I am becoming more and more impressed by Charles Hodge’s so-called “rationalism.” Far from stultifying the gospel, Hodge’s position safeguards the reliability of “truth-speak” and if taken seriously today, adds another angle to the “convert” phenomenon. A properly basic belief is one that doesn’t need another belief for justification. I’m not so sure if Hodge is making that claim. However, he does anticipate some of Plantinga’s positions by saying that God so constituted our nature to believe x, y, and z. My aim in this post is to show from Hodge’s own words that our cognitive faculties are (1) reliable and (2) made so by God. I will advance upon Hodge’s conclusions: a commoner can read the Bible and get the general “gist” of it apart from an infallible interpreting body. Secondly, to deny the above point attacks the image of God. Thirdly, to deny the above point is to reduce all to irrationality. The practical application: Those who deny this position often find themselves looking for “absolute” and infallible arbiters of the faith. Such a position denies a key aspect of our imago dei.
“Any doctrine [and Hodge is using this word in the technical sense of philosophic and/or scientific beliefs], therefore, which contradicts the facts of consciousness, or the laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature, must be false” (I: 215).
“Our knowledge of mind, therefore, as a thinking substance, is the first and most certain, and the most indestructible of all forms of knowledge; because it is involved in self-knowledge…which is the indispensable condition of all knowledge” (I: 277).
It is interesting to note his reference to self-knowledge. One is reminded of Calvin’s duplex cognito dei.
But What About an Infallible Interpreter?
Usually someone posits the Pope or the Fathers/Councils. But if we examine what is papal infallibility, it’s only been used a handful of times. This does us no good when we need to “infallibly interpret Scriptures.” If we expand it more broadly, then we have to ask why Honorius wasn’t infallible. The Fathers aren’t more helpful. First of all, who and when are we talking of? The pre-Nicene Fathers do very little exegesis and most of it is simply paraphrasing Scripture (anyone who is trained in textual criticism knows exactly what I mean). Nicene guys like Athanasius do a bit more, but most of it is clustered around a few Christological passages. Of course, I agree with his conclusions, but some of the exegesis is painful. There are others, like Gregory’s Moralia, but this suffers from the arbitrariness of allegorical interpretation.
At the end of the day, though, one has to come to grips with this proposition: most of the time, Jerome and Augustine excepted, these guys are simply asserting their conclusion. This is not exegesis and it really isn’t interpretation. Even worse, as hinted above, these guys only deal with a small fraction of the biblical text (Chrysostom excepted). So if you say that I need an infallible interpreter, then please point me to the rest of the infallibly interpreted passages! There are other problems with these claims, but I will leave it a that.
If you reject this…
Then ultimately you are left with the position that “words don’t mean what words mean.” To which I will respond, “How then may I really know what you and the Fathers are saying?”