would counsel a Mormon or a JW not to rebel unless he concluded beyond all doubt that what his church taught on an article of faith was false. I don’t think that’s a particular hard standard to meet in the case of those faiths, but I can’t of course speak for a young Mormon or JW struggling with the implications of his faith in light of the Scriptures.

What follows in your comment assumes the opposite of this, so doesn’t bite.

Nonetheless, let me comment on this, which seems to be the nub of your argument:

Protestantism rejected the sacred magisterium, and thus rejected its infallibility. As a result, within Protestantism, everything is still 'up for grabs',

Yes to sentence one; no to sentence two. I find it incomprehensible that any Christian – no matter his communion – would think that the Scriptures teach not one doctrine that is determinate from the Scriptures. Please note that is precisely your claim: Without a “sacred magisterium” every doctrine – ”everything” – is up for grabs.

Is your opinion of the Scriptures really so low that, but for humans imposing meaning on an entirely indeterminate text, that there is no certain understanding of any doctrine that an honest reader can glean from the text itself? You know your tradition better than I, but that is a much more extreme claim than I’ve ever read by a Catholic. That being said, I have a number of colleagues in the English department who would agree with you (not only concerning Sacred Writ, but would agree that every text is radically indeterminate).

In any event, you assert that individualism is the only alternative to a sacramental magisterium, but you have yet to explain what that would be the case, i.e., why a sacramental magisterium is the only alternative if individualism is rejected.

Thos: Presumably, you must trust any authority you submit to. Indeed, I don’t think a person converting to Catholicism would convert unless he trusted ex ante that the magisterium infallibly taught what was true. So I’m unsure how that is a unique indictment of the Protestant view of authority.

I suspect we’re at an impasse on the submission thing. I confess that my understanding of this comes from the legal side of the spectrum: Courts defer to legislative judgments all the time. That means, despite what the judges view of the legislation may have been had he voted on it as a legislator, as a judge, he defers to legislative judgment. But that deference is not absolute. But to say that the judge is still imposing his personal policy preferences (“individualism”) when he defers to legislative judgments because his deference is not absolute, is simply contrary to the common understanding of submission, and is contrary to the experience of almost every judge in the country. It’s submission.

To be sure, you can keep on saying in response that it’s just individualism because the judge doesn’t always submit, but the response makes no sense in the face of what commentators of all stripes recognize is manifest submission. (You might recall the story of a legislator who votes against a proposed law when sitting as a legislator. The bill passes against his opposition. The legislator is subsequently appointed a judge, and the same law now comes before him. As a judge, though, he upholds the constitutionality of the same law that he voted against as a legislator. And, of course, that does not mean that the judge must uphold every law against constitutional challenge. But this is real submission on the part of the judge.)

Similarly with religious submission. Saying that unless you admit that there are no limits on what an authority may require, then you are an “individualist” seems to me to be precisely the same error of telling the judge that he’s not really deferring to the legislature unless there is no situation under which he would strike down a challenged piece of legislation.


-- Jim

Jim said...


Hmm. I wonder if part of the problem is that I spend (too?) much of my professional life thinking about, writing about, and talking about legal presumptions, particularly (but not exclusively) in the context of constitutional law. So thinking this way is natural to me.

With the fear that this will be way too pedantic -- and, if so, I'll beg your forgiveness -- let me post a section from a chapter in a book (an obscure book) I published last year.

You may conclude that it is not pertinent (although I'd disagree), but I think it'll help understand the view I'm advancing.

Also, Thos, it's a critical key to understanding American constitutional law as applied by U.S. courts. So if you're taking constitutional law, it will help you with your exam. :-)

(I tell my students that, in fact, learning how to sort cases into high-, middel-, or low-deference categories is the only thing they'll learn in my class. And that once they figure it out, constitutional law becomes pretty easy.)


Under deferential review, judges do not ask whether they believe that legislation is constitutional, they instead ask whether legislators could rationally have believed that the legislation is constitutional. Consider the difference between the two questions in a context less rarefied than constitutional law. There is a difference between whether you believe it will rain tomorrow and whether a rational person could believe that it will rain tomorrow. It is very easy to imagine a circumstance in which you do not believe that it will rain tomorrow, yet you would fairly admit that a perfectly rational person could come to the opposite conclusion. In constitutional law, under the rationality standard, if a judge believes that legislators could have a rational basis for believing that the statute is constitutional, then the judge will affirm the law’s constitutionality. Hence, under this standard, judges affirm the constitutionality of a challenged law even if, as an original matter, the judge believes that the legislation is actually unconstitutional. This standard requires that judges give legislatures the benefit of the doubt regarding the constitutionality of their enactments.
. . .
Deferential “rationality review” is the default standard of review in the American judiciary’s “two-tiered” system of judicial review. In the context of Fourteenth Amendment litigation, Justice Thomas explained the choice of the standard-of-review this way: “In areas of social and economic policy, a statutory classification that neither proceeds along suspect lines nor infringes fundamental constitutional rights must be upheld against equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification” (FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc. 1993, 313).

There are several implications of rationality review, whether in the context of rights litigation or litigation over governmental structure and relations. First, legislation evaluated under the rationality standard enjoys the presumption of constitutionality. Those challenging laws evaluated under the rationality standard have the affirmative burden of proving the challenged laws unconstitutional. (Under heightened review, whether a form of “intermediate” review or “strict scrutiny,” the challenged law comes to the Court with the presumption of unconstitutionality, so the government bears the burden of affirmatively proving to the court that the challenged law is in fact constitutional.) The standard of review is important for case outcomes, for in constitutional litigation, as in other areas of litigation “where the burden of proof lies may be decisive of the outcome” (Speiser v. Randall 1958, 525).

Second, the rationality standard does not require the legislature to adduce any actual evidence or finding to support its statutory choice. When there are merely “plausible reasons” for the legislative action, the judicial “inquiry is at an end” under the rationality standard (FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc. 1993, 313-14). As Justice Thomas explained for the Court:
[T]he absence of “legislative facts” explaining the distinction “on the record” . . . has no significance in rational-basis analysis. . . . In other words, a legislative choice is not subject to courtroom fact finding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data (FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc., at 315).

In United States v. Lopez, striking down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 as being beyond Congress’s Commerce Clause power, the Court similarly affirmed that “Congress normally is not required to make formal findings as to the substantial burdens that an activity has on interstate commerce” (Lopez 1995, 562).

The “rationality” standard imposes minimal requirements on the legislature, including minimal informational requirements. Under this standard, legislatures need not demonstrate in court that a policy problem actually exists or that the means adopted in the statute to address the problem is likely to solve the policy problem. Under this standard, judges may not second-guess legislative decisions. Even when the trial process produces a careful record of empirical evidence that challenges a law’s constitutional reasonability, a judge applying the rationality standard would nonetheless uphold the law because “a legislative choice is not subject to courtroom factfinding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data” (FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc. 1993, 315).

Why would judges defer to a legislative decision under these conditions? Let me draw out the puzzle. Say we have a record devoid of any legislative factfinding. No committee report, indeed, no committee hearings at all. No deliberation on the floor of the legislature. No statement of legislative intent. In contrast, the judicial record extends, say, over 3,000 pages, with 148 pages reciting the court’s findings of fact (see, e.g., Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona 1945, 787). Judges applying the rationality doctrine nonetheless would defer to the legislature’s decision unless those attacking the law meet the burden of “negativ[ing] every conceivable basis which might support [the law]” (FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc. 1993, 315).

joseph said...


You're absolutely right. The Church's mind isn't driven by the exegesis of a sole Father. My purpose for quoting St. Chrysostom was to pass the interpretation of the Scripture in question to one who was definitely more familiar with Scriptures and Church Councils than I am. Many doctrines were framed with the help of St. Chrysostom and, as Patriarch of Constantinople, he had Apostolic Authority when he preached the homily that I extracted the quote from. His loyalty to the Holy See and fidelity to the Gospel is reflected in his life as well.

His specific quote is in line with the Church's common interpretation of these verses, as can be seen in the Douay-Rheims Haydock, for example. The Magisterium is not so legalistic that they have to provide a dogmatic stamp for their interpretation of each individual verse in Scripture. A Catholic should naturally trust the Teaching Authority of the Church, who receives Her sacramental authority from Christ. That is precisely how the Catholic Church and Her teachings have remained intact since the very beginning.

So, if you are asking me for a document from the Church that states dogmatically that this specific verse is interpreted in this particular fashion, I can't help you. However, the Magisterium is the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture, so, whatever the Magisterium accepts as a valid interpretation of the Scriptures is the one that I will accept freely, not just because I'm bound to as a Catholic. St. Chrysostom wasn't always perfect in his exegesis, but the Magisterium agrees with him on this interpretation (though I'm sure that it isn't the only one, its just one that dealt with your argument).

It served the purpose of correcting one of the faulty interpretations of Scripture (at least from a Catholic perspective) that you provided to reinforce your point in your discussion with Tom.

Joseph said...

I apologize for rudely interrupting the conversation. I hope I haven't derailed it! Please continue, Tom, Jim, and Bryan. I'll try not to interrupt again.

Thos said...


Not pedantic, but you missed my Con Law II final by about a week! If I took anything from that class, it's the rational basis-strict scrutiny dichotomy (and my professor has me fairly well convinced that intermediate classifications are generally fleeting and unstable).

I will resist my trained urge to "distinguish" the comparison you're offering, because I truly believe it has merit.

A federal district judge has authority based on the Constitution and laws enabled pursuant to it. He is confirmed and takes an oath to the Constitution. When a judge upholds law X as "constitutional" even where he personally thinks it's unconstitutional, isn't he just saying that the Constitution's burdens of federalism override his personal judgment about enumerated power boundaries in all but the rare case? In other words, that judge is doing what he thinks is constitutional 100% of the time, and in some cases where two constitutional values compete, he abides by certain rules of deference created by the Supreme Court.

I'd like to flesh out (with particular examples) our application to ecclesiology more. You and I would agree that certain things are objectively true - they are moral or immoral. Let's say, ex arguendo, that divorce is wrong 100% of the time, an offense to God. My church says divorce is okay in ~30% of the cases where people are inclined to divorce (actually it's probably much more, but I'll be nice). Should I defer to their handling of Scriptures that led them to this conclusion, since there is some rational, imaginable reading of Christ's supposed "fornication" exception as well as the so-called "Pauline privilege"? Or should I strictly scrutinize this ruling (here's a difference with our analogy, since the church doesn't rule in a means-ends legislative way like Congress, but interprets the Bible, so you'd have to strictly scrutinize the actual handing of scripture)? If I do so scrutinize, I might conclude (as I, personally, do) that the view is not compelling, is novel, seems to have arisen in an increasingly permissive culture, seems to ignore the context of the Pauline Privilege (badly) and to have mistaken the "divorce" Christ was talking about (from betrothal to consummated marriage).

I think you've generally been in favor of rational basis deference to our particular denominations. I would agree that if every individual could "strictly scrutinize" every ruling of our churches, we would (individually) lay to waste virtually everything they say (except maybe that murder is bad, rape is bad, and we're supposed to do something resembling communion, but it's meaning is indeterminate).

Here is where we've been, I guess, just now more exposed. I have said already that where I accept my church's teaching on divorce, it's because 100% of the time I am conditionally submitted to their God-given teaching authority (and whether that's submission at all, I question). I've said that I give them this based on trust (and you rightly note that the Catholic similarly trusts his church).

Where I decide that divorce is wrong, and the church's view fails rational basis, I am obligated to tell people going through divorce that I think they're wrong (since it would, in my view, but inherently offensive to God). But that doesn't happen.

The Catholics and the Orthodox teach in somewhat varying ways that God preserves their church authorities (not laity) from error. The Protestant does not make that claim (as has been said). The question then seems to become, do we defer (or should Luther have deferred) to that initial claim of preservation from error? Did THAT claim fail his rational basis test? Should it fail ours?

Peace in Christ,