Aquinas and Trent: Part 1

Mar 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts, Featured Articles

One of the most fundamental points of disagreement between Protestants and the Catholic Church, and one that presently keeps us divided, was the subject of the sixth session of the Council of Trent. This session addressed the doctrine of justification. Some Protestants believe that in this session the Catholic Church “anathematized the gospel” and formally committed apostasy. Understandably, in their minds, this is what warrants their remaining separated from the Catholic Church.

Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas over the Heretics
Filippino Lippi (1489-91)

For that reason, dialogue aimed at reconciling Protestants with Catholics simply cannot circumvent the Council of Trent. The more I have studied the Council of Trent, the more I am convinced that it and the rationale underlying its conclusions can be rightly understood only within a broader paradigm. The canons of the sixth session are read by Protestants as if the terms mean what Protestants take the terms to mean, according to a Protestant theological method. By that light it only takes a quick glance to see that Trent anathematized the gospel. St. Paul obviously teaches that we are justified by faith and not by works (Romans 3:20, 28; 9:32, 11:6, Galatians 2:16, 3:2,5,10), and the ninth canon of the sixth session obviously anathematizes the claim that we are justified by faith alone. Therefore, for Protestants it is a very simple deduction that at Trent the Catholic Church formally apostatized. End of discussion.

Or is it?

Certainly we can all agree that the gospel of Jesus Christ is something of such tremendous importance that we should choose death rather than deny, compromise or abandon it. But for that very reason, we should also agree that it is supremely important to be as certain as possible that what we believe to be the gospel is in fact the gospel. To be warranted in separating from the visible Church over the gospel, clearly we would need to be absolutely certain both that we know what is the gospel and that the Church has in fact departed from it. So a great deal of caution is in order when concluding that Trent anathematized the gospel. Too often in my opinion, insufficient study and investigation lie behind the reasoning process by which Protestants conclude that Trent anathematized the gospel. The determination is often made in a rather facile fashion, as exemplified in the previous paragraph.

Imagine trying to map a mountain range while standing on the highest peak with a thick cloud cover at some distance below.  You see only certain peaks jutting up through the clouds. To perceive the mountain range rightly, you need to see what is underneath the clouds. In the same way, to understand rightly the meaning and basis of the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent, one must understand the theological and philosophical framework within which the Tridentine bishops were working. The enormous though invisible figure presiding virtually at the Council of Trent was the great Doctor Ecclesiae, St. Thomas Aquinas. It is virtually impossible to understand Trent rightly without understanding the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Why is that? In 1879, in his encyclical Aeterni Patris (On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy), Pope Leo XIII wrote the following:

The ecumenical councils, also, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor. In the Councils of Lyons [1274], Vienna [1311-1313], Florence [1439], and the Vatican [1869-1870] one might almost say that Thomas took part and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers, contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics and rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results. But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent [1545-1563] made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration. (Aeterni Patris, 22)

According to Pope Leo XIII, there were three books granted the honor of being placed on the altar at the Council of Trent. One was the Bible, one was the Decretals, and the other was Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. This does not mean that they believed the Summa to be equivalent in authority to Scripture, or that it was to be blindly received as an infallible commentary upon Scripture. Rather, it indicates how much respect the bishops at Trent had for the Summa as summarizing the Church’s organic tradition through which Scripture was to be understood. Keep in mind also that there were no less than twenty-three Dominican bishops in attendance at the Council of Trent, and they also contributed to Aquinas’s role at the Council, because Aquinas was a Dominican. When we read the sixth session of Trent with an understanding of what Aquinas has to say about justification, we see clearly that the bishops at Trent were using Aquinas’s position and arguments in order to formulate and define their own position on this subject. The great Church historian, Philip Hughes, wrote, “Where is the doctrinal definition of this council [i.e. Trent], for comment on which the theological lecturer will not turn for guidance to St. Thomas …?” (The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870, p. 324)

Protestants tend to understand a term such as ‘justification’ primarily through an inference from its use in Scripture and in pagan literature contemporary to the authors of Scripture. Protestants also tend to be unfamiliar with Aquinas’s theology and philosophy. The bishops of Trent, by contrast, approached the issue of justification by looking at the Scripture through the eyes of St. Thomas. So, in effect, Protestants approach the issue of justification already in a different theological and philosophical paradigm than were the bishops at the Council of Trent. And when two groups of persons approach the same evidence, each group having its own paradigm, the typical result is disagreement due to misunderstanding.

Since we should not reject what we do not understand, Protestants should reserve judgment about the orthodoxy of Trent until they understand this Thomistic framework. That is because the burden of proof rests on those who would depart from the visible Church; otherwise there is no visible Church. In other words, we cannot just leave the Church and start our own sect whenever we, for any reason, happen to disagree with her theology. We would have to be absolutely certain that the Church has abandoned the gospel. Determining that a Protestant interpretation is more favorable or superior is insufficient; the Catholic position must be shown to be certainly contrary to Scripture. Therefore, if Catholic soteriology is compatible with Scripture, then Protestants should return to the Catholic Church. And every Protestant who knows his history should be the first to acknowledge this. But perceiving the compatibility of Catholic doctrine with Scripture requires first understanding the Thomistic theological and philosophical framework within which the Catholic soteriology promulgated at Trent is situated. So one essential goal of the Protestant-Catholic dialogue aimed at reconciliation and reunion is coming to understand the Thomistic paradigm within which the bishops at the Council of Trent were writing.

With an eye to that end, this is the first of a series of posts, Deo volente, examining the fifth and sixth sessions of the Council of Trent. What I intend to do in this series is present and explain the Thomistic paradigm that lies behind the Council’s teaching in these two sessions. Why am I including the fifth session? Because I believe that in order to understand the sixth session, on justification, we need first to consider and understand the fifth session, on original sin. And since today, March 7, is the day St. Thomas died (and hence is his feast day in the old calendar), this seems to be an appropriate day to begin such a series.

God our merciful Father, grant us the grace and wisdom to be reconciled with one another in full and visible communion. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us, that we may see the light that illuminated your mind and guided your pen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Part 2 in this series can be found here.

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71 comments
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  1. Okay, Bryan, I write this only because I care deeply about Protestant/Reformed and Catholic dialogue.

    You need to seriously qualify who you are referencing here:

    Too often in my opinion, insufficient study and investigation lie behind the reasoning process by which Protestants conclude that Trent anathematized the gospel. The determination is often made in a rather facile fashion, as exemplified in the previous paragraph.

    Both this statement and the referenced paragraph cannot — simply cannot — be a serious evaluation of Protestant dogmatics, whether in the 16th century or the 20th. Are Calvin’s masterful commentaries (not to mention his Institutes) facile? Was Chemnitz just a flippant journalist? Are Turretin’s hundreds of pages of painstaking detail ultimately shallow? And more recently we have the genius of Barth, Brunner, Torrance, Thielicke, and Jüngel — all committed to the Reformation and seriously attending to the fundamental differences — exegetical and metaphysical — that require dis-communion with Rome.

    So, you are saying that this Protestant theology is ultimately reducible to a simple compare-contrast of a surface-level reading of scripture and Trent? No, surely you cannot. You must be referring to some backwoods preacher, maybe a zealous Sunday School teacher, or a lay apologist. Whoever it is, you are not referring to Protestant theology as represented by its major thinkers (just as you wish to represent Tridentine theology by the major figure of Thomas).

    In other words, you need to re-evaluate what you wish to accomplish with “Called to Communion.” If you want to serve the lowest denominator of dilettantes, then go ahead with this sort of pejorative framing of the issue. But if you want to be a serious and credible theologian, truly serving to heal the divisions and point to Christ, then you need to step back and reflect.

  2. This is a very good and important issue to raise. The fact is when most Protestants who actually bother to read Trent Session 6 (this includes many popular Protestant authors today), they read it with PROTESTANT GLASSES on and thus misread it to say something it does not teach. So THEY end up rejecting a strawman of what they think the Catholic Church teaches. The “benefit” of this is that this misunderstanding reduces culpability.

    That being said, some genuinely informed Protestants understand what Trent is saying, and thus it would be wrong for someone to imply this was more or less a big misunderstanding. The fact is, we are comparing apples to oranges when comparing Catholic understanding of justification with the Protestant one.

    Kevin,

    I hear what you are saying, but I have come across many Reformed individuals (including books) who are otherwise well informed and they have misunderstood what Trent is saying. I’d say the great majority of Protestants who actually read Trent come away with the wrong understanding because they are reading Protestant concepts into a Catholic framework.

    This article cuts right to the heart of the dispute:
    http://catholicdefense.googlepages.com/article.htm

  3. Kevin,

    I appreciate your worry, but you are misunderstanding me, by reading much more into what I said than what I actually said. Here’s what I said:

    Too often in my opinion, insufficient study and investigation lie behind the reasoning process by which Protestants conclude that Trent anathematized the gospel. The determination is often made in a rather facile fashion, as exemplified in the previous paragraph.

    Those two propositions are true. And the truth of those two propositions is fully compatible with there being more careful examinations of Trent by figures such as Turretin. At the end of the series I’ll be going through Calvin’s Antidotes and discussing them in relation to Aquinas. So when I get there, if you think I’m not doing justice to Calvin, I hope you will let me know.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. Kevin,

    Thanks for these remarks. You’re right, definitely, that a good number of Reformed Christians can’t with justice be accused of facile misreading. (I myself didn’t see Bryan as trying to sneak this kind of claim past, but perhaps it’s because I know Bryan and I know he doesn’t think anything goofy like that.) Keep in mind, though, that between the backwood preachers and the K. Davises who read Turretin et al. there are popular authors who hold a lot of sway with the bulk of American Reformed Christians, and who aren’t at all backwoodsy but aren’t exactly careful with the scholarship either. Just consider, for example, how many reasonably intelligent and well intentioned Reformed Christians get their ideas about Trent from Sproul’s book Faith Alone. Probably a lot more than those who mull over your list of luminaries for insight.

    My guess is that Bryan wants to write something that will speak to that crowd and also (eventually?) to guys like yourself who have a more sophisticated grasp of the issues. Does that make sense?

    Best,

    Neal

  5. Nick,

    I agree with and appreciate the warning about reading through filters in a way that could lead to misunderstanding. I wonder about the apples and oranges bit though. Isn’t that saying that the Catholic construal of justification and the classical Protestant one are incommensurable? Why think that?

    Neal

  6. I take your point Neal, and you are right. If Bryan is considering a lot of the influential popularizers (Sproul and company), then he has some justice in his remarks. Still, even these popularizers presume the more intense work of Turretin or Bavinck as more sufficient and necessary than their own filtrations.

    All in all, I’m concerned about the all-too-common appellations to the lowest level of discourse. This is how Steve Ray, Dave Armstrong, Tim Staples, and virtually every Catholic apologist operates — easy points, easy converts — ignore actual Catholic scholarship which is not-so-clean-cut. They take their own experience with the run-of-the-mill evangelical church and a smattering of pop authors (and the internet!), and — eureka! — they are experts on Protestant epistemology. Tighten-up a couple knock-down syllogisms (the circularity of “scripture alone” is a favorite), and you no longer need to deal seriously with the prophetic and evangelical claims of the Reformation. How many Catholic converts continue to read top-level Protestant theology — if they ever read it in the first place — after they convert? They are certain they don’t need to. Of course, I’m thinking of the pastor and theology student more than the average lay person, who may or may not have the requisite skills to study academic theology, which is why blogs, apologetics ministries, etc. are important.

  7. I would just like to add that at the Council of Trent a copy of Aquinas’s Summa was placed by the Bible during the deliberations. So, Mr. Cross is right about needing to understand Aquinas in order to better understand the Council.

  8. Is it not true that the Council of Trent was summoned in order, amongst other things, to address what was happening in the Reformation?

  9. Hi there, Kevin.

    I feel ya bra. Actually I don’t see much in what you’ve written that I disagree with — with the exception, perhaps, of your characterization of the standard contra sola scriptura arguments as attempting to display the doctrine as circular or circularly justified. I don’t think there’d be an interesting epistemological problem with a circular demonstration here given (a) the content of the doctrine and (b) the dialectical situation, in which both parties believe in the inspiration of Scripture. Perhaps these arguments are best categorized as attempts to demonstrate the self-referential incoherence of sola scriptura — but here too, your larger point that the popular arguments sometimes focus on less sophisticated construals of sola scriptura, which elicits (understandably) “strawman” objections, is well taken.

    But here’s the thing that’s really practically challenging. On the one hand, yes, we here at Called to Communion want to be different. We don’t want to be facile, nor to paint with too broad a brush, or whatever. At the same time, there is a whole lot of Christian brothers and sisters out there whom we care about and want to talk with, but who maybe aren’t exactly where you are in their studies and who maybe don’t have the same equipment as you do, if you catch my meaning. On the whole, it is in some ways a lot easier to write academically and for academics (for me anyway), but you lose a lot of audience, a lot of people really worth interacting with, this way. So I guess I’d say this: give us the benefit of the doubt — by all means, call us on it when we make a mistake or when we say something that seems unfair or too simplistic. But try to believe that we aren’t out to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes or confuse people with fancy talk or intentionally mischaracterize things to gain easy points. It’s just (for me, anyway) really hard to write in a way that meaningfully connects with supersmart and well read people, as well as with people at a different echelon.

    Neal

  10. I’m all for looking at something from a perspective. The Protestants claimed that their perspective was the “Canon within the Canon”, The writings of Paul — or what they thought were Paul’s writings.

    After I had read E. P. Sander’s _Paul and Palestinian Judaism_ I felt that the entire case for Classic Protestantism fell into pieces. The New Perspectives on Paul movement — founded by Sanders and advanced by Protestant Bible Scholars — has to be to be answered solidly by those who wish to maintain Classic Protestantism. I don’t see a solid answer coming from Reformed/Calvinist Apologists.

  11. Oh, and Kevin, I should admit that I (for one) continue to read top level Reformed people, and not just to find something to disagree with and then write about on a blog. I continue to learn a lot from the Reformed tradition and Protestants generally, and I continue to get a lot out of the devotional writing produced from within this stream. Heck, I even still like the popularizers. I guess I haven’t been a Catholic long enough to just completely dump all that fine heritage, and I don’t really see any reason to dump it anyway.

    Kepha:

    You’re right that Bryan’s right. I’ve sometimes wondered whether this might explain the otherwise perplexing general dislike of Aquinas among the same classical/confessional Protestants who generally really like Augustine. At least as regards the reasons Augustine’s theology is generally admired, there appears to be sufficient reason to generally admire Aquinas’ too. But Aquinas just seems suspicious, and the Summa-at-Trent thing may be part of the reason why.

    Neal

  12. @ Sid:

    You state that the so-called New Perspective (Sanders / Dunn etc) has not been answered by Refromed/Calvinist scholarship? Surely you are aware of the two volume response, “Justification and Variegated Nomism” by such scholars as D. A. Carson, Doug Moo, Martin Hengel, Peter O’brien, et al., in regards to the new perspective on the relationship between νομου and δικαιοσυνη in Paul?

    As to the issue of the “Canon within a canon” of course I think Protestants are still hard pressed to prove this point beyond a reasonable doubt.

    ___________

    R. E. Aguirre
    Regulafide.blogspot.com

  13. I’m curious, are any of the Reformer known to have dealt with Aquinas?

  14. What Reformed scholarship that I’ve seen simply doesn’t refute the NPP. I haven’t see it all. And until I see arguments that go point-by-point, and arguments from those who have sound and extensive training in Rabbinics, I remain with the NPP.

  15. Sid,

    Have you looked at Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California? I myself haven’t got round to reading this, but I gather it’s a critique of FV and NPP from the standpoint of confessional presbyterians (if I can say that without evoking FV ire). Anyway, it may be worth the read. You can read a well-written, sympathetic but critical review of it at Ordained Servant, here. The reviewer also provides a useful warning against assuming what he calls a ‘panconfessional thesis’, according to which there was one single view on justification that the magisterial Reformers all shared, and gives an analysis of what he perceives the salient differences between Calvinism and Lutheranism to be. As to the anthology, from this particular review it looks like the book is kind of a mixed bag, but you may find some helpful and challenging engagements in it.

    Best,

    Neal

  16. Dear Kepha,

    I don’t know that the magisterial Reformers felt the need to engage with Aquinas or had the interest in it. But it’s hard to judge from that how well they knew or understood him. Calvin often dismissed the ‘minutiae of Aristotle’ and may well have seen St Thomas’ work as a theologized expression of such minutiae. And Luther (like Calvin) wasn’t “brought up” on Aquinas’ theology, but what he knew of it didn’t make him sympathetic (to say the least). I guess since Luther viewed Aristotle’s virtue ethics as pernicious, and since he saw Aquinas as providing a conduit through which such ethics entered into Christian theology, this made him fairly hostile. So it is hard to tell how much he really knew of Aquinas and how much he was, with characteristic hyperbole, just railing about a picture he really didn’t like. (Maybe that’s a cartoon, I don’t know.)

    Neal

  17. The story of the summa being on the alter at Trent is a myth, disproved by scholars back in the 1920’s, I believe. Also, there was a substantial Scotist party at the council, and a substantial distinct party constituted by the “old franciscan school” taken its inspiration from Alexander of Hales and Bonaventure rather than Scotus, parties which taken together may well have outnumbered the Thomist party. Also, does it make sense to say that councils x, y, and z favored Thomas when these councils generally avoided determining issues of dispute among the various scholastic schools (according to various articles I’ve read Trent was no exception on this)?

  18. Lee,

    Thanks for your comment. I’d like to see a source for the claim that the Summa being on the altar was not true. But even if it is not true, I think the influence of Aquinas is quite apparent in comparing Trent 5 and 6 to the corresponding sections of the Summa. Regarding your last question, when the challenge is from heresies, the Church is more interested in finding the common ground between her various theologians, than in adjudicating between these theologians. Refusing to get into the in-house debates does not mean that Aquinas was not looked to as an authoritative representative of the Church’s theological tradition. The Catechism of the Council of Trent is basically a compendium of Aquinas’s theology. And he was declared Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope Pius V in 1567, just after Trent. I’m not at all denying that other medieval theologians also influenced Trent. But it is quite clear that Aquinas’s theology played a very important role at this council, and therefore I think that in order to understand sessions 5 and 6 rightly, Protestants should be aware of the Thomistic theology in the background.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. For my part, here is my source for the Summa at Trent.

    Writing in his Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism (Oxford, 1998), William Abraham, quotes Roger Ariew as writing that “for the duration of the Council of Trent (1545-63), his Summa Theologiae was placed next to the bible, on the same table, to help the council in its deliberations, and so that it might derive appropriate answers.” Abraham’s footnote reads, ‘Descartes and Scholasticism’, in John Cottingham (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

  20. Sid,

    You are about twenty years behind in your understanding of the NPP in contemporary scholarship. The literature rebuking both strict and moderate forms of the NPP are very, very vast. The Carson volumes, referenced above, are one fine example. Francis Watson and Simon Gathercole would be a couple more recent Brits dealing profoundly with the issue.

    In the academic community today, there are very few, if any, advocates of Sanders. Most scholars take the good (the contextual, Judaic setting of Paul) and leave the bad (the collapsing of Pauline categories into OT and ANE forms).

    Neal,

    Thanks for the thoughts and clarifying where you are coming from. I very much agree about the gap between the academy and the laity, but I’m optimistic about bridging the gap. It makes a big difference whether you say, e.g., “The early fathers saw the necessity of the See of Rome for the unity of the Church,” or saying, “The necessity of union with Rome was gradually seen by some fathers, especially in the later centuries of the patristic period — an issue that was never settled in the Church and eventually resulted in the division of the East and West.” The former statement is something you would hear on Catholic Answers. While it is simpler; it is also false and misleading. “Misleading” is the point; it is the sort of thing that leads people to Rome. I could provide several other examples, whether it be on Mary, the use and authority of scripture in the early church, the soteriology of penance, and so on. We can keep the terms basic and the sentences simple, while providing a little more nuance and historical veracity. It’s a hard balance, to be sure, but it is necessary, or else we mislead people.

  21. Kevin,

    Well, naturally, I myself don’t think that to be led to Rome is ipso facto to be misled! But your point, again, is well taken; the thing needs to be done on the up and up.

    Neal

  22. Kevin said: “You are about twenty years behind in your understanding of the NPP contemporary scholarship.” “In the academic community today, there are very few, if any, advocates of Sanders.”

    Two answers:
    1. Says who? Your saying so doesn’t make it so. Proof please. Let’s see a point by point refutation.
    2. So? Maybe the last 20 years are wrong.

    In short, the quoted claims lacks evidence and warrant.

    All the Reformed rebuttal of the New Perspectives on Paul that I’ve seem seems self-serving — starting with a dogma and then seeking a proof text — much the way Catholic Bible scholarship was before Pius XII.

    I certainly can understand why Reformed and Lutheran Protestants hate the New Perspective on Paul, inasmuch as it shatters classic Protestantism. REAL Protestantism starts with sola scriptura. And Paul isn’t saying what Calvin and Luther said he says.

    And what the heck does FV and ANE mean?

  23. >And what the heck does FV and ANE mean?

    FV is the Federal Vision.

  24. >All the Reformed rebuttal of the New Perspectives on Paul that I’ve seem seems self-serving — starting with a dogma and then seeking a proof text — much the way Catholic Bible scholarship was before Pius XII.

    That would seem to lack evidence and warrant as well…

  25. Keven,

    I also feel ya bro. However, it’s helpful to realize that most Protestants are not reading “top-shelf theology” and when a Catholic engages Protestants en masse, we often aim at the broader audience. When Catholics engage Protestants, we’re typically dealing with Christianity via Rick Warren, not Christianity via Francis Turretin. You can’t blame us for that, and you should realize that we’re not talking down to people like you who have a more sophisticated theological background.

    Protestantism is PLURIFORM and so we have to speak in many ways.

    Also, there is a type of Protestant who distances himself from pop-Calvinism, Evangelicalism, etc. For this reason, such a person feels that they are somehow not accountable to address real Reformational problems such as the definition of a sacrament or the circularity of scripture alone as a magisterial axiom.

    If a Catholic makes an honest critique of Protestant fundamentals, I don’t think it’s fair to play the “Are you saying that Chemnitz was a flippant journalist?” card.

  26. “I would just like to add that at the Council of Trent a copy of Aquinas’s Summa was placed by the Bible during the deliberations.”

    I was just about to write, “Actually, this is legend and Scotists will be quick to correct you on this,” when I saw that Lee Faber beat me to the punch! (Lee studies Duns Scotus.)

  27. I’m sorry that my first posts were so crabby. Yes, I’ve made assertions without proof as well. I just don’t like the high-handed dismissal of the NPP until argument is offered.

    To return to Bryan’s topic, I wonder if the Protestant Reformer whose views are the most similar to the 5th and 6th sessions of Trent is the arch-enemy of the Cavinists, Jacobus Arminius.

  28. Sid,

    You said there weren’t any good Reformed rebuttals to the NPP. I gave you some examples of recent scholarship on the issue. I did my undergraduate thesis on Paul and I utilized (appreciatively) Sanders. And I’m fresh out of grad school in theology. I think it is fair to say that I have a better grasp on the history and present position of Pauline studies. Your lofty claims for the NPP simply come across as ignorance. I’m not trying to attack you personally, but what you are saying would never be uttered in a classroom or seminar today.

    You can go to Amazon and check out:

    Where is Boasting?, Simon Gathercole (Cambridge University)
    Paul, Judaism, and Gentiles, Francis Watson (Durham University)
    Revisiting Paul’s Doctrine of Justification, Peter Stuhlmacher (Universität Tübingen)
    Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics, Stephen Westerholm (McMaster University)
    Justification and Variegated Nomism (2 vols.), D. A. Carson, ed. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
    Christ, Our Righteousness, Mark Seifrid (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

    Plus, there are several commentaries of note, especially the monumental work of Douglas Moo (Wheaton College) on Romans in the NICNT series.

  29. Oh, Kevin. That Kevin. I somehow or other didn’t remember who you were till just now.

    Glad you’re stopping by. Keep at it; I’d especially like some interaction on Newman in the (hopefully!) not too distant future. (I plan, of course, to dumb down Newman and use him against even dummered down Protestantisms. You’ll dig it.)

    Hope all’s well being fresh out of grad school and all — market looking good?

    Neal

  30. Oh, I just have a masters. I still gotta do that whole Phd thing. Apparently, you can’t just convince the academy (an elusive, nonsubsistent entity) that you are really smart. :) And, unfortunately, compared to the high caliber of students that I’ve met in grad school, I’m only somewhat smart.

  31. Kevin said:

    “How many Catholic converts continue to read top-level Protestant theology — if they ever read it in the first place — after they convert? They are certain they don’t need to. Of course, I’m thinking of the pastor and theology student more than the average lay person, who may or may not have the requisite skills to study academic theology, which is why blogs, apologetics ministries, etc. are important.”

    This is actually one of the major issues for me. It disgusts me to think that the Church has come to such a point that inquirers have to spend countless hours studying “top-level theology,” either Protestant or Catholic, just to begin to feel like they are making an informed decision. Perhaps Called to Communion is only appealing to your average Joe, but what is wrong with that? I am a husband and I have a full-time job. I do not have time to be a theologian on top of my ACTUAL callings in life. When I read the New Testament, I see teachers called and given a commission to teach their flocks and being held to a high standard because of that position. I also see laymen being told to obey their elders. It seems to me like if we were following God’s intentions, there would be one church and I wouldn’t have to understand the difference between inherent and imputed righteousness in order to know I’m part of Christ’s Church. That Kevin would fault someone for NOT being at a doctoral level in theology and still feeling confident in making decisions makes me want to quit the Protestant model even more. For what hope is there for me, or for other common people I might try to talk to about the Church, if I have to be at the level of a Kevin or a Bryan, who are vocational teachers, in order to understand the issues well enough to do what’s right? As it is, that notion makes my head spin, and makes me want to just stay in bed on Sunday morning.

  32. David,

    I hear you. I am also a husband and I am a father and my wife stays at home. I am not of the same caliber as Bryan or Kevin either. One good thing about Called to Communion is that we are diverse in our backgrounds.

    Yesterday at mass Deacon Alex Jones from Detroit gave the homily as he is giving the Lenten mission this week. He is a convert who was a Pentecostal preacher (of a predominantly African American Church) for 30 years who became Catholic along with 19 family members and 54 church members in 2001. He is a truly gifted preacher and everybody was fired up after the homily. I don’t want to paint with a broad brush but I would be surprised if he has ever read Calvin’s Institutes. I guess my point is that every journey is different. His calling to be a deacon in the Catholic Church is no less valid because he didn’t spend 4 years in a Reformed Seminary.

    On the other hand the concerns and questions of some folk who have read the highest level Reformed witness are not invalid and we’ll try to address those questions as well as “Joe” layperson’s questions.

  33. Kevin says “I think it is fair to say that I have a better grasp [than you do] on the history and present position of Pauline studies.”
    “Where is Boasting?”

    1. Contradiction: “better grasp” vs I’m not “boasting”.
    2) Presumption about my education.
    3) Condescending to me in the manner of what the hell do YOU know?.
    4) And simply arrogant.

    Kevin’s very first reply to Bryan violated the rules of this blog. He’s continued in form.

    The fact remains: Appeal to Authority (your own) is a fallacy in scholarly argument, and just merely listing a bunch of (Reformed) books is not a argument. (I confess myself sometimes guilty of the same) “Just take it from me because I know and you don’t” won’t cut it. Someone from Bob Jones (though I’m told the NPP has an appreciative audience audience) could present a long reading list too, but that doesn’t make it authoritative. The NPP may be wrong, and the “classic Protestant” Old Perspective on Paul might be correct. But saying so without proof isn’t argument.

    Some of the rest of you: entirely too gentile with Kevin. Demand that he present an argument for his claims, not the parading of his putative credentials and obliging a reading list which appears one-sided. Bryan is in fact and indeed presenting a reasoned argument; he’s worthy of a similar reply. If Kevin won’t present an reasoned argument with evidence in a rebuttal, or at least raise questions worthy of consideration, then I recommend that he be dis-invited from this blog.

  34. Sean,

    Thanks for your reply. I definitely don’t want to question the validity of the questions that come from more learned Christians. What Kevin’s post meant to imply, though, was that those who don’t do the kind of theological investigation he’s capable of doing are not making truly informed decisions, and that popular apologetics do not address the real issues. If he’s right, then it must mean that everyone must have the time and capacity to do the kind of theological investigation he’s talking about. From there I would argue that he’s either wrong, or I’m in an even worse position than I thought, and have little to no hope of ever being able to attend a church in good conscience.

  35. >Demand that he present an argument for his claims

    Hmmm. Is a discussion including laymen in its target audience simultaneously one that demands footnotes?

    Back in the original post it was stated that:

    >Too often in my opinion, insufficient study and investigation lie behind the reasoning process by which Protestants conclude that Trent anathematized the gospel. The determination is often made in a rather facile fashion, as exemplified in the previous paragraph.

    Would it not be fair to say that Trent intended to anathematize the Gospel, as understood by Protestants at that time, because they felt the Protestant understanding of the Gospel was not the Gospel?

  36. >f he’s right, then it must mean that everyone must have the time and capacity to do the kind of theological investigation he’s talking about.

    Not necessarily. It could be a reflection on the poor state of modern apologetics and preaching. Read some of Calvin’s or even Spurgeon’s sermons and see what Protestants received as grace from the pulpit. Even much less known preachers had a much higher doctrinal content than we see in so many Protestant pulpits today.

  37. David,

    You make a good point about the discernment of “the average Joe.” One does not have to get a degree in order to make an “informed decision” (although I think one could make the case that such a decision should take just as long). However, the problem that Mr. Davis has, as well as myself, is that these “average Joes” then get on the Internet and speak as though they have spent two degrees or more studying the subjects they’re talking so authoritatively about. It’s one thing to have an opinion, but how many “average Joe converts” come across as merely expressing opinions that informed their decision? I venture to say not many. If only they all knew their role, or calling as you put it.

  38. Sid! Hold on brotha.

    Look, I can see why Kevin’s response came off as a little condescending, and, yes, it may be true that he made some presumptions about your theological background solely on the basis of your brief remark. That would probably ruffle me a bit too. But I don’t think Kevin really meant to be arrogant or dismissive with you. (Sometimes academics can come off that way when they see themselves as just stating their view with the confidence and sense of entitlement that comes from a lot of pains and effort; people have had to check me on this too, even when I really wasn’t trying to be dismissive.)

    So maybe we could give him the benefit of the doubt? If I were to adopt what I’m guessing is Kevin’s perspective on this, I think he’d say that he wasn’t pretending that a bibliography adds up to an argument (who’d think that?), but that he was suggesting to you a few studies on NPP that he’s found helpful and that make it difficult for him to accept your initial assessment of NPP and the quality of critical-Reformed responses to it. And, to be quite honest, I think it would be horribly difficult for Kevin or anyone else to recapitulate, in a combox, all of the exegetical and theological arguments against NPP that he finds persuasive (or at least respectable). I mean jeepers, that’s more a job for a dissertation, or at least a longish article! Finally, I didn’t notice that Kevin violated posting rules in his first comment, and I guess I think it would be valuable for all of us if he continued to show up and contribute.

    So look: I’m sure some of the NPP and FV, and its relation to confessional Protestantism and Catholicism, will come up in the future, maybe the near future. I think this would be a great series to do and well worth everyone’s time. Perhaps we can then go through the pros and contras step by step, together, through a series like that. And I hope that both you and Kevin will continue to contribute to discussion. I hope you don’t drop this venue because you think we’re too soft on Kevin (or anyone else). The fact is I kind of see where he’s coming from, I appreciate his orientation. (Not saying that he couldn’t have been kinder with you; Kevin, be kinder with him.) But I get what you’re saying too. I guess I’d just counsel patience at this point, and ask you (and Kevin, of course) to simmer down a bit and say a quick prayer before posting, so as to make sure what you write is consonant with what you prayed. At the end of the day, we’re all invested in these issues, but they’re hard and we’ve just started cracking into them. Let’s see where things go, and exercise some charity and discretion in our speech all round.

    Neal

  39. Sid,

    Arrogance is not prohibited by the rules of this site, though I agree that it is not in keeping with its spirit and intention. The proper way to respond to [perceived] arrogance is not to call it out publicly, but to demonstrate humility in turn. Here’s a general rule of thumb. Don’t talk about yourself in order to establish your credibility; let your arguments do the work of establishing your credibility. Don’t complain publicly about others who might seem to (or might actually) violate this rule of thumb. Let your arguments do the talking. If a person has made a false statement, simply show that statement to be false, without criticizing the person himself. Or if a person has made claims that have no evidence, then instead of asserting that the claim has no evidence, give your interlocutor the benefit of the doubt by asking him for the evidence for that claim. That is a much more persuasive way of dialoguing, and it is more charitable as well. Talk about the theology; keep the focus on the positions, not the persons in the dialogue. That helps maintain a tone and dynamic that allows productive ecumenical dialogue to take place. As soon as personal attacks begin, the possibility of productive ecumenical dialogue deteriorates. And we don’t want that to happen. We should each strive to set the standard in graciousness and charity.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. It’s interesting, I tend to think that both Kepha and David are right. David, I remember going through a lot of material on justification a few years ago, and when I was toward the end of McGrath’s Iustitia Dei (I think) I remember be profoundly *struck* by how *hard* theology is. And let’s not kid ourselves, we’re talking about justification here — you get this thing wrong, I’d been taught, and that means you apostasize, go to hell, put your family’s salvation at risk; alternatively, you run the risk of perpetuating an unjustified schism in the Body of Christ! But if I took the word of the preachers I cut my teeth on I’d have to be able to say, in good conscience, that I saw perspicuously in the Bible the Calvinist construal of justification and knew precisely why all the other construals were wrong, and it was just impressed upon me that even the best scholars God ever thought of making don’t see all this business perspicuously and it couldn’t be part of God’s design for all His children to bear such an un-dischargeable onus in the first place. (That’s why we get a Mother along with a Father.)

    At the same time, yeesh, Kepha’s right too. People become convinced of their respective positions, maybe read some mid-level works but aren’t sensitive to the assumptions and orientations behind everyone else’s views (or even their own), and then the internet makes it easy for them to self-publish all their pontifications! (Here again, at risk of sounding simplistic, I want once more to say: that’s why we get a Mom along with a Dad.)

    All this just goes to underscore my previous point to Kevin: this is hard balance to strike.

    Neal

  41. I remember having my “How little I really know about Theology” moment reading the late Colin Gunton’s “Act and Being” and being struck by how great God really is (Is. 55). The more I read the more I realize how little I really do know.

  42. Sid,

    You made false claims (that the Reformed have not adequately responded to the NPP, and that the NPP is pretty settled). I demonstrated that you were wrong. End of discussion.

    David March,

    Perhaps Called to Communion is only appealing to your average Joe, but what is wrong with that?

    I think you misunderstood me. I agree with you. That’s why I said that blogs and apologetics outlets were important — because the average layperson cannot do the higher level study. I don’t expect them to. My whole point was that the mediators (like Called to Communion) be held accountable to a higher standard. People like me and Bryan must test our claims to, more or less, peer review, so that the average layperson does not get mislead with false or overstated information. I’m on your side.

  43. Kevin,

    You demonstrated that the classical Reformed have responded, not that they’ve responded adequately. Sid’s right that a bibliography alone won’t do that, quite apart from the question whether he’s read through the books listed on it.

    Best,

    Neal

  44. Kevin,

    If I were to read just one of the Reformed responses to the NPP that you think is most compelling which should I read? I can say that I haven’t read that much on this subject. I believe the last piece I read was the PCA’s general assembly ruling about three years ago which basically said, “The NPP is wrong because it doesn’t jive with the Westminster standards.”

  45. You demonstrated that the classical Reformed have responded, not that they’ve responded adequately. Sid’s right that a bibliography alone won’t do that, quite apart from the question whether he’s read through the books listed on it.

    Since when were we debating the particular points of the NPP? Seriously, that would obviously take a whole other thread, and would need to be limited to one particular point. The NPP encompasses pretty much the entirety of soteriology.

    Since when did Sid demonstrate that the Reformed have not responded adequatedly? I must have missed that part. I’m pretty sure that he just asserted it, and so, my aims were limited: to show that real scholars at real schools have dealt with the NPP at a serious, peer review level. No one, and I mean, NO ONE, would say what Sid said, and I’m surprised, Neal, that you would come to his defense.

  46. Sean,

    I really appreciate the work of C. K. Barrett, his commentaries (e.g., Romans) and his short introduction to Paul (WJK Press, 1994). The latter is pure pleasure. If I can recommend any one book on Paul, Barrrett’s would be it. As for dealing with the particulars of the NPP, the Carson volumes will cover the most ground, but Gathercole’s Where is Boasting? is a fine single volume, cuts to the heart of the issue, and provides good coverage of the sources (OT and 2nd temple) for those new to the controversy.

    So, get Barrett and Gathercole.

  47. @Neal #40:
    A hard balance to strike indeed, and isnt that what Bryan posted so clearly at the outset:

    “…Since we should not reject what we do not understand, Protestants should reserve judgment…”

    (which by all rights applies to Catholic as well), this is called Contempt Prior to Investigation. This practice creates a prejudgement state, then leads to non-productive (and un-supported) rhetoric from there in the C vs. P Apologetic majority, we would all agree. Establishing that trajectory, even the Phd in Theology is reliant upon historic information for his supported opinion, there really are no new thoughts going on here, only re-application of various paradigms to our mental contemporaries.
    And that is why I disagree with :

    @ David #34:
    Your entering this conversation shows the hunger for spiritual consumption written in your heart by God, you astutely follow it and have no [logical] reason to doubt your being “able to attend a Church in good conscience”. Bryans writing style lays this out perfectly for those of us with a partial (or layman) education. I am a Catechist, teach Adult Faith Formation for my Diocese, read books and blogs alot, spar with a Calvinist occasionally and like you, see very little hope of gaining tenure in a Theological Institute before heading for the narrow gate. I do recognise the hunger as a gift, as do these good CTC men here, and I hope to study at my jerky yet hungry state for an MTS…someday…maybe.

    @ Bryan Cross: Looking forward to your series on this, it may finally motivate me to study the Summa in depth. Nothing else has so far.

    BTW, I dont see any substantiation here or elsewhere that the Summa on the Trent altar was a myth yet.

  48. Kevin:

    Since when did Sid demonstrate that the Reformed have not responded adequatedly?

    That’s not what Neal said. And far from blindly coming to Sid’s defense, both Neal & Bryan asked him to be careful with his tone and Neal actually came to your defense.

    No one, and I mean, NO ONE, would say what Sid said, and I’m surprised, Neal, that you would come to his defense.

    I assume you mean no scholar would say that. Let’s go back and review what Sid said initially. It was actually true (unless he was lying).

    Quote:
    I don’t see a solid answer coming from Reformed/Calvinist Apologists.

    Later he said:

    What Reformed scholarship that I’ve seen simply doesn’t refute the NPP. I haven’t see it all.

    In summary, he is unaware of a solid answer. You are treating his statement as if it were “there are no solid answers”. Given his initial statement, an appropriate response by someone who disagreed would be to offer suggestions, “you might try such and such” which is some of the Catholics here did (even though they probably agree with him). What doesn’t help the situation is starting off by telling him he’s 20 years behind Protestant scholarship (even if its true).

    So what is being demonstrated here is the absolute wrong way to go about discussion. This is the type of thing we want to avoid here.

  49. Surprisingly there seems to be little interest here in either what Trent actually said or what it intended to say.

  50. Dear David,

    I think that by “here” you mean in these comments, as opposed to in Bryan’s post or this site in general. Rest assured that this was “Part 1” and there is more to come! As Bryan said, he still intends to “present and explain the Thomistic paradigm that lies behind the Council’s teaching in these two sessions.”

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  51. If anybody is interested for a fascinating and wonderful discussion on the NPP one can get the Auburn Avenue Conference from January 2005 where NT Wright and Dr. Gaffin engaged in a dialogue on this very topic.

  52. >I think that by “here” you mean in these comments, as opposed to in Bryan’s post or this site in general.

    Spot on…

  53. Hi, Kevin:

    Since when were we debating the particular points of the NPP? Seriously, that would obviously take a whole other thread, and would need to be limited to one particular point. The NPP encompasses pretty much the entirety of soteriology.

    This is what I said to Sid, remember? I told him it would take a dissertation or at least a long article to do this, and that maybe if he exercises some patience we can try to go through these very complicated issues step by step on this blog. I don’t see that I’ve said anything different from what you’ve just said here.

    Since when did Sid demonstrate that the Reformed have not responded adequatedly?

    Kevin, since when did I say (still less demonstrate) that Sid demonstrated that the Reformed have not responded adequately? I think you’re reading what I’ve written a bit too quickly, maybe.

    My aims were limited: to show that real scholars at real schools have dealt with the NPP at a serious, peer review level.

    Yes, that’s fine, and you were entirely succesfully in your limited aims, as I said. But you and I both know that serious peer reviewed publications aren’t coextensive with ‘adequate’ proofs of whatever these publications may be setting out to prove. If they were, we’d also have an “adequate” demonstration of the truth of NPP, inasmuch as NPP authors have their own peer reviewed publications too. My limited point, Kevin, was that pointing out that there are books on the market attempting to undermine NPP distinctives does not by itself mean that NPP has been refuted, or that the books have successfully accomplished what they set out to do. To adjudicate that question, you’ve got to look into the content of the books, not just notice that a bunch of books happen to exist. This is, er, a tempest in a teapot I think.

    Best,

    Neal

  54. Tim and Neal,

    Yes, you are both right in that I should have made more careful distinctions. I’m reacting more to Sid’s tone after the initial few comments. My problem can be summarily stated: Sid has not engaged with the oppositions’ major works, yet he is confident that the NPP is right. I have a visceral reaction to that sort of attitude.

  55. Yes, this was exactly my take; both of you were annoyed with each other’s tones, and I wanted to defuse the situation. It’s cool.

    Now: can we all just agree that whatever Aquinas and/or Trent said is right? That’ll expedite things nicely, and we won’t have to bother our heads with NPP at all. (Insert pertinent emoticon here.)

    Neal

  56. >Now: can we all just agree that whatever Aquinas and/or Trent said is right?

    Can we agree on what they meant in what they said?

  57. Ooh, not just funny, but perceptive. Agreement on the latter could well be more than half the battle, or at any rate the necessary precondition for a ‘battle’ worth anybody’s time.

  58. I’m looking forward to part 2 of “Aquinas and Trent”

  59. From the (virtual) pen of Michael Spencer himself at The Christian Science Monitor:

    “We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West… Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the “conversion” of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.”

    In just 500 years, Protestantism has morphed into several and various mutated forms.

    Comparatively speaking, Catholicism in 2,000 years, in spite of all the tribulations caused by evil men both inside and outside the Church, it has yet managed to withstand even the worst of times, no matter its persecutors or the heretics.

    While our detractors may tire of “The Gates of Hell will never prevail” spiel, there is no doubt whatsoever the Truth of this passage in Scripture concerning the Church herself.

    When you build your house on The Rock, it survives even the harshest conditions.

    If, however, you build your house on sand, well…

  60. >Comparatively speaking, Catholicism in 2,000 years, in spite of all the tribulations caused by evil men both inside and outside the Church, it has yet managed to withstand even the worst of times, no matter its persecutors or the heretics.

    Anyone who thinks there is a unchanged Roman Catholicism within a 2000 year span is kidding themselves. Evangelical Christianity in the modern sense is really a relatively new offshoot of confessional Protestantism which will endure, and arguably benefit, if the modern Evangelicalism begins to implode. The Book of Concord and WCF have arguably changed less over the last 400 years than RC dogma has. Time will tell how this plays out but anyone who thinks it is time for triumphalism is, I think, kidding themselves. And the Christian Science Monitor isn’t really where I’d go to understand any of these things, although the Spencer article was not devoid of insight.

  61. “Evangelical Christianity in the modern sense is really a relatively new offshoot of confessional Protestantism which will endure, and arguably benefit, if the modern Evangelicalism begins to implode. The Book of Concord and WCF have arguably changed less over the last 400 years than RC dogma has.”

    That’s right — 400 years is nothing when compared to 2,000.

    Surely, no such change has actually occurred or ever will, as the years after the Reformation clearly attest.

    Given the 1,500 years prior to the Reformation, it’s curious that you do not see the ever continuous multiplicatoin and division of Roman denominations as you do when Protestantism entered the scene.

    Also, “[t]he Book of Concord and WCF have arguably changed less over the last 400 years than RC dogma has”?

    Too many things wrong with this statement, not the least being its method of comparison as well as the very items being thus compared and, in particular, the conspicuously careful selection of the very items submitted for such comparison.

    Among other things, perhaps you should start with what you, in fact, consider RC dogma to be and the several changes that it has exhibited over its 2,000 year existence?

    All in all, Catholicism (or, if you prefer, ‘Romanism’) has clearly lasted the test of time.

    Protestantism, in comparison, seems still in its infant & experimental stage.

    It doesn’t help any that relatively-speaking barely after the Reformation, protestantism started to diverge into different denominations while Catholicism remained virtually the same.

  62. Roma,

    Sure.

  63. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘same’ here, Roma. I take it that there is a good sense in which the Church’s teaching has developed, whereas it’s possible to say that the teachings (as codified in the WCF, e.g.) to which some confessional Protestants are committed have not ‘developed’ in a similar fashion. Perhaps this is what David’s pointing out.

    But there are some important qualifications here. For one thing, even if the doctrines championed by those who subscribe to the WCF are supposed (by them) to be in accordance with the WCF, it’s still the case that the WCF gets interpreted differently by different people. (Leithart, helpfully, I think, distinguishes between differences in systematic theology and sub-systemic differences, claiming in effect that proponents of Federal Vision agree with the non-FV Reformed on the level of systematic theology and on the letter of the WCF, whereas they disagree on the sub-systemic content of the theology of the WCF). So, that makes it hard to say that “the teaching of” the WCF hasn’t changed since the 17th century.

    The other important qualification I’d want to make is that we should distinguish between two ways in which Catholic magisterial teaching could manifest “differences” over time. One way is if there are contradictions — later dogma rejects or conflicts with previous dogma, say. The other way is if there is development in continuity, so that what’s at present held as dogma incorporates but extends beyond previous dogma organically, consistently and coherently. It is not (from my perspective) either troubling or terribly surprizing to find that Catholic teaching has “changed” over time or is now “different” than it was at Nicaea, as long as we mean it in the second sense. Nobody can deny that, I think. It is however more contentious to say that it’s “changed” or is “different” in the first sense, the sense implying discontinuity or internal incoherence.

    Anyway, I think I would be utterly shocked if Evangelicalism just imploded and went away in a decade. From where I’m sitting that seems very difficult to imagine; and frankly I think there’s much of value within the Evangelical traditions that can serve to vitalize the Catholic Church, as the Holy Father indicated when he said, in Ut Unum Sint, that certain features of the Christian mystery have been at times more effectively emphasized in these communions. Like you, however, Roma, I want to see this happen within the Church, and not in opposition to it!

  64. Neil said “…and frankly I think there’s much of value within the Evangelical traditions that can serve to vitalize the Catholic Church, as the Holy Father indicated when he said, in Ut Unum Sint, that certain features of the Christian mystery have been at times more effectively emphasized in these communions…”

    100% agreement, Ut Unum Sint is way ahead of our time and needs to be in order to achieve what Called to Communion is about (my perception).

    David Grey said “Anyone who thinks there is a unchanged Roman Catholicism within a 2000 year span is kidding themselves.”

    David, that blanket statement is precisely the popular non-ecumenical prod (or compliment) that gets these kinds of efforts offline. It can be taken in thousands of ways, and most likely will be assumed in this RC to Protestant conversation to be a stab with negative undertones. It also is a statement so broadly based that it will be found true and false depending on your position (like a horoscope). Until you personally comprehend this, all you are likely to get in return are condescending counters which violate what I see the purpose her, and you deserve better than that.
    You have a 99% chance of actually educating some of us here, and even of it is only one, it is worth putting the perceived sword down, and making absolutely clear and specific statements rather than blanket ones. I as an informed Catholic am open to hearing your educated perspective whether you are a Protestant, Muslim or Scientologist. Please dont expect this kind of dialogue from your written blanket, open ended, rhetorically sensitive judgements.

    -Dave

  65. P.S. Sorry I mispelled your name Mr. Gray.
    -Dave

  66. >It can be taken in thousands of ways, and most likely will be assumed in this RC to Protestant conversation to be a stab with negative undertones.

    It was not intended in that way except so as to say that I didn’t find the post to which I was responding to be either compelling or useful.

  67. I am preparing a list of articles on Scotus and Trent for “publication” on my blog. To be sure, one cannot understand Trent without Aquinas. But neither can one understand Trent without Scotus, as the approbations of numerous popes during the renaissance and reformation period should remind us. If Trent does not endorse Thomistic doctrine, I see no reason to consider it a thomistic council. But there were many influential thomists present. As for the catechism (which is not binding on the faithful, in any case) of Trent, I have heard from a non-scholarly source that it was composed by 3 dominicans, so you may well be correct there. I have not looked at it closely, so if it denies the immaculate conception, says nothing about certainty of absolution, or accepts divisions of grace into operative, acutal, prevenient, then I am willing to conceed the thomistic slant.

    I think it boils down to a question of history, as it is not terribly helpful to read the past through the lenses of Aeterni Patris. I should know, I had this problem myself during my thomist days.

  68. “The other important qualification I’d want to make is that we should distinguish between two ways in which Catholic magisterial teaching could manifest “differences” over time. ”

    That kind of discussion has been quite ongoing in so many arenas and for so long a period of time ever since the early church, it seems.

    In fact, there recently has been a series on the matter that discusses the topic quite extensively, even taking into consideration not only Catholic but also Protestant and Orthodox hermeneutics as well, culminating into what seems a (tentatively) final analysis at Philosophia Perennis: The Development of Doctrine: Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant Hermeneutical Circles”.

  69. I think it is fair and valuable to interpret the decrees of Trent through the writings of Thomas Aquinas; but as others have also noted, other theological schools, including Scotists and Augustinians, were also present at Trent, and the Tridentine Fathers did not seek to resolve all of their differences. In its own way, Trent, like other councils that preceded it, attempts to state theological truth in ways that many different approaches would find acceptable. Let us also keep in mind that neither Trent nor the Catholic Church subsequently has attempted to impose any form of scholasticism upon the Byzantine Catholic Churches. All of this means that interpretation of the Tridentine Decrees for the Church today is a difficult and complex matter. FWIW, I personally believe that Trent, like most ecumenical councils, is best approached by way of identifying the errors that it seeks to exclude.

  70. Fr Kimel,

    Welcome! I agree with you (in fact all that you said). Yet, I still think the series is worth doing, because in order to see theological errors as errors, it is helpful if not necessary to have some awareness of the background philosophical and theological framework through which the Tridentine Fathers approached these questions. A person who is looking at Trent only through sola scriptura lenses, for example, has a harder time understanding that the errors are errors, let alone why they are errors. So I have no intention of going into the intra-Scholastic disagreements. But since St. Thomas was a very significant influence at Trent, therefore looking at Trent through Thomistic lenses can be, I think, one way of helping Protestants (and Catholics) see the broader [shared] theological rationale behind why the Tridentine Fathers judged certain positions to be erroneous and heretical.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  71. “But there are some important qualifications here. For one thing, even if the doctrines championed by those who subscribe to the WCF are supposed (by them) to be in accordance with the WCF, it’s still the case that the WCF gets interpreted differently by different people. (Leithart, helpfully, I think, distinguishes between differences in systematic theology and sub-systemic differences, claiming in effect that proponents of Federal Vision agree with the non-FV Reformed on the level of systematic theology and on the letter of the WCF, whereas they disagree on the sub-systemic content of the theology of the WCF). So, that makes it hard to say that “the teaching of” the WCF hasn’t changed since the 17th century. ”

    David Waltz provides a concise history of the Presbyterian church in an article entitled Calvin: on the visible Church and apostasy – part 3 here. Below is a short excerpt:

    [F]irst, a brief history of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

    According to Frank Mead’s Handbook of Denominations (10th edition), “the first American presbytery”, was, “founded in Philadelphia in 1706”. “American Presbyterians met in a general synod in 1729 and adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechism”. A brief split occurred in 1740 between ministers who embraced the “‘new birth’ revivalism…which grew out of the Great Awakening enthusiasm”, with those who upheld “the old creedal Calvinism”. The two sides reunited in 1757 and remained pretty much united until 1837, when a split between “Old School” and “New School” Presbyterians occurred. The civil war precipitated further splits. The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) became identified with “Northern” Presbyterianism, while in 1857, “several Southern New School synods had withdrawn to form the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church”. This was shortly following by the “greater schism” in 1861, “when 47 Southern presbyteries of the Old School formed the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. Then in 1867, the two aforementioned “Southern” denominations merged to form the Presbyterian in the United States (PCUS). The PCUSA and PCUS officially reunited in 1983 forming the new PCUSA.

    Prior to this reunification, an important schism between the conservatives and liberals had taken place, over what has been termed the “fundamentalist-modernist controversy”. On June 11, 1936 the now famous G. Gresham Machen, a former professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary (on July 18, 1927, Machen, with his colleagues Oswald Allis, Robert Wilson and Cornelius Van Til, formed the conservative Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia – see Longfield’s, The Presbyterian Controversy, for in depth details), with “a group of about 300 people…met in Philadelphia to form a new church that would be true to the Bible”. But, unity within this new church did not last very long: “A year later it became apparent that the new church was actually composed of two groups with views so divergent [even though both ascribed to the Westminster Standards] as to make continued unity impossible”. A split occurred on September 6, 1938, forming two new churches: the Bible Presbyterian Church, and the church now known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

    In the south, a split between the conservatives and liberals took place a bit later in 1973, and the conservative denomination now known as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was formed. However, the schisms were far from over, more splits loomed on the horizon.

    In 1981, another split from the PCUSA occurred, forming the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). 1998 witnessed the emergence of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches out of the PCA. (This schism has its roots in “Federal Vision” controversy.) And in 2006, the ultra-conservative Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States (WPCUS) was formed (the OPC and PCA were just not ‘conservative’ enough!)

    As of 2009, I am aware of no less than 8 conservative Presbyterian denominations which adhere to the Westminster Standards (the 7th and 8th being the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America). But, this is merely ‘the-tip-of-the-iceberg’, for there exists many other conservative denominations which have emerged within the Calvinistic/Reformed tradition (e.g. Reformed Baptists, Reformed Episcopal Church, Free Reformed Churches of North America, United Reformed Churches, et al.). Though these other Calvinistic/Reformed denominations have not adopted the Westminster Standards, the standards they have chosen to embrace are virtually identical, doctrinally speaking.

    So, our little history lesson ends with a question:

    [H]ow faithful have these conservative Calvinistic/Reformed denominations been to Calvin’s teaching on schism?

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