Thursday, September 08, 2005

Time to Press the Issue

I have disagreed in the past (and not surprisingly, still do) with the way Jonathan Prejean handles scholarship. It’s not so much what he chooses to read as what he does with it once he reads it. When one speaks of "consensus" in scholarly circles, it usually means he has read and digested massive quantities of scholarly books and journals that are pertinent to the specific point he is investigating. Then, once he gains insight on what the majority of scholars believe on that particular point, then and only then can he claim there is "scholarly consensus" (though even then it’s not really "consensus" at all; just a majority view. But since it is doubtful that any point of scholarly inquiry has true consensus in any case, we won’t quibble). But Prejean’s method of scholarship is to find—and latch onto—a single work that happens to advance his agenda, find two or three other scholars who have adopted that scholar’s view, dismiss any other scholar who happens to disagree with that view by pointing out some aberrant theological position he may hold, and then triumphantly declare that everyone but him is incompetent.

First, no scholar dismisses out of hand the points made by another scholar just because he happens to hold to some wrong belief in a completely different field of study. That’s called guilt by association. I still recommend Thayer’s Lexicon to non-Greek reading Bible students, even though Thayer was a Unitarian. His lexicon is still a good one in spite of his theological views. The reason I recommend it is because it is keyed to Strong’s numbering system and easily commends itself to Bible students who do not have the Greek faculties to use BDAG. I recommend Thayer as a grammarian; not as a theologian.

A scholar is not automatically wrong on a historical point just because he holds to an aberrant theological view. If that were the case, we could never cite ANY scholar in our favor with whom we differ theologically on other issues. And on that basis, I should write off McGuckin entirely since he holds to different views of ecclesiology and soteriology than I do. I haven’t done that because that is not how scholarship is done. Prejean, on the other hand, has done this because he is an opportunist, not a scholar. I was citing Hallman as a historian; not as a theologian.

Second, Prejean’s emotional and triumphal blustering about how great McGuckin is and how closed this issue now is may persuade the uninformed, but it does not fool those of us who know a thing or two about how scholarship works. At best, all McGuckin has now done is to reopen an issue that was formerly considered to be closed by most patristic scholarship. No one of the caliber of, say, a Pelikan or a Kelly has "recanted" his former views on this.

Third, let’s put things into a bit of perspective regarding the controversy over the heterodoxy of Cyril and the orthodoxy of Nestorius. It is a fact that Prejean—who now bandies his "patristic prowess" across the internet—wasn’t even aware that there was such a controversy as little as six months ago! (See here). And yet he is now somehow a "patristic scholar" who is in the know on all patristic scholarship regarding this issue. If true, that would be a neat trick.

But all that aside.

For the sake of argument and moving the discussion forward, I am going to concede all of Prejean’s points on this (this is clearly an issue which Prejean sees as absolutely essential to his view, whereas it has very little consequence for my view). Let’s concede that "St." J.A. McGuckin was immaculately conceived, that he has lived a sinless life, and that he will shortly be bodily assumed. He never told an untruth, and he was never wrong on any point in his works on what Cyril believed. Let’s further concede that "St." Cyril was immaculately conceived, that he too lived a sinless life, and that he too was bodily assumed. Let’s concede the whole nine yards . . .
. . . So what? What does it prove? What does Prejean hope to demonstrate by that concession?
It is the ramifications of all this that I am interested in--always have been; and it will be instructive to see what Prejean does with them. I, in fact, look forward to that discussion, though I doubt he’ll want to move into that territory. We shall see.