At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Hooker on Sola Scriptura

Hooker writes in Book I, Section 13 of Ecclesiastical Polity:

    When the question therefore is, whether we be now to seek of any revealed law of God otherwhere than only in the sacred Scripture; whether we do now stand bound in the sight of God to yield to traditions urged by the Church of Rome the same obedience and reverence we do to his written law, honouring equally and adoring both as divine: our answer is, No. They that so earnestly plead for the authority of tradition, as if nothing were more safely condescendeth by relation of former generations unto the ages that succeed, are not all of them (surely a miracle it were if they should be) so simple as thus to persuade themselves; howsoever, if the simple were so persuaded, they could be content perhaps very well to enjoy the benefit, as they account it, of that common error. What hazard the truth is in when it passeth through the hands of report, how maimed and deformed it becometh, they are not, they cannot possibly be ignorant. Let them that are indeed of this mind consider but only that little of things divine, which the heathen have in such sort received. How miserable had the state of the Church of God been long ere this, if wanting the sacred Scripture we had no record of his laws, but only the memory of man receiving the same by report and relation from his predecessors?

As an a priori proof of Sola Scriptura, this argument is weak for two reasons. First, whether or not it be true generally that oral tradition is easily corrupted, the Roman Catholic will of course point out that in the special case of divine tradition God would prevent this from happening. Secondly, the argument backfires on the Sola Scripturist, since there are examples of secular texts being "maimed and deformed" as they are copied and recopied throughout succeeding generations. If, as the Sola Scripturist will have to allow, God intervenes to prevent this process of degradation from occurring in the case of Scripture, it is obviously plausible that similar protection would be accorded to divine oral tradition.

In Section XIV Hooker deals with a classic RC argument:

    Oftentimes it hath been in very solemn manner disputed, whether all things necessary unto salvation be necessarily set down in the Holy Scriptures or may be notwithstanding and oftentimes hath been demanded, how the books of Holy Scripture contain in them all necessary things, when of things necessary the very chiefest is to know what books we are bound to esteem holy; which point is confessed impossible for the Scripture itself to teach.

    Whereunto we may answer with truth, that there is not in the world any art or science, which proposing unto itself an end (as every one doth some end or other) hath been therefore thought defective, if it have not delivered simply whatsoever is needful to the same end; but all kinds of knowledge have their certain bounds and limits; each of them presupposeth many necessary things learned in other sciences and known beforehand. He that should take upon him to teach men how to be eloquent in pleading causes, must needs deliver unto them whatsoever precepts are requisite unto that end; otherwise he doth not the thing which he taketh upon him. Seeing then no man can plead eloquently unless he be able first to speak; it followeth that ability of speech is in this case a thing most necessary. Notwithstanding every man would think it ridiculous, that he which undertaketh by writing to instruct an orator should therefore deliver all the precepts of grammar; because his profession is to deliver precepts necessary unto eloquent speech, yet so that they which are to receive them be taught beforehand so much of that which is thereunto necessary, as comprehendeth the skill of speaking. In like sort, albeit Scripture do prefess to contain in it all things that are necessary unto salvation; yet the meaning cannot be simply of all things which are necessary, but all things that are necessary in some certain kind or form; as all things which are necessary, and either could not at all or could not easily be known by the light of natural discourse; all things which are necessary to be known that we may be saved; but known with presupposal of knowledge concering certain principles whereof it receiveth us already persuaded, and then instructeth us in all the residue that are necessary. In the number of these principles one is the sacred authority of Scripture. Being therefore persuaded by other means that these Scriptures are the oracles of God, themselves do then teach us the rest, and lay before us all the duties which God requireth at our hands as necessary unto salvation.

I think the analogy is pertinent, but the crucial question is what these "other means" are by which the present canon is known to be authoritative. And on this point, unfortunately, Hooker is (so far in the book, at least) silent. The Roman Catholic will argue that any arguments for the canon which do not at some point appeal to the decree of the Church are uncertain--an argument that wields some force given the fact that the canon was unsettled in the early church until definitive conciliar pronouncements were made. My response is to accept the Lutheran concept of the New Testament "canon within a canon": i.e. grounding doctrine only on those books which were never seriously doubted in the early church, i.e. the Gospels and the major Pauline epistles.

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

pet•u•lant adj.

  1. Unreasonably irritable or ill-tempered; peevish.
  2. Contemptuous in speech or behavior.


Joni Mitchell For the Roses [Asylum, 1972]

Sometimes her complaints about the men who have failed her sound petulant, but the appearance of petulance is one of the prices of liberation. If this has none of the ingratiating ease of Blue, that's because Mitchell has smartened up--she's more wary, more cynical. Perhaps as a result, the music, which takes on classical colors from Tom Scott's woodwinds and Bobby Notkoff's chamber strings, is more calculated. Where the pretty swoops of her voice used to sound like a semiconscious parody of the demands placed on all female voices and all females, these sinuous, complex melodies have been composed to her vocal contours with palpable forethought. They reward stubborn attention with almost hypnotic appeal. A (

Friday, April 18, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

o•li•o n. pl. o•li•os

  1. A heavily spiced stew of meat, vegetables, and chickpeas.
  2. a. A mixture or medley; a hodgepodge.
    b. A collection of various artistic or literary works or musical pieces; a miscellany.
  3. Vaudeville or musical entertainment presented between the acts of a burlesque or minstrel show.


The Band The Last Waltz [Warner Bros., 1978]

The movie improves when you can't see it--Robbie Robertson and friends don't play anywhere near as smug as they look (or talk). And for an olio featuring eleven guest vocalists and a studio "suite," the soundtrack is remarkably coherent. The four new Band tunes are nothing special, but everybody lays into the oldies. The blues sequence--beefed up by Toussaint's horns, Butterfield's harp, Muddy's pipes, and a blistering if messy Robertson-Clapton duet--is a small landmark, Morrison and Young are worth going back to, and Dylan's "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" is spunky enough to make up for "Forever Young." Not only that, Joni Mitchell and Neil Diamond are on the same side. Bet this ages a lot better than Woodstock--in a way, it already has. B+ (

Hey Felix, would you mind appending that comment you sent me to this message? It was very well written and I think Pablo at least should take a look at it.

There's a certain mode of Roman Catholic argumentation made popular by Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine which seems to me ass-backwards. Schematically it looks like this:

  1. We know doctrine X.
  2. We cannot know doctrine X unless the Roman Catholic Church is infallible.
  3. Therefore the RCC is infallible.

Usual tokens of X include Trinitarianism, Chalcedonian Christology, the canon of scripture, and the normativeness of monogamy. So Newman tries to make the Bible and the Fathers ambiguous on the divinity of Christ, hoping his (largely Anglican) readers will get worried and hide under the Pope's wings as the only refuge from Arianism. It's interesting, by the way, that at the time of its publication the Essay was very poorly received by conservative Roman Catholics like Orestes Brownson, because the usual view up to that point was that Catholic doctrine had been handed down in toto since 33 A.D. through the apostolic succession of bishops.

In any case, the Newmanian argument is clearly circular: if (2) is true then how could we know (1) unless we already accepted the conclusion?

Still, I admit I haven't seen a good biblical argument against polygamy, so Protestants may be relying more than they know on Catholic tradition.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

Gamelan n. An Indonesian orchestra composed mainly of tuned percussion instruments such as bamboo xylophones, wooden or metal chimes, and gongs.(

Neil Young Trans [Geffen, 1982]

Like almost everybody, I thought this was his dumbest gaffe since Journey Through the Past at first--his Devo buddies at least figured out that robots sound more lifelike if you program in some funkbeats. Granted, good old Joe Lala does add the occasional kerplunkety, but down beneath the vocodered quaver in which Young sings most of these silly sci-fi ditties they belong rhythmically to Billy Talbot, who could no more get on the one than lead a gamelan ensemble. Gradually, however, I figured out that robots also sound more lifelike if they're singing those grade-A eligiac folk melodies Young makes up when he's in the mood, because this is as tuneful as Comes a Time. Also realized that although Young's sci-fi may be simple, it's not silly--or maybe I realized that although it may be silly it's also charming. I'm sure you'll be pleased to learn that his unending search for romantic perfection is under study by an android company. A (

Choice May 2003

I was expecting to see my first review in this issue but, surprisingly, I found someone else's review of the same item instead. I need to email my editor to see what's going on.

Yet another art book has been deemed "essential" by I. Spalatin, whom I mentioned a few months ago. "Brilliant," "stupendous," "absolutely unparalleled," and "incomparable" are the measured adjectives used this time. I've decided her name will be the first entry in my new "untrustworthy reviewers" list.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Our server was down earlier this evening, so our databases, online catalog, and circulation systems were inaccessible. What moron would ever suggest that a completely digital library would be a good idea?

I've discovered that our Sirsi software keeps track of the total number of checkouts each item has received since being entered into the system, so I'm planning a west Texas bibliometric shootout between myself and the faculty. Whose selections will receive the highest circ stats?

I hope that those of y'all out east are enjoying a lush, fragrant spring, but the vernal experience on the Llano is somewhat different. Yesterday afternoon strong winds swept the dirt off the plains and into the clouds, making the sky a brown canopy shutting out the sun. The flying grit stung my eyes and crunched between my teeth. Later in the afternoon the low-pressure front crashed through with a short burst of 70 mph wind, rain, and pea-sized hail. After work I drove up the I-27 service road looking for spectacular thunderheads but by that point the sky was merely overcast. Most of the cars in town are streaked with mud. Not what Hopkins had in mind when writing "Nothing is so beautiful as spring."

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

poetaster n. A writer of insignificant, meretricious, or shoddy poetry. (

Guess Who American Woman [RCA Victor, 1970]

As a Canadian, Burton Cummings is no doubt aiming his "symbolic" rage more at the "American" than at the "woman," but his choice of "symbol" is no less despicable for its putative naivete. I like the riff that goes with it, though, and except for the poetasting "Talisman" can find it in me to enjoy every cut on this record. The beat is unyielding as well as wooden, Randy Bachman's square yet jazzy guitar style is one of a kind, and the lyrics usually give up a phrase or two worth humming. AM fans should be proud. B (

Monday, April 14, 2003

Instead of seeing Chicago, which I figure will hang around the cineplex for a while yet, on Sunday afternoon I jumped at the chance to see a furrin movie, City of God. It was based on a true story about gang violence in a Rio de Janeiro slum during the 1970s. I would say it owes not a little to Pulp Fiction, including the use of flashback, the segmentation of the plot into discrete, separately titled stories, and the hip retro gangsters (one of which, an Afro-Brazilian in slick threads and Jeri Curls, seemed modeled on Samuel L. Jackson's Jules Winnfield). But the cinema verité stylings--grainy film, intentionally choppy or out-of-focus shots--were more sophisticated and compelling than anything in Tarantino.

Two more strangers have told me I need to get married: a secretary in the campus business office and a hairdresser at MasterCuts. I lost track but that makes 5 or 6 people to say this since I came to west Texas. Along those lines, I did see an interesting online personal from a 32-year-old professor (presumably at Texas Tech), but two big problems: (1) no picture, (2) under "religion" she entered "Unitarian Universalist." That's interesting because St. Christopher's is right next door to the Lubbock UU congregation, but being a staunch Trinitarian I don't think it would work out. Plus I assumed that, her being a professor and I an ex-professor, we would have a lot in common, but for all I know she might teach Poultry Science. At least I have the cold comfort of knowing that the prediction I made in my inaugural entry is being fulfilled.

On a positive note, I found a used copy of Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love.

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

man•qué adj. Unfulfilled or frustrated in the realization of one's ambitions or capabilities: an artist manqué; a writer manqué. (

Kate & Anna McGarrigle Matapedia [Hannibal, 1996]

With their mom in the ground and their kids grown up, these tart schoolmarms manqué are left with the sun in the morning and the moon at night, both of which have their drawbacks. So they ponder the tangled history of folk music and their own irretrievable pasts, indulge their fatalism about serial monogamy and the poor getting poorer, and sum up their message in two terse titles with songs attached: "I Don't Know" and "Why Must We Die?" And now, if you'd care to come upstairs, they'd just as soon make love. Save the postmortems for morning. Which always comes, for better or worse. A- (