Bryan Cross should quit while he’s unfalsified. I believe it was over at Green Baggins that Cross linked to one of his pieces at Called to Communion in which he tried to account for second-order differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants when interpreting the Bible. Not only do both sides come to antagonistic interpretations of the text, but they also approach Scripture differently:
In general, Protestants think differently about how to go about interpreting Scripture than do Catholics. When trying to understand the meaning of a passage in Scripture, Catholics have always looked to the Tradition; we seek to determine how the Church has understood and explained the passage over the past two millennia. We look up what the Church Fathers and Church Doctors have said about the passage. By contrast, Protestants typically do not turn first to the Church Fathers when seeking to understand the meaning of a passage or term in Scripture that is unclear. Protestants generally turn to contemporary lexicons and commentaries written by contemporary biblical scholars whom they trust. Only rarely, and perhaps as a final step, do they turn to the Church Fathers. The common form of the Protestant mind is ready to believe that the Fathers often got Scripture wrong, and to use their own interpretation of Scripture to ‘correct’ or critically evaluate the Fathers. That kind of a stance toward the Fathers does not dispose Protestants to be guided by the Fathers in their interpretation of Scripture. In short, the Catholic approach sees the Fathers and the councils as the primary guide to interpreting Scripture, while the Protestant approach sees the lexicon and contemporary academic commentaries [that one trusts] as the primary guide to interpreting Scripture, and that by which the Fathers’ theology and interpretation of Scripture are critically evaluated.
Cross goes on to account for this difference (and here verges into no-history land):
The explanation of the Catholic approach to Scripture lies in its ecclesiology, its understanding of the Church as a family extending through time back to Christ and the Apostles, and perpetually vivified by the Holy Spirit. And this understanding of the Church as a family spread out through many generations, has methodological implications with respect to interpreting Scripture. Here’s why. If you were to come into my home, you would understand many things said in my family, because you speak the same language that our broader society speaks (i.e. English). But you would not understand some things that we say to each other, because you would not have the inside-the-family point of view. You wouldn’t get the inside jokes, the allusions to past family events you hadn’t experienced. You would not have the internal lived experience of my family as the fuller context of our present communication with one another. To understand fully our intra-family communication, you would have to live with us for quite some time, learn our in-house catch words, the events and habits and stories that form the mutually understood background against which we expect our speech-acts to be understood when we communicate to each other.
Sorry to sound so ad hominem, but this is just plain silly. Entering the home of Bryan Cross is a very different matter from trying to understand Irenaeus. It sounds soothing and very family friendly. Who wouldn’t want to enter a religious communion where we are all siblings, know family dynamics, have assigned times for going to bed and taking out the garbage, and have parents who never make mistakes. Please, please, please sign me up for that.
But as family friendly as this form of communication may be, it will not do when trying to understand texts written almost two millenia ago in languages that (or at least versions of them) are in critical condition. If Bryan wants to understand Cyprian, chances are he is going to need to rely on a host of non-family members, people who teach ancient languages, compile lexicons, craft reliable and authoritative editions of texts, and — get this — historians who know something about social conditions in early Christianity. Believe it or not, a lot of these folks are not Roman Catholic and so aren’t members of Bryan’s family. He may want to restrict the study of the fathers to Roman Catholics (the Eastern Orthodox will want some input on this), but if he does he will be able to understand Tertullian about as well as your average high school graduate understands Plato.
And then lo and behold, even one of the church councils, the one held in Vienne in 1311, revealed the need for the lexical and historical investigation that supposedly prevents Protestants from being called to communion. Simply being part of the family would not allow editors of papal enclyclicals on-line to know exactly which parts of the council were constitutional:
In the third session of the council, which was held on 6 May 1312, certain constitutions were promulgated. We do not know their text or number. In Mueller’s opinion, what happened was this: the constitutions, with the exception of a certain number still to be polished in form and text, were read by the council fathers; Clement V then ordered the constitutions to be corrected and arranged after the pattern of decretal collections. This text, although read in the consistory held in the castle of Monteux near Carpentras on 21 March 1314 was not promulgated, since Clement V died a month later. It was pope John XXII who, after again correcting the constitutions, finally sent them to the universities. It is difficult to decide which constitutions are the work of the council. We adopt Mueller’s opinion that 38 constitutions may be counted as such, but only 20 of these have the words “with the approval of the sacred council”.
Not a big point, maybe. But if Cross is going to be so presuppositional — I mean, paradigmatic — about the ways that divide western Christians, he might want to check his theories against historical reality every once in a while.