Of Scripture and Tradition

Recently there was a discussion over Scripture at Evangel over whether it was infallible or inerrant and what that might mean. But this discussion I offer, in an important way is missing the point. When pointing at whether or not Scripture is or is not in-whatever verses within Scripture which offer it as inspired by the Spirit of God are used to defend that point of view. Scripture is a primary tool used to understand the divine mysteries. Tradition in turn is the millennia of men and women and their progress into understanding and experiencing these mysteries.

Mystery itself is a widely misunderstood term. When we speak of mystery fiction, such as stories of the famous detectives like Ms Marple, Mr Holmes, and so on the mystery is primarily about unknown answer to the puzzle. The canonical ‘butler’ did it is not the answer to the mystery. The mystery is the experience, the unfolding and walking through toward and understanding of the occurrence in question. Telling someone that that butler “did it” does not move one towards a greater understanding of what occurred without the missing details, the context, the narrative, and the other details like means, method, and motive. These things can only be understood … and are what those protagonists strive to understand by exploring and understanding the fundamental kernel of mystery. To understand and uncover a mystery is an experiential phenomena.

Quantum mechanics is said to be a modern scientific mystery. It is one which cannot, by and large, be understood by hearing stories and words which, like ‘the butler did it’ try to describe the denouement of this 20th century physics discovery. It is understood though the experience gained by working through the mathematical details and mechanics until like the unfolding of the narrative of mystery fiction the kernel of the mystery is understood. Quantum mechanics, like those mysteries of God revealed as through a glass darkly in Scripture, is a mystery for which the core of which is ineffable.

Ineffability is not a rare thing. Most things in life in fact are ineffable. Your feelings for your wife, how to ride a bicycle, most of science (see for example Personal Knowledge), and in fact much of life is at its core ineffable. These things at their core contain central facets which are not expressible in words. They cannot be reduced fragments of language, but must be understood through the doing, or in the context of the above, are a mystery.

The arguments about fallibility vs inerrancy is one which sets aside the mystery at the core of Scripture. It is based, in part, on an assumption that reason can be utilized to unpack and expose the ineffable mystery lying behind and within the core of the key facets which Scripture contains. Trinity, duality, and creed are tools for used by our reason in seeking to understand these mystery, which in turn can only be experienced and understood not by reason alone but what in late antiquity was called our nous, which is our whole mind … including those emotive and intuitive parts of which reason is just one facet.

Liturgy and Tradition contain the wisdom of the Christian millennia of men and women who did understand the mystery trying to uncover and demonstrate for the rest of us ways to deepen our understand the mysteries within our faith. The lives of Saints, heroes of our Church, should be (and are) recounted because in their lives these men and women who did indeed understand the mysteries in ways more profound than is ordinary can be utilized as examples for us to sink into those same mysteries. Scripture gives us a fabric, a background and Tradition gives us hermeneutic, methods, and examples.

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3 comments

  1. […] I think Mark at Pseudo-Polymath is absolutely correct in his excellent post Of Scripture and Tradition. […]

  2. Kyle says:

    I’m pretty sure I agree with what you said 100%, except in the part where you say that it’s missing the point. Sure, discussing whether scripture does or doesn’t have an error somewhere in some sort of sense is a long shot away from God’s purpose in sending his Son, but so is a drawn out discussion of whether Jesus is wholly divine and equal in his divinity with God the Father, or if he is merely some sort of divine emanation of the divine character, the first-created of all creation. The whole discussion is missing the point right up until somebody uses the question to challenge the point. I can knock down the tradition and all of everybody’s experience with the divine mysteries with a blink, if only I can prove that the theories of the last century are more sound than the testimony of apostles and prophets. If Arius is attacking Christ’s divine nature, it’s beside the point for Athanasius to defend inerrancy. But the converse is also true.

  3. […] I think Mark at Pseudo-Polymath is absolutely correct in his excellent post Of Scripture and Tradition. […]