Dancing on the Head of a Pin

There is a legend of St Thomas Aquinas asking "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" At this blog we ask all questions dealing with our faith and spirituality. Some are down to earth, rubber meets the road questions, while others are more lofty...like, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Towering above the Stool

In Anglican circles, the traditional sources of authority when "doing" theology - that is, thinking, writing, and speaking about God - have been scripture, tradition, and reason. This idea came from the writings of Richard Hooker in "Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity." Later theologians came to describe this way of Anglican theology as a three legged stool. Without one of the legs (scripture, tradition, or reason), the stool would fall down. The idea being, scripture must be in conversation with tradition and with reason. The problem this illustration creates is one of equality - that scripture is equal to tradition and reason. Certainly most Anglicans would not agree with this statement. In the latest edition of the Anglican Digest Nashotah House Dean The Very Reverend Robert S. Munday offers a new illustration - one of the tower.
Instead of a stool where all legs are equal, he suggests we view the sources of authority as creating three ascending levels of a tower.
"Scripture is the foundation. Tradition, rests on Scripture and is built upon but cannot go where there is no foundation. Reason rests on Scripture and Tradition and builds upon it but, again, cannot go where there is no supporting foundation."

This eliminates the temptation to view scripture and reason as equal. It also provides balance between the extreme Protestant sola scriptura and the Roman primacy of the Magisterium. Many critics of the Episcopal Church argue that we put other things (such as reason) ahead of scripture. Perhaps Munday's tower will offer more clarity into our theological method.



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