Heresy Hunting and Self-Knowledge

E.J. Hutchinson has an interesting post up at The Calvinist International: Heresy Hunting and Self-Knowledge. He gives a kind of test of whether reactions to certain theological texts result from “party spirit and personal animosity,” or “theological discipline.” The test is to give an unattributed quotation in the following way:

Imagine that you are Reformed and consider yourself on the right side of history, and imagine yourself having come across the following (unattributed) quotation on Facebook or Twitter. Without googling the quotation first, what would be your reaction? Would you say “Amen” and enthusiastically assent to it? Or would you immediately begin hurling accusations of “heresy” and Pelagianism, and proffering dark warnings about “works righteousness,” “denying the gospel,” and so on?

As several commentators have pointed out, the presuppositions of the test are questionable— the context of a quotation (including the author) are important to understanding its meaning.

Nevertheless, the test is an interesting exercise, if one bears its flaws in mind. Let me therefore try a few similar tests for Catholic theology:

Imagine you are a Catholic, and come across the following quotation. What is your reaction?

How about the ninth chapter of the letter to the Romans, which speaks of the dark mystery of predestination? That God knows everything; that nothing happens that is not His will; that nothing has its reason except in God, because everything that is, is only from God and so also our eternal destiny? And that man has no possibility of appealing to any tribunal of justice above God? “Does the object molded say to him who molded it, ‘Why hast thou made me thus?’ Or is not the potter master of his clay, to make from the same mass one vessel for honorable, another for ignoble use? But what if God, wishing to show His wrath and to make known His power, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, made for destruction, that He might show the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He has prepared unto glory?” All efforts to penetrate the mystery, with fine distinctions, are in vain in the end. Indeed, there is a danger of making God seem small, hanging man in midair, so to speak, as something semi-independent, midway between creature and non-creature. No, an inscrutable mystery reigns here, and let us let it be! Having established with certainty that “God wills not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live”; that all evil comes only from man, not from the most holy God; that the eternal damnation of man is therefore his own fault and that God is only just when He pronounces that verdict; after we have exerted our understanding to the utmost and drawn all possible distinctions, the fact remains that all that happens is finally not only from God, but embedded in the mystery of His decrees.

Or the following:

Unlike the word of man, the word of God does what it signifies. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He said, “Be clean” and it was clean. God commands the demons, and they get out. He speaks harshly to the wind and the waves, and there is a deep calm. He says, “This is my body.” And it is His body. He says, “Stand up.” And the dead man rises. The sinner’s justification is exactly like this. God pronounces the verdict, “You are just.” And the sinner is just, really and truly, outwardly and inwardly, wholly and completely. His sins are forgiven, and man is just in the heart. The voice of God never gets lost in the void.

4 thoughts on “Heresy Hunting and Self-Knowledge

  1. First one sounds like Ratzinger. I’m sure I’ve read it before, I just can’t place it. Oh, are both from the same author?

    It’s quite an exercise. Are we spilling our results on the Rorschach or just sitting with the mystery here?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I wouldn’t say without further context that either quote is necessarily heretical, but alone and without context each quote is very much in the danger of being interpreted in a Jansenist manner (if not as pure Jansenism). Very necessary distinctions which would prevent the above quotations from being in error, are not presented in the above quotations considered as they reproduced here. That is my first reaction.


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