Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism

Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism

Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism

Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism


The book provides an original and important narrative on the significance of canon in the Christian tradition. Standard accounts of canon reduce canon to scripture and treat scripture as a criterion of truth. Scripture is then related in positive or negative ways to tradition, reason, and experience. Such projects involve a misreading of the meaning and content of canon--they locate the canonical heritage of the church within epistemology--and Abraham charts the fatal consequences of this move, from the Fathers to modern feminist theology. In the process he shows that the central epistemological concerns of the Enlightenment have Christian origins and echoes. He also shows that the crucial developments of theology from the Reformation onwards involve extraordinary efforts to fix the foundations of faith. This trajectory is now exhausted theologically and spiritually. Hence, the door is opened for a recovery of the full canonical heritage of the early church and for fresh work on the epistemology of theology.


The fundamental problems which arise in treatments of authority in the Christian faith stem from a long-standing misinterpretation of ecclesial canons as epistemic criteria.

The former, ecclesial canons, comprise materials, persons, and practices officially or semi-officially identified and set apart as a means of grace and salvation by the Christian community. They are represented by such entities as creed, Scripture, liturgy, iconography, the Fathers, and sacraments. the latter, epistemic criteria, are constituted by norms of Justification, rationality, and knowledge. They are represented by such entities as reason, experience, memory, intuition, and inference.

Means of grace presuppose a complex theological vision of creation and redemption. They take as given the existence of God, the estrangement of human agents from their true destiny, and a network of divine action in the salvation of the world. Within this vision means of grace refer to various materials, persons, and practices which function to reconnect human agents with their divine source and origin. They are akin to medicine designed to heal and restore human flourishing; they are akin to various exercises appointed to reorient the whole of human existence to its proper goal. Their natural home is the Church. in fact they are brought into existence by the Church, as she is guided in her pilgrimage into the kingdom of God.

Epistemic criteria belong to a very different arena. Norms or criteria generally arise out of puzzlement about gaining rationality, justified beliefs, and knowledge. Historically they have often arisen out of intellectual curiosity and out of conflict concerning what to believe as true. At their best they are carefully crafted means of articulating the justification of one's beliefs. They are means of . . .

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