So that last post got me thinking about authority in the Church. When I think anout authorities I naturally think about normative texts. Texts are useful for certain things because they’re static; they don’t change their content or their minds (once the necessary textual work has been completed…) What texts do we hold to as authorities and how do we use them as such?
But, static texts don’t capture completely what the Church is about which is, well, Jesus. Jesus as the Head of the Body, our relationship to him as head, and our relationships to one another as fellow organs or what have you. How do or should communities moderate or mediate the texts that they identify as authoritative? How do community lines get drawn and for what purposes? How does one get a sense of “all Christians through time and space” and how do writings then find a back-door in as witness to communities and individuals within them?
In principle I find agreement with what I understand to be Andrewes’s summary: “One canon, Two Testaments, Three Creeds, Four general councils, Five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that Period determine the boundaries of our faith.” I’d be curious to see a list of exactly who the last include. Technically does Gregory fall into it–he seems to be at the borderline. I don’t believe Benedict is technically a Father. Bede is widely considered to be the last of the Western Fathers yet falls quite a bit past the deadline. And why four and not the full seven ecumenical councils?
Furthermore, as I mentioned below, how is authority reckoned, merely through contents–or does the logic and thought-processes of both Scripture authors and Fathers count?
Clearly this is not a simple topic but is at the heart of the current debates…
And how does all of this work out in practice?
Personally, I find that I tend to work with canons within a canon.
That is, when it comes to the Scriptures I tend to privilege
* The Psalms
* The Gospels
* Pauline letters, esp. Gal/Eph/Col
When it comes to the Fathers, I tend to privilege
* Benedict (whether he technically qualifies or not)
* Augustine (esp. on interpretive matters)
* John Cassian
* Vincent of Lerins
* Gregory the Great
* Leo the Great
Not only do I have a very Western set of Fathers, but the astute will notice that Augustine, Jerome, Cassian, and Vincent are in the mix together despite disagreements–sometimes rather serious ones. I also have both popes sharing the acclamation “great” despite my rejection of papal claims. I used the word “organic” deliberately in the past post because I see our working through of these issues as a growing process, not necessarily something methodical or systematic.
How do you negotiate these things?