The Yellow Brick Road To Urbs Sacra

Authority, continuity, a sense of purpose and place that is given not insisted upon; we crave it. People often spend their entire lives paying off a mortgage, seeking degrees and certification; the sort of affirmation that success and accomplishment can engender. We need to feel connected to something greater than ourselves, to trust that our decisions are not merely the speculative actions of a fallible human but that we stand upon truth, tradition and consensus; ultimately, individualism terrifies us with its potential for fallibility. And that doesn’t ever change, regardless of the current trajectory of our beliefs.

Solidarity, finality, permanence, tradition, nouns of power and inspiration, they give you a well to draw from when push comes to shove. And truthfully, if this life was all that there is, I would run to them in a heartbeat. But alas, life’s trajectory is eschatological, transcendent; it denies life’s permanence, insisting on a transient nature, trumpeting the goal of history promised in the Gospel.

The Roman Catholic Church, for all its history and temporal majesty, by its own canonical taxonomy reduces Holy Scripture to mere tradition and gives inspiration to mere men. Unfortunately, there’s no mediating path between Sola Scriptura and Sola Ecclesia. Essentially, it is the old chicken or the egg conundrum. Either the canon, by its inspired nature, creates the community and thereby announces its infallibility and indispensable nature or the community simply grants title to that which most suits their needs and intentions. In that sense, it would seem, that theological reflection, however primitive, is a priori to the closing of the canon and in fact is instrumental in determining the content of the canon, rendering canonical authenticity a political reality. If the authority and message of the scriptures is so linked with the Ecclesia so as to be nonsensical apart from it’s expression and permission then there is in fact no such thing as Holy Scripture or God’s Word, there is only the Church’s. So, it inevitably resolves itself as not a self-attesting collection of inspired writing, but simply the permitted statement of the Ecclesia, it is only as authoritative as the Church says it is and it says nothing other than what the Church says it does.

James Henry Thornwell, “The argument for an infallible body”

Why should an infallible body be required to make known the Divine original of the Bible when it is not necessary to establish the creation of the heavens and the earth? It is then a possible supposition that the Word of God may be its own witness, that the sacred pages may themselves contain infallible evidence of their heavenly origin which shall leave those without excuse who reject or disregard them. They may contain the decisive proofs of their own inspiration, and by their own light make good their pretensions to canonical authority.

There is a difference between saying that no one is saved apart from the Church because that is where the Gospel is and saying that the Church in fact is the Gospel herself, making the Church who actually saves. It ceases to be you apprehending Christ through faith and becomes the Church apprehending you through your submission. Salvation becomes a thing that is dispensed based upon affiliation rather than confession, it is not what is believed that is important but rather whom. It is not an apprehension of Christ through faith but a fides implicita.

Ultimately, we are all left with the burden of assent. Individualism is inescapable, even in a collective environment formed with the goal of establishing consensus, it is a consensus derived from individuals. We don’t get to pass on the responsibility for what we think and believe. And when confronted by an assembly of people who claim unassailable authority, knowledge and promise the secret of eternal life, remember “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”


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