Thursday, August 31, 2006

Continuity and Historicity

So, I wandered over to Triablogue yesterday thanks to Alvin Kimel over at Pontifications. Given that I am in regular contact with Kuyperite (sort of kind of) Christian Reformed folk, I thought I should probably wade a little further into Calvinist waters on the "interweb" (as someone I know calls it). And I got sucked into the debate, though I really haven't got a clue what Steve Hays and a seemingly very sincere Orthodox Christian are disputing, follow Alvin Kimel's links to the debate if you want the larger context. The finer points of the debate don't interest me. What did interest me was the ways in which (as the Orthodox Christian, "Grano1", eventually pointed out) they were talking past each other. I, perhaps foolishly, decided to attempt to show one point where I felt this was occurring.

I attempted to make a distinction between "historicity" and continuity. Steve has responded,Triablogue: "Lutheran" Pietism I discovered, but I am responding two other's Calvindude and Saint and Sinner both attempted to answer my comments. In short if I have understood their points correctly it comes down to that I cannot make the above distinction since the continuity I speak of is historical. But I was making a distinction between the historical and "historicity" which I take to mean that which is established by the historical discipline. This discipline has its own goals and methods of proof, which are not that of theology and exegesis etc..

What I was intending to say in my comments was that it appeared to me that Steve and then his defenders were in fact arguing with the Orthodox as if the question before them were merely in the domain of the historian. From the perspective of the "neutral" terrain of the historian the claims of continuity of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic are at best improvable and at worst mere fantasy. The problem though is that the entire discipline of history is founded on an attempt to understand and track change through time (this goes back to the first beginnings of history in Greece, and was at odds with Philosophy that sought to emphasize what was unchanging). Historicity then emphasizes disjunction and development, but not the possibility of repetition (to echo Kierkegaard and Derrida and others).

The continuity (apostolic succession, the continuous passing on of the deposit of faith, etc.) is not demonstratable via the historical discipline even though it is an historical reality. The reason for this is that the historian is forced due to the constraints and doctrines of the discipline to take in all evidence equally and judge her sources according to current understandings of the discipline of history. **Note I say this as one trained in the discipline of history and one who values the discipline and its self imposed methodologies, I do not pretend though that said discipline leads to the ultimate Truth, it is by nature limited as it is itself limiting in what we take to be worthy of historicity.** What has stayed the same is what is assumed (for some historians) what has changed through time is that which the historian seeks to document. The Modern sense of absolute distance with those in the past is a sensibility the historian (for some in an attempt at objectivity) not only seeks to cultivate but also is a sensibility she must reinforce as unquestionable fact. Thus when the Triabloggers simply seek to assert historicity as if this is a neutral thing a simple fact they have already prejudiced the debate on the side of the inability to track any meaningful continuity. Thus they are untroubled by the question of whether or not Calvinism is in truth a repetition of the apostolic that can be traced through history, since they already accept that history is change and not continuity.

What I suspect as well is that my interlocutors Calvindude and Sinner and Saint do not in fact believe that continuity as continuous repetition of the apostolic to be of any great importance since Scripture itself provides us with all we need to (re)articulate the apostolic faith. This leads into another post on Biblicism and historicity, but suffice it to say for this post that it seems to me that if all one needs is the Bible then the question of history is not only settled but irrelevant, except possibly in terms of an abstract science to help an interpreter correctly exegete a passage. The folly of this is that by accepting the Historians emphasis on the discontinuous one always remains unable to truly enter the world of the Bible, since those who wrote it are so distant that their words are unintelligible without reconstructing their world. The problem is that historical reconstruction is probably the most tendentious of all scientific disciplines since in the end it is the lone historian who judges all, who decides what is evidence, what documents to take at their word, and what documents to dismiss. (Granted there is reason and logic, but most of all it is suspicion that is the fundamental tool of the historian, she must be suspicious of all her authorities). The recreation of say Second Temple Judaism is an invention of historians it can never be what was, it is the ultimate bane of the historians existence that the disciplines very object keeps the historian from that ability to pronounce on the past with certainty. Yet it is precisely this certain knowledge the Biblicist needs to correctly exegete any passage of Scripture.

My contention which will need to be expanded in another post is that the collapsing of continuity and historicity not only ties the church to the historical disciplines but in understanding the Bible creates an unnecessary complexity to correctly understand the scripture. This form of Biblicism is the mirror image of the Biblicist who believes she can simply read Scripture and understand it without community or other aids, in the end both deny that there is a continuous community of faith and interpretation that has existed and continues to exist from the time of the apostles till now and correct understanding of Scripture is dependent on being in communion with that living continuous entity. It is this entity I call the "church" (and from all evidence this is what was always understood to be "church" through history), not a magisterium and not some abstract and invisible collection of all who have believed in Christ no matter how differently they have believed him.
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