Reformation and Ratio Legis

I’ll open comments in a few weeks.  Right now it seems to simply serve the opportunity to repeat old arguments from Energetic Procession, not really bothering to really get to the heart of the issue.

George Gillespie made an interesting argument in English Popish Ceremonies.  The question, raised and practiced by his adversaries, is who (and by what rule) gets to bind the conscience concerning a ceremony in the church?  Phrased another way: what makes a ceremony/act (lighting a candle, bowing, crossing, kissing the relic of St Agnes’ toeknuckle) intrinsically holy? (and by that last phrase it really depends on the tradition.  For the Romanist it could mean conveying the material substance known as grace.  For the Anchorite it could be transmitting God’s own energies.  For the Episcopalian it could mean whatever fluffy thought she saw on Oprah that morning).

Ponder that question for a moment:  what makes an act holy in church worship?  I might be missing some categories, but I think it reduces to two options:  an act is holy because the Church says so, or an act is holy in and of itself.   Taking the first option, we have something close to nominalisim–things become what they are because someone says so (I realize this isn’t the specific definition of philosophical nominalism, but it is a practical application of it).  Other problems are concurrent with it:  tracing the practice of this act in earlier times of the church (which is, quite frankly, impossible; Tertullian admits that the earliest use of the sign of is in the mid 2nd century.  This is hard to square with Jesus’ promise that he lays no further burden on you.  If something as innocent and innocuous as the sign of the cross is missing from this list Jesus gives us, what do we say about the more elaborate rituals? )

The other way a practice can be morally binding is that if it corresponds to the “ratio legis,” law or principle of reason.   Far from being a blanket statement of rationalism, one must keep in mind the cornerstone of Reformed epistemology:  concerning theological matters Scripture is the principium cognoscendi et obiectum formale fideo ac theologiae revelatae.  If Scripture is our principium, and our worship is to correspond to the ratio legis, then our worship corresponds to Scripture.

I realize that may not convinced the Anchorite Apologist, but I do not think it has the same flaws that his position has.

The Anchorite will quickly respond, “Oh yeah, if you want to appeal to the Bible, then you need to explain how you got the Bible except through the Church.”  The implication in this argument, such that it is, is that if the Church created the canon, then it has the right to say how it is to be read.    How do we respond to this?

  1. If we say that the Church created the canon, then we have to admit something like the Church determines God’s word. If the Church determines God’s word, then the church is claiming to determine God’s Word.   This is blasphemy.  It is placing fallible man above God.
  2. God’s word, since it comes from God’s Word, has authority independent of the Church’s recognizing it’s limits in time and space (e.g., the Canon).   If God’s Word has authority vis-a-vis God, and God is eternal, then God’s Word has eternal authority.
  3. I know traditionalists do not like the Protestant argument that the church merely recognizes the canon, but I don’t see a way around it.   Given who the speaking-God is, the church merely recognizes where he has spoken.   However, even this recognition is fallible and human.  If the  perfect Incarnate Logos did not have infinite knowledge according to his human nature, then how can the church claim such knowledge vis-a-vis the Canon?
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One comment on “Reformation and Ratio Legis

  1. […] I am amazed at how the Reformed orthodox interweave epistemology, (Christology), trinitarian distinctions, and predestination in one fell move.  If we begin with […]

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