John Calvin’s Worst Heresy: That Christ Suffered in Hell

Sep 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Years ago while listening to Hank Hanegraaff’s Bible Answer Man radio program, a caller called in about “Christ suffering in Hell.” Hank rightly explained that “Christ suffering in Hell” is not a biblical doctrine, but noted that the doctrine was held by John Calvin. Hank respectfully disagreed with Calvin.

We can argue back and forth over Calvin’s doctrine of baptism or predestination, but Calvin is a manifest heretic regarding  Christ’s descent into hell. He breaks with Scripture and all the Fathers in this regard, and his error deserves more attention, because it shows the cracks in his systematic theology. During my three years at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, nobody wanted to touch this with a ten-foot pole.

So that you can get Calvin in context, I’ve provided the full section from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion Book II, Chapter 16, 10 in full. The red inserts are mine.

But, apart from the Creed, we must seek for a surer exposition of Christ’s descent to hell: and the word of God furnishes us with one not only pious and holy, but replete with excellent consolation. Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgement, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death [What!!! Christ suffered eternal death and the pains the hell!].

We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the “chastisement of our peace was laid upon him” that he “was bruised for our iniquities” that he “bore our infirmities;” [the authors of Scripture and the Fathers apply these prophecies to the crucifixion--not to any penal condemnation in hell] expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgement [so the cross as visible judgment was not enough. Christ suffered in hell...] which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price – that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man. [So after suffering in the body on the cross, Christ's soul suffered tortures of the condemned in hell.]

What do we make of this? Essentially, Calvin’s doctrine of penal substitution is the problem (something Catholicism rejects, by the way). If we understand atonement as simply “substitution,” we run into the error that Calvin has committed. Since sinners deserve both physical death and spiritual torment in hell we should also expect that Christ as our redeemer must also experience both physical death and hell. This logic only makes sense–except that it contradicts everything said in the New Testament about Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. The descent into hell was not punitive in anyway, but rather triumphant as described by the Apostles and illustrated in thousands of churches, both East and West (see picture below).

This descent into Hell as Christ’s victory corresponds to the teaching of our first Pope Saint Peter: Christ “proclaimed the Gospel even to the dead” (εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη, 1 Pet 4:6). Jesus wasn’t burning in the flames! He was dashing the gates of Hell, proclaiming His victory, and delivering the righteous of the Old Testament! That’s the holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith in all its beauty.

This “penal substitution” theory of the atonement is patently false. Christ died for us, but it wasn’t a simple swap. Christ uses the language of participation. We are to be “in Him” and we are to also carry the cross. Christ doesn’t take up the cross so that we don’t have to take up the cross. He repeatedly calls us to carry the cross. Our lives are to become “cruciform.” The New Testament constantly calls us to suffer in the likeness of Christ. Again, it’s not a clean exchange. It’s not: “Jesus suffers so that we don’t have to.” Rather we participate in His redemption. This is also the language of Saint Paul:

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Phil 1:29).

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church (Col 1:24).

I would challenge all Reformed readers to slowly flip through the epistles of Paul and note the occurance of “in Him” and “in Christ”. Better yet, use BibleWorks or another Bible program and run a search. You will quickly see that “in Him” and “in Christ” is the universal soteriological category for Saint Paul–not justification or regeneration.

According to Catholic Christianity, Christian salvation involves the vindication of Christ’s unjust death on the cross. God does not “hate” His Son. This is impossible. God does not “turn away” from His Son. Luther introduced this false tension and it has led to Calvin’s grievous heresy. Saint Paul speaks of “overcoming death” as the true victory of Christ – not His being the whipping boy of the Father.

I should stop there and open up the comments:

  • Have I depicted Calvin rightly?
  • If you’re Reformed, do you agree with Calvin? If so, how does his view not denigrate the cross?
  • If you’re Catholic, how has the redemptive model of participation enabled you better understand your own salvation?

If you want to learn more about how Catholic theology stresses the Pauline doctrine of “participation,” please visit The Catholic Perspective on Paul and consider listening to some of the Catholic Paul Podcasts: click here.

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126 comments
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  1. Taylor,

    Much of this is new to me. My understanding is that Catholicism holds (or allows) Anselms view of the atonement which logically leads to substitutionary atonement. I think the Catholic Church is profound in reminding Christians that we are sanctified by being drawn into Christ’s suffering, but, if I am not mistaken, inital justification is and free pardon is exclusively the result of Christ’s death on our behalf (according to Rome). Based on your article, in what sense exactly did Christ’s “take our place on the cross”?

    Also, did anybody watch Beckwith last night? I thought he was great. I was suprised that, when asked by Marcus Grodi about the greatest unexpected suprise of entering the Church, he said penance. Have any of you had a similiar experience? I have been twice now and found amazing freedom in it.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  2. Taylor,

    I based my last comment off 1992 in the Catechism; “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men.”

  3. Greetings. You folks are doing a great job with this site. Please keep it up.

    For starters, I’m not sure how a participatory theology can even be possible without the concept of katalage (substitution). To be sure, the latter concept might not be best served through the constant incorporation of the concept of retributive justice, but it’s not totally without its scriptural warrant either. At any rate, to my mind, atonement theology is robust enough to include concepts ranging from Christus victor, (qualified) ransom, participation, and covenantal (which I think necessarily includes the notion of substitution, but maybe qualified with the notion that justice has more to do with God’s merciful covenantal promises rather than distributive and thus retributive).

    Regarding Calvin’s views on this subject, I too, like Hanegraaf, would demur, opting instead for a triumphant descent or a simple reference to the fact that Jesus entered the silence of death, i.e., sheol.

    I wonder, though, if your use of the word heresy isn’t a bit promiscuous. I don’t recall the notion that Christ literally descending into hell was ever construed as a non-negotiable of the faith in the early church, so whether he went down there triumphantly (e.g., Irenaeus, Aquinas, and the Protestant Vermigli) or abandoned is rather open for discussion (St. Augustine omits this entire topic when preaching through this symbol to catechumens, seee NPNF 3.369–75). Some even construed this clause to simply refer to the fact that Jesus “descended to the dead” (i.e., the grave). Both Bucer and Beza (Calvin’s fellow ministers) apparently held this view. And Calvin himself was apparently following Erasmus in his explanation of this clause (see the great humanist’s Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed). Finally, other theologians before Calvin either called into question or flat-out rejected Christ’s literal descent into hell. Interestingly, Calvin does not deny reading the passage in Peter as described in the post above, see the previous section 9 in the same chapter (16).

    It would thus seem the word heresy is unwarranted, unless you’re really wanting to call the doctrine of penal substituionary atonement heresy, which is another case entirely.

  4. I wanted to add (but pressed the submit button too quickly) that it’s not a foregone conclusion Calvin construes Christ’s descent as literal in the Institutes. Look, for example, at what he wrote in his 1537 catechism on the subject: “Concerning the expression that he descended into hell, it means that he was afflicted by God and that he has felt and endured the horrible rigor of his judgment in order to shield us from his wrath and to satsify his justice for us.” The descent is not at all deemed literal here but is seen as a metonymy for the judgment of God (presumably suffered on the cross). His 1538 cathechism follows suit.

    In his 1545 catechism he writes: “[The meaning of this clause is] that he not only suffered natural death, which is the separation of the body from the soul, but also that his soul was pierced with amazing anguish, which St. Peter calls the pains of death (Acts 2:24).”

  5. Chris,

    Great quotes. I’m glad that you cited those passages from the 1538 Catechism and the 1545 Catechism. My only concern is that the Institutes were last revised in 1559 – thus they present the “mature Calvin.” As we have both noted concerning the passage I cited above from the Institutes, Calvin seems to be standing on terra infirma, speaking both exegetically and historically.

    Against the mitigated view that you have presented (i.e. the punishment of descent is another way of speaking of the cross), I would reply that the Institutes passage argues against it, because in the last paragraph Calvin is comparing and contrasting the cross and the descent as two separate punishments. As I read it, your suggestion: “The descent is not at all deemed literal here but is seen as a metonymy for the judgment of God (presumably suffered on the cross),” does not square with the language of Calvin: “that there was a greater and more excellent price.”

    The reason that I use the word heresy is that Calvin has left the domain of soteriology and entered into Christology, even Theology proper. Can a divine person receive the punishment of Hell? The death of Christ regards His humanity. Perhaps we could say that the soul of Christ suffers the pains of Hell at the descent, but this still implies that the Second Person is truly “damned” by the First Person of the Trinity. Moreover, Catholic theology holds that the incarnate Christ always experienced the beatific vision in His soul, even on the cross, and even in the descent. Yet the beatific vision of God is not compatible with Hell. If Jesus doesn’t experience the beatific vision of God’s essence, He’s not God.

    Those in Hell have a hatred for God–that’s part of the punishment–but we can’t say that about the Logos. Calvin has introduced a formulation that cannot be reconciled with the traditional doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. In this case, I don’t think that “heresy” is at all inappropriate, but I’m willing to eat crow if you can explain it otherwise.

  6. Taylor,

    So, if Calvin is a dead heretic, are living Calvinists necessarily heretics as well? Would BXVI support this view?

    Thanks-
    Joel

  7. Heresy derives from a Greek word meaning “to choose”. Anyone who chooses a belief contrary to revelation of God is thus a “heretic”.

    The Catholic Church distinguishes between material heretics and formal heretics. The former believe wrongly through no fault of their own (eg, Baptist grandma denies infant baptism). Formal heresy is an informed dissent from the apostolic faith. Thus, Luther may have been a formal heretic but most Lutherans today are likely material heretics because they have not learned the Catholic faith before rejecting it.

  8. I apologise for being off topic, but have you heard this new

    Is Catholic-Orthodox Unity in Sight?

    “The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow has given a remarkably upbeat assessment of relations with the Orthodox Church, saying unity between Catholics and Orthodox could be achieved “within a few months.”

    In an interview today in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi said the miracle of reunification “is possible, indeed it has never been so close.” The archbishop added that Catholic-Orthodox reunification, the end of the historic schism that has divided them for a millennium, and spiritual communion between the two churches “could happen soon, also within a few months.”

    “Basically we were united for a thousand years,” Archbishop Pezzi said. “Then for another thousand we were divided. Now the path to rapprochement is at its peak, and the third millennium of the Church could begin as a sign of unity.” He said there were “no formal obstacles” but that “everything depends on a real desire for communion.”

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily/…unity_in_sight/ s

  9. Thanks, that helps a bit. I guess the really important question is what the “revelation of God” really is. Is it Sacred Scripture, +/- Tradition-Fathers-Church, etc. Would it be fair to say that one must be pretty dang sure they know what the revelation of God is first before they identify heresy? Not being snarky, but wouldn’t it be absolutely paramount to make sure that the belief in question was precisely part of the revelation of God with no gray area of interpretive biases?

    How exactly would one go about identifying what the revelation of GOD is? (Again, I am not trying to subvert some kind of authority discussion…) How do I assure my unbelieving friend that there are correct beliefs that align with the “revelation of God” and there are heretical beliefs (like Calvinism?) that are “contrary to the revelation of God?”

  10. Taylor and Chris,

    Sec. 12 of the same chapter from the Institutes casts more light on Calvin’s view: “surely, unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone.”

    Calvin’s view that Christ’s bodily suffering could redeem flesh alone seems to be what leads him to the conclusion; so I image he would defend it as a truth derived from Scripture, not contrary to it. His view exhibits the extent to which he divides flesh and soul, and I think there are certainly Christological, incarnational implications.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  11. Joel,

    I should also add that when the Catholic Church speaks about “heretics” without clarification, she typically refers to “formal heretics” (e.g. Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches).

    Being a heretic isn’t about “not being smart enough.” Rather, it’s an act of the will–to *chose* other than what the Church teaches.

  12. Excellent insight, Taylor, as always! May I ask you a question or any of you guys at CTC?
    When Reformed or Protestants ask “is it sacred scripture or sacred scripture PLUS tradition, Church?” does that make sense?
    Of course, unless you think the Bible fell from the sky, you know that the tradition of the early Church and the Church Fathers had to be there before the scriptures were put into a New Testament canon.
    Also, if Calvin is called a “reformer”, why does his church reformed not look like the early church that is well documented. What did he recover? Wouldn’t someone as close to the apostles as the early church Fathers have believed and practiced as faith what he taught if he is actually recovering the true faith?
    I guess I’m trying to say – shouldn’t the reformer’s church look like what we read about in the earliest documents of the Church Fathers?
    I heard Dr. Carroll at Christendom College say that to call it the Reformation is completely wrong. It was a Revolt or Revolution. New ideas, new doctrines, new sacraments, taking out books that did not fit the structure of their theology…he says this is no different than any other heretic or heretical movement and it was a Revolution that keeps revolting.
    Blessings,
    Teri
    p.s. Hope your new book comes out soon!

  13. The redemption/participation model solves innumerable problems, but let’s just pick the problem of suffering for starters. This model breaks the one-to-one identification between “suffering” and “punishment” as do the beatitudes. Suffering can no longer be taken as conclusive evidence of separation from God. On the contrary those who suffer for no fault of their own are often closest to God. The Gospel does not portray God as the very thing God hates: an unjust judge; but rather reinforces his justice and mercy in one movement, despite the fact that we suffer temporarily.

  14. Taylor,

    Thanks for this article – I believe that I substantially agree with the point you are trying to make. I do have a question, though: What is your take on von Balthazar’s treatment of Christ Suffering in Hell?

    (e.g. see NOR for the “short” story http://www.newoxfordreview.org/note.jsp?did=0207-notes-beauty)

    The reason I ask is that von Balthazar is certainly considered one of the modern Catholic Theological giants, and was made a Cardinal by JPII (though I believe he didn’t live long enough to actually receive the red hat) which would certainly to argue for his having been “mainstreamed”. I’m sure that his reasons for holding that Christ Suffered in Hell were somewhat different than John Calvin’s, but both positions, as far as I can see, must be judged to be equally heretical – either that or neither of them is heretical.

    What do you think?

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  15. Just to flesh out the discussion for those who may not be familiar with the personalities/points in question, here is an excerpt from the First Things article (referenced by NOR in the link above) where Fr. Richard John Neuhaus describes his take on the issue:

    … But now comes along a young scholar of a determinedly no-nonsense
    disposition with a five-hundred-page indictment of Balthasar for being at
    serious odds with cardinal teachings of Scripture and the consensual
    tradition of Christian orthodoxy. *Lux in Tenebris: The Traditional
    Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent into Hell and the Theological Opinion
    of Hans Urs von Balthasar* is a dissertation, by Alyssa Helene Pitstick,
    accepted by the prestigious University of St. Thomas (better known as the
    Angelicum) in Rome. The title may suggest a limited critique of Balthasar’s
    argument that—contrary to the tradition of liturgy, iconography, and
    teaching, both East and West—the Holy Saturday descent into hell was not
    triumphant but was the completion of Christ’s redemptive work in his
    absolute alienation from God in the state of the damned. Far from being an
    arcane academic dispute, Pitstick contends, this “theological opinion” of
    Balthasar’s entails grave departures from orthodox teaching on the two
    natures, human and divine, in the one person of Christ, and indeed raises
    fundamental questions about the co-equality of the Son in the Holy Trinity.

    Alyssa Pitstick gives no quarter. Along the long way of her argument, she
    notes instances in which Balthasar, in her view, misrepresents scriptural,
    patristic, and magisterial texts and simply ignores aspects of the tradition
    inconvenient to his argument. I confess that at first I thought she was
    being terribly ungenerous, even nitpicking, but she finally convinced me
    that, on the descent into hell and some other signature themes of the great
    man, there are, at least implicitly, possible incompatibilities with the
    received structure of faith. It is an audacious thing for a doctoral student
    to take on a thinker of the stature of Balthasar, but Alyssa Pitstick has
    thrown down a gauntlet that other theologians should not ignore.

    http://www.firstthings.com/print/article/2009/03/the-two-hundred-year-war-10?keepThis=true&TB%20iframe=true&height=500&width=700

  16. Jeff,

    We just discussed Balthasar’s position in some detail in the comments of the “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    UPDATE: See also the comments under “The Harrowing of Hell.” See also Taylor’s subsequent post titled “Did Christ Suffer in Hell When He Descended into Hell?.”

  17. Jeff,

    Great question. Let’s hold off and not add static to the conversation about Calvin.

    Balthasar’s view isn’t that of Calvin, but I can see the relation. Balthasar seems to question Christ’s unbroken beatific vision of the divine essence and this error is also that of Calvin.

    I’ll just say that I think that Balthasar is somewhat like a modern-day Origen. In his day, Origen was respected and quite controversial. He made many contributions, but ultimately he caused too much confusion. Von Balthasar has some good stuff. I’ve enjoyed some of his writings. Yet, I conjecture that 200 years from now, he will be looked upon with great caution…much as we now read “Non-Saint” Origen.

  18. Thanks Bryan & Taylor, I hadn’t previously seen all those comments where von Balthasar was discussed – and sorry for unnecessarily “spamming” everyone with “old news”!

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  19. “Being a heretic isn’t about “not being smart enough.” Rather, it’s an act of the will–to *chose* other than what the Church teaches.”

    On the contrary, I am not speaking of lack of intelligence. I am speaking of coming to a Spirit-led conclusion that is different from what the Church teaches. Think of an intelligent person who has full command of their faculties, has the ability and opportunity to read and listen and think, etc. I am specifically asking if those who differ with the Church’s opinion of what the “revelation of God” is (e.g. someone who was born Protestant, investigated RCC, and decided not to convert) would necessarily be considered heretics? If so, then what do those people have to look forward to?

    1. Is the decision to NOT convert to the RCC even AFTER investigating its claims a mortal sin?
    2. Is the person in this condition a Christian (according to RCC teaching)?
    3. Can heretics (formal or material) be saved without changing deeply held beliefs that differ with the teaching of the Church?

  20. Joel,

    Given that Jesus is the head of the Church and Holy Spirit guides the Church, then how could someone have a “Spirit-led conclusion” that was contrary to the Church, since the Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15)?

    It boils down to this: if you know that Christ revealed something and you know he revealed it, but you don’t believe it, then that’s a deep error and a sin against love. It’s infidelity to what you know, deep down, to be true.

  21. Dear Taylor,

    Let me rephrase my question because I did not get a response. You wrote, “The “penal substitution” theory of the atonement is patently false. Christ died for us, but it wasn’t a simple swap.

    C.S. Lewis argues that “somehow” Christ’s death makes us right with God, and that the cross itself, not theories as to how it works, is what matters. For somebody who has been drawn to the Catholic Church on other issues (the lack of evidence in Scripture for sola scriptura, escape from anarchy, ect), as I have, I find your language discouraging.

    The most basic thing I know as a Christian is that the cross is the answer to my sin problem. I truly believe the Reformers (not revolutionaries as #11 suggests), were trying to come up with a soteriology that would bring glory to Christ alone. I also believe they departed from Scripture in this effort. But, in their defense, they were blinded to the truth of the Catholic Church by the sins of Catholic Church.

    I never would have considered the Catholic Church had I not read Peter write in the God who Loves You. He writes, “I am a Roman Catholic. But the most liberating idea I ever learned I first learned from Martin Luther.” He goes on to speak of Luther’s insight in upholding the gratuitous nature of salvation by grace through faith. God used this line by Peter Kreeft to reveal the glory of his true Church to me. Had he just written about Luther’s heresies (which were many), I would not have listened.

    I do not see how this article works towards communion. I think it just pisses off Calvinists. Again, I think you’re right, I just think this article is anti-ecumenical.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  22. Jeremy, I was intrigued by your comments. And since nobody else directly addressed you, here’s my two cents to keep the conversation going….

    I’ve heard Christ referred to as a ladder. And as Taylor mentions in one of his podcasts, though a bicycle can be given as a gift, it is in its riding that the recipient receives the benefit of the gift… In other words, Christ can’t give us a bike or a ladder (Maybe he is the bike and the ladder!) and then subsequently climb or ride it for us.

    It sounds scandalous to suggest that we do anything to really participate in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. But that’s exactly the glory for which we were created (2nd Peter, 1). It’s the Cross of Christ makes such a participation possible.

    I think I know what you’re saying about CS Lewis… what I’m trying to understand is whether or not you understand Taylor’s position to be in violation of what CS Lewis upholds (that the Cross of Christ is “somehow”a at the very heart of our salvation). To me, denying Penal Substitution in no way moves away from Lewis’s view of the centrality of the Cross. I daresay Lewis himself would most certainly disagree with Calvin’s notion cited in Taylor’s post. Do you have any reason to believe otherwise?

    Ultimately, Lewis viewed the Church as a means to an end, namely, Christ. Whereas, a Catholic views the Church and Christ to be utterly inseparable. Lewis, therefore, didn’t have so much of a problem understanding a non-Catholic to be a full participant in the Christian life. Access to the Cross of Christ was available to anyone, in Lewis’s mind, even without the Church’s mediation. Peter Kreeft has touched upon this notion in some of his writings, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Nonetheless, much of Lewis’s life was spent in an effort to bring about Christian unity… St. Clive, I call him. thanks.

  23. Hey Jeremy,

    You said: “I was suprised that, when asked by Marcus Grodi about the greatest unexpected suprise of entering the Church, he said penance. Have any of you had a similiar experience? I have been twice now and found amazing freedom in it.”

    Man, I am totally there. Penance has been one of the most awesome experiences of my life. It’s completely changed the way I think, the way I feel, and — I believe — the actions that come out of my heart. Amen, brother!

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  24. Hey Jeremy,

    I don’t know much about penal substitution, so I can’t help the discussion there. Don’t be discouraged by language or theories though. I find it much better just to ask for God’s forgiveness, accept His forgiveness, and then not worry about how he pulls it off! I respect the fact that theologians sometimes have to worry about this a little, to avoid our language or theories from spinning off into slightly incorrect statements that can damage our relationships with God — but then I just thank God that I’m not a theologian!

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  25. K. Doran and Herbert,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am writing out of my own experience, and, as I mentioned, I found the Catholic Church to be thoroughly biblical in places where Protestant Churches are clearly in error. Because of the Catholic Church’s consistency in doctrine over time, centrality of the Eucharist, doctrine of the visible Church, unity, and social positions, I believe it is my only option. At the same time, I love the Reformers and I believe that Calvin himself would have returned to Rome if he were alive today to see the madness which Protestantism has devolved into.

    I have yet to hear a Catholic convert tribute their discovering of the Catholic Church because somebody successfully demonstrated the heretical views of the tradition they came from. For me, I had to hear Kreeft affirm something good in Luther before I was willing to really consider where Luther was wrong.

    I have referred a number of my reformed friends to C2C because it is the best source I have found to promote dialogue between the two camps. I think it is possible for the authors here to embody C.S. Lewis’ attitude (which they often do) which points all Christians to Jesus and does not dwell on doctrines unique to a particular camp. Catholics have a pretty easy job. I think everybody know that Catholic apologetics are infinitely superior to those of any Protestant camp. This is why most Protestant objections to Rome are subjective rather than objective. We say things like, “Catholics don’t love Jesus…they worship Mary, ect”. I have had plenty of Reformed friends say to me, “The Catholic arguments are solid, but I just don’t see any life in the Catholic Church where I’d actually move my family there.” So…rather than arguing that penal substation is patently false, which I believe it is, why not write an article on how Catholic doctrine most fully articulates the power of the cross? Why not write an article simply on Christ’s decent into hell as victory and leave Calvin out of it? This way, reformed folk can read C2C and see the the power of Catholic theology without getting upset that Calvin is being referred to as a heretic.

    As I reread Taylor’s article, I see that it is glorifying to Christ, but I think a Calvinist might only see that Calvin is being called a heretic.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  26. Jeremy Tate, thanks for your comments. I was thinking all that and more, but coming as it has from a Catholic makes a difference. It means hopefully that “Called to Communion” will be wary of devolving into “Called to Communion Counterintuitively by Lambasting Reformed Protestants.” Maybe having less apologists write and more pastor-theologians writing might go some way in rectifying the tone.

    Note also, dear readers, that the moniker “Calvinist” outside of your circles in no way means “adherence to Calvin on every point of doctrine.” Most times it simply means that which Kreeft is said to have written in the post above: “I am a Roman Catholic. But the most liberating idea I ever learned I first learned from Martin Luther.” Calvinists think Calvin equally upheld the gratuitous nature of salvation by grace through faith. There is, as some of you know, a broad continuum of what it means to be “Reformed.” On one end you might have a single predestinarian, (hypothetical) universal atonement, and high ecclesiology (and thus sacramentarian and catholic); on the other end, you might have a more memorial view of the sacraments, double predestination, scholastic methodology, and so on. And it transcends denominations—from Anglicans to Presbyterians to Baptists to Independent Fundamentalists to Pentecostals.

    So, in short, disagreeing with Calvin on this point by a “Calvinist” isn’t surprising in the slightest. Except for what Jeremy said about penal substitutionary atonement. Some concept of that (vis-a-vis Anselm) is warranted and integral to the Reformed tradition, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to Calvin’s conclusions about Christ’s suffering (this discussion of Calvin’s is why certain men during the 16th century suspected him of Nestorianism, incidentally). In other words, Calvin’s problem here, contra Taylor’s OP, is not rooted in his atonement theory; it’s rooted in what Tom Brown (#9) said above, which betrays philosophical presuppositions on Calvin’s part that may turn out to be less-than biblical upon further inspection.

  27. Herbert,

    To answer your question on Lewis. I do think Lewis would disagree with Taylor’s argument, but I think he would have viewed it as one of many “acceptable” theories. But, Lewis adds that the cross itself is more important than the theories of how it works, I’m not sure Taylor shares this belief.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  28. Taylor, you say:

    “Given that Jesus is the head of the Church and Holy Spirit guides the Church, then how could someone have a “Spirit-led conclusion” that was contrary to the Church, since the Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

    It boils down to this: if you know that Christ revealed something and you know he revealed it, but you don’t believe it, then that’s a deep error and a sin against love. It’s infidelity to what you know, deep down, to be true.”

    I think a better name for this blog might be “Called to Triumphalism.” You didn’t answer my questions, and you implied that only the RCC hears from the Holy Spirit. Are you kidding? You cannot be serious?! (We can still be friends, though.)

  29. Hey Jeremy,

    I hear what you’re saying in #24. Sometimes its tough to balance between the three pillars of: making a positive case for the Catholic Church; affirming Christ’s work in other Christian communities; and pointing out the difficulties that arise from theological or historical mistakes.

    In some ways, these pillars are easier to handle with history, since people can hash out various historical facts without implicitly claiming that someone else’s current mode of interacting with God has a serious fault. But the theological points inevitably come up, and when they do, a lack of balance can make other Christians feel personally slighted.

    That’s one of the reasons why I don’t envy the people who handle the theological questions in the third pillar above. Its really tough to do that sensitively, and they need our prayers (and the people who interact with them on the reformed side need our prayers too!)

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  30. Jeremy,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. My experience is similar to yours. Like you, reading Peter Kreeft was a huge factor in my conversion. However, I would add that finding oddities in the writings of the Reformers did lead me to investigate Catholicism. One Catholic friend in particular repeatedly showed me some of the difficult and erroneous teachings held by the magisterial Reformers.

    Saint Augustine was drawn to the Catholic Church partly because of the warm example of Saint Ambrose, partly because he observed fatal flaws in the Manichaean system.

    We should be kind, patient, and honest when dialoguing with our Protestant brethren. Nevertheless, we must guard against the “false irenicism” condemned by the Second Vatican Council’s decree on on ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio):

    “Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded” (UR, 11).

    With that in mind, should we not discuss errors in the writings of the Reformers who did in fact claim to “reform” the Bride of Christ?

    The goal of this post is to illustrate that John Calvin was not a careful biblical scholar as most Reformed Christians assume (especially in this 500th anniversary year of Calvin)–in fact he errs gravely with regard to the nature of the atonement. My hope is that Reformed Christians will consider the following: “If Calvin is wrong about this, then maybe he’s incorrect elsewhere, especially when we consider how the atonement is central to Christian theology.

  31. Joel,

    I certainly believe that the Holy Spirit guides Protestant Christians. Yet, according to the Catholic Faith, the Church as the pillar of truth would not contradict what the Holy Spirit has revealed.

    If a Lutheran says “The Holy Spirit teaches x” and the Catholic Church says “The Holy Spirit teaches not x” – then we cannot admit that the Holy Spirit is contradicting Himself, right? Someone is wrong. That’s not meant to be offensive, it’s merely the principle that God reveals truth.

    Don’t we both agree that the Holy Spirit would not teach opposite things?

  32. I agree that the Holy Spirit is never wrong. RCC folk hold out no possibility that their side is ever wrong. I find this disingenuous because the Church gives herself decades, if not centuries, to think through issues before “deciding” in the time and space of history what is and what is not the “revealed truth of God”. Meanwhile, Joe Sixpack in the pews has only a few decades to figure it out at the peril of his very soul.

    I wish the binding of conscience was a two-way street, and I wish that the RCC would tone down (or even eradicate) the assumption that they are always correct. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild…a bruised reed he will not break…”? Whatever. “Bow to us now or you’ll burn forever” is more like it. No thanks. I don’t need to make everyone who disagrees with me feel like a loser. And, with the division evident within the RCC, one would think that “agree to disagree” would flow more easily from the lips, pens, and keyboards of her proponents.

  33. Jeremy and all,
    I’m sorry for my statement earlier about Calvin. The way some in my family dealt with me in certain situations has alot of bearing on my feelings toward him in particular.

    I know Luther was loud, vulgar at times, etc., but I never had a problem with him as a Protestant.
    “Some” Calvinist, especially those that believe all 613 laws of Moses should be observed and punishment should be the same as well are the type I had to listen to.

    I am a RCC convert and I would have never wanted this to happen in a million years! Stories of anti-Christ, whore of Babylon, weird clothes and language you couldn’t understand on Christmas Eve ( television only) was scary to me even as a child.

    I went searching for answers because I knew how much I loved the Lord in my heart and soul and how much I wanted to do anything for Him. Because I was raped by a youth pastor at a young age (16 years old, virgin and naive) and felt compelled to marry him because of this sin according to Deuteronomy 24, I have never had a warm fuzzy about hard line Calvinist.
    I was only 19 when I got away from this nightmare after being locked in a house by this man until I could pray for forgiveness for not submitting to his authority.

    Only then did I feel like I could tell what had happened, because I didn’t care anymore what my family thought. I was going to divorce.

    Now at age 50, being married for 27 years and two children, ages 25 and 23, I am willing to submit my paperwork for the Church to give the annulment. They alone told me that God cannot join together in a sacred convenant a traumatized young girl and her rapist.

    My Calvinist family members still had the nerve to say I was “defiled” and apply some other OT law to me. That is why I went searching to the Early Church Fathers. I knew they didn’t kill members after they confessed their sins. If they had, with the Romans persectuting as well, they would be non existant.

    I found that John Calvin took away the confession and the absolution that the RCC had. He had confession, but then punishment was meted out by the him or the city/state in accord with the laws of Moses. From there I saw many more things that he changed that weren’t abuses, but were actually truely early Christian practices of faith.

    I can accept the Church because if Christ said the gates of Hell would not prevail against Her, then that is part of having faith in Him. It’s His promise to keep. Bad Popes or Good Popes, no one lived long enough to change the faith that once handed down. It’s not the Pope….it’s about Christ’s promise to His Church. It cannot be the Protestant faith with sola scriptura. It’s still fighting and dividing and that is not what the Church looks like.

    I’m sorry again I was rude about Calvin. I think at least Martin Luther wanted reform within the Church but so many other things happened. Satan has had a field day with it ever since. Most Protestants agree on the RCC being the “anti-Christ” . But that is where it stops. I remember crying out in prayer for clarity and truth because of the fighting over who was the most orthodox or reformed, even on blogs. The truth is and was — none of them.

    I know all isn’t perfect in the RCC, but I have faith in Christ and His promise to His Church. The same early Church who knew that the wine and bread was the body and blood of Christ and it was the most important part of their worship.

    Blessing,
    Teri

  34. Dear Joel,

    Your rhetorical style seems to be to exaggerate the claims of the one you are engaging. For example, I made very careful distinctions about the the non-contradictory nature of the Holy Spirit’s revelation and also careful distinctions about the difference between formal heresy and material heresy. You have ignored them and instead create “quotations” that you then attribute to me or to the Church.

    When you over-exaggerate, it makes it very difficult to have a fruitful exchange. Are you interested in examining premises or definitions of the argument at hand, or are you interested in merely painting caricatures of what we Catholics supposedly believe (e.g. “Bow to us now or you’ll burn forever”).

    As in the distinction between formal and material heresy, Joe Six-Pack is in no danger of losing his immortal soul because he was raised Baptist. If you find an error in the formal/material distinction please address it. This would be more helpful than attributing positions to that nobody here holds.

    No one is trying to make you feel like a loser. No one has attacked you. No one called you a name. No one stated you’re a loser. Nobody said that you or Joe Six-Pack are going to Hell.

    Since you are a Christian, you’re a winner and a heir of redemption. You’re renewed and reborn in the Holy Spirit–a participant of grace. You are an adopted son of the Father.

    However, if you are convinced that you should belong to a certain denomination, follow your conscience. That’s what the Catholic Church would advise you to do as you study and form your conscience. Nobody’s lighting a fire under your toes.

    I’m willing to admit that I’m wrong. However, in order for you to convince me of where I’ve gone wrong, you should engage the arguments and premises above just as I have addressed your arguments and premises.

  35. Taylor,
    Thanks for your response. Of course we should discuss “errors in the writings of the reformers who did in fact claim to “reform” the Bride of Christ.” However, I think we have to remember how we all viewed the Reformation before discovering the Catholic Church. As Michael Horton put it in the class of his I took this summer, “the Reformation was the greatest gospel recovery mission in the history of the Church.” Somebody with a mindset such as Horton’s cannot approach an article titled, “John Calvin’s Worst Heresy” without resentment. If the goal is unity, how is this title a step towards it? I don’t understand the purpose of focusing the article on Calvin’s error rather than Christ’s triumphant decent into hell. You could still engage Calvin without angering all the Calvinist from the outset.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  36. Jeremy,

    C.S. Lewis argues that “somehow” Christ’s death makes us right with God

    I’ve just skimmed the comments so I’m not sure if this has been satisfactorily answered or not but rejection of Penal Substitution is not a rejection of the Cross or the effectiveness of Christ’s death towards our salvation. It’s a rejection of the idea that God the Father poured His wrath out on God the Son as one pours wrath out on a scape goat. This would be a further injustice, in fact the worst injustice ever, and two wrongs don’t make a right. Catholics do hold to a satisfaction model (which PS is a type of satisfaction model) just not PS.

  37. Taylor, you write (in #29) that my hope is that Reformed Christians will consider the following: “If Calvin is wrong about this, then maybe he’s incorrect elsewhere, especially when we consider how the atonement is central to Christian theology.”

    Any Reformed person worth his or her salt would say as much, that is, would not deem Calvin correct on every matter pertaining to faith and life (includind some pretty important ones). But before this all turns into a whine and cheez affair, let’s do look back at the goal of your post:

    “The goal of this post is to illustrate that John Calvin was not a careful biblical scholar as most Reformed Christians assume (especially in this 500th anniversary year of Calvin)–in fact he errs gravely with regard to the nature of the atonement.”

    Now, the more I consider it, the more theologically unclear it appears to be on the point of substitutionary atonement. “Substitution” is part and parcel of any robust atonement theology. But the “penal” part is where the problem lies, I’m guessing, for Catholics. Negating the concept of “substitution” is not an option for orthodox Christians. It clearly has its proponents (Scripture notwithstanding) well before the 16th century; indeed, as far as I know, the satisfaction theory (merit and all that) is the most commonly held view in Rome today. If you remove the notion of “substitution” from Anselm and (especially) Aquinas, then their theories simply become incoherent.

    “Substitutionary” atonement might indeed make better biblical sense without the “penal”—maybe “covenantal” would be a better qualifier: the Messiah stood in the very place where the accursed of the covenant were to stand, bearing upon himself the weight of transgression and death, which has the surprising effect of ratifying that very (new) covenant, thus fulfilling the old covenantal promises of God—and all of this based on his hesed, his covenant love. Again, taking issue with “substitution” is nothing less than a willful rejection of the church’s historic teaching as well as Scripture (talk about hairetikos!). It seems what you’ve offered contra Calvin is not the commonly held substitutionary satisfaction theory within Roman Catholicism but some kind of merely moral theory (but even that assumes some kind of sacrifice/substitution). And, as warranted as a participatory theology is (union with Christ, etc.), it is no substitute for the work of the Holy Scapegoat, Jesus the living Christ. The two are inextricably bound.

    Assuming we agree on all this, the real point for you appears to be that penal substitution is the problem and that it necessarily leads to Calvin’s views on Christ’s literal descent to hell to suffer. But this seems not to be exactly the case, precisely because I think you’ve overestimated the case that Calvin speaks of a literal descent.

    While it is certainly true that the last edition of the Institutes reflect his “final” thoughts on the matter, it must be said again that it’s not a foregone conclusion that Calvin has in mind a literal descent into hell. In discussing the 1 Pet passage, Calvin writes that “the purport of the context is, that believers who had died before that time were partakers of the same grace with ourselves: for he celebrates the power of Christ’s death, in that he penetrated even to the dead, pious souls obtaining an immediate view of that visitation for which they had anxiously waited; while, on the other hand, the reprobate were more clearly convinced that they were completely excluded from salvation. Although the passage in Peter is not perfectly definite, we must not interpret it as if he made no distinction between the righteous and the wicked: he only means to intimate, that the death of Christ was made known to both” (Inst. II.xvi.9). That’s not exactly a literal harrowing of hell; there’s no limbus partum in view here.

    But Calvin thinks the clause from the Apostles’ Creed is nonetheless important because of what it has to say concerning the sufferings of Christ on our behalf. “It is of consequence,” he writes, “to understand aright how much our salvation cost the Son of God” (Inst. II.xvi.12). In other words, Calvin sees it simply as a further explanation of Christ’s sufferings. Indeed, Christ’s descent into hell is “the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God” (Inst. II.xvi.10). He chooses, in short, not to perceive the sequence of the Apostles’ Creed on this point as temporal but in order of realities—bodily suffering then spiritual suffering. For Calvin, this teaches us more fully about the sufferings that God’s Son bore in our behalf. In sum, on the cross, Christ suffered hell, being separated from his Father and enduring God’s wrath for the sins of humanity, but after he died (presumably) he went to paradise, just as he told the criminal next to him.

    Incidentally, this view was codified in HC Q/A 44 (and by many other Reformed theologians besides; see, e.g., Turretin’s Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, 13th topic, quests. XIV–XVI):

    Question 44: Why is there added, ‘he descended into hell’?

    Answer: That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by his inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which he was plunged during all his sufferings, but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.”

    Sorry so long, but maybe now you’ll just delete this post.

  38. Taylor,

    Re-read what I have asked you, what you have responded, etc. I have not attributed quotations to you. I have not misrepresented you. Your “attack-their-style-instead-of-answer-their-questions” is an unfortunately common combox tactic and probably a detractor from further growth of this blog. I hope not as you and your co-authors are very intelligent and have much to add to the Christian conversation.

    If Calvinists are heretics, then they are not in communion with Christ/Church/Pope? I’m guessing this is a formal heresy thing, and not a material heresy thing. If the material heresy category has no teeth, then why even have the category? From the Protestant side, it is not helpful AT ALL to be accused of heresy and then be assured that everything is OK (i.e. “no danger”). Extreme emotional gymnastics ensue when you consider that the majority of people probably have no idea what the formal/material distinction is… they probably just hear the word “heresy”, figure some bad stuff is about to go down, and then tuck tail and run.

    If someone is not in communion with Christ, they are not going to heaven? Either the Pope is the Head or He isn’t. If a Calvinist is on the outs with the Pope, and the Pope stands in for Christ, then how on earth can the Calvinist be on track for salvation? (you said, “Joe Six-Pack is in no danger of losing his immortal soul because he was raised Baptist.” I will infer that “Calvinist” can be interchanged with “Baptist” in this quote.) If there is “no danger of losing his immortal soul,” then why not treat him as a unified brother?

    My reading of RCC apologetic materials indicates that full communion is an all or nothing situation. You believe all RCC teaching with no exceptions, or you are not in full communion. (That is what I refer to as “binding the conscience”… as in, you don’t really believe ALL of the teachings, but you feel compelled to go along with it anyway for fear of your soul.)

    At this point, I feel as if I am speaking to a wall. I guess it doesn’t matter, though. If I feel as if the Spirit led me to my beliefs, and, as you so clearly pointed out, the Spirit can only support the RCC view of things, then I must be insane or hearing voices or something. I MUST NOT HAVE REALLY HEARD THE HOLY SPIRIT, BECAUSE IT CONVINCED ME OF SOMETHING THAT IS NOT IN LINE WITH RCC TEACHING. (The last sentence was the logical implication of what I am hearing… or as you said, “…how could someone have a ‘Spirit-led conclusion’ that was contrary to the Church, since the Church is ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’…” and then you said, “I certainly believe that the Holy Spirit guides Protestant Christians.” Sorry if I cannot shake my case of spiritual schizophrenia.)

    I am not trying to be disrespectful in the slightest. I hope that disagreement is not perceived as disrespect or arrogance. I truly want to know the answers to my questions. I am truly concerned about the destiny of my (and my wife and childrens’) eternal soul. Peace out.

  39. Joel,

    Are you the orange Joel? (If you are you’ll know what that means. If you are not than take no offense.)

  40. And Joel,

    What would you tell the Mormon missionary who knocks on your door and testifies that the Holy Spirit told them that the Book of Mormon is true?

  41. Sean,

    I have the orange gene. Indeed.

    I hope you don’t equate Mormons with Calvinists? If so, then “separated brethren” includes cultists?

  42. Joel,

    “Cult” is a vague and generally unhelpful term. We all agree that the errors of Mormonism are more serious than the errors of Reformed Christians, and Mormons are not baptized into the Church as Protestants are because they do not have a Trinitarian baptism. That said, Sean’s question is valid.

  43. Dear Teri,

    My prayers are with you! God bless you, and know this: all the saints in heaven are praying for you. God loves you more than you even love yourself. Welcome home!

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  44. I would say, “how do you know it was the Holy Spirit and not some other voice?”

  45. Teri,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I have not run into too many “Calvinists” like those you describe. I have a feeling that the label gets applied pretty liberally. The people I run with are nothing like that (erring the ,other way… not legalistic, but possibly licentious.)

    May God’s mercy be with you.

  46. Hey Teri,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope to join you in the Church within a couple of months :) Sorry to make a negative reference towards your comment #11. Please know that you are not alone as you describe the reaction of your family. It’s kind of cool to know we are all in this together. I will be praying for you. I also appreciated your comment about God’s faithfulness. At the end of day, the ultimate question of the validity of the Catholic Church does not involve speculative theology, but the heart of God and His faithfulness to his bride.

    Thanks again, Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  47. Joel,

    As to the Holy Spirit and the Church discussion, Sean raises a good point.

    If your friend Walker were to say to you, “The Holy Spirit told me that He is identical to the Archangel Michael.” You would first evaluate whether that claim matched up to your Christian authority (in the Protestant case – Scripture). If the claim did not conform to your doctrinal authority (Scripture), you would conclude that the Holy Spirit didn’t talk to Walker. Maybe Walker ate to much Mexican food before he went to bed.

    You as a Protestant do this all the time (e.g. with Mormans or Jehovah’s Witness – and even with Charismatic Christians). So is it at all surprising that Catholics do the same thing, but that they don’t limit their authority to Scripture? That’s really all I’m saying.

    If you Joel, my big red-orange buddy from college, come to me and say, “The Holy Spirit spoke to me today and led me to understand that the Eucharist is a symbolic memorial in which Christ is not substantially present,” then wouldn’t you expect me to say to you, “Sorry Joel. The Holy Spirit didn’t teach you that because it goes against 2000 years of the Church’s teaching”?

    Would you really be surprised for me to say that? Would you think that I’m trying to insult you – or would you rather conclude that I’m holding true to my convictions.

    You raise some really good and challenging question about what is means to be “be in communion”.

    There is “full communion” with the Catholic Church and “imperfect communion” with the Catholic Church. One can have full communion with Christ and not full communion with the Pope. A great example would be Saint Seraphim of Sarov – an Eastern Orthodox saint who was not technically in communion with the Pope. I consider him to be a saint in heaven.

    The Church holds the category of material heresy because it is a true category – not because we’re trying to make people feel bad.

    Joel, I know you. You don’t believe that Christianity should be “softened” so that we can sit around the fire and sing Kumbaya. If Catholics think that Protestants are wrong, then at least respect us for saying it to your face. You don’t want me to soften the punches so that we can end our session in an ecumenical “happy-hug”, do you?

    We all recognize that some people get some doctrines wrong, yet they aren’t going to Hell for it. You don’t have to pass an advanced theology exam on the processions of the Holy Trinity to get into Heaven.

    And yet, it’s not “just okay” to think wrongly about God. We should try to know God rightly and know about Him rightly. If ignorance is willful, disobedient, or vicious, then that’s serious (i.e. formal heresy). If it’s not, it’s still not “just okay”. We should try to grow in our understanding. If we get somethings wrong – it’s not like we suddenly became like the heresiarch Arius, right?

    So the Church is saying to the Protestant: “You’re wrong about some doctrines (Eucharist, etc.), but you’re not going to burn on account of of having been raised a Presbyterian.”

    She is not saying: “Bow down or burn.”

  48. That’s all real nice, Jeremy. But this post is/was about Calvin’s view of the harrowing of hell. It’s highly questionable that he construed Christ’s descent as literal (i.e., chronologically following his death on the cross). Engage this or rethink your post.

  49. Sorry about that “Jeremy.” I meant “Taylor.” I am curious as to whether or not you think the literal descent is irrelevant to this “heresy” of Calvin’s. Put differently, if he’s not speaking of a literal descent, then he’s not exactly embracing some form of theopaschism, even if he comes close (he clearly defends God’s impassibility elsewhere).

  50. Hello Jeremy (#25),

    why not write an article on how Catholic doctrine most fully articulates the power of the cross?

    We did something like that on Good Friday in my post on Aquinas’ explanation of Christ’s Passion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. Chris Donato,

    Thank you for the great exchange. You write:

    “I am curious as to whether or not you think the literal descent is irrelevant to this “heresy” of Calvin’s. Put differently, if he’s not speaking of a literal descent, then he’s not exactly embracing some form of theopaschism, even if he comes close (he clearly defends God’s impassibility elsewhere).”

    This is written and articulated very well. Let me make one more distinction. Here are the two interpretations that seem to be available to us regarding Calvin’s “descent”:

    Option 1: The “Two Event” Interpretation
    Calvin sees the cross and descent into hell as two separate events–one following the other. The former corresponds to temporal death. The latter corresponds to eternal death. Accordingly, the cross is supplemented by descent which regards “powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death”.

    Option 2: The “One Event” Interpretation
    Calvin sees the death of Christ on the cross and the descent into Hell as a single, unified event with two different aspects: one temporal and the other eternal.

    In both cases, we agree that there may be some sort of odd metaphysical distinction at play, which as you say: “betrays philosophical presuppositions on Calvin’s part that may turn out to be less-than biblical upon further inspection.”

    Did I get this correct?

    If so, is this your question:

    “Does Calvin’s error depend on whether we interpret him as subscribing to one of the two theories (Two Event vs. One Event), or does Calvin’s error depend on his belief in penal substitution simply regardless of which theory he held?”

  52. Hi,
    I have just joined in and trying to understand all these. Am a Kenyan, 32 yrs living in the Maasai lands. I find your comments interesting but slightly theologically above me. I guess, in Kenya I have never encountered such deep theological discussion or opinions.
    Hope, you can take my simplicity.

  53. # 52
    For Pauline Njogu:
    The men here at Called To Communion are much more than “slightly theologically above me”. Do not feel that you are alone in that regard. However, they challenge the Catholic and Catholic convert to understand the deep truths and fullness of our faith. They ask hard questions not to provoke argument for arguments sake – but to open dialogue on what divides us still – Catholics and Protestants.

    I keep reading and absorbing and sometimes I contribute (even though I cringe at my simplicity after reading what others have to say). However, I stongly encourage you to keep reading.

    I read somewhere that these guys at Called To Communion were so well trained in their Protestant theology, when they became Catholic it was like someone called in the equivalent of the U.S. Marines :-)

    I encouarge you to continue reading and to ask questions. For me, it is as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthian Church, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves.”

    May the peace of Christ be with you,
    Teri

  54. Teri,

    Don’t sell yourself too short. We appreciate your comments here, and you do add to the conversation. We appreciate the vote of confidence!

  55. Welcome Pauline and thanks Teri.

    Joel,

    An observation. When you address the Mormon at your door you have to refute him from the subjective. You would have to say, “Well, you must have not have got that from the Holy Spirit because I got what I got from the Holy Spirit and what I got is different than what you got.” Sure, you could pull out your bible and cite some passages but he would have answer for those passages and then throw some of his interpretations at you. And then you would try to tell him that his interpretations are wrong etc infinity.

    The Catholic on the other hand can answer objectively on matters that the Catholic Church has defined. I can objectively say that the Mormon is wrong because on the Christological they are opposed to the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. (Not too mention a bunch of other things)

    Or, if the Mormon example is offensive lets make it closer to home. Lets say that a woman clergy advocate, a Presbyterian, showed up at your door and told you that your position on women in the clergy is wrong. He would site bible passages which you would attempt to refute by saying his interpretation is wrong and perhaps you would cite other passages. Or take infant/credo baptism…or take the so called “New Perspective on Paul”…etc.

    Consider how the church fathers refuted heresies.

    “True knowledge is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor suffering curtailment in the truths which she believes; and it consists in reading the word of God without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and above all, it consists in the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts of God.”
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4,33:8 (inter A.D. 180-199).

    What do you think Irenaeus would say to the Mormon at his door? He would start with, “Who sent you? Where is your bishop held into the communion of the church by succession and love?”

  56. Pauline, welcome.

    Terri, thank you for the kind words and encouragement.

  57. If the authority of the church is an article of faith, then it cannot be properly identified as “objective.” Subjectivity obtains throughout all of this.

    On a side note, Presbyterians are generally less pushy than Mormons. I’m just sayin’.

  58. Joel.

    That is true in a Gnostic conception of church. But the church is a tangible, historical reality. It is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. There is no question that in AD 325 the Catholic Church held a council in Nicea and faithfully articulated the Catholic faith. Is there faith involved in accepting that reality? Not really. There, however, trust in the church but I fail to see how this is any different than the Christians in Antioch paying homage to what that Paul guy was teaching.

    There is no question about what the Church teaches about infant baptism, as an example. Catholics don’t debate it. The matter is settled. Meanwhile, thousands of Protestant churches cannot figure it out because they all claim that the Holy Spirit is leading all of them but curiously they believe different doctrines.

    (I’ve met some pretty pushy Presbyterians by the way)

  59. Taylor, thanks for trying to flesh this out more clearly.

    I will try to do the same, taking your lead.

    Regarding the options you’ve laid out, I would only stress that the history of interpretation regarding Calvin’s view on this clause in the Apostles’ Creed favors a non-literal (non-temporal, non-chronological) descent. This is what I attempted to belabor in my long post above (#37). Thus we have no real reason to suggest that we have “two interpretations that seem to be available to us regarding Calvin’s ‘descent.'” We really only have one, and it seems to me that before a argument is made regarding Calvin’s “heresy,” which purports to rest on Calvin’s view of the “descent,” then that argument either (1) must assume the commonly held interpretation of Calvin’s view [for the reader's sake] or (2) must first make the case that what is commonly deemed to be Calvin’s view of the “descent” is wrong. Hence my question about whether or not you think Calvin’s particular view is beside the point in this discussion.

    Now, regarding your Option 2, which bears the closest resemblence to Calvin’s view of the “descent” clause, I’d only emend as follows:

    The “One Event” Interpretation:
    Calvin sees the death of Christ on the cross and the “descent” into Hell as a single,
    unified event with two different aspects: one physical and the other spiritual.

    What the bold emendations suggest is that Calvin’s emphasis on what this clause teaches us has less to do with “temporality” and “eternality” but “physicality.” Calvin is apparently desirous to express the great sufferings of Christ on more than just a physical level, and so his emphasis in the section you quote in the Opening Post is on how Christ’s suffering were great on a spiritual plane. IF Calvin were speaking of a literal descent to hell, chronologically after his physical death on the cross, then I agree that there are certain christological implications that need to be engaged (but the work to consider whether or not those implications are “heretical” is far from done). If the popular consensus is assumed regarding Calvin’s views on the “descent” clause, then I wonder if what you wrote in the Opening Post still applies. Hence my question above regarding whether or not you think the view about the “descent” is irrelevant; rather, its how Calvin unpacks it, linked as it is to penal substitutionary atonement, that is the problem.

    So, yes, the question from me to you is: “Does Calvin’s error depend on whether we interpret him as subscribing to one of the two theories (Two Event vs. One Event), or does Calvin’s error depend on his belief in penal substitution simply regardless of which theory he held?”

    Nota bene, The philosophical presuppositions on Calvin’s part that may turn out to be less-than biblical upon further inspection were shared by the majority of thinkers during that era—Catholic and Protestant alike. For that reason alone, I’m generally skeptical of lots of pre-modern exegesis that rests on metaphysics, anthropology, etc. Stuff that has basically become clearer to us (though certainly not totally) through advancements in science, archaeology, physics, etc.

  60. Joel & Sean,

    Just because a thing is a matter of faith does not mean that it’s subjective. Christ’s resurrection for example, is both objective and a matter of faith.

  61. Pauline,

    The beauty of the Catholic faith lies in its simplicity. One need not be a high level theologian. Yet, there is a depth and profundity to the faith that cannot be contained in the greatest works of reflection upon the faith. The Church is simple enough for Sophie the housewife and profound enough to cause the greatest minds to struggle in trying to penetrate its depth. It is the Church of the simple, St. Joseph of Cupertino and St. Therese (the Little Flower), and the deepest minds, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross.

    Welcome to Called to Communion and welcome to this little site rooted in the beauty of the Catholic Faith and thank you for your company.

  62. May I ask you all a question concerning John Calvin with regards to his Institutes? I found this quote while reading a paper by a Reformed minister. It sites this quote from Calvin’s Institutes. The only reference number is 18 and then pages 75-76:

    “For if the Christian church from the beginning was founded upon the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles, wherever this doctrine is found the acceptance of it – without which the hurch itself would never have existed – must certainly have preceded the church”.

    Is Calvin making the statement that the sacred scriptures of the N.T. were written before there were church(s) in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, etc.? Is this statement qualified somewhere else to mean the church as the RCC only? Certainly he could not be setting the precedent for the anti-intellectual idea that the N.T. scriptures came before the establishment of the Church?

    I’m no fan of John Calvin, but this statement is incredulous if taken at face value! Please help me understand this.

    Blessings,
    Teri

  63. So, can we rename the post: “John Calvin’s Less-Than-Stellar Idea: That Christ Suffered Like Hell”?

    Or what?

  64. Chris; I don’t really see that attributing hellish pain and damnation to the Crucifixion itself help make anything better for Calvin’s theory. It seems to be that even if you grant that it all happened on the Cross in one event, Calvin’s theory would be damned and refuted by Scripture. If Calvin really says that Christ was damned on the Cross — and I have spoken to a a few Calvinists who believe that teaching to be true — I will merely respond with the words of St. Paul: “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1Cor 12,3 KJV)

    Redemption isn’t about God the Father damning God the Son, but about His participation in humanity which opens up for our participation in the divine life. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” writes St. Paul, “that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2Cor 8,9) Or, as St. Peter puts it: “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2Pet 1,3-4 KJV) The Cross is important, but not because of some theory of PSA. I believe it is important to take a look at the (supposed) hymn in Phil 2. V. 8 states: “And being found in fashion as a man, [Christ] humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The text doesn’t focus on the Cross as such, but on the obedience. Adam was disobedient. Christ was obedient. And that — not merely the Crucifixion — is the sacrifice. (Cf. Hebr 10:5-10)

  65. Kjetil, that’s fine. In fact, that’s what I wanted to know. Let’s rename the post then. We don’t have to “grant” that what I’ve said above is Calvin’s view regarding the descent clause in the Apostles’ Creed. It is Calvin’s view. The real problem I suppose for Taylor and others, like yourself, is Calvin’s articulation of Christ’s suffering on the cross, not necessarily the doctrine of penal substitution (because no one has yet shown that it necessarily is or leads to any form of heresy).

    That said, I’d still like to engage a few of your points.

    Regarding Christ being accursed, you quote 1 Cor 12:3: “So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (NLT). Of course this speaks nothing whatsoever to your point above, unless of course Calvin (and Calvinists) do literally curse Jesus the Christ himself when they speak of him bearing the curse (cf. Rom 8:3, where the point is carefully maintained that Christ as a person was sacrificed to put an end to sin’s control). It remains to be shown, despite the poor word choices of a few of your Calvnist acquaintances, that Calvin misunderstood the difference between Christ bearing the curse and Christ himself being accursed.

    But admittedly the nuance is a very thin line. In fact, I too will merely respond with the words of St. Paul: “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'”

    Now, I don’t think this contradicts your point (as vv. 14ff. show), but your point seems to gloss over Gal 3:13. Jesus, in some sense, bore the curse as Israel’s representative, quite literally and historically—not in some abstract theological sense. I think this means more than you want it to, but possibly less than what some Calvinists do.

    And I don’t disagree with anything else you’ve written, except to say that I do think there is some place for a (carefully nuanced) PSA in any discussion revolving around the atonement. Surely it doesn’t exhaust the doctrine—far from it—but it has a place at the table.

    Note also that Calvin’s discusson on Christ’s suffering includes much more than the crucifixion; he goes back to the temptation narrative on more than one occasion. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  66. Chris Donato,

    The classic Augustinian doctrine of the Trinity is that the Father infinitely loves the Son and the Son infinitely loves the Father. This eternal love is “realized” in the person of the Holy Spirit.

    According to Calvin’s doctrine of extrinsic penal substitution, the Father pours out the “powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death” on His Son.

    In other words, Saint Augustine’s false apart.

    I once heard a Bible Church pastor (he was a grad of Dallas Theological Seminary) once teach that the Trinity ceased to exist for a moment on Good Friday. This isn’t Reformed teaching but it seems to be tracing out the trajectory of this kind of argument.

    The important thing here is that Calvin just doesn’t happen to be wrong on this one isolated issue. This is not merely a “not so stellar idea.” Rather, it opens up a truck load of difficulties.

    If we simply stick the traditional satisfaction model and stress participation, then we avoid it altogether. In other words, we simply follow Anselm and Aquinas. That’s why I’m unwilling to let Calvin slide and conclude: “Oh this is just a theological pecadillo of Calvin.”

    If I were still Reformed, I would go about it like this: “Yes, this aspect of Calvin’s teaching is troublesome. However, the Reformed tradition at large has corrected it or ignored it.” You have stated this argument before, and that’s cool. I don’t quite understand the change in focus and the need to vindicate Calvin on this point when it’s incorrect and Reformed theology seems to distance itself from it.

    Chris, do you now agree with Calvin on this point?

  67. Chris; I haven’t said that there is no place for substitution. I would in fact say that what I have fleshed out above assumes substitution. I haven’t said that Christ didn’t bear the curse either, but that He wasn’t accursed. There is an important difference. Christ sufferd death, but not damnation. And it seems to me that this false idea – that Christ was accursed on the Cross (or after) – is in fact assumed by Calvin in this sentence quoted by Taylor: “Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death.” This goes beyone substitution and participation — and into the realm of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). And I believe PSA is a heresy.

  68. Chris,

    I have enjoyed reading your responses to this post. This bit is especially good:

    … but your [KK's] point seems to gloss over Gal 3:13. Jesus, in some sense, bore the curse as Israel’s representative, quite literally and historically—not in some abstract theological sense. I think this means more than you want it to, but possibly less than what some Calvinists do.

    This discussion calls to mind this bit of Scott Hahn’s book, Kinship by Covenant, as excerpted on Jason Stellman’s blog back in July:

    The logical corollary of Paul’s view of the Abrahamic covenant is that the Mosaic covenant is secondary and subordinate. Moreover, its definitive shape is achieved, not in the earlier Sinai or Wilderness legislation (Exod 20 – Num 36), but in the book of Deuteronomy (i.e., the Book of the Law), where it is ratified by curses invoked and pronounced by Moses and the Levites (Deut 27-30)…. Christ’s curse-bearing death on the cross simultaneously bears and expiates the Deuteronomic covenant curses and releases the Abrahamic blessings promised to the nations at the [binding of Isaac]” (emphases original throughout).

    Could it be that Hahn has put his finger upon a substitutionary, moreover, penalty-bearing, aspect of the Atonement?

    This biblical-theological approach, in which Christ does not simply bear some generic divine wrath towards sin, but specifically agrees to bear the curses of the Deuteronomic covenant, might help us sort through the specifically theological and Trinitarian questions which are elicited by construing the Atonement as, in some sense, involving penal substitution.

    PSA is often predicated upon the notion that God, as a necessary expression of his essence, had to pour out his wrath upon sinners, or at least upon somebody. However, it could be that penal substitution implies that God, as a matter of faithfulness to his covenant, had to bring the Deuteronomic curses to bear upon Israel. And it is precisely in this respect that the Christ becomes a curse for us. (Galatians 3.13)

    Of course, I am not trying to play off the divine essence against the divine covenants. I am trying to suggest that a helpful way to get at the implications of the Atonement vis-a-vis the former is make our approach through the latter.

    I think that you are right to suggest that “there is some place for a (carefully nuanced) PSA in any discussion revolving around the atonement.

  69. I think that PSA (penal substitution atonement) is taking on too much baggage. As Bryan Cross recently demonstrated previously, and as Andrew Preslar also just explained, there is a sense in which Christ’s work is “penal” “substitutionary” and “atonement”. I don’t want anyone to be confused by thinking that Rome rejects this language per se. As I tried to stress in the original post, the “extrinsic” element in Calvin is under question (e.g. swapping places strictly speaking: Jesus goes to Hell; We go to Heaven).

    Catholics differ from Calvin on A) the nature of the atonement in general; and B) in particular with the notion that Christ was damned in hell.

    The core problem is “hell on the cross” or alternatively “Christ suffering in hell”. It is related to (A) above, but not synonymous with it.

  70. The problem with PSA is, IMHO, that it almost always removes any participation on our end. ISTM that PSA says: Christ suffered and died so that I don’t have to. But to me, the core of the atonement is not that Christ suffered and died so that I don’t have to, but that Christ suffered and died so that my suffering and death may be transformed, and I might be granted the grace to become a partaker of the divine nature. St. Paul says: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” (Phil 1,21)

  71. Kjetil,

    I agree that the participatory dimension of the atonement is essential. If PSA simply means that Christ suffered and died so that I don’t have to, then it would seem to be exclusive of participation and therefore inadequate.

    In my experience, PSA is too often construed, explicitly or implicitly, in manner that excludes our participation in the all-sufficient sacrifice of Calvary. In this way, at least, PSA carries too much baggage, as Taylor says.

    However, I do believe that instead of simply chucking the idea of penal substitution we should seek to disengage it from the baggage with which it is all too often encumbered. In my opinion and per Taylor’s post, this discardable “baggage” would include the notion that Our Lord suffered the pains of the damned, either on the Cross or in the Netherworld.

  72. Taylor, I am not reneging on what I’ve written earlier with respect to Calvin’s troublesome view here. Yet I’m not quite convinced it’s tantamount to heresy. I have a very, very slow trigger when it comes to that word, and I can say without doubt I’d be the same way were I Catholic. I would add, again, that the problem with Calvin on this score lies more with his cultural and philosophical presuppositions (which he shared with the world around him) than with what hairetikos implies. Put differently, I think the same thing about transubstantiation. How unfortunate that it’s most commonly defended with an appeal to (questionable) philosophical categories! The way forward, I gather as you guys know, has already been suggested by the Pope (see point “a,” p. 85). For those of us who already confess the true and real presence of Christ in the Supper, this is a breath of fresh air.

    Which brings me to another point. I think the way through this particular discussion (with an eye on communion) lies in the realm (at the risk of suggesting an unnecessary bifurcation) of covenantal biblical theology. And by the way, Andrew, thank you for recognizing those elements in what I’ve written above and for further highlighting—a lá Hahn—a few more crucial points. This, incidentally (with respect to the telos of Called to Communion), is in my opinion the route to take. You folks want to further the discussion with the Reformed? Engage their redemptive-historical biblical theology, that’s where the tradition has been and will continue to go for some time.

  73. Chris Donato,

    Thank you for this discussion. I hear what you’re saying and deeply appreciate it. I also am grateful for your patience. I also understand how loaded the term “heresy” is.

    I agree that we should be stressing commonalities and identify and rejoice in truth where ever we see it. Surely, the Reformed tradition isn’t all wrong. Moreover, the Reformed tradition is certainly closer to Rome, than say, Evangelicalism at large. Still, we should be able to call a spade a spade. For example, the term “idolater” is categorically worse than “heretic” and yet that is what your confession calls us (cf. WCF 24:3, 29:6). I don’t think that I’m an idolater, but I certainly understand why the Reformed tradition thinks that I am an idolater. I also don’t expect the Reformed tradition to take back the language.

    We don’t need to gloss over these things and be “ecumenically correct.” These are not novel claims. Calvin makes Hillaire Belloc’s list as one of the great “heretics” of the Church History, right along there with Arius in his famous work *The Great Heresies* (in fact Calvin is on the cover of the latest edition of the book!):

    See pic and/or order the book
    http://www.amazon.com/Great-Heresies-Hilaire-Belloc/dp/0895554755

    G.K. Chesterton also has some rather hard things to say about Calvin, as well. Chesterton even lumps Calvin in with Manicheanism – but I’ll admit that he goes too far in this. This is probably an example of Chesterton’s rhetorical exaggeration.

    In Pope Pius XI’s Rerum Omnium Perturbationem (canonizing Francis de Sales), the Holy Father repeatedly refers to the Protestants in Geneva as “the heretics”:

    “22. The first missionary sent deserted the held of battle, either because he despaired of converting these heretics or because he feared them. But St. Francis de Sales who, as We have pointed out, had already offered himself for missionary work to the Bishop of Geneva, started on foot in September, 1594, without food or money, and accompanied by no one except a cousin of his, to take up this work.”

    All that being said, I don’t know if I would be a Catholic if I hadn’t received a strong biblical formation in Reformed circles. The kind of rigor required at WTS (studying Scripture almost only in Hebrew and Greek) is far beyond the training provided at most Catholic institutions. I think I speak for all the guys at CtC when I say that we are each deeply indebted to our Reformed formation. For many of us, we learned to love and worship Christ as Reformed Christians before we were Catholic Christians. Certainly the Holy Spirit was active within us and still in working in our family and friends who worship in the Reformed tradition.

    PS: The quote from Ratzinger’s *God is Near Us* refers to a “transformation” of the elements. The next sentence reads: “there was something new there that was not there before.” But what about Westminster Confession of Faith 29, 5: “in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.” To me this seems like two contrary notions of the Eucharist. Is there a way of seeing them as complementary?

  74. I do not want to interject myself into your conversation Taylor and Chris – but I had to add something I read recently regarding Calvin’s 500th (his birthday). Some “protestants” were explaining that Calvin’s “heresy” of “limited atonement” and his deep hatred and grudge against Michael Servetus was the beginning of the Unitarian “faith”. In Geneva, where Calvin had the most control, the memorial to Michael Servetus is more honored than Calvin.

    As Catholics we do not agree with Unitarians either, but did one “heresy” bring forth the bad fruit of another “heresy”? I don’t know…I am only thinking out loud on “e- paper”.

    Blessings and pardon the interruption :-)
    Teri

  75. Taylor, I too have enjoyed this coversation, and I appreciate the time you’ve given to engage my thoughts.

    Considering what I do (and for whom) for a living, it’d be easy to assume that I’d be desirous to defend Westminster. I do not. So, it might be helpful to know where I’m coming from: I’ve been Anglican (and a bit Lutheran) since the mid-90s college days. Since 2000 I’ve been in Reformed circles (having gone to RTS), and have been pretty comfortable here precisely because of how broad those circles are (e.g., Ligonier is not a “Presbyterian” ministry, etc.). So, the talk of “transformation” with respect to the Eucharist isn’t appalling to me, as long as we’re using biblical theology (not Aristotle!) to get there. I’m not saying I agree with the Pope on that point, I’m just saying I don’t consider it as problematic as earlier formulations.

    Thanks also for reminding me that we ought not shirk from doing the hard thing—calling a spade a spade. It is not my personality to do so at times for the sake of peace, but I understand how this is often guilty of promulgating a false kind of peace.

    And, by the way, peace to you and yours.

  76. Hey, Chris.

    So, the talk of “transformation” with respect to the Eucharist isn’t appalling to me, as long as we’re using biblical theology (not Aristotle!) to get there.

    Dat’s cool, dog.

    But of course Aristotle wouldn’t get us there. I mean Aristotle would think the thing incoherent, even if he would have thought each of the categories used in the description (‘substance’, ‘accident’) were individually coherent. Maybe I need to go back and read more, but I’ve never understood the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence to require former acceptance of Aristotelian metaphysics, no more than I think Aristotelian metaphysics would get you to the Real Presence. To use more Aristotelian jargon, there’s a form and a substance thing to consider with respect to the content of the doctrine. If the explanatory form is Aristotelian in its deployment of certain categories then I think that that is not necessarily harmful. “Aristotle” gets us there only in the sense that we can mine for some terms that will allow us to state what we’re trying to say without obviously contradicting ourselves.

    Maybe I’m too weak a Catholic on this point, but I don’t think so.

    Best,

    Neal

  77. Hi, Neal.

    I didn’t mean to imply that Aristotelianism is integral to Catholic dogma on the Eucharist; I intended to suggest that with my hat tip to Pope Benedict above. Again, as stated above, I do think it unfortunate that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is most commonly defended with an appeal to (questionable) philosophical categories.

    To my mind, the Aristotelian categories don’t help the formulation of this particular doctrine at all.

  78. Chris,

    Yeah, I figured you’d have a sensible position about this. To my mind the Aristotelian categories don’t hurt, and if you mean by “don’t help the formulation of this particular doctrine” that they don’t help to render it perfectly clear and fully intelligible and so forth then I’d agree. But I think that’s got a lot more to do with the Real Presence than it has to do with Aristotelian categories, frankly.

    I sympathize with the plight of the guys who had to say something about it without just stammering or just shrugging their shoulders.

    Neal

  79. Chris,

    I’m impressed by Neal’s “Dat’s cool dog,” and Taylor’s “Tru dat” and Jason’s “peeps.” I can imagine this stuff sprinkled throughout theology texts twenty years from now, becoming all things to all men, and all that. As for me and my house, it ain’t gonna happen. :-)

    But I was intrigued by this statement of yours:

    I do think it unfortunate that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is most commonly defended with an appeal to (questionable) philosophical categories.

    There are three words here that stand out to me: ‘unfortunate,’ ‘commonly,’ and ‘questionable.’ I’ve never encountered a claim that wasn’t capable of being questioned, and thus “questionable.” Even God, who is a necessary being, is called into question, and hence ‘questionable.’ That’s why I never use the term, because I’ve found it to be too indefinite to be of any philosophical use. The distinction between substance and accident (or appearance) is more certainly known than just about anything else in philosophy, and even more certainly known than anything in the empirical sciences. I’m curious to know what concerns you have about it.

    The reason the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is “commonly” defended in these categories is because it has been dogmatically and infallibly defined in terms of a change in substance, the appearances of bread and wine remaining. The Fourth Lateran Council (Twelfth Ecumenical) (1215) says this:

    In which [Church] there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us. And this sacrament no one can effect except the priest who has been duly ordained in accordance with the keys of the Church, which Jesus Christ Himself gave to the Apostles and their successors. (Canon 1)

    And the Council of Trent (19th Ecumenical), as you know, says:

    First of all, the holy council teaches and openly and plainly professes that after the consecration of bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained in the august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the appearance of those sensible things. For there is no repugnance in this that our Savior sits always at the right hand of the Father in heaven according to the natural mode of existing, and yet is in many other places sacramentally present to us in His own substance by a manner of existence which, though we can scarcely express in words, yet with our understanding illumined by faith, we can conceive and ought most firmly to believe is possible to God. For thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ and who treated of this most holy sacrament, have most openly professed that our Redeemer instituted this wonderful sacrament at the last supper, when, after blessing the bread and wine, He testified in clear and definite words that He gives them His own body and His own blood. Since these words, recorded by the holy Evangelists and afterwards repeated by St. Paul, embody that proper and clearest meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers, it is a most contemptible action on the part of some contentious and wicked men to twist them into fictitious and imaginary tropes by which the truth of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, as the pillar and ground of truth, recognizing with a mind ever grateful and unforgetting this most excellent favor of Christ, has detested as satanical these untruths devised by impious men. (Sess. 13, chap 1)

    This has always been the belief of the Church of God, that immediately after the consecration the true body and the true blood of our Lord, together with His soul and divinity exist under the form of bread and wine, the body under the form of bread and the blood under the form of wine ex vi verborum but the same body also under the form of wine and the same blood under the form of bread and the soul under both, in virtue of that natural connection and concomitance whereby the parts of Christ the Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die , are mutually united; also the divinity on account of its admirable hypostatic union with His body and soul. Wherefore, it is very true that as much is contained under either form as under both. For Christ is whole and entire under the form of bread and under any part of that form; likewise the whole Christ is present under the form of wine and under all its parts. (Sess. 13, chap. 3)

    But since Christ our Redeemer declared that to be truly His own body which He offered under the form of bread, it has, therefore, always been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy council now declares it anew, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a change is brought about of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation. (Sess. 13, chap. 4)

    And in the first four canons of Session 13 of the Council of Trent we find the same:

    Canon 1. If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema.

    Canon 2. If anyone says that in the sacred and, holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.

    Canon 3. If anyone denies that in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist the whole Christ is contained under each form and under every part of each form when separated, let him be anathema.

    Canon 4. If anyone says that after the consecration is completed, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are not in the admirable sacrament of the Eucharist, but are there only in usu, while being taken and not before or after, and that in the hosts or consecrated particles which are reserved or which remain after communion, the true body of the Lord does not remain, let him be anathema.

    That position is not a new one. The Roman Council of 1079 required Berengarius to affirm the following oath:

    I Berengarius, in my heart believe and with my lips confess that through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of our Redeemer the bread and wine which are placed on the altar are substantially changed into the true and proper and living flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and that after consecration is it the true body of Christ which was born of the Virgin and which, offered for the salvation of the world, was suspended on the Cross, and which sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and the true blood of Christ, which was poured out from His side not only through the sign and power of the sacrament, but in its property of nature and in truth of substance, as here briefly in a few words is contained and I have read and you understand. Thus I believe, nor will I teach contrary to this belief. So help me God and these holy Gospels of God. (Sixth Roman Council, 1079)

    And that’s quite in keeping with St. Ignatius of Antioch (107):

    “[The Docetics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His graciousness, raised from the dead. And so denying the gift of God, these men perish in their disputatiousness.”

    Justin Martyr (165):

    For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

    St. Athanasius (d. 373):

    But when the great and wonderous prayers have been recited, then the bread becomes the body and the cup the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….When the great prayers and holy supplications are sent up, the Word descends on the bread and the cup, and it becomes His body.”

    St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 387):

    Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, ‘is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer'; not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, ‘This is My Body.’

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 388):

    He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood?”.

    St. Ambrose (d. 397):

    Now we, as often as we receive the Sacramental Elements, which by the mysterious efficacy of holy prayer are transformed into the Flesh and the Blood, ‘do show the Lord’s Death’ (1 Cor 11:26). … Then He added: ‘For My Flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink [indeed].’ Thou hearest Him speak of His Flesh and of His Blood, thou perceivest the sacred pledges, [conveying to us the merits and power] of the Lord’s death, and thou dishonourest His Godhead. Hear His own words: ‘A spirit hath not flesh and bones.’ Now we, as often as we receive the Sacramental Elements, which by the mysterious efficacy of holy prayer are transformed into the Flesh and the Blood, “do show the Lord’s Death.’

    St. Chrysostom (d. 407)

    “It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.”

    And St. Augustine (d. 430):

    “You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That Bread which you see on the altar, consecrated by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what the chalice holds, consecrated by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through those accidents the Lord wished to entrust to us His Body and the Blood which He poured out for the remission of sins.”

    So it seems to me that what the Sixth Council of Rome says in 1079, and what the Fourth Lateran says in 1215, is very much along the lines of what the early Church Fathers are saying in the first four centuries. So, what I see is clear continuity, even as there is a deepening in understanding.

    That’s why I don’t understand why you’re fine with “transformation” and yet uncomfortable with “transubstantiation.” It is as if you are more certain there is a form that is changed, than that there is a substance that is changed. But, how are you more certain that there is a form there, than that there is a substance there? I’m not seeing the big difference between transformation, and transubstantiation. Which form is changed? Not the appearances, obviously, since the consecrated elements look the same before and after the consecration. So what other form is left to be changed than the substantial form? If there is nothing other than appearances, then I don’t know what it means to speak of a transformation, unless one is talking about a subjective change in the observer. But that’s not what the Fathers and the councils are talking about (I hope you will agree). So the transformation has to be in the elements. But if it is not in the appearances (since they don’t change), then I don’t see what else it can be than the substance. And at that point, I don’t see any reason to fight: “It is the substantial form that is changed, and not the whole substance.” Really? We’d draw our lines in the sand right there, and fight over that? At that point, if I were a Protestant, I don’t see why we wouldn’t just say, enough, and be reconciled already, if that was the hangup. It just doesn’t seem to me that at that point, the case from Scripture is going to be knock-down one way or the other. So, I don’t see any good reason not to just go with the Church on that one.

    The last term (‘unfortunate’) is perhaps the most important of all. What is the standard for what is fortunate and what is unfortunate, when the Church defines dogma? From the Catholic point of view, the Holy Spirit is infallibly guiding the Church whenever she defines dogma. So when the Church dogmatically defines the Eucharist by means of the term ‘transubstantiation,’ for us this is the term chosen by the Holy Spirit to help the Church clarify the truth about the Eucharist, just as homoousias was chosen by Nicea. Thinking about it in this way, from this perspective, there is no room to think of it as unfortunate, because when God is infallibly guiding His Church in formulating a dogma, the wording cannot justifiably be called unfortunate, unless fortune is placed above God Himself.

    If God is not guiding ecumenical councils when they declare dogma, then why should anyone care what they said? But if God is guiding them, then how can we call what they teach ‘unfortunate’? That’s the dilemma that struck me when I read the word ‘unfortunate.’

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  80. Bryan, thanks for taking the time to write out this respose. Very helpful seeing it all together.

    I can only respond with disbelief (you might prefer “unbelief”) — disbelief with respect to the idea that “the Holy Spirit is infallibly guiding the Church whenever she defines dogma.” Maybe I’m too cynical, but to my mind it requires a leap of faith I currently cannot fathom. I think we can get it really, really wrong. And thus I prefer to operate from a stance of grace, which dictates that we be very, very slow and careful about what we define as dogma, so as to not unnecessarily — or inadvertently — exclude brothers and sisters from fellowship. And that, incidentally, is the difference (to my mind) between the Fathers and the later councils. No doubt they’re consistent with each other, but their opinions had yet to be codified—and that to me seems to be a good thing.

  81. Chris,

    If the Church could “get it really, really wrong” when she defines dogma, hands on the faith, etc., then it would follow that we know next to nothing with any certainty about Christ, His gospel, the canon, etc., including transformation of the bread and wine. It makes no sense to me that Christ would humble Himself to become man, subject Himself to all the unimaginable sufferings of His Passion, institute His Church and commission His Apostles to go to the ends of the world with the gospel, and then fail to ensure a means to protect His Church from error in retaining and teaching the deposit of faith. The notion is entirely unbefitting to deity.

    But my point was really about transformation and transubstantiation, and how if a person accepts transformation, then I can’t see any reason why he would treat transubstantiation as a ground for schism. (I mean that sincerely — I simply don’t see it, for the reasons I laid out in my previous comment.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  82. Dear Chris,

    You said: “And thus I prefer to operate from a stance of grace, which dictates that we be very, very slow and careful about what we define as dogma, so as to not unnecessarily — or inadvertently — exclude brothers and sisters from fellowship. And that, incidentally, is the difference (to my mind) between the Fathers and the later councils. No doubt they’re consistent with each other, but their opinions had yet to be codified—and that to me seems to be a good thing.”

    Are you sure that people during the patristic era were not exluded from fellowship for denying the truths that the Fathers above taught about the Eucharist? You may be right that they weren’t, but given the vehemence of this patristic teaching, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  83. Bryan Cross: To follow up your comment to Chris Donato, on what grounds would you say that we know that the Roman church and only the Roman church is the church that has been protected from error in retaining and teaching the deposit of faith? If you have written on this elsewhere, I’d be happy to read where you point us.

  84. Chris,

    One more thing, in light of #82. I assume you agree that it would be a “good thing” for a doctrine not to be dogmatically defined, only if the doctrine were unimportant or no heresy threatened the doctrine. But surely it belongs ultimately to the teaching office of the Church to decide whether a doctrine is important and/or whether some heresy is threatening the doctrine. Otherwise the Arians could use these same reasons to call into question the decision at Nicea in 325. The Arians could claim that prior to the Council of Nicea, it was a was a good thing that the various opinions regarding the Son had yet to be codified, and that they prefer to take things slowly, operate from the stance of grace, not exclude brothers from fellowship, and so forth. You see how they could use precisely the same reasons to justify disregarding the Council of Nicea. And the Macedonians could respond to the Council of Constantinople (381) in the same way, the Nestorians to Ephesus (431) in the same way, the monophysites to Chalcedon (451), etc., etc. The point is that these reasons would undermine the authority of every ecumenical council, not just every actual ecumenical council, but every possible ecumenical council. They could in principle even have been used to disregard the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. Why? What is it about these reasons that would undermine every possible ecumenical council? These reasons presuppose that no ecumenical council has any more authority than does the individual judging them. They presuppose that the individual has as much or more authority than the teaching office of the Church to determine which stance is the stance of grace, which doctrines are orthodox and which are heretical, which doctrines are important, and which doctrines are being threatened by heresy.

    So the fundamental, underlying presupposition dividing us here is (unsurprisingly) about authority. Either the teaching office of the Church has highest teaching/interpretive authority in the Church, and we should accept its decisions, or, every individual has equal teaching/interpretive authority. Those seem to be the only two alternatives.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  85. “I think we can get it really, really wrong. And thus I prefer to operate from a stance of grace, which dictates that we be very, very slow and careful about what we define as dogma, so as to not unnecessarily — or inadvertently — exclude brothers and sisters from fellowship.”

    This is what the Catholic Church has done. Some of its controversies have taken centuries to conclude. How long was it before Luther et al. were willing to break communion and start their own enterprise(s)?

  86. Bryan Cross: You say, “The point is that these reasons would undermine the authority of every ecumenical council, not just every actual ecumenical council, but every possible ecumenical council. They could in principle even have been used to disregard the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15.” You will acknowledge, I’m sure, that your argument for the infallible authority of post-Acts 15 councils works provided that the conditions that made the Jerusalem Council infallibly authoritative also apply to the post-Acts 15 councils. Am I following your argument?

  87. Dr. White,

    I am not a theologian or scholar. I am a “simple housewife and mother with a simple faith”. However, if the “Roman” Church did not get it right and the “Reformers” did, why is there no unity in that faith? Why are their arguments and disunity even among the Reformed faith that hold to the WCF as to who is allowed to partake of the “Lord’s supper” and what is the proper “fencing on the table”?

    I am not being intentionally argumentative – I sincerely want to know. The group of 20 or so Protestants who are in my RCIA class at our parish agree this is the number one reason they began to investigate the claims of the Catholic faith. After initially reading the Early Church Father’s, they knew that there was only one church that was still persecuted as “pagan”, superstitous and detestable in their practice of “consuming human flesh and blood” – The Roman Catholic Church.

    Disunity among the Reformed and other denominations all holding to sola scriptura goes against Christ’s prayer that “they all be as one”. If Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, then His Church must show that “One” to the world. If the Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion and in fact is the opposite according to Genesis, why is there so much confusion and fighting over who has “the faith handed down once for all the saints”?

    I know this is simplistic, but as I said, I have learned to trust with a simple faith. In the year celebrating Calvin’s 500th birthday, the city of Geneva has more people at mass on Sunday than any other group of Protestant churches. The attendence has dropped for all, but in a city that was set on a hill for the truth of the gospel, the Church has prevailed.

    Dr. R.C. Sproul said that the Catholic Church ceased to be “the Church” when it lost the gospel which is justification by faith alone. My simple answer is that if we believe that, we should all close down our Bibles and blogs and do something else. That Church has never taught sola fide – not in the beginning, not in the Bible, not in tradition. If that is the measure of the true Church then we never had one and that disqualifies what they said was scripture, the Trinity, Christ being fully God and fully man, etc.

    Logically from a simple point of view, how can anyone still hold that the Catholic Church is not the teacher of the faith that was handed down once for all the saints? It all is dependendant on Christ’s promise to His Church – and She did not cease to be that Church. The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.

    May the peace of Christ be with your spirit,
    Teri

  88. rfwhite, (re: #83)

    [O]n what grounds would you say that we know that the Roman church and only the Roman church is the church that has been protected from error in retaining and teaching the deposit of faith?

    Scripture and Tradition.

    In Scripture, Christ changes Peter’s name, and tells him “upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”, and gives to him (singular) the keys of the Kingdom. In this act Jesus gives to Peter both preeminent authority over the universal Church, and protection from heresy. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, because they will not prevail against the rock upon which Christ builds the Church. Jesus, as a wise man, builds His House not on the sand, but on the rock. “… yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:25) Because of this protection from error given to Peter (but not to the other Apostles apart from Peter) Peter is made the Church’s visible principle of unity, that in relation to which schism is determined. So in giving Peter protection from heresy, Jesus also gave Peter protection from schism. As St. Ambrose said,

    “It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18]. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal” (Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David 40:30 [A.D. 389]).

    Jesus also commissions Peter three times to feed His sheep, in John 21. And in John 20, Peter pulls in the fish, all 153, and the net is not torn. These, of course, represent all the nations. Jesus also prays especially for Peter, that his faith would not fail, and then commissions him to strengthen his brothers. (Luke 22:32) Christ’s prayer is more efficacious than anything in the universe. When Christ prays for something according to the divine will, we can be assured that His prayer is answered.

    As for Tradition, the primacy of Peter, and thus the primacy of the Church of Rome wherein was established his apostolic chair, is the consensus of the Fathers. See Dom John Chapman’s Studies on the Early Papacy, Adrian Fortescue’s The Early Papacy: To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, see also Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96 – 454, edited by E. Giles. See also Upon This Rock, by Stephen Ray, and The Russian Church and the Papacy by Vladimir Soloviev. Here’s a sample of statements by the Fathers. And here’s a bit of evidence that Peter was in Rome. (There is much more, but here’s just a sample.)

    The Church is the Kingdom spoken of in Daniel 2. This is the Kingdom not made by human hands. It becomes a great mountain, and fills the earth. According to Daniel it overcomes the prior kingdom (i.e. Rome), and endures forever. All the nations of the earth stream to it (Is. 2), God gives judgments and verdicts from it. Peter understood this. This is partly why he refers to Rome as Babylon (1 Pet 5:13). Rome was the continuation of that statue, whose head was Babylon, which represents the city of man at enmity against God, as we see in Gen 11. The Apostles understood that Christ’s Kingdom was the messianic kingdom described in the Old Testament. And the stewardship of this Kingdom was entrusted to Peter while the Master (Christ) was away. (We see this in the parables.) This is at least part of the reason why Peter went to Rome. It wasn’t just evangelistic strategy. It was, in a sense, to overcome the last kingdom of the ‘city of man’, right at its head, not by force, obviously, but by the word of their testimony, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and not loving their lives, even unto death.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  89. rfwhite (#86),

    You will acknowledge, I’m sure, that your argument for the infallible authority of post-Acts 15 councils works provided that the conditions that made the Jerusalem Council infallibly authoritative also apply to the post-Acts 15 councils. Am I following your argument?

    As you know, to be an Apostle, one had to have seen the Lord. This gave the Apostles the unique authority that comes from being an eyewitness of the incarnate Christ. But, being an eyewitness was not sufficient to be an Apostle. One had to be sent by Christ. This was a different kind of authority from the authority of an eyewitness. (The two kinds of authority do not compete; they are fully compatible.) This second kind of authority we (Catholics/Orthodox) call “Holy Orders.” Eyewitness authority could only endure for 70 years or so after the resurrection of Christ. But, Holy Orders were not limited to eyewitnesses, and hence can (and do) endure to this day, by succession. The Apostles ordained many persons to succeed them, not as Apostles, but with the apostolic authority they themselves had received from Christ, through what we call Holy Orders, i.e. the divine authorization to teach and govern the Church in Christ’s name, as His representatives, binding and loosing with His authority. Apostolic succession, as we use the term, does not mean that all the successors of the Apostles have seen the Lord as eyewitnesses. Because these successors have not seen the Lord as eyewitnesses, they are not Apostles in the strict sense, but are subordinate in authority to the Apostles, from whom they received the apostolic deposit. Apostolic succession, as we use the term, refers to the succession of apostolic authority, which the Apostles gave through ordination to those bishops whom they chose to succeed them as stewards and teachers of that apostolic deposit, and as shepherds of the Church Christ had founded.

    So, what gave the later ecumenical councils authority is exactly what gave the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 authority, not eyewitness authority, but the authority of Holy Orders. We see also here in the Jerusalem Council the role of Peter, who gives the final verdict. This is a necessary condition for any subsequent ecumenical council to be ecumenical.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  90. Dear Chris Donato,

    Again, thank your this exchange. I too agree that we should be patient and charitable toward brothers and sisters. However, wouldn’t you agree that the comes a point where doctrinal clarity is required?

    For example, your confession of faith (WCF) calls me an “idolater”–the reason for this, no doubt, is that I worship the Eucharist as the Lord Jesus Christ. If the bread is still substantially bread, then this qualifies as idolatry and I am in fact an idolater. This is why Calvin called us idolaters and also why nearly every PCA session in America would exclude me from the Lord’s table because I hold this so-called “idolatrous” position. The PCAs conviction is actually one of charity–someone shouldn’t receive the PCAs communion if he is an idolater.

    The Catholic position even more so. In the PCA, Presbyterians: A) do not acknowledge the change in substance defined by The Fourth Lateran Council (1215); B) They don’t “acknowledge the body of the Lord (either substantially or ecclesiastically a la 1 Corinthians); C) They do not acknowledge the sacrificial aspect of the Mass; D) They deny the liturgy of the Mass which does invoke saints at times; and E) they reject the papacy and the apostolic succession of the local bishop–both are commemorated in the Mass.

    Consequently, its impossible to “include” Protestants since they would “protest” elements of the Holy Mass nearly every five minutes during the liturgy.

    So you are welcome to enjoy Eucharistic communionem in sacris if you would like to do so–but only if you truly believe what the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is and what the liturgy says.

    You are invited to join us, but do you really want to come?

  91. Teri: thank you for waiting on my response to your comments and questions. You raise several good points for discussion. In your first quesiton, you ask, “why there is no unity in that faith [the Reformed faith]“? So that we are not using a double standard as we talk and not talking past each other, help me out by describing what you count as unity.

  92. Dr. White,

    Thank you for remembering my question. I appreciate your kind spirit in response to questions posed to you, as well as charity in disagreeing with any answers. That is a rarity, unfortunately, that I’ve not witnessed since becoming a Catholic convert. I sincerely thank you.

    I do not normally spend Sunday on the computer/internet. I try to keep my heart and mind focused on Our Lord and in His rest if at all possible. My family enjoys time away from the “world”.

    However, I did not want you to think I was intentionally avoiding your question to me. If you check the CTC site tomorrow, I’ll try to explain my “simple” position. You must remember that I can’t debate philosophically or even theologically. The brilliant and kind gentlemen here are gracious to allow me a voice on a forum that is miles over my head.

    The only thing I bring is my genuine and deep love for Our Lord. To be madly in love with Him is what kindles my faith. I trust Him enough to follow Him and believe Him in all things. He is my life and to do anything else is unimaginable.

    May the Lord be with your spirit,
    Teri

  93. 88 Bryan C.: thanks again. Question: how, in your view, does the error for which the apostle Paul opposed the apostle Peter (according to Gal 2.11ff.) relate to Peter’s protection from heresy?

  94. rfrwhite,

    St Peter’s error (and it was an error) was one of behavior not teaching. The infallibility of the Petrine office does not include impeccability. The First Vatican Council explains the conditions under which the Petrine office is protected from error:

    1. That apostolic primacy which the Roman Pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching. This Holy See has always maintained this, the constant custom of the Church demonstrates it, and the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it.

    2. So the fathers of the fourth Council of Constantinople, following the footsteps of their predecessors, published this solemn profession of faith: The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of our lord Jesus Christ, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor. Since it is our earnest desire to be in no way separated from this faith and doctrine, we hope that we may deserve to remain in that one communion which the Apostolic See preaches, for in it is the whole and true strength of the Christian religion.

    What is more, with the approval of the second Council of Lyons, the Greeks made the following profession:
    “The Holy Roman Church possesses the supreme and full primacy and principality over the whole Catholic Church. She truly and humbly acknowledges that she received this from the Lord himself in blessed Peter, the prince and chief of the apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is, together with the fullness of power. And since before all others she has the duty of defending the truth of the faith, so if any questions arise concerning the faith, it is by her judgment that they must be settled.”

    Then there is the definition of the Council of Florence: “The Roman Pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and to him was committed in blessed Peter, by our lord Jesus Christ, the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole Church.”

    3. To satisfy this pastoral office, our predecessors strove unwearyingly that the saving teaching of Christ should be spread among all the peoples of the world; and with equal care they made sure that it should be kept pure and uncontaminated wherever it was received.

    4. It was for this reason that the bishops of the whole world, sometimes individually, sometimes gathered in synods, according to the long established custom of the Churches and the pattern of ancient usage referred to this Apostolic See those dangers especially which arose in matters concerning the faith. This was to ensure that any damage suffered by the faith should be repaired in that place above all where the faith can know no failing.

    5. The Roman pontiffs, too, as the circumstances of the time or the state of affairs suggested, sometimes by summoning ecumenical councils or consulting the opinion of the Churches scattered throughout the world, sometimes by special synods, sometimes by taking advantage of other useful means afforded by divine providence, defined as doctrines to be held those things which, by God’s help, they knew to be in keeping with Sacred Scripture and the apostolic traditions.

    6. For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

    Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.

    7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.

    8. But since in this very age when the salutary effectiveness of the apostolic office is most especially needed, not a few are to be found who disparage its authority, we judge it absolutely necessary to affirm solemnly the prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God was pleased to attach to the supreme pastoral office.

    9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

    So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. (Vatican I, Session 4, Chapter 4)

    St. Peter, in ceasing to eat with the Gentile Christians when the Jewish Christians showed up, was not exercising his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians to define a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church. Hence, he could, and in this case did, err. And it wasn’t the first time he was in the wrong — he had previously tried to tell Jesus that He wouldn’t need to suffer, and then he denied Jesus three times. Jesus chose a weak and uneducated fisherman, to show forth His power, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men, and His power is perfected and beautifully shown forth in [human] weakness.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  95. Pagans and liberal “Christians” find it hard to believe that God guided the composition of the books of Holy Scripture, through the agency of imperfect men, and that said books teach, for the reason of God’s superintention rather than man’s luck, the revelation of God without error. But since conservative Protestants can affirm this miracle with a book that was written and compiled over the course of many centuries, on what principled ground can we stand in our objection to the Catholic understanding of conciliar and papal infallibility? If we deny that popes can be highly sinful in one sense, yet sometimes infallible, or that the rest of the bishops can be themselves capable of sin, yet in certain circumstances capable of defining doctrine infallibly, we cut ourselves off from our own beloved doctrine of scripture’s inerrancy. The amount of faith that would be required of me to believe in the Church is no greater than the amount of faith that I must have to think I’m doing something useful when I read my bible.

  96. 92 Teri: I appreciate your comments and priorities. Perhaps in the meantime I can help a little. First, I’m with you: simplicity is no vice in theological discussion. More to the focus of your comments, disunity, wherever we see it, is a fruit of our finiteness and carnality. As creatures, we are limited by time and space and so our perspective is naturally local and provincial until we are required to be otherwise. As sinners, we are touched in every part and capacity by sin. Division arises from both considerations. To my mind, the dynamic affected the church before the limits of the canon were recognized. The reality of disunity among created sinners is certainly sorrowful, but it is hardly surprising. What is remarkable is that God the Spirit has not given all created sinners irrevocably over to division.

  97. #96
    Dr. White,
    I am glad you that you clarified your position so that we are not talking past one another. I think we all agree that is an enormous obstruction in the dialogue between Catholics and the Reformed/Protestant.

    As a cradle Protestant that converted to the Catholic Church, I have a rather large collection of books, journals, articles and the like trying to understand my own heritage before making a decision to leave it behind. I will not go into the circumstances that led up to this crisis of faith in my own life, but suffice it to say, it was a crisis of faith in Protestantism, not in faith in Our Lord.

    In all honesty, Dr. White, I have never held even the slightest regard for John Calvin. As I have stated on this website before, my brother in law is a member and elder of a Reformed Church that split early from the PCA over the FV/NPP controversy early on. They considered themselves “more reformed” because they believe and confess the original WCF as their rule of faith and practice. They are also veiled racists, Theonomist, Dominon, etc. This is astonishing considering he is a Doctor of Medicine with superior intellect. I apologize if you are a follower of Rushdooney, Bahnsen, etc. I have “half-listened” to my brother in law espound on their brilliance regarding subduing the earth, ad nauseum. If my brother in law is part of the group that is going to be in charge of subduing the earth, I fear for most everyone, as his patience is quite limited.

    I believe that this ” Kingdom” exists already and the “laws or rules of faith” are already defined and those of us who belong to it, no matter what country we live in, know what we as Christians are called to believe. I just feel it’s another case of “re-inventing the wheel”.

    I apologize as I digressed from the subject of unity. Getting back to the point – I see that we can’t discuss what we mean by unity because under Calvin’s definition the signs of a true church were defined as “the two sacraments rightly administered and the word of God is preached or perhaps correctly preached”.

    Yet, I understand that some or all of the reformed churches recite the Nicene Creed which has the four marks of the church – One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. As the Catholic understands it:
    “The creed requires belief in the Catholic (universal) Church, whose origins are ancient and historical, going back to the Apostles themselves. Thus, the Church was built upon the faith and witness of the apostles. This witness survives through Apostolic Succession, wherein apostles appointed leaders, who themselves appointed leaders, a process continuing to this day. This Apostolic line survives today primarily in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Church is “holy” on account of Christ’s holiness and grace, and not because its members or leaders are perfect. In fact, at times throughout history, the Church has remained holy in spite of its members.”

    Our Unity as Catholic Christians is entirely different than the Reformed. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor maintained the man was a “prophet” and in the articles and journals speaking favorably about Calvin they felt he understood that he felt the Holy Spirit had given him a “prophetic ministry” in the sense of the O.T. prophets who warned Israel of it’s sin. Hence his appeal to the O.T. for punishments of sins rather than having them confessed and forgiven by a “Priest”.

    In my humble opinion, John Calvin did not reform the church. He was the founder of a New and different church. He felt at liberty to dismiss early church fathers that did not agree with him from their use of the sacraments to their understanding of scripture. He established a new church with it’s own system of worship style, different sacraments, different interpretation of scripture, different books of the canon of scripture. He taught “sola scriptura” and then went on to write large commentaries on the correct way to apply “sola scriptura” which was his interpretation.

    Martin Luther is, at least to my mind, a sympathetic figure. His harsh and abusive father and mother shaped his understanding of a God that was just as condemning and harsh. The man then joins an order of Augustinian monks that are extremely severe and then the poor man was trying to out do them in punishing himself for this God. I think he was genuinely seeking reform of abuses that had come in to the Church before he was used by the German Princes for their own means.

    I truly respect your charity and sincerity in dialogue, Dr. White. As I stated before, you are rare and refreshing in this aspect. As regards “unity” in the reformed and unity in the Catholic faith – they don’t seem to mean the same. At least, Dr. Clark at the Heidelblog (I think that is his name?) wants a unified group of Reformed that can have a definition that is clear on the proper fencing of the table, and with administration of discipline.

    I think he is referring to those who consider Reformed Baptist such as John Piper and even the late Spurgeon to be allowed table fellowship. He is correct in the true sense of Calvin’s Church – those that baptize adult believers only and not their infants are as bad as the Catholics.

    Whatever Calvin taught or wrote concerning God’s gift of grace, in reality of everyday life it seems to work itself out in a relationship of fear and thankfulness that The Sovereign God has elected you to salvation. He is a Sovereign King of Kings, but it seems to stop there.
    Christ’s life, death and resurrection brought us into union with God as His children that He loves and chastizes. Yet it is a family bond. The fear of God is one of majestic awe, not of His wrath continually.
    He seems to have re-created the vision of Luther’s “God who is never appeased and is most happy when he can catch you in iniquity.” What’s so amazing about Calvin’s idea of grace seems to be the amazement that you can find a tiny bit of it at all.

    The idea that being raped as a young, naive virgin at age 16 by a youth pastor invokes the need for me to marry him according to Deuteronomy 22 because I wasn’t betrothed at the time and because no one heard my cries for help (I was taken to an empty house so no one could hear my cries) I must marry to fulfill the laws of the Sovereign Lord.
    After being intimidated and forced into said marriage just turning 18 and not being able to endure the abuse and escaping, I am again condemned by the same passage that I should live with this man all the days of my life.
    Upon marrying my husband of 26 years (with two adult children), I am then condemned by Christ in Matthew’s gospel of divorce and remarriage.

    Only after talking with my kind and knowledgable parish Priest did I finally get clarity on this position. Yes, I must apply for an anullment, but it will be granted because God can not join as a sacrament in holy marriage a victim of a crime to her perpertrator. He explained that we view the O.T. ask Christ taught – looking back to all that it testified and prophesied of Him, not as a rule of faith under Jewish law. He also explained that the “reformers” put marriage in the hands of the state and that gave the state the right to join or undo what God had joined together. God however did not give Calvin nor the state that position.

    I pray as Our Lord prayed for unity among His disciples – among all of us who love Him with fervent passion and feel that He cannot be pleased with so much division. The Unity is how the world understands us to be like Him who is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit. I truly pray that the spirit of pride and the need to win the argument will not stand for ever. My brother in law has already distanced himself from us, his own brother and myself, because of his committment to the WCF – that we are idolators, etc.

    My sincere prayers are with you, Dr. White. You are a kind man with a charitable spirit that is reflected in your writing – the love you feel for Our Lord. May He always lead and guide you. Wherever you see truth, I pray that your charitable and kind spirit will allow you to speak it.
    May His peace be with your spirit,
    Teri

  98. 88, 89, 94 Bryan C.: thanks for your responses.

  99. 97 Teri:

    Your narration of your personal history is painful to read, far more painful to live. May God grant you healing mercies.

    I hope you’ll chuckle with me when I respond to your description of my spirit with these words: “wait until after I disagree with you to tell me how charitable and kind I am.” I’m quite sure there are more than a few who would describe me otherwise and, at least sometimes, with cause. Beyond that, I’ll only say that, as someone else taught me, “to disagree before you understand is impertinent; to agree is inane.”

    Let me respond briefly to your comments. Your description of your past is a trail of tears that no man can heal. Only the Savior and Judge of all can set things right. I do not and would never presume to defend every word and deed of the Reformers or of those who claim them as forebears. I presume that you would say the same about the representatives of Rome.

    As far as our ability or inability to discuss what we mean by unity, I would say that you are right in this regard: our consideration of unity will have to take into account what we believe about how God has related church, scripture, and individual conscience.

  100. Taylor Marshall: At the end of your post, you asked, “Have I depicted Calvin rightly?” Leaving aside Calvin’s theory of the atonement (which is a topic worthy of close attention), you say, “after suffering in the body on the cross, Christ’s soul suffered tortures of the condemned in hell.”

    If I am reading you correctly, here you say that, according to Calvin, the Creed teaches two sufferings in sequence, the first on the cross and a second after the cross, in hell. I am not persuaded that Calvin says this in the citation. I do not find there language that asserts a distinction in the sequence of two suffering events. Rather Calvin asserts that the Creed presents (yes, in sequence) two perspectives — first human, second divine — on Christ’s suffering on the cross, the first phrase ["crucified, dead, and buried"] explaining what Christ endured “in the sight of (before) men,” the next phrase ["descended into hell"] adding an explanation of what He endured “before (in the sight of) God.” Help me out if I am missing something.

  101. rfwhite,

    From a historical point of view, the Apostles Creed speaks of the “descendit ad inferna” as an event distinct from the cross. Calvin has placed his explanation of Christ’s “feeling the weight of divine vengeance” under the heading of “descendit ad inferna” not under “crucifixus” in the ordering of the Creed. Consequently, I read Calvin as speaking of two different events: a bodily suffering (cross) and a spiritual suffering (descent).

    You know the Creed as well as I do: “crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus; descendit ad inferna.” The descent into Hell is AFTER the burial. It is a separate event. If Calvin is somehow rearranging the order so that “mortuus” is the same thing as “descendit ad inferna” then he’s manipulating the plain sense of the Creed. I, however, don’t think that Calvin is manipulating the Creed by overlapping “mortuus” and “descendit” as one single event. I think that he’s sees them as two events. This is the plain and obvious reading and it fits how he has arranged his discussion regarding the doctrines of the Creed.

    I see four reasons for this:

    1. Calvin’s Christology is implicitly and mildly Nestorian. The way Calvin speaks about Christ’s inability to be present in many places at one time in His humanity reveals this error.

    2. Calvin has failed to see that the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ is a full manifestation of Trinitarian life. Christ’s offering on the cross pleased the Father and revealed their relationship to us. It was not, as Calvin writes, “at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death.” Here we find Calvin tangled up in false “replacement” substitutionary notions without the proper Trinitarian framework.

    3. Calvin holds to an incorrect anthropology, especially as it touches Christ’s soul. The traditional doctrine is that the soul of Christ always beheld the beatific vision of God, even while on the cross and thus His soul was infinitely happy and content in this regard. Same goes for the divine nature of Christ – it’s impassible. See Aquinas Summa Theologiae III, q. 46, a. 8. for a full explanation of the fruition of joy that Christ’s soul beheld during the crucifixion. See also St. John Damascene Orthodox Faith III. Christ’s love for the Father remained in His soul and the Father retained a perfect bond of love with the Son.

    4. Calvin’s language reveals ‘two events.’ Notice how Calvin diminishes the death on the cross by saying: “Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death.” There must be something added to it in regards to “suffering” and to this Calvin adds his doctrine of “descendit ad inferna.”

  102. Taylor M.:

    I’m not sure I’m being understood, so allow me one more try. You may well be correct about the descent clause (article) of the Creed. You may well be correct that Calvin’s interpretation of that article is wrong. You may also be correct as you accept one interpretation and reject the other interpretations of the descent clause among the fathers. In addition, you may be correct about other aberrations in Calvin’s theology (their relevance is at least open to discussion). I am not debating those points. All those points may be true. My concern is directed at your reading of Calvin in the citation you provided. As others have noticed, Calvin is working his way seriatim through the clauses of the Creed (thus his placement of the discussion of the descent), and his thesis about the descent clause is that on the cross Christ not only suffered death in His body, but also suffered the pains of hell in His soul: in other words, what Christ endured on the cross, He endured in both body and soul. Disagree with that interpretation of the descent, disagree with other areas of his doctrine, you haven’t presented evidence from the citation or its context that Calvin is arguing for two chronologically successive events, one on the cross, the other after the cross. In the absence of that evidence, such a chronology is not plain and obvious, but appears to be read into the citation.

  103. rfwhite,

    Just to clarify, the article is not “Calvin’s Two-Event Theory of Christ’s Suffer in Hell.”

    My post highlights Calvin’s gravely erroneous position that our Lord suffered the pains of hell in His soul. As we covered in the previous comments, it really makes no difference whether Calvin taught that Christ suffered the pains of Hell on Good Friday at 2pm, 3pm, at 5pm, at 6pm, on Holy Saturday, or even on the day of Pentecost.

    Whether or not bodily death and suffering the pains of hell is two events, Calvin wrongly believed that Christ suffered the pains of Hell and that this suffering was a necessary element of atonement and redemption. We can argue back and forth over “when” it happened but Calvin did teach this peculiar doctrine…and it’s incorrect.

    Now, I also happen to believe that a plain reading of Calvin words teaches “two events” but the argument described above doesn’t hang on that interpretation. This is simply noted by the fact that the “death” and “descent” are logically and chronologically separated by “was buried” in the Creed and in Calvin’s treatment.

    I also think, as Chris Donato highlighted, that the bifurcated language in the Institutes quote from the original post betrays Calvin’s unorthodox view of the human person.

  104. rfwhite,

    Just to clarify, the article is not “Calvin’s Two-Event Theory of Christ’s Suffering in Hell.”

    My post highlights Calvin’s gravely erroneous position that our Lord suffered the pains of hell in His soul. As we covered in the previous comments, it really makes no difference whether Calvin taught that Christ suffered the pains of Hell on Good Friday at 2pm, 3pm, at 5pm, at 6pm, on Holy Saturday, or even on the day of Pentecost.

    Whether or not bodily death and suffering the pains of hell are two events, Calvin wrongly believed that Christ suffered the pains of Hell and that this suffering was a necessary element of atonement and redemption. We can argue back and forth over “when” Calvin thought it happened, but Calvin did teach this peculiar doctrine…and it’s incorrect.

    Now, I also happen to believe that a plain reading of Calvin words teaches “two events” but the argument described above doesn’t hang on that interpretation. This is simply noted by the fact that the “death” and “descent” are logically and chronologically separated by “was buried” in the Creed and in Calvin’s treatment.

    I also think, as Chris Donato highlighted, that the bifurcated language in the Institutes quote from the original post betrays Calvin’s unorthodox view of the human person.

  105. Hello. Done traveling for a week or so. Just in sum wanted to engage Bryan’s reductio (#84):

    So the fundamental, underlying presupposition dividing us here is (unsurprisingly) about authority. Either the teaching office of the Church has highest teaching/interpretive authority in the Church, and we should accept its decisions, or, every individual has equal teaching/interpretive authority. Those seem to be the only two alternatives.

    We of course have been down this road before. You should know I take church authority seriously. And I, in principle, agree with the first of the two alternatives listed above. But in practice, I don’t see a unified church today that has the authority to dictate such things. Hence my earlier contention (in some post in the past) that the first seven ecumenical councils are a good place to start when discussing authority and common ground.

    Way up there (#81) you wrote that…

    It makes no sense to me that Christ would humble Himself to become man, subject Himself to all the unimaginable sufferings of His Passion, institute His Church and commission His Apostles to go to the ends of the world with the gospel, and then fail to ensure a means to protect His Church from error in retaining and teaching the deposit of faith. The notion is entirely unbefitting to deity.

    IF our Lord promised such a thing, then yes I agree it would be unbefitting for him to fail to keep that promise. But what I see is Christ goading his body on toward triumph. Whether or not it does so before the parousia is, in a phrase, up for grabs.

  106. Dear Chris,

    I know you are engaging Bryan in dialogue, but I just wanted to say something briefly to your comment.

    Yesterday, our gospel reading from St. Mark ended with Our Lord rebuking the disciples for forbidding the little children from coming to Him. You know the story well – if we do not accept the Kingdom of God as a little child will not enter in.
    All the brilliant sermons and homilies aside, can you not allow Our Lord to take you as a little child and accept that He has not allowed the gates of Hell to prevail against His Church? It’s still here, Chris. Since the days of the Gnostics through the Arians, and through the time of the Reformation of the Catholic Church – who did not change her deposit of faith, but who Our Lord gave her the graces needed to continue.
    The Church is His Bride and if He is Savior, Lord and King, then He cannot allow one man or a thousand, no matter how wicked in themselves they might be, to destroy His betrothed that He gave His life for.
    May you know His peace,
    Teri

  107. Chris,

    The idea of Christ goading His Mystical Body on toward triumph, as from a distance, is quite related to the “Horton on Being Made One Flesh with Christ” post (and ensuing discussion in the comments), because only if the Church is an entity separated from Christ can the Church fail. If, however, the Church is the Body of Christ (and that isn’t a mere metaphor), and her soul is the Holy Spirit, then fighting against the Church is the equivalent of trying to snuff out the existence of a necessary being. It ain’t gonna happen. The Church will prevail until Christ comes in glory. (See my post titled “The Indefectibility of the Church.”) I have written about ecclesial docetism (in the “Christ Founded a Visible Church” article). Related to ecclesial docetism is ecclesial Nestorianism. Ecclesial Nestorianism is the notion that the Mystical Body of Christ (described in 1 Cor 12) is a separate being from Christ, related to Him only extrinsically (e.g. by promises, covenants, etc.). But in order to see the problem with ecclesial Nestorianism, we first have to agree that Nestorianism is heresy. (The disagreement on the Horton thread traces back to Nestorianism.) These things are all related, as is Eucharistic Nestorianism (i.e. Christ and the consecrated host are two distinct substances). The general Protestant notion is volitional, nominalistic, and replacement (Christ replaces us), whereas the general Catholic notion is ontological, realist, and participatory. These are two different underlying philosophies.

    But more fundamental is this issue of authority. So, you said:

    You should know I take church authority seriously. And I, in principle, agree with the first of the two alternatives listed above. But in practice, I don’t see a unified church today that has the authority to dictate such things. Hence my earlier contention (in some post in the past) that the first seven ecumenical councils are a good place to start when discussing authority and common ground.

    What does it mean to “take church authority seriously” if you don’t believe there is a unified church? Apparently you think the Church was unified, and authoritative, for roughly a thousand years. Then, when the Orthodox and Catholics split, you think the Church lost unity, and lost authority (even though neither the Catholics nor the Orthodox believe that). But, somehow, in your opinion, some various vestiges of the Church still exist, and each of them has *some* authority, at least enough for you to take it seriously. That makes no sense to me. On what ground does one of these ‘vestiges’ have any authority whatsoever?

    If the Church lost her authority a thousand years ago, then there is no such thing as taking Church authority seriously, because in that case there is no such thing as Church authority. Let each man do what is right in his own eyes.

    When St. Paul asks in 1 Cor 1, “Is Christ divided?” (in order to show that the Church is not divided), at no point in the history of the Church is the correct answer “Yes”. Christ is never divided. But Christ’s unity would have no ecclesiological implications unless the Church is Christ. Here’s the quotation from the Catechism:

    Christ and his Church thus together make up the “whole Christ” (Christus totus). The Church is one with Christ. The saints are acutely aware of this unity:

    Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man. . . . The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does “head and members” mean? Christ and the Church.

    Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself.

    Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person.

    A reply of St. Joan of Arc to her judges sums up the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” (CCC 795, my emphasis)

    When you say, “I don’t see a unified church today that has the authority to dictate such things” my response is “Ok, if there were such a thing, what do you think it would look like, and how would it look different from the Catholic Church? How would it look different from this thing [see below]?”

    EPIC :120 English from Catholics Come Home on Vimeo.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  108. Dear Chris,

    You said: “But in practice, I don’t see a unified church today that has the authority to dictate such things. Hence my earlier contention (in some post in the past) that the first seven ecumenical councils are a good place to start when discussing authority and common ground.”

    I agree that this is a good place to look for common ground. However, I would add that the people who attended these councils and voted in them had deeper views of authority than merely a list of council anathemas would suggest. It seems, from my reading of first millenium sources, that these men believed in binding authority from: (1) the ordinary and universal magisterium; (2) ecumenical councils; and (3) binding papal decrees. So if we believe that common ground can be found in the unified Church of the first millenium, I think we should consider teachings that come down to us from all of these sources at that time.

    When we do so, it is very difficult to see how we can reject the Pope’s authority and still consider ourselves as followers of the principles of unified first millenium Christianity. I would love to go through some of the evidence with you if you are interested: KBDh02 ‘at’ yahoo.com.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  109. Most often, it is those who are close to that period in history when Church Authority has been questioned and overthrown, that speak the clearest and most passionate concerning it and the frightening ramifications that are born from it:

    “If then the Church can err, O Calvin, O Luther, to whom shall i have recourse in my difficulties?
    To the Scripture, say they. But what shall I, poor man, do, for it is precisely about the Scripture that my difficulty lies.
    I am not in doubt whether I must believe the Scripture or not; for who knows not that it is the Word of Truth? What keeps me in anxiety is the understanding of this Scripture, is the conclusions to be drawn from it, which are innumberable and diverse and opposite on the same subject; and everybody takes his view, one this, another that, though out of all there is but one which is sound

    Ah! who will give me to know that good among so many bad? who will tell me the real verity through so many specious and masked vanities.
    Everybody would embark on the ship of the Holy Spirit; there is but one, and only that one shall reach the port, all the rest are on their way to shipwreck.
    Ah! what danger am I in of erring! All shout out their claims with equal assurance and thus deceive the greater part, for all boast that theirs is the ship. Who ever says that our Master has not left us guides in so dangerous and difficulty a way, says that he wishes us to perish.

    Whoever says that he has put us aboard at the mercy of wind and tide, without giving us a skillful pilot able to use properly his compass and chart, says that the Saviour is wanting in foresight.”

    St. Francis de Sales

  110. K. Doran. Thank you. Sincerely. Maybe one day when time allows. Suffice to say that I’m in no way opposed to a visible head of the Christian church on earth or an authoritative magisterium (after all, Protestants generally must believe in these concepts if they’re confessional).

    Also, Teri, thank you for the kindness with which you write. You have your finger, I think, more closely on the matter than Bryan. Bryan, it is not merely a matter of authority; it’s a matter of faith (not suggesting the two are mutually exclusive, of course). From where I’m standing, your faith in the inerrancy of the magisterium is one of the blindest leaps I can imagine this side of glory. My concerns are more pragmatic: there is common ground among us (especially as noted above—the 7 ecumenical councils); church authority is part and parcel of that commonality; yet from the beginning the church has never really been all that unified. Something’s got to give. As Graham Ward writes in his newest book, The Politics of the Discipleship (Baker Academic):

    There has never been a time when the church was one. The centralizing of the church around Rome and the papacy was a historical move emerging between the third and fifth centuries in an already divided and contested Christendom. “Each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ,’” as Paul attests in one of his early epistles (1 Cor. 1:12). There has never been a Christendom in terms of a universal kingdom of Christ. While the Roman medieval church was extending both its powers and territorial domain from the eleventh century to the sixteenth, it became increasingly aware of its own smallness. . . . Even before the Reformation’s splintering, Christendom was an ideology only partly realized and internally contested. The church, then, is always to come. It is a promise that forms the horizon within which the churches seek to be and become more fully the church. (p. 25-26)

    Ignore if you will his writing that “the centralizing of the church around Rome and the papacy was a historical move emerging between the third and fifth centuries ” because it’s quite beside the point (i.e., even if this move occured in the first century, it still emerged among “an already divided and contested Christendom”). I also don’t think this completely undermines the idea of unity—realitvely speaking. But it does rightly point out that a kind of monolithic homogeneous unity has never existed. But at times, it seems like certain Catholics are saying that it has and does. Pointing out the obvious is not docetism. It’s realism. But there’s hope—now and not yet.

  111. Dear Chris,

    No problem. I think you’re right that we need faith. And I think you’re also right that monolithic homogeneous unity has never existed. Also, you’re right that Catholics sometimes speak as if there has been such a monolithic homogeneous unity.

    But there has always been some kind of visible unity, with some kind of visible center. When Ignatius of Antioch wrote that the Church of Rome “presides over the love,” in 107 AD, he was stating beautifully what the Church of Rome was meant to do at all times. The fact that sin and confusion and errors (both inside and outside Rome) have continuously arisen to mar this beautiful harmony doesn’t mean that Christ didn’t intend the harmony. It just means that we too often let ourselves get in His way. This was true while the apostles were still alive, even though Peter’s headship was real, and the college of apostles’ headship was real, and the Eucharist was real, etc. And it is still true today, even though Peter’s headship is still real, and the Bishops’ headship is still real, and the Eucharist is still real, etc.

    We need to have the faith and the reason to see that the sins that have created visible disunity among Christians from the beginning up until the present have never eliminated the legitimate authority that God has invested in the offices of His Church. When people chose one apostle over another in the apostolic Church, this didn’t eliminate any apostle’s God-given authority. When people chose one bishop over another in the later Church, this didn’t eliminate the bishops’ God-given authorities. Without faith guided by reason, we can see these sins as somehow erasing what God has granted. But they no more erase them today than they did when the apostles were still alive. If we believe that they have erased them today, then — God forbid! — we will conclude by the same logic that the apostles had no real God-given authority either.

    So I’m going to pray that you have Faith in the Church Christ founded. If you enter this Church you may receive the first true Eucharist you have ever received. The graces that you’ve already received from your commemorations of the lord’s supper will abound all the more when what you eat is Christ’s own flesh. To say nothing of your first confession. It will change your life forever. Alleluia!

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  112. Chris,

    I sincerely appreciate your kind words as well. I will pray that Our Lord will give you a clarity and a conviction of what His Church is. I am a new convert to the Catholic Faith, but I have never had such a sense of peace. I have loved Our Lord deeply for a long time, but knew that something was not right with regards to the unity that Christ speaks of. In my small town, there are more churches than people, literally. They are not even blocks apart, much less miles.

    I think I can almost understand how it must have looked or felt during the time of the Protestant Reformation, especially Martin Luther. I wonder what I would have done or thought then. Pretty sure I would have escaped Geneva because I’ve never had any love for John Calvin, but would I have believed that God’s judgement had fallen and the keys to the kingdom were being taken away?

    Hindsight is 20/20, but I wonder how Our Lord’s close apostles felt when they had to rely on His promise that He would come in the clouds – not in the desert or the hills. Hard to even imagine what it must have been like to have everyone saying the miracle working messiah, Bar Kochba was going to overthrow the Roman yoke and Israel would be free once and for all.

    To stand firm on Christ’s promise to not believe in the old way, but stay the course with His promises must have felt frightening. I’m sure there were many who needed their faith strengthened during this time. But we know they didn’t give in to the fear and they had faith in Christ’s promise, because the Church has preserved for us how and when they died. If not for the Church, we would not even know that anyone had been martyred for their faith.

    I’ll stop now, but I will be praying for you to feel His peace. It’s a beautiful place to be in this Church that is family. It’s vertical and horizontal…Our Lord and our brothers and sisters that we are one with. I’m reminded of a house set on many acres, all with good fences to keep boundaries – the need to keep out all of the wolves, not to keep the people imprisoned. You can go in the house and feel safe and secure by the fire or wander close to the fence, if that is your job. But it’s all about family and our places in that family.

    May you feel His peace and His Holy Spirit guiding you in all things,
    Teri

  113. Chris, (#110)

    Bryan, it is not merely a matter of authority; it’s a matter of faith (not suggesting the two are mutually exclusive, of course). From where I’m standing, your faith in the inerrancy of the magisterium is one of the blindest leaps I can imagine this side of glory.

    As you know, St. Paul wrote the following:

    How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent? (Rom 10:14-15)

    We cannot believe unless we hear, and we cannot hear unless someone preaches and teaches the divine message to us. And the divine message cannot be conjured up by the mind of mere men; it only comes from those divinely authorized and divinely sent by the incarnate Christ. This is why faith and authority not only are not mutually exclusive, they can never be separated this side of glory. Without divine authorization, there is only a cacophony of competing man-made messages, and then Christ cannot be believed in, because Christ and His message and His power cannot be accessed. That’s why I said in #81, “If the Church could “get it really, really wrong” when she defines dogma, hands on the faith, etc., then it would follow that we know next to nothing with any certainty about Christ, His gospel, the canon, etc., including transformation of the bread and wine.” If we do not know who has ecclesial authority, then we cannot have faith, because we cannot know what is the divine message, i.e. the gospel. This is why faith and authority cannot be separated. We cannot even know the canon of Scripture without trusting God by trusting the Church.

    From where I’m standing, your faith in the inerrancy of the magisterium is one of the blindest leaps I can imagine this side of glory.

    If I thought that the Church were merely a man-made institution, then I would agree with you. Men are fallible, and it would be unjustified to assume, all other things being equal, that a man-made entity would be protected from error. But, the Church is a supernatural entity, because it is the Body of Christ, as I explained in my previous comment. It is not those who have faith in Christ through His Church who are blind, just as it is not those who have faith in Christ through His Apostles who are blind. We believe in Christ by believing through His Church, by finding those having the divine authorization to speak in His Name as His authorized representatives. The notion that a supernatural entity cannot err is not a blind leap; the notion that the Church can error in her definitive teaching on faith and morals is blind either to the divinity of Christ’s Body or to the power of God to avoid error.

    Ward’s statement that there “has never been a time when the Church was one” is not true. Moreover, it is a heresy, a direct contradiction of the explicit statement in the Creed that the Church is one. You seem to want to affirm the seven ecumenical councils, and the creeds, but then you take it back by denying an explicit statement in the Creed. There has never been a time when the Church was not one. Ward misinterprets St. Paul in 1 Corinthians; St. Paul’s point is that the Church is one, because Christ is one, and Christ cannot be divided. That’s precisely why St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians not to divide into personality sects.

    In my previous comment I responded to your statement that “I don’t see a unified church today that has the authority to dictate such things” by asking “Ok, if there were such a thing, what do you think it would look like, and how would it look different from the Catholic Church?” And here I would ask you a similar question, “Concerning the claim that the Church of the first millennium was not unified, if that claim were false, and the Church of the first millennium had in fact been one, what would have been different?” Moreover, how would it have been possible for there to be schismatics from the Church in the first millennium, if the Church were not unified? (see my “Branches or Schisms?“) How could St. Ignatius of Antioch talk about the great sin of schism, and the “unity of the Church” if there were no such thing? How could St. Cyprian of Carthage write about the unity of the Church if there were no such thing? How could St. Augustine have talked about the Donatists as being in schism, if there were no such thing as a unified Church?

    If the first seven ecumenical councils were products of a divided Church, then why do you think of them as ecumenical? You can’t have it both ways. If the first seven ecumenical councils were products of just one segment/fragment of the Church, then they aren’t ecumenical, and they do not have universal authority. But if you think the first seven ecumenical councils were ecumenical, and do have universal authority over all Christians, then they couldn’t have been the product of just one fragment of the Church; they must have been the product of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

    My concerns are more pragmatic: there is common ground among us (especially as noted above—the 7 ecumenical councils); church authority is part and parcel of that commonality;

    With respect to church authority, there is less common ground than it might appear. That is because for Catholics and Orthodox the basis for the authority of these councils is apostolic succession. But for Protestants, the basis for the ‘authority’ of any council is its agreement with [one's interpretation of] Scripture. In other words, when we are talking about “church authority,” we are talking past each other, because the term “Church authority’ means one thing to Catholics but something quite different to Protestants. This Protestant conception of Church authority reduces any ecumenical council’s decision to advice you can take or leave. (And we can see why that is, insofar as Protestants think the first seven ecumenical councils were the products only of one fragment of the Church.)

    Regarding Graham Ward, from where I’m standing, he does not have more authority to speak and teach concerning the nature of Christ’s Church than do those authorized by succession from the Apostles. If I have to choose between Graham Ward’s claim that the Church has never been one, and the Council of Constantinople’s (AD 381) claim that the Church is one, well, as for me and my house, I’m going to follow the successor’s of the Apostles on this one. And if that seems to you like a blind leap of faith, then from my point of view that can be only because you are not ‘seeing’ the authority of those bishops who assembled at that council.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  114. Chris,

    I echo Bryan’s words and add the late Father Neuhaus’, “For the Catholic faith in Christ and faith in His Church is one act of faith.” Also did not Augustine say, “I would not believe the Gospel were it not for the Catholic Church.” The Church is the credible witness, established by Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the person and work of Christ. We do not trust the Church blindly, we do not trust the Church because she has the best collection of theologians in the world, we trust the Church and have faith in her out of our confidence in Christ. He gave the Church to bear witness to Him. If the Church is given to bear witness to Him and lead us to Him, then it is not a stretch to think she has been given the charism of infallibility, so that we might know what Christ expects of us. Why? Following Christ is hard enough, what if we had to wonder about the practice of baptism or the right understanding of the Sacraments? The Church is given by Christ that she be the pillar and ground of the truth.

  115. Sorry to jump in at a critical point – but what Tom said made me think of what I, as a former Protestant realized.

    I had faith in “my faith” in Christ and the scriptures and my feelings, etc. I came to the scriptures, as you guys have stated, with a grid on them that had been handed down to me by “my faith tradition”.

    My faith in Christ as Lord and Savior was tied in with my church teaching concerning Him. He was “my Lord” and because He was personal, then it was all about my feelings. Nothing in the world of being a Protestant comes without a grid of interpretation from your traditions.

    Strange that I always said just, My Lord, and never, Our Lord. Where is the scripture about those who gather to themselves teachers to scratch their itching ears? We always could point to the other guys in their denominations that didn’t agree with us, but weren’t we all guilty? Isn’t that the point of Protestantism?

    If I like this doctrine, this is my faith and my pastor because it scratches where I want it to. If he stops, then out he goes or in other denominations, out I go. Whatever place I land, the guy is scratching my ears because I like him and his grid better than I like the other groups.

    In the Catholic faith, we may have a Priest who is really boring or really distant, but the focus is not on him, but on Christ and on the Eucharist. If my ears aren’t being scratched all I can do is try to locate another parish, but change faith, too bad….

    It feels so much more real to me to have faith in Christ and His promises than in a system. Systems and people let you down. People in the Catholic Church will let you down….but Christ’s Church cannot fail and let you down.

    It’s like the game they played in camp – you close your eyes and fall back trusting that the person or persons behind you are going to catch you before you fall to the ground. That’s faith in Christ…true faith….believing it all and knowing he is ultimately the one that is going to catch you because He made a promise to one Church, that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

    What do you do with the scripture where Our Lord says something about “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven and those you retain are retained? What happens after those apostles are dead? Where did St. Paul get his authority to judge the Corinthian Church? ? Are we now free to believe that He forgives all of our sins but retains the sins of say….an Arminiam…a Reformed group split from other Reformed groups?
    How does that work out?

    So does it boil down to – I believe that God gave the keys to John Calvin or Martin Luther or Henry VII? Who has the authority to bind and loosen…everyone? Common sense says this is flawed.
    Blessings and I promise to not interrupt anymore. I’m going to a Marathon…not in talking :-) In running.
    Teri
    Blessings,
    Teri

  116. Teri,

    You said: “I’m going to a Marathon…not in talking :-) In running.” LOL! That was a good one :) Thanks for bringing a laugh on a cold day.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  117. Dear Taylor,
    Do you have a link or website that speaks of Calvin’s assertion that the Mass is idolatry and the Catholic rebuttal?
    Also, please hurry everyone along so we can get a copy of The Crucified Rabbi soon! :-)

    Tim Troutman,
    Thank you so much for your website at Army of Martyrs that explained for me the claim by John Calvin that the letters of St. Ignatius were all spurious and the final vindication. Not that anyone in my extended family believe it regardless (Reformed Pres Church in the U.S.).

    Pray with and for me that my answers continue to be charitable when constantly attacked as idolatrous, superstion, wicked popery, etc. (sigh)
    Peace be with you all,
    Teri

  118. Chris,

    It may never come to pass that you have the time to email me regarding Eastern first millennium witness to the infallibility and universal jurisdiction of the Pope. But I just want to point out, in case you are still reading the thread, that there are a lot of dubious histories out there that ignore this evidence, and yet are not repudiated by otherwise honest members of their respective religious groups. The nineteenth century Anglican divines, Janus, and some of the Eastern Orthodox apologetic work are quite bad about handling the papal evidence. In fact, mistranslations, confusions, ignorance of contextual sources, and even outright fraud are present in some of the famous anti-Catholic historical works of the late nineteenth century (including Janus’ attack on Vatican I).

    Saint Maximus the Confessor (580 – 662) is a great saint of the East, acknowledged in both East and West. He writes: “Anyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus anathematizes the Catholic Church, and excommunicates himself, if he is indeed in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God. . . . If he wishes neither to be a heretic nor to be accounted one, let him not make satisfaction to this or that individual, but let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See. For if that see is satisfied, all will call him orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the most blessed Pope of the most holy Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which from the Incarnate Word of God Himself, and also by all holy synods, according to the holy canons and definitions, has received universal and supreme dominion, authority and power of binding and loosing over all the holy Churches of God in the whole world.”

    This was not an unusual opinion among great Saints of the East and West during the first millennium. As far as I can tell, the chief opponents to this opinion were either heretics or those so weakly orthodox that their theological opinions depended on whatever the Emperor believed, and changed as the Emperors changed. Please know that there is a lot of information out there that corrects the horribly misleading statements that EO, Protestants, and Anglicans sometimes make, along the lines of: “roman encroachments were resisted by the East and Africa, as these Churches clung to the ancient traditions of independence that had been passed down to them by the Apostles.” If you are willing to look at reliable Catholic sources (and while he is not perfect, the most reliable I have yet found seems to be Dom John Chapman) you will see that the evidence is so far from such a claim that it is amazing that an honest person could still make it without blushing. There is a large amount of evidence that papal prerogatives were strongly supported in both the South and the East, from the Nicene era until Photius in 850 AD, by the orthodox (but not always by the heretics), who made reference both to ancient tradition and the divine teaching of Christ himself. It is really impossible to draw claims for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist from our records of antiquity and yet to deny the divine origin of papal power. Please don’t let dishonest historians get in the way of you and Communion.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  119. Calvin confuses nature and person consider the the following statements from Calvin.
    From the Institutes: Inst. l. 1, c. 13, sec. 9, n. 23, 24.

    “But though I am not now treating of the office of the Mediator, having deferred it till the subject of redemption is considered, yet because it ought to be clear and incontrovertible to all, that Christ is that Word become incarnate, this seems the most appropriate place to introduce those passages which assert the Divinity of Christ.”

    “Christ is that Word.” It appears that he is implying a dual subject. According to Calvin Christ is one subject and the Word is one subject. Therefore, if Christ is the Word becomes incarnate, the structure of his sentence presumes Christ (if he is implying Christ is a person with a subject) existed prior to the Word apart from the single subject of the incarnate Word. He does confuse nature and person, because he is not rightly assigning a single subject in the incarnation.

    “They object, that if the Son is truly God, he must be deemed the Son of a person: which is absurd. I answer, that both are true; namely, that he is the Son of God, because he is the Word, begotten of the Father before all ages; (for we are not now speaking of the Person of the Mediator), and yet, that for the purpose of explanation, regard must be had to the Person, so that the name God may not be understood in its absolute sense, but as equivalent to Father. For if we hold that there is no other God than the Fathers this rank is clearly denied to the Son.”

    “For we are not speaking of the Person of the Mediator.” Notice again Calvin is confusing the subject in the Word, Person, and Mediator. He affirms the Son of God is the Logos, however, he consigns the “person” of Mediation to another person not realizing the “Logos” is the single subject person with a human nature who is the Mediator. As if the Logos incarnate assumes a “Person” in stead of assuming a human nature. Secondly, he is distinguishing between the Word (as the Son of God) and the “person” of mediation. There is one Word (Divine Person) who assumes a human nature who is the mediator (divine man) between man and God.
    “For ever since Christ was manifested in the flesh he is called the Son of God, not only because begotten of the Father before all worlds he was the Eternal Word, but because he undertook the person and office of the Mediator that he might unite us to God.”

    This is quite telling that Calvin assigns two subjects to Christ, “he undertook the person of Mediator.” True, he is the Eternal Word, but the Eternal Word, has one subject, (Divine Person), if Christ is manifested in the flesh as the Son of God, and he undertakes a “Person” this begs the question, who is the person that the Word undertakes at the incarnation? He’s confused on nature and person.

  120. Isaiah 53:11
    King James Version (KJV)
    11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. <<< Travail means suffering as defined by more than one dictionary. When you look at this from a more modern translation lets see how we see this now.

    Isaiah 53:11
    New International Version (NIV)
    11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life[a] and be satisfied[b];
    by his knowledge[c] my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.

    So apparently deriving directly from the newly found dead sea scrolls. After his soul has suffered he will see light of life. Ok so this begs to question. Does this infact state after suffering he will see light of life? In that case from what I read. He is dead physically when suffering. Then after suffering He will see light of life. To help with understanding let's see what [a] shows.

    Isaiah 53:11 Dead Sea Scrolls (see also Septuagint); Masoretic Text does not have the light of life.

    Ok so in laymens terms the dead sea scrolls as I said are where you derive the "light of life."
    Dead sea scrolls are the most accurate reading from original sayings of the Apostles and those of before.

    Isaiah 53:11 Or (with Masoretic Text) 11 He will see the fruit of his suffering / and will be satisfied

    So depending on which text you go by… Which I am inclined to go by the dead sea scrolls. Christ suffered in death and after suffering he was allowed to see the light of life. Granted the Apostles Creed is unbiblical in other portions. But it does say that Christ descended into hell.

    Not professing to know all things. Just explaining my reading of text that is sacred.

    We must all remember one thing.

    Isaiah 55:8
    New International Version (NIV)
    8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.

    ^^^ How dare we get all religious and damn someone to hell because of His understanding of scripture? Didn't Sadducee's and Pharisees do that and what did Christ call them? "Brood of Vipers." So let us instead Heb 10:24-25 spur one another on toward love and good deeds. We don't know what God did or even if He would allow His Son's soul to suffer before seeing light of life.

  121. As Taylor points out, Calvin’s retribution paradigm regarding Christ’s bodily suffering, leads him to posit the same in Christ’s soul, and hence construe “He descended into hell” as Christ suffering in His soul “the severity of God’s vengeance,” to “bear and suffer all the punishments that they [i.e. the elect] ought to have sustained.” Calvin argues repeatedly in this section of the Institutes that Christ’s suffering in body was not enough to cause Him to sweat drops of blood, or ask the Father let this cup pass from Him. What is rather apparent in this section, however, is that Calvin seems to be entirely unaware of any other explanation for Christ’s suffering in soul, than receiving in His soul the Father’s wrath in penal substitution. Calvin seems to think that merely by establishing that Christ suffered greatly in His soul, he has thereby shown that Christ was punished internally by the Father with the torment of hell.

    The Catholic Church also believes and teaches that in His Passion Christ suffered in His soul, and that this internal suffering was far greater than His bodily suffering. In Catholic doctrine, however, this internal suffering was not the result of the Father pouring out wrath upon Christ, but was sorrow for each sin of every person who ever live and will live, in the light of its offense against God. As our High Priest and intercessor, Christ took on Himself (into Himself) every sin, not in the sense of becoming guilty of having committed that sin, but in the sense of grieving for them and making satisfaction for them through offering Himself to the Father in a sacrifice of loving reparation. The greatness of Christ’s sorrow and grief arises from the depth of His solidarity with us, by which He knows and loves us as His own people (His own flesh and blood), and through the Beatific Visions knows perfectly each of our sins, and the full magnitude of their offensiveness to God. (I’ve described this in more detail in “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.”) His internal suffering, in the Catholic doctrine, is not suffering of punishment by way of divine wrath, but the suffering of contrition for the offensiveness of our sins against God. In this way, the Catholic doctrine accounts for the internal suffering of Christ’s soul that Calvin’s arguments rightly support, but by an altogether different explanation than the one Calvin puts forward as apparently for him the only possible explanation for the magnitude of this internal suffering.

  122. Drs. Marshall and Cross (and anyone else who knows reformed theology),

    I’m confused over the reformed view on this subject after reading an article from Neo-Reformed pastor Mark Driscoll. In an article titled Where Did Jesus Go on Saturday? Driscoll says the following:

    One view of 1 Peter 3:19, which I adhere to, suggests that Jesus, between his death and resurrection, descended into the place of the dead. This place is often referred to as Hades, which is where the dead are held until they’re judged and thrown into hell, which is the second death (Rev. 20:11–15; cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 21:8).

    To say that Jesus descended to the place of the dead is not the same as saying he descended to hell. The idea of Jesus descending to hell between his death and resurrection is rooted the early church doctrine of the “Harrowing of Hell” found in the Apostles’ Creed (though the originality of the phrase has been questioned). Though some that adhere to this view believe that Jesus descended to hell, not everyone who holds to this view believes so (such as Calvin).

    For those that disagree, like myself, they look no further than to Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross when he told him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Hell has been called many things, but I don’t believe Paradise is one of them. This is why I don’t believe Jesus descended into hell.

    Is Driscoll being faithful to Calvin’s theology here? On the surface it looks like he directly contradicts what Calvin is quoted to have said in the post.

  123. Bryan says….”In Catholic doctrine, however, this internal suffering was not the result of the Father pouring out wrath upon Christ, but was sorrow for each sin of every person who ever live and will live, in the light of its offense against God. As our High Priest and intercessor, Christ took on Himself (into Himself) every sin, not in the sense of becoming guilty of having committed that sin, but in the sense of grieving for them and making satisfaction for them through offering Himself to the Father in a sacrifice of loving reparation.”

    My response, as a committed student of the Bible (and no friend of Catholicism) is: BALONEY. We will not find Christ making satisfaction for our sins simply by GRIEVING for them and then just merely choosing to die— either in the Bible, or even in your own catechism. This is bombastic nonsense.
    He became a curse FOR US (i.e., IN OUR PLACE, which is what the word “FOR” means)—as the N.T. proclaims, not that He simply chose to die because He was grieved. I also noticed no where on this thread does any Catholic mention CCC #615? Under the heading, “Jesus substitutes his obedience for our disobedience”, we read in the main paragraph that, “[He] accomplished the SUBSTITUTION of the suffering Servant…[and] ATONED for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins…” If words mean anything, Catholicism does indeed support a substituitonary atonement, to say the least. That it was penal, is wonderfully and scrupulously evidenced by this book available here

    http://www.amazon.com/Pierced-Our-Transgressions-Rediscovering-Substitution/dp/1433501082/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1364707032&sr=8-2&keywords=penal+substitution

    Catholic naysayers assume that because Hell itself is the eternal punishment for sin that must be endured, Jesus could not have suffered our eternal punishment, vicariously, or else He would be hanging on the cross forever. Unfortunately, this demonstrates a grievous lack of understanding regarding the cross-work of Christ and in fact, Jesus came to do precisely what the Catholic denies (i.e., He took our punishment that we might escape it).
    To begin with, the severity of the punishment MUST be in proportion to the seriousness of the crime and therefore MUST be what they deserve (Lev 26:21, Duet 19:6; 22:26; 25:2, Judg 20:10, 1 Sam 26:16, Num 35:31, Ps 94:2, Ezek 16:59, Isa 66:6; Jer 14:16; 17:10; 21:14; Zech 1:6; Luke 23:41, Rms 2:6). Right at this point you must acquiesce to the fact that Christ did indeed take your eternal punishment (if you have any biblical integrity whatsoever) because that is what you deserve in accordance with the verses just cited.

    And according to God, our sins deserve everlasting punishment (Mk 9:48, Matt 8:12, 13:42,50; 22:13, 24:51, 25:30). Such a severe punishment is not arbitrary or capricious because the heinousness of sin is directed against an infinitely holy God. Naysayers may opine that because Hell is eternal, and Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours, how then could the infinite punishment of Hell be borne in a finite period of time?

    The answer is that everything about Christ is infinite. His incarnation was an act of infinite condescension, and His blood is of infinite value. Thus, the infinite worth of Christ swallows up all the infinities of punishments due to us. Christ’s suffering, though it lasted only a finite period of time, was infinite in value because He is infinitely worthy! And Hebrews 10:14 supports the infinite effects of an act of finite duration:
    by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

    To make it easier to understand, you must remember that the “chastisement of MANY, was UPON Him”. The word chastisement, used in its widest sense, means punishment, per Isa 53 (Bible Compact Dictionary).
    The infinite sacrifice of Christ and its infinite application of removing from us the consequences of an eternal Hell, is shown by the plural truth that He died for the sins of MORE THAN ONE PERSON. How could only ONE, die for multiple millions? How could only ONE, suffer an eternal Hell that so many multiple millions deserve? It is beyond our comprehension because this type of substitution and penalty is unknown in all of earth’s judicial history. Yet in the logic of God, the infinite worth of Jesus Christ makes this possible and that’s what we are called to believe. The atonement planned before the world began encompassed a mode of justice that would be completely foreign to the eyes of man (Isa 52:15). Even though we may understand only through a glass darkly this side of heaven, we DO know this heavenly form of justice is in effect since we read that countless thousands will be saved per Rev 5:11. The curse of the law which rested on us, was transferred to the Redeemer, who became a curse FOR us (Gal 3:13). No plainer statement of substitution may be found in the N.T.
    Heeeeee assumed it, so that we might escape it.

  124. Fr. Bryan,

    You are hitting onto a serious issue with the Protestant position, namely, the idea of authority and continuity of belief. There seems to be no commitment to a deposit of faith. Calvin, rejected the recieved truth that the Church had preserved from the Apostles, as did the other reformers. Once you go down that road, then you set yourself up as a “pope,” an authority onto yourself. You evolve into a Jesus and me and private intrepretation mindset. There is no obligation to hold to anything that those dead white men taught 500 years ago. Thus we get 38,000 plus denominations today with no end in sight. The lack of unity then becomes a scandal to non-Christians and a obstacle to evangelization.

  125. Denver, (re: #122)

    Thanks for your comment. You wrote:

    My response, as a committed student of the Bible (and no friend of Catholicism) is: BALONEY. We will not find Christ making satisfaction for our sins simply by GRIEVING for them and then just merely choosing to die— either in the Bible, or even in your own catechism. This is bombastic nonsense. He became a curse FOR US (i.e., IN OUR PLACE, which is what the word “FOR” means)—as the N.T. proclaims, not that He simply chose to die because He was grieved.

    I did not claim that Jesus made satisfaction for our sins “simply by grieving for them.” (Please refrain from using all caps.) Jesus made satisfaction for our sins by offering Himself in love to the Father as a perfect sacrifice, even to the point of laying down His life.

    As for His becoming “a curse,” I have addressed that in the body of my post titled “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.”

    Yes, He did this “for us.” But that does not entail penal substitution. Substitution by satisfaction is not the same thing as penal substitution. And therefore the fact of substitution does not entail penal substitution.

    I also noticed no where on this thread does any Catholic mention CCC #615? Under the heading, “Jesus substitutes his obedience for our disobedience”, we read in the main paragraph that, “[He] accomplished the SUBSTITUTION of the suffering Servant…[and] ATONED for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins…” If words mean anything, Catholicism does indeed support a substituitonary atonement, to say the least. That it was penal, is wonderfully and scrupulously evidenced by this book available here.

    I haven’t yet read the book to which you refer, but I’ll be glad to look at it. However, regarding the statement from the Catechism, that is referring to substitution by satisfaction, not penal substitution.

    Catholic naysayers assume that because Hell itself is the eternal punishment for sin that must be endured, Jesus could not have suffered our eternal punishment, vicariously, or else He would be hanging on the cross forever.

    I have not made that claim.

    To begin with, the severity of the punishment MUST be in proportion to the seriousness of the crime and therefore MUST be what they deserve (Lev 26:21, Duet 19:6; 22:26; 25:2, Judg 20:10, 1 Sam 26:16, Num 35:31, Ps 94:2, Ezek 16:59, Isa 66:6; Jer 14:16; 17:10; 21:14; Zech 1:6; Luke 23:41, Rms 2:6). Right at this point you must acquiesce to the fact that Christ did indeed take your eternal punishment (if you have any biblical integrity whatsoever) because that is what you deserve in accordance with the verses just cited.

    What your argument here overlooks is the possibility of atonement by way of satisfaction, rather than by penal substitution. I have explained this in “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.”

    And according to God, our sins deserve everlasting punishment (Mk 9:48, Matt 8:12, 13:42,50; 22:13, 24:51, 25:30). Such a severe punishment is not arbitrary or capricious because the heinousness of sin is directed against an infinitely holy God. Naysayers may opine that because Hell is eternal, and Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours, how then could the infinite punishment of Hell be borne in a finite period of time?

    The answer is that everything about Christ is infinite. His incarnation was an act of infinite condescension, and His blood is of infinite value. Thus, the infinite worth of Christ swallows up all the infinities of punishments due to us. Christ’s suffering, though it lasted only a finite period of time, was infinite in value because He is infinitely worthy! And Hebrews 10:14 supports the infinite effects of an act of finite duration:
    by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

    One does not need to adopt penal substitution to affirm Hebrews 10:14, because it is fully compatible with the Catholic way of understanding atonement by satisfaction.

    To make it easier to understand, you must remember that the “chastisement of MANY, was UPON Him”. The word chastisement, used in its widest sense, means punishment, per Isa 53 (Bible Compact Dictionary).

    The chastisement referred to there is suffering and death. But in Him it was not punishment. He entered into our condition, so that He could accomplish His mission of making satisfaction for our sins. But that does not mean that God punished Him.

    The infinite sacrifice of Christ and its infinite application of removing from us the consequences of an eternal Hell, is shown by the plural truth that He died for the sins of MORE THAN ONE PERSON.

    I agree.

    How could only ONE, die for multiple millions? How could only ONE, suffer an eternal Hell that so many multiple millions deserve? It is beyond our comprehension because this type of substitution and penalty is unknown in all of earth’s judicial history. Yet in the logic of God, the infinite worth of Jesus Christ makes this possible and that’s what we are called to believe. The atonement planned before the world began encompassed a mode of justice that would be completely foreign to the eyes of man (Isa 52:15). Even though we may understand only through a glass darkly this side of heaven, we DO know this heavenly form of justice is in effect since we read that countless thousands will be saved per Rev 5:11. The curse of the law which rested on us, was transferred to the Redeemer, who became a curse FOR us (Gal 3:13). No plainer statement of substitution may be found in the N.T.
    Heeeeee assumed it, so that we might escape it.

    Let’s continue this discussion in the “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  126. Well Taylor, I’ll take up the Reformed side of the equation. Let me begin with question one…

    Have I depicted Calvin rightly?

    I would say not really. In your first highlighted comment in the quote from Institutes, you interject “What!!! Christ suffered eternal death and the pains the hell!” … Well, no, that is not what Calvin said. Here are Calvin’s words “Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death.” By what notion do you interpret the word “engage” to mean “suffer”? I can engage a bully and beat the tar out of him and never suffer from it. Jesus engaged Satan in the desert, but He did not suffer at Satan’s hand. In fact, shortly thereafter in the section you quote, Calvin says “the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him.” So right off the bat, you have not represented Calvin well.

    Next, you express a conclusion that is not supported by anything you have said thus far in the article, namely ” If we understand atonement as simply “substitution,” we run into the error that Calvin has committed.” Nothing previously said supports the notion that Calvin’s theology is in error… except that it disagrees with Catholic teaching and “all the Church Fathers”… which is a very broad and unsubstantiated statement.

    You begin to make a logical argument here…

    Since sinners deserve both physical death and spiritual torment in hell we should also expect that Christ as our redeemer must also experience both physical death and hell. This logic only makes sense–except that it contradicts everything said in the New Testament about Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. The descent into hell was not punitive in anyway, but rather triumphant as described by the Apostles and illustrated in thousands of churches, both East and West

    I do not see the contradiction at all, nor do you reveal it. Christ died once for all. In that death, He experienced the fullness of both physical and spiritual death. As Christ Himself said, “Father Father, why hast thou forsaken Me?” This separation from God was real and expressed by Christ. The descent into hell was both punitive and triumphant as described by the Apostles, just as His death on the cross was both punitive and triumphant. If, as an act of love, I pay your parking ticket… it is an act of love, but it does not cease to be punitive. Likewise with Jesus bearing the sins of the world. Our punishment for sin is both physical death and spiritual death. Does God require less than perfect justice? No… the full penalty for our sin was required, else the cross is meaningless. The fullness of our sin must have been paid by Christ. If you paid my DUI fine but skipped on the prison time, I would still be liable for that penalty. Christ on the cross without Christ in hades would leave us eternal life but spiritually dead… obviously a non-starter. Fortunately, Christ died once for all, paying the full penalty for our sins and the gates of hell could not prevail.

    Next, you say this:

    This descent into Hell as Christ’s victory corresponds to the teaching of our first Pope Saint Peter: Christ “proclaimed the Gospel even to the dead” (εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη, 1 Pet 4:6). Jesus wasn’t burning in the flames! He was dashing the gates of Hell, proclaiming His victory, and delivering the righteous of the Old Testament! That’s the holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith in all its beauty.

    Calvin did not argue that Christ was not victorious, thus, this argument is a straw man. That Catholic doctrine teaches salvation by grace and man’s meritorious good works is hardly beautiful. In fact, it is horrifying. The great victory is reduced to “we can our earn salvation”… leaving us right back at the old covenant. That is not the victory John, for example, speaks of when he says, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (I John 5:4) Or perhaps you prefer Paul, ” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” …not through our meritorious works.

    This “penal substitution” theory of the atonement is patently false. Christ died for us, but it wasn’t a simple swap. Christ uses the language of participation. We are to be “in Him” and we are to also carry the cross. Christ doesn’t take up the cross so that we don’t have to take up the cross. He repeatedly calls us to carry the cross. Our lives are to become “cruciform.” The New Testament constantly calls us to suffer in the likeness of Christ. Again, it’s not a clean exchange. It’s not: “Jesus suffers so that we don’t have to.” Rather we participate in His redemption.

    Your first claim is an opinion, again, heretofore unsubstantiated. Then you substitute nonequivalent concepts to change meanings so as to impute your own interpretation. Let me explain… No one argues that we are not to participate “in Him”. No one argues that we are not to take up our cross and follow Him. God saves us for a purpose according to His will. But suffering for Christ does not equal or otherwise denote participating in our own redemption. It is doing the will of God… loving Him because He loved us first. Your wording implies that “participating in the will of God” equals “participating in my own redemption”. You support this assertion with two Pauline verses in which Paul discusses suffering, but not in any context that makes your point. If Paul’s suffering were salvific, then he would not have said “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,”. Rather, he would have said, “For to you it has been granted for your own sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for your sake,”. Paul did not say that because Paul did not mean that. Paul says that our suffering is for Christ … to do the will of God, just as Christ did.

    I would challenge all Reformed readers to slowly flip through the epistles of Paul and note the occurrence of “in Him” and “in Christ”. Better yet, use BibleWorks or another Bible program and run a search. You will quickly see that “in Him” and “in Christ” is the universal soteriological category for Saint Paul–not justification or regeneration.

    I don’t get your point here. Paul makes statements like “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” (Rom 3:24) which covers Paul’s soteriology including both “justified” and “in Christ”. Is your challenge supposed to prove a point?

    According to Catholic Christianity, Christian salvation involves the vindication of Christ’s unjust death on the cross. God does not “hate” His Son. This is impossible. God does not “turn away” from His Son. Luther introduced this false tension and it has led to Calvin’s grievous heresy. Saint Paul speaks of “overcoming death” as the true victory of Christ – not His being the whipping boy of the Father.

    I think it was Jesus, not Luther, who introduced the tension between Father and Son. Mark 14:36… And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” It was possible for God to remove the cup from Jesus… but he did not. Matt 27:46 … ” About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus was forsaken by God… abandoned… renounced. So yes, by the words of Jesus, we know that God turned His back on His Son. If this is a grievous heresy, then it was started by Christ. Yes Jesus overcame death… He overcame death by going through it and emerging victorious. In the process, He paid the penalty for our sins and offers us eternal life. That is the beauty of the Gospel… good news!

    And now to your final question…

    If you’re Reformed, do you agree with Calvin? If so, how does his view not denigrate the cross?

    Yes I believe that Christ paid the entire penalty for my sin. Just as He says to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise”, and thus we know that the thief was saved by grace alone through faith alone, I also believe that Christ offers the same to us all. This view in no way denigrates the cross. Conversely, the view that the penalty Christ paid for us, in and of itself, is insufficient for our salvation if not accompanied by our good works… well that denigrates the cross, in my humble opinion.

    Blessings
    Curt

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