Friday, December 21, 2012

The Thing

Dr Ken Howell has an excellent article on Called To Communion. It talks about historical research. He talks about philosophical assumptions we bring to the process of analyzing data. He identifies 3 sets of assumptions or frameworks including the Catholic one.
An honest historian working within the Classic Catholic Framework (CCF) will face all the diverse and varied expressions of Christian belief brought forth from the relevant texts. He will, however, ask different questions about those texts from those who work in the CPF or the MCF. Central to inquiry in the CCF is the notion of witness. Witnesses point to something greater and more enduring than themselves. In the CCF, the goal is to study the relevant witnesses in order to discover the deposit of faith which is the doctrinal content of the Christian faith. This approach assumes continuity across space and time. That continuity may not be total or exhaustive but it has essential qualities and characteristics which are transmitted over time.
I am reminded of GK Chesterton's notion of The Thing. The idea that there is some thing called the Catholic faith and it makes sense of every other thing. There is not one area of life where the thing is essential. You can create a morality without the thing. You can create a history without the thing. You can create meaning and purpose without the thing. Not really but you can come close enough to make it plausible. In any one of these areas you will find people who found they could not. That contemplating this one area convinced them. The thing must be real. But no one area of life is convincing for everyone. There is no irrefutable line of reasoning that forces people to believe the thing exists. Over and over again you are invited to accept it but there is always the option to say No. That in itself is quite remarkable for the thing to always be attractive but to never be logically required.

In the case of history Howell's article shows how believing there is a thing called the Catholic faith completely changes the way we think about history. Everything relates to it. The first thing we want to know is if this person is reflecting the Catholic faith. If he is then we can learn not just about him but about the faith and how the faith was lived in that time and place. If we don't think such a thing as the Catholic faith exists then we will see one person making one statement and we will conclude very little.

The documents of history do give pretty good evidence the Catholic faith exists. There is remarkable consistency among those who adhere to the faith that breaks down when they break communion with the church. Does it prove the Catholic faith exists? No. It is good evidence but not undeniable evidence. Like every other area of life we see something but it takes a leap of faith to declare it is real.

When you look at all of life with pretty good evidence in one area and more pretty good evidence in another and another and another. Eventually you can get enough evidence that you can be very sure you are right. Putting all the threads together and arriving at a pretty strong rope.

Thomas Howard once said that there are two choices in life. Either everything means everything or nothing means anything. God is constantly giving us the choice to glorify Him and be fully alive or be self centred and slowly die. We see it everywhere unless you choose not to see it. Then you see nothing, just matter and energy. Once you accept that there is more to life than death. Once you see the thing somewhere then you see it everywhere.

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