Sunday, 20 July 2008

The rule-of-faith as the reality behind doctrine, tradition, and scripture

I now come to the fourth of the implications Hägglund draws of the patristic understanding of the regula fidei for contemporary dogmatics. Here is the first, here the second, and here is the third. For an overview of the entire thread go here.

The fact that “truth” in the sense of the actual events of salvation history (dem tatsächlichen Geschehen der Heilsgeschichte) is signified as a regula has two implications: first, this reality is, in the final analysis, the fundamentum of theology, the starting point of the entire doctrinal tradition of the church. Second, this same reality forms the guidline (Richtschnur) for the appraisal of true or false doctrine. Today we look at the first implication:

Within scholarship there used to be a widespread opinion that the regula fidei was originally motivated by the struggle against heresy. It was understood to be the antiheretically interpreted Symbolum. As we have seen here, it is certainly true that the regula fidei was very often used in the conflict with the heretics: by Irenaeus against Gnosticism, by Tertullian additionally against Praxeas and the philosophers. This does not mean, however, that the regula was originally only a consolidation of church doctrine for the purpose of repudiating heretics. It played a far more positive role as “doctrinal foundation,” as starting point for Christian teaching and theological thought. According to the concept of the regula fidei there was primarily an allusion to that which was original (das Ursprüngliche), to the reality itself, which stands behind all ecclesial doctrinal decisions as well as behind the proclamation of the church and the witness of the scripture as the content of the divine revelation. The orientation of the rule to the facts (Tatbestand) of salvation history (as with Irenaeus) and the emphasis of its priority (as with Tertullian) show that it does indeed takes such a position with the Church Fathers.

The regula fulfils the function of being a fundamentum of the doctrinal tradition through the mediation (Vermittlung) of the holy scripture. We can perceive the reality of the revelation, the facts of salvation history only through the witness of the prophets and the apostles, through the writings of the Old and New Testaments. This witness must be interpreted and expounded again and again, but also recapitulated (zusammengefasst) and literally reproduced. In the process, however, the regula itself, the truth to which the scripture witnesses, maintains its position as an unchanging foundation. It is not a coincidence that the Greek word for rule, κανων, became more and more a fixed designation for the holy scripture. The original witness is not only “canonical” because it is endowed with the authority of the prophets and apostles, but also because it is a bearer (Träger) of the revelation, a mediator of the reality of salvation.

The orientation of the regula fidei to the actual events of salvation history, means, therefore, in concrete terms, a reference (Hinweis) to the holy scripture as the fundamentum of the doctrinal tradition of the church. The regula fidei cannot be retrieved from anywhere else other than from the prophetic and apostolic witness.

See Childs' important formulation of this here, in my post The text as tradent of authority.

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