What do we know and how do we know it?

While studying for a chapter on hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), I ran across something I had posted some time ago. I found it in the archives of the (now retired) Pontificator. The irony…

…Now permit me to add some observations not only on your letters, but on your book (which I have received with the greatest gratitude and perused with unmixed pleasure), and on all the mode of action of those Anglicans who seem, and are indeed, nearest to us. You would show that all our doctrine is yours, and indeed, at first sight, you seem quite right. Many bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of it? Their opinion is only an individual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community. Ussher is almost a complete Calvinist; but yet he, no less than those bishops who give expression to Orthodox convictions, belongs to the Anglican Church. We may, and do, sympathise with the individuals; we cannot and dare not sympathise with a community which interpolates the Symbol and doubts her right to that interpolation, or which gives communion to those who declare the Bread and Wine of the High Sacrifice to be mere bread and wine, as well as to those who declare it to be the Body and Blood of Christ. This for an example — and I could find hundreds more — but I go further. Suppose an impossibility — suppose all the Anglicans be quite orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained is a Protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled to something very near Truth. If we admit this, all is lost, and Rationalism is the supreme judge of every question. Protestantism, most reverend sir, is the admission of an unknown [quantity] to be sought by reason; and that unknown [quantity] changes the whole equation to an unknown quantity, even though every other datum be as clear and as positive as possible. Do not, I pray, nourish the hope of finding Christian truth without stepping out of the former Protestant circle. It is an illogical hope; it is a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and wished to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love. Were you to find all the truth, you would have found nothing; for we alone can give you that without which all would be vain — the assurance of truth.

from Alexei Khomiakov’s Third Letter to William Palmer

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2 Responses to “What do we know and how do we know it?”

  1. Pontificator Says:

    The citation is from Alexei Khomiakov’s Third Letter to William Palmer.”

  2. dpc+ Says:

    I remember we had this exchange the first time around. ;–) Of course you are right, Father. Thanks for visiting and correcting this. I’ve made the proper change.


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