Thursday, September 10, 2015

Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: Part I

At ordination in the Episcopal Church, in response to the question "Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them?" the ordinand makes a declaration and signs it in the presence all, which declaration includes the words "I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation."

As with many such statements, as with many things in the Bible or any other text, what something actually means is not always as obvious as one might think.  As with any words it is necessary to understand certain things about the words in order to understand them.  A useful hermeneutic, or means of interpretation, was provided me by my professor of Pastoral Theology, and I share it with you now: In order to understand any speech, one must know (1) who (2) says what (3) to whom (4) about what.  That is, in any speech, there is (1) a speaker, (2) something said, (3) a hearer and (4) content.  Also, each of these four elements exists in a context which is essential for understanding it.

Let us look at some aspects of this statement in context.  In it we confess the authority of Holy Scripture. Let me explain what that means.  When we say say something is said with authority, we are saying that it is true, and one who speak with authority speaks the truth.  One who has authority is one who is able to speak, habitually, about the truth on certain subjects.  When we say that Scripture has authority, we confess that Holy Scripture is true for salvation, that it is a true word, given for the purpose of salvation.  Now truth is the correspondence between a statement and reality—when we say that a statement is true, we are saying that, for the purposes for which we are talking, that statement corresponds to something real such that we may know that something from the statement.  So in speaking this way we say that Holy Scripture is speaking in such away so that we may know the reality of salvation.

Now this authority is confessed in response to a question.  That question refers to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as received by the Church.  The authority of Scripture is not being asserted in a vacuum, but rather as part of a doctrine, discipline, and worship which is not our own creation, but has been received by us, and not as individuals, but as the Church.

Scripture is part of something received, and if it has been received it must have been "passed down." The word we commonly use that means the act of passing something down, as well as what is passed down is tradition.  That tradition includes doctrine, discipline, and worship, and the Scriptures themselves.

The human faculty by which we know the the truth is known by the the intellect (a.k.a., the understanding), which in comprehending a certain truth, apprehends the real thing to which the truth is true.  The process by which we understand truth is reason, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out: "to understand is simply to apprehend intelligible truth: and to reason is to advance from one thing understood to another, so as to know an intelligible truth" (Summa Theologica, 79,8).  It is on this basis that we say that we as Anglicans base our faith upon Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
To be continued...

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