Skip to comments.Lutheran professor of philosophy prepares to enter Catholic Church
Posted on 05/19/2007 1:45:39 PM PDT by Frank Sheed
Friday, May 18, 2007 Lutheran professor of philosophy prepares to enter Catholic Church
Dr. Robert Koons, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, will be entering the Catholic Church next week following several years of considering the teachings and history of the Catholic Church. In a post over at Right Reason, he writes:
Several weeks ago, I learned through a mutual friend that Frank Beckwith was intending to return to the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, Frank learned that I myself have been moving in the direction of Rome for the last several years. I am very pleased to be able to announce that I intend to be received into the Church on May 26th, at St. Louis King of France parish in Austin. My own story is quite different from Franks, although our reasons for entering the Church of Rome are strikingly parallel.
I was baptized through the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, and I have been an active member of the church body ever since. As a Lutheran, Ive never thought of myself as Protestant, nor have I ever embraced the kind of extreme sola-scripturism that has been much in evidence in responses to Franks announcement. I always recognized that the Scriptures are themselves the foundation of, and very much a part of, a divine Tradition. Although I believed that only the Scriptures were infallible, I nonetheless assigned great weight to the rule of faith established by the continuous tradition of teaching by the Church, and as reflected in the writings of the Fathers and the decrees of Councils. Insofar as I accepted a form of sola scriptura, it took the form of insisting that all doctrines must have their source in the Scriptures as interpreted by the Church, or in the universal practices and teaching of the early church. This is the only sort of sola scriptura principle that can hold up to logical scrutiny, since the Scriptures themselves provide no definition of the canon and no clear statement of any sola-scriptura principle (both of these can be found only in the Fathers and Councils). Extreme sola-scripturism is, given these facts, self-refuting.
How, then, could I have remained Lutheran? I did so because I believed that the late medieval church (in the form of both the Scotists and the nominalists like Ockham and Biel) had distorted the doctrine of salvation or justification, embracing a kind of Pelagian error: that is, the notion that human beings can save themselves through the exercise of unaided human reason and will. I still believe this to be so (as do many, if not most, contemporary Roman Catholic theologians). I also believed that the Church erred in its brusque condemnation of Luthers early protests (again, a view I still hold), and that the Council of Trent solidified a kind of apostasy from the true faith (this is where my current view departs from my former one). I believed that the teachings of the church popularly known as Lutheran or Evangelical, as codified in the sixteenth century Book of Concord, constituted the defining characteristic of the one Catholic Church in its fullness, in continuity on all essentials with the teachings of the Church from the first century until at least the twelfth. The logic of my position was a simple one: the modern Roman Church clearly embraced an erroneous doctrine of justification, which nullified its otherwise strong historical claim to continuity with the apostles (especially on the matter of ecclesiology, the theory of the Church), depriving modern Christians of any good reason to embrace late-medieval and modern developments in Roman Catholic doctrine (including the immaculate conception and papal infallibility).
Those of you who know more about theology and the history of theology than I did then can easily see how untenable a position I held (although I think this untenable position is one still held by many, if not most, thoughtful Lutherans and Reformed Christians). My confidence in this position was shaken by three blows: (1) new scholarship (primarily by Protestants) on Pauls epistles, which raised profound doubts about the correctness of Martin Luthers and Phillip Melanchthons excessively individualistic and existentialist reading of Pauls teaching on justification by faith, (2) the fruits of Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue on justification, expressed most fully in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1997, that greatly clarified for me the subtlety of the doctrinal differences between the two bodies, and (3) a more thorough exposure to the writings of the early Church fathers, especially those considered most evangelical: Chrysostom, Ambrose, and (above all) Augustine of Hippo. I began to realize that many Lutheran and Protestant polemicists have been guilty of two fallacies: a straw-man version of contemporary Roman Catholic teaching, and a cherry-picking of quotations from the Fathers, ignoring the undeniable contradiction between the teachings of those Fathers, taken as a whole, and the one-sided version of the faith-alone doctrine on justification embraced by the second generation of the Reformation (especially Martin Chemnitz). The Joint Declaration and the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church aided me in giving a closer and more charitable reading to the anathemas of the Council of Trent (which I still believe to be have been written in an unprofitably provocative way).
Read the entire post, as well as Dr. Koons 94-page essay on justification (PDF document).
Posted by Carl Olson on Friday, May 18, 2007 at 09:28
Welcome Home Ping for a Lutheran Philosopher at the University of Texas!
Is this the NFL?
Nope... Catholic Church!
Wonderful! Thanks for the ping!
Sometimes. Other times, it's more like mud-wrestling. Just for a change of pace, I sometimes just bang my head against the wall.
I've been a Roman Catholic for 50 years, and I never heard of that being issued from the Roman Pontiff on down the line ... but I hear that from the protestants all the time ...
We get a draft pick and theologian to be named later. We tried to get a free agent, but the Calvinists said there is no such thing.
You can have Richard McBrien, Megan McKenna, and gaggle of St. Louis Jesuits.
(j/k ... y’all deserve better :-).
Hope to see him on an upcoming episode of EWTN's The Journey Home.
I hope Dr. Koons makes as good a Roman Catholic as Jaroslav Pelikan made an Orthodox Christian and that he contributes as much to the Roman Church as Dr. Pelikan did to Orthodoxy.
Dr. Koons and Beckwith, welcome across the Tiber. You have quite a big family. The church will be invaluable to you and vice-versa.
Larry, that’s a very witty response.
I loved Dr. Pelikan’s articles in “First Things.” He had a lovely vocabulary, so I enjoyed reading him even if I didn’t understand half of it.
Are you familiar with David Hart, another Orthodox writer who is often in “First Things”? He has a wonderful vocabulary, too, and a sense of humor that’s positively O’Rourke.
elca lutheran professors are just a bunch of steers and queers.
is this guy elca?
Col 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
(j/k ... yall deserve better :-).
No worries, the Episcopalians have right of first refusal on that crowd . . .
Professor Koons, Univ. of Texas
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