Monday, May 21, 2007

Koons Swimming the Tiber

View of Tiber River
Looking Towards Vatican City
But where are the raccoons?
(Image from Wikipedia)

No, this isn't some Ozark dialect referring to Italian raccoons plunging headlong into the Tiber River like lemmings into the sea, which also doesn't happen.

Rather, it's is a reference to a recent but long-developing decision by the philosopher Robert C. Koons, of the University of Texas at Austin, to enter the Roman Catholic Church (h/t Bill Vallicella). His decision follows only a couple of weeks after a similar decision by Baylor University professor of Church-State Studies Francis J. Beckwith.

Beckwith was reverting to Rome after years as an evangelical Christian, but Koons grew up as a Protestant and has spent years as a Lutheran. Prior to his recent decision, Koons had already publicly articulated views favorable to Catholicism, particularly in a paper posted to his website last year on July 13, 2006: "A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism" (pdf).

Note that he specified that this is a "Lutheran's Case," not a "Lutheran Case," for the latter would constitute a contradiction. The former, while no contradiction, also surely implies some inner tensions and could likely only express a momentary stage in a developing theological position.

In his more recent online announcement of an even greater affinity for Catholicism, Koons summarizes his turn to Rome. Previously, he had held that the Roman Catholic Church held to the truth from the first to the twelfth centuries but then departed from the truth by moving toward a view enunciated by such nominalist philosophers as William of Ockham, a view that Koons considered a type of "Pelagian" error, meaning "the notion that human beings can save themselves through the exercise of unaided human reason and will."

He still holds this view about the late Medieval Church, just as he continues to believe that the Church overreacted to Martin Luther's initial attempts at reform. Where he has changed his views is on his opinion concerning the Council of Trent. Previously, he held that Trent merely confirmed the Church in its error concerning salvation, namely, that individuals could save themselves. Koons therefore believed that the Catholic Church had nothing of theological importance to say since Trent. In his own words:
The logic of my position was a simple one: the modern Roman Church clearly embraced an erroneous doctrine of justification, which nullified its otherwise strong historical claim to continuity with the apostles (especially on the matter of ecclesiology, the theory of the Church), depriving modern Christians of any good reason to embrace late-medieval and modern developments in Roman Catholic doctrine (including the immaculate conception and papal infallibility).
Koons then tells us that he had come to alter his views on this point:
My confidence in this position was shaken by three blows: (1) new scholarship (primarily by Protestants) on Paul's epistles, which raised profound doubts about the correctness of Martin Luther's and Phillip Melanchthon's excessively individualistic and existentialist reading of Paul's teaching on justification by faith, (2) the fruits of Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue on justification, expressed most fully in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1997, that greatly clarified for me the subtlety of the doctrinal differences between the two bodies, and (3) a more thorough exposure to the writings of the early Church fathers, especially those considered most "evangelical": Chrysostom, Ambrose, and (above all) Augustine of Hippo.
This third point is the most significant for Koons, for it touches upon the central issue of the Reformation, as he notes in his "Case for Roman Catholicism":
The crucial issue is this: is the righteousness by which the justified are justified an alien righteousness, the righteousness of Christ entirely outside of us (extra nos) and apart from regeneration and the new kind of life that results? This I can't find this anywhere before Luther.
The significance here lies in the implications for one's views on the link between grace and works. Through his reading of the Church Fathers, Koons came to the conclusion that by the expression "grace freely given,"
... the Fathers understood 'freely' and 'by grace' to mean that we cannot earn salvation -- that we can give nothing 'in return' for God's gift. They teach that nothing of human merit precedes the gift of grace. However, he does not establish that any of the Fathers thought of justification in terms of an extrinsic or 'alien' righteousness, or that they denied that works are needed to persevere and to grow in grace.
Koons explains that his discovery of the Church Fathers' views concerning salvation held significance for the distinction "between the thesis that faith is necessary for justification and the thesis that faith is sufficient." From his reading of the Fathers, he came to believe that whereas faith is necessary, it is not sufficient. Why not? Because justification is not external but transformational.

This is where things begin to get very complicated, for Catholics and Protestants use the same terms -- justification, grace, faith -- in very different ways. Rather than try to summarize any more, for such a summary would grow very long indeed, I'd suggest that those interested in this issue -- most likely, Protestants struggling with incipient cognitive dissonance over the seeming discrepancy between scriptural passages and Reformation doctrine -- go and read Koons directly (pdf).

You might not like it, but you'll learn something.

UPDATE: For some reason, this post wasn't allowing comments, an error that I've now rectified.

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At 12:53 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Thanks for this post and for the links, Jeffery. I look forward to reading Koons's thoughts on Catholicism. I've also added Right Reason to our blogroll.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome, KM. I thought that you might appreciate knowing about Koons.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the Harvard Man.

We should not lose sight that Protestants and Orthodox Christians are “non-Catholics.”

During the Protestant Reformation, Protestants were punished for their “non-Catholic religion.” Penalties included imprisonment, torture, and being burned at the stake. Ouch!

The modern Catholic approach to ecumenism -- designed to seduce back those such as Koon -- seems inconsistent with the still enforced Catholic doctrine that there is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church. It also seems inconsistent with modern Canon Law.

Thus said the Pope -- "perk up your ears Saints ... I be infallible when in the office."

HE SAID in his opening speech to the Second Vatican Council (1962), Pope John XXIII that is, said that the Catholic Church has always opposed “errors” (disagreement with Catholic doctrine). He said that in the past, the Catholic Church often condemned “errors” with great severity, but now it “PREFERS” to use mercy rather than severity. Isn't Rome's mercy an endless joy? The Pope said that the Catholic Church is presently dealing with “errors” by doctrinal debate rather than by “condemnations”and "waterboarding".

I think Koon is taking up Rome's offer of amnesty while its offered. The sensation of drowning is unpleasant. Why not "venerate" Mary like a goddess and swallow, digest, and shit the literal body of Christ down the toilet as an alternative. It makes sense for cowards.

Rome’s present preference for a gentler approach to people who disagree with Catholic doctrine may explain the apparent discrepancy between the Council of Trent and ecumenism.

The Catholic Church is presently engaging in ecumenical dialog with Protestants, calling them “separated brethren,” and speaking as if Rome respects their beliefs. Stealthy Jesuits now seduce protestants through small group encounters -- manipulating unresolved adolescent rebellion complexes of protestant son's against Protestant fathers. Romes smooth feel-good seductive kibun suckers the clueless Baptists and Charismatics back into Rome's fold. It's a feel good group hug experience ... with Rome squeezing a bit too tight. The force behind that squeeze is the fact that behind the scenes, official Catholic documents declare that Protestants are damned to Hell.

Maybe that is why I "sense" a thin coat of religious profession behind the surface of Gypsy Scholar's heart, hiding the inside from view; why I sense ungodliness alive beneath, and as much in union with the world as the magnet with the pole, or drunk Korean with his Soju. But, on the contrary, if his world within is crucified by the power of Christ's cross, his world without would have little charm. He would long to be present with his Lord. But, wait ... Gypsy desires to tarry. Surely, Gypsy is a man who loves this world.

Gypsy's "alien" and even "domestic" justification and righteousness before God is in exact proportion to the life and strength of his faith and his deadness to the world's charm.

Gypsy Scholar is the perfect example showing us all ... you can love the world, and simultaneously convince yourself -- Rome saves.

I hail from Harvard.

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Silly Sally, good to hear from you again.

I'm not Catholic, which I'm sure you know, but as for the cruel brutality and even malicious acts committed from religious motives, the Wars of Religion provide evidence that there was plenty of blood on nearly everybody's hands.

Yet, there's no need for us to recount all of that, is there?

But perhaps you could explain this:

Gypsy's "alien" and even "domestic" justification and righteousness before God is in exact proportion to the life and strength of his faith and his deadness to the world's charm.

It sounds like a rather neat dichotomy, and admirably expressed, but I'm not sure that I've understood.

It's not a chiasm, is it?

Do you mean that an alien justification (and righteousness) means strong faith (and 'strong' deadness to the world), whereas a domestic justification (and righteousness) means a weak faith (and 'weak' deadness to the world)?

Or are you linking justification to faith and righteousness to deadness to the world?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm not Catholic"

Yet, son, yet.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Pope, you're here, too?

Question: If I remain Southern Baptist, yet (there's that "yet" of yours) Catholicism turns out to be the way, is Silly Harvard Sallymander right? Am I damned to Hell? Or will I enter Purgatory, where -- purged of my heretical views -- I will enter Heaven, thereby becoming part of the Bride of Christ, and hence a member of the Catholic Church, eternally wedded to Christ?

I realize that this is a complex question.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We must have faith in a merciful God.


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