Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”

Sep 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Part of the content of the Christian faith is the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” because that is one article of the Church’s Creed. Concerning the Church, the Westminster Confession of Faith reads:

The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.1

But, as I show below, Protestantism itself has no visible catholic Church. It has only denominations, congregations, believers and their children. Within Protestantism there is not some one additional entity to which the term “visible catholic Church” refers, consisting of these denominations, congregations, believers and their children.

MONNOT_StPeter

St. Peter (c. 1708-13)
Pierre Etienne Monnot
San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome

What allowed the authors of the Westminster Confession to believe sincerely that there was a “visible catholic Church” other than the Catholic Church headed by the Pope, was a philosophical error. This was the error of assuming that unity of type is sufficient for unity of composition. In actuality, things of the same type do not by that very fact compose a unified whole. For example, all the crosses that presently exist all have something in common; they are each the same type of thing, i.e. a cross. But they do not form a unified whole composed of each individual cross around the world. This crucifix, for example, in the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, is not a part of a unified whole consisting of all the crucifixes in the world. All crucifixes are things of the same specific type, but that does not in itself make them parts that compose a unified whole spread out around the world. Similarly, all the apples in the world have something in common — each one is an apple. They each have the same nature or type. But they do not compose a unified whole of which each apple is a part. And other examples can be multiplied ad infinitum.

One way to determine whether something is an actual whole or merely a plurality of things having something in common, is to determine whether everything could be exactly the same, including all the alleged ‘parts,’ except without the alleged ‘whole.’ If the ‘whole’ can be removed without changing anything about its ‘parts’ and without changing anything else in the world, then there is no actual whole, only a mere plurality. If there is merely a plurality of things having something in common, and not an actual whole, then we can remove the alleged ‘whole’ without needing to change anything in the world. But if there is an actual whole, then in order to remove the whole and leave the parts, we would need to change the world.

For example, in order to remove me and leave all my parts, you would have to change the world, by reconfiguring my parts such that I was dead. But in the case of the alleged entity composed of all the apples in the world, we can take away this whole without needing to change anything about the location, arrangement or motion of any apple in the world. And this shows that in actuality there is no such entity, that is, there is no whole composed of all the apples in the world. If someone used the word ‘Panapple’ to refer to “the entity consisting of all the apples in the world,” then by this test we would know that the term ‘Panapple’ does not refer to an actual unified entity consisting of all apples. Instead, we would know that the term refers to what is in actuality merely a plurality of things, each sharing unity of type.

We can apply this same test to the term “visible catholic Church” in the Westminster Confession to see whether it refers to an actual entity or only to a mere plurality. The “visible catholic Church” is defined by the Confession as consisting of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and of their children. If there were no actual visible catholic Church, but only the term ‘visible catholic Church,’ the Protestant denominations, the Protestant congregations, and the individual Protestant believers and their children, nothing in Protestantism would be any different. All the denominations, congregations,  individual believers and their children would be exactly as they are, if there were not, in addition, this entity referred to by the term “the visible catholic Church.” This shows that the term ‘visible catholic Church’ does not refer to an actual unified entity (i.e. the visible catholic Church), but is merely a name used to refer to what is in actuality a plurality of things having something in common, just as “Panapple” could be used to refer to all apples, even though in actuality there is not one thing consisting of all apples.

When we apply this test to the Catholic Church, by contrast, we find that in order to remove the whole and leave the parts, we have to change the world. This is because the Catholic Church’s hierarchical unity changes and orders the activity of her members.2 And this is also true of a society, on account of its singular government.3 But what allows the removal of the “visible catholic Church” from Protestant ecclesiology, without changing anything else, is that Protestantism mistakenly denies the necessity of hierarchical unity for visible unity at the universal (i.e. catholic) level. Reformed Protestantism recognizes that local churches, in order to be visible, must be hierarchical. No one would say that the fact of there being believers in a city ipso facto constitutes a local visible church. But, this fact is arbitrarily set aside in Reformed ecclesiology’s conception of the visible catholic Church, through its denial that the “visible catholic Church” need be hierarchical. If the local church must be hierarchical in order to be visible, then Reformed Protestants must either form a worldwide hierarchy if they wish to affirm a “visible catholic Church,” or drop the claim that there is a “visible catholic Church” to which they belong.

What are the implications of Protestantism having no visible catholic Church? If Protestantism has no visible catholic Catholic, then given Protestantism, the catholic Church is only invisible. This entails that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is the set of all the elect. This is the route of those Protestants who deny that Christ founded a visible Church. But this position runs contrary to Scripture, because we know from Scripture that there will be tares within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, until the angels remove them at the end. And yet by definition there can be no tares within the set of the elect (i.e. elect-to-glory). Likewise, when Matthew records Jesus saying to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “upon this rock I will build My Church”, and then saying, in Matthew 18:17, “tell it to the Church”, and “listen to the Church”, the most natural way of understanding these passages is that the term ‘ekklesia’ (‘Church’) is being used in the same way in all three places. And it is clear in the Matthew 18 passages that ‘ekklesia’ there refers to the visible Church, not a merely spiritual entity. Matters of discipline cannot be brought before the set of all the elect. This  shows us that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of which Christ speaks in Matthew 16 is not a mere set; Jesus was not meaning “upon this Rock I will build my set.”

Since, as I have shown above, Protestant ecclesiology has no visible catholic Church, and yet since from Scripture we see that the one catholic Church that Christ founded is visible, Protestantism must either give up the word ‘catholic’ in the Creed (as some Lutherans have done, replacing it with the word ‘Christian’), or seek reconciliation with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded, the Catholic Church from which Protestants separated in the sixteenth century.

  1. WCF XXV.2 []
  2. Catholic ecclesiology is not subject to this elimination of the “visible Catholic Church” because the Catholic Church is a hierarchically organized institution. Reductionism (as applied to living organisms) is the opposite error of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, which is exemplified in treating a plural-referring term as if it referred to an additional singular entity that in some sense includes all the other singular entities within itself. While misplaced concreteness treats mere pluralities as if they are actual wholes and thus mistakenly inflates the account of ontology, reductionism treats actual wholes as mere pluralities of smaller simples, and in this way fails to account fully for the being and activity of actual wholes. (See Leon Kass’s “The Permanent Limitations of Biology.”) Because the Catholic Church has hierarchical unity, as do organisms, it is not subject to eliminative reductionism, for the same reason they too are not subject to eliminative reductionism. To try to explain the activities of Catholics without referring to the institution to which they belong would necessarily leave out a significant part of the full explanation. It would be like trying to explain the daily life of a human being solely in terms of the movements of the particles of which he is composed. But a complete explanation of the activities of Protestants as such need not refer to some world-encompassing entity, “the visible catholic Church,” over and above the influence of other believers, their local congregation and denomination. []
  3. The human race is not a whole; all humans have unity of type, but do not compose a whole. []
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  1. Bryan,

    Well done.

    Another alternative would be to posit visibility on some sort of state-chuches-with-fraternal-relations model, much like the Orthodox. So the English and Scottish Presbyterians would be united with the Dutch Reformed Church, with the Swiss, etc. In this case, unity would have a certain hierarchical element and would have common faith and (I suppose) common sacraments. I think about how at the Synod of Dordt, there were Calvinist divines present from other nations, like delegates from the Anglican church.

    This would have to meet the composition test twice: first at the national level of each church (e.g., the congregations are united by a general assembly, discipline recognized by all other congregations, admission to sacraments in all other congregations for members, etc.) and then again at the international level. I think the second would be more difficult. An analogy could be drawn to the UN or the modern WCC, which unifies nations and denominations respectively. However, each of these are voluntary organizations.

    Even if some argument could pass the composition test at the international level, there would be a problem in accepting non-Reformed “visible churches” such as the Lutherans. LCMS churches practice closed communion. In order to have a real visible church, Protestants would have to go back to closed communion days. Because so many in the PCA (and the PCUSA, for that matter) pride themselves on open communion, I doubt this would ever happen.

    Thoughts? Do you see any way that Reformed denominations could pass the composition test at the international level? I’m struggling at the moment.

    Pax,

  2. “3. The human race is not a whole; all humans have unity of type, but do not compose a whole. ”

    This may be a minor point, but it’s one I’m curious about. Frank Sheed writes in Theology and Sanity at some length about the unity of the human race in a way that seems to go beyond a unity of type: “[There is] a failure to grasp the
    organic solidarity of the human race. We are not isolated units, but even in the natural order members of one thing” (p. 167, emph. added). He’s responding to complaints against the doctrine of Original Sin at that point in the book. I don’t think this affects your thesis, but I thought I should bring it up. Do you think Sheed’s wrong on this point, or are you talking about different things?

  3. Barrett,

    Great question — exactly what needs to be asked. Can “fraternal relations” between denominations (or between state churches) be sufficient for there to be a visible catholic Church? The answer is no. That’s because the denominations and their interelations are sufficient to explain their behavior. There is no need to posit some additional entity “the visible catholic Church” that is directing the activities of these denominations. The alleged ‘whole’ can be removed without changing anything about its ‘parts.’ What is necessary to make the denominations compose a whole is a single shared government. Only in this way can a plurality of institutions become (or form) a single institution. Mere cooperation or collaboration of denominations is compatible with there being only a plurality of institutions, not a single whole. In order for their activity to be an operation, and not merely a co-operation, there needs to be a unified government, i.e. the hierarchy must be unified at its highest level, so that it is not merely a plurality of hierarchies related horizontally, but a single hierarchy unified vertically under a unified head.

    NAPARC, for example, is an organized collaboration of participating Presbyterian and Reformed denominations. NAPARC is not a church, nor is it the government of the participating demominations. For good reason no one claims that NAPARC is the visible catholic Church, or that it is the Church that Christ founded, and of which He speaks in Matthew 16. To be visible, the Church must be hierarchically unified, and to be catholic, it must not be provincial, but universal, something like this:

    “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:20)

    “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

    “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14)

    “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

    “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

    And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” (Revelation 14:6)

    So to be the “visible catholic Church”, it must be both hierarchically unified and universal, not limited to a region, province, ethnicity, etc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. St. Gimp,

    Good point. What Sheed is saying, and what I am saying are not incompatible. Unity of type can be had either by organic derivation or by direct creation. Angels and humans are both rational. But this is not something derived from the other species. We did not receive rationality from the angels, nor did they receive it from us. In both cases this was given to us directly by God. But corporeal living things are so made by God that descendants receive their type from their progenitors. In this way, the members of an animate species are united not only by unity of type (one form), but also through lines of descent to one original body (one matter). But this does not make all members of a species into a whole of which these members are parts. Material unity by generational derivation is another kind of unity; it is not compositional unity. But derivational unity is not sufficient to make the visible catholic Church one, because every heresy and schism of history could likewise claim derivational unity from the Catholic Church, as something tracing its roots back to the Catholic Church — see here. So Sheed is right, but that doesn’t conflict with what I’m saying here about compositional unity. I hope that sheds some light on your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Bryan,

    This is all so very closely related to the moderate realism vs. nominalism debate. Nominalism seems to get traction from the fact that we do sometimes mistakenly assign names to types of things as if there is a whole above and beyond the individual entities which are an example of that type, as with the ‘panapples’ example or the ‘visible catholic church’ from some sects of Protestantism, where, in fact, there is no unity of composition, but only a unity of type.

    Speaking of the type, we sometimes assign a term to it and use it as a noun, making the mistake of objectifying that which exists, but not as an object, or reifying that which does not exist at all, except in the mind of the knower as a universal, recognzing unity of type or form. Moderate realists sometimes make such errors, though this is not an argument against moderate realism itself, only against errors made in its context and we must recall, of course, that abuse does not nullify proper use, just as an error made classifying x within a set of categories does not nullify the categories themselves. But nominalists want to treat, it seems, far too many things as merely names, as merely nominal, denying the reality of real objects- in the most extreme cases-, real relations between objects, real commonality between things, real classes of things, real groups of things, real membership, and perhaps even real types of unity, be they compositional, derivational, material, or formal, though more work would need to be done here.

    And so it seems that puzzles like ‘Is this philosophy *class* a real thing or merely a name given to refer to a plurality of things in shorthand notation, with their being nothing more than the plurality of individual things?’ and other such puzzles has relevance to the Protestant-Catholic controversy as well.

    The class is not a unity of composition. It is not a separate entity apart from all of the individuals who meet. The nominalists are right about that. But it is not a mere name, without any reality at all, as the nominalists might have it, for there seems to be some organization of purpose and some sort of reality to it such that when we refer to it we are not merely referring to nothing.

    Similarly, ‘Protestantism’ has a reality. It is not just a name. There is a unity of type, but there is not a unity of composition to which the term ‘Protestantism’ refers. There is not an object to which the term refers that is separate from all members of the type. If all Protestants got together and called themselves a ‘church’, the unity of composition would still be lacking. If would be something, like the class, and not a mere name or unreality with a name attached to it. But, without a deeper unity and a deeper structure, it does not rise above the panapples example, whereas the Catholic Church claims a unity of composition and heirarchy such that there is something more than just the common belief of the members.

    We might think of a group of people in a given area living amongst one another without an organized government, all having similar ideas about freedom. Still, that is not a government organized around the same concept in a specific way, passing authority through the generations through tradition.

    And so it is that the P-C controversy has something to do with that older moderate realism-nominalism debate, though I would not want to say that one side represents the moderate realist position and the other the nominalist position, for people can error when trying to be moderate realists otherwise, sometimes thinking that something is not real when it is, real when it is not, or, less crudely, real in a certain way that does not apply or not real in a certain way that really does apply, i.e., is actually the case. Protestants, then, have failed to appreciate the way in which the Catholic Church is real and why that is significant. They have also failed to appreciate the way in which they are not, as a ‘Church’, real, thinking that the way they, as a ‘Church’, are real is enough to make the Reformation acceptable, despite the fact that with the Reformation they sacrificed the realness that had existed prior to the Reformation for nearly 1500 years, discoverable in the Church Fathers, the Bible, and Church Doctors, cutting themselves from the realness created by Christ and limiting themselves to a more limited form of realness, i.e., ‘pan-appleness’.

    But with the Catholic Church Christians were already Christians by type and had that in common. Protestants added nothing in that regard. Rather, Protestantism is a reduction, a subtraction, subtracting out greater realities and, in fact, a unified reality, and then trying to take this or that part, as if the part can survive in true, authentic form without being a part of the whole to which it belongs.

    Bryan, no doubt, can clarify or correct or modify any errors I have made here, as needed.

    Eric

  6. Or, Protestants may look all of this squarely in the face and say that unity of hierarchy and tradition and, if applicable, composition, though intended by Christ and though perhaps important throughout history, even today, should not be placed over and above a true interpretation of Scripture. That is, if a unity, no matter how great and superior, is wrong in its interpretations of Christ’s intentions and message, the unity has to be put aside so that the truth can survive. I think this may also be how a great many Protestants see the matter, though I doubt most have adequately considered the importance of Christian unity, especially the deeper forms that the Catholic Church claims to offer, presently and historically.

  7. Bryan,

    Excellent post. Your conclusion made me think of the Reformed Churches which continue to say the Apostles Creed, always with the asterisk at the bottom redefining the word “Catholic”.

    You write, “What are the implications of Protestantism having no visible catholic Church? If Protestantism has no visible Catholic Church, then given Protestantism, the catholic Church is only invisible.”
    In my discussion with friends at RTS, the doctrine of the invisible Church is always used to justify the disunity of the visible churches.

  8. Hey again, I didn’t mean to submit that yet. Anyway, my Reformed friends make the argument that the Churches referred to in the book of Revelation are distinct and resemble the Protestant scene today (different Churches with unique issues). They argue that there is no hierarchical Catholic Church which unifies the local Churches which Jesus addresses.
    In regards to this specific argument, what do you see in the book of Revelation and the Churches addressed there, that would affirm the hierarchical unity of the Church?

  9. In regards to this specific argument, what do you see in the book of Revelation and the Churches addressed there, that would affirm the hierarchical unity of the Church?

    .

    I see the St. John the Apostle having the authority to write to all of them.

  10. Eric, thanks very much for your comments.

    Jeremy, we need to keep in mind the distinction between a “particular Church” and the “universal Church”. Jesus said to Peter, “upon this rock I will build my Church”. Notice the singular. The Church is the Bride of Christ; Jesus is not a polygamist. He has only one Bride. This is why singularity is one of the four *marks* of the Church: “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” taught in the Creed. But there was the Church at Jerusalem, the Church at Antioch, the Church in Rome, the Church in Corinth, the Church at Ephesus, etc. So, do we now have a contradiction: one Church, and yet many Churches? No, there is no contradiction. Those are particular Churches, each a member of the one universal (catholic) Church. And the Churches referred to in chapters 2-3 of Revelation are likewise particular Churches.

    They argue that there is no hierarchical Catholic Church which unifies the local Churches which Jesus addresses.

    I’d like to see that argument. (I can’t evaluate it, without seeing it.) Around AD 50, or so, the Church held its first Council in Jerusalem. This is recorded for us in Acts 15. The conclusion of that Council was binding on all particular Churches. This shows that the particular Churches were bound under the authority of the universal [catholic] Church. It was not the case that each particular Church was autonomous. That authority of the catholic Church over the particular Churches did not cease at the death of the last Apostle. That’s why as soon as the situation permitted, after the persecution ceased, the Church was able to hold an ecumenical council in AD 325, and its decisions were recognized to be binding on all particular Churches. It would be strange, don’t you think, if all particular Churches understood themselves to be autonomous, for them suddenly and without protest to treat the decisions of an ecumenical council as binding. Surely, there would have been outrage, protest and dissent throughout the entire Christian world, not so much because of the doctrinal decision at Nicea, but simply because of the audacious, presumptuous, arrogation to itself of the council’s claim to a universal ecclesial authority which had hitherto been denied (or at least unknown) by all particular Churches. “Get your universal laws off our particular body” might have been the preferred bumper sticker on Christians’ chariots around that time. But while the decision at Nicea was controversial, it wasn’t because the authority of the council was disputed, but because so many people were sympathetic to Arianism.

    But even before this, we can see that while St. John was still alive, St. Clement was writing (around 96 AD) an authoritative command to the Church at Corinth to get their act together. This is the letter of 1 Clement. St. Clement appears to be exercising a shepherding authority from the particular Church where St. Peter and St. Paul had labored and spilled their blood, and handed on their mantle. If each particular Church were autonomous, then St. Clement would have had no right to do what he did, or say things like this:

    You therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue. … Receive our counsel, and you shall be without repentance [i.e. have nothing to regret - BRC]. … If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger ….

    If St. Clement, writing while the Apostle John was still alive, believed that all particular Churches were autonomous, he could not have written such a statement. So, either St. Clement had already fallen off the cliff of ecclesial deism into the megalomaniacal lust for power, even while St. John still lived in Ephesus, or, it is not true that each particular Church was autonomous.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Bryan’s answer was slightly more thorough and had better grammar.

  12. Chad, awesome point. Wow. That’s should have been more obvious to me. Your grammar is fine too (I teach HS english and this is the one place I never worry about grammar!)

    Bryan, your point about St. Clement is very helpful. I will certainly use this quote. I think it will prove valuable, even to somebody who denegrates the Church Fathers out of their committment to sola scriptura.

    So…given the clear record of the early Church and the clarity of Scripture regarding Christ’s promise of one Church, how can a Protestant say that the Catholic Church ceased to be a Church at Trent (as they always do)? Does not such a statement require extra-biblical revelation? Even if my Protestant friend is right, when he argues, “The Catholic Church cannot be considered a Church in any sense”, wouldn’t such knowledge require a violation of sola scriptura? This friend (who is a PCA Pastor) makes the specific point that “the only thing that justifies our existence is that the Catholic Church ceased to be a Church at Trent”. I’m seeing from what your’e saying though and to me, it makes clear that from a Reformed perspective, and from the role of tradition in the “orthodox” reformed camp, the reformed doctrine of the Church is indefensible.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  13. That didn’t make much sense, I was trying to say that on its own terms (Reformed theology), the Reformed Doctrine of the Church as given in the WCF is untenable.

  14. Bryan:

    I don’t know if you realise it or not but the fact is Rome had no Monarchial Bishop until the end of the 2cnd Century. The “Clement” that is cited so often to “prove” that he was the Bishop of Rome and “Pope” who governed the Catholic Church is untenable based on the facts of history. “Clement” was one of many co-equal “Presbyters” who governed the Church in Rome. Each “Presbyter” was delegated certain responsibilities and “Clement” was like a sort of “Secretary of external affairs” whose responsibility was to communicate with Churches outside of Rome. Also the whole idea of a single “Monarchial Bishop” who was in charge of a city or certain geographical area gradually developed over time as the Church gained converts. I suggest you read “Christians At Rome In The First Two Centuries: From Paul To Valentinus”, this is an exhaustive study of the Church in Rome from St. Paul to the end of the 2cnd Century and thoroughly refutes the idea of a central Papacy and Bishop who governed the entire Church done by Peter Lampe.

  15. Neither does the Roman Catholic Church have one visible catholic church … if you mean by “catholic,” uniting all churches. Since it is too narrow to admit Protestants.

  16. Jeremy, (re: #12)

    how can a Protestant say that the Catholic Church ceased to be a Church at Trent (as they always do)? Does not such a statement require extra-biblical revelation? Even if my Protestant friend is right, when he argues, “The Catholic Church cannot be considered a Church in any sense”, wouldn’t such knowledge require a violation of sola scriptura? This friend (who is a PCA Pastor) makes the specific point that “the only thing that justifies our existence is that the Catholic Church ceased to be a Church at Trent”.

    A week ago, Sean posted “Which Lens is the Proper Lens?” In it he quoted from something I had written at Green Baggins, to Protestant pastor Lane Keister. I’ll paste my comment here:

    You say you reject biblicism. But then you use a biblicist way of defining ‘church’, and then say “We love the church and highly respect her opinions”. Well, if ‘church’ just means those who agree with your interpretation of Scripture, with marks determined by your own interpretation (or those whose interpretation you share), then, of course it is no big surprise that you “love and highly respect” the ‘church’, because, it is no surprise that you love and highly respect your own interpretations of Scripture. Apart from the biblicist-determined ‘marks of the Church’, what the early Protestants did in the sixteenth century viz-a-viz the Catholic Church (e.g. Luther publicly burning the papal bull) is quite indistinguishable from not highly respecting the Church, even rebelling, against the Church, whether or not their treatment of the Church is verbally described as loving and highly respecting the opinions of the Church, and whether or not the early Protestants had well-intentioned motives (which I generally think they did).

    If the FV folks said they loved and highly respected the opinions of the Church, and defined the marks of the Church so that it included themselves, and justified their disregard of the rulings of the PCA, OPC, etc., you would be all over that, immediately. But that’s just what your claim [that I quoted above] looks like, from a Catholic point of view. So your position is, in that respect, ad hoc, accepting biblicist defining of the marks when it suits you (i.e. in the case of the early Protestants), and rejecting it when it doesn’t (i.e. viz-a-viz the FVers).

    So, in answer to your question: “how can a Protestant say that the Catholic Church ceased to be a Church at Trent (as they always do)?”, they do so by redefining the marks of the Church, such that one of the new marks is “the gospel”, and then “the gospel” is defined according to their own interpretation of Scripture as faith-not-informed-by-agape; see my post titled, “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” There I show that there is not a good case that the Bible defines the gospel as faith-not-informed-by-agape. And as soon as Protestants see that, and given that “the only thing that justifies [Protestantism's] existence is that the Catholic Church ceased to be a Church at Trent,” it follows that not only did the Catholic Church not cease to be the Church at Trent, but Protestants are not (and have never been) justified in being separated from the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. JohnW,

    I’ve read Lampe’s book. Can you name one piece of historical evidence that meets two conditions: (1) it shows that there was no monarchical bishop in Rome until the second half of the second century, and (2) it is stronger evidence than is the list of St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.3.3)? (Please show why it is stronger evidence than is St. Irenaeus’ list.) If you can do that, then your assertion will be something more than a mere assertion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. Joe, (re: #15),

    Neither does the Roman Catholic Church have one visible catholic church … if you mean by “catholic,” uniting all churches. Since it is too narrow to admit Protestants.

    The fact of there being persons in schism from the Church does not refute the visible unity of the Church. To assume that Protestants are not in schism from the Church, or to assume that if there were a visible catholic Church it would necessarily include Protestants, and to use either assumption as evidence against the visible unity of the Catholic Church, is to assume the falsity of Catholicism at the outset, i.e. to beg the question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. Yeah, that was a great article, although I got lost for a moment in all the “whole” and “world” statements! But I got the point.

    #10 was extremely interesting to me in your responses Bryan. I never before thought of what you mentioned about the councils. If they were binding, that is indicative of authority and hierarchy. It would seem that, such a council and it’s binding decisions didn’t cause an uproar of people shouting “Who do these guys think they are?!?!”… instead we do see issues arise for the reason you mentioned. That is a wild thought. This was the case from the start with the first council as you mentioned. Very intriguing! Where do you come up with this stuff? :D

    Anyway, thanks for stimulating the gray matter!

    In the peace of Christ,
    -g-

  20. Dear John W,

    I’ve written a number of comments regarding the “evidence” that there were no bishops in Rome until the late second century. You can see them in the Ecclesial Deism thread. As you review the evidence, I recommend distinguishing between five types of evidence:

    (1) Positive, detailed evidence from people who we have good reasons to believe were honest.

    (2) Positive evidence without many details, from people who may or may not have been honest.

    (3) Silence that is damning (i.e., silence in areas where you would have strongly expected positive evidence).

    (4) Silence that is ambiguous

    (5) Silence that is innocent (i.e., silence in areas where you would never have expected positive evidence anyway).

    As far as I can tell from the books that I have read, the evidence for the claim that there were no bishops in Rome until the late second century is entirely in categories (4) and (5), which are the weakest forms of evidence (I hesitate to call them evidence at all). For example, people point out that some early Church documents that I see no reason to believe would have complete descriptions of church hierarchies don’t explicitly mention bishops (some do, but some don’t). This is sloppy evidence. The evidence for the claim that there were Bishops in Rome, on the other hand, is in category (1).

    The fact that you have lots of ambiguous and innocent silences to bolster your claim is really irrelevant. In fields that depend on analysis of data, one or two really solid observations are inestimably more valuable than one hundred sloppy and biased observations. A case in point is the famous debate over the effect of class size on student achievement. One properly run experiment is much more valuable for determining this effect than one hundred non-experimental surveys — because there are so many biases in these surveys, and because multiplying bad evidence times one hundred still leaves us with. . . bad evidence!

    I know of sloppy economists who make the same argument about the class size data as sloppy protestants make about early church history (and these sloppy economists are not exactly well-respected in the centers of the field). But in spite of the fact that careless people in all fields sometimes fall for this falsehood, the same truth holds everywhere: multiplying sloppy and biased evidence times one hundred still leaves you with sloppy and biased evidence.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  21. Hey all,

    I would love help with something somewhat unrelated. Last night I had a fairly intense debate on the phone with one of my RTS Professors. He insisted that Rome “formally” teaches the insufficiency of Scripture and that the Roman formula for doctrinal authority is (Bible + sacred tradition) as two separate authorities. I argued (I don’t know if I understand this right), that these authorities are not two seperate authorites at all, but two aspects of the same authority, both established by God. Rather than the Bible and the Church as two independant authorities, I argued that Rome teaches the formula (in my own words)”BIBLE- AS INTERPRETED BY THE CHURCH”. I know this is a simplification, but is this a fair understanding of the relationship between these two authorities?

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  22. hey Jeremy,

    Henri de Lubac’s work entitled “L’écriture dans la tradition” was first published in English under the title “The Sources of Revelation,” and here’s what he says about that translation:

    “You can’t imagine my shock when I read The Sources of Revelation (1968) on the cover! And I was the one who had battled against the famous theory of ‘the two sources’!” [pxv of introduction of his book, ISBN No. 0824518713]

    i’ve been reading that book and his Medieval Exegesis series [ISBN No. 056708634] and both reflect exactly what you’re saying, that Catholicism does not teach a strict separation of Scripture | Tradition. i see Catholic authors refer to them as “Scripture and Tradition” in all kinds of contexts, which could easily lead people to believe in a “theory of two sources,” but i suspect that’s just an effect of the coordinating conjunction.

    i’d also say your professor’s explanation as you’ve described it directly contradicts the teaching of then Cardinal Ratzinger that can be found in God’s Word [ISBN No. 9781586171797]. you’re about to get much more (and better) feedback than this from others, but for what it’s worth, there’s three sources that have had a deep impact on my thinking.

    Cheers,
    w

  23. Thanks Wilkens,

    Both of us were insisting that we were accurately representing what Rome teaches, so that’s basically how our conversation ended. I will certaintly look at Ratzinger’s article. Do you have a link to it?
    – Jeremy

  24. Jeremy,

    if you Google in quotation marks ["primacy, episcopate, and successio apostolica"] you’ll see that the introduction to the Cardinal Ratzinger book is available online, but i don’t think there’s on online full-text version (Google Books has a limited preview copy: just type “God’s Word” into the Google Books search box and it will be the first book that pops up, I believe).

    what do you think your professor would accept as ‘smoking gun’ evidence of an official Church position? did he offer any clues in that regard?

    paragraph 80, p31 of the Catechism has the very bold title line, “One common source…” [and i recommend CCC as primary resource, btw], but my fall-back position (as a happy Protestant) was something like, “Well, yeah, maybe that’s what this catechism says today, but for 1900 years the Catholic Church has been about Tradition only.” in other words, i wouldnot have accepted the CCC as a true testimony of Church teaching.

    what have you read that led you to the conclusion you articulated to your professor?

    Best,
    w

  25. Hey W,

    My conclusion is from the language of the catechism which speaks of the magisterium as the servant of Scripture. I argued that the two are in complete agreement, with the magisterium fleshing the original apostolic deposit for various contexts. He argued that doctrines such as the assumption of Mary, immaculate conception, ect, are not hinted at in Scripture and therefore, the two authorities are not “one common source”, but two different sources.

    I’ll check out Ratzinger, Jeremy

  26. Wilkins,

    I think you did a fine job of answering. Jeremy/Wilkins: here is Dei Verbum:

    Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence

    And…

    But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (9) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith.

    So it is not the teaching of the Church that Scripture is insufficient but that Scripture removed from the context of Sacred Tradition is insufficient. It is not demeaning to a fish to say it belongs in water. He fails to appreciate the nature of a fish who says the fish is useful outside of water!

  27. hey Jeremy,

    there’s something odd about that objection… if ‘tradition’ must mirror Scripture, then isn’t the only possible source Scripture? [on the other hand, it seems like an objection to specifically Catholic dogma (which is, in fact, reflected in Scripture) is unhelpfully conflated with the question of Scripture's relationship to tradition; ack! it's quite a knot you're pulling on]

    = : )

    i suspect this book (God’s Word:Scripture, Tradition, Office) is going to make a very big contribution to your discussion. i’m just flipping through my copy: page 51 is point of departure for ‘Theses on the Relation between Revelation and Tradition':

    “The fact that there is ‘tradition’ rests first of all on the incongruence between the two entities ‘revelation’ and ‘Scripture’. For revelation signifies all God’s acts and utterances directed to man; it signifies a reality of which Scripture gives us information but that is not simply Scripture itself. Revelation goes beyond Scripture, then, to the same extent as reality goes beyond information about it. We could also say that Scripture is the material principle of Revelation (perhaps the only one, perhaps one of a number—we may leave that point open for the moment) but is not that revelation itself… you cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence.”

    and p56,

    “The reality that comes to be in Christian revelation is nothing and no one other than Christ himsef. He is revelation inthe proper sense: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’, Christ says in John (14:9)… on this basis, light is thrown of its own accord on the question of the sufficiency of Scripture in terms of content, which has so dominated the discussion since Geiselmann’s work. We would nevertheless have to ask here: ‘What can “sufficiency in terms of content” mean at all, speaking in Christian terms? Only the reality of Christ is ‘sufficient’.”

    the whole thing is like a kick in the solar plexus, this book. it’s entirely too good.

  28. On second thought, fish are useful outside of water; namely for eating. :) He fails to appreciate the nature of a fish who says the fish can live outside of water. That’s better.

  29. hey Tim,

    “He fails to appreciate the nature of a fish…” is perfect, both iterations! (lol)

  30. W,

    That’s good stuff. It seems to lend itself, and has, I’m sure, to a connection with the Thomistic/Aristotelian epistemology wherein the knower goes beyond storing and perceiving data about known things and actually becomes them (without losing self).

    To treat Scripture as formally sufficient for salvation fails to appreciate what salvation requires (which is beyond what Scripture, per se, can provide).

    Furthermore, as stated, the record of revelation is not the revelation itself anymore than a photograph of a mountain is the mountain.

  31. Thank you guys both a ton. C2C is a goldmine. This is incredibly helpful. – Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  32. W,

    To answer your question from earlier, no, my Professor does not believe that the CCC accurately represents the true teaching of Rome precisely because he believes the magisterium teaches other doctrine contrary to scripture. For him, Dei Verbum and the teachings of the CCC, actually make the sin of Rome more severe because they claim to be doing the exact opposite of what Protestants accuse them of. So…the conversation tends to become a big unfruitful circle.

    I really can’t tell you how helpful your explation of this has been. I had read excerpts from Dei Verbum before, but I’m a pretty simple guy and Tim’s simple explanation of the fish in water makes all the sense in the world to me.

    Thanks again, Jeremy

  33. thanks, Jeremy,

    and you’re right about this place—i’ve learned a lot from the articles, podcasts and comment reading.

    and i totally respect your professor’s concern; he’s articulating what my parents and friends believe—what good, and decent, and often very brilliant people taught me (and you, all of us) for many years.

    i think it’s good to be simple. i happen to be unusually slow about ‘getting’ things. much of the crucial reading (like the suggested Cardinal Ratzinger book) is difficult—and untranslated Latin sometimes makes me curse. we need each other in forums like this. I don’t know Tim or any of the others but their explanations and questions have really helped a lot of my reading gel up and make sense.

    Pax Christi,
    w

  34. “But this position runs contrary to Scripture, because we know from Scripture that there will be tares within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, until the angels remove them at the end. And yet by definition there can be no tares within the set of the elect (i.e. elect-to-glory).”

    Bryan, you seem to be reading scripture through a Catholic lens, or “begging the question” as you sometimes put it. Nowhere in that passage in Matthew 13 does it mention the “one holy, catholic, apostolic church”. Instead, Jesus uses the term “kingdom of heaven” and then goes on to tell the parable. And in fact, rather than a description of the church, later in Matthew 13:37 – 43 Jesus tells us exactly what he meant – the field is the world – not the church. He is describing believers and unbelievers living together until the time of the judgment, not believers and unbeliever residing together in a visible church.

    Matthew 13 has a number of these parables about the “kingdom of heaven” and it does not look to me like many of them are describing the church. The kingdom is variously described as field of wheat and tares, mustad seed, yeast, a hidden treasure, a valuable pearl, and a great net. Again, these are parable about the “kingdom of heaven” which I don’t think can be equated easily to the institutional hierarchical Catholic church.

    So while you may yet be able to disprove from scripture the position of some Protestants whether the church is visible or invisible, I don’t think you done it here.

  35. “Likewise, when Matthew records Jesus saying to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “upon this rock I will build My Church”, and then saying, in Matthew 18:17, “tell it to the Church”, and “listen to the Church”, the most natural way of understanding these passages is that the term ‘ekklesia’ (’Church’) is being used in the same way in all three places. And it is clear in the Matthew 18 passages that ‘ekklesia’ there refers to the visible Church, not a merely spiritual entity. Matters of discipline cannot be brought before the set of all the elect. This shows us that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of which Christ speaks in Matthew 16 is not a mere set; Jesus was not meaning “upon this Rock I will build my set.”

    I disagree that the natural reading of “ekklesia” is the same in all three places. In Matthew 18 it would appear to me that he is talking of the local church or “assembly”, not the “catholic” church or “church as a whole” or whatever term you wish to use. How could you even do that? Indeed the emphasis on going yourself, then taking 2 or 3 brothers, then taking the unrepentant sinner to the “church” as a whole being the local “assembly” makes much more sense to me as a natural progression of steps.

    I don’t find the most natural meaning to be the one you are applying. Again, I don’t think you’ve proven anything at this point. The scripture examples you’ve used to prove a “visible” church seem to fall short to me.

  36. Steve, (re: #34)

    You’re right that the passage doesn’t say “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. But I’m following the Church fathers, in understanding the Church to be the Kingdom, in its present stage. Otherwise Jesus would have two entities to which He is joined: His Church (i.e. His Bride), and His Kingdom. But when He gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom, He wasn’t giving him keys only to be used in the eschaton; He was giving him keys to be used in the Church. See also the section titled “The Church and the Kingdom” in the article by Tom Brown and myself titled “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” But, my argument does not hang on that prooftext. Matthew 18 shows that the Church Christ founded (referred to in Matt 16) is visible, for the reasons I explained in the body of my post. Presbyterians and Reformed Christians have explicitly rejected the claim that there is no visible catholic Church. So, I don’t need to establish that the Church is visible, because the persons to whom I am writing already agree with me that the Church isn’t just the set of all the elect. This is precisely why the Westminster Confession makes a distinction between the invisible Church and the visible Church, and affirms both.

    So, my argument shows that Protestant ecclesiology does not have a visible catholic Church. And that means that Presbyterians and Reformed Christians can either embrace the notion that Christ founded only an invisible Church (i.e. the set of all the elect), or they can be reconciled with the visible catholic Church from which they separated almost five hundred years ago. We hope and pray that they will choose reconciliation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  37. Bryan,

    The concept of the invisible church is just a reflection of God’s knowledge of the Church vs. ours. We don’t know all of God’s Church. For instance, there are all sorts of folks in the far corners of the earth who are beloved by God even though He has not revealed Himself to them. They are not part of the visible Church right now, but they are part of the invisible Church. God knows them even if we do not know them.

    What Christ ordained when He came to earth was visible. There is a description of what the Church ought to be doing in the Scriptures and a description of characteristics of the officers of the Church. These are the foundational documents of the Church. The question of the invisible Church does not enter in here that I can see. Christ set up a visible Church. The question as I see it concerning Rome is whether or not the visible Church that Christ ordained is the same as what Rome proclaimed at the Reformation. If it is not then Catholics should not claim that Rome is faithful because they can claim direct their bishops were descended from the earliest bishops. This is the same error that the Jews of the Apostles time fell into when they claimed that they were the spiritual children of Abraham because they could draw a straight line of descendency from them to Abraham (which of course they could).

  38. Andrew,

    My purpose in this post is to lay out an argument for a thesis. That thesis is that Protestantism has no visible catholic Church. None of what you say in #37, no matter how true, addresses or refutes my argument. So, if you want to argue that the Catholic Church presently headed by Pope Benedict is not a visible Church, or has been unfaithful in some respect, that would be an argument for a different post. My argument shows that the WCF’s statement about the “catholic visible Church” is incorrect, at least within Protestantism. That means that, besides the Catholic Church headed by the successor of Peter, and besides the Orthodox Churches (which are not catholic, for the same reason given in the argument of my post), the only catholic Church Protestants are left with is the invisible Church, i.e. the set of all the elect. And that implication runs into exegetical problems, as I pointed out in the post. Jesus was not saying to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my set.” Nor was He teaching them in Matt 18 to take matters of discipline to the invisible set.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  39. Andrew,

    If Protestantism had a visible Church what would it look like? (e.g. same sacramental theology, same doctrine on government etc…). In short, if I wanted to find this Protestant visible Church how would I know that I have found it, what should I look for?

  40. None of what you say in #37, no matter how true, addresses or refutes my argument.

    Bryan – What I’m trying to suggest is that you are barking up the wrong tree. What I say does not address your argument because your argument does not have resonance with the Reformed Protestants. You speak of the infallible church and try to connect it with what Christ established. But the concept of the invisible church has no relevance in this context, at least none that I can see. The invisible church is what God ordained from all eternity, not what Christ established when He came to the earth as a man. The concept is just looking at God’s covenant people from the perspective of God as we hear Him speak. He knows His people even if we don’t. It’s about His eternal covenant, not about the specifics of the NT church.

    OK, so we agree that Christ did not establish an invisible Church because this had already been established from all eternity in the plan of God. Now you say in #36 that either we embrace the notion that Christ established an invisible Church or we return to Rome. But I think this is a tad premature. First we have to define what we are talking about when we use the term “visible church.” This is what I was trying to do in #37. You responded that you thought this was a different question for a different post, but I disagree. What we mean by the visible church is central to the matter. We read of the elements of the visible Church that are in the original documents of our faith. We see that there are elders/bishops/deacons established. We see that there are certain tasks to be performed by the Church (preach the gospel, care of the poor, etc). And then we see these practices continued in the Sub-apostolic era. So at the center of the matter is whether, at the Reformation, Rome still held to a conception of the visible church that was compatible with these early teachings on and expressions of the visible church. Rome felt she was the expression of the true church but were her actions compatible with those of the earliest centuries of the visible church? Either they were or they were not. And then of course either the Reformed churches did or did not bring reformation to reestablish the elements of the visible church as we read about them in the documents of Scripture and the Sub-apostolic era.

  41. If Protestantism had a visible Church what would it look like? (e.g. same sacramental theology, same doctrine on government etc…). In short, if I wanted to find this Protestant visible Church how would I know that I have found it, what should I look for?

    Tom,

    The Evangelical churches generally don’t dwell on such matters. But generally see each other as faithful expressions of Christ’s Church even though we may disagree on some of the non-fundamentals. So the local Baptist church near me is a true expression of the visible Church. Of this I have no doubt. Now perhaps you are wanting an exact definition of where the boundaries of the visible Church are so that you can match this up with Rome?

  42. Andrew,

    If in fact there were no visible catholic Church, but only denominations, congregations, believers, and their children, what exactly would be different?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Dear Andrew M.,

    You said: “The question as I see it concerning Rome is whether or not the visible Church that Christ ordained is the same as what Rome proclaimed at the Reformation. If it is not then Catholics should not claim that Rome is faithful because they can claim direct their bishops were descended from the earliest bishops. This is the same error that the Jews of the Apostles time fell into when they claimed that they were the spiritual children of Abraham because they could draw a straight line of descendency from them to Abraham (which of course they could).”

    I think you’re right that it does matter whether or not the visible Church that Christ ordained is the same Church that the bishops united with the Pope proclaimed during the Reformation — in fact it matters during every era. But I think you’re wrong when you say that claiming faithfulness on the grounds that our Bishops were directly descended from the earliest Bishops is the same error as the Jews who claimed to be spiritual children of Abraham at the apostle’s time. There was something that happened at the apostle’s time that did not happen at the time of the reformation. Namely, a new revelation was sent by God. And the one who brought that new revelation had three important things: (1) he was, in a sense, in the line of King David; (2) he had great holiness; and (3) he performed mighty miracles.

    None of these marks were present with the leaders of the Reformation: Martin Luther and John Calvin. They didn’t have the right spiritual descent (they weren’t bishops); they were not spectacularly holy; and they did not perform miracles. Without these marks, the Jews would have been wrong to accept a messiah. And without such a new revelation, there is no leaving the legitimate priesthood of the existing revelation.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  44. Bryan

    I still see a whole lot of problems:

    1) Whatever Jesus means by the kingdom of God in this passage, he doesn’t mean the church in this case. He specifically says it is the world, not the church. You can’t get around that. Kingdom does not necessarily mean the church. It appears here to me that the kingdom in these parables means in some sort of sense, God’ reign on earth, while the church is God’s people on earth.

    2) Even if he did mean the church, you’re still begging the question. You argument depends upon this being the “one, holy, apostolic catholic church” as being the Catholic Church that we know of today. You still haven’t proven that. Again, you’re reading this through your Catholic lens.

    3) Again, Matthew 18 which you refer to does not prove your argument. You say Matthew 18 is the same church in Matthew 13, which again, I disagree with. You haven’t proven to me that they are the same as you have not addressed what I said that I can tell.

    You don’t see to me to be addressing my points directly. You say that some Protestants believe in an invisible church. You then use two scripture passages in your next to last paragrah to show that the Protestant position is “contrary to scripture”. Yet, I have just shown that in the first example, you’ve ignored the plain words of Jesus, and in the second you’re not proven that the most natural reading (your assertion) is that what is meant by the word “church” in Matthew 16 and 18 are the same thing.

    So while you may be causing problems for those Protestants that believe in a visible church, your two scripture passages don’t seem to refute those Protestants that don’t believe in a visible church. That is your claim in that paragraph, and that is the claim that I fail to see as proven.

  45. Andrew,

    I understand what you are saying about the local baptist congregation and the disagreement on non-fundamentals. And it is precisely in my understanding that I can say that Protestantism does not have a visible catholic Church. If the Church is the Church then to think that there can be a variety of teachings about baptism, the presence of Christ in the Supper, the assurance of a believer’s salvation, the nature and authority of government, says, regardless of what the Bishop of Rome would have to say, that Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.

  46. Steve,

    I’m not intending to establish here (in this particular post) that the Church Christ founded is a visible Church. Tom Brown and I did that already in our previous article this summer, titled, “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” If you want to discuss the evidence and argumentation regarding whether Christ founded a visible Church, I recommend directing your comments to that article.

    My argument here, in this post runs like this:

    (1) Presbyterians and Reformed Christians claim that there is a visible catholic Church.
    (2) Unity of type is not sufficient for unity of composition.
    (3) A plurality having only unity of type can be shown to be so by the remove-the-whole-without-changing-the-parts test.
    (4) Applying this test to the “visible catholic Church” shows it to have only unity of type.
    (5) Applying this test to the Catholic Church shows it to have unity of composition.
    (6) A plurality of things having only unity of type, and not unity of composition, is not an actual entity.
    (7) The “visible catholic Church”, in Protestant ecclesiology, is not an actual entity.
    (8) There is, within Protestantism, no “visible catholic Church”.
    (9) If the catholic Church is not visible, then it is invisible, i.e. the set of all the elect.
    (10) But the Church Christ founded, as presented in Scripture, is not the set of all the elect. (See our “Christ Founded a Visible Church” article, for substantiation of this premise.)
    (11) Therefore, Presbyterian and Reformed Christians should either give up the word ‘catholic’ in referring to the visible catholic Church (and thus speak only of local visible churches), or seek reconciliation with the Catholic Church from which the first generation of Protestants separated in the sixteenth century.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. There was something that happened at the apostle’s time that did not happen at the time of the reformation. Namely, a new revelation was sent by God.

    K. Doran,

    I agree with you – there is no new revelation at the time of the Reformation. But my point is simpler. We as Protestants are often faced with the charge that our ecclesiastical officers have broken with the line of succession that can be traced back to the 1st century. And it’s an important discussion since in the RCC the validity of a given officer is contingent upon this succession and this succession alone. So part of our response is that this succession does not guarantee that the officer in question is valid in a biblical sense. When the Apostles spoke with the Jews in their time (and when we speak with Jews even today) there was a very similar sort of argument from the Jews that based the validity of their office upon the literal succession back to the original Patriarchs. And while we cannot deny that the Jews could claim such literal succession, they had to be reminded that this succession alone could not guarantee that the Jews’ officers were valid and faithful. We see Paul spending quite a bit of time arguing from the Scriptures that their confidence in their pedigree was misplaced.

  48. If in fact there were no visible catholic Church, but only denominations, congregations, believers, and their children, what exactly would be different?

    Bryan,

    I’m not sure how to answer this one since as soon as someone starts talking about any physical manifestations of the Church on the earth, even a simple group of congregations, you have a visible church in some sense. So what is the visible church and how do we define it? In the Scriptures you have definitions for officers and functions for the various congregations. There are to be elders/bishops and deacons. They are to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, etc. There is nothing invisible about this, these were distinctly visible elements of the visible church and they comprise the biblical concept of the visible church. Now it seems to me that in the RCC’s concept of the visible church there are vital elements which say something about 1) the connectivity of the congregations, 2) the hierarchical nature of this connectivity, and 3) the place that the Church at Rome had in this hierarchy. The Church of Rome holds that these elements of the visible Church are necessary and essential. But given the documents primarily of Scripture and secondarily of the Post-apostolic church, are they essential? I would definitely hold that by inference from the accounts in Acts that #1 ought to be present. But are #2 and #3 vital elements and how do we decide?

    Cheers for now….

  49. Dear Bryan,

    This is, yet again, another example of you critiquing Protestantism from a Catholic set of presuppositions. It just won’t convince Protestants.

    [1] When one looks at how the word “church” is used in the NT it is far from RCism.

    [2] The “visible” church if the early centuries is so radically different from high medieval Catholicism. (Development of doctrine hardly explains this).

    [3] RCism runs into its own problems with its doctrine of the visible church: this visible church has been involved in murder, sex abuse, etc. etc. This is only a problem for the RC doctrine of the visible church.

    Cheers,

    Marty.

  50. Andrew,

    Consider the story by Hans Christian Anderson “The Emperor’s New Clothes“. When the Emperor is walking naked down the street, the proper question is: If the Emperor were, in fact wearing no clothes, how would he appear any different? If the answer is, “we don’t know,” that can only be because he would look exactly the same if he were in fact naked. And if the answer is, “He would look exactly as he appears to us now,” then the proper follow-up question is, “Then why should we believe he has on invisible clothes?”

    Similarly, if you don’t know how to answer the question, “If in fact there were no visible catholic Church, but only denominations, congregations, believers, and their children, what exactly would be different?,” that can only be because things would be exactly the same if there were no such thing as “the visible catholic Church.” And if things would be exactly the same if there were no such thing as “the visible catholic Church”, then there is (within Protestantism) no visible catholic Church. What is referred to as “the visible catholic Church” is merely a mental concept mistakenly treated as though it were an actual entity (e.g. “panapple”).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. Marty,

    There are only two ways to refute a deductive argument: show one of the premises to be false, or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. If you wish to refute my argument, then you need to do one of those two things. In comment #46 I’ve summarized the argument of my post, to make it easier to see the syllogism. If you do not show one of the premises to be false, or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises, then the argument remains unrefuted.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  52. Dear Andrew M.,

    You said: “When the Apostles spoke with the Jews in their time (and when we speak with Jews even today) there was a very similar sort of argument from the Jews that based the validity of their office upon the literal succession back to the original Patriarchs. And while we cannot deny that the Jews could claim such literal succession, they had to be reminded that this succession alone could not guarantee that the Jews’ officers were valid and faithful. We see Paul spending quite a bit of time arguing from the Scriptures that their confidence in their pedigree was misplaced.”

    The reason that the Jewish succession alone could not guarantee that the Jew’s officers were valid was because there was a new revelation. To put it another way: how do you know that the reason was NOT because there was a new revelation. Do you have another example from the bible in which valid ministers are no longer valid even apart from a new revelation? If you don’t, then your example is what we would call in economics “unidentified.”

    To be more precise, two things are happening at the same time: Jewish people are making an argument that is refuted by Christians (and Christ); and a new revelation has arrived. You want to say that the Jewish argument is false in general, even when used in other contexts in which no new revelation has arrived. But you don’t know whether it is false in general, because the only example you have of it being false is an example which occurs simultaneously with the arrival of a new revelation. Do you see what your biblical example is not sufficient for your argument?

    If you don’t have another example, then you may be implicitly comparing the arrival of the Protestant reformers with the arrival of Christ. That is dangerous water.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  53. Similarly, if you don’t know how to answer the question, “If in fact there were no visible catholic Church….

    Bryan,

    Before any two people can have a discussion on a given entity they have to define the entitiy so they are sure they are speaking of the same thing. We have not agreed on the definition of “visible church” so how can I asnwer your question? I think it is likely that you are asking me about an aspect of the visible church that that reflects on its hierarchial and Roman nature. But you have not said this so I don’t know. For the Protestant we look at the visible church church from the perspective of a time before there was any obvious or explicit imvolvement of Rome and before there was any defined hierarchial structure to the visible church. We have this perspective because the foundational instructions concerning the visible church apply to individual congregations, not to the whatever entity might coordinate the relations between the congregations. But when RC’s speak of “visible church” they are generally referring to the hierarchial and Roman superstructure of which individual congregations are a part of. Philosophically you are speaking of the One while I am speaking of the Many. So our definitions are different and I can’t see that much progress can be made until we are are sure we are speaking of the same thing.

  54. Andrew,

    I’m using the definition of ‘visible catholic Church’ found in the WCF. See the first quotation in my post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  55. You want to say that the Jewish argument is false in general, even when used in other contexts in which no new revelation has arrived.

    K. Doran,

    But take new revelation out of the picture entirely. Let’s say that we are speaking of a time well before there was any NT revelation. Did the Jew’s argument work then? Did their literal succession from Aaron and Abraham guarantee anything concerning their validity and fidelity?

    And then even when there was new revelation, when Paul argued with the Jews in the synagogoue, he started not with the new revelation but he pointed them back to the old revelation, right?

  56. Bryan,

    OK then, so you agree that when we say “visible church,” we are speaking of an entity that has no Roman or hierarchial elements?

  57. Andrew,

    OK then, so you agree that when we say “visible church,” we are speaking of an entity that has no Roman or hierarchial elements?

    Yes, exactly. My argument shows precisely that there is no such entity.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  58. Andrew,
    In St. Matthew, ch. 23 Christ says: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.

    In this passage Christ affirms the validity of the Jewish claim to successional authority (that of Moses). Therefore, authority properly derives from BOTH succession AND the Holy Spirit’s anointing. So though a Protestant minister may have a claim to righteous teaching and a heart that seeks God’s will, he may never claim succession. Whereas, though Catholics may (often) fail as individuals, they always have a valid claim to succession. And that’s the proper place for true reformation- from within the Apostolic line. It’s only within an ancient communion that one finds Apostolic Succession.

    Marty,
    You said that this kind of argumentation just “won’t convince Protestants.” I was a Protestant until I was 30. I’m 32 now. And my family of 7 is Catholic. Yes, I’ve got a lot of Protestantism in my blood. But it’s arguments like Bryan’s that overcame my Protestant heritage. Indeed, many Protestants find such argumentation thoroughly convincing. thanks! herbert

  59. Yes, exactly. My argument shows precisely that there is no such entity.

    OK, fair enough. Yes, there is nothing in the Protestant conception of the visible church which is Roman or hierarchial. At that is because there is nothing in the foundational documents (promarily Scriptre and secondarily the writings of Sub-aposotlic Church) that is Roman or hierarchial. The instuctions for the visible church applied to congregations, not to any sort of superstucture that coordinated the congregations. The administrative coordinating entity which evolved into what we know today as the RCC ecclesiaistical system was not part of the orginal visible church.

  60. Andrew,

    So do you reject WCF XXV.2’s teaching that there is a visible catholic Church?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  61. Dear Andrew M.,

    Can’t you just cut to the chase and give me an example from the Bible in which an office of ministry that began as divinely ordained is later overthrown by men who don’t carry a new revelation? The only example I know of any divinely-begun office being overthrown is the ending of legitimate Jewish authorities and the establishment of the NT priesthood (which, I suppose, is meant to be called a fulfillment, rather than a contradiction of what had come before). And this took place with a new revelation. Is there another example that takes place without a new revelation? This is an honest question. I’m not trying to bait you. You know the old testament better than I do. There may be such an example. If there is, please share it.

    Please tell me whether there was a “reformation,” so-to-speak, in the old testament. Was there a case in which men who neither performed miracles, nor were validly ordained to a ministry (nor were God incarnate) nevertheless utterly overthrew and abolished the office of a priesthood that had been in its origin divinely ordained? If this didn’t happen, then I don’t see your case that Catholics are making a biblical mistake by resting assured in the authority of their divinely-begun priesthood. I’m asking you real questions. Can you answer them without asking me more questions?

    Regarding your questions, you asked: “But take new revelation out of the picture entirely. Let’s say that we are speaking of a time well before there was any NT revelation. Did the Jew’s argument work then? Did their literal succession from Aaron and Abraham guarantee anything concerning their validity and fidelity?” As Herbert mentioned in #58, it seems that Jesus felt that something, at least, was guaranteed by sitting in the chair of Moses. What exactly, I’m not sure, but it had something to do with their teaching. If there is something in the old testament that I don’ t know about that disagrees with this interpretation, please share it with the class.

    You also asked: “And then even when there was new revelation, when Paul argued with the Jews in the synagogoue, he started not with the new revelation but he pointed them back to the old revelation, right?” I don’t know what you’re getting at. You need to just cut to the chase and say specifically how this has anything to do with the question of whether there is biblical precedent for overthrowing a divinely-begun priesthood.

    But, if you’d be so kind, can you address my original question as restated in my first two paragraphs above before you spin off into responding to your questions about my responses to your questions about my questions, etc. . . ?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  62. Hey there, Andrew.

    I’m always confused (honestly) by the parallel you wish (and have, as long as I’ve known you, tried) to draw between the genealogical succession from Abraham in the OT as understood by the NT Jews (whom Jesus rebukes) and apostolic succession of the NT priesthood.

    For one thing, biological succession from Abraham was thought to be both necessary and sufficient for inclusion in the covenant community. Jesus shakes this up: it’s not sufficient after all (cf. Rom 9) and it isn’t necessary either, since God can raise up sons of Abraham from the stones of the earth.

    How does anything very interesting about the priesthood follow from this? So far as I can see, nothing about the necessary (and sufficient) conditions for priesthood, as laid out by Moses, e.g., follows from the contention that Abrahamic biological succession is neither necessary nor sufficient for inclusion in the covenant community. You tend to treat these two issues as if they were just the same. But they’re not.

    What I think you really want to say is this: Levitical biological succession is neither necessary nor sufficient for priesthood in the New Covenant.

    Okay. That seems right. What of it? How does it follow that no form of succession whatever is either necessary or sufficient for priesthood in the NT?

    We can stipulate that there is a real and important sense in which all believers possess a kind of priesthood in the New Covenant, in virtue of (i) the character of the New vis-à-vis the Old and (ii) the fact that members of the New Covenant community have all undergone the sacrament of baptism. Nothing in that conflicts with Catholic doctrine, and nothing in that conflicts with the claim that there is nevertheless a salient distinction between two types of priesthood – a distinction you yourself will be happy both to admit and to retain.

    What you need, so far as I can see, is an argument to the effect that, since Jesus has come, there is no longer any sort of priestly succession whatever; or that, if there is one, priestly succession in the New Covenant is not in any sense better than Abrahamic biological succession in the New Covenant – just as “succession” in the Old is consistent with apostasy and grievous error, so too “succession” in the New is consistent with apostasy and grievous error. So present day Christians ought to throw off the constraining yoke of New Covenant priestly succession quite as happily and eagerly as they threw off the yoke of Old Covenant Levitical priestly succession, so long as they figure that the New Covenant priests have gone awry doctrinally.

    But I’ve never seen you give an argument for either of these very interesting and controversial claims. All I’ve seen you do, so far, is point out the relatively pedestrian fact that, according to Jesus, biological descent from Abraham isn’t necessary or sufficient for New Covenant inclusion, and that just being a Levite doesn’t mean you’re right about everything, a point nobody (aside, perhaps, from some very confused and enthusiastic dispensationalists) wishes to controvert. You seemingly wish to use this as a premise, the repeated deployment of which is sufficient to demonstrate that there couldn’t be anything analogous to priestly succession in the New Testament. But there is nothing about your initial point (“Hey – biological descent from Abraham is neither necessary nor sufficient for salvation, nor for the claim that the Jewish priestly class had everything right!”) that entails the thesis that there is no such thing as priestly succession in the New Covenant, nor that the authorized priestly class of the New Covenant is in precisely the same boat as the Levitical priesthood, given the changes brought about by Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. (To say nothing of the fact that “apostolic succession” doesn’t ential that any person with Orders must never themselves commit theological errors. I cannot say why you’d think any of these things.)

    It isn’t news to anybody that Abrahamic succession isn’t necessary or sufficient for New Covenant membership, nor is it news to anybody that Levitical succession is neither necessary nor sufficient for doctrinal rectitude. These things are simply New Testament givens.

    It is obscure to me exactly what mileage you think you are supposed to get, from a Protestant perspective, by pointing out these obvious things that no Catholic would think of disagreeing with. Can you please specify (here or in email to me) the argument running from the fact that Abrahamic succession doesn’t entail rectitude of doctrine to the conclusion that all of the New Covenant apostles and their successors must be in the same unenviable boat of theological uncertainty and inevitable error? And can you do it without flagrantly begging the question against those who believe that the New Covenant Church, invested as it is by the Holy Spirit, under the auspices of the promises of Christ, is at least marginally better off than the Levitical priesthood under the old covenant?

    Best,

    Neal

  63. Dear Andrew M.,

    Don’t feel obliged to answer my questions. I am more interested in your answers to Neal’s questions.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  64. Dear Andrew,

    I hate to respond to myself, but here is perhaps another way to put the point I wish to raise with you.

    Consider this argument schema:

    (1) There is a reality of the New Covenant (call it ‘NC’).
    (2) NC has an analogue or typological precursor in the Old Covenant (call it ‘OC’).
    (3) NC has property P only if OC has property P.

    So for instance, we may argue that New Covenant apostolic (priestly) succession has an analogue or typological precursor in Old Covenant levitical succession, or biological-Abrahamic succession. Since neither of the latter entail rectitude of doctrine, we infer that apostolic succession does not entail doctrinal fidelity.

    That’s what it seems like you’re arguing (and have, repeatedly, argued here and elsewhere). But this is problematic. Here are some arguments that would by parity be valid if the argument schema above were valid:

    Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant. Christ’s status as high priest has an analogue or type in the institution of high priest within the Old Covenant. Since high priests in the Old Covenant were not supernaturally protected from doctrinal or moral error (qua high priest), neither is Jesus. (From (1) and (2) and (3).)

    No Protestant with their heads about them would be impressed with this argument.

    Consider then another. Suppose a Zwinglian were to argue in this way: the New Covenant sacrament of baptism has an analogue or typological precursor in the institution of circumcision. Since circumcision does not confer supernatural grace, neither does baptism, the New Covenant antitype of circumcision. (I assume you wish to distance yourself both from the Catholic [/Lutheran/Anglican/Eastern] view of baptism, and also from the mere-symbolic-Anabaptist view of baptism.)

    In both cases (1) and (2) above are true while (3) is false. It follows that the argument schema is invalid.

    This doesn’t mean that particular instances of (1), (2) and (3) can’t all be true together. What it does mean is that a person cannot rely upon (1) and (2) in particular instances so as to establish that (3) holds in that instance, or to establish the conclusion generated by the conjunction of (1)-(3). But that is what you seem to want to do. You want to argue that, since in the Old Covenant neither Abrahamic nor Levitical succession ensured doctrinal fidelity, therefore in the New Covenant Apostolic succession (as understood by Catholics) carries no guarantee of doctrinal fidelity, or at any rate is irrelevant to the individual’s determination concerning magisterial authority for the Church. But the argument schema upon which you rely here is invalid.

    You may wish to claim, in response, that you believe in apostolic succession, but that this is a spiritual matter rather than an historical/sacramental one, and that it depends wholly upon fidelity to the Scriptural “essentials” as you understand them to be.

    Suppose it so. Then still, the argument schema above is invalid: for you are still supposing (I take it) that in the New Covenant Church fidelity is ensured by way of succession – it is just that “succession” has nothing to do with anything historical or sacramental, but rather concerns fidelity to whatever you (e.g.) believe to constitute faithfulness to the essential teaching of Scripture. In this case our disagreement isn’t over whether “apostolic succession” in the New Covenant is a cut above “priestly succession” in the old, it is just about the criteria for succession in the New Covenant.

    So that is the real issue: what are the criteria for Apostolic Succession in the New Covenant? If you disagree with what the Catholic says on this score, well and good: lay out the considerations and we can evaluate them together. But pointing out that “succession” didn’t “really matter” in the Old Covenant when it came to rectitude of doctrine, then, even supposing that that is true, and even allowing that the criteria for succession and covenant membership are different in the New than they are in the Old, it doesn’t follow that no form of succession at all is relevant to rectitude of doctrine or to who has a magisterial authority in the New Covenant. That’s basically why I’ve never understood why you’ve made such heavy weather about the obvious fact that Abrahamic and Levitical succession has, in the New Covenant, given way to something else.

    Best,

    Neal

    [NB: Lest anyone feel the need to point this out: Yes, I'm aware that (1)-(3) is strictly just a set of propositions and not an "argument schema;" it is however an invalid argument schema generator (premise (3) is the culprit). I assume readers will assume I know how to adjust the precision, and I assume readers will have understood what I was saying.]

  65. [quote]Please tell me whether there was a “reformation,” so-to-speak, in the old testament. Was there a case in which men who neither performed miracles, nor were validly ordained to a ministry (nor were God incarnate) nevertheless utterly overthrew and abolished the office of a priesthood that had been in its origin divinely ordained?[/quote]

    I think the rebellion of the Northern Kingdom bears a striking resemblance to the reformation. They thought they were doing the right thing by leaving Israel during the time of a bad king. They set up their own cult sites and ritual observances. Eventually they were worse idolaters than the ones they had left and they never made it back from Assyrian exile.

  66. You want to argue that, since in the Old Covenant neither Abrahamic nor Levitical succession ensured doctrinal fidelity, therefore in the New Covenant Apostolic succession (as understood by Catholics) carries no guarantee of doctrinal fidelity, or at any rate is irrelevant to the individual’s determination concerning magisterial authority for the Church. But the argument schema upon which you rely here is invalid.

    Hello Neal,

    I’m really not trying to make a OT/NT connection or trying to argue from type to reality or anything so grand. Just consider the arguments the Jews made considering their succession to Abraham. They were convinced that this succession demonstrated God’s faithfulness to them. So why aren’t we impressed with this argument? And don’t think of it in necessarily in terms of OT or NT. And then if we reject this argument from the Jews, then what is the difference between that appeal to succession and the one by the RCC at the time of the Reformation?

    I can’t say I have ever heard any other Protestant try to make a similar sort of argument but it seemed like it might be a helpful analogy. But maybe it isn’t. But even if it isn’t, what I always try to get at is what can we make of succession from something God instituted? Whether we are speaking of OT or NT, what does God’s establishment of an institution guarantee in general to the successors and inheritors of that institution? Now I would have thought that the case of the Jews both ecclesiastically and civilly might be an interesting case to look at, but maybe you think that’s not necessarily relevant. But what can we say about such succession? This is a big issue in Catholics/Protestant dialogues since so much of RCC ecclesiology rests on its conclusions. For someone like you who has come from the Protestant world, there must have been something that caused you to think that this is not just AN important issue in determining validity of the officers of the Church, it is in essence THE dominant issue.

  67. So do you reject WCF XXV.2’s teaching that there is a visible catholic Church?

    I’m not sure why would you ask this, Bryan. You say you are using the WCF standards for your definition, but now it seems like you are switching to the RCC as your definition. So again what do we mean by the visible church? Before the Apostles were on the scene there was no visible church in the NT sense. Then in the Apostolic writings we have the definitions of the elements of the visible church. These apply to the various congregations that are set up. There are to be elders/bishops and deacons. There is to be administration of the sacraments, preaching the gospel to the people, etc, etc. These are the characteristics of the visible church. There are no direct stipulations concerning how these congregations are suppose to interrelate either in the biblical texts or in the writings immediately following the Apostles. So yes the Reformed churches were part of the visible church by these standards.

    I get the feeling that you are now switching to a Roman standard for concepts like “catholic” and visible church.” When you say “catholic” do you mean Roman Catholic? If so, you are going beyond the WCF/Reformed definition of “catholic” meaning universal. Maybe you need to define things a little tighter. Or maybe you need to explain why there is no real visible church given the WCF/Reformed standards without appealing to RCC concepts of the visible church.

    And if you just want to say that the Reformed congregations fall short of the standards of what it means to have a visible church by RCC standards, then I agree. The Protestant congregations do fall short. So do the Apostolic and Sub-apostolic congregations.

  68. Andrew,

    You say you are using the WCF standards for your definition, but now it seems like you are switching to the RCC as your definition.

    No, I’m not sure how to say it any more clearly: I’m using the term ‘catholic visible Church’ exactly as it is defined in WCF XXV.2. My question is essentially: do you affirm or deny WCF XXV.2?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  69. Andrew,

    Or maybe you need to explain why there is no real visible church given the WCF/Reformed standards without appealing to RCC concepts of the visible church.

    The assumption underlying this exhortation is incorrect. Bryan has not used a Catholic concept of the visible church to show that Protestants have no visible catholic Church. He has used the philosophical concepts “unity of type” and “unity of composition” together with a straightforward philosophical argument to the conclusion that the “visible catholic Church” posited by Protestants does not feature unity of composition and is, therefore, not an entity; i.e., something in reality.

    Your task, if you want to engage this argument (and maybe you don’t), is not to ask if Protestant conceptions of the Church match up with the Catholic definition of the Church. Everyone knows that they do not. Your task is to demonstrate that the visible catholic Church posited by Protestants is in fact something in reality, an extra-mental entity, and not only an idea. If you can show this, then it will not matter, for the purposes of falsifying Bryan’s conclusion, whether or to what degree that entity is like the Catholic Church.

  70. Dear Andrew M.,

    You said: “And then if we reject this argument from the Jews, then what is the difference between that appeal to succession and the one by the RCC at the time of the Reformation?”

    What is the difference? First, your comments referred primarily to a lack of fidelity in biological succession, not a lack of authority in succession to a teaching office (Jesus seems to allow for some kind of authority to those who succeed to the teaching office of the Chair of Moses, though not unlimited teaching authority — just like the Catholic church today!). Second, to the extent that your comments refer to authority at all, they refer to authority associated with a teaching office that was not personally established by Christ’s better promises, while he walked in the flesh on this earth.

    We’ve pointed out these differences. Why are you still trying to use the lack of fidelity among those with a biological succession to a covenant established before Christ to say anything about lack of authority among those who succeed to an office established by Christ?

    Let me outline the differences again, where != means “not necessarily equivalent to”:

    biological succession != succession to an office

    infidelity in personal behavior != infidelity in official teaching

    old testament promises != new testament promises

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  71. Andrew,

    Thanks for the reply, and for the clarification. If I’m understanding you correctly, you are not trying to rely upon features (present or absent) of Abrahamic or Levitical succession in order to undermine the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic succession. If that’s correct, then we’re cool. You wondered aloud whether this was an unhelpful analogy or whether perhaps it is not relevant. I think I would say it is not really relevant and not really helpful, if for no other reason than that it may lead people to think that you are trying to mount an argument of some kind. Perhaps it is just an “illustration” of a kind of “succession” that does not entail doctrinal rectitude. But I don’t really think anyone is in need of an illustration of this. It would perhaps be helpful if a Catholic were to say: “Apostolic succession is a kind of succession; succession always entails doctrinal rectitude; therefore, Apostolic succession entails doctrinal rectitude.” But nobody I know argues this way. So I think it is ultimately unhelpful and potentially misleading to lean (apparently) heavily on this illustration in this context of discussion.

    Best,

    Neal

  72. Your task, if you want to engage this argument (and maybe you don’t), is not to ask if Protestant conceptions of the Church match up with the Catholic definition of the Church. Everyone knows that they do not. Your task is to demonstrate that the visible catholic Church posited by Protestants is in fact something in reality, an extra-mental entity, and not only an idea. If you can show this, then it will not matter, for the purposes of falsifying Bryan’s conclusion, whether or to what degree that entity is like the Catholic Church.

    Andrew P,

    I hope you understand that I’m not trying to back away from the philosophical aspects of this discussion. The One/Many and Realist/Nominalist paradigms are the ever present philosophical backdrop of these sorts of discussions. They really do interest me because in so many cases I hear Protestant and Catholic talking past each other because they are thinking about concepts like “church” in different philosophical senses. But what I am trying to do is draw Bryan out with respect to the biblical and historical foundations for this debate. Is not this where we find the definitions for the visible church? The “unified whole” and “unity of composition” are nice philosophical constructs, but do they have anything to do with unity in the biblical sense? Bryan seems to assume so and I am challenging this. Fair enough?

    I do understand some of the attraction towards having the tight well defined visible system that Rome does. But as I say this is not something that we are looking for. We don’t have any concerns about the limits of the visible church. I have all sorts of Christian friends from outside my denomination. We are all part of the same Church even if our congregations are not administratively unified. So then, how is it that our respective visible structures are “just an idea?” And more importantly how do the visible structures of our congregations differ from the elements of the visible church that we see in Scripture and then secondarily in the congregations immediately after this time?

  73. No, I’m not sure how to say it any more clearly: I’m using the term ‘catholic visible Church’ exactly as it is defined in WCF XXV.2. My question is essentially: do you affirm or deny WCF XXV.2?

    Yes Bryan, as long as we qualify this with the rest of the WCF and Reformed standards, particularly here XXV.3-6.

  74. It would perhaps be helpful if a Catholic were to say: “Apostolic succession is a kind of succession; succession always entails doctrinal rectitude; therefore, Apostolic succession entails doctrinal rectitude.”

    Neal,

    When we point out how far so many of the bishops (including and most famously, the Bishops of Rome) of the RCC drifted from basic Christian principles at the Reformation era we are often pointed back to succession. And we are pointed to this as if nothing else matters. There you have it – Aposotlic succession! And our answer tends to me, “and your point would be what?”

    So what does succession prove?

  75. Andrew, (re: #73)

    Now that we are agreed that you affirm that there is a “visible catholic Church,” we can return to the question I asked you in #42: If in fact there were no visible catholic Church, but only denominations, congregations, believers, and their children, what exactly would be different?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  76. Bryan,

    If the congregations, people, etc comprise the visible church and then we suppose that there is no visible catholic church then we are left with nothing. The Church, both visible or invisible, vanish into a puff of rhetorical smoke.

    I still wonder why you don’t want to go back to the biblical and historical roots for definitions of “visible church.”

  77. Andrew,

    My understanding is that there is not a single example of the word for Church, ἐκκλησία, being used to refer to a non-visible entity in the entire corpus of ancient Greek writings. This being the case, why would we assume the invisible Church to be the fullest manifestation of Christ’s promise in Matthew 16:18 and Ch. 18? In addition, Christ uses the word in the singular. So, as Protestants, we are left to assume that Jesus was merely referring to a small local congregation…or he was referring to something we don’t have.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  78. Andrew, (re: #76)

    If the congregations, people, etc comprise the visible church and then we suppose that there is no visible catholic church then we are left with nothing.

    Right. But that’s exactly what we are trying to determine, whether in fact those denominations, congregations, believers and their children compose some one thing, or not. So your reply does not answer the question.

    The question is not about the meaning of the term “visible catholic Church”. The question is about whether the term “visible catholic Church’ has a referent, i.e. picks out an actual entity in reality, or only refers to a mere plurality of entities.

    Imagine that there is someone who believes in the panapple. So, we ask him, “If there were in fact no panapple, but only apples, what would be different?” He replies, “If all the apples of the world comprise the panapple, then if you remove the panapple, there would no apples.” We reply, “If there is in fact such a thing as a panapple, and it is composed of all the apples in the world, then indeed, if the panapple were removed, there would be no apples. But, what we want to know is whether there is in fact a panapple, or whether there is only the term ‘panapple’ and all apples referred to by the term ‘panapple’, but not some additional entity composed of all apples. In order to determine which is the case, we have to examine whether, if there were only apples, and no panapple, anything would be different. If nothing would be different, then we know that there is no actual entity referred to by the term ‘panapple.’ ”

    That’s exactly what’s going on in our conversation, except replace ‘panapple’ with ‘visible catholic Church’, and replace ‘apples’ with “denominations, congregations, believers and their children.” Here too we are not looking for the meaning of the term ‘visible catholic Church.’ We already know that. We are seeking to determine whether or not this term has an actual single referent in reality. And that question is not answered by noting that if the term ‘visible catholic Church’ means all denominations, congregations, believers and their children, then removing the visible catholic Church would require removing all believers and their children. Hence your reply does not answer the question. Does that help clarify the question?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  79. The question is not about the meaning of the term “visible catholic Church”. The question is about whether the term “visible catholic Church’ has a referent, i.e. picks out an actual entity in reality, or only refers to a mere plurality of entities.

    And this Bryan, is exactly why I wanted to bring the question back to the history of the Church. You say you are utilizing the definitions of the WCF, but I’m having trouble seeing that definition come through. But humor me. Let’s go back to the 1st century church. How would we have experienced the visible church in a given city and what were the elements of the visible church? Well, we would have come to homes where elder/bishops ruled, where deacons assisted, where the gospel was preached, where people were baptized after confessing something like what we now call the Apostles Creed. And so on. The church was not not a philosophical construct unlike some of the other religions of the time, it had real extension. So given what we have found of this actual entity in the 1st century, now when we use this standard for what a visible church is, where do the Reformed churches fail?

    And then if we were to do the same with the RCC Churches at the time of the Reformation, how would they stack up against this 1st century standard for the visible church?

  80. My understanding is that there is not a single example of the word for Church, ἐκκλησία, being used to refer to a non-visible entity in the entire corpus of ancient Greek writings. This being the case, why would we assume the invisible Church to be the fullest manifestation of Christ’s promise in Matthew 16:18 and Ch. 18? In addition, Christ uses the word in the singular.

    Jeremy,

    If you mean by “invisible church” to refer to all of God’s people from all time, then we would say that yes, all of God’s children gathered to Him would be the eschatological goal of the church on earth so it would be the fullness of what the Church is today. We as the Church long for God calling together all of His people. Ekklesia is used in Eph. 5:27 to speak of this. I don’t want to say that it is a non-visible entity since it speaks of real physical believers. Ekklesia is also used in Heb 12:23 to again refer to all of God’s Church. The referent here is not to the physical institution of the Church on earth, but to all believers throughout all time.

  81. Andrew,

    My post is not about local visible churches. If you wish to discuss the necessary “elements of a [local] visible church,” please wait for a thread on that subject. To do so here would be to change the subject, present a red herring, and avoid the question on the table: Is there a visible catholic Church, as the WCF states?

    I’ve given an argument (in the body of my post) that in Protestantism there is no such thing as a visible catholic Church. I’ve laid out the argument in stepwise detail (see #46). So far, my argument remains unrefuted.

    Here are your three options. You can try to refute my argument. Or you can say you need time to think about it. Or you can accept the conclusion of my argument. Anything else would be intellectual sloppiness at best. Genuine truth-seekers do not change the subject when they encounter an argument having a conclusion contrary to their own position. Wrestling with such an argument is precisely how they evaluate whether their own position is true. Ideologues, on the other hand, aren’t interested in the truth; they only wish to push the party-line, and so when presented with an opposing argument which they cannot refute, they create a diversion, or leave.

    Wrestling with an opposing argument is the same sort of mental exercise as explained in my argument itself. We do so to answer this question: If I were wrong, how would I know? We are much less likely to come to discover which of our beliefs is false, if we flee from arguments that oppose our position, just as you won’t come to know whether there is a visible catholic Church, until you allow yourself to ask how you would know there is no visible catholic Church, if in fact there were no visible catholic Church, but only denominations, congregations, believers and their children. Those onlookers watching the Emperor walk down the street naked, need to be asking themselves this question: If in fact the Emperor is not wearing invisible clothes, how would I know?” Otherwise, they remain deceived.

    Notice your line to Jeremy in #80:

    I don’t want to say that it is a non-visible entity since it speaks of real physical believers.

    That’s like saying that because apples are visible, therefore the panapple is a visible entity. That conclusion does not follow from the premise. Just because apples are visible, it does not follow that there is a visible entity composed of all apples. Nor does it follow that the set of all apples is visible. The visibility of members of a set does not make the set itself visible. Likewise, just because individual believers and their children are visible, it does not follow (1) that there is a catholic Church or (2) that it is visible.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  82. Hi, Andrew,

    If you take a look at the portion of what I wrote that you’ve quoted, you’ll notice that I didn’t say Apostolic succession did not entail doctrinal rectitude. The minor premise was that succession (of any kind — Abrahamic, levitical, whatever) entails doctrinal rectitude, and so because AS is a “form” of succession generally, therefore AS must ential doctrinal rectitude. That is the argument nobody (at least nobody here) would give for the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic succession.

    I figured it was relevant to point this out, because you’ve repeatedly insisted that not all kinds of succession entail doctrinal rectitude, and you point to Abrahamic descent as an example. But the only reason this would be relevant is if I or the others you’re talking to here believed that whatever we can say about AS we must be able to say only because it is true of succession generally or any form of succession. Nobody believes that. That’s why I don’t see how the Abraham business is relevant or helpful.

    Best,

    Neal

  83. Andrew,

    I am not against the doctrine of the invisible Church (Hebrews 12:23 is a great proof text for it) and neither is the Catholic Church (I’m sure we would all agree that Augustine taught it long before the Reformers). The objection comes when Protestants want to redefine the visible Church or want to speak of a purely invisible Church. Augustine’s doctrine of the invisible Church did not damage the doctrine of the visible Church as Protestantism’s has. The cliché response when Catholics question Protestants about denominationalism is, “We believe there is only one Church too.” This response misuses the doctrine of the invisible Church because it is being used to justify the very things which Paul condemns in Galatians 5:19-21 as sin (divisions, factions, rivalries)

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  84. Bryan, please don’t preach at me about “truth seekers” and so on. If you don’t like the way I answer you, just tell me. From my standpoint I’m addressing your argument head on, you just don’t like the way I’m doing it. I could start preaching at you about evading the truth by refusing to define what I have asked you to define and refusing to start with the biblcial data, but I’m sure you have some sort of reason for this. Please give me the benefit of the doubt – I’m trying to address your points. Maybe you just don’t understand yet what I am doing.

    You still have not defined what “viisble church” and “catholic” is from the standpoint of the WCF. You have stated that you are using the WCF definition, but it does not seems you understand. Why don’t you just state what the WCF/Reformed defintions of these words are rather than me trying to guess if you really know what you are talking about? And don’t just say you are using the WCF definition – state these definitions.

    The visibility of members of a set does not make the set itself visible.

    But there is a relationship between the members of a set and the set, right? And the relationship bears on this issue, at least from a Protestant standpoint. I am trying to start with the origins of the the visible church. There were congregations and there were connections between the congregations, right? So what were these relationships? The answer to this is important because you have to start with the definition of 1) the members of the set and 2) the set itself before you can establish the connections. But curiously in your first paragraph above, you say that raising the issue of the members of the set (the local visible churches) is a “red herring.” So you apparently want to discuss the set without the discussion of the members of the set. If you really want to discuss the visible church universal without discussing visible local churches, then fine. But then you are eliminating the possibility of meaningful interaction with Protestants on this issue.

  85. You still have not defined what “viisble church” and “catholic” is from the standpoint of the WCF. You have stated that you are using the WCF definition, but it does not seems you understand. Why don’t you just state what the WCF/Reformed defintions of these words are rather than me trying to guess if you really know what you are talking about? And don’t just say you are using the WCF definition – state these definitions.

    I believe the striking irony of the subject statement in the WCF is what’s being alluded to by Bryan.

    Whereas in the early church, you had local churches that submitted to the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church that submitted to a common theology and ecclesiology, amongst other things; thereby, separating what was genuinely Christian from what wasn’t.

    In contrast, in Protestantism, you don’t have the same but instead a myriad of denominations that submit to varying theologies and ecclesiologies, that even contradict those of the other.

    In the latter case, it would be very difficult to determine what exactly is heretical sect from what is actually a “church”, since there is not one defining, common theology and ecclesiology that all members submit to other than a membership of contradicting denominations that perhaps even other heretical sects could themselves be considered a legitimate part thereof.

  86. Andrew,

    This has nothing to with “my likes”. For you to take it in that direction is to resort to the implicit ad hominem; so is your speculation that perhaps I don’t understand what you are doing. I laid out my argument in #46. I explained in #51 the only two ways to refute a deductive argument. Your latest comment (#84) neither shows one premise of my argument to be false, nor shows the conclusion not to follow from the premises. Therefore, my argument remains unrefuted.

    If you want to talk about other things, and not refute my argument, please wait for another thread addressing those things you wish to discuss.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  87. Hey, Andrew.

    I do hate to interject myself into a discussion you’re having with somebody else; but I think I’d do this even if we were on the same team, at least in this instance.

    You say to Bryan: “You still have not defined what “viisble church” and “catholic” is from the standpoint of the WCF. You have stated that you are using the WCF definition, but it does not seems you understand. Why don’t you just state what the WCF/Reformed defintions of these words are rather than me trying to guess if you really know what you are talking about? And don’t just say you are using the WCF definition – state these definitions.”

    But it’s totally weird that you’d say this to Bryan, isn’t it? I mean, one of your main complaints against us, and against all persons who reject Reformed theology in favor of something else, is that we (they) don’t really or never really did understand Reformed theology. And you wish that we’d not try simply to reconstruct Reformed theology by our own lights, but that we would, instead, go to reputable Reformed sources, and use those sources as our reference points as we discuss the ins-and-outs of Reformed theology.

    And so Bryan, it appears to me, is simply conforming to your wishes. He’s going to the WCF, saying that what that confession says is going to provide the definition of the ‘visible church’ in his subsequent discussion with you, and then trying to have that subsequent discussion with you.

    What could be objectionable about that? He’s using your own authoritative reference point, as you’ve asked us to do. If he’s misunderstanding what that authoritative reference point really says, well and good. Tell him how he’s misunderstood it, and supply for us the appropriate understanding. That would be an excellent and very useful contribution to the discussion. But notice: if you are to supply for us the appropriate understanding and explain to us why exactly our understanding of it is flawed, then you will of course have to “state these [properly understood] definitions” in the WCF for us. For how else are we supposed to be disabused of our misunderstandings?

    It isn’t illegitimate for Bryan or for anyone else to rely upon the sources you’ve asked us to rely upon, nor to ask you to explain the content of the WCF definitions for us if we’ve (by your lights) misappropriated or misunderstood these definitions. It is inappropriate for you to ask to us to state our own understandings of the WCF formulae, if all we do is appeal to those particular formulae in acc0rdance with your wishes and you either cannot or will not explain to us why we’ve failed to understand what those formulae really say.

    So your first point against Bryan seems inconsistent with the point you’ve typically tried to make here: that none of us really understands Reformed theology, that you yourself really do, and that you are in a position to disabuse us of our misunderstandings if we’d only but listen. But look: we’re listening. Bryan’s question is whether you accept the WCF definition of the visible church or no; if you do, but don’t think we’re getting what that definition really says, then lay out for us what that definition really says so we know exactly what it is you (and every informed Reformed person) accepts. But don’t think it’s illigitimate for any of us to ask you what the definition really says. That’s precisely what you’ve been wanting us to do. So I’ll ask you the same as you’ve asked Bryan: you state the definition, and you tell us why Bryan’s confused about it. That’s not a deck-stacking challenge or anything; it’s only fair; it’s only what you’ve been asking us to ask of you throughout.

    Your other remarks to Bryan (about sets and elements of sets) also misfire, I think. You say Bryan wants to discuss the set members and the set itself without also saying anything about the relations between the set members that constitute the set. But why think that, from a Catholic perspective, there are no relations between set members and the set itself? Unless the set is an arbitrary or gerrymandered confabulation, then of course there will be relations between the set members justifying the inclusion of each set member within the set proper. No Catholic denies that there were local congregations and that all of these congregations were related by something that makes them part of the Church. What Catholic would deny this? What Catholic would fail to insist upon this? You and Bryan disagree about how local congregations are related in such a way as to constitute a unified (visible) Church, transcending but including the localized congregations that constitute it. But how does it follow from this that, according to Bryan, the relations between the “set elements” are totally irrelevant to the construction of “the set?”

    Best,

    Neal

  88. Neal,

    No, I think your interruption is good. Trying to communicate with Bryan is not going anywhere once again so I’m going to give up trying.

    Anyway, I do think it’s good to go right to the sources when you are trying to represent a position. I like using the CCC or the CE or a direct quote from a bishop as a starting point for this reason. But there are times when I do this and I’m told that I have not understood what I’m quoting. Take all of the discussion around EENS when we quote from Unam Sanctam or Cantate Domino. Apparently we don’t understand what we are quoting or so say our RC friends. And maybe we don’t understand, but it’s still good to go to the relevant primary sources. Now with Bryan what I hoped he would do is try to restate the WCF and other relevant Reformed confessions in his own words. I think this would have helped him understand that he was just stating the obvious. Of course the concept of the visible church does not define an entity in the same sense that it does in the RCC understanding of things. Protestants don’t want the concept of the visible church understood in such a way. But the interesting question which I tried to push Bryan towards is how the respective concepts of visible church relate to the understanding of the visible church in the 1st century. There was no defined entity called the visible church in the RCC sense in the 1st century, but the visible church really did represent something.

    Concerning sets and members of sets I’m sure that Catholics do believe there is some relationship. It would have been nice to find out. But Bryan told me in #81, that raising this issue was a red herring and this eliminated any discussion of the matter. For the Protestant the relationship does relate and must relate, but Bryan would not listen to this.

  89. Whereas in the early church, you had local churches that submitted to the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church that submitted to a common theology and ecclesiology, amongst other things; thereby, separating what was genuinely Christian from what wasn’t.

    Roma,

    At the point of establishment of the visible church and immediately following, there was no hierarchical and Roman sense of the visible Church. There was a visible church and it really did represents something, but it did not represent the same thing that the RCC speaks of as the visible church in later centuries.

  90. Andrew,

    “At the point of establishment of the visible church and immediately following, there was no hierarchical and Roman sense of the visible Church.”

    That is a strong statement. What evidence do you have that St. Ignatius was wrong calling the Church of Rome the Church that presides in love or St. Irenaeus was wrong in saying all the Churches of the world must agree with this most glorious Church established in Rome? Or of the early Fathers, especially St. Augustine, appealing to succession by ordination of Bishops for valid authority and rule?

  91. Andrew,

    Of course the concept of the visible church does not define an entity in the same sense that it does in the RCC understanding of things.

    Once again, here is the Presbyterian concept of the visible catholic Church, which Bryan used as the starting point for his post:

    The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (WCF XXV.2)

    This very section of the Confession defines the “visible catholic Church”, so there is no need for Bryan to do so. The question is, is the Presbyterian definition such that “visible catholic Church” denotes a single entity (“catholic Church”) that exists in extra-mental reality (“visible”)?

    Since the Catholic “understanding of things” is that the visible catholic Church is a visible unified whole, its parts having unity of composition, and since you maintain that this is not the Presbyterian understanding of things, then it follows (granted your understanding) that the WCF does not affirm that that the visible catholic Church is a unified visible whole, its parts having unity of composition.

    So it remains to those who subscribe to the WCF to account for the visibility of the “visible catholic Church” in a manner that does not involve unity of composition vis-a-vis the individual churches but still delivers a “visible catholic Church” the existence (or removal) of which makes some difference in extra-mental reality. If this cannot be done, then the WCF should be modified accordingly.

  92. Would it be analagous to the difference between a nation and a nation state?
    A nation, even if scattered throughout the world, has unity of type, but no visible unity. The Irish nation, in Ireland, America and elsewhere, has unity of type, but no visible unity or unity of composition.
    Even if all the people of a single nation were put together on an island, there still would only be unity of type between them.
    It is only when a state is formed, such as Ireland (Irish nation state), with a hierarchical and governmental structure, laws etc. that the unity of type extends to compositional unity.

    Or consider the U.S. Without the president or the federal government, it would become a collection of states (like Protestant denominations) with unity of type and would cease to be the U.S.; it would rather become like South America; but the compositional unity that makes it the U.S. only comes about with the institution of the federal government, it’s laws etc.

    It’s as if to say that Protestants are a nation of people with unity of type, but they have no nation state and therefore no visible unity.

  93. Andrew M (re: #88)

    Trying to communicate with Bryan is not going anywhere once again so I’m going to give up trying.

    Recall the three options open to a truth-seeker in response to an opposing argument: (from #81)

    Here are your three options. You can try to refute my argument. Or you can say you need time to think about it. Or you can accept the conclusion of my argument. Anything else would be intellectual sloppiness at best. Genuine truth-seekers do not change the subject when they encounter an argument having a conclusion contrary to their own position.

    Recall the only two ways to refute a deductive argument: (from #51)

    There are only two ways to refute a deductive argument: show one of the premises to be false, or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. If you wish to refute my argument, then you need to do one of those two things.

    Your choice of response, i.e. complaining to Neal that “Trying to communicate with Bryan is not going anywhere once again, so I’m going to give up trying” does not show which of the premises of my argument (#46) to be false, nor does it show how the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Therefore, it does not refute my argument. Nor does it ask for more time to think about my argument. Nor does it accept the conclusion of my argument. Therefore, you have not chosen one of the three options of a truth-seeker. Your response is therefore a case of running away from my argument. And this is precisely why your discussions with me do not “go anywhere,” as you have said to me before, because you choose to avoid the three options of the truth-seeker. If you want our conversations to “go somewhere”, you need to love truth more than you love “what I [Andrew] presently believe.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  94. If the visible church is all those who profess Christ around the world, then isn’t professing Christ the same as being part of the visible church? How would this definition exclude my friends in college who thought that formal churches gatherings were superfluous, didn’t go to worship on Sunday and administered communion to themselves in their dorms were, and how is it helpful, in a definition of the Church, to say that “outside being one of those around the world who profess Christ there is no ordinary possibility of salvation”?

  95. At the point of establishment of the visible church and immediately following, there was no hierarchical and Roman sense of the visible Church. There was a visible church and it really did represents something, but it did not represent the same thing that the RCC speaks of as the visible church in later centuries.

    Have you even ever read about the great ecumenical councils?

    One can simply read the proceedings of the Council at Nicaea itself to see that those who gathered there then represented an ecclesiology that can only be found in the Catholic Church.

    Indeed, one need only read the early fathers of the church themselves to see that none of the Protestant sects resemble the very practices and beliefs of the early church, which is only to be found historically in the Catholic Church.

    Ignatius of Antioch

    Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too as you would the apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command of God. Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as, wherever Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 110]).

    In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of the apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a Church. I am confident that you accept this, for I have received the exemplar of your love and have it with me in the person of your bishop. His very demeanor is a great lesson and his meekness is his strength. I believe that even the godless do respect him (Letter to the Trallians 3:1-2 [A. D. 110]).

    The Martyrdom of Polycarp

    When finally he concluded his prayer, after remembering all who had at any time come his way – small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world – the time for departure came. So they placed him on an ass, and brought him into the city on a great Sabbath (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 8 [A.D. 110]).

    Irenaeus

    The Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said (Against Heresies 1:10 [A.D. 189]).

    Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the things pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there should arise a dispute relative to some important question among us. Should we not have recourse to the most ancient churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary [in that case] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the churches? (ibid. 3:4).

    Tertullian

    Where was Marcion then, that shipmaster of Pontus, the zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple of Platonism? For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago – in the reign of Antoninus for the most part – and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled (On the Prescription Against Heretics 22,30 [A.D.200])

    Clement of Alexandria

    A multitude of other pieces of advice to particular persons is written in the holy books: some for presbyters, some for bishops and deacons; and others for widows, of whom we shall have opportunity to speak elsewhere (The Instructor of Children 3:12:97:2 [pre-A.D. 202]).

    Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles and who have lived in complete righteousness according to the gospel (Stromateis 6:13:107:2 [post-A.D. 202]).

    Hippolytus

    When a deacon is to be ordained, he is chosen after the fashion of those things said above, the bishop alone in like manner imposing his hands upon him as we have prescribed. In the ordaining of a deacon, this is the reason why the bishop alone is to impose his hands upon him: He is not ordained to the priesthood, but to serve the bishop and to fulfill the bishop’s command. He has no part in the council of the clergy, but is to attend to his own duties and is to acquaint the bishop with such matters as are needful. . . . On a presbyter [priest], however, let the presbyters impose their hands because of the common and like Spirit of the clergy. Even so, the presbyter has only the power to receive [the Spirit], and not the power to give [the Spirit]. That is why a presbyter does not ordain the clergy; for at the ordaining of a presbyter, he but seals while the bishop ordains. (Apostolic Tradition 9 [ca. A.D. 215]).

    Origen

    Not fornication only, but even marriages make us unfit for ecclesiastical honors; for neither a bishop, nor a presbyter, nor a deacon, nor a widow is able to be twice married (Homilies on Luke, 17 [ca. A.D. 235]).

    Cyprian

    The spouse of Christ cannot be defiled; she is uncorrupted and chaste. She knows one home . . . Does anyone believe that this unity which comes from divine strength, which is closely connected with the divine sacraments, can be broken asunder in the Church and be separated by the divisions of colliding wills? He who does not hold this unity, does not hold the law of God, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation (On the Unity of the Catholic Church 6 [A.D. 251]).

    Peter speaks there, on whom the Church was to be built, teaching and showing in the name of the Church, that although a rebellious and arrogant multitude of those who will not hear or obey may depart, yet the Church does not depart from Christ; and they are the Church who are a people united to the priest, and the flock which adheres to its pastor. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another (Letters 66 [A.D. 253]).

  96. Dear All,

    Various protestants establish different times when the Church that called itself Catholic went astray. I don’t know if Kenny said this, but I believe that he (in a previous thread) said that he felt that councils and teachings post the great schism were invalid. I never responded to that as much as I wanted to, because I was arguing about other things. But Andrew M.’s historical claims brought it to my mind again. If there are any protestants who would like to see some of the evidence from 350 A.D. through 1000 AD of the general belief of the Church about, for example, papal jurisdiction and infallibility, please feel free to email me: KBDh02@yahoo.com

    Andrew M., I don’ t know when you thought things went wrong in the Catholic Church, but in case you are swayed by evidence before the great schism but after Constantine, this offer goes to you too. Here’s a nice quote that expresses the view of some Eastern abbots writing to Pope Paschal around 800 AD. I like it not because it is the earliest example of its kind (for we can find numerous examples of such language in at least the 300’s AD if not considerably earlier) nor because its writer is of the highest authority (similar language can be found in saints and patriarchs) but because it’s well-written and emotionally moving:

    “Hear, O apostolic head, divinely appointed Shepherd of Christ’s sheep, keybearer of the kingdom of heaven, rock of the faith, upon whom is built the Catholic Church. For Peter art thou, who adornest and governest the chair of Peter. . . Hither, then, from the West, imitator of Christ, arise and repel not for ever. To thee spake Christ our Lord: ‘And thou being one day converted, shalt strengthen thy brethren.’ Behold the hour and the place. Help us, thou that art set by God for this. Stretch forth thy hand so far as thou canst. Thou hast strength with God, through being the first of all.”

    You can find a lot of examples that explicitly lay out the lack of a final appeal on doctrinal matters beyond the pope, the lack of validity of ecumenical councils that are overruled by the pope, and yes — even though the Easterns don’t like to admit this — universal jurisdiction of the Pope. All before the great schism, and including prominent voices from the East.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  97. My argument aims to show that given the WCF definition of “visible catholic Church,” there is no entity [given Protestant ecclesiology] to which that term refers, because [given Protestant ecclesiology] (1) there is no unity of composition among all Christians, such that all Christians compose a whole, and (2) sets are not actual [extra-mental] entities, nor are they visible entities. The notion that sets are actual [extra-mental] entities, would be a form of Platonism. (And we all know that we should see to it that no one takes us captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men – Col 2:8.)

    The mind is capable of abstracting forms from particulars, by abstracting away [in the mind] the matter of each particular, and then noting that this same form type can be found in many different particulars, and in that sense that they have something in common. The type or form, as abstracted from matter, is immaterial, but the abstraction of matter is a mental act, and hence the abstracted form exists as such only in the mind, not extra-mentally in Platonic ‘heaven.’ (Of course it exists first in God’s mind.) For that reason, even if one concedes that the visible catholic Church is not a composed whole, but tries to claim that the visible catholic Church is a set [i.e. the set of all professing believers and their children], the problem is that the set exists only in the mind, not in extra-mental reality, even though the members of that set exist in extra-mental reality. In other words, claiming to believe in a visible catholic Church would be either claiming to believe only in an idea or concept, or it would be claiming to believe that all professing Christians and their children have something in common, namely, the property of either professing Christianity or being the child of one who does. The latter is a tautology, and is in that sense entirely uninformative. But the former doesn’t work either, because it wouldn’t be possible for a mere idea [i.e. the *set* of all those who profess the true religion, and their children] to be “given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints” (WCF XXV.3) A set cannot do anything; it cannot discipline or teach or gather or perfect the saint, because it is a mere concept/idea. That’s why the referent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 cannot be a set (whether of the elect, or of all professing Christians and their children). And that’s why the referent of St. Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 3:15 that the Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” cannot be a set (whether of the elect, or of all professing Christians and their children). It needs to be a hierarchical unity, as Tom Brown and I explained in “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”

  98. Bryan,

    Excellent summary!

    The mind is capable of abstracting forms from particulars, by abstracting away [in the mind] the matter of each particular, and then noting that this same form type can be found in many different particulars, and in that sense that they have something in common.

    Ironic that the Protestant conception of “visible church” resemble a more Platonic one with respect to the Universals.

  99. that the WCF does not affirm that that the visible catholic Church is a unified visible whole, its parts having unity of composition.

    Andrew P,

    If I were to ask a knowledgeable Catholic today to demonstrate for me the fact the RCC is a “unified visible whole,” what would he say? Well I imagine that he would point me to the very complex administration system of Rome – the popes and the archbishops and the cardinals and all of the personnel and organizational structure that comprise the visible church in the RCC understanding of it. If he knew his CCC he might say that the visible church is a “society structured with hierarchical organs.” And I would have to reply that yes, there is unmistakable evidence that the RCC today is administratively a “unified visible whole.” So you are correct that in this understanding, the WCF would not affirm that the visible church is a “unified visible whole.” And why is this? Because most of the elements of the RCC that define it as a “unified visible whole” were not present at the origins of the visible church in the NT. The things that distinguish Rome as an organized and unified entity were not present when the NT visible church was formed. And this is why it is so important to define the terms (such as “visible” and “catholic”) and understand the matter historically. The RCC did not invent the concept of visible church. The visible church was of Apostolic origins and we can read about the elements of these origins in the Scripture. And in the Scriptures there are descriptions of various elements of the visible church. And as I have detailed several times on this thread, these elements all relate to congregations, not to any organizational structure that unites the congregations. Now of course we can by inference from Acts 15 say that the congregations should speak with each other when a problem arises, but there is no definition as to how the congregations should interact and certainly nothing hierarchical about the interaction. And of course the church in Scriptures was generally unified by a common confession. But there are no bishops and popes and administrative mandates for any sort of superstructure over and beyond the congregations. So the visible church is a distinct concept in the Scriptures even though it does not define a distinct administrative entity as it does with the RCC. So both the Reformed as well as the Apostolic churches fall short of Rome’s definition of the visible church.

    So for me and my EPC and SBC friends down the road, we are all part of the same visible church (although they might not use this term). We never have to worry about this too much unless we get queried about it from Catholics and Orthodox folks. And we do have a common confession for the most part. At least our respective confessions unite us much more than the RC’s down the road who are quite a blend of different thought systems form the very conservative to the very liberal.

  100. Dear Andrew M.,

    You said: “in the Scriptures there are descriptions of various elements of the visible church. And as I have detailed several times on this thread, these elements all relate to congregations, not to any organizational structure that unites the congregations. Now of course we can by inference from Acts 15 say that the congregations should speak with each other when a problem arises, but there is no definition as to how the congregations should interact and certainly nothing hierarchical about the interaction.”

    Really? Saint John Chrysostom’s analysis of Acts 15 suggests that people in the early Church did definitely claim that there was something “hierarchical about the interaction.” Why don’t you read what he said and tell me if you agree?

    You said: “And of course the church in Scriptures was generally unified by a common confession. But there are no bishops and popes and administrative mandates for any sort of superstructure over and beyond the congregations.”

    Well, Andrew, I completely disagree. We’ve talked at length about why Clement was exercising jurisdictional authority. Presumably we can talk about why Ignatius’ letters suggest that Bishops were an important part of early church life, and why the mid second century lists of Bishops strongly suggest that the early “colleges of presbyters” also had “head presbyters” who were very important. If you’re going to claim that there were no bishops and popes with administrative mandates over and beyond congregations then you are making a very sloppy argument from silence. You are refusing to let the positive extra-scriptural witness of Clement, Ignatius, and the mid-second century gnostic controversy tell you anything about the correct interpretation of the scriptures. In fact, you are relying on ambiguous and innocent silences in scripture and in these extra scriptural sources to unreasonably ignore the positive evidence for hierarchy in these sources. If you want to argue this fully, there are a lot of people here who are happy to discuss the matter at length.

    Do you really believe that your protestant arguments from silence are so very very strong that they ought to obviously outweigh the unbroken string of evidence for visible hierarchy stretching from the early second century to the present day?

    Let me give you some advice about analyzing data: when the signal to noise ratio is bad, any story — and I mean any story — can be constructed to fit the “evidence.” Therefore, every heresy in the world claims the very early “scriptural” church of the first century as its precedent. It’s easy to see patterns in sparse noisy data that are just a result of the noise. But as soon as the data gets plentiful, your story of no hierarchy disappears. Don’t you think that’s a little suspicious?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  101. Andrew,

    If I could jump in; How is Petrine primacy not clear in Acts 15? Debate, debate, debate, and then Peter speaks and the matter is settled. This is after Scripture calls him first among the Apostles (Matt 10:2) and after Christ established him and his confession as the rock upon which the Church would be built. How is this not a hierarchy? As a Protestant I always assumed that the hierarchy developed from the bottom up, this is not so. It developed from the top down. I have not read all the posts, but I think that at least the seeds of the hierarchy you are asking for are clearly present.

    Much love in Christ, Jeremy

  102. Andrew,

    So for me and my EPC and SBC friends down the road, we are all part of the same visible church….

    Thus far you have agreed with Bryan that the “visible catholic Church” affirmed in WCF is not a visibly unified whole. You go on to assert that the NT Church was not a visibly unified whole. But you have not shown how a “visible catholic Church” (singular) that is not a visibly unified whole is possible. Unless you are prepared to show this, then it seems that the most consistent thing to do is to admit that reference to the “visible catholic Church” in the WCF is misplaced, since, in your opinion, the NT references to the (whole) Church do not refer to a Church that is a visibly unified whole.

  103. Dear Andrew M.,

    To back up what Jeremy was saying about Acts 15, I will quote from Chrysostom:

    “This (James) was bishop, as they say, and therefore he speaks last, and herein is fulfilled that saying, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16 But observe the discretion shown by him also, in making his argument good from the prophets, both new and old. For he had no acts of his own to declare, as Peter had and Paul. And indeed it is wisely ordered that this (the active) part is assigned to those, as not intended to be locally fixed in Jerusalem, whereas (James) here, who performs the part of teacher, is no way responsible for what has been done, while however he is not divided from them in opinion.”

    Thus, you will notice that while James does speak after Peter in Acts 15, a very good biblical scholar (and saint) affirms what Jeremy is saying: the scriptures attest to a role that is above and beyond a local bishop, and at the Council of Jerusalem that role is not held by the bishop of Jerusalem, but rather by the key saints and founders of the Church at Rome. Of course, Chrysostom believed that among Peter and Paul, Peter’s role was more important. But that is for another day to discuss. For now, we just want to show you that there is scriptural evidence for our position of extra congregational authority in Acts 15. I will trust Chrysostom’s exegesis over yours.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

    p.s. Once again, I also recommend that when you make historical claims from scripture, you treat extra-scriptural sources as having a good deal of interpretive weight. This does not reduce the importance of scripture for our souls and our relationship with Christ. But it does place scripture in the proper light for historical argumentation.

  104. By the way, David, good point in #65

  105. it seems that the most consistent thing to do is to admit that reference to the “visible catholic Church” in the WCF is misplaced

    That’s fine. As long as you will admit that referring to the Apostolic Church as the “visible Catholic Church” in the same sense as the RCC later claimed this, then I think we are on the same page. If the CCC is right that the church is a “society structured with hierarchical organs” and there are no such hierarchical entities, then there must be a contrast between the visible church as it was founded and the RCC which contained all of these elements that were not part of the Apostolic church. Now some of the others above have tried to point to some evidence of an inchoate hierarchy, and perhaps there is. But, there is no definable institution that we can call a hierarchy in the Apostolic and post-Apostolic churches. So the visible church of this time is evidenced by the characteristics of her congregations, not by the characteristics of any sort of institution that oversees the congregations (as is the case with the RCC today). Fair enough?

  106. it seems that the most consistent thing to do is to admit that reference to the “visible catholic Church” in the WCF is misplaced

    Andrew P.,

    That’s fine. As long as you will admit that referring to the Apostolic Church as the “visible Catholic Church” in the same sense as the RCC later claimed this, then I think we are on the same page. If the CCC is right that the church is a “society structured with hierarchical organs” and there are no such hierarchical entities, then there must be a contrast between the visible church as it was founded and the RCC which contained all of these elements that were not part of the Apostolic church. Now some of the others above have tried to point to some evidence of an inchoate hierarchy, and perhaps there is. But, there is no definable institution that we can call a hierarchy in the Apostolic and post-Apostolic churches. So the visible church of this time is evidenced by the characteristics of her congregations, not by the characteristics of any sort of institution that oversees the congregations (as is the case with the RCC today). Fair enough?

  107. If I could jump in; How is Petrine primacy not clear in Acts 15?

    Jeremy,

    Nobody would debate Peter’s authoritative role as the spokesperson of the Apostles. The difficulty lies in making the jump from an Apostle to a non-Apostle and trying to draw a straight line of authority in the manner which the RCC does. And the other issue is trying to establish Peter’s role in Rome to begin with.

  108. So the visible church of this time is evidenced by the characteristics of her congregations, not by the characteristics of any sort of institution that oversees the congregations….

    This will not hold up unless you can explain how the Church, at any time at which it is not a visibly unified whole, is “the visible church.” The “characteristics of her congregations” do not suffice for the visibility of the one Church, for reasons that Bryan has given in his post and subsequent comments.

  109. Here is my perception of this discussion so far:

    Everyone seems to agree that the Church (singular) is an actual entity. Thus far, we have only two options whereby to account for the catholic Church as an actual entity:

    (1) We confess that the catholic Church is characterized by hierarchical unity of organization, wherein it resembles an organism, a living body. Baptized persons and local churches are related to one another and to the body as members of the body. This body is what “the catholic Church” refers to.

    or

    (2) We confess that the catholic Church does not resemble a living body; rather it resembles a set, the members of which are persons, local churches and denominations which are related to one another by sharing certain characteristics in common. Collectively, these set members are what “the catholic Church” refers to.

    We all agree that the Catholic Church resembles (1). Andrew M. has argued that the Catholic Church does not, however, resemble the Church described in the New Testament. Others have argued that it does resemble the Church in the New Testament after all.

    Granted that the New Testament posits that the Church is an actual entity, but not after the manner of (1), it follows that she is an actual entity in some other manner. The only other option I have seen is (2).

    But that brings us back to the substance of the original post, which is that anything existing after the manner of (2) is not an actual entity.

    These are the key premises at work here:

    (a) The Church that Christ founded is an actual entity.

    (b) “A plurality of things having only unity of type, and not unity of composition, is not an actual entity.”

    The interesting thing is, after all of this discussion, I have yet to see anyone object to either premise. Am I missing something?

  110. Dear Andrew M.,

    You said: “Nobody would debate Peter’s authoritative role as the spokesperson of the Apostles. The difficulty lies in making the jump from an Apostle to a non-Apostle and trying to draw a straight line of authority in the manner which the RCC does. And the other issue is trying to establish Peter’s role in Rome to begin with.”

    As far as I know, every early Church father who mentioned Peter’s geographical position at all, mentioned his geographical position in Rome. Tertullian mentioned that Peter baptized Christians in the Tiber River, for goodness’ sake! The history of Protestant denial of Peter’s presence in Rome is a complete embarrassment, and I stand amazed that you would mention that history without blushing. Here are some Father’s who mentioned Peter’s presence in Rome:

    Ignatius of Antioch 107 AD
    Dionysus of Corinth 166 AD / 174 AD
    Irenaeus 180 AD
    Gaius 198 AD / 217 AD
    Tertullian
    Clement of Alexandria
    Origen of Alexandria
    Porhyry of Tyre
    Eusebius
    Peter of Alexandria
    Lactantius of Africa
    Cyril of Jerusalem
    Pope Damasus I

    The list goes on, through Jerome and Augustine and so forth. As for making the jump from Peter’s primacy to his successor’s primacy. . . are you interested in discussing Clement and Ignatius in more detail? Because the jump looks clear to me.

    Finally, you said: “But, there is no definable institution that we can call a hierarchy in the Apostolic and post-Apostolic churches.”

    Andrew, have you read carefully the arguments that we’ve made about hierarchy in the apostolic Church? In what way is Peter’s primacy, and the apostle’s authority over others, and the deacon’s authority over still other matters not evidence for a definable institution that we can call a hierarchy? If that is not a hierarchy, then what is?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  111. Andrew M.,

    One thing that I’ve noticed with your qualms about the Catholic Church is that they appear to be philosophical, but as your arguments progress your real concerns are historical. You seem to think there is undeniable historical evidence that the Early Church had features that are incompatible with the Catholic Church of today (i.e., that couldn’t at least be the seed of what we have today, but rather were something whose fundamental nature contradicts what we have today). Because of your firm belief in this supposedly undeniable evidence, you won’t even get deeply into the philosophical argument that Bryan and Andrew P. are trying to engage you with.

    Other people have emailed me personally to ask for more discussion of historical matters. I think you should do so. Or you should at least read some of the historical sources that we’ve been pointing you to.

    The thing that surprises me the most about your historical objections is that you think the early evidence is so clear at all. I don’t think its clear without using evidence from many sources over about 100 to 150 years of Christian history, as well as applying a good dose of uncommon common sense. Given that, in what way is early Christian history going to provide _clear_ testimony against the Catholic Church?

    You are looking at the one place in the historical data set where the data is most sparse and fuzzy in order to construct an argument against the great mass of data from the second century onwards in which one clearly sees the “Catholic” things that you don’t like. I’ll say it again: don’t you find such a mode of argument suspicious? Not every heresy can claim the Church of 600 A.D. as part of its history — the evidence is too clear of what the Church was and what it believed. But every heresy under the sun claims the utopian Church of the first century as its predecessor. Maybe that’s because the data there is too sparse for totally unquestionable identification of key features of Christian life?

    Let me pose this mathematically. If there are more parameters in your model then there are observations in your data set, then you can’t test your model against the data. Protestants have a complicated argument with many parameters to argue that the original Church did NOT have a hierarchy, and did NOT have a Pope and did NOT have apostolic successors and did NOT have a whole bunch of other things. But you’ve got too many parameters to test on the small data set of early Christian historical sources (including the scriptures). That’s why a bunch of models can “fit” the data, and why your claim of clear evidence from these sparse early sources that can be used to counteract the evidence from the much larger set of later sources is a bunch of baloney.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  112. One more point: the richness of scripture as a theological data set may well be infinite. But it is scripture as a historical data set that is lacking. Scripture is at least consistent with several different views of the history of the first 30 years of the Church (at least if one views scripture without the kind of philosophical nuance that the writers at CTC have, or without the help of another 50 to 100 years of historical data).

    Andrew M., if you take these points to heart, then you are going to have a hard time convincing yourself or anyone else that scripture is actually INconsistent with a Catholic view of the first 30 years of Church history. You don’t have nearly enough evidence to prove your case. And without a firm case there, the supposed historical problems with the Catholic claims are really just wishful thinking on the part of sects and communities that don’t want to join the current manifestation of the historic Christian Church.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  113. As far as I know, every early Church father who mentioned Peter’s geographical position at all, mentioned his geographical position in Rome.

    K. Doran – I did not mention the question of Peter’s presence in Rome, I spoke of his role. In the Scriptures we have no mention of Peter’s playing any part of the Church of Rome as an officer. Apart from his possible allusion to Rome (“Babylon”) in his epistle there is no evidence that he had any part of the church in this city. The church fathers you mention were likely repeating what they had learned from Clement, but exactly what Clement means by his brief reference to Peter and Paul in regards to Rome is a matter of considerable scholarly dispute. I think it could be something like Simon Magus – many of the Church Fathers had all sorts of stories about Simon which later turned out to be mostly untrue. One father picked up the previous father’s accounts, and so on.

    have you read carefully the arguments that we’ve made about hierarchy in the apostolic Church

    You have talked about people like Peter who had authority. But this is not a hierarchy. I am using hierarchy to say what the CCC references in the term “hierarchical organs.” In other words, hierarchical institutions, not just people in authority. It is these institutions which are what is visible in the RCC today and these institutions which do not seem to be present at the formation of the NT Church.

    The thing that surprises me the most about your historical objections is that you think the early evidence is so clear at all. I don’t think its clear without using evidence from many sources over about 100 to 150 years of Christian history

    No, like you, I think the evidence of from the early church is often very hazy. But if this is the area of history most likely to be knowledgeable about given events (i.e. Peter being the Bishop of Rome) and there is great uncertainty, then there ought to be unmistakable evidence to bolster the case of those who later come to a certain conclusion. Just the fact that there is consensus on a matter does not prove anything. The question ought to be whether evidence existed to conclude such consensus is justified. Let me give you one example. In the sixth century the writings of Dionysius became part of the corpus of Christian literature. Dionysius was very important because he was known to be a companion of Paul. For almost a millenium the theology of Dionysius was accepted as an important part of the Catholic heritage. No church father between the sixth century and the Renaissance doubted Dionysius’ authenticity. Aquinas quotes Dionysus almost as much as Augustine in the Summa. However in the 15th century the Humanist scholar Lorenzo Valla demonstrated that Dionysius could not have been Paul’s companion and was in fact a sixth century Neo-platonist. The RCC of course resisted such claims, but to make a long story short, eventually the RCC gave up and agreed that the Church had been wrong. He is now known as Pseudo-Dionysius. The point here is that even if there is 100% consensus concerning a matter in a given age it does not prove the belief is justified. If there is a period of haziness and uncertainty on a given question which is followed by a period of certainty over the question, it seems to me that the first question that should be asked is what evidence was brought forward to gain such clarity.

  114. Andrew,

    “I think it could be something like Simon Magus.” To equate Peter with Simon Magus as it concerns people knowing much about him, where he lived, went etc…is not real credible for this simple fact: the prominence of this man, Peter. This man, Peter, was not like Carmen San Diego :) for the early Church! If they say he was in Rome why would we think they got it wrong?

  115. Dear Andrew,

    At this point, it might be useful for yourself and others to recap your style of argument. I will use numbers below to denote the steps that typically ensue, and letters to refer to particular instances at each step.

    STEP 1: Members of CTC write an article attempting to engage you and other Protestants on philosophical and theological grounds, with a bit of history thrown in.

    STEP 2: You write a comment that dodges the main argument, refusing to refute it directly — often this comment includes a bold and unsupported historical claim, such as (my paraphrases):
    (A) Trent was the first Council that Rome completely dominated; the earlier councils were conciliar, and Rome played little part in them!
    (B) You can’t see evidence of hierarchy beyond local congregations in scripture
    (C) Peter’s role at Rome is difficult to establish

    STEP 3: Someone points out that your historical claim is untrue
    (A) I wrote that several first millennium councils were either dominated by Rome or involved Rome as an extremely important player, including the famous council of Chalcedon.
    (B) We pointed out that Acts 15 involves extra-congregational authority
    (C) I pointed out that Peter’s geographic connection to Rome was completely obvious through the universal witness of antiquity, with evidence beginning nearly as soon as we have any evidence about the church of Rome at all. I also noted some of the evidence of his role there (baptizing in the Tiber)

    STEP 4: You bring up small details or distant analogies to attempt to bolster your case.
    (A) You wrote that only two papal legates were present at Chalcedon.
    (C) You wrote that there is an example (pseudo-Dionysius) of universal patristic testimony needing to be revised in the face of superior later scholarship.

    STEP 5: Someone points out why the small details and distant analogies that you use are irrelevant and misleading.
    (A) The empress who convened the council specifically did so with the expressed wish for the Pope to be its head. The papal legates were the ecclesiastical presidents of the Council. Like many early Councils, the emperor’s chosen leader was expected to obtain a unanimous vote in favor of that leader’s theological view. It did, and the council specifically claimed that Peter had spoken through Leo. Do you see how misleading it was for you to say that only two papal legates were there?
    (C) Now I will point out why the pseudo Dionysius episode is an irrelevant comparison. As Tom Riello pointed out: there were people alive who knew Peter when Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Roman Church that Peter and Paul had instructed them. When Tertullian wrote that Peter baptized in the Tiber, he was only a few old men removed from those who knew Peter. This is a completely different case from the universal testimony of the authorship of pseudo-Dionysius, in which the consensus was formed at a time when no one could have been even close to having testimony from their own grandfather about who wrote the works in question. And furthermore, the number of liars necessary for the patristic testimony about Dionysius to be wrong was mainly one: the actual author of that work. Entire communities of early Christians would have had to have been liars for the stories about Peter’s deeds in Rome to be based on no teaching role of him there at all. You have both the closeness of the testimony and the type of testimony against you in this comparison.

    STEP 6: You either say nothing in reply or change the subject
    (A) I don’t believe you admitted publicly that you were dead wrong about Trent compared with Chalcedon. If you did, I missed it.

    Regarding the points on how to analyze data, you said: “The point here is that even if there is 100% consensus concerning a matter in a given age it does not prove the belief is justified. If there is a period of haziness and uncertainty on a given question which is followed by a period of certainty over the question, it seems to me that the first question that should be asked is what evidence was brought forward to gain such clarity.”

    You are wrong. In order to claim either development or corruption from the early Church in Acts and Clement to the hierarchical, petrine, sacramental, mystical Church of Augustine, you need to have clear evidence from the earlier period to compare with the clear evidence that we have from the later period. While we can’t follow up on WHY people in Augustine’s period believed the things they did about the early Church (if we could, we would have by definition clearer evidence from the earlier period!), their testimony of what the Church was like in their day, and their calm statements about how this was always how it had been, are the BEST EVIDENCE WE HAVE. You simply cannot refute the better later evidence without equally good evidence form the earlier period. That is why the people who attempt to do so each pick their own fairy tale about what the earlier period looked like: Morman, Presbyterian, Baptist, Jehovas Witnesses, etc. They would all pick the same fairy tail if the early evidence was of the same quality as the later.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  116. Bryan,
    While it MIGHT be the case that immersion in my own paradigm leaves me unconvinced by your arguments, it seems much more likely to me that your argument is wholly incomplete. Otherwise, you have just disproven the existence of my family. Namely, you say that Protestant theologians made “a philosophical error. This was the error of assuming that unity of type is sufficient for unity of composition. In actuality, things of the same type do not by that very fact compose a unified whole. ” Using this logic, the people who are the same type — related to me biologically (and/oror by marriage) — do not by that very fact compose my family. If this is true, I am somewhat shocked but grateful that I can reduce some of my Christmas Card mailing expenditures. Of course, another [fairly well-established] view might be that my family does exist but that it is NOT a unified whole. We could then debate what makes any particular family “unified” and/or “whole”. Regardless, I am remain convinced that my family, like the visible church, does exist and in fact the two share many attributes: unified in some senses, diverse in others, variously hierarchical with no clear single human leadership — and likely none on the horizon.

    Let me say it this way: The WCF notion of the visible catholic church is just that, a notion. It is a notional set — not a philosophical error. All of those who are part of the set are by definition part because they are of the same type — professing belief and/or through affiliation with, etc. etc. The major use of the visible church within the WCF is to denote that there are plenty of people in a variety of congregations around the world who are aligned with the teachings of Christ. Some hold His teachings more dear than they hold Him. Some show up on Sunday and roll their eyes. Some worship in a different building than they did last year because someone upset them. Some only worship in private. But they are all unified in their OUTWARD (hence “visible”) affiliation with the teachings of Christ. At least some of them worship Satan or Buddha or Oprah or themselves, because INTERNALLY they are not authentically part of the “invisible” church. The notion on the visible church is to define the venn diagram circles associated with biblical teaching that some (invisibly) are ACTUALLY redeemed and some within the visible church are not. The very nature of the visible church is that it is what can be seen to APPEAR to be Christian. The degree to which its constituent parts are unified under hierarchical authority is not germane — and certainly does not deny its existence. The “catholicity” of the visible church refers to the tautological aspect that the “true religion” defines who is part of the one body and therefore who is not. In other words, for example, the visible church includes all who can be counted as Christian, not those who reject the teachings of Christ. As such, for example, Latter Day Saints cannot reasonably be called “Christian” and are not appropriately part of the visible church. That said, there is no earthly authority determining the reasonable definition, so people might wrongly include or exclude, but the Lord Jesus has dominion over this kingdom, and He knows what His dominion is. As such, this catholic body is generally apparent, hence visible, even if you can’t actually “see” it. Bottomline, people can see who are participating in religion — only God knows who is authentically His.

    (Note: as an extreme example, Christians huddled in a basement in China are part of the visible church, even though nobody else sees them — they are visibly apparent to the naked eye as outwardly participating in the Christian religion. They are part of the same visible catholic church that I am. I am united with them in upholding Christ as the Savior. Who knows? I might disagree with a lot of their doctrine and practices and preferences. Still, I pray that I could be united in the exact same way with even more people throughout China and Arab nations the and the US.)

  117. Duncan, (re: #116)

    Welcome to Called To Communion. Thanks for your comment. You wrote:

    While it MIGHT be the case that immersion in my own paradigm leaves me unconvinced by your arguments, it seems much more likely to me that your argument is wholly incomplete. Otherwise, you have just disproven the existence of my family. Namely, you say that Protestant theologians made “a philosophical error. This was the error of assuming that unity of type is sufficient for unity of composition. In actuality, things of the same type do not by that very fact compose a unified whole. ” Using this logic, the people who are the same type — related to me biologically (and/oror by marriage) — do not by that very fact compose my family.

    That conclusion would follow if what constitutes a family is only unity of type. But a family has visible unity, by way of a visible hierarchy, as St. Paul says: “For the husband is the head of the wife” (Eph 5:23), and the children are subordinate to the parents, as St. Paul says: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph 6:1). So, my argument does not eliminate families.

    Let me say it this way: The WCF notion of the visible catholic church is just that, a notion. It is a notional set — not a philosophical error.

    What is a philosophical error is to consider a set (which is something merely notional — i.e. in the mind) a visible something in extramental reality, i.e. “the visible catholic Church.” When Jesus said in Matthew 16 “Upon this rock I will build My Church,” He wasn’t saying, “Upon this rock I will build My set.” Hence in Matt. 18 he gives disciplinary instructions in which people are to “tell it to the Church.” But it makes no sense to bring disciplinary concerns before a set. It makes sense to bring disciplinary issues before persons in an authorized hierarchy.

    All of those who are part of the set are by definition part because they are of the same type — professing belief and/or through affiliation with, etc. etc. The major use of the visible church within the WCF is to denote that there are plenty of people in a variety of congregations around the world who are aligned with the teachings of Christ.

    I agree that there are plenty of people who are aligned on many things. But the point I’m making here is that there being many people who believe in Christ and seek to follow Him does not bring into existence an entity, i.e. “the visible catholic Church.”

    The notion on the visible church is to define the venn diagram circles associated with biblical teaching that some (invisibly) are ACTUALLY redeemed and some within the visible church are not.

    The problem with that statement is that there is no such thing [given Protestantism] as “the visible [catholic] church.” It is like talking about unicorns and leprechauns as though they actually exist.

    The very nature of the visible church is that it is what can be seen to APPEAR to be Christian.

    The argument in my post shows why there is no such thing as “the visible [catholic] church.” You can find a summary of my argument in comment #46, and also in comment #97. So far the argument has not been refuted.

    In other words, for example, the visible church includes all who can be counted as Christian, not those who reject the teachings of Christ. … As such, this catholic body is generally apparent, hence visible, even if you can’t actually “see” it.

    Duncan, if there were no visible catholic Church, but only embodied believers in Christ (who accept His teachings), local congregations and denominations, what would be different? How would the present situation be any different? Your claim that it is visible even though you can’t actually see it, sounds very much like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” So it is important in this case to be able to show that you’re not actually in an Emperor’s New Clothes situation. That’s why I am asking you this question (i.e. “if there were no visible catholic Church, …?”)

    (Note: as an extreme example, Christians huddled in a basement in China are part of the visible church, even though nobody else sees them — they are visibly apparent to the naked eye as outwardly participating in the Christian religion. They are part of the same visible catholic church that I am.

    If they were only part of the invisible Church, and there in fact were no actual “visible catholic Church,” what would be different? How would you know the difference?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  118. Bryan,

    Protestantism has a visible catholic church.

    1) The entire argument against this position rests on a false assumption, namely, that the term “visible catholic church” refers to the same sort of thing as an apple or “panapple.”

    2) But the visible catholic church is not just any ordinary thing in this world; it is the body of Christ. Christ, the head, is in heaven, and his visible body is his catholic church, which is scattered all over this world. To be sure, the language of the “body of Christ” in the NT applies first of all to specific local churches (e.g., Corinth) and not to the visible catholic church. But in the epistle to the Ephesians it seems to be extended to comprehend the universal church.

    3) The visible catholic church has an invisible principle of unity, namely, the Spirit of Christ. Furthermore, there are other ways in which we can speak of “invisible” aspects of the church, as Augustine recognized. If one uses the term “church” to refer to “elect,” i.e., to the wheat as distinguished from the tares, that church is “invisible” to us. But the fact that there are invisible aspects to the church (Catholics and Protestants are agreed on this) does not mean that the church is invisible. The church is always visible; it appears in concrete local instantiations.

    It is rather Catholicism that has no visible catholic church.

    1) Catholicism limits its definition of the visible catholic church to churches in communion with the pope of Rome. This seems catholic, because there are 1 billion members of this church; however, there are more than 500 million Protestants + Orthodox + Anglican that are regarded as outside of Christ’s visible catholic church.

    2) The use of Paul’s doctrine of head/body to apply to the Catholic communion alone is a perversion of Paul’s teaching. Paul’s entire point in Ephesians is that the catholic church is a new humanity. The church is the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23). It is “one new humanity” of Jew and Gentile alike (Eph 2:15). It is one temple in Christ (Eph 2:21-22). “There is one body and one Spirit” (Eph 4:4): that is a confession of faith in the visible catholic church. Catholics today are in the position of the Donatists whom Augustine opposed; they deny the true catholicity of the Church by claiming to be the only instantiation of the visible catholic church. Paul’s entire point, that the visible catholic Church is the new humanity in Christ, is thereby obscured.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  119. David, (re: #118)

    If there were no “visible catholic Church,” but only visible local churches and an “invisible catholic Church,” what would be different from the present situation? What would be different as we looked around at the world?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  120. Bryan,

    I find your question difficult to answer. The only possible referent I can think of that applies to the term “invisible church” would be the sum of the elect. (I don’t think Catholics and Protestants are disagreed on this.) The elect are “invisible” only in the sense that it is not always apparent to the human eye who is truly a member of Christ.

    You seem, however, to be using the term “invisible church” in a different way. To me, the term seems inherently self-contradictory since any other usage of the term “church” implies visibility; i.e. it implies an actual gathering of Christian believers under Word and sacrament.

  121. David, (re: #120)

    Ok, I’ll rephrase my question, in order to avoid the problem of defining an invisible Church. If there were no “visible catholic Church,” but only persons who profess the true religion, and their children, meeting in local visible local churches, what would be different from the present situation? What would be different as we looked around at the world?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  122. David,

    Combining your two points, you wrote: “Catholicism limits its definition of the visible catholic church to churches in communion with the pope of Rome. . . Catholics today are in the position of the Donatists whom Augustine opposed; they deny the true catholicity of the Church by claiming to be the only instantiation of the visible catholic church.”

    The problem with your comparison of the Catholics of today with the Donatists whom Augustine opposed, is that when Augustine opposed the Donatists, he used exactly the “limited” definition that you have rejected.

    Following Optatus before him, Augustine pointed out that the true Catholic Church was the one that was in communion with the Bishop of Rome. He even composed a little ditty (it sounds better in Latin) to help the people remember this fact in their apologetics against the Donatists:

    Number the bishops from the see
    of Peter itself.
    And in that order of Fathers see
    who succeeded whom,
    That is the rock against which the
    gates of hell do not prevail.

    The Donatists, not to be outdone, established a Donatist bishop in Rome. Both sides knew that communion with Rome was essential to be considered to be part of the Catholic Church. The issue was settled because of apostolic succession: the Donatist bishop of Rome had no predecessor, so was obviously not the real Bishop of Rome.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  123. Bryan,

    I believe that, if there were no visible catholic church, there would be no visible local churches, and no Christians. So I believe that everything would look very different.

    There are some Protestants who might accept your argument and say, ok, who cares, we have no visible catholic church. I reject this and think it very dangerous. To say there is no visible catholic church but only visible local churches would be to say that Christ is a king without one church. But Christ has one church. Therefore, there is a visible catholic church.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  124. K. Doran,

    “The issue was settled because of apostolic succession.”

    The Donatists persisted as a movement for centuries after Augustine, so the issue was not exactly “settled” because of apostolic succession. Both sides claimed apostolic succession; the issue, I think, was ultimately settled because the Donatists had no genuine catholicity.

    Protestants have largely (not wholly) abandoned apostolic succession, although strictly speaking there is no reason why a Calvinist system of church government should not affirm it. After all, ministers are ordained by ministers who were ordained by ministers stretching back to the Reformation. And in the time of the Reformation, all sides claimed to be the legitimate continuation of the church. No one said, “who needs tradition?” I would affirm the efforts of various Protestants to recover the concept of apostolic succession.

  125. Dave,

    Do you acknowledge that Augustine and Optatus before him used the lack of communion with the Bishop of Rome to explain why the Donatists were not the true Catholic Church? If you do, we can move forward to the next step, if you don’t, why not?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  126. Well, I would acknowledge that this was one of a variety of arguments Augustine used.

  127. David,

    Your answer indicates that the term “visible catholic Church” is just another word for the mental sum of visible local churches. Your answer entails that there is no additional singular entity to which the term “visible catholic Church” refers. There is no panapple; there are only apples. In our minds, we can consider as one all the existing apples, and join a word ‘panapple’ to this concept “all the existing apples,” but there is no actual singular referent in the world to which this concept corresponds, just as there is no actual entity consisting of my piano, the Empire State building, and the planet Venus. Only the individuals exist. The unity of those three exists only in the mind, as a mental construct. Likewise, given your answer, “visible catholic Church” is only a mental construct; what actually exists are only visible local churches. The danger is treating what is only a mental construct, as if it is an actual entity.

    Now, I suppose you might disagree with my argument that your position entails that the “visible catholic Church” is only a mental construct. If you disagree, then here’s my next question: If the visible catholic Church were in actuality only a mental construct, and only visible local churches actually existed, what would be different from the present situation? What would be different as we looked around at the world?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  128. Dave,

    I agree completely. Then the question that will help us see where and why we differ is: why was this argument a valid and important argument for Optatus and Augustine, but not a valid and important argument today?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  129. K. Doran,

    I do believe it is a valid and important ecumenical consideration today. Communion with the bishop of Rome is certainly desirable; much more desirable than most Protestants would assert. I am not trying to say it is not a valid and important consideration; it is not, however, the only or solely relevant factor. (Otherwise I would have to say that all Anglicans are not in the visible church simply because Henry wanted a divorce.)

    Blessings,

    Dave

  130. Bryan,

    Your answer indicates that the term “visible catholic Church” is just another word for the mental sum of visible local churches.

    No, it is not. I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church. That is the visible catholic church of Christ. It is not just a mental sum. It really exists.

    It’s lack of apparent unity of composition troubles you. Well, it obviously troubles me as well (I wholly support efforts at ecumenical reconciliation), but that does not mean I do not accept by faith that there is one visible catholic church.

    Your problem is that you are forgetting the first two words in the article on the church: I believe. I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church. It is an article of faith that this church exists and is visible. It is not something we can simply verify and quantify according to ordinary procedures, such as by looking for the panapple. This robs it of being a genuine confession of faith.

    Now, I suppose you might disagree with my argument that your position entails that the “visible catholic Church” is only a mental construct. If you disagree, then here’s my next question: If the visible catholic Church were in actuality only a mental construct, and only visible local churches actually existed, what would be different from the present situation? What would be different as we looked around at the world?

    Yes, I disagree. And you have already asked the “what would be different” question (121), to which I say, there would be no visible local churches if the visible catholic church did not exist. I think, however, we are now going in circles. Thanks for the interesting article and argument. It poses an impressive challenge to Protestantism, which I did not want to leave unanswered.

  131. David,

    Just a quick chime in from a fellow Protestant:

    “The church, Hans Kung has stated, is one, though divided (Kung, The Church, 320). This unity is not visible at the organizational level; it is a spiritual reality, consisting in the fellowship of all true believers sharing in the Holy Spirit. It becomes visible when believers share the same baptism, partake of the same supper, and look forward to sharing one heavenly city.”
    ~Mark Dever

    Peter

  132. #130 David

    I would ask what is it that the multiple visible catholic churches hold in unity? Would you please enumerate to me what is necessary and binding upon all true Christians to believe so that there might be unity?
    What could a true Christian do if he was in communion with a Socinian body and looked around at the different choices in order to determine if his beliefs were correct?

    Also, would you be comfortable saying that the Roman Catholic Church is included among all of the visible(mystical) catholic bodies and is therefore also a visible local body?

  133. David, (re: #130)

    I understand that you accept the line from the Creed by faith. I do too. But, we are talking about whether the conception of “visible catholic Church” in your ecclesiology reduces the “visible catholic Church” to a mental construct, or allows it to correspond to an actual entity. That is, we are talking about whether your ecclesiology conforms to the Creed. I’m arguing that your ecclesiology does not conform to the Creed, in that, according to my argument, in your ecclesiology your concept of “visible catholic Church” reduces the Church to a mental construct. And it is no refutation of my argument to point out that the Creed demands you believe that there is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Of course it does. That’s simply not the point in question. The fact that the Creed requires you to believe that there is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” does not show that your ecclesiology avoids reducing the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” to a mental construct.

    You claim that because we must accept this line of the Creed by faith therefore the existence of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” is not something we can verify. But I don’t agree. That would entail that while Jesus was on earth, the Apostles could not have had faith in Christ, because they could verify His existence by way of their senses. And that implication is obviously false. So the Church does not need to be invisible, and our concept of the Church does not need to make the Church reducible to a mental construct, in order for us to affirm in faith this particular line of the Creed.

    These four terms (“one,” “holy,” “catholic,” and “apostolic”) are the four marks of the Church. They are the very means by which we discover or ‘pick out’ the Church in the world, because among all the institutions of the world, only the Church Christ founded possesses all four marks. Even atheists can believe that the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” exists, just as atheists can believe that Jesus “suffered, died, and was buried.” What requires faith, for believing this line of the Creed concerning the Church, is what follows from its place in the Creed, in relation to everything preceding that line, and everything following that line. That is, the Church is not a merely human institution, but a divine institution established by the Son of God, animated by the Holy Spirit, and in which and through we receive His Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and participate in Christ’s work of redemption that culminates in His glorious return and the resurrection of our bodies. That’s the aspect of the ecclesial line in the Creed that requires grace to believe, not the existence of the visible catholic Church, but the divine ‘dimension’ of the Church that is invisible to the natural man, just as Christ’s divinity while on earth was invisible to the natural man, and so only by the Father’s revelation could St. Peter declare that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16)

    So the fact that we need faith in order to believe this line of the Creed does not mean either that the Church referred to in this line is invisible or that in our ecclesiology our concept of the Church must allow the Church to be reducible to a mental construct such as the panapple or the set whose members including only my piano, the Empire State Building, and the planet Venus.

    Nor does the fact that you affirm and assert the existence of “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” show that your concept of the Church avoids reducing it to a mental construct. It is not impossible for those who believe that the panapple exists to assert its existence. Asserting the existence of the panapple, and asserting that it is not just a mental construct does not demonstrate that the panapple actually exists and is not merely a mental construct.

    Imagine that you ask the panapple believer “If there were no panapple, but the panapple were only a mental construct, what would be different as we look out into the world?,” and he responds, “there would be no apples.” What is he not getting? He is not grasping that in order for the panapple to be something other than a mental construct, what makes it one cannot only be his mind. The panapple must have extra-mental unity, actual unity. He therefore has to acknowledge that if the panapple did not exist, but only apples existed, there would be a real difference in the world as we look around. Claiming that if apples exist, therefore the panpple exists, and that if there were no panpple there would be no apples, is exactly what would be the case if the panapple were merely a mental construct. So such a reply does not show that the panapple is anything other than a mental construct, and, by the principle of parsimony, reduces the panpple to a mental construct.

    So likewise, responding to the question “If there were no visible catholic Church, but only visible local churches, what would be different?” with, “there would be no visible local churches,” is to give an answer identical to what would be the case if there were no actual visible catholic Church, and the “visible catholic Church” were only a mental construct. And because of the principle of parsimony, such a position thereby reduces the visible catholic Church to a mental construct.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  134. Peter G, 131.

    I agree. The church is visible; its principle of unity is invisible.

    Dave

  135. Dave,

    You said: “I do believe it is a valid and important ecumenical consideration today.” The problem is you have shifted the goal posts. Optatus and Augustine did not use the criteria of communion with the Bishop of Rome as an “ecumenical consideration” to be mulled over by various legitimate groups which were sadly not in communion with each other. Rather, Optatus and Augustine first assumed that there was only one legitimate visible communion, and then proved that they were part of that one legitimate communion because they were in communion with the Bishop of Rome (Optatus calls this the “First Endowment” from which the others, such as the Trinitarian creed, flow). The Donatists also assumed that there was only one legitimate visible communion, and in order to defend their claim to being that one they established a Bishop of Rome for themselves as well. Thus both sides explicitly or implicitly affirmed the following two things:

    (1) There is only one legitimate visible communion, and
    (2) That communion had better have a Bishop of Rome in it.

    It seems to me that you explicitly deny both of those things. And the question is: if you do deny them, and if you do admit that these were not denied by Optatus and Augustine, then why are you right and Optatus and Augustine (and, for that matter, the Donatists) wrong?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  136. David,

    Following up my #133.

    Imagine that I gave the name “Trires” to the following three things taken together: my piano, the Empire State Building, and the planet Venus, and I claimed that Trires “is not just a mental sum; it really exists.”

    Imagine then, that you asked me the following question: “If Trires were in actuality only a mental construct, and what actually existed [relevant to this question] were only your piano, the Empire State Building, and the planet Venus, what would be different from the present situation? What would be different as we looked around at the world?”

    Imagine then that I replied: “If there were no Trires, neither my piano, nor the Empire State Building, nor the planet Venus would exist.”

    Would you then believe that I had shown that Trires is not a mental construct? If so, then how would you propose showing that mere mental constructs are only mental constructs, or do you think there is no way to distinguish between mental constructs and actually existing entities? But if not, then why do you (apparently) think that a parallel answer in the case of the visible catholic Church is sufficient to show that the “visible catholic Church” does not reduce to a mental construct?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  137. Alicia,

    I would ask what is it that the multiple visible catholic churches hold in unity? Would you please enumerate to me what is necessary and binding upon all true Christians to believe so that there might be unity?

    The ecumenical creeds.

    What could a true Christian do if he was in communion with a Socinian body and looked around at the different choices in order to determine if his beliefs were correct?

    Exercise some discernment.

    Also, would you be comfortable saying that the Roman Catholic Church is included among all of the visible(mystical) catholic bodies and is therefore also a visible local body?

    Absolutely. Of course.

  138. David,

    I would further ask, if a Christian( at least he believes himself to be a Christian because of an inner witness) wants to play “spot the heretic”, from where does he begin? Is the herectic all of those who have gone out from the church that claims that it has apostolic authority or all those schismatics that came after the earlier part of the Reformation? Where does this place the Reformers who adopted their own confessions in order to keep a bond of unity?
    How does a person objectively say who ‘they’ ” that went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us”? (1 John 2:19)
    I have a hard time figuring out the locus from which an accusing finger can point and who the finger points at.

    Alicia

  139. K. Doran,

    (1) There is only one legitimate visible communion, and
    (2) That communion had better have a Bishop of Rome in it.
    It seems to me that you explicitly deny both of those things.

    I actually don’t need to deny either of them, since I believe that the Catholic communion (and therefore the bishop of Rome) is a part of the visible Catholic church!

    As a Protestant, I believe that I do have communion with the bishop of Rome. We are joined by one faith and one Spirit; we have the same Lord who is Christ. Sadly, our true and deep spiritual unity has not found visible expression. That does not mean we have no unity; to assert so would be to deny the Spirit or unjustifiably limit the Spirit to one particular church body.

    The question is, because unity has not found visible expression, does that mean then that the catholic church is invisible or only a mental concept? No: the principle of its unity is invisible (the Spirit); but the Spirit is always manifest in visible local churches, producing fruit. So I insist that the catholic church is visible and not just a mental concept. And that I and the bishop of Rome are both members of this visible catholic church, on the basis of the invisible unity we have.

    Would you say that Anglicans are not members of the visible catholic church? They have apostolic succession.

  140. I would further ask, if a Christian( at least he believes himself to be a Christian because of an inner witness) wants to play “spot the heretic”, from where does he begin?

    I think there are 2 ways to view ‘heresies’. Rome’s way says that a difference in opinion from what Rome teaches is a heresy. The locus of power is Rome, which allows for Rome to ‘develop’ doctrine in whatever way it sees fit. It is all acorns turning into oak trees over there.

    The Protestant way (and I believe the way outlined in the Bible) is to discern, compare the teachings and toss out the one that deviates from ‘what has been taught’. If early Christians didn’t need to believe the Marian dogmas, modern Christians don’t. If early Christians didn’t need to believe in Papal Infalibility or the popes universal juristiction, we don’t.

    It is likely that the Protestants threw the baby out with the bath water in many areas… there is something to be said for Apostolic succession (though I think most protestants have it, even if they don’t recognize it through laying on of hands). Certainly there are more groups that have apostolic succession than are recognized by Rome.

    I would ask, why play ‘spot the heretic’? According to the Bible, Heretics have a couple of characteristics. They are divisive, and salacious, and ‘teach’ something different. I believe it is possible for members to have differing opinions about certain doctrines without needing to label them.

    In necessary things, unity;
    In doubtful things, liberty;
    In all things charity.

  141. As the moderator of this thread, I want to remind those who wish to comment that comments should be about the content of the article. (See the comment guidelines.) Any further off-topic comments will be deleted. Thanks.

  142. K. Doran (#122)
    O please, o please! Send us the Latin (or tell us where we can find it). That sounds so cool!

    jj

  143. David (#137)
    I must admit I find it confounding that the circularity in this doesn’t appear to bother you – the principle of unity is the ecumenical creeds – and what are the ecumenical creeds? Why, those that are the principle of unity!

    Surely in order for the creeds to be called ecumenical, you have to know what churches are in the οἰκουμένη in the first place??!! Or, alternately, you have to have some principle for determining just what are the ecumenical creeds independently of saying they are the ones held by the οἰκουμένη??

    I sob (virtually, of course :-)) when I hear this sort of circularity pronounced without explanation, justification, or reasoning!

    jj

  144. PETER G.

    Why would you use a quote from Hans Kung? He hasn’t been able to teach Catholic Theology for many years, He barely hangs in as a Catholic. Go to the Church if you want to know how the Church functions ( Use the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

    Blessings
    NHU

  145. #138 David,

    You said: “I actually don’t need to deny either of them, since I believe that the Catholic communion (and therefore the bishop of Rome) is a part of the visible Catholic church! ”

    I ask: Why then do many other Reformered Christians disagree with you,and even are mean spirited when a Protestant chooses to switch churches and become Roman Catholic?

    #140 Bob,

    The reason I want to play spot the heretic is to be certain that I, a Reformed Christian who am leaning towards Catholicism, can be sure that doing so is not a herectical move. I am not seeking to be subversive and I am not lewd. If heresy is entirely ethical and not in the realm of dogma and doctrine than that would mean that I should enter communion with the nicest of people rather than where truth lives.

    Alicia

  146. JJT,

    I hope K. Doran won’t mind me pinch-hitting for him:

    numerate sacerdotes vel ab ipsa Petri sede
    et in ordine illo patrum quis cui successit videte:
    ipsa est petra quam non vincunt superbae inferorum portae.
    Psalmus contra partem Donati ll. 238-40.

    best,
    John

  147. John S (#146)
    Thanks, John! I found a scan of the Migne version of the Psalmus and it was very long.

    jj

  148. David DeJong,

    I walked away and ruminated on what you said:

    “As a Protestant, I believe that I do have communion with the bishop of Rome. We are joined by one faith and one Spirit; we have the same Lord who is Christ. Sadly, our true and deep spiritual unity has not found visible expression. That does not mean we have no unity; to assert so would be to deny the Spirit or unjustifiably limit the Spirit to one particular church body”

    I think that you are right that the faith is one and the Spirit is one and that we do have a deep spiritual unity where Christ is our head. This is too important to push aside, and is the whole reason, I would think, that Christ prayed that we would be one without any divisions. Is it possible that our Lord meant unity under a hierachy of real Apostolic succession where the Bishop of Rome is more than a figure head?
    If I am involved in a dispute in a local Protestant body where I disagree with my Pastor because I believe that the Roman Catholic Church might just be correct, do I submit to my pastor or put myself under the authority of a priest who is in unity with the Bishop of Rome per the Catholic Church’s doctrine of authority?

    You see, I don’t know where I am suppossed to submit.

    Alicia

  149. Alicia,

    In 138 you asked:

    How does a person objectively say who ‘they’ ” that went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us”? (1 John 2:19)
    I have a hard time figuring out the locus from which an accusing finger can point and who the finger points at.

    From my position (a Protestant perspective, to be sure), there is no objective position from which one can determine this. All that we can do is prayerfully study Scripture, history, and tradition and use our discernment (and rely on the wisdom of the church!) in order to come to conclusions on who/what is truly ecumenical. This also answers John in 143. I understand that you are sobbing at my circular reasoning. But it is not an uninformed and random judgment. It is a serious consideration of Scripture, history, and tradition, recognizing the complexity of the issues involved and also recognizing the power and vitality of the Spirit’s work in the broad streams of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Sometimes rushing to a position based on “principle” is not necessarily the wisest move.

    Alicia, 145. I agree that there are many uncharitable Protestants. If uncharitable Protestantism drives you to Catholicism, that is understandable. I think every individual situation is complex and there are those for whom I think converting to Catholicism has been a blessing from God. It’s not black and white; that is my whole point in retaining a philosophically problematic belief in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

  150. Bryan, 133 and 136.

    For the sake of argument I will accept your terms, since otherwise we will go in endless circles. The Creed reads, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” You essentially are saying: because Protestantism has no visibly unified organized church, its ecclesiology does not “conform to the Creed.” Correct? Further, you are interpreting the Creed as a call to discern which church, of all those that claim to be churches, is the one holy catholic and apostolic church. Finally, you identify this church with the church of Rome.

    A question: do you also believe that “outside of this church there is no salvation”? There is perhaps no saying in the tradition that has a greater pedigree than that one!

    Later I have more comments on 133/136.

  151. Alicia, 148:

    Is it possible that our Lord meant unity under a hierachy of real Apostolic succession where the Bishop of Rome is more than a figure head?

    It is possible, certainly. I’m sure you are in a difficult situation and I hope you will be given clarity. The main thing I am emphasizing, as an ecumenical Protestant, is that Christ is not divided. Certainly if you join Rome you will be in a visible church of Christ, but (my argument is) not the ONLY visible church of Christ, not the ONLY part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. And (this is definitely from my Protestant perspective) to join Rome is not only to join a church that has many serious errors, but also compounds those errors by asserting its infallibility (thereby not allowing for any genuine process of self-criticism).

    Blessings,

    Dave

  152. David, (re: #150)

    You wrote:

    The Creed reads, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” You essentially are saying: because Protestantism has no visibly unified organized church, its ecclesiology does not “conform to the Creed.” Correct?

    There are visibly unified denominations and congregations among Protestants, but none has all four marks.

    Further, you are interpreting the Creed as a call to discern which church, of all those that claim to be churches, is the one holy catholic and apostolic church. Finally, you identify this church with the church of Rome.

    I wouldn’t say that the line in the Creed is explicitly a call to discern which church, of all those that claim to be churches, is the one holy catholic and apostolic Church; it is an article of the faith of that very Church, about its own four essential marks. Indirectly, of course, it has the implication for the inquirer that to find the Church referred to in the Creed, he must look for the Church having all those four marks. This was especially important, at the time, for Catholic travelers who arrived in a city and wanted to find the true Church among all the heretical sects — see the patristic quotations I included in comment #12 of “The Tu Quoque.”

    Regarding “outside the Church there is no salvation,” yes, that is a dogma of the Church. But it is important to understand correctly the meaning of that dogma, in conjunction with concepts such as invincible ignorance and baptism of desire. Tom Brown has addressed this in more detail here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  153. David DeJong,

    You said: “From my position (a Protestant perspective, to be sure), there is no objective position from which one can determine this. All that we can do is prayerfully study Scripture, history, and tradition and use our discernment (and rely on the wisdom of the church!) in order to come to conclusions on who/what is truly ecumenical.”

    1. So maybe we should consider walking outside our Protestant positions and embrace the objective way that is offered; could it plausibly be as equally objective as submitting to the Holy Scriptures?

    2. Discernment is an empty concept unless it connotes something that can be known. How do I practically practice discernment about issues that so many sects are divided over?

    3. What church’s wisdom are you speaking of? There is much disagreement.

    You said: “ I understand that you are sobbing at my circular reasoning. But it is not an uninformed and random judgment.”

    4. You sit comfortably in your admitted circular reasoning, yet you have chosen a church body. Please tell me what led to your conclude that your church is the one you should be worshiping in if not on doctrines that are in agreement with your choice?

    “It is a serious consideration of Scripture, history, and tradition, recognizing the complexity of the issues involved and also recognizing the power and vitality of the Spirit’s work in the broad streams of Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism.”

    5. Ok, so the Spirit works in broad streams, I can accept this, but it also looks as if the Orthodox and Protestant coalesce around The Catholic Church. Personally, I am finding if I want to know if something, my “go to” resource are Catholic theologians and philosophers.

    You also said: “Sometimes rushing to a position based on “principle” is not necessarily the wisest move.”
    Hypothetically, and because you come from the URCNA denomination…If you were a pastor or an elder in your church and someone was flirting with Catholicism, maybe someone very close to you, on what grounds if not principled grounds would you seek to compel them to not leave the Dutch Reformed Church? I don’t know what you’ve seen in your church, but they aren’t sent off with a blessing.

    Alicia

  154. Re: “outside the Church there is no salvation”.

    David, I’m curious why you asked about this, whether you believe this tradition or not.

    Those who will be “saved” will have an eternal destiny in heaven. And when we get to heaven someday, there won’t be anyone there who is “outside” the Church – because being in heaven is equivalent to having eternal membership in the Church.

    Inversely, if someone were to reject membership in the Church, then he would be rejecting anything to do with heaven. So – outside the Church there is no salvation.

  155. David DeJong, you wrote:

    As a Protestant, I believe that I do have communion with the bishop of Rome. We are joined by one faith and one Spirit; we have the same Lord who is Christ.

    If you have received a valid Sacrament of Baptism, then the Catholic Church would acknowledge that you have communion with the true church. Your communion would be real, but imperfect.

    All Christians should seek full union with the true church:

    The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him … the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”. … Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”. Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking.

    The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”.

    … the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.

    “The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”. ….The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history”.

    DECLARATION “DOMINUS IESUS” ON THE UNICITY AND SALVIFIC UNIVERSALITY OF JESUS CHRIST AND THE CHURCH

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html

    Dominus Iesus also touches on your question about the possibility of salvation for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church:

    The Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation”, since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God’s plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being. For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit”; it has a relationship with the Church, which “according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit”.

    With respect to the way in which the salvific grace of God — which is always given by means of Christ in the Spirit and has a mysterious relationship to the Church — comes to individual non-Christians, the Second Vatican Council limited itself to the statement that God bestows it “in ways known to himself”. Theologians are seeking to understand this question more fully.

    I hope this helps gives some clarity to what the Catholic Church teaches. I highly recommend reading all of Dominus Iesus.

  156. Nelson, (re: #144)

    I didn’t quote Kung; Dever did. And I don’t think he was using the quote as an appeal to authority but rather as illustrative.

    Thanks,
    Peter

  157. Bryan, 133 and 136

    Nor does the fact that you affirm and assert the existence of “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” show that your concept of the Church avoids reducing it to a mental construct. It is not impossible for those who believe that the panapple exists to assert its existence. Asserting the existence of the panapple, and asserting that it is not just a mental construct does not demonstrate that the panapple actually exists and is not merely a mental construct.

    Everything you are saying here is true. I cannot prove or demonstrate that the church actually exists and is not merely a mental construct. Perhaps we need to distinguish between two claims:

    a) I believe that Protestantism’s visible catholic church actually exists and is not merely a mental construct.
    b) I believe that I can demonstrate that this church exists and is not merely a mental construct.

    I affirm (a), but realize that for skeptics such as yourself, I cannot satisfactorily prove (b). There is just no way to do that.

    So likewise, responding to the question “If there were no visible catholic Church, but only visible local churches, what would be different?” with, “there would be no visible local churches,” is to give an answer identical to what would be the case if there were no actual visible catholic Church, and the “visible catholic Church” were only a mental construct. And because of the principle of parsimony, such a position thereby reduces the visible catholic Church to a mental construct.

    Ok, but I am noting that here your claim is stronger. You need to say not only that the Protestant visible catholic church is reducible to a mental construct but also simply is a mental construct. To get from one to the other you invoke the “principle of parsimony.” This works philosophically, but philosophy isn’t always real life. Why should the principle of parsimony apply to belief in the church as confessed in the Creed?

    The way I see it, there are three options.

    1) I could accept your critique, remain Protestant, and claim that the catholic church is “invisible.” Some Protestants do this. This makes no sense to me: the only possible referent for “invisible church” is the body of elect, which cuts across a variety of “visible” communions and is not the church confessed in the creed.

    2) I could accept your critique, decide that whatever the church is, it must have visible organizational unity, and become Catholic (or Orthodox, I suppose).

    3) I could accept your critique, realize that I cannot avoid the possibility that my belief in the one holy catholic and apostolic church is reducible to a mental construct, but nevertheless continue to believe in the visible catholic church as a Protestant.

    We both agree that (1) is not a good option. Should I choose (2) or (3)? You invoke the principle of parsimony and want me to choose (2). I want to stick with (3). Why?

    Basically, I want to stick with (3) even though I cannot finally philosophically justify to you that the visible catholic church is more than a mental construct. Nevertheless I believe it is real, and visible, and much more than a mental construct. I believe in the Holy Spirit, and I believe that the Holy Spirit works not only in the Catholic communion, but also in Protestant and Orthodox churches. I believe that the Holy Spirit works through visible churches by means of word and sacrament in a variety of denominations, and I believe that Christ has only one church. So, though I cannot finally prove it to you, I believe in a visible catholic church.

    What is a more parsimonious explanation: (a) that in schisms that have basically been political power struggles, the Spirit nevertheless remains only legitimately with one Church and not the other, or that (b) the Spirit continues to guide the church despite the obvious failures of its all-too-human leaders? To me, it is less “parsimonious” to adopt a hermeneutic of history in which I have already decided that there is only one visibly organized true church, so that I have to sift through each and every schism to find an “us vs. them,” i.e., the “right” side with whom the church continued, and the “wrong” side who need to repent of their error. To do this might make me a better philosopher, but a worse historian.

    So: when I look at the world, and the church in the world, I don’t believe that the Catholic (or Orthodox, or Missouri Lutheran, or URCNA [which I am not, by the way, Alicia]) are the ONLY true church, nor do I think a mature historically-informed judgment would conclude that only one of these is the true legitimate visible catholic church, while all others only take the name of the “church” without being so in reality. I realize you disagree, but I hope that helps you understand my position.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  158. Alicia 153,

    I realize you have many questions but not all of them are strictly speaking relevant to this debate (about whether Protestantism has a visible catholic church). I will answer them now but do ask after this that we refrain from following too many rabbit trails.

    1. So maybe we should consider walking outside our Protestant positions and embrace the objective way that is offered; could it plausibly be as equally objective as submitting to the Holy Scriptures?
    2. Discernment is an empty concept unless it connotes something that can be known. How do I practically practice discernment about issues that so many sects are divided over?
    3. What church’s wisdom are you speaking of? There is much disagreement.

    1. I don’t believe there is an “objective” way out there (or I would be Catholic). I realize the Catholic church makes claims to be an objective infallible authority; this is probably not the thread to discuss those claims.
    2. God can be known. He has revealed himself in Scripture, in nature, in history, in the church. Discernment is not an empty concept, but it does involve wrestling with scripture, history, tradition, etc.
    3. I agree that there is much disagreement. Nevertheless there is a common core of agreement, for example I continually cite (to John’s dismay) the ecumenical creeds. Look, I believe the church has wisdom. Submit to it. But the church is not infallible. Don’t stop reading Scripture or praying or exercising critical thinking about what the church is saying.

    You also asked,

    If you were a pastor or an elder in your church and someone was flirting with Catholicism, maybe someone very close to you, on what grounds if not principled grounds would you seek to compel them to not leave the Dutch Reformed Church?

    By the way I am not URCNA. Look, I wouldn’t try to compel people to remain in one particular denomination. I view that as tribalism. We’re not in a “competition” with every other denomination. If people want to become Catholic, I would explain to them my grave concerns with Catholicism, pray with them, and offer them any advice they solicit. If they decided to become Catholic, I would wish them well and pray that they would be productive in Christ’s kingdom in the Catholic church.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  159. Dave, (re: #157)

    Nevertheless I believe it is real, and visible, and much more than a mental construct. I believe in the Holy Spirit, and I believe that the Holy Spirit works not only in the Catholic communion, but also in Protestant and Orthodox churches. I believe that the Holy Spirit works through visible churches by means of word and sacrament in a variety of denominations, and I believe that Christ has only one church. So, though I cannot finally prove it to you, I believe in a visible catholic church.

    Ok. To me, your answer is like the case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and the boy is crying “He’s naked,” and the ‘tailors’ (who are usually depicted as having absconded by this point) are asserting, “No, he is wearing visible clothes, but you can’t see them.” So the reply by the Emperor should be, “What do you mean by ‘visible’? Can you see the clothes?” And, if the tailors are being honest, they will reply, “No, we cannot see them ourselves, or show them to you or anyone else under any possible conditions.” To which the Emperor should reply, “So, it seems that they are in fact invisible, if they even exist. You are saying that they are visible, but you are also saying that under no conditions can you or anyone see them, which is synonymous with ‘invisible.’ So either you are mistakenly using the word ‘visible’ in a way that directly contradicts its actual meaning, or you are contradicting yourself (when claiming that the clothes are visible while admitting that neither you nor anyone else, under any conditions, can see them), or you are lying when you claim that they are visible. Which is it?”

    And that’s similar to what I would say to you as well regarding your claim that there is a visible catholic Church here on earth that neither you nor anyone can see under any condition because you cannot show anyone that it is not merely a mental construct, i.e. that it exists outside your mind.

    The difference between “invisible catholic Church” ecclesiology, and your “visible catholic Church” ecclesiology is entirely semantic. In substance the two ecclesiologies are identical, because everything would be exactly the same if your “visible catholic Church” were in fact invisible. Nothing at all would change, except the word ‘visible’ would be replaced by the word ‘invisible.’

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  160. Bryan,

    Way back in 118 my very first comment in response to your article was to claim that the “visible catholic church” is not an ordinary thing like Venus, emperor’s clothing, an apple, etc. It is an extraordinary thing in this world; it is the body of Christ.

    You responded in 133 by saying that just because the church is extraordinary doesn’t mean it is not susceptible to ordinary procedures of verification:

    You claim that because we must accept this line of the Creed by faith therefore the existence of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” is not something we can verify. But I don’t agree. That would entail that while Jesus was on earth, the Apostles could not have had faith in Christ, because they could verify His existence by way of their senses. And that implication is obviously false. So the Church does not need to be invisible, and our concept of the Church does not need to make the Church reducible to a mental construct, in order for us to affirm in faith this particular line of the Creed.

    I agree with this. “Our concept of the Church does not need to make the church reducible to a mental construct.” It is possible that the church is verifiable in the ordinary way. But, it is also possible that the church is only verifiable in an extraordinary way, by the power of the Spirit. With the eyes of faith we see the visible catholic Church.

    You will then say that this means I believe an “invisible Catholic church,” as you are saying above in 159. Are you saying then that to be a consistent Protestant I need to take option (1) above? What about your comment in 121, where you seemed to acknowledge my problems with the concept of an “invisible church”? Are you taking away now what you gave me then?

    One of our main disagreements seems to be between the concept of visibility as a mode of verification and the concept of visibility as an intrinsic property. You want to say the church is visible in both senses because it is like other ordinary things in this world (apples, etc.). I reject the assumption that the church is like other ordinary things in the world. I believe the visible church is invisibly apprehended (i.e., by faith). You say this involves me in clear contradiction: how can one apprehend by faith that which is visible? If it is visible, it’s mode of apprehension ought to be visible. (Side note: the author of Hebrews 11 does some great stuff with this contradiction, speaking of the patriarchs: “they persevered because they saw him who is invisible”).

    Well, the reason I continue to insist that the church is visible is because I can see it. It always appears in local instantiations which we both agree are visible. It meets in visible places under visible preaching and sacraments.

    But, how do I know that this visible local church is part of the visible catholic church? If, as you say, the visible catholic church is an ordinary thing in this world, apprehended by ordinary means, the answer is easy: is there communion with the bishop of Rome? If so, it is; if not, it’s out. To me, the judgment as to whether any particular visible local church is a part of the visible catholic church is much more complex than this. (I’m not saying it necessarily has to be more complex than this, i.e., as you’ve stated, it is possible that the church is simply ordinarily perceived.) It involves being attentive to whether a church maintains the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

    I’m not sure what else you want me to say. I feel like I’ve acceded to 95% of your critique (note that all three options began, “I can accept your critique”) and yet you are hammering away for the final 5%. Do you want me to affirm option 1 in 157? Because I’m not happy with that. Option 2? Also fails. In the end, despite the fact that even the emperor may doubt whether he is wearing clothes, I believe in the visible catholic church. I think this is my last comment on the matter; I’m not sure whether continued dialogue will be helpful.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  161. I’d like to take a stab at re-translating the emperors new cloths analogy. We are trying to ascertain weather or not the cloths (church under a protestant eschatology) is ‘visible’ or not. The emperor and his tailors (protestants) say ‘yes’ (or ‘maybe’, or ‘it doesn’t matter’), and the Roman Catholics (little boy) say ‘no’.

    My question is why should we trust the little boy’s judgment? Perhaps the little boy is blind (willfully or not) and cannot see the emperors cloths. Perhaps the boy has an agenda.

    How can we know that the little boy is authoritative? I could ask the little boy why he sees what he sees, but that would be circular. I can ask scripture, but it seems to be unclear. So I am left with discernment, reason, history, and tradition.

    All this begs the question ‘why Rome’? History indicates that Peter laid hands on people in Antioch before Rome, and spent much more time there – and they are not a part of the Roman Communion now. I don’t accept the argument ‘because he died here’ – if that were the case, if Peter had died on the road to Rome in some 2 horse town, then that would be the center of Christendom. Perhaps Jerusalem should be the center of Christianity – it is in the promised land and has been the Center of God’s people for centuries.

  162. David, (re: #160)

    My discussions with Protestants not infrequently lead back to appeals to bosom burning, so I’m not entirely surprised that you take this option. With the eyes of faith, you claim to be able to see this alleged entity, which is otherwise invisible. But, notice the implications. What seemed to be intended as opposition to such a narrow, rigid view of the Church as a visible (in the ordinary sense of the term) entity from which many persons are presently in schism, turns out to be an even narrower, self-aggrandizing view in its appeal to be able to see by the eyes of faith what most all other Christians in the whole world (myself included) do not see, apparently, because we lack the special faith you have. As it turns out, what follows from your position is that only those persons who see a “visible catholic Church” bounded by adherence only to the ecumenical creeds have faith. The rest of us, apparently, are still dead in our sins, since if we had faith, we too would see the “visible catholic Church” as do you. The Catholic Church and the Church Fathers are wrong about the definition of schism, but you are right, because you have a special supernatural vision that allows you to see the Church and its boundaries.

    I guess I don’t see how that sort of ‘arrogance’ or self-importance (I can’t think of a less abrasive word) is a kinder, gentler, more ecumenically sensitive Christianity than the successor of St. Peter claiming to be the Vicar of Christ. At least he has some historical basis for his claim to authority. But with you, I have no basis for trusting your bosom-burning (special vision thing). I don’t grant persons prophetic status just because they say so, unless they can perform miracles or declare truthfully in advance what will come to pass, neither of which I’ve seen you do.

    I do find it odd, however, that you switch definitions of ‘visible’ when you get to the local congregation. Otherwise although non-Christians would be aware of Christians, non-Christians would never be aware (by observation) of local churches, since non-Christians do not have faith, and therefore could not see what can be seen only by faith. They could hear about local churches when Christians told them about them, but the existence of these local churches would be like the existence of the other ghosts in the film The Sixth Sense; only the other ghosts (i.e. Christians) could see them. If you were consistent in your use of ‘visible,’ you would be emergent, which is just the further out-working of invisible Church eccleisology, down to the local level.

    I’m also glad that you are not consistent in using this same definition of ‘visible’ with respect to the incarnate Christ. Your inconsistency keeps you from docetism. But your ecclesial docetism (i.e. the Church is visible only through the eyes of faith) is inconsistent with your denial of Christological docetism. Eventually one of those two has to conform to the other.

    Having spent a summer debating Mormons, I know there is no point debating with those whose starting point is an appeal to a burning in the bosom, or magical glasses, or things said to be visible only to those who hold their faith. The only recourse, in such cases, is to consider together how we would know whether these bosom burnings (or special visions) were not only fallible, but in error. When the Mormon treats them as infallible, that nullifies the possibility of fruitful dialogue.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  163. David (#157)
    If I may make so bold as to interpret David to David, what I think you saying is that you choose option 3) because you don’t think it is right to ‘unchurch’ all those groups – whether Protestant or Orthodox – who are clearly in love with Jesus.

  164. David (#157)
    Somehow the thing posted my post when I hadn’t finished!! I was just going to add the question, whether my understanding at all adequately represents your mind in the matter.

    jj

  165. David (#157) PPS :-)
    Of course, when I suggest that you don’t think it right to unchurch those groups, I understand that – if that is your view – what you mean is that you don’t think God – Who, after all, has providentially at least permitted the multiplicity – intends to unchurch them. I am not trying to impute simply personal preferences to you.

    jj

  166. Bryan 162,

    This is a really appalling and uncharitable comment and belies your signing off “in the peace of Christ.” I’m sorry that our discussion has broken down.

    It is ironic that you accuse me of arrogance and self-importance. I have made every effort to patiently listen to and carefully understand your claims. You, on the other hand, have not made any appreciable effort that I can tell to consider sympathetically the dilemma I am in. On the one hand, I accept that your philosophical argument has a certain force. On the other hand, I have real historical concerns, as spelled out in 157 under option 3, which compel me in another direction. You have not shown any evidence of being aware of historical problems at all, but consistently move the conversation in a completely philosophical direction (as you did in 159), as though there were no other relevant considerations. It is all well and good to accuse someone of arrogance, but I would say humility starts with carefully listening to one another and attempting to empathize with their position.

    Where do I claim to have “special supernatural vision” or to be “infallible”? These kind of retorts are totally inappropriate. Where do I say that Catholics are still “dead in their sins” because they disagree with me over the concept of a “visible catholic church”? It is absolutely uncharitable to say that this follows from anything that I’ve written. I’m frankly just appalled and I’m finished with this conversation.

    Dave

  167. John, 163-65. Absolutely correct. I don’t believe God has unchurched them, and so neither should I. This does not make either infallible or necessarily arrogant, Bryan’s claim notwithstanding.

    Dave

  168. correction: This does not make *me infallible, etc.

  169. David (#167)
    Thanks – I just wanted to be sure I was understanding you.

    And I absolutely share your views – except that perhaps my understanding is – well, I would like to call it ‘nuanced’ but some might just say ‘weasely’ :-)

    The thing is, when I was Reformed, our church accepted the Westminster Confession, which says something like (too lazy to look it up) that different churches may be more or less pure. In other words, we officially accepted the Baptists (for instance) but thought them ‘less pure’ – because, amongst other things, they rejected infant baptism – of course we didn’t accept the Catholics at all – but that’s a different story :-)

    Now it is my understanding is that something like this ‘nuanced’ view is what the Catholic Church holds – that in the Catholic Church is the fulness of faith – and only in the Catholic Church, since the Church believes that part of that ‘fulness’ includes the whole form of unity that Catholics believe in, including the Papacy. Some churches, like the Orthodox, are, the Catechism says somewhere, lacking little for full ‘churchness.’ Others, like most Protestants, are ‘ecclesial bodies’ – but in which are found many signs of grace.

    Would something like this – I don’t mean the Catholic view, just the WCF view that there are ‘more or less pure’ churches around – what something like that characterise your own view? I mean, are there churches, groups, whatever, that you would consider, yes, are part of the Body of Christ, but are less ‘pure’ (if that is not too loaded a word) than others?

    jj

  170. John,

    Sure, that would be fair. I probably wouldn’t use the terminology of “pure” to apply solely to doctrinal considerations, but I have no major problems with this view.

  171. David,

    Bryan can more than speak for himself, but, I can assure you that he is not attacking your person or your character. I can understand how these discussions can sometimes make us feel as though we ourselves are being attacked and I know that does happen at times. But, while I may be accused of being biased, Bryan Cross does not take the low road and seek to score points in a discussion. Please be assured of this. Your comments and positions are worthy of respect and I hope that you do recognize that they are being respected and engaged with in a charitable and generous manner.

  172. David, (re: #166)

    To be clear, I didn’t accuse you of arrogance and self-importance; I think you (the person) are trying to be inclusive, as John said. So, I’m not talking about *you*; I’m talking about your *position*. Please keep those two things distinct. I’m not criticizing your person; I’m criticizing your position. The irony, in my opinion, is that your *position* ends up doing the opposite of what *you* want. It elevates you above all those other Christians who don’t see the “visible catholic Church” as you do, and who therefore, given your “it is visible through faith” premise, must be lacking in faith. You can acknowledge that implication, or show how that implication does not follow, but I don’t think it helps to attack the messenger.

    You, on the other hand, have not made any appreciable effort that I can tell to consider sympathetically the dilemma I am in.

    I’m quite aware of the dilemma. But I’m sure I don’t yet understand your reasons for not seeing the Catholic option as a live option for getting out of the dilemma.

    On the other hand, I have real historical concerns, as spelled out in 157 under option 3, which compel me in another direction.

    I don’t see anything historical spelled out under option 3 in 157.

    It is all well and good to accuse someone of arrogance, but I would say humility starts with carefully listening to one another and attempting to empathize with their position.

    I completely agree with this. At the same time, perhaps you can at least recognize, if you were to try and put yourself in my shoes, how arrogant it sounds to be told that this thing you see (and which I do not see) can only be seen with the eyes of faith. That’s all I’m trying to point out in my previous comment; from my point of view on the receiving end over here, it is an elitist position that implies everyone who doesn’t see what you see, lacks faith. But I’m willing to stand corrected. However, if you want to claim that lots of other people, who don’t see the “visible catholic Church” as you see it have no less faith than do you, then it isn’t *faith* that explains why you see it and they don’t. So, in that case, you need a different explanation for why you see it and they don’t.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  173. David (#170)
    OK, thanks. I have a feeling that these short comments of mine must feel like I am sneaking up on something – I am not, really! I am just so aware that a long comment may obscure a lot of assumptions that may or may not be true and I am trying to understand where you are at.

    With that, if you can tolerate one more question: would it be correct to say that you think it a moral duty on you – or, indeed, on anyone – to do one’s best to find a church that is at least amongst the ‘purest’ (again, using that term which, like you, I feel uncomfortable with, but we could use it as a kind of marker for whatever we think the proper place to be is)? Or – I think this a possibility, at least, and one that I think a lot of people take, including some Catholics I have talked to – would you say that you should just belong to whatever church ‘feels right’ – or where you are ‘fed’ – or where your children are best taken care of – something like that?

    In other words, does God want me to find a certain church that I am supposed to belong to for reasons having to do with what I suppose I can call objective criteria – pure doctrine, holiness of life, right sacraments, whatever – or is my choice of a church supposed to be based on essentially subjective criteria – it helps my spiritual life the best, or is embracing, or helps me towards holiness, or whatever?

    Not sure I am being clear?? Perhaps I can illustrate by saying that for the 20 years that I was Reformed, I was Reformed because I believed it was the place that taught the Word of God most accurately, did the sacraments the way I thought the Bible wanted, etc – even although on subjective grounds I found it pretty … yuck :-)

    So it was, to put it gnomically (if there is such a word) a matter of truth vs convenience.

    Can I take it that it would be the same for you?

    jj

  174. Well, John, I think I used to think that doctrine was the sole criterion, but no more. There are more than doctrinal considerations; you also need to find a community that truly embodies the love of Christ for each other and the world, has a passion for social justice (it may be no bad thing if they are accused of having a “social gospel”!), etc. And personal “fit” is important as well.

    By the way, regarding the “nuanced” Catholic view you describe in 169: would you say then that Catholicism is close to acknowledging that there are more than just Catholic churches in the one church of Christ?

  175. David (#174-2)
    Two different matters in your comment, so I thought I’d deal with them separately – herewith the second:

    By the way, regarding the “nuanced” Catholic view you describe in 169: would you say then that Catholicism is close to acknowledging that there are more than just Catholic churches in the one church of Christ?

    My understanding – and I would love to hear more from others better-educated than I am – is that the Catholic Church uses the word ‘church’ in two senses – as the New Testament does. In one sense it refers to the whole ball of wax (whatever that comprises – which is, of course, what is under discussion here!). There is only one church in that sense.

    But of course the Catholic language refers to member churches within the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ church, and in different ways. E.g. I think each of the different member rites – I mean the ones having separate canonical laws, like the Maronite Church – and of course the Latin church – is called a church. And then the very Biblical language of bodies under a bishop – e.g. I am a member of the Church of Auckland.

    And certainly Dominus Jesus calls the various Orthodox bodies ‘churches.’ It reserves the term ‘ecclesial bodies’ for those that it considers not to have a valid apostolic succession. To some extent we are just dealing with terminology here.

    But in a sense, I think the Catholic Church would agree with your conception of the Catholic Church as including those other bodies – but not on the same level. That’s why I brought up the WCF’s “more or less pure” idea – which I don’t think just means doctrinally, but I could be wrong.

    jj

  176. David (#174-1)

    Well, John, I think I used to think that doctrine was the sole criterion, but no more. There are more than doctrinal considerations; you also need to find a community that truly embodies the love of Christ for each other and the world, has a passion for social justice (it may be no bad thing if they are accused of having a “social gospel”!), etc. And personal “fit” is important as well.

    OK, I think this is clear – and it does seem to me to be a pretty basic difference between us. I thought it my duty to be a member of that Reformed Church – which I helped to start! – even though I often had to sit through church services in some considerable discomfort. And, in fact, Mass at my Catholic parish is almost equally frustrating. We have the most god-awful … well, I won’t entertain you with my view of the people who manage the liturgy :-)

    But, you see, I really really really think it the case that God has established the (Roman! – in the sense of being in the same visible body as the Bishop of Rome) Catholic Church as the only normal way that He works in the world; that He has promised unique graces to those who submit to that Church; and, indeed, that there – and not in any Protestant body – I receive the unspeakable gift of receiving His Son, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, which to receive is eternal life.

    Even though I wish my parish (and I strongly believe in the parish system) embodied much better the love of Christ, and, in general, was a far better personal fit for me. Given my ‘druthers, I think I’d ruther be attending one of the Orthodox bodies that know how to do liturgy – my word, they do!!

    jj

  177. Bryan 172,

    At the same time, perhaps you can at least recognize, if you were to try and put yourself in my shoes, how arrogant it sounds to be told that this thing you see (and which I do not see) can only be seen with the eyes of faith. That’s all I’m trying to point out in my previous comment; from my point of view on the receiving end over here, it is an elitist position that implies everyone who doesn’t see what you see, lacks faith. But I’m willing to stand corrected. However, if you want to claim that lots of other people, who don’t see the “visible catholic Church” as you see it have no less faith than do you, then it isn’t *faith* that explains why you see it and they don’t. So, in that case, you need a different explanation for why you see it and they don’t.

    I believe most Catholics do see this. I believe that if you and I sat down for coffee, you would see it too. You would see that I am a sincere Christian believer, and would experience the unity that comes from the bond of faith. Maybe, as you are saying, you wouldn’t see it. In that case, I would have to say, yes, that comes from a failure of faith. Not a complete lack of faith (I certainly would not regard you as “dead in your sins” as you put it in a previous comment) but a failure of faith in the God who is bigger than our institutions. Basically, the problem with Catholic ecclesiology is the overly confident identification of God with one particular institution. It is the sin of 1 Samuel 4, when the Israelites presumed that victory was theirs based on their possession of the ark. The lesson of that chapter, very literally, is that you cannot put God in a box.

    I am mystified when I see John say in 176 that God has established the Roman church as the normal way he works in the world. The reason I don’t understand this is because as a historian I see church structures and doctrines as part and parcel of their formative cultures. Catholicism and Orthodoxy are hierarchical, authoritarian, mystical, etc.: it is all a part of a more medieval worldview and in fact can be shown to map clearly onto medieval society. Modern, egalitarian, democratic cultures have also created new church cultures, such as those in which individual judgment becomes far more important. What I would be wary of is saying: God works through this culture but not through that one. I don’t understand why I would make that choice.

    Take Anglicanism. The Roman Catholic needs to unchurch them; they are not in communion with the bishop of Rome. But has God unchurched Anglicans? Why? Because of the increasing political independence and eventual dominance of England, which basically guaranteed a church split at some point? In my mind, to say Anglicans are not a part of the visible catholic Church is akin to saying that the British never should have had an empire at all, especially not one on which the sun did not set.

    Dave

  178. Hello David, (re: #177)

    Welcome back. You wrote:

    You would see that I am a sincere Christian believer, and would experience the unity that comes from the bond of faith. Maybe, as you are saying, you wouldn’t see it. In that case, I would have to say, yes, that comes from a failure of faith.

    I already see that you are a sincere Christian believer. And I already experience, in our conversation, the [imperfect] unity we have through our shared baptism, the love we both share for Christ, and the other doctrines that we share in common. At the same time, I already see, and would see even more clearly if we were to sit down and have a longer conversation with you, your rejection of all the Catholic dogmas that Protestants reject and which I believe and profess to be revealed by God and taught by His Holy Church as definitively to be believed by all the faithful. The truth does not hide from me those points of disagreement, and my awareness of those points of disagreement does not constitute a failure of faith on my part, but a recognition that on these points of dogma, you dissent. Of course, you would claim that they are not dogma. But at that point the magnitude of the disagreement can not longer be obscured by coffee and sentimentality. We don’t even agree on the basis for what counts as dogma. You believe that the basis for dogma is the ecumenical creeds, and as I have explained above, and won’t go through again, that position is ad hoc.

    It is convenient, of course, to stipulate that those who don’t hold your own particular view lack faith. I could do the same. And then we would be in an intractable impasse. But, it seems to me that we have to be aware precisely how easy it is to resort to this sort of ideology-protecting rationalization, and how unhelpful and non-conducive to attaining agreement concerning the truth it would be if everyone did this, each concluding that all those disagreeing with his own position ipso facto lack faith. With that realization, we ought instead seek out a position that provides a principled (i.e. not ad hoc) basis or standard for measuring what counts as the fullness of faith, and what counts as falling short of that fullness, rather than merely positing that those who don’t hold one’s own position are ipso facto deficient in faith.

    Not a complete lack of faith (I certainly would not regard you as “dead in your sins” as you put it in a previous comment) but a failure of faith in the God who is bigger than our institutions.

    Of course, as you surely know, in Catholic doctrine, God is ‘bigger’ than the Church. But you mean, of course, that the Catholic Church is merely a man-made institution, and that all denominations are just branches, some with more truth than others, some bigger than others, but all just branches, and none being the Church Christ founded, and referred to in Matthew 16, and again in Matthew 18. However, what is the standard of ecclesiology by which you determine that my belief that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and that all other groups not in full communion with the Catholic Church are in schism from from the Church Christ founded is a “failure”? What is that standard by which you are determining it to be a “failure”? Is it your own interpretation of Scripture? If not, then please disclose your standard. Otherwise, why should I treat your interpretation of Scripture as the standard by which failures and successes of faith (my own and that of all others) are measured?

    Basically, the problem with Catholic ecclesiology is the overly confident identification of God with one particular institution.

    What is the standard by which proper confidence, over-confidence, and under-confidence are measured, and to which you are appealing when you claim that Catholic ecclesiology is “overly confident”? Is it your own interpretation of Scripture? Is that the standard against which all ecclesiology is to be measured?

    It is the sin of 1 Samuel 4, when the Israelites presumed that victory was theirs based on their possession of the ark. The lesson of that chapter, very literally, is that you cannot put God in a box.

    You seem to be claiming that 1 Sam 4 rules out the possibility that Christ would (could) found a visible Church, with essential hierarchical unity. That is, you seem to be assuming that if the Israelites were wrong to believe that the ark guaranteed them victory in battle, then therefore the Catholic Church cannot be the Church Christ founded. I want to make sure I’m understanding your position before I explain why I think that’s not a safe inference.

    God works through this culture but not through that one. I don’t understand why I would make that choice.

    I agree. No one, so far as I know, is presenting you with that dilemma. Catholics are not deists about God’s operations outside the bounds of the visible Church. On the contrary, we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of every human being on the face of the earth. But, that does not mean that there are no divinely instituted means by which and through which Christ has revealed that He ordinarily works. Otherwise, the peanut butter sandwich I had for lunch would be no less a ‘sacrament’ than my baptism. Or, another way of saying it is, there would be no such thing as sacraments, since God would work equally through every thing. So, your argument against the Catholic Church, on the basis of the fact that God also operates outside the Catholic Church, does too much, because it eliminates sacraments, and it eliminates the uniqueness of the God’s presence with the Hebrews under the Old Covenant, it eliminates the uniqueness of Scripture, etc. and it makes all religions equal. So, that’s a bad argument, unless (and even if) you really want to bite all those bullets.

    Take Anglicanism. The Roman Catholic needs to unchurch them; they are not in communion with the bishop of Rome. But has God unchurched Anglicans? Why? Because of the increasing political independence and eventual dominance of England, which basically guaranteed a church split at some point?

    The Anglicans “unchurched” themselves, when they changed the form of ordination, making it invalid, as I explained in comment #128 of The Tu Quoque thread.

    If you don’t agree that the form of ordination adopted by the Anglicans was invalid, then before we go on, please answer the following question: What is the basis for the standard by which the form of ordination can be determined to be valid or invalid?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  179. We could use the Roman standard – which says this of the ‘Old Catholics': “The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches”

    The vast majority of Anglican Bishops are co-ordained by Old Catholic bishops (which the RCC recognizes as valid) ergo, those Anglican orders are by your own standard valid.

    It is far easier to argue that the ‘standard’ as applied by Apostolicae Curae comes out of the desire to maintain power rather than any real objection to the ‘changing of the form’. It seems to me that if one is to object to changing the wording of the ordination form, and using that as a basis for invalid orders – then one should apply the same exact standard to the changing of the Nicean creed. Or is what’s good for the goose not also good for the gander?

  180. Bob, (re: #179)

    Regarding your objection concerning Anglican Orders and Old Catholics, Taylor addressed that recently here.

    You wrote:

    It is far easier to argue that the ‘standard’ as applied by Apostolicae Curae comes out of the desire to maintain power rather than any real objection to the ‘changing of the form’.

    That’s not an argument, but rather an assertion. And it is without any basis. Neither is it charitable. You wouldn’t want me to assume that your only or primary reason for commenting here is to acquire power, or to justify rebellion or rationalize sin, or some other nefarious motive, so the Golden Rule calls you to the same standard when making assumptions about the motives of the Catholic Church and her leadership.

    It seems to me that if one is to object to changing the wording of the ordination form, and using that as a basis for invalid orders – then one should apply the same exact standard to the changing of the Nicean creed. Or is what’s good for the goose not also good for the gander?

    The Nicene Creed was changed from the AD 325 version to the AD 381 version, and then later the Filioque was added. These changes are further elucidations, not changes of the essence. The change made by Cranmer in the ordination rite was a change in the essence of the form of the sacrament of ordination, not a re-wording that retained the essence of the form.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  181. That’s not an argument, but rather an assertion. And it is without any basis. Neither is it charitable. You wouldn’t want me to assume that your only or primary reason for commenting here is to acquire power, or to justify rebellion or rationalize sin, or some other nefarious motive, so the Golden Rule calls you to the same standard when making assumptions about the motives of the Catholic Church and her leadership.

    When I see the POTUS decreeing things, creating law, and expanding power through those means – I assume that it isn’t to make a more righteous society. Rather, I assume that his human nature when given a taste of power does these things to strengthen and maintain that power.

    The same applies to the Pope. The history of the church is full of power struggles – as evidenced by simony (thankfully mostly cleared up now) the great schism, crusades – even the wording of these bulls is all about power. The Pope, despite his office, is not immune from the influences of the corruption of power.

    There are also at least 2 versions of history. If you ask the powerful their version… things tend to line up with whatever their agenda is. According to the POTUS, there are all kinds of evil doers out their threatening our way of life. Give him more power and all will be well.

    And according to Rome, the great schism is the fault of the Orthodox, the crusades are justified (the sack of Constantinople was a few hot-heads who did it on their own), the reformers are heretics, and the true church is centered in Rome.

    However, you can also ask the protestants, the Anglicans, the Orthodox and the Afgans what their version of history is. Why should I assume a non-nefarious motive when history has already shown that this (and all) powerful institutions abuse their power?

    The Nicene Creed was changed from the AD 325 version to the AD 381 version, and then later the Filioque was added. These changes are further elucidations, not changes of the essence. The change made by Cranmer in the ordination rite was a change in the essence of the form of the sacrament of ordination, not a re-wording that retained the essence of the form.

    The Orthodox disagree with you on weather or not the filioque retain the ‘essence of the form’. Likewise, we could have a similar debate over the changes to the ordination. All you have done is made an assertion (or the pope did in Apostolicae Curae which you are bound to believe). we’ve just asked the powerful for their version of history – and surprise surprise, it lines up with their agenda.

  182. Bob, (re: #181)

    I agree that no pope is immune to the temptation of the corruption of power, but the Church is the Body of Christ, not a mere human institution. It would therefore be improper and unfitting to treat the Church and her leadership as if she were a merely human institution or equivalent to such, and not also divine in the life and power and wisdom in which she lives and moves and has her being. This is why Christ’s words to Saul were, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

    I also agree that if we have evidence from a person’s prior words or actions that he is more interested in power than in justice and benevolence, then when he exercises authority in such a way as to expand his power, we could be justified in assuming that he is doing so primarily to gain power. But, if we have no such evidence, or if we have evidence to the contrary, then such an assumption is contrary to charity. And there is no evidence that Pope Leo XIII was more interested in power and control than in faithfully shepherding the flock entrusted to him by Christ. The evidence from his life and papacy indicates just the opposite, namely, that he was a holy and pious man, deeply devoted to serving Christ and His Church.

    No historical study has ever shown that all persons in authority, when exercising that authority, are more interested in exercising power than in upholding justice or orthodoxy.

    Your stance, it seems to me, is one of cynicism, which, if applied consistently, would undermine your own position if, for example, you were a pastor. It would entail that you acquired such a position only or primarily in order to exercise control over people, rather than to feed them the truth and protect them from evil. Therefore in order to exercise such a role, you would have to make an arbitrary exception for yourself — i.e. all men, except for me, exercise authority only to maintain power, not for the good of those over whom they have charge. And that would be an example of the fallacy of special pleading. And if you are a layman, then this cynical stance would likewise undermine the authority of your Protestant pastor, because his efforts to guide his flock would be construed by you as efforts to hold on to or expand his power.

    Such a stance would likewise entail that every judge, when rendering a verdict, is only doing so in order to maintain and exercise his own power, not in order to uphold justice. It would imply that every police officer, when arresting a criminal, is doing so only to exercise power, not to uphold and maintain justice. Such cynicism is common today, but it is unjustified, and is destructive to society as a whole. It is a reflection of the “Question Authority” motiff of the 1960s. If Lucifer had a bumpersticker, that would be it. It would also have made you a cynic toward Jesus in the first century, and toward the Apostles in the same century, just as it is making you cynical toward the successors of the Apostles in the twenty first century. If Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail over the Church, and that His Church would be the pillar and ground of truth, then we exercise faith in Christ *through* trusting and obeying those whom He has established to speak and govern in His Name, until His return in glory.

    In addition, your cynical stance used as an argument against the Catholic Church is question-begging, because it presupposes that there is no individual or group of persons who are in fact exercising authority for the good of those over whom they have charge. But that is precisely what is in dispute between Protestants and Catholics, namely, whether or not there is a divinely established and divinely protected magisterium that faithfully shepherds Christ’s flock for the good of His sheep. So assuming that there is no such group of persons assumes precisely what is in question between us, and in that respect begs the question. In order to compare the paradigms, we need to attempt to approach the question without begging the question.

    The Orthodox disagree with you on weather or not the filioque retain the ‘essence of the form’.

    Let’s address that fallacy. The fact that atheists disagree with you regarding the existence of God is not a good reason to believe that God doesn’t exist. Pointing to the fact of persons who disagree with one’s interlocutor does not refute the interlocutor’s position. Likewise, merely pointing to the fact that certain persons do not accept a Catholic dogma does not refute that dogma.

    Likewise, we could have a similar debate over the changes to the ordination.

    Indeed we could, but we didn’t.

    All you have done is made an assertion (or the pope did in Apostolicae Curae which you are bound to believe).

    That’s true, but all you have done is assert, without any evidence, that Pope Leo XIII issued Apostolicae Curae out of a desire to maintain power rather than in order to uphold orthodoxy regarding what makes ordination valid. The difference, however, for the reason I explained in comment #340 in the Joshua Lim thread, is that I don’t have the burden of proof. So, a mere assertion on your part is not enough.

    we’ve just asked the powerful for their version of history – and surprise surprise, it lines up with their agenda.

    Satan could say the same thing about God’s version of history. He could have said that looking forward from the time of the Garden of Eden. And he could say that even after the Final Judgment, after he is bound forever and cast into the lake of fire. Such cynicism presupposes that truth and authority never go together. But that’s not a safe assumption, especially for a theist, because we know that in God truth and authority are the same. This is why divine authority is a surety of truth, even when we cannot see that truth for ourselves.

    But going into this in more depth would take us off topic for this post, which is about ecclesiology.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  183. Bryan 178,

    What is the standard by which proper confidence, over-confidence, and under-confidence are measured, and to which you are appealing when you claim that Catholic ecclesiology is “overly confident”? Is it your own interpretation of Scripture? Is that the standard against which all ecclesiology is to be measured?

    No. History is the standard. When I pose this question: “is there historical evidence that there is an infallible church?” the answer is no.

    You seem to be claiming that 1 Sam 4 rules out the possibility that Christ would (could) found a visible Church, with essential hierarchical unity. That is, you seem to be assuming that if the Israelites were wrong to believe that the ark guaranteed them victory in battle, then therefore the Catholic Church cannot be the Church Christ founded. I want to make sure I’m understanding your position before I explain why I think that’s not a safe inference.

    No, I am not claiming or assuming any such thing. It’s just an analogy. It shows that Scripture is aware of the human propensity to put too much confidence in an institution (the ark) and consistently reminds us of the freedom of God. It does not rule out any possibilities about the visible church Christ founded.

    Catholics are not deists about God’s operations outside the bounds of the visible Church. On the contrary, we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of every human being on the face of the earth. But, that does not mean that there are no divinely instituted means by which and through which Christ has revealed that He ordinarily works. Otherwise, the peanut butter sandwich I had for lunch would be no less a ‘sacrament’ than my baptism. Or, another way of saying it is, there would be no such thing as sacraments, since God would work equally through every thing.

    And let me affirm that I do believe there are divinely instituted means, and there are sacraments.

    So, your argument against the Catholic Church, on the basis of the fact that God also operates outside the Catholic Church, does too much, because it eliminates sacraments, and it eliminates the uniqueness of the God’s presence with the Hebrews under the Old Covenant, it eliminates the uniqueness of Scripture, etc. and it makes all religions equal. So, that’s a bad argument, unless (and even if) you really want to bite all those bullets.

    You would really have to expand your argument to convince me of this. I am arguing that the Catholic church is not the only divinely instituted means; it does not have the only valid sacraments. That is different than saying: there are no sacraments. What I affirm is that God works sacramentally through the eucharist at the Baptist church down the road, at the Orthodox church around the corner, at the Reformed church in the countryside, and at the Catholic cathedral downtown. To those who receive the sacraments by faith, the Holy Spirit is present and working.

    If you would affirm (as you say) that I am a “sincere Christian believer,” as you put it, then you are affirming that (as you see it) God has been at work in my life. The Spirit dwells in my heart. How has this happened? Through the Protestant church, through the baptism and communion administered there, through the exposition of Scripture, through the mutual encouragement of fellow believers. This could conceivably take place for the rest of my life (without me ever setting foot in a Roman church). To have an ecclesiology that puts its money where its mouth is, you would either need to affirm that God works (even sacramentally) through Protestant churches, or, if you rejected that, you would have to be agnostic (at best!) about whether I am genuinely a true Christian believer. I don’t think you can affirm both: 1) Protestants are true Christians; 2) God does not work sacramentally in Protestant churches.

    As far as Anglicanism goes, I will say this: I agree with Bob. There have been schisms in the church that were nothing more than political power struggles. The reason I believe Roman ecclesiology commits the sin of 1 Samuel 4 is because through every church split it claims God for its side. And nobody here (certainly not Bob) is saying that every police officer or judge is necessarily corrupt. Just this: power tends to corrupt, and some people, including some popes, have throughout history been corrupted by their grasping at power. That should be obvious and Catholics should be able to acknowledge that (or what is Dante all about?).

  184. David, (re: #183)

    In #177 you wrote:

    Basically, the problem with Catholic ecclesiology is the overly confident identification of God with one particular institution.

    So in #178 I asked, “What is the standard by which proper confidence, over-confidence, and under-confidence are measured, and to which you are appealing when you claim that Catholic ecclesiology is “overly confident”? Is it your own interpretation of Scripture?”

    In #183 you replied:

    No. History is the standard. When I pose this question: “is there historical evidence that there is an infallible church?” the answer is no.

    First, notice that the question was about whether the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and your claim that such an ecclesiological claim was “overly confident.” Now you seem to have shifted to the question of the infallibility of the Church, which is a related, but different question. But, nonetheless, let’s get behind the hand-waving, and unpack exactly what you have in mind behind your use of this term ‘history,’ because anything at all could be defended with a general claim that “history is the standard.” Which historical event, in particular, do you think is incompatible with (a) the Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded, and/or (b) the Catholic dogma concerning infallibility? [Yes, I'm going to respond by showing why that historical event is compatible with the (a) and (b), so make sure you do the necessary leg work.]

    You wrote:

    No, I am not claiming or assuming any such thing. It’s just an analogy. It shows that Scripture is aware of the human propensity to put too much confidence in an institution (the ark) and consistently reminds us of the freedom of God. It does not rule out any possibilities about the visible church Christ founded.

    Ok, since that’s fully compatible with everything I’ve said, it is not evidence one way or another. Scripture is also ‘aware’ of persons trusting their own judgment, and rebelling against God-given authorities, etc.

    What I affirm is that God works sacramentally through the eucharist at the Baptist church down the road, at the Orthodox church around the corner, at the Reformed church in the countryside, and at the Catholic cathedral downtown. To those who receive the sacraments by faith, the Holy Spirit is present and working.

    It is easy to assert that, but again, what is the standard to which you are implicitly appealing, for determining the validity or invalidity of the Eucharist?

    If you would affirm (as you say) that I am a “sincere Christian believer,” as you put it, then you are affirming that (as you see it) God has been at work in my life. The Spirit dwells in my heart.

    Yes, as I see it.

    How has this happened? Through the Protestant church, through the baptism and communion administered there, through the exposition of Scripture, through the mutual encouragement of fellow believers.

    Through baptism, yes. That’s a Catholic sacrament that can be administered validly even by non-Christians. And God can and does work in the lives of persons (Catholics and Protestants) through non-sacramental means as well, such as the ones you mention. But the Eucharist is the most important sacrament, and persons who do not receive a valid Eucharist are not receiving the grace they could be receiving, through the means Christ established by which we are nourished and built up in the faith.

    This could conceivably take place for the rest of my life (without me ever setting foot in a Roman church). To have an ecclesiology that puts its money where its mouth is, you would either need to affirm that God works (even sacramentally) through Protestant churches, or, if you rejected that, you would have to be agnostic (at best!) about whether I am genuinely a true Christian believer. I don’t think you can affirm both: 1) Protestants are true Christians; 2) God does not work sacramentally in Protestant churches.

    You are presenting a false dilemma: either God works sacramentally [in the same degree] in Protestant communities as He does in the Catholic Church, or I can’t justifiably claim that you are a Christian. The fact that baptisms (for the most part) in Protestant communities are valid (see here) does not entail that Protestant communities have a valid Eucharist, or have all seven sacraments. Most Protestants, as you know, deny five of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. And because Reformed Protestants explicitly abandoned apostolic succession, they lost the sacrament of Holy Orders, and therefore lost a valid Eucharist, as I explained in comment #311 of the “Keith Mathison’s Reply” thread. This is why they are not even “Churches,” as Responsa ad quaestiones makes clear. (You have not yet answered the question I asked you in #178: “What is the basis for the standard by which the form of ordination can be determined to be valid or invalid?”) So just because I affirm that Protestants are Christians, it does not follow that Protestants are not in heresy, are not in schism from the Church Christ founded, and possess the fullness of the means of grace Christ established in His Church. It is possible to be a Christian and have some sacramental graces, and yet be in a state of imperfect communion with Christ’s Church, and not yet have the full means of grace Christ established within His Church. The Donatists were Christians, but they were in schism from the Catholic Church, as St. Optatus makes clear.

    You wrote:

    As far as Anglicanism goes, I will say this: I agree with Bob. There have been schisms in the church that were nothing more than political power struggles. The reason I believe Roman ecclesiology commits the sin of 1 Samuel 4 is because through every church split it claims God for its side.

    According to that criterion, every time Jesus kept claiming God for His side, after another group of disciples left Him, He was committing “the sin of 1 Sam 4.” So, if it is not ipso facto a sin to claim God for one’s side after a schism, if one is the Church Christ founded, then it does not follow that because after every schism the Catholic Church continues to claim to be the Church Christ founded, therefore she is sinning. What you are doing here is using a question-begging criterion. Your criterion presupposes that no Church can be, from AD 33 to Christ’s return in glory, the Church Christ founded. And therefore, given that presupposition, to continue to claim to be that Church Christ founded, is a sin. But if she was and is and will always be that Church that Christ founded, then your criterion would falsely accuse her of sinning, just as your criterion would falsely accuse Christ of sinning. Why even bother using question-begging criteria? Why not simply pound the table and assert that you are starting with the assumption that Christ never founded a visible hierarchically unified Church? There’s just no point to go through the motions of seeming to reason through the question of the two paradigms, while using a question-begging criterion that already presupposes the falsehood of one of the paradigms.

    And nobody here (certainly not Bob) is saying that every police officer or judge is necessarily corrupt. Just this: power tends to corrupt, and some people, including some popes, have throughout history been corrupted by their grasping at power. That should be obvious and Catholics should be able to acknowledge that (or what is Dante all about?).

    Of course. But we’re also quite aware of the falsehood of Donatism and the error of schism from the Church. All the Donatists believed in the deity of Christ. All the Montanists did too. Tertullian died believing in the deity of Christ, but in schism from the Church, as a Montanist. We know that rigorism is the opposite error of laxity. We know that Christ promised there would be tares in the wheat, and He never said that when we find tares, or more tares than we want, even tares in positions of Church government, then we get a free pass for forming or joining a schism from the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  185. David (#183):

    No. History is the standard. When I pose this question: “is there historical evidence that there is an infallible church?” the answer is no.

    David, I do think there is a misunderstanding here. The infallibility of the Church is a proper inference from the question of what the Church is. In the nature of things, I don’t see how there could be historical evidence for an infallible church. You would have to have an independent standard by which to judge the infallibility of the claimant.

    What there is is historical evidence that ought to lead us to believe in a Church that Christ founded as His authority in the world. Both you and we agree there is such evidence. You call it the church of the Apostles. The only question is whether there is evidence of the continuation of such authority. It seems obvious to me that there is such evidence – and not historical only. The very words of Christ about the Church, and the words of His apostles about the Church, lead me to think that Christ intended an authoritative Church. It seems to me far harder to believe that He intended it to cease with the death of the last apostle – and the history of the Church since then shows the Church itself believing such a thing.

    jj

  186. Bryan,

    Well, I am not able to do all the “leg work” right now in terms of detailed discussions of historical incidents, though this would undoubtedly be fascinating. Are there historical incidents about which you would say: “the Catholic church was wrong about that”? (E.g., the martyrdom of Hus, for which JP II apologized.)

    You are presenting a false dilemma: either God works sacramentally [in the same degree] in Protestant communities as He does in the Catholic Church, or I can’t justifiably claim that you are a Christian.

    Well, I never said God works sacramentally in the same degree in every church. So I think we are agreed here. We agree:

    a) that God works sacramentally both within and beyond the bounds of the Roman communion
    b) that by these operations of God there are true Christians to be found both within and beyond the bounds of the Roman communion

    So just because I affirm that Protestants are Christians, it does not follow that Protestants are not in heresy, are not in schism from the Church Christ founded, and possess the fullness of the means of grace Christ established in His Church.

    I think your charitable view of Protestants as Christians is commendable and this is the fruit of “reformation” in the Catholic church.

    Since you raise the example of the Donatists, I have a question: what was Augustine’s opinion on the salvation of Donatists? I honestly don’t know the answer and am curious about it.

    Why not simply pound the table and assert that you are starting with the assumption that Christ never founded a visible hierarchically unified Church?

    This comment implies that I would defend the proposition “Christ founded a visible hierarchically unified church,” which I certainly would not defend! However, I would defend the proposition, “Christ founded a visible church.” If it was hierarchically unified, someone forgot to tell the writers of the New Testament, who are engaged in endless disputes and have no central authority to settle the issues for them! (The consistent rhetorical appeal is to Scripture and its interpretation, and not to an infallible magisterium. And yes, this does involved the writers of the NT, particularly Paul, in the problem you continually raise with Protestants: whose interpretation is to be preferred? I’m pretty sure Paul’s opponents in Galatia would have been exceedingly unconvinced, to say the least, by Paul’s attempt to reframe the Abraham/Isaac/Ishmael tradition to his advantage in the circumcision debate.)

    Blessings,

    Dave

  187. John 187,

    I have no substantial disagreement with your comment, except with the assertion that infallibility is a proper inference from what the Church is. Obviously I don’t make that inference. Other than that, I am happy to say that Christ established the church as his authoritative presence in the world.

    I wonder how human freedom and papal infallibility coincide. What if there were a renegade pope (a jokester, perhaps, or a crypto-Protestant) who decided to infallibly declare that 2 + 2 = 5? The scenario is ridiculous but does not strike me as logically impossible. Of course, such a declaration would not damage the faith of the church because the pope would not be speaking on a matter of doctrine. But what if the hypothetical renegade pope did decide to infallibly speak on some matter of doctrine in a way that contradicted previous teaching? Is this a logical impossibility, or is this a matter of faith that this will not occur, or will any statement made by any Pope, no matter the degree of tension with previous statements, be interpreted as in conformity with the tradition? I suspect the latter.

  188. But what if the hypothetical renegade pope did decide to infallibly speak on some matter of doctrine in a way that contradicted previous teaching? Is this a logical impossibility, or is this a matter of faith that this will not occur, or will any statement made by any Pope, no matter the degree of tension with previous statements, be interpreted as in conformity with the tradition? I suspect the latter.

    There are already degrees of difference in teaching over the years on matters of faith and morals (doctrine) within the RCC. However, they would still claim that this does not undermine the infallibility of the pope.

    A couple of examples have to do with abortion and sex. It used to be taught that an abortion wasn’t an abortion before ‘quickening’ (end of 1st trimester). In fact, some clergy even performed early term abortions (pressing on the stomach and praying – and the ‘spawn of satan’ goes away)… and it was viewed as a small miracle. The teaching that ‘life begins at conception’ has not always been the position of the church.

    It was also commonly taught that sex within marriage was sinful. Not even martyrdom can wash away the stain of the marital bed (and much other similar baloney). Obviously the RCC has tempered its message in those areas, but the fact remains that the teaching then differs from the teaching now.

    Ahh, but these aren’t ‘ex cathedra’. Catch 22. Any teaching that isn’t accepted by the church as a whole can’t be considered as being infallible, even if it is the pope who teaches it or if it had a plurality of support at one time. We are 100% sure on the (un-provable) assumption of Mary, and 100% certain that the claim of infallibility is itself infallible – but disregard these other historical teaching since they don’t pass the ‘ex cathedra’ test. What we teach on sex and abortion ‘now’ is 100% infallible – at least we think so.

  189. Bob B. (#188),

    I find your claims suspicious at best. Even if these practices did exist and even were widespread, that doesn’t mean they were correct as the Church did not teach them as dogma. Regardless, you have not provided evidence of your assertions in the form of magisterial statements (papal bulls, ecumenical councils, etc.) or even documentation that these practices and beliefs were, in fact, widespread. In fact, you ignore how the Catholic Church explains her authority and infallibility to construct a strawman of her claims.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  190. David (#187)

    have no substantial disagreement with your comment, except with the assertion that infallibility is a proper inference from what the Church is. Obviously I don’t make that inference. Other than that, I am happy to say that Christ established the church as his authoritative presence in the world.

    I guess I am saying that infallibility is a necessary inference because for an authority to really be an authority, it seems to me that there has to be some kind of buck-stops-here rule.

    That said, of course, the infallibility can only be so if it is guaranteed by God. Thus your example:

    I wonder how human freedom and papal infallibility coincide. What if there were a renegade pope (a jokester, perhaps, or a crypto-Protestant) who decided to infallibly declare that 2 + 2 = 5? The scenario is ridiculous but does not strike me as logically impossible.

    Of course, as you say, that is not a matter of faith or morals. But I think, regarding matters that are under the Church’s (and the Pope’s only as the final arbiter) authority, it just comes to a factual question: is the Church infallible or not? That is what I think Christ’s “the gates of Hell will not prevail” includes. And, as I said, it seems to me necessary if the Church is to have real authority – as opposed simply to being at best a wise counsellor, but who might be wrong.

    jj

  191. John 190,

    I guess I am saying that infallibility is a necessary inference because for an authority to really be an authority, it seems to me that there has to be some kind of buck-stops-here rule.

    But there are many authorities that have real authority, ordained by God, that are not infallible (parents, state, etc). It is unclear to me why the church should be different. It still is a human organization, though it is also much more than that.

    If the church is infallible, does the church need repentance? One of the major struggles I have with this dogma is that it seems to preclude the self-criticism that is essential to the Christian tradition and also precludes genuine repentance.

  192. David (#191)

    But there are many authorities that have real authority, ordained by God, that are not infallible (parents, state, etc). It is unclear to me why the church should be different. It still is a human organization, though it is also much more than that.

    If the church is infallible, does the church need repentance? One of the major struggles I have with this dogma is that it seems to preclude the self-criticism that is essential to the Christian tradition and also precludes genuine repentance.

    Thanks, David, for this. Excellent point, I think – I mean that ‘authority’ is not the same as ‘final authority,’ even in a particular area.

    And it is quite possible, I mean in a theoretical mannar – Jim Jordan thinks this – that God has not intended there should be any final authority in the realm of guarding the deposit of faith. He could have left men with nothing but their own reason to discern truths – to be sure, from Scripture, from tradition, from one another – but, still, without any ‘supreme court’ authorised to make the final decision.

    It is just that, given what Our Lord says about the authority of the Church in a number of places – not just Petrine passages, but, e.g., the John chapter 20 (is it?) where he talks, again, about ‘whose sins you forgive…’ etc – and given the actual history of what the Church seems to me to have believed about itself, I think He did intend there to be such a final authority.

    But I think your second paragraph above is ambiguous. No one claims the Church is impeccable – God help us, it is far from that! Repentance, therefore, is definitely and constantly needed – and at times the whole Church must repent – as, with the Popes’ saying so, it has done, e.g. in the matter of the sex scandals, and, for the matter of that, Galileo – many others, I suppose.

    But if by ‘repent’ you mean ‘repent of having falsely declared this or that to be dogma when, in fact, it is not, then, of course, that begs the question. If the Church is infallible – why, then, of course there must not be repentance from genuine declaration of dogma; and if it is not, then it ought to repent of ever having made the claim to infallibility.

    That said, not everything that appears dogmatic is so, at least things may need explanation. A well-known example, of course, is the on-going business about extra ecclesiam. SSPX are, it seems, inclined to the belief that if you are not a formal Catholic, you are going to Hell. Yet not only does the church not now teach this, it is clear, from the Fathers, and from even the 1950 Feeneyite business, that this is not what the dogma means.

    jj

  193. David (#191),

    I am going to do what perhaps shouldn’t be done: tune in, then tune out. I am teaching an intensive summer course right now and have little time for sleeping, let alone perusing C2C. But I happened to see your comment this lovely Sunday afternoon and have some thoughts in response.

    First, when I was considering whether to become a Catholic, I agreed with you that real authority (buck-stopping authority) can exist without it having to be infallible. In fact–though this may be idiosyncratic–I began to think that the question of interpretive authority was muddied (at least a little) by the question of infallibility. As a Protestant, the problem I began to see was not that we need an infallible authority, but that my Reformed Protestantism couldn’t account for or accept that. The problem was that we need at least a buck-stopping authority (infallible or not), and my Protestant paradigm couldn’t even account for that.

    I have been in the Catholic Church now for over a year, and still tend toward the same view. Unlike John, I am wary of saying that infallibility is a “necessary inference.” I am beginning to be persuaded of his view, but I am not yet fully persuaded. In any case, I still think that, dialectically speaking, the issue of infallibility is distinct from the issue of real authority. The Catholic must, of course, be able to respond to alleged inconsistencies in Church teaching. But the Protestant also has a task: he or she must explain how even fallible, buck-stopping authority is justifiable, within his or her paradigm. Of course, one may be unable to do this and still justifiably worry about alleged inconsistencies in Catholic teaching. But one recognizes that one’s own position is at sea, it rather changes the spirit of one’s investigations of the alleged inconsistencies.

    Second, I think one needs to be careful about analogies with parents and civil government. Parental and governmental authority does not, in general, apply to beliefs. I say “in general” because, e.g., parents do have a responsibility to raise their children to believe certain things. But when the children mature into adults, they have the responsibility to reflect on what they believe and determine independently whether those beliefs are true, or determine whether their parents are trustworthy sources of information. Neither a parent qua parent nor a government qua government can expect a mature, rational adult to believe what it says, simply in virtue of its authority. This is because epistemic authority (and in particular, interpretive or doctrinal authority) is not the same kind as parental of governmental authority. So, from the fact that parental and governmental authority don’t require infallibility, it does not follow that doctrinal authority doesn’t require infallibility.

    Finally, infallibility in no way precludes the need for repentance–unless, by ‘repentance’ you mean recanting that which it has universally taught and accepted as infallible. But repentance from wrong-doing? Of course the Church needs it. Self-criticism? Well, it depends on what kind of self-criticism you have in mind. Some Catholics, I think, are a little too fond of it. But if you mean openness to the possibility that we have been wrong in various ways and times, infallibility is perfectly consistent with that–again, unless you mean openness to recanting the deposit of faith, or that which can be validly inferred from it.

    Best regards,

    Max

  194. David and Max:

    When I call infallibility a ‘necessary inference,’ I should make clear that I do not mean this in anything like a mathematical sense. I only mean that – reasoning from the love of God shown in His sending His Son to die for our sins – that it seems right that He would give us what we need to benefit from that Sacrifice. But if, as I believe, that includes our needing to know certain things, He would want us to be able to be confident in our knowledge.

    Now, as so many have argued in C2C, it really seems to me that, even given an inerrant Book, we will have questions – questions the answers to which must often perplex men of good will and reasonable intellect – and questions the answers to which it is important for us to know. Thus it seems to me a reasonable inference – but not unavoidable, I agree – that He would provide a final means of arbitration – and one that would not lead us astray.

    Just wanted to be clear about what I meant by ‘necessary inference!’

    jj

  195. John and Max, thanks for your comments. A few thoughts:

    1) John, 194, it always seems dangerous to reason from “what God would be likely to do.” Are we really sure what God would do concerning interpretive authority? I don’t believe God has given the church an infallible interpreter (in fact such a concept is almost an oxymoron). Interpretation is never over, never finalized. When I read the church fathers, I am appreciative of and amazed at their interpretation of Scripture. What stands out to me is how clearly it is influenced by its culture and how clearly it speaks to issues of the day. As an academic biblical scholar, I could never simply rehash patristic exegesis without “translating” it into modern categories of interpretation. So my view of interpretation is that it is a part of human culture and can never really be “infallible” in any meaningful sense. (This doesn’t address the issue of further scientific discoveries; e.g. what if the Catholic church had given the “infallible” interpretation of the flood account before scholars discovered the Epic of Gilgamesh in the nineteenth century?)

    2) Max: why do we need a “buck-stopping authority”?

    3) Max, you said:

    Parental and governmental authority does not, in general, apply to beliefs. I say “in general” because, e.g., parents do have a responsibility to raise their children to believe certain things. But when the children mature into adults, they have the responsibility to reflect on what they believe and determine independently whether those beliefs are true, or determine whether their parents are trustworthy sources of information.

    I believe Christians ought to do the same with the church, albeit recognizing that you can never truly determine this “independently.”

    You continue:

    Neither a parent qua parent nor a government qua government can expect a mature, rational adult to believe what it says, simply in virtue of its authority.

    I don’t think the church can require this either. Take the dogma of the perpetual virginity. Now, historically, either Mary was a perpetual virgin or she wasn’t. It either is true or it isn’t. The authority of the fifth ecumenical council (I believe that’s the one) cannot add anything to whether it is true or not. If it isn’t historically true, their authority cannot make it true. If it is historically true, their authority cannot add to its truth or guarantee it.

    This is because epistemic authority (and in particular, interpretive or doctrinal authority) is not the same kind as parental of governmental authority. So, from the fact that parental and governmental authority don’t require infallibility, it does not follow that doctrinal authority doesn’t require infallibility.

    I know many Catholic biblical scholars. In their profession, they cannot operate as though the church has infallibly decided on all sorts of issues. They have to work within the rules of historical criticism, in which ultimately the rational judgment of the individual scholar is paramount. However, this does not mean endless subjectivity: there are standards of argumentation and exegesis, and there is an academic community (peer review) that weighs and tests scholarly offerings. If they believe in the existence of an infallible interpreter, they need to bracket that belief in their day jobs.

    4) On repentance: it may be, however, that the Church needs to repent of things it has believed (for example, the issue of Galileo) and the issue of infallibility may be a stumbling here.

  196. David – (Re: 195)

    You wrote:

    Max: why do we need a “buck-stopping authority”?

    Because without it doctrinal unity is impossible (or something close to it), given the complications of textual communication here below.The idea is this: if buck-stopping authority (let’s just call it “real” authority) is necessary for doctrinal unity among Christians, and if we have good reason to believe that God wants doctrinal unity (among other kinds) among Christians and that he will provide a way for His will to be fulfilled,then we have good reason to believe that there is real doctrinal authority somewhere. But there is indeed good reason to believe that God wants such unity. This can, I think, be reasonably inferred from John 17. It follows that we have good reason to believe there is real doctrinal authority somewhere.

    There’s much more to say here, but time is short.

    I wrote:

    But when the children mature into adults, they have the responsibility to reflect on what they believe and determine independently whether those beliefs are true, or determine whether their parents are trustworthy sources of information.

    To which you responded:

    I believe Christians ought to do the same with the church, albeit recognizing that you can never truly determine this “independently.

    In general, I agree with you. Here’s a more expansive view of what I had in mind.

    With respect to some of the claims the Church teaches (e.g., that God exists and that Christ rose from the dead), every Christian should, in the ways and to the extent appropriate for them, seek evidence for those claims–evidence which does not presuppose the authority of the Church qua Church. But there is another class of claims–claims which are more detailed and therefore divisive–that should, I think, be approached differently. I have in mind here doctrines regarding the nature and number of the sacraments, the nature of justification, the nature of Christ, and such like. Some Christians can and perhaps should attempt to seek confirmation of these doctrines which does not presuppose the authority of the Church qua Church.

    But many (maybe most) have neither the money, nor the time, nor the intellectual faculties, nor the training it takes to do this in anything close to a reliable manner. I, for one, fall into this category. Even then, people who can and should seek such “external” confirmation should not carry out their inquiries independently of the authority of the Church. This is because equally rational and informed people can disagree on the evidence (or so common experience tells us). And this means that being rational and well-informed is insufficient for getting at the truth. It is, no doubt, the most reliable means of getting the truth, if one must do this on one’s own. But then, it is false that one “must” do this on one’s own, if real doctrinal authority exists somewhere.

    If there is real doctrinal authority somewhere, then the rational thing to do is to pay attention to it. Granted, there is an unavoidable degree of subjectivism in one’s judgment that any particular claimant to authority is authentic. But if one has made a reasonable judgment that the Church is indeed a reliable authority, then one is justified in taking its word on various doctrines–i.e. believing doctrines just because the Church teaches them. Those doctrines are justified, for me (the individual), by my judgment that the Church is a reliable authority.

    Now, I agree with your statement above in the sense that we can do a similar thing with parents. When we come of age, we begin to seek evidence for our beliefs independently of our parents. With some beliefs we may judge that our parents are reliable authorities (in some domain). However, I think my original point–about parental authority being essentially different than ecclesial, doctrinal authority–still stands, for this reason. When I judge that e.g. my mother is a reliable authority on some subject, she does not have that authority in virtue of being my parent. She has that authority in virtue of being more knowledgeable in that subject than I. So in this kind of case, the operative authority is not parental authority; it is a kind of epistemic authority that can hold between any two rational agents.

    Next, you write:

    I don’t think the church can require this either. Take the dogma of the perpetual virginity. Now, historically, either Mary was a perpetual virgin or she wasn’t. It either is true or it isn’t. The authority of the fifth ecumenical council (I believe that’s the one) cannot add anything to whether it is true or not. If it isn’t historically true, their authority cannot make it true. If it is historically true, their authority cannot add to its truth or guarantee it.

    I join you in denying that the Church can add to the truth of something. But that is not what Catholics believe about doctrinal authority. Doctrinal authority is epistemic. Epistemic authority exists in virtue of being epistemically situated in a better way than others to some domain. An authority in some domain is more likely to get the truth in that domain than are others. The epistemic advantage which underwrites epistemic authority can come about in various ways. For Catholics, the Church has real doctrinal authority because the Holy Spirit protects it from error. (We can debate about whether real authority requires divine protection, but if the Church has divine protection, surely the Church counts as a real authority!) But if we can be rationally justified in believing something solely on the word of an epistemic authority in general, then we can be rationally justified in believing a doctrine solely on the authority of the Church. And if this is true, it seems that it is not unreasonable for the Church to expect some people to believe things just because it said so. Of course, almost all doctrines have some evidential base which is independently available to those who care to look. But the evidential bases for most (all?) Christian doctrines (in general, not just Catholic doctrines) are not dispositive. The epistemic gap between the evidence and the corresponding doctrine–the gap which explains doctrinal disagreement at large–is the gap that is filled by the doctrinal authority of the Church.

    Unfortunately, I must stop here, with one quick word on your fourth point. I see now what you mean about repentance and how it relates to infallibility. In my view, there is no stumbling block, as long as the belief from which the Church repents is not dogma. To my knowledge, no such dogma exists in the case of Galileo.

    I don’t know when I’ll be able to respond again. Thank you for your interest and sincere dialogue.

    Peace,

    – Max

  197. David (#195)

    John, 194, it always seems dangerous to reason from “what God would be likely to do.” Are we really sure what God would do concerning interpretive authority?

    Yes, of course, and I completely agree with you. Naturally, I haven’t become a Catholic because I thought, ‘Well, surely God would give us an infallible authority. Wonder where it is? Ah! Obviously it’s the Catholic Church!’

    But, given, as I say, what seem to me plenty of reasons to think that He has done that, it seems ‘condign’ – appropriate to His character and love for us. I do not, for a moment, suppose this ‘what God would have done’ is some sort of clinching argument.

    But of course I think the limits of our ability to discern these things – whether regarding Scripture, or even the existence of God Himself – are such that we must act on less than perfect knowledge. And – I confess it! – you could well say in a certain sense – please don’t get me wrong and suppose I think there is no evidence! – but in a certain sense, I believed in the Church because I wanted it to be so.

    I do not think this is wrong. I think something like this is what C. S. Lewis says, talking about the existence of our longing for ‘joy’ – something like: ‘we thirst – well, there is water! We are hungry – well, there is such a thing as food. And we long for the absolute – well, there is God.’

    That God might have provided a Church that was one; that would teach me and I could trust it; that would feed me with God’s own Body and Blood – this was such an incredibly desirable thing that I began to see if there were evidence that it could be so. I found there was.

    I think there can be two attitudes towards these sorts of things: either a sceptical, ‘I-won’t-be-taken-for-a-fool,’ or a generous ‘If-I-err-I-would-rather-err-in-trusting-God-than-doubting-that-this-is-from-Him.’

    Those who would come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

    jj

  198. Max,

    A few thoughts:

    1) “Doctrinal unity necessitates doctrinal authority.” I agree – if what God wants is that we all think the same. I’m not sure doctrinal unity is rated at such a premium in the NT. Many times, the message seems to be: God wants unity despite the fact that we don’t agree. See Paul in Romans 14.

    2) If the church has epistemic authority, it would behoove me as a biblical scholar to look to the church for guidance in biblical interpretation. But in fact the field of biblical scholarship has its own canons and rules, and listening to the church is (unfortunately) not one of them. Catholic biblical scholars do not in fact treat the church as an infallible epistemic authority in their discipline. So what do we do about this?

    You mentioned justification. The fact is, no serious Pauline scholar can take the decrees of the council of Trent on justification as an adequate scholarly interpretation of Paul today (the same is true for many of the interpretations offered in sixteenth century Protestant confessions). The fact is, with the discovery of the scrolls and the recovery of much pseudepigraphal Jewish literature (think of the manuscript finds in the 1800s) we know much more about first century Jewish eschatology than the Reformers or counter reformers did. Few Pauline scholars would read Rom 1:17 in the way Luther read it OR in the way his opponents read it. The problem is with the medieval conception of righteousness as a substance, which pervades the Tridentine decrees (see N. T. Wright on this).

    So, I am very happy to listen to the wisdom of the church from all ages, but because interpretations of scripture are so thoroughly entangled in specific cultural and philosophical contexts, it seems very strange to suggest that there even can be such a thing as an “infallible interpreter.” What would that imply about, e.g., the relevance of the Council of Trent for interpreting Paul today? Would you really suggest that Pauline scholars submit to its epistemic authority?

    3) On the church’s doctrinal authority filling the “epistemic gap” between text and interpretation, evidence and doctrine: maybe we need to be more ok with diversity of interpretation. That’s also an option. Also, this looks very much like the church’s doctrinal authority is a matter of “wish-fulfillment,” as John acknowledges in 197. Of course, that doesn’t count against the claim. Maybe an infallible interpretive authority that can resolve all our disagreements has been appointed by God and does exist! Maybe. I am skeptical. This cultural moment (post-Protestant, when everyone is absolutely tired of endless arguments over scriptural interpretation and the way that one minor issue leads to endless multiplication of denominations) suggests that a major reason for conversion to Catholicism is indeed the attractive idea that there is an infallible interpretive authority. Precisely, however, because the wave of returnees to the catholic fold is so bound up with this particular cultural moment (it is specifically a post-Protestant return to Catholicism), I am skeptical that what you have discovered is in fact a trans-cultural (universal) interpretive authority.

  199. David, (re: #198)

    I don’t mean to interrupt your conversation with Max, but I couldn’t help but notice this statement:

    The problem is with the medieval conception of righteousness as a substance, which pervades the Tridentine decrees

    Which Tridentine decrees in particular do you think treat righteousness “as a substance”?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  200. Hi Bryan,

    Don’t worry about interrupting, these are obviously public conversations and anyone can weigh in.

    I think Session 6, Ch 7 is a clear instance where to be “justified” is not understood as a forensic declaration (i.e. a legal verdict) but as the beginning and increase of “grace-stuff” in the Christian (trans. Schaff):

    This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just [fit justus], and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting.

    Later in ch.7 (emphasis added):

    For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these [gifts] infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.

    See also Session 6, Chapter 10, “On the increase of Justification received” (trans. Schaff):

    Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written, He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even unto death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs when she prays, ‘Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.’

    The italicized portion makes it clear that “righteousness” is something “received” (Trent uses the verb accipio) which can increase, leading to “further justification.”

    See also chapters 15, 16, about how the “received grace of Justification” can be lost and recovered. Ch 16 is especially clear (with apologies, Schaff again):

    Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is the justice of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ.

    See also Canons 11, 12, 24.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  201. David, (re: #200)

    Those passages are referring to sanctifying grace, which is not a substance, but a participation in the divine nature. You seem to be assuming that if grace is infused, then grace must be a substance. But that is not a good inference. That would force you into the following dilemma: either grace is not infused (in which case sanctification is ‘sola Pelagius‘), or grace is a substance.

    St. Thomas explained that sanctifying grace is not a substance (and Trent followed him in this respect) when he wrote:

    Every substance is either the nature of the thing whereof it is the substance or is a part of the nature, even as matter and form are called substance. And because grace is above human nature, it cannot be a substance or a substantial form, but is an accidental form of the soul. Now what is substantially in God, becomes accidental in the soul participating the Divine goodness, as is clear in the case of knowledge. And thus because the soul participates in the Divine goodness imperfectly, the participation of the Divine goodness, which is grace, has its being in the soul in a less perfect way than the soul subsists in itself. Nevertheless, inasmuch as it is the expression or participation of the Divine goodness, it is nobler than the nature of the soul, though not in its mode of being. (Summa Theologica I-II Q.110 a.2 ad 2)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  202. Bryan,

    1) It’s possible to assert that grace is not infused without being Pelagian. So I don’t have a major problem with that dilemma.

    2) How do you know, from the canons and decrees of Trent on justification, that you are to use this passage from Thomas to interpret them?

    3) It is hard for me to understand clearly what Thomas is saying. He says grace “has its being in the soul in a less perfect way than the soul subsists in itself.” This seems to mean that grace is accidental in the soul. It is “nobler than the nature of the soul, though not in its mode of being.” But it is the very idea that grace needs to have a “mode of being” in the soul that is questionable, of course. So I don’t see how this quotation from Thomas clears everything up.

    4) Are you saying that Trent’s language about “justice” as something that “inheres” and can increase and be infused ought to be taken into serious consideration by NT scholars today?

    Dave

  203. David,

    To supplement what Bryan has said, note that scripture itself speaks of “receiving” grace. See especially John 1.16 and Rom 1.5 (in both of which the Vg uses accepimus, translating elabomen); cf. 2 Cor 6.1 (Vg: recipiatis, translating dexasthai). So it doesn’t follow that language of “reception” implies that that which is “received” is “stuff.”

    best,
    John

  204. David,

    I appreciate your reply. As an academic myself, I particularly appreciate your concern that what we believe about the Church needs to line up with our academic practices, and if it doesn’t, we have some hard questions to ask and to answer.

    I have quite a few thoughts in response to your post, but I must regretfully refrain from continuing the conversation at this time. Perhaps later I can rejoin. But in parting I do want to offer one thought and register an autobiographical fact, with respect to your comment about many conversions to Rome being a cultural moment.

    My thought: I agree with your suspicion: many conversions to Rome are no doubt due to our cultural moment–depending, of course, one what that means. To the extent that the problems I found bothersome and the arguments I found of particular importance were colored by my cultural context, I suppose my conversion was due to the cultural moment. I am not much bothered by this. The Church has many doors (all of them being Christ in different forms) and I suppose cultural movements and problems tend to light up some doors more than others. What would bother me is if all the arguments that were central to my conversion were shown to be unsound (soundness of course being independent of cultural moments). That hasn’t happened yet.

    Now the autobiographical fact. The issue of interpretive authority was indeed one of the big reasons I left Protestantism for Rome. But it was by no means the only reason and by no means the only big reason. In one sense, the more I learned about the Church (and now, the longer I am Catholic) the smaller the issue becomes for me–not because I think it is unimportant, but because there are so many other dimensions of Christian thought and practice which, for me, continue to converge and point in the direction of the Catholic Church. I could almost think that any one of the major reasons on the basis of which I first joined the Church could be shown to be unsound, and I would still have more than sufficient reason to stay. (I know this sounds paradoxical, given how I ended the previous paragraph.)

    This better be all.

    Best regards,

    – Max

  205. Max,

    Thanks for the dialogue. If you have time in the future, feel free to return to some of my questions. I appreciated the discussion. God bless.

    Dave

  206. David (#198)

    It is interesting to me the emphasis you place on scholarship. It had long ago seemed clear to me – when I had no thought whatever of the Catholic Church – that ‘scholarship’ had to take the place of the magisterium of Rome. I wondered at the time, though, what to do about the fact, not merely that scholars disagree, but that the range of Biblical scholarship includes everything from extreme dispensationalism on the one side to virtual infidelity on the other.

    The same, certainly, is true amongst Catholic Biblical scholars – but then the Catholic doesn’t depend on them as magisterial.

    jj

  207. David (re: #202),

    You wrote:

    1) It’s possible to assert that grace is not infused without being Pelagian. So I don’t have a major problem with that dilemma.

    If grace is not infused, then either heaven is something less than the beatific vision, or man is God. I explain why in comments #19 and #25 in “Michael Horton on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life” thread. See also Barrett Turner’s article “Pelagian Westminster?“.

    2) How do you know, from the canons and decrees of Trent on justification, that you are to use this passage from Thomas to interpret them?

    Detailed accounts of the Council of Trent show that the bishops were drawing significantly from St. Thomas’s Summa Theologica. In the Catholic mind, the Church follows the theological tradition, and that’s what these bishops were doing. They wanted to stand in continuity with the tradition, not be innovators. And that’s why interpreting them rightly requires understanding them in continuity with the tradition. Like St. Thomas they conceived of justifying grace as a participation in the divine nature, and thus as not a substance (because a participation is not a substance).

    3) It is hard for me to understand clearly what Thomas is saying. He says grace “has its being in the soul in a less perfect way than the soul subsists in itself.” This seems to mean that grace is accidental in the soul. It is “nobler than the nature of the soul, though not in its mode of being.” But it is the very idea that grace needs to have a “mode of being” in the soul that is questionable, of course. So I don’t see how this quotation from Thomas clears everything up.

    If grace did not have a mode of being, then it would not exist. The quotation from St. Thomas is meant to show that St. Thomas explicitly denied that grace is a substance.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  208. It’s interesting that much of Roman catholicism as portrayed on this site, aside from the philosophers here and trained theologians who apparently can tell you how many angels can stand on the head of a needle, propositionally considered of course, propound a doctrinal substance that doesn’t exist among the vast number of the faithful both in the pew and in the clergy. And even here in this forum, the argument keeps melting down to, ‘yes, but we have form’, and ‘we believe that as well’ AND we have the magisterium. Which as it turns out often can’t do the spade work that gets done even here. That’s why the pageantry and the mass and priestcraft and mystery become the undergirding of practice among the faithful. The common refrain becomes; ‘I believe what the church believes’. In practice, I light candles and pray to saints and with deep earnestness engage in the sacraments, because somehow my truncated faith is covered for by my earnestness and at least minimal understanding that the magisterium is safeguarding and superintending the maturing of the deposit of faith, while I partake in the mass and accompanying sacraments. In the meantime it’s a big enough tent to house doctrinal diversity from functioning agnostics to liberation theologians to contemplatives. ‘But we have a visible catholicity’. Really, come on guys, there’s a visible unity among human beings as, well, human beings. This ‘form’ of structure without substance is somehow superior to that unity that attains among protestantism? And this unity which you have is somehow more ‘true’ to the catholicity prescribed in the NT canon? I’m sure you guys can make argument for yourselves and those within your sphere. But to look out at protestantism as popularly practiced and say ‘our’ unity of faith and practice is better than what attains within protestantism is beyond a perspective colored rose.

  209. John 206,

    I place the emphasis on scholarship that I do because as a Protestant this is an area in which I am envious of and appreciate the Catholic tradition. Catholicism has learned from Galileo, while many Protestant fundamentalists seem to be bent on repeating the error of entrenching the church in a culture war with science. I appreciate the tradition of “faith seeking understanding” and the way Catholicism has incorporated a respect for modern science (esp. biology) and, in the study of Scripture, historical criticism.

    That’s not to say modern scholarship is a “magisterium” – for one thing, there is absolutely no claim to infallibility! But it is to recognize that certain disciplines do have “experts” and are governed by certain rules. And in principle anyone can contribute to those disciplines, whether they believe or not.

    My suspicion is that modern scholarship, in all fields (history, philosophy, theology, science, etc.) owes much to the Enlightenment and in turn to the Protestant Reformation. Basically, the rise of individual critical judgment as exemplified in the Reformation lives on in every discipline of the academy today. Of course this does not mean that the individual is king, there is peer review and each discipline has its own rules, etc. But the standard for argumentation is always rational, logical persuasion. Individuals who gain a degree of “epistemic authority” in a particular field do so because they have seemed convincing to many people.

    So, one of my issues is, how does Catholicism navigate its acceptance of modern scientific inquiry (in all disciplines) with its rejection of individual critical thought (of the Reformers)?

    Dave

  210. David (#208

    So, one of my issues is, how does Catholicism navigate its acceptance of modern scientific inquiry (in all disciplines) with its rejection of individual critical thought (of the Reformers)?

    I suppose the answer is that the Catholic Church has never rejected individual critical thought per se; it reserves the right and duty to correct such critical thought when it departs from the deposit of faith.

    The question of the means used for such correction is a prudential matter. Would one wish to defend Pius’s actions against Elizabeth I? Few would think so. Might one wish the present Pope were more vigorous in dealing with some of the more outspoken dissenting Catholic theologians? Some would think so. None of these issues amount to the Church’s rejection of critical thought qua critical thought.

    It seems to me the essential thing is to concentrate on whether the Church is what it says – or even if it believes itself to be what it says. If so, then, naturally, it must speak out against what it considers heresy. My Reformed church certainly would agree; it would only disagree on whether what the Catholic Church spoke out against was heresy – and, indeed, whether the Catholic Church had the right to claim the title of divine teacher.

    What I meant about scholarship, of course, was simply that, as it seems to me, if one rejects the idea of divine authority to teach, one must then do the best one can with scholarship. The alternative, I suppose, is spirit-filled enthusiasm, which seems often to lead to even more bizarre conclusions.

    jj

  211. John 203, Bryan 207:

    Unfortunately I can’t get into a long discussion of nature/grace right now. Though important in its own right, it is somewhat tangential to this conversation. Leaving the thorny issue of whether grace is a substance to the side, perhaps we can agree that, whatever Trent meant, they described “righteousness” as something that can inhere, and be infused, and wax and wane? Even if Trent is right (let’s say they are), that does not mean they are correct as interpreters of Paul. Most Catholic biblical scholars, I think, would accept the authority of Trent (and infallibility), but wouldn’t take their teachings on justification as authoritative or binding for reading Paul.

    As far as whether the denial of the infusion of grace either denies heaven as beatific vision or blurs the Creator/creature distinction: some have said the opposite, that the Catholic doctrine of the infusion of grace is what really blurs the Creator/creature distinction. In any case, I have no time to get into a long discussion about this right now. It does seem Bryan, that as a philosopher you must be aware of the complexity of the issues and the intricacy of the arguments here.

    Best,

    Dave

  212. David (#210),

    Even if Trent is right (let’s say they are), that does not mean they are correct as interpreters of Paul. Most Catholic biblical scholars, I think, would accept the authority of Trent (and infallibility), but wouldn’t take their teachings on justification as authoritative or binding for reading Paul.

    Of course Trent is binding when reading Paul. Your statement assumes we must read Paul in isolation from the rest of the New Testament (or at least read the rest of the New Testament through Paul). We do not and cannot read Paul outside of the New Testament and what the Church Fathers have also written about this subject.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  213. Hello! I haven’t read all the previous comments here in the comment section of the article, but I have read the article. I am a Reformed Protestant (until recently a ruling elder in the OPC), and I am very interested in dialoguing with Roman Catholics on a whole host of issues.

    One issue of great interest to me at this time is the one addressed in this article: the universal visibility of the church. I entirely agree with Bryan’s arguments against what he takes to be the “Reformed” position on this subject, but I don’t think this “Reformed” view really accurately represents the Reformed faith. Unfortunately, many Reformed people have fallen into what I call a “semi-congregationalist” view of church government rather than a truly presbyterian view, but the historic Reformed tradition portrays a different picture. I won’t try to articulate all of that here, but I’ve written about it quite a bit, such as in this article which I wrote up partly in response to Bryan’s article:

    http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2013/08/so-wheres-catholic-church.html

    I would love to interact with Bryan and with others on the issues addressed there further, if anyone is interested.

    I’ve also recently written up an article where I show how the Westminster Standards promote a presbyterian view, including the idea of a single, unified, worldwide, visible catholic church. It is basically a running commentary on portions of the Standards dealing with these issues.

    http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-westminster-standards-on-nature-of.html

    Thanks! Have a great day!

  214. Hi Mark,

    I think your view of a worldwide, visible communion with one faith and one codified practice is exactly what John Calvin intended. And, naturally, what the Roman Catholic Church intends. And, to be sure, what Scripture intends.

    Love to hear your thoughts on how we locate that church in history.

    Thanks,

    David

  215. Mark, (re: #213)

    Thanks for your comment. Your position is that there a Presbyterian “visible catholic Church”:

    In the presbyterian view, there is no room for multiple, independent, legitimate denominations. There is only one worldwide church. Unlike in semi-congregationalism, in presbyterianism there is indeed a real entity which corresponds to the idea of “one visible de jure catholic church.”

    And you explicitly reject the notion that schism reduces to heresy. You believe that schism is distinct from heresy, in much the way I have argued in response to Michael Horton. In your opinion, “the visible catholic church” from which all other Reformed/Presbyterian denominations in schism, is the “Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.” You write:

    I should briefly make one more point before I close. If the Presbyterian view is that all de jure churches, by nature, are united to each other under binding councils, forming one worldwide organization, which denomination today represents the de jure catholic church? My claim, held with high probability, is that it is the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

    So in your opinion, every denomination that is not in full communion with the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is in schism from the “visible catholic church.” And the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was formed in 1893 (as explained here), numbers between 1,000 and 2,000 persons, and has approximately 41 congregations.

    As I read through your reasons for believing that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is the “de jure catholic church” from which all other denominations are in schism, your way of determining this as you traced the history of this denomination seemed to be on the basis of your interpretation of Scripture. What’s not clear to me is why members of every other Presbyterian or Reformed denomination couldn’t also stipulate on the basis of the degree of conformity with their own interpretation of Scripture that their denomination is the one to which all others should be in full communion, and from which all others are in schism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  216. Thanks for your thoughts, David and Bryan.

    Bryan has correctly responded to the question David asked me–How do I figure out where the catholic church is in history? Holding a Sola Scriptural position, I have looked at the various doctrinal claims and histories of the various denominations that exist and determined whom I believe to have been correct in each of the splits occurring throughout church history, correctness being judged by conformity to Scripture. My current position (held with a high degree of probability, but not certainty) is that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is the proper, legal manifestation of the catholic church today.

    Bryan very subtly hinted that my idea that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is the de jure catholic church seems absurd, considering the small size of the denomination. I completely understand; it seems absurd to me as well. More accurately, it FEELS absurd, but I am not convinced it actually IS absurd. It seems to me to be the truth. The Protestant world, for many reasons, is in an unprecedented state of fragmentation, making all of the more orthodox (from my point of view) denominations very small. I hope and pray that this situation will not last long.

    Bryan, you suggest that it is arbitrary for me to choose the FPCS on the basis of my interpretation of Scripture, as any other person could make the same arguments for any denomination on the basis of his/her interpretation of Scripture. My response to that is that I think the Bible is sufficiently clear so that it is possible to know what it really teaches, so that it is possible to use it as an objective standard. I believe my interpretations to be objectively correct and those who disagree with me to be objectively wrong. While being Roman Catholic would ease the interpretative burden somewhat, in that one would not have to debate all doctrinal issues on a solely biblical basis, yet all people, including Roman Catholics, are in the same situation that I am in fundamentally, in that all of us have no choice but to sort through the various disagreements that exist in the world on religious and philosophical issues, examine the evidence/data for ourselves as best we can, and come to the conclusions we think are right no matter who disagrees with us. To be Roman Catholic, one has to examine a host of biblical, historical, and philosophical data about which there is much disagreement among humankind and come to the conclusion that seems to one to be most in accord with the evidence. This is, in principle, no different from what I have to do as well, except (as I noted earlier) that I have to do more of it owing to not having a living, infallible magisterium.

    But I do entirely agree with the Roman Catholic arguments regarding the visibility of the universal church, and I think that this is something that Reformed Protestants need to re-emphasize out of their own biblical theology.

    I have found this website very interesting and useful, by the way. So thanks for maintaining it!

    Mark

  217. Mark (re: #216)

    Thanks for your reply. I’ll briefly respond to two of your claims. First you wrote:

    My response to that is that I think the Bible is sufficiently clear so that it is possible to know what it really teaches, so that it is possible to use it as an objective standard. I believe my interpretations to be objectively correct and those who disagree with me to be objectively wrong.

    How then do you explain a condition in which, if the Bible is allegedly sufficiently clear so that it is possible for any rational person to know what it really teaches, yet, out of about 2+ billion Christians in the world, only between 1,000 – 2,000 actually get it right such that they are not in schism?

    Secondly, you wrote:

    … yet all people, including Roman Catholics, are in the same situation that I am in fundamentally, in that all of us have no choice but to sort through the various disagreements that exist in the world on religious and philosophical issues, examine the evidence/data for ourselves as best we can, and come to the conclusions we think are right no matter who disagrees with us.

    I’ve addressed this in “The Tu Quoque.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  218. Mark Hausam (216)

    I found your comment very interesting. For the twenty years I was a member of a congregation in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, I held the same belief about the idea of the necessity of the Church being organisationally one, and of its having real authority, and of the normal necessity for salvation of being a member of it – and I believed that the Reformed Churches of New Zealand – a body similar in size to the Free Pres. of Scotland – was it. Indeed, ‘my’ elder (we assigned different families to specific ruling elders for pastoral purposes – a good practice, I believe) had come to us from the Free Pres.

    I still believe all that about the Church – except that I cannot believe that the RCNZ is that body. It seems to me that the fundamental difficulty in believing something like that is the idea of Sola Scriptura. One must first identify the Scriptures, and then find the Church that matches – and matches, necessarily, one’s understanding of the Scriptures.

    But it seems to me that you have to identify the Scriptures by finding the writings that the Church considered – and considers – Scripture. And to do that, and avoid circularity, you have to have identified the Church first.

    jj

  219. “How then do you explain a condition in which, if the Bible is allegedly sufficiently clear so that it is possible for any rational person to know what it really teaches, yet, out of about 2+ billion Christians in the world, only between 1,000 – 2,000 actually get it right such that they are not in schism?”

    Well, such a situation is not out of the range of possibility or unprecedented in a fallen world. In Noah’s day, the whole world fell into sin except for eight people who were saved from the flood. Israel was constantly abandoning God’s commands. Ten out of twelve tribes went into hundreds of years of schism from the temple and the house of David. Elijah found himself in a situation where he thought he was the only worshiper of God left in Israel, the true worshipers of God had become so few and scattered. The leaders of God’s people often rejected and even tried to eliminate the prophets. In Jesus’s day, the church ended up coming down to himself and just a few followers while the rest of the people of God, including the de jure leaders of God’s people, rejected them as heretics. Athanasius carried the name “contra mundum” for a reason. And so on.

    Today, there is a huge amount of fragmentation in the Protestant and Reformed churches. There is confusion among the Reformed regarding the implications of the unity of the church, many embracing in practice what I’ve called a semi-congregationalist view that blinds them to the need to determine proper denominational right to exist and authority. It is not surprising that there are few in the Christian world today who manage, by God’s grace and providence, to get into the right denomination.

    I would add that I don’t say that those who are not in communion with the FPCS are not true Christians. My view is similar to that of Rome’s in its concept of “separated brethren.” The FPCS, I believe, has the de jure line of legitimacy and authority, and so it alone is properly legally constituted in an objective sense. However, the people of God de facto are scattered about all over the Christian world, and the Spirit of God works among them.

    I’ll address your argument in “Tu Quoque” over in that thread.

    John: It’s fascinating that you used to hold the view that the RCNZ was the only proper denomination. Such a position, that thinks through the implications of denominational separation in the context of a presbyterian/reformed system, seems to be unfortunately rare today. I’m trying to revive clearer thinking on these issues in Reformed circles as I have opportunity.

    I think your argument is similar to that which I’ve heard many times from other Roman Catholics–that we can’t really know what the Scriptures are unless we trust an infallibly-guided church magisterium to authoritatively determine the canon. I don’t think this is the case, because it is possible also to trust in the providence of God to have led the church aright on this point without attributing infallibility to the church itself. If God wants us to know his Word, he will make it possible to find it, and this warrants us to trust in his providence such as to assume that the objective evidence available to us in examining this question will not lead us astray. As I look back at the early church, I find plenty of evidence that the Scriptures are the Word of God and what the Scriptures are, but I do not find sufficient evidence to believe that there is an infallible magisterium or that there is a reliable oral tradition outside of Scripture.

    Thanks again!

  220. Mark,

    It is one thing to note that at certain points in redemptive history, only a minority of persons remained faithful. It is quite another thing altogether to claim that Scripture is sufficiently clear to any rational person, and then claim that only .0000909 % (from 2,000 out of 2.2 billion) of Christians arrive at an interpretation that keeps them from schism from the true “visible catholic Church.” The reason that latter claim is problematic is that if the perspicuity thesis were false, the data would be exactly the same, just as in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” if the Emperor actually were naked, all the data would be exactly the same (i.e. everyone would be seeing him *as* naked). That kind of approach to the data makes discovering the falsehood of the thesis impossible, since no matter how strongly the data opposes the thesis, the thesis remains unfalsified. How much lower would the percentage have to go (below .0000909%), and how much longer would it have to remain that low, in order to falsify your perspicuity thesis?

    (For instructions on blockquotes, put your cursor on the “About” tab, and then go to “Comment Formatting.”)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  221. Mark (#219

    I think your argument is similar to that which I’ve heard many times from other Roman Catholics–that we can’t really know what the Scriptures are unless we trust an infallibly-guided church magisterium to authoritatively determine the canon. I don’t think this is the case, because it is possible also to trust in the providence of God to have led the church aright on this point without attributing infallibility to the church itself.

    I completely agree with you that God can and did lead the Church aright to discern the Scriptures. But – surely! – this means you must first know what body is the Church. Why are not the Mormons the Church? They believe that God has, indeed, led the Church aright, to discern not only the Scriptures as Protestants understand them, but the Book of Mormon. Protestants, on the other hand, think that when God led the Church for much of its history to think that the deuterocanonical books (as Catholics call them) – the apocrypha as Protestants call them – to think that these are Scripture, then you must suppose that in this case they are not “the Church” since – ex hypothesi – if they were, God would not have led them to believe that, say, Judith (for the Catholics and Orthodox), or I Nephi (for the Mormon), are Scripture.

    It really seems to me that in order to know what the Church is, based on Sola Scriptura, you must first know what Scripture is – and you must be confident of your understanding of Scripture.

    Alternately you must identify the Church – and then you can say that what the Church recognises as Scripture is Scripture. I don’t think this has anything to do directly with infallibility. I think it is just a matter of avoiding a vicious circle.

    To be clear, I think that Ronald Knox’s sequence of knowledge is right:

    the existence of God (reason) => Christ as unique emissary from God (reason) =>
    the Church as His apostolate (reason) => the teachings of the Church as from God (faith)
    => the Scriptures as part of that teaching

    jj

  222. Bryan,

    If the basis of my claim of the perspicuity thesis were some certain percentage of the Christian or human population coming to such convictions as would lead them to join the FPCS, then your argument would probably be valid. But in fact, I do not think the perspicuity thesis makes any claims regarding how many people are likely to arrive at the full truth on these matters. The basis of my claim of the perspicuity thesis is something else entirely–it has to do with my overall evaluation of Scripture, history, personal experience in reading Scripture, understanding of human psychology and particularly fallen human psychology, etc.

    The very small minority of people who are in the FPCS is, I think, perfectly consistent with and plausible in light of the perspicuity thesis, given the actual facts regarding the sorts of things I mentioned above. Particularly, fallen humans can be expected to be confused in matters of truth, even if the truth is sufficiently clear such that a rational, honest person trying to find it with a competent effort would be able to do so. They can be expected to be confused because of actual moral failure as well as simply through the confusion that exists in a fallen world such as ours.

    I would claim that you are in a boat not all that different from mine in this regard. I’ve mentioned some biblical and ecclesiastical history that we both accept that point out circumstances in which, in spite of there being enough information available to know what is true (in the way I described above), still a minority of people embraced the truth. The Apostle Paul says that the existence of God is plain to all men through the creation, and yet huge portions of humanity are Atheistic or idolaters. In your view, the evidence for Roman Catholicism is clear enough so that people can find out if it is true, and yet huge portions of humanity (including in the Christian world) are not Roman Catholic. How do you explain these things? You have to explain them in ways similar to how I explain why lots of people don’t agree with me. Granted, a much larger portion of the population of earth is Roman Catholic than is Free Presbyterian (and there are a number of good reasons for this), but it is still the case that large portions of humanity and Christendom disagree with both of us.

    At any given time, the state of the evidence for any claim must exist in some objective condition or another. For example, the state of the objective evidence for the Christian religion is in some definite state (there is sufficient evidence for it, insufficient evidence either way, sufficient evidence to reject it conclusively, etc.). If it is the case that people in general will follow the objective state of the evidence whatever it is and come to the best conclusion, then we would expect general agreement among humans on pretty much everything. Disagreement among humans suggests a scenario in which, for whatever reason, humans are not good at following the objective evidence wherever it leads. Because this is the human condition (and the people of God are certainly not immune), disagreement does not surprise me, even when I am in a very small minority. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the Protestant world is in such a state that it is not very surprising to me at all that very few people are ending up in the correct denomination (though the situation is enormously irritating, to be sure).

    By the way, simply FYI, I’ve written an article on this issue of disagreement and what can be deduced from it (looking at the topic more broadly) that can be found here , in case you might be interested (as I have observed that you are rather philosophically-minded).

    Thanks!

    Mark

  223. John,

    My position is that I think there is reason to trust God’s providential guidance in history in general to orchestrate things such that the evidence is sufficiently clear regarding what is the locus of his divine revelation.

    My reasoning goes something like this: the existence of God (reason) = > Christianity as a true divine revelation from God (reason) = > trust that the data will be sufficiently clear to determine what is the locus of that divine revelation (faith) = > the objective data (including all information from and about Christendom and especially the early church, such as the gospels, the epistles, the Old Testament, the writings of church fathers, etc.) points to what is now called the Protestant canon of the Scriptures as being the locus of divine authority, with no other locus being adequately supported by the evidence (reason + faith) = > trust in the Scriptures as infallible revelation, plus confidence that the early catholic tradition (as opposed to the gnostics and other heretics) preserved the true faith and that one ought to be Reformed today, etc. (faith + reason)

    I do not think the evidence supports putting implicit trust in any church’s magisterium as infallible as necessary in order to know what the Scriptures are, etc.

  224. Mark (re: #222)

    The basis of my claim of the perspicuity thesis is something else entirely–it has to do with my overall evaluation of Scripture, history, personal experience in reading Scripture, understanding of human psychology and particularly fallen human psychology, etc.

    Do you allow that “fallen human psychology” to make falsifiable your judgment that Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous that anyone who reads it should be able to avoid schism from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, or does your “fallen human psychology” thesis not apply to your own judgment that Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous that anyone who reads it should be able to avoid schism from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, such that this judgment is effectively unfalsifiable?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  225. Mark (#223

    My reasoning goes something like this: the existence of God (reason) = > Christianity as a true divine revelation from God (reason) = > trust that the data will be sufficiently clear to determine what is the locus of that divine revelation (faith) = > the objective data (including all information from and about Christendom and especially the early church, such as the gospels, the epistles, the Old Testament, the writings of church fathers, etc.) points to what is now called the Protestant canon of the Scriptures as being the locus of divine authority, with no other locus being adequately supported by the evidence (reason + faith) = > trust in the Scriptures as infallible revelation, plus confidence that the early catholic tradition (as opposed to the gnostics and other heretics) preserved the true faith and that one ought to be Reformed today, etc. (faith + reason)

    It seems to me that terms like ‘Christianity’ and ‘Christendom’ simply become proxies for ‘the Church.’ Don’t you have to identify what qualifies as ‘Christianity’ and ‘Christendom?’

    jj

  226. Bryan: Yes, I too am a fallen being, so “fallen human psychology” applies to me as well. In addition to human fallenness, we also have to take into consideration the fact that even fallen humanity can be sometimes honest, can sometimes deal with factual issues accurately, etc. And also there is the work of the Spirit in the world regenerating some fallen sinners. What all this amounts to is a situation where people can be honest and careful and follow the truth where it leads at times, but where people also are great at not doing this. This whole dynamic makes sense of human disagreement in religious matters. And the fact that humans are fallen does not necessarily imply that anyone’s particular arguments about anything must be wrong or even inconclusive, including mine.

    I would never use the idea that humans are fallen as an argument against someone’s particular position: “So you think that Islam is true? You’re wrong, and here’s why: You’re a fallen human being!” If I want to reject someone’s position on anything, I have to show specifically where their reasoning is going wrong. So I didn’t bring up the fact of human fallenness as an argument for why my position is better than anyone else’s, but as part of a plausible explanation as to why there is disagreement in the world, and to show that the fact that my position is strongly in the minority is not anything like strong evidence against my position being true.

    John: I wouldn’t say that either “Christianity” or “Christendom” are proxies for “some particular church.” There are certain core ideas that one finds among virtually all professed Christians, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, etc. I think that reason points to these core ideas as being true, and thus warrants us to believe Christianity in general is a divine revelation from God. But this reasoning may not in itself tell us which church is the right one. For that, we may have to look at further historical evidence, etc. In short, a distinction can be made between finding out that Christianity is true and finding out that one ought to become Roman Catholic. Such a distinction may not be involved in everyone’s approach, but it is a possible distinction and one that I make in my own way of arguing for Christianity.

    Mark

  227. Mark (re: #226),

    Yes, I too am a fallen being, so “fallen human psychology” applies to me as well.

    So does this fallenness make falsifiable your judgment that Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous that anyone who reads it should be able to avoid schism from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, or is that judgment effectively unfalsifiable?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  228. My position is falsifiable, both in itself (in that circumstances can possible exist and be known which would show it not to be true) and also by virtue of my own personal fallibility.

    It is entirely possible that the Roman Catholic position could be true. There is nothing illogical about it. It is also possible that the Sola Scriptura position could be true, as there is nothing illogical about that. The only way to tell which is right is to examine the available data–the Scriptures themselves, the church fathers, history, etc.–and decide which view fits the data best. My position is based on the conclusion, following such an analysis, that there is good reason to think the Protestant canon is the Word of God but not good enough reason to conclude that anything else (oral tradition, infallible teaching authority of the church) is. If God wants us to understand his Word, and he has not given us an infallible teaching authority, etc., then it follows that the Word must be sufficiently perspicuous such that reasonable, competent, honest people actually practicing such traits well should be able to figure out what it is saying. My own experience has confirmed and not contradicted this conclusion.

    Mark

  229. Mark (#226)

    There are certain core ideas that one finds among virtually all professed Christians, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, etc.

    Mormons? Jehovah’s Witnesses?

    jj

  230. John: I would say that those groups have sufficiently vitiated historic Christian doctrine as to make it so that their versions of Christianity lack core elements of those ideas that draw the reason to Christianity.

    So let me add this: The reasoning that leads us to Christianity also leads us to more mainstream forms of it, as opposed to forms such as Mormonism. I would argue that Mormonism, for example, contains teachings that clearly contradict reason and thus can be known directly to be false.

    Mark

  231. Mark (#230)

    I would say that those groups have sufficiently vitiated historic Christian doctrine as to make it so that their versions of Christianity lack core elements of those ideas that draw the reason to Christianity.

    I suppose I am failing to understand something. If by ‘historic’ you mean ‘ancient,’ then, of course, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnessism are out – but Arianism is not out (and was, I am told, being defended on Sola Scripturaal grounds), nor any of the other ancient views that called themselves Christian. I still don’t see how, without what seems to me circularity, you can know what is and what is not historic Christian doctrine. ‘Christian’ here seems to me to mean ‘orthodox Christian’ and that seems to me to suppose someone with the right to judge orthodoxy.

    jj

  232. Mark, (re: #228)

    My position is falsifiable, both in itself (in that circumstances can possible exist and be known which would show it not to be true)

    Thanks. That’s helpful. What evidence would falsify your perspicuity thesis, if a .0000909% success rate does not falsify it?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  233. John: What I am saying is that there are certain core ideas associated with most versions of Christianity that I believe can be established by reason. I would include in such a list things like these: the existence of God, the relational (Trinitarian) nature of God, the existence of an objective moral law based on God’s values, the infinite heinousness of sin and its desert of damnation, and the need for an atonement to satisfy justice. My basic argument for Christianity being a divine revelation is that it matches up with reality in such areas in such a way that reason leads us to accept its claim to be a divine revelation. But there may be multiple forms of Christianity which conform to reason in these ways (though there are some that do not–such as Mormonism), so we have to go further to determine which form is correct, or which church is correct. We must look at the available data to determine which tradition or church is the correct one. I believe the data indicates Sola Scriptura to be correct, and that the Protestant canon is correct. These and other things lead me to the Reformed tradition. I don’t think there is any circularity in this.

    Bryan, (re: #232)

    What evidence would falsify your perspicuity thesis, if a .0000909% success rate does not falsify it?

    A number of things could falsify my perspicuity thesis. Here are a couple of examples:

    1. If it became evident to me that I cannot understand what the Bible is saying no matter how hard I try, this would falsify my thesis. My methodology of biblical interpretation is this: Taking into account all available information (including the context of the rest of Scripture, knowledge of meanings of words in original languages, any relevant historic information, etc.), I try to discern the best reading of any given text and to draw the best conclusions regarding any specific doctrine. Assuming that Sola Scriptura is correct (for reasons discussed below), I conclude that God will make it possible to understand his Word, and from this I conclude that the best objective reading of the text is the correct reading intended by God. If this method were to prove not to work–such as if it became impossible to identify the objectively best reading of the text–this would falsify my perspicuity thesis.

    2. My basis for assuming Sola Scriptura is my evaluation of the data of history regarding the Christian tradition (including the scriptural books, the church fathers, the claims of various Christian churches, the credibility of claims to infallibility by some churches, and any other relevant data), which has led me to the conclusion that there are good and sufficient reasons to think that God has revealed his revelation in Scriptures which are infallible and that the Protestant canon correctly identifies which books we are warranted to include in the category of “Scripture”, and that no other locus of infallible revelation or authority (such as oral tradition or an infallible magisterium) can be sufficiently established by the evidence to warrant implicit trust in it. My underlying assumption in my examination of the historical data is that since Christianity in general is a true divine revelation (which I believe can be established by reason), we have reason to believe that God wants us to be able to locate the locus of that revelation and distinguish it from non-revelation so that we can follow it accurately, and therefore God will have designed the existing evidence to be such that the best reading of that evidence will be correct. So I conclude, based on my historical analysis, that we only have warrant to accept the books of the Protestant canon as having divine infallible authority, which amounts to Sola Scriptura. If my reading of the relevant data could be shown to be incorrect in some crucial way, this would falsify Sola Scriptura (and thus make somewhat moot the perspicuity thesis, if not falsifying it).

    I’ve written a book entitled Why Christianity is True, which is (as the title suggests) an apologetic for Christianity. In this book (which can be downloaded here), in a chapter on “The Bible as an Infallible Divine Revelation” (or something like that–I don’t have it in front of me and can’t remember the exact chapter title or which chapter number it is), I have made a brief case that fleshes out what I’ve been saying. It shows why, specifically, I think a study of the data leads to taking the Bible as the only infallible source of authority and not other claimed sources of infallible authority.

    In any of this, I am absolutely willing to be corrected if I am wrong. In the end, I don’t care if I am right. I just want to get reality right. As of now, it seems to me that my current position is correct. I find dialogues like these immensely helpful, and I know you will agree, since that is why you’ve created this website. The “iron sharpening iron” of real dialogue is an important way God has called us all to grow in our own knowledge of the truth and to help others do so. The current divisions of the Christian world are a travesty, and anything that can be done to help us all move to greater agreement in the truth is a cause very much worth pursuing.

  234. Mark, (re: #233)

    I especially appreciate your last paragraph. I’m always very glad to encounter Protestants who sincerely wish to enter into charitable dialogue aimed at resolving that which still divides Protestants and Catholics. That sort of attitude and willingness is surprisingly rare on both sides – more common is indifference.

    So that we’re on the same page regarding definitions, let’s take the perspicuity thesis as a claim not only about your own ability to understand Scripture, but as a claim that every literate person who approaches Scripture, no matter what his or her philosophical, religious or theological position, tradition, or presuppositions, can through the study of Scripture come to understand it rightly without needing any help from Church authority or Tradition such that by such study each such person moves toward agreement and full visible communion with every other such person and is preserved in agreement and full visible communion with every other such person.

    Given that definition of the perspicuity thesis, your own ability to arrive at an interpretation you believe to be true is fully compatible with the falsehood of the perspicuity thesis, and therefore does not confirm it. So while your own inability to make any sense of Scripture would surely falsify the perspicuity thesis, because the perspicuity thesis is not merely a claim about your ability to make sense of Scripture, but a claim about Scripture’s independent accessibility to all persons who read it, therefore limiting the conditions of the falsifiability of the perspicuity thesis to your own inability to make sense of Scripture prevents you from discovering whether although you and many others are each able to arrive at an interpretation you each believe to be true, Scripture is such that without the help of Church authority and Tradition, students of Scripture will not move toward agreement with one another, but will arrive at many different interpretations, and the disagreements will be both schism-inducing and perpetually intractable. By proposing that the massive failure rate is due to the sinfulness of men, you cut yourself off from discovering that the perspicuity thesis is actually false, because if the perspicuity thesis is false, the evidence would be exactly as it now is. So the “massive failure rate is due to the sinfulness of man” explanation could be the equivalent of introducing epicycles to prop up a false thesis and prevent the discovery of its falsehood.

    Imagine a man who finds himself to be the only one holding his interpretation out of 2+ billion Christians, and yet nevertheless maintains that Scripture is perspicuous and that the reason the other 2 billion people do not share his interpretation is because they are being deceived by sin and the devil. Such a person should, I hope you agree, consider the possibility of another paradigm in which Scripture is not actually perspicuous, and in which he (in his present paradigm) is deceived into believing that he alone is not being deceived by sin and the devil. But your present situation (with 1,000-2,000 people not in schism out of 2+ billion Christians in the world) is not very different from that of the man in that scenario, is it?

    You also say that you assume “sola scriptura.” (Strictly speaking your evaluation is not the “basis” for your assumption, but the activity by which on the basis of evidential data you reached your assumption.) And one reason you assume this is that you believe from the historical evidence that there is no other “locus of infallible revelation.” I assume that you are aware that according to the Catholic paradigm divine revelation comes to us not only through Scripture but also through Tradition, as I have explained in “VIII. Scripture and Tradition” in my reply to Michael Horton. So it would help if you explained how/why you ruled out this possibility.

    You write:

    My underlying assumption in my examination of the historical data is that since Christianity in general is a true divine revelation (which I believe can be established by reason), we have reason to believe that God wants us to be able to locate the locus of that revelation and distinguish it from non-revelation so that we can follow it accurately, and therefore God will have designed the existing evidence to be such that the best reading of that evidence will be correct. So I conclude, based on my historical analysis, that we only have warrant to accept the books of the Protestant canon as having divine infallible authority, which amounts to Sola Scriptura.

    Surely you recognize that that conclusion does not follow from those two premises. That is, from the truth that Christianity in general is a true divine revelation, and the truth that God wants all persons to be able to locate the locus of that revelation and distinguish it from non-revelation so that we can follow it accurately (and in full communion with one another), it does not follow that the Protestant canon is the correct one, or that sola scriptura is true. On the contrary, from those two premises (which I also hold), the massive fragmentation within Protestantism over the last five hundred years resulting from denying that ecclesial authority is needed for providing and determining the authoritative interpretation of Scripture (e.g. “Unless I am convinced …” M. Luther at Worms), and from believing that ‘ecclesial authority’ is picked out by and based on agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, serves precisely to call the sola scriptura assumption into question as something that no intelligent benevolent higher power would establish as the means by which to bring all those who believe to agreement in the truth and to visible communion with one another as a city set on a hill for the whole world to see, but suggests instead that the ultimate mind behind it was attempting by introducing it to obfuscate the divine truth from all men and hide from the world that visible city set on a hill.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  235. Mark,

    Howdy! I see you’re already dialoguing with a bunch of other people, so feel free to not respond to mine if you want to limit your workload. I assume your time for commenting on the internet is non-infinite, so some degree of prioritization is definitely in order. :-)

    Allow me to share Bryan’s sentiment of appreciation for your tone and attitude. Most persons aren’t willing to follow true arguments wherever they lead. By way of brief personal background, I’m getting my Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Kansas. I was baptized in an ELCA church as an infant, raised in broadly evangelical churches, spent a few years in Reformed churches (OPC) before becoming Catholic at Easter 2012.

    Now my (hopeful) contribution to the topic. It seems to me that you’re trying to walk a line that can’t be maintained with any principled reasons – or at least it was the line I tried to walk as a Protestant, and my inability to do so in a principled (rather than ad hoc manner) was a significant chunk of what caused me to become Catholic.

    One of the big philosophical ruptures between Protestants and Catholics is the role of ecclesial authority. The two alternatives are the Church always deciding what constitutes orthodoxy (and using those standards to judge the individual), or the individual always deciding what constitutes orthodoxy (and using that standard to judge the Church). The problem for Confessional Reformed churches is that they want the middle ground (where sometimes the Church judges your orthodoxy while leaving open the possibility of your judging the Church’s orthodoxy). But this middle ground is untenable because it ultimately reduces to one of the above two options.

    Here’s why. Suppose we take a case (which has actually occurred) where the Church considers three positions (A,B, C) and decides that C is heretical – but leaves its members freedom to decide between positions A and B. This constitutes, I would think, an instance of the first alternative (where the Church always decides what constitutes orthodoxy) because the reason you’ve discarded C as a live option is because of the Church’s judgment – and having been given doctrinal leeway to decide between A and B, your choosing one (or the other) still reduces to allowing the Church to always judge your personal orthodoxy.

    Contrast that with the case where the Church considers three positions (A, B, C), decides that C is heretical, but you decide that the Church is wrong and adopt C anyways (because this is one of the times when the Church “got it wrong”). This entails, then, that you (the individual) have reserved for yourself the right to always judge the Church’s orthodoxy. This is the nub of the “If I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me”. And, of course, if there are any times when you wouldn’t submit because of your personal disagreement with the Church, you’re always the one in the doctrinal driver’s seat (and thus you fall into the second alternative: You decide what constitutes orthodoxy and use that standard to judge the Church).
    So anyway I don’t think the middle ground can be maintained in a principled way – you’re either always letting the Church decide what constitutes orthodoxy or always yourself deciding what constitutes orthodoxy and judging the Church. But if the Church decides what constitutes orthodoxy, and if the Church is protected from error when teaching with her full authority, then *poof* the whole Reformation just got delegitimized. (After all, Luther, Chemnitz, Melancthon, and all other Reformers began as Catholics who, instead of submitting to the Church’s judgment that their views were heretical, held onto their views and eventually got kicked out of the Church. But if the Church decides what constitutes orthodoxy, then Luther et al were wrong to not submit to the Church. So Lutheranism, wherever it contradicts Church teachings, is heretical. And those same moves will pull the rug out from under Calvin, Zwingli, and all the other branches of the Reformation as well.)

    Anyways, those are my two cents. Having decided that no principled middle ground could be maintained (where I sometimes submit to the Church and sometimes don’t), my options were to always let the Church judge my orthodoxy or to always personally judge the Church’s orthodoxy. Ironically, neither Catholicism nor any of the “magisterial reformers” wanted the individual to always personally judge the Church’s orthodoxy. But then that meant that Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli were wrong to personally judge their Church’s orthodoxy. Which meant, at least for me, becoming Catholic. Hope these thoughts are of some service.

    Yours Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  236. That sort of attitude and willingness is surprisingly rare on both sides – more common is indifference.

    Indeed. One of the reasons I decided to begin conversing here is because I appreciated the tone of the site–one of a serious attempt to work through issues in an effort to sincerely seek the unity of Christ’s visible church (as I would put it).

    I’m going to try to respond in such a way as to bring all of the various threads of this conversation (as well as the one over on the Tu Quoque thread) together, to get at the key differences and issues hopefully somewhat concisely.

    My overall position can be summed up thus: 1. The available evidence points to Sola Scriptura, and to the assumption of the perspicuity of Scripture. 2. Scripture is therefore the ultimate authority, as it is the infallible Word of God. 3. Presbyters/bishops in the church, and church councils also have authority, but authority that is subordinate to Scripture and also fallible. Whenever they are exercising their prerogatives lawfully, their declarations and decisions possess the authority of God, but not when they are acting unlawfully. 4. Disagreement in the world on religious matters does not falsify the perspicuity thesis, because there are other plausible explanations for disagreement besides lack of clarity in the Scriptures. The fallenness of the world provides explanations for religious disagreement, such as, to varying degrees, bias, pride, hatred of truth, love of falsehood, apathy, simple confusion, prejudice, incompetence at discerning truth, etc.

    OK, let’s look at each of these in turn, examine your (“you” referring to Bryan, Benjamin, and Fr. Bryan, and anyone else who may be involved in this overall conversation) arguments against them and thus in favor of the Roman Catholic point of view, and why I have not yet found your arguments persuasive (though they certainly possess some plausibility and are very much worth considering).

    Let’s start with #4. Bryan, you want to make it out as implausible that things should be such that so few people are not in schism witht the de jure catholic church. I understand where you’re coming from, but I think your argument is superficial because it assumes a particular explanation for disagreement without adequately dispensing with a perfectly plausible alternative explantion. Your argument is also applied selectively, because if true it would pose a problem not just for my position but for your Roman Catholic position as well.

    The alternative explanation you are not adequately considering is that we live in a fallen world, and that people in this world do not in fact tend to follow the evidence where it leads and converge on the truth–for a whole host of reasons. If the world is naturally blind and sinful since the Fall, we would expect the world to be full of religious disagreement, and this is exactly what we find. My understanding of human nature predicts such religious diversity. Your assumption about human beings, on the other hand, seems to be that that if sufficient evidence is available to know something (such as if the Scriptures were clear enough to allow them to be objectively understood), we should expect not disagreement but convergence in the truth. I would argue that the state of the world, with all its religious diversity, is a mark against your expectation and in favor of mine. At the very least, my explanation is a viable, reasonable possibility. And as long as it is so, it cannot be simply dismissed as unreasonable. Therefore, the mere fact that my beliefs are in the minority in the world simply does not falsify my beliefs, nor does it falsify the claim of the perspicuity of Scripture.

    In fact, your explanation of religious disagreement–that it points to lack of clarity in available evidence–if true, is a problem for your view and not just for mine. Roman Catholics certainly make up much more of the world than Free Presbyterians, but there is still a large portion of the human race that is not Roman Catholic, even among those who have had opportunity to be exposed to it to some degree. If your expectations are how people respond to sufficient evidence is correct, we should expect at least the vast majority of the human population to be Roman Catholic. There should be very few, if any, non-Roman Catholics left in the world. But that is obviously not the case. How do you explain this? I don’t think you can, unless you appeal to the same sort of explanation I use to explain why I am in a minority. And once you do that, you lose the basis of your argument against me on this point.

    If any Agnostics were here with us involved in this conversation, they would use your reasoning against both of us. They would say this: “Look at all the religious disagreement in the world! There are Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Muslims, etc. If anyone could really know the truth, surely there wouldn’t be all this diversity! You may think you’re right, but everyone thinks he’s right, and you all disagree! It is absurd to think you are right in such conditions! Obviously, the truth is that no one really knows what he thinks he knows in these matters, and you should all be Agnostic.” If an Agnostic were here and made that argument, I would respond to him the same way I am responding to you: “Your argument needs further proof and is also self-refuting. You need to prove, not just assume, that religious disagreement stems from lack of clarity in the available evidence. Also, if Agnosticism is the correct position to hold in light of the objective evidence, why isn’t everyone Agnostic? According to your argument, we should all converge on Agnosticism. But we don’t. So your argument is just as much against Agnosticism as it is against Christianity, Buddhism, etc. You need to consider other explanations for religious disagreement.”

    It is also the case that your account of how much in the minority I am is somewhat misleading. Perhaps only 1,000 to 2,000 people are in the FPCS. However, a great many of the beliefs I hold as a Christian are also held by all or most other Christians. It is not as though the FPCS disagrees with all other Christians on everything. Most of my beliefs agree with most Protestants, and the vast majority of my beliefs I have in common with all other traditional Reformed people. The differences between the FPCS and other conservative Reformed churches are very slight overall–especially compared to differences with the non-Reformed world. So it is not as though I am in so much a minority among Christians, Protestants, or the rest of the Reformed on most things. Another thing to consider is that there are lots of small, often localized-to-a-great-degree Reformed denominations. A person who is seeking truth is likely to end up in a Reformed church other than the FPCS, simply by virtue of the fact that he has not yet considered all doctrinal issues (for example, he may not have ever thought about Exclusive Psalmody before, until the issue someday gets pointed out to him). So there is a lot of room for even very conscientious people to be confused or misled on some things. This does not mean the evidence is unclear. In such cases, it may simply be due the fact that people can’t think of everything and deal with every doctrinal issue all at once in their lives. These things can take time, and one must often be exposed to certain questions before one even thinks to ask them or consider them.

    One more thing to add on this point: If it seems strange that the heir to the de jure catholic church today should be some measley denomination mostly in Scotland, consider more carefully and see if it really is all that strange. God often chooses the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and strong. Who would have thought that a few thousand years ago, the true religion was entirely the province of a small tribe in the Middle-East, usually without much prestige in the world? Who would think that God often chooses the younger over the firstborn for privileges? Who would have thought that God would choose a poor speaker like Moses to proclaim liberty to his people? Who would have thought that the Messiah would be a poor, humble carpenter of humble parentage, born in a cave and not in a palace? Who would have thought (despite the words of the Scriptures) that the Messiah would be crucified ignominiously under the Jews and the Roman occupiers? Who would have thought his apostles would be unlearned fishermen and tax collectors, while the great political and religious leaders of the people would have gotten things wrong? And so on. If I were brought out of the first century into the present century and given a list of current Christian denominations plus the stats on their membership, knowing what I know about how God works, would it really be wise to pick the biggest and most prestigious of those denomination and assume that that must be the true heir to the de jure church? Would I not be wiser to choose a meeker, lowlier denomination as fitting in with God’s character and how he often does things? If I’ve got two churches, one with a golden bishop’s chair and one with a small building on a street corner, is it really so obvious that the one with the gold chair is going to be the true church? Are we perhaps too prone to make all-too-human assumptions about these matters, and not consider enough the foolish (to the world) ways in which God often works?

    I’ve got to go now, but I’ll continue later. For the sake of the flow of the conversation, would you all mind not commenting in response to me until I’ve completed saying what I’ve got to say at this point?

    Thanks! Talk to you soon.

    Mark

  237. . . . Continuing on from earlier:

    Sorry about the typos in the earlier post. I wrote so long that I had to leave the computer quickly and didn’t have time to edit. :-)

    Bryan, you said this:

    the massive fragmentation within Protestantism over the last five hundred years resulting from denying that ecclesial authority is needed for providing and determining the authoritative interpretation of Scripture (e.g. “Unless I am convinced …” M. Luther at Worms), and from believing that ‘ecclesial authority’ is picked out by and based on agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, serves precisely to call the sola scriptura assumption into question as something that no intelligent benevolent higher power would establish as the means by which to bring all those who believe to agreement in the truth and to visible communion with one another as a city set on a hill for the whole world to see, but suggests instead that the ultimate mind behind it was attempting by introducing it to obfuscate the divine truth from all men and hide from the world that visible city set on a hill.

    The problem with this is that it assumes a lack of perspicuity in Scripture. If Scripture is perspicuous, then this is not accurate. Again, an Agnostic could make the same argument against both of us: “No benevolent, wise being would leave the evidential situation in such a mess if he wanted everyone to know that Christianity is true. He would give clear, indisputable evidence, instead of the vague arguments that actually exist. He would come down right now and show himself!” Your response to that, I would expect, would be the same as mine: “God has left sufficient evidence to know what we need to know, but he has also left room enough so that those who are unwilling can hide themselves in ignorance and falsehood.” And that’s what I would say against your argument here as well.

    With regard to #1 (following my 1-4 numbering outlining my overall position in the previous post), Bryan, you said this:

    You also say that you assume “sola scriptura.” . . . And one reason you assume this is that you believe from the historical evidence that there is no other “locus of infallible revelation.” I assume that you are aware that according to the Catholic paradigm divine revelation comes to us not only through Scripture but also through Tradition, . . . So it would help if you explained how/why you ruled out this possibility.

    I can’t provide a full account of this here. That’s why I added this in my earlier post:

    I’ve written a book entitled Why Christianity is True, which is (as the title suggests) an apologetic for Christianity. In this book (which can be downloaded here), in a chapter on “The Bible as an Infallible Divine Revelation” (or something like that–I don’t have it in front of me and can’t remember the exact chapter title or which chapter number it is), I have made a brief case that fleshes out what I’ve been saying. It shows why, specifically, I think a study of the data leads to taking the Bible as the only infallible source of authority and not other claimed sources of infallible authority.

    To summarize briefly, what I have found in looking at the writings of the Christian tradition is that the early church is clear in pointing to Scripture as an infallible source of authority, and by the end of the period of the church fathers it has come pretty much to a consensus that the books of the Protestant canon are Scripture. The apocrypha, I would argue, is left in a less-than-clear position (and even to this day its position is less than clear in Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.). The Scriptures do not given any indication of an infallible teaching magisterium, or an oral tradition that is to last through the ages as a complement to Scripture. It does, however, indicate the fallibility of elders who are appointed over the church. It also presents a strong critique of the Pharisees for adding an oral tradition to the written Word of God. It suggests, in fact, that we should not expect an infallible oral tradition or an infallible teaching authority. The early church fathers often say things supporting a Sola Scriptura point of view. Irenaeus rejects the concept of an oral tradition needed to understand the Scriptures as a gnostic idea, and speaks of the Scriptures as being plain. The fathers do sometimes talk about oral traditions received from the apostles, but this contradicts other things they say about Sola Scriptura, and the evidence suggests they are untrustworthy in handing down oral traditions. For one thing, they themselves say they are not infallible (and sometimes even suggest that church councils are not infallible). And this seems proved from things they actually say, such as the controversy over Easter, both sides claiming to have oral apostolic tradition. Sometimes the claimed oral tradition is very suspect, such as Irenaeus’s claim to know from John that Jesus lived to be fifty years old. We must also add in here the controversy between the east and the west over the role of the pope and other things, the lack of later Roman doctrines in the early church, examples of contradictions in church teachings at different times in Roman Catholic history, etc. In short, the Christian tradition points clearly to the Protestant canon of Scripture as infallibly authoritative revelation from God, but not clearly to anything else. Therefore, I conclude Sola Scriptura. Obviously, all of this would have to be fleshed out further to argue about it, but at least that gives you a brief outline of how I am reasoning here. Certainly here we have the true foundation of my position. If my reading of all of this data is wrong, then my Sola Scriptura conclusion may be wrong. But this is how the data looks to me at present.

    OK, now moving on to #2 and #3. This gets us into the question of submission to authority that has been raised here as well as in the Tu Quoque thread. In your arguments on this point (Bryan, Benjamin, and Fr. Bryan), I think you are begging the question. Your argument here (as summarized in the little verse, ““If I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me”) is, I suggest, based on the assumption that Scripture is not perspicuous, an assumption of course that I don’t grant. Also, I think your arguments on this point are against yourselves as well as against me.

    The underlying assumption of your arguments seems to be that if I check an authority against some other standard and only accept that authority when it agrees with that other standard, I am not really accepting that authority. But if this were true, it would mean that there cannot possibly be any such thing as a fallible authority, and I don’t think you think that is the case any more than I do. Scripture tells wives to submit to husbands, but surely this does not imply that husbands are infallible. Wives are to “ask their husbands at home” when they want to know something, but this does not imply that husbands can’t err. Wives should not put implicit trust in their husbands as if they cannot err, but there is to be a limited submission nonetheless–a deference, a level of trust, but not without a critical evaluation that tests what their husbands say against a higher authority. According to you all, though, that would mean that there is no true submission. The same thing can be said of other instances of fallible authority, such as the authority of parents over their children, the authority of the civil government, and also the authority of bishops and church councils. You all will grant that individual bishops are not infallible teaching authorities, and neither are non-ecumenical councils. These can err, and we must only accept what they say if they are in agreement with higher authorities. We are to submit, but critically, examining what is said in light of the higher levels of the magisterium (the pope’s infallible pronouncements, ecumenical councils, etc.) But according to your argument against me, this would mean that you are not really submitting to bishops or lower councils, because you are checking them against a different and higher standard and agreeing with them only when they agree with that higher standard. Well, I say the same thing–we should submit to church authorities, but not uncritically–except that I think fallibility applies even to ecumenical councils (and to popes, if there was any such office) and that the only infallible source of authority is the Scriptures.

    Now at this point, you will probably say that when I talk about submitting to the Scriptures, I am really only submitting to myself, because I am submitting to my interpretation of the Scriptures. But this is where your argument begs the question (unless you attach your arguments about perspicuity directly to your argument here), because you are assuming the Scriptures are unclear so that “my interpretation of the Scriptures” really means “my own personal opinions.” But if Scripture is perspicuous, then “my interpretation of Scripture” is no more the same as “my own personal opinions” than “my interpretation of the church magisterium” or “my interpretation of the pope.”

    The way I picture things is that Scripture is on the top level of authority and is infallible, and then underneath it there are church authorities who are fallible. We truly submit to them, but we also check them against the higher authority of Scripture. This is no different in principle from what you do when you place the ecumenical councils and the pope on the top level of authority as infallible, and then have underneath them other councils and individual bishops. You truly submit to those bishops and lower councils, but you also check them against the higher authorities. The only difference is that Scripture is a book and not a living person or group of persons. But if the Scripture is perspicuous, then that makes no practical difference, as this book contains the instructions of the prophets and apostles, who in their writings were gifted as an infallible source of authority from Christ himself.

    OK, I think that’s it for now! Whew! I think I’m going to go for a walk. :-)

    Thanks!

    Mark

  238. Mark – if I might briefly respond to your magnum opus – and I must say it was pretty magnum :-) – I think it worth reflecting on something. That Sola Scriptura is true – stipulating it for argument’s sake, I mean – is not the same as saying that the individual is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

    It could be – some Catholic theologians have thought that it is – that everything we need to know for our salvation is contained in Scripture, either explicitly or by proper inference therefrom. I remember when I was on my way into the Church, reading Louis Bouyer and he says basically that.

    But it doesn’t follow that because Scripture X obviously means Y to me, but obviously means Z to you, that we have the right to declare each his own understanding to be correct – and to separate from others who disagree, if we think the matter sufficiently important. It may be – and of course I think it is – that God has ordained an umpire to whom we both are required to listen and to submit to its judgement.

    I remember working through the idea when in my own struggles. On that first Pentecost, you would know where the true Church was: it was in that upper room. But if, a hundred years later, there was dispute over this or that teaching, how were you to be sure you were right?

    It seems to me that if the Protestant idea of Sola Scriptura – which really seems to me to be identical with the idea of private interpretation – is right, then there can be no unity. Once two disagree over something they consider fundamental, there is no one to choose between them.

    Thus it seems to me that Sola Scriptura isn’t really the question; private interpretation is.

    If, indeed, God has not provided men with an authoritative – ‘authoritative’ meaning I must obey on pain of disobeying God – voice in the world, then not only is disunity inevitable, there is, in fact, no way for us to be certain of anything religious. I can see the arguments for something as basic as the Trinity or the Hypostatic Union from Scripture – but I can likewise see the plausibility of the arguments for Arianism and Monophysitism from Scripture. The advocates of those positions appealed to Scripture as well.

    I remember telling my wife, when the storm was hard, that if at the end of this, I did not end up a Catholic, that I would never believe in Church authority again. I might call myself a Christian – perhaps some sort of Quaker, depending on the inner light. If authority were not established of God, then it did not exist. I could not see how my Reformed Church in New Zealand had authority. Theirs, after all, had descended from those who had rejected Church authority.

    jj

  239. Hi Mark, (Re: #237)

    I’ve been following your comments and appreciate the time you’re taking to explain your position. A couple things that seem problematic from my perspective.

    * If the Church is inherently a fallible teaching authority, then how do you identify a specific visible institution as the true Church? Why that institution rather than a different fallible teaching authority?

    * If the scriptures are perspicuous, then why don’t the scriptures answer _directly_ about a number of important, controversial issues? e.g. just to name a few issues among many – what is the table of contents of scripture (deuterocanonicals or not?), should infants should be baptized? can women ever speak in church? Is it ever legitimate to profess belief in a fallible creed like the Westminster confession of faith? Are the scriptures completely perspicuous, or not?

    Are we free to believe whatever we want on these controversial issues? Or are these issues not truly important? And if these questions are truly important, and if scripture is our only sure authority, then why is there no direct answer in scripture?

  240. Mark (re: #236)

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I think your argument is superficial because it assumes a particular explanation for disagreement without adequately dispensing with a perfectly plausible alternative explanation.

    When you say my “argument” is superficial, could you specify exactly what argument of mine you have in mind (so that I know exactly which premises and which conclusion you are referring to)? Thanks!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  241. Mark (re: #236)
    First let me join others in appreciating your way of carrying out a debate – I am truly impressed, particularly by your clear presentation of arguments. Now, to the point.
    Much of your line of reasoning depends on your thesis that “Scripture is perspicuous” (with no quantifiers!). It would seem to me that the natural meaning of the word is that some particular message is easy to grasp. And normally we can judge whether it is easy to grasp by the percentage of people who actually get the correct meaning (assuming for the sake of discussion that the correct meaning is well defined). That is, in plain language, something may be called perspicuous if a considerable number of people easily recognise its right meaning. This is because there is no abstract perspicuity – the term inherently implies some audience (to which the given message is perspicuous).
    Now, you keep arguing that Scripture is perspicuous, but in some abstract way; that is, if we were all angels or lived in Paradise like Adam and Eve it would be perspicuous to us. Yet we, humans, are who we are. We live after the Fall. So, in a sense, by arguing that Scripture is perspicuous only to “reasonable, competent and honest people” (#228) and admitting that there are few of them, you in fact falsify the thesis that “Scripture is perspicuous” (to people in general, in this real world) yourself.

  242. Dear Mark –

    I agree with the other commenters here. It has been a pleasure to have you here. You have been respectful and you’ve engaged with the content admirably. I hope you’ll stick around.

    You responded to my specific question with the following:

    In your arguments on this point (Bryan, Benjamin, and Fr. Bryan), I think you are begging the question. Your argument here (as summarized in the little verse, ““If I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me”) is, I suggest, based on the assumption that Scripture is not perspicuous, an assumption of course that I don’t grant. Also, I think your arguments on this point are against yourselves as well as against me.

    The underlying assumption of your arguments seems to be that if I check an authority against some other standard and only accept that authority when it agrees with that other standard, I am not really accepting that authority. But if this were true, it would mean that there cannot possibly be any such thing as a fallible authority, and I don’t think you think that is the case any more than I do. Scripture tells wives to submit to husbands, but surely this does not imply that husbands are infallible. Wives are to “ask their husbands at home” when they want to know something, but this does not imply that husbands can’t err. Wives should not put implicit trust in their husbands as if they cannot err, but there is to be a limited submission nonetheless–a deference, a level of trust, but not without a critical evaluation that tests what their husbands say against a higher authority. According to you all, though, that would mean that there is no true submission. The same thing can be said of other instances of fallible authority, such as the authority of parents over their children, the authority of the civil government, and also the authority of bishops and church councils. You all will grant that individual bishops are not infallible teaching authorities, and neither are non-ecumenical councils. These can err, and we must only accept what they say if they are in agreement with higher authorities. We are to submit, but critically, examining what is said in light of the higher levels of the magisterium (the pope’s infallible pronouncements, ecumenical councils, etc.) But according to your argument against me, this would mean that you are not really submitting to bishops or lower councils, because you are checking them against a different and higher standard and agreeing with them only when they agree with that higher standard. Well, I say the same thing–we should submit to church authorities, but not uncritically–except that I think fallibility applies even to ecumenical councils (and to popes, if there was any such office) and that the only infallible source of authority is the Scriptures.

    Now at this point, you will probably say that when I talk about submitting to the Scriptures, I am really only submitting to myself, because I am submitting to my interpretation of the Scriptures. But this is where your argument begs the question (unless you attach your arguments about perspicuity directly to your argument here), because you are assuming the Scriptures are unclear so that “my interpretation of the Scriptures” really means “my own personal opinions.” But if Scripture is perspicuous, then “my interpretation of Scripture” is no more the same as “my own personal opinions” than “my interpretation of the church magisterium” or “my interpretation of the pope.”

    The way I picture things is that Scripture is on the top level of authority and is infallible, and then underneath it there are church authorities who are fallible. We truly submit to them, but we also check them against the higher authority of Scripture. This is no different in principle from what you do when you place the ecumenical councils and the pope on the top level of authority as infallible, and then have underneath them other councils and individual bishops. You truly submit to those bishops and lower councils, but you also check them against the higher authorities. The only difference is that Scripture is a book and not a living person or group of persons. But if the Scripture is perspicuous, then that makes no practical difference, as this book contains the instructions of the prophets and apostles, who in their writings were gifted as an infallible source of authority from Christ himself.

    I don’t have time to respond right now, but I’ll re-read this portion to make absolutely sure I understand your points and continue to follow the discussion here. If anything more needs to be said that another Catholic doesn’t bring up, I’ll make sure I’ll chime in later.

    In the meantime, thanks again for being here.

    Blessings.

  243. Re: 241, et al, and with regard to the whole notion of perspicuity. If the acid test of perspicuity is whether or not some majority of people “understand” the same thing, then it would seem fair to re-visit statements made by the current Pope, where discussion was shutdown by Andrew at this thread: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2013/05/pope-francis-atheists-and-the-evangelical-spirit.

    Bryan conceded, in #147 in Andrew’s thread regarding the Pope, that it is the duty of the Pope to be the guy to clear up theological fog, and yet, Bryan also (rightly) concedes that the Pope has himself recently created, not cleared up, a fair bit of theological fog.

    In fact, from what I can tell, Bryan would concede that RCC doctrines are not perspicuous, to the extent that one has to be an RCC “insider” (cf Bryan’s “Tradition and the Lexicon” article found elsewhere on CTC) in order to be able to appeal to RCC “Traditions” as the means by which theological fog can be cleared.

    I welcome help from any/all in clearing up my personal fog on this matter.

  244. Mark – what it seems to me that you are saying, about perspicuity of Scripture, amounts to this (applies to those who are able to read and understand – presumably, just as the Catholic Church leaves the ‘invincibly ignorant’ (of the truth of the Catholic religion) to God’s grace, so the illiterate or mentally handicapped are not in view here):

    1) It is obvious what writings are Scripture.
    2) It is obvious that these writings are sent by God to be our authoritative teacher.
    3) It is obvious which matters are essential to the faith and which are peripheral – e.g. it is obvious that the question whether paedobaptism is allowed, required, or whatever – that that issue is – or is not; not sure what you would think – an essential matter.
    4) Regarding all (and perhaps only) essential matters – those necessary to be able to please God – that the right answers to all such are accessible to those who have the ability mentioned above.
    5) Therefore, for any who disagree with one another concerning any of 1-4 above, at most one of such a group of disagreers is at fault. He cannot plead that any of these matters is obscure.

    Is that right? It does seem to me that for the perspicuity of Scripture to work – and it seems to me that all turns on that for you – that these five propositions must be true.

    jj

  245. It may be – and of course I think it is – that God has ordained an umpire to whom we both are required to listen and to submit to its judgement.

    John: Yes, it may be. I am open to that possibility. There is nothing absurd or contrary to reason about it. I just don’t think at this point that the evidence presents us with an infallible umpire of this sort.

    It seems to me that if the Protestant idea of Sola Scriptura – which really seems to me to be identical with the idea of private interpretation – is right, then there can be no unity. Once two disagree over something they consider fundamental, there is no one to choose between them.

    I think the difference you see here between the Protestant and the Roman Catholic situation is largely illusory. The Eastern and Roman churches disagree over a number of things. You could say that where they disagree, there is no one to choose between them. You would say that there is someone to choose between them–the pope. But the Eastern church doesn’t accept his authority to decide the points of controversy. You might respond, “True, but they should accept his authority to decide.” And you would then have to prove that the pope has that authority by means of historical arguments, etc. I can say the same sort of thing. When two Protestants disagree, there is someone to decide between them–the voice of the apostles and prophets in the Scriptures. “But they disagree about the interpretation of Scripture,” you will respond. And I will respond, “They should follow the correct interpretation, which can be known because the Scriptures are perspicuous.” So the issue really comes down, once again, to the issue of whether or not Scripture is perspicuous. If it is, then it can decide between conflicting views just as much as the pope can, or a church council, etc.

    I can see the arguments for something as basic as the Trinity or the Hypostatic Union from Scripture – but I can likewise see the plausibility of the arguments for Arianism and Monophysitism from Scripture.

    I can’t. I think the Bible clearly supports the Trinity and the Chalcedonian doctrine of the incarnation. Sure, I can see some plausibility to other arguments, just as I can see some plausibility to your arguments regarding Roman Catholicism, and just as some Atheist arguments have some plausibility. But they don’t have enough plausibility, which is part of why I am a Reformed Protestant.

    * If the Church is inherently a fallible teaching authority, then how do you identify a specific visible institution as the true Church? Why that institution rather than a different fallible teaching authority?

    Jonathan: Because some churches have better claims to being the true heir to de jure authority than others, according to the objective standard of the Word of God.

    * If the scriptures are perspicuous, then why don’t the scriptures answer _directly_ about a number of important, controversial issues? e.g. just to name a few issues among many – what is the table of contents of scripture (deuterocanonicals or not?), should infants should be baptized? can women ever speak in church? Is it ever legitimate to profess belief in a fallible creed like the Westminster confession of faith? Are the scriptures completely perspicuous, or not?

    I think the Scriptures are perspicuous on these matters. The Scriptures don’t have to directly address an issue in order to say something about it. The Westminster Confession says this about the sufficiency of Scripture:

    The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

    That “good and necessary consequence” part is important. Logic is from God and applies to all things. So whatever is logically implied by what the Bible says is part of what the Bible says. For example, the Bible does not say that I, personally, am in need of salvation in Christ. It does say that human beings are in need of salvation by Christ. It does not say that I am a human being, but I know that from reason. Since I am a human being, the logical implication of what the Bible says is that I, personally, am in need of salvation by Christ.

    When you say my “argument” is superficial, could you specify exactly what argument of mine you have in mind (so that I know exactly which premises and which conclusion you are referring to)? Thanks!

    Bryan: I was referring to your argument that the thesis that the Scriptures are perspicuous is falsified by the fact that my beliefs about the FPCS are very much a minority position in the Christian world.

    I’ve got to go now, but I have seen the other comments and will respond to them later (and I’m looking forward to reading that new article on religious freedom tonight as well–my family and I are going to look over it together during our time of family worship tonight as an exercise in thinking through doctrinal issues and arguments). Thanks again, everyone!

  246. Corn-Czar, (re: #243)

    Bryan conceded, in #147 in Andrew’s thread regarding the Pope, that it is the duty of the Pope to be the guy to clear up theological fog, and yet, Bryan also (rightly) concedes that the Pope has himself recently created, not cleared up, a fair bit of theological fog.

    First, ‘conceded’ is a loaded word, and therefore uncharitable to use when ‘claim’ would do just fine. Second, your claim that I ‘conceded’ that “the Pope has himself recently created, not cleared up, a fair bit of theological fog” is unfair, and misrepresents what I actually said. I’m not going to repeat what I said, but I’ll ask that in the future, please don’t try to paraphrase what I say; please quote me. Third, we’ll get to the perspicuity tu quoque, but I recommend that for now we go one step at a time (because it is not possible to discuss fruitfully four or five different theses at the same time).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  247. Mark (re: #245)

    Bryan: I was referring to your argument that the thesis that the Scriptures are perspicuous is falsified by the fact that my beliefs about the FPCS are very much a minority position in the Christian world.

    That’s a claim, not an argument. And I never made that claim. That’s a stronger claim than any claim I actually made. Which claims that I made in #234 do you think are false, and/or which arguments that I presented in #234 do you think are unsound?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  248. Hi Mark (re: #245),

    That “good and necessary consequence” part is important. Logic is from God and applies to all things. So whatever is logically implied by what the Bible says is part of what the Bible says. For example, the Bible does not say that I, personally, am in need of salvation in Christ. It does say that human beings are in need of salvation by Christ. It does not say that I am a human being, but I know that from reason. Since I am a human being, the logical implication of what the Bible says is that I, personally, am in need of salvation by Christ.

    I agree with you that the Bible implies some things which can be known by logic. Your example seems logical to me (and I don’t know any Christian group which disagrees with your statement). But I don’t think your statement is an example of a contentious issue. With any contentious issue, such as paedobaptism vs. credobaptism, the arguments for each position are rather strong, and each party is able to derive a logical argument which seems to follow from scripture.

  249. Much of your line of reasoning depends on your thesis that “Scripture is perspicuous” (with no quantifiers!). It would seem to me that the natural meaning of the word is that some particular message is easy to grasp.

    Jan: I would define Scripture’s perspicuity, rather, as the idea that Scripture is possible to understand, not necessarily that everything in it is easy to understand. Scripture can be understood by those who put in the appropriate effort, have ordinary human capacities, etc.

    And normally we can judge whether it is easy to grasp by the percentage of people who actually get the correct meaning (assuming for the sake of discussion that the correct meaning is well defined). That is, in plain language, something may be called perspicuous if a considerable number of people easily recognise its right meaning.

    But it is dangerous to judge perspicuity by numbers of people who agree, for reasons discussed previously in the thread–namely, other possible explanations for disagreement.

    Now, you keep arguing that Scripture is perspicuous, but in some abstract way; that is, if we were all angels or lived in Paradise like Adam and Eve it would be perspicuous to us. Yet we, humans, are who we are. We live after the Fall. So, in a sense, by arguing that Scripture is perspicuous only to “reasonable, competent and honest people” (#228) and admitting that there are few of them, you in fact falsify the thesis that “Scripture is perspicuous” (to people in general, in this real world) yourself.

    My position is that Scripture is perspicuous to all people of normal capacity who put in appropriate effort. People are fallen, but this does not mean they are unable to see what the evidence is saying about truth, either the evidence of reason or the evidence of Scripture. The fallen nature of man causes us to misread the world due to bias, pride, lack of competence and/or effort, confusion coming from a whole host of sources, etc., but our lack of success at following the evidence where it leads does not imply a lack of clarity in the evidence itself.

    Again, why are people Atheists or Agnostics? Is it because the evidence for God (and, to go with your point of view for a moment, for Roman Catholicism) is insufficiently clear? No, it is because people don’t always follow the evidence where it would lead them if they were following it with full competence and faithfulness. That’s exactly what I am saying about Scripture.

    John: You put forward five propositions (do I hear echoes of Jansen?–just kidding :-)) which you suggest my perspicuity thesis implies:

    1) It is obvious what writings are Scripture.
    2) It is obvious that these writings are sent by God to be our authoritative teacher.
    3) It is obvious which matters are essential to the faith and which are peripheral – e.g. it is obvious that the question whether paedobaptism is allowed, required, or whatever – that that issue is – or is not; not sure what you would think – an essential matter.
    4) Regarding all (and perhaps only) essential matters – those necessary to be able to please God – that the right answers to all such are accessible to those who have the ability mentioned above.
    5) Therefore, for any who disagree with one another concerning any of 1-4 above, at most one of such a group of disagreers is at fault. He cannot plead that any of these matters is obscure.

    I am not quite comfortable with the word “obvious,” because I think that it often takes great effort and care to interpret Scripture (as well as evidence from reason) successfully. “Obvious” makes it sound like one could give the evidence a half-hearted glance and always get everything right. I think that “possible to know” is a better term here.

    I think that Scripture is perspicuous in all that it intends to teach. I do think there can be made a distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” matters, meaning there are some doctrines that the Bible makes clear cannot be gotten wrong consistently with being in a regenerate state–like being a full-blown Atheist–while there are other doctrines which, so far as we know, one can sometimes get wrong while still being truly regenerate. However, in another sense, all doctrines are “essential,” in that all are required to be believed. That is, nothing God reveals to us is optional for us to believe.

    I would not say that all people who get any biblical doctrine wrong are always necessary at personal fault for doing so. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes one might not realize a certain truth simply because the issue of that truth has not occurred to one. For example, someone might read the Bible conscientiously and not come to an Exclusive Psalmody position (the position that only the psalms should be sung in the official worship of the church–a position I hold) simply because the question of what one ought to do in worship hasn’t yet occurred to him to ask. The evidence is still sufficiently clear, but the person isn’t looking for an answer to that particular question. But certainly, oftentimes the reason people get things wrong in their interpretations of Scripture is personal fault.

    That’s a claim, not an argument. And I never made that claim. That’s a stronger claim than any claim I actually made. Which claims that I made in #234 do you think are false, and/or which arguments that I presented in #234 do you think are unsound?

    Bryan: OK, sorry for the misunderstanding there! I was trying to summarize what I took to be the main claim underlying what you were saying in that comment (and other comments). I took that claim to be this: Scripture’s perspicuity is called into question by the fact that my position is a strongly minority position. Perhaps my statement of what I took to be your claim was too strong. Perhaps you were only suggesting that the minority status of my point of view calls into question the perspicuity thesis rather than that it falsifies the perspicuity thesis.

    Assuming I’ve got your claim right, I grant that my minority status raises the question of whether my beliefs are really true and whether the perspicuity thesis is correct. It is a potential challenge to those things. I have given you my response to this challenge: There are other, more plausible explanations for religious disagreement in general and for my minority status in particular, and thus the challenge has no real successful force.

    With any contentious issue, such as paedobaptism vs. credobaptism, the arguments for each position are rather strong, and each party is able to derive a logical argument which seems to follow from scripture.

    Jonathan: In this case, I would deny that the arguments on both sides are equally strong. I think the paedobaptists have objectively the better argument, and that we should therefore follow that position. If the arguments were exactly equal in force, there would be no way to decide between them, and thus we would have to take an Agnostic position on the subject (assuming Sola Scriptura).

    Thinking back over this whole convesation so far, it seems to me that the main argument/claim that has been made in opposition to my Sola Scriptura position is that the Scriptures are not perspicuous. Almost all the arguments made against me thus far seem to have this as their ultimate foundation (even the arguments regarding submission to authority). And the main argument given in support of that claim, thus far, seems to be that people interpret the Scriptures vastly differently and that this either clearly implies or at least raises the suggestion that Scripture is not perspicuous. I have given my response to that argument. I suggest that the a priori argument against the perspicuity of Scripture is a very weak one and does not do the job of showing my position to be wrong, and that it would be more fruitful to focus attention on my underlying reasons for coming to the Sola Scriptura position–as I outlined them in comment #237, in the paragraph beginning “To summarize briefly” after the block quote in which I linked to my book.

    And thanks again for this continuing very fruitful and friendly conversation!

  250. Mark, (re: #249)

    Perhaps you were only suggesting that the minority status of my point of view calls into question the perspicuity thesis rather than that it falsifies the perspicuity thesis.

    Yes.

    Assuming I’ve got your claim right, I grant that my minority status raises the question of whether my beliefs are really true and whether the perspicuity thesis is correct. It is a potential challenge to those things. I have given you my response to this challenge: There are other, more plausible explanations for religious disagreement in general and for my minority status in particular, and thus the challenge has no real successful force.

    Before I get to your comment #236, is there anything in my comment #234 with which you disagree, or can I assume that you don’t disagree with anything I said in #234?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  251. Bryan, perhaps I should say something briefly about this comment of yours from comment #234:

    So that we’re on the same page regarding definitions, let’s take the perspicuity thesis as a claim not only about your own ability to understand Scripture, but as a claim that every literate person who approaches Scripture, no matter what his or her philosophical, religious or theological position, tradition, or presuppositions, can through the study of Scripture come to understand it rightly without needing any help from Church authority or Tradition such that by such study each such person moves toward agreement and full visible communion with every other such person and is preserved in agreement and full visible communion with every other such person.

    Perhaps I should say that, normally, Scripture should be read in the context of the history and tradition of the church. I am not certain that it would be possible to know which books are supposed to be in the canon without knowing something about the historical process by which the church developed its idea of the canon. It is probably not possible to be sure that one has a complete, pure version of the Bible without knowing something about the history of biblical manuscript transmission. Also, normally, Scripture is meant to be read and interpreted in the church, under the guidance of the legitimate presbyters/bishops of the church, and it will be much easier to interpret it with their aid. This does not make these presbyters/bishops infallible, or mean that the Bible can’t be understood at all without their help; but their teaching is an important means of grace.

    So my perspicuity thesis is the idea that the Bible is sufficiently clear such that it can be understood by people making full, honest, and competent use of all the means and helps God makes available to us for interpreting it, and such means and helps do not include an infallible magisterium or an infallible oral tradition (though they do include a fallible teaching magisterium and fallible oral traditions). I think that one key issue between us on this topic is that you think disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture often cannot be resolved without an infallible oral tradition and magisterium, and I think they can be.

  252. Mark,

    Thanks for your reply. Sorry for my delay in replying (family camping trip meant I was out of circulation for a few days). You wrote in #234:

    Your argument here (as summarized in the little verse, ““If I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me”) is, I suggest, based on the assumption that Scripture is not perspicuous, an assumption of course that I don’t grant.

    I shall argue that you are wrong. That is, your claim that the correctness of the “submission thesis” assumes, and hence relies upon, the falsity of the “perspicuity thesis” is a false claim.

    (The “perspicuity thesis” [PT] was defined by Bryan in #234 as the claim that “[E]very literate person who approaches Scripture, no matter what his or her philosophical, religious or theological position, tradition, or presuppositions, can through the study of Scripture come to understand it rightly without needing any help from Church authority or Tradition…”. And the “submission thesis” [ST] is the claim that “If I submit to an authority only when I agree with it, I am not in actual submission to the authority but only to myself”.)

    Here’s why I believe that the ST does not assume the correctness of the PT: The truth (or falseness) of one holds no entailments for the truth (or falseness) of the other. We can see this by considering the four logical possibilities:
    1. ST is true and PT is false
    2. ST is false and PT is true
    3. ST is true and PT is true
    4. ST is false and PT is false

    All four of these are possibilities which, in turn, entails that the ST is not based on the falsity of the PT. Consider what each of these four possibilities would mean:

    1: In this scenario, only submitting when I agree means I am not actually submitting and every literate person cannot understand Scripture rightly without help from Church or tradition. This is possible.
    2: In this scenario, only submitting when I agree means I am actually submitting and every literate person can understand Scripture rightly without help from Church or tradition. This is possible.
    3: In this scenario, only submitting when I agree means I am not actually submitting and every literate person can understand Scripture rightly without help from Church or tradition. This is possible too.
    4: In this scenario, only submitting when I agree means I am actually submitting and every literate person cannot understand Scripture rightly without help from Church or tradition. This is also possible.

    But if all four of these options are genuine possibilities, it means the two theses are actually independent of each other rather than one being dependent on the other. In other words, whether or not Scripture can be understood without the Church entails nothing for whether genuine submission consists of submitting only in cases of agreement. (I guess if you really want to say the two these are dependent on each other in the way you suggest then you’ll have to deny 1 – but I don’t think you’ve given any argument to that effect).

    You then suggest that my argument is “against [myself] as well as against [yourself]”, because:

    The underlying assumption of your arguments seems to be that if I check an authority against some other standard and only accept that authority when it agrees with that other standard, I am not really accepting that authority. But if this were true, it would mean that there cannot possibly be any such thing as a fallible authority, and I don’t think you think that is the case any more than I do. Scripture tells wives to submit to husbands, but surely this does not imply that husbands are infallible.

    I’m a little confused at what you mean here – I certainly do think there can be fallible authorities (police officers, husbands, fathers, etc.) But I also maintain that if (say) my wife only submits (to my rules, say) when she agrees with them, then she is not in genuine submission. Similarly if my children only obey when they already agree with me, they’re also not in genuine submission. If a Lieutenant follows his Captain’s orders only when he already agrees with them, he’s not in genuine submission to his superior officer. Etc. In other words, one can truly submit to fallible authorities (by not only submitting when one agrees) and one can truly submit to infallible authorities (by not only submitting when one agrees). If the authority is fallible, checking it against some other (higher) standard makes sense. But if the authority is infallible, checking it against some other (higher) authority makes no sense. So I guess I’d wonder what non-question begging arguments you have for the Church’s fallibility? (Of course, you could argue that the Church is fallible because it’s erred in matters of doctrine in the past, but you’ll never persuade any Catholic with that line of argument…or any Eastern Orthodox…or any Oriental Orthodox…etc). :-p

    Gotta catch the bus home. Hope this was of some edificatory value. Would welcome any thoughts you’d care to offer in return (iff you have time and interest in giving them).

    Yours Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  253. Forgive me chiming in from the bleachers, but I’m appreciating the conversation so far.

    Mark, is it fair to say that when two people disagree on a theological subject (take Benjamin’s A,B,C in #235 for example) it’s because one or both of them are: dishonest or incompetent (i.e. not competently using “all the means and helps God makes available”)? (via your comment in #251)

    If an undecided third party on this particular theological stance were to witness these two, is there any principled means by which they can determine who is honest and competently using “all the means and helps God makes available”? Other than their own opinion, or “burning in the bosom”. Especially given that they too might be just as guilty of unknown dishonesty or incompetence.

    It seems to me that this still reduces to little more than mere opinion.

  254. Mark (re: #251)

    Thanks. Here’s what I get from your most recent comment. You reject the perspicuity thesis as I have defined that thesis, for the reasons you explain there. But you accept the perspicuity thesis as you define it (in the second paragraph of #251). That’s helpful to know, so that we’re not talking past each other when talking about perspicuity. Is there anything else in #234 that you disagree with, or are we in agreement regarding the rest of what I said in #234? I want to make sure before moving on to #236.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  255. Mark (re: #251)

    Perhaps I should say that, normally, Scripture should be read in the context of the history and tradition of the church. … Also, normally, Scripture is meant to be read and interpreted in the church, under the guidance of the legitimate presbyters/bishops of the church, and it will be much easier to interpret it with their aid. … So my perspicuity thesis is the idea that the Bible is sufficiently clear such that it can be understood by people making full, honest, and competent use of all the means and helps God makes available to us for interpreting it, and such means and helps do not include an infallible magisterium or an infallible oral tradition (though they do include a fallible teaching magisterium and fallible oral traditions).

    That leads to the following question: How do you determine what is and isn’t the “tradition of the church,” which are the authoritative but “fallible oral traditions” and which claims are not authoritative oral tradition, which entity is “the church,” which persons are “the legitimate/bishops of the church,” and are thus the “fallible teaching magisterium”? These are either all answered on the basis of their agreement with your interpretation of Scripture, or not. If they are not all answered on the basis of your interpretation of Scripture, then on what basis or standard are they answered? But if all these are answered on the basis of their agreement (or disagreement) with your interpretation of Scripture, then how have you not just set up pseudo-authorities, the ‘authority’ of which is based on its agreement with your interpretation of Scripture, such that if your interpretation changes, you don’t have to submit to those persons and to that institution and to that tradition; rather, your interpretation thereby picks out as ‘authoritative tradition’ a different set of claims/practices, and picks out a different “fallible magisterium,” and picks out a different institution as “the church.” And again, if I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me. How can any tradition be authoritative if it is picked out as authoritative on the basis of its agreement with your own interpretation of Scripture? How can any “fallible magisterium” be picked out as authoritative if it is picked out as authoritative on the basis of its agreement with your own interpretation of Scripture? And how can any institution be picked out as the authoritative “Church” if it is picked out on the basis of its agreement with your own interpretation of Scripture? If that isn’t narcissistic idolatry, then if it were in fact narcissistic idolatry, what would be different?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  256. Mark (re: #251)

    If, moreover, you determine what is and isn’t the “tradition of the church,” which claims/practices are the authoritative but “fallible oral traditions” and which claims/practices are not authoritative oral tradition, which entity is “the church,” which persons are “the legitimate/bishops of the church” and are thus the “fallible teaching magisterium,” all on the basis of their agreement with your interpretation of Scripture, then your definition of ‘perspicuity’ doesn’t apply to this interpretation of Scripture, because all this interpretation must be done *prior* to knowing what is the tradition of the Church, which institution is the Church, and which persons are the “fallible teaching magisterium.” Since that triad cannot guide you in interpretation until you have identified them, therefore you can’t be guided by them in the interpretive judgment by which you locate and identify them.

    So you need a higher level perspicuity for this stage of interpretation, or for the interpretation of those portions of Scripture needed in order rightly to identity that triad. This higher level perspicuity turns out to be pretty much identical to the perspicuity thesis I defined in the second paragraph of #234. So in this way, it seems to me, your perspicuity reduces to the one I proposed in #234.

    Why then do readers of Scripture not all reach the same position you do regarding which institution is the Church, which traditions are the [fallible] authoritative oral tradition, and which persons are the authoritative magisterium of the Church? Because, so you claim, they are all affected by their fallenness, and the devil, though you and the other 1,999 – 2,999 persons in your denomination (out of 2+ billion) have managed to overcome the noetic effect of sin and the deception of the devil. That same universal noetic effect that so few others have overcome, you presume to have overcome. The difficulty for you is that the more strongly you emphasize the noetic effect of sin to explain the abominable schism-avoiding interpretive ‘success’ ratio, the more you increase the likelihood that you yourself are deceived by that massively powerful and deceptive noetic effect in you, unless you engage in the sort of special pleading that makes an ad hoc exception for yourself (and those who agree with you), as those happy few who, on the basis of their agreement with your interpretation, show themselves to have escaped (by grace, of course) that unfortunate benighted condition of all those shown to be benighted by their continuing disagreement with you. Wouldn’t believing that you and a couple thousand other people are the only ones who have interpreted Scripture so as to avoid schism or heresy be just exactly the sort of thing that the noetic effect of sin would lead you to believe in order to prop up a false doctrine of perspicuity, and a narcissistic kingdom built conceptually on the basis of agreement with your own interpretation? Given that your belief is precisely what a powerful noetic effect of sin (which you have to posit applies to everyone else) would lead a person to believe, how do you know that you’re not presently a victim of this noetic effect of sin, and deeply deceived regarding what is the true church, which is the authoritative tradition, and who is the true magisterium? Why can the noetic effect of sin deceive them (i.e. the 2+ billion Christians in schism) such that they don’t realize they are deceived, but not deceive you into believing that you’re not deceived?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  257. Mark (re: #216)

    The Protestant world, for many reasons, is in an unprecedented state of fragmentation, making all of the more orthodox (from my point of view) denominations very small. I hope and pray that this situation will not last long.

    I share that hope and prayer, deeply. It is one of my deepest desires, one which I regularly bring to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to effect a movement of reconciliation, by the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of brothers (and sisters) in Christ presently estranged from one another by doctrinal disagreements and schisms that in time past separated them into isolated communities. Our prayer and hope is that we also might be an instrument in that movement of reconciliation, not an ecumenical pelagianism that seeks by merely human efforts to bring about a supernatural healing, but one that follows and is itself moved by the operation of the Holy Spirit.

    Bryan, you suggest that it is arbitrary for me to choose the FPCS on the basis of my interpretation of Scripture, as any other person could make the same arguments for any denomination on the basis of his/her interpretation of Scripture. My response to that is that I think the Bible is sufficiently clear so that it is possible to know what it really teaches, so that it is possible to use it as an objective standard. I believe my interpretations to be objectively correct and those who disagree with me to be objectively wrong.

    The reason that answer doesn’t help, Mark, is because all those who disagree with you, but believe in perspicuity like you, can (and do) make the very same claim regarding their own particular interpretation. They each also think that Scripture alone is capable of resolving these interpretive disagreements. They each think that their interpretive position is the objectively right one, and that everyone else is objectively wrong. Do you think that Lutherans simply don’t know Scripture? If so, then try visiting a Lutheran seminary (e.g. a LCMS seminary) and talk to the faculty and seminarians. See if you, from Scripture alone, can persuade them that the Reformed position is what Scripture teaches, and not only the Reformed view, but specifically the Reformed view taught by the 1,000 – 2,000 member Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland denomination. Yes, when you fail to persuade them, you can chalk that up to their suffering from the noetic effect of sin. But if Scripture wasn’t adequately perspicuous to resolve the Lutheran-Reformed debate, how would the facts be any different with regard to the 500 years now of continuing disagreement (in spite of genuine attempts by Lutherans and Reformed theologians to resolve the disagreement by appealing to Scripture) between Lutherans and Calvinists, continually devoted to the study of Scripture and to comparing their respective interpretations? If Scripture is hermeneutically underdetermined in this respect, and capable of multiple incompatible interpretations by truth-seeking persons, how would you come to know this? The fact that you can come to an interpretation you believe to be true and objective does not falsify the underdetermination thesis.

    Because of this hermeneutical underdetermination in Scripture alone, the only possible way in which the perpetual, intractable fragmentation we both lament may be resolved is through returning to the sacramental magisterial authority *not* picked out on the basis of its agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture but instead on the basis of its having interpretive and teaching authority from the Apostles by way of unbroken apostolic succession. Neal and I made this argument in “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” Only a divine interpretive (magisterial) authority not based on agreement with one’s own interpretation is capable of resolving interpretive disputes that otherwise would remain intractable on account of the hermeneutical underdetermination of Scripture. And if you don’t believe in the hermeneutical underdetermination of Scripture, then you need to explain what would be different (among Christians) if the underdetermination thesis were true. If nothing, then your perspicuity position is nothing more than semantically different from the undermination thesis, because the two are *practically* (i.e. in practice) equivalent.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  258. Mark, (re: #219)

    that we can’t really know what the Scriptures are unless we trust an infallibly-guided church magisterium to authoritatively determine the canon. I don’t think this is the case, because it is possible also to trust in the providence of God to have led the church aright

    Yes, it is possible to trust in the providence of God to have led the Church right. But if ‘church’ is picked out on the basis of its agreement with one’s own judgment or interpretation, then “divine providence” becomes the label of divine approval and sanction for whatever one judges to be true in matters of religion. One might as well put “Guided aright by divine providence” on one’s own forehead, (and then put the same with eraseable ink on the foreheads of all those who agree with one’s interpretation of Scripture, and then erase it from the foreheads of those who come to disagree with oneself). That’s why denying that Trent was guided aright by divine providence but claiming that the early Church was guided aright by divine providence in determining the canon, is ad hoc special pleading. It annexes God’s seal of approval to one’s own theological judgments, and withholds it from those of persons who disagree with oneself. And that’s self-serving and dangerous, for reasons I hope are obvious.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  259. Mark,

    I’m puzzled by the seeming incongruence of two things you wrote. In #219 you wrote:

    but I do not find sufficient evidence to believe that there is an infallible magisterium or that there is a reliable oral tradition outside of Scripture.

    But then in #251 you wrote:

    Perhaps I should say that, normally, Scripture should be read in the context of the history and tradition of the church. …This does not make these presbyters/bishops infallible, or mean that the Bible can’t be understood at all without their help; but their teaching is an important means of grace. So my perspicuity thesis is the idea that the Bible is sufficiently clear such that it can be understood by people making full, honest, and competent use of all the means and helps God makes available to us for interpreting it, and such means and helps do not include an infallible magisterium or an infallible oral tradition (though they do include a fallible teaching magisterium and fallible oral traditions).

    So you say in #219 that you do not find sufficient evidence to believe that there is a reliable oral tradition outside of Scripture, but then in #251 you appeal to a fallible oral tradition outside of Scripture. If that fallible oral tradition is not reliable, then why should you (or anyone) appeal to it or be guided by it? But if that fallible oral tradition is reliable, then how does that square with your claim in #219 not to have found sufficient evidence for such a thing?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  260. Mark (re: #222)

    Particularly, fallen humans can be expected to be confused in matters of truth, even if the truth is sufficiently clear such that a rational, honest person trying to find it with a competent effort would be able to do so.

    Should I therefore conclude that you are confused in your theology regarding schism, and all the theological claims you are making here, or is there an implicit exception for yourself [and those who agree with you] in the above statement? If, in your position, the success rate of schism-avoiding interpretation is .0000909%, does that entail that the likelihood that you are not mistaken is around .0000909%? If so, I don’t see how that fits with the statement you made in #216:

    My current position (held with a high degree of probability, but not certainty) is that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is the proper, legal manifestation of the catholic church today.

    How can you hold your position with a “high degree of probability” if you believe that you too are encumbered by the noetic effect of sin (as you say in #226, where you write, “Yes, I too am a fallen being, so “fallen human psychology” applies to me as well”), and you believe that the schism-avoiding success rate due to the noetic effect of sin is around .0000909%? The only alternative, it seems, is to make an exception for yourself (and those who agree with you) regarding the noetic effects of sin. And that seems self-serving and ad hoc, as I have explained above. That’s what you seem to be attempting to do in #226, where you write:

    even fallen humanity can be sometimes honest, can sometimes deal with factual issues accurately, etc. And also there is the work of the Spirit in the world regenerating some fallen sinners. What all this amounts to is a situation where people can be honest and careful and follow the truth where it leads at times, but where people also are great at not doing this. This whole dynamic makes sense of human disagreement in religious matters. And the fact that humans are fallen does not necessarily imply that anyone’s particular arguments about anything must be wrong or even inconclusive, including mine.

    In that paragraph you seem to claim for yourself that very rare occasion that humanity is “sometimes honest,” so as to say that “the fact that humans are fallen does not necessarily imply that anyone’s particular arguments about anything must be wrong or even inconclusive, including mine.” Even there, however, you used that minute probability of honesty to apply to your “arguments” rather than to your interpretive *judgments.* If you had applied it to your interpretive judgments, then it would imply a very high likelihood (99.9999091%) that your own interpretive judgments are mistaken. So to avoid this you would have to make an ad hoc exception for yourself, by making an arbitrary exception (to the low likelihood of success) for yourself and to whomever agrees with you.

    Then in #226 you add:

    So I didn’t bring up the fact of human fallenness as an argument for why my position is better than anyone else’s, but as part of a plausible explanation as to why there is disagreement in the world, and to show that the fact that my position is strongly in the minority is not anything like strong evidence against my position being true.

    Of course you had limited intentions in bringing up human fallenness. I understand. But once you open that universal acid, you cannot compartmentalize it, i.e. use it as an explanation for a .0000909% schism-avoiding interpretive success rate and then make an ad hoc exception for yourself and the probability of the veracity of your own interpretive judgments. Your position implies that there is about a 99.9999091% chance that your own interpretations are mistaken. But you are not treating your own interpretation with that level of self-skepticism; rather, you are treating your own interpretation as having a “high degree of probability” of being true.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  261. Hi Benjamin,

    I shall argue that you are wrong. That is, your claim that the correctness of the “submission thesis” assumes, and hence relies upon, the falsity of the “perspicuity thesis” is a false claim.

    I agree that ST and PT, in themselves, are independent issues and arguments, as you show. What I was trying to show earlier was that your invoking of ST against my position of PT was based on the assumption that PT is false. It’s not that all invoking of ST must always be based on the assumption that PT is false, but simply that part of the basis of your appeal (and the appeal of others involved in this conversation) to ST is the assumption that PT is false. I say this because I don’t think you believe that there is no true submission to an authority just because that authority is followed provisionally and checked against a higher authority. I think you believe as well as I do that true submission is compatible with checking an authority against a higher one. On the other hand, I think you also believe the principle of ST–that if I only obey an authority when I personally agree with or like it, then I myself am the true ultimate authority, and I am in submission to no other ultimate authority–and so do I. But ST simply does not apply to my position, because I do not appeal to my own opinion as the ultimate authority; I appeal to Scripture. Where PT comes into this is that because you assume that PT is false, you equate “submission to Scripture” with “submission to myself.” But I, because I think that PT is true, do not make that equation.

    In short, submission to Scripture is only the same as submission to myself if PT is false. Therefore, your invoking of ST against me is dependent on your rejection of PT. That’s what I was getting at.

    I certainly do think there can be fallible authorities (police officers, husbands, fathers, etc.) But I also maintain that if (say) my wife only submits (to my rules, say) when she agrees with them, then she is not in genuine submission. Similarly if my children only obey when they already agree with me, they’re also not in genuine submission. If a Lieutenant follows his Captain’s orders only when he already agrees with them, he’s not in genuine submission to his superior officer. Etc. In other words, one can truly submit to fallible authorities (by not only submitting when one agrees) and one can truly submit to infallible authorities (by not only submitting when one agrees).

    OK, but my position says nothing different from this. I articulated to Bryan earlier that there are occasions when one must submit to fallible church authorities when one disagrees with them. I only said that we should not submit when we cannot in good conscience do so–that is, when they oppose higher moral authority found in Scripture or reason. And I think you say the same thing (except you believe there is infallible magisterial authority and oral tradition).

    So I guess I’d wonder what non-question begging arguments you have for the Church’s fallibility?

    That’s what I outlined in comment #237. Of course, the specifics have to be fleshed out.

    Thanks!

    Back with more responses shortly . . .

  262. Hi Eva,

    Mark, is it fair to say that when two people disagree on a theological subject (take Benjamin’s A,B,C in #235 for example) it’s because one or both of them are: dishonest or incompetent (i.e. not competently using “all the means and helps God makes available”)?

    Yes, I think that would be fair to say, although I don’t think it would be appropriate at all times to put it that harshly. As you note, “lack of competence” includes any way in which one does not make use of all the means available to get something right. This can happen in cases where all that is lacking is simply not asking a certain question because it hasn’t occurred to one–which certainly need not imply a moral failure or stupidity (which is what the harsher way of putting things conveys to my mind). However, it is also true that moral failure and stupidity are often involved in why we humans get things wrong. But I would never want to charge anyone with either if I don’t have to, even if I think I might have grounds to do so, out of considerations of charity.

    If an undecided third party on this particular theological stance were to witness these two, is there any principled means by which they can determine who is honest and competently using “all the means and helps God makes available”? Other than their own opinion, or “burning in the bosom”. Especially given that they too might be just as guilty of unknown dishonesty or incompetence.

    I don’t think this is the right question to ask. I don’t think we should be asking, “How do I know who is being honest and competent?” I think we should rather be asking, “Which opinion appears to be right in light of all the available evidence?” I can’t prove to you that I am an honest seeker of truth, and neither can you prove it to me. I will assume the best about you so long as I reasonably can, and I hope you will do the same to me. I think there are non-moral reasons why either of us could be wrong on a number of things, including the overall subjects involved in this conversation, so I have no reason to assume moral failing in you or anyone else here, and so I don’t. So my course is just to leave such questions aside and focus on the merits of the arguments.

    This relates to what I’ve been discussing especially with Bryan. (I’m assuming that it’s OK with the code of commenting on this site to refer to someone in the third person if you are directly talking to someone else. Correct me if I am wrong! :-)) I don’t think we are in such different boats as it may at first seem. You, I would presume, think that the objective evidence so supports Roman Catholicism that anyone who is asking the right questions, looking carefully at all the data, is being honest, etc., etc., will become persuaded of it. So what do you do with a person like me? You have to assume that I am missing something somewhere, for some reason. Presumably, you assume a charitable cause for disagreement when you can, recognizing the confusions that arise in a fallen world. And that’s exactly what I do as well. I think the objective evidence best supports my position, and so I must think that you and others here are missing something, and I try to assume the best I can. We may differ in that I may have an overall less optimistic view of human nature and human willingness and commitment to follow objective evidence where it leads–this seems evident in the ongoing conversation between Bryan and myself over how unlikely it is that my minority position could be true–but that doesn’t mean I assume a moral failing in all disagreements.

    Thanks!

    Bryan, I’m moving to your comments next, but it will be later this afternoon (hopefully). The disadvantage of having lots of people on one side talk to one person on the other side is that the one person on the other side takes longer to respond! :-)

  263. Mark (re: #262)

    I know the pile-on effect can be off-putting, so if you would prefer, I can (as moderator) limit the number of Catholic commenters on this thread to one or two persons. You seem like you don’t mind the present number of Catholic commenters. Just let me know.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  264. Thanks Mark. I’ll take my seat back on the bleachers (and help avoid the pile-on effect Bryan mentions). Really appreciating the conversation. Patience, charity, and clarity from all involved.

  265. Bryan, no need to limit the number of commentators. I like the conversation just as it is. But thanks for the consideration!

    You reject the perspicuity thesis as I have defined that thesis, for the reasons you explain there. But you accept the perspicuity thesis as you define it (in the second paragraph of #251).

    I would probably rather put it that I thought your earlier definition was fine, but now we’ve even further refined it. However you wish to look at it is fine with me. I think the important thing is that I think that disputes over biblical interpretation can be resolved from the Bible itself, using available tools, without the need for an infallible magisterium or an infallible oral tradition.

    Is there anything else in #234 that you disagree with, or are we in agreement regarding the rest of what I said in #234? I want to make sure before moving on to #236.

    I can’t think of anything else right now.

    That leads to the following question: How do you determine what is and isn’t the “tradition of the church,” which are the authoritative but “fallible oral traditions” and which claims are not authoritative oral tradition, which entity is “the church,” which persons are “the legitimate/bishops of the church,” and are thus the “fallible teaching magisterium”?

    We need to distinguish here between two different things: 1. What evidence do I look to in grounding my position of Sola Scriptura? 2. Once I’ve decided upon Sola Scriptura, how do I know which church to submit to?

    The answer to #1 is that I look to all the available data–and that includes all the claimed books of scripture in the early church, the writings of the church fathers, the decrees of councils, the writings and thoughts of heretics, the history of Christianity, and anything else that is relevant in deciding what the sources of authority are in genuine Christianity. At this level of the investigation, I don’t know which church is the correct church, which oral traditions are reliable and which aren’t, which books are Scripture and which aren’t, etc. Those are the sorts of questions I am trying to answer by looking at the available data. None of this should seem strange, for it is precisely what you must do as well to determine that the Roman Catholic claims are correct as opposed to Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.

    2. The answer to #2 is that I must look at the different churches out there, examine the causes of their separation from each other (including both the history of those separations and the doctrinal issues involved), and decide whose claim to de jure authority is the best in light of reason and Scripture. You can see a concrete outline of how I do this here.

    But if all these are answered on the basis of their agreement (or disagreement) with your interpretation of Scripture, then how have you not just set up pseudo-authorities, the ‘authority’ of which is based on its agreement with your interpretation of Scripture, such that if your interpretation changes, you don’t have to submit to those persons and to that institution and to that tradition; rather, your interpretation thereby picks out as ‘authoritative tradition’ a different set of claims/practices, and picks out a different “fallible magisterium,” and picks out a different institution as “the church.” And again, if I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.

    I am not making myself the ultimate authority by which all other authorities are to be judged. Rather, I am saying that Scripture is the supreme authority by which all lesser authorities are to be judged. My claim is that Scripture is authoritative because it is the Word of God. It contains the teachings of the prophets and apostles of Christ. Under its authority, we have the fallible teaching authorities of the church–the elders/bishops and the church councils. Just as you believe that individuals bishops and lower councils are fallible, and thus, while submitting to their authority, you do not put absolute implicit trust in them but instead check them against higher authorities (the teaching magisterium over the entire church), so I believe that bishops and all church councils are fallible, and thus, while submitting to their authority, I do not put absolute implicit trust in them but instead check them against higher authorities (Scripture).

    As I’ve argued previously, I think that this seems problematic to you at least partly because you don’t think that Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous, and so you equate “submission to Scripture” with “submission to myself.” But to me, with my belief in the perspicuity of Scripture, these are not the same thing, so the ST (as Benjamin called it)–the idea that if I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me–doesn’t apply to my position. I think that what we have here that is part of the basis of confusion in this conversation are two different assumptions about Scripture’s perspicuity. I’m arguing that if you grant my position on Scripture’s perspicuity, you will no longer have an argument against me based on ST. So our argument isn’t really about ST; it is about the perspicuity of Scripture.

    If that isn’t narcissistic idolatry, then if it were in fact narcissistic idolatry, what would be different?

    Narcissistic idolatry would be for me to say that I will only submit to church authority when it agrees with my personal desires or opinions, not grounded in and informed by the revelation of God. But that is not what I am saying at all. I am saying that Scripture, not myself and my own desires, or my opinions formed without regard to God’s revelation, is the ultimate authority.

    There is a sense in which both of us appeal ultimately to our own reason. We both believe what we believe because we think we have good reason to, because the evidence makes it rational for us to do so. You trust the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church not blindly but because you think the evidence supports attributing such authority to it. I trust the Scriptures for precisely the same reason. Thus, in the relevant sense, neither of us is really making himself the ultimate authority, for we both believe that the evidence requires us to submit to God’s revelation as our ultimate authority, rather than to ourselves apart from consideration of God’s revelation.

    Since that triad cannot guide you in interpretation until you have identified them, therefore you can’t be guided by them in the interpretive judgment by which you locate and identify them.

    I think what I hear you saying is that if I figure out whether or not Sola Scriptura is true and which books are really Scripture by means of looking at the evidence from the history and tradition of Christianity, I cannot use Scripture as Scripture (as the known Word of God) until I’ve already examined this evidence. If that is what you are saying, you are correct. I wouldn’t use Scripture alone to figure out what the Scriptures are or whether Sola Scriptura is true. Before I’ve established those things, I use the evidence from the history of Christianity not as if itself were the Word of God, but as historical indicators leading me to figure out what is the Word of God. And even after I’ve figured out Sola Scriptura and which books are Scripture, I still don’t use Scripture alone in an absolute sense, because I also must continue to use all the other sources of information at my disposal, such as reason, historical data, etc.

    I think that Sola Scriptura is sometimes misinterpreted to mean that one must get all of one’s knowledge from Scripture alone to the exclusion of paying attention to anything else at all, including reason, logic, and observation. But that is not Sola Scriptura. As my earlier quotation from the Westminster Confession indicated, knowledge derived from general revelation (logic, observation, etc.) is also necessary to know all that we need to know.

    Well, perhaps I should go ahead and post this before it gets too long! I’ll continue shortly. Oh, one more thing. Eva:

    I’ll take my seat back on the bleachers (and help avoid the pile-on effect Bryan mentions).

    Please comment as much as you desire to do so. I am perfectly fine with it. I’ve found your comments very perceptive so far. Of course, if you’d rather sit on the bleachers, that’s fine too! But don’t not comment simply for my sake. I’ll be fine. This is nothing, compared to some conversations I’ve been in! Try hanging out on an Atheist Facebook page sometime! :-)

    In connection with that, let me say that I have found these conversations to be extremely productive. I think this is definitely the most efficient and respectful online forum I have ever participated in. Thanks to all!

  266. Bryan:

    Why can the noetic effect of sin deceive them (i.e. the 2+ billion Christians in schism) such that they don’t realize they are deceived, but not deceive you into believing that you’re not deceived?

    What I hear you saying is this: The fact that my position is such a minority position, and the fact that the FPCS is such a small denomination, should make me consider whether it might be the case that it is in fact other people who might be right and that I might be wrong in some of my beliefs (such as my belief that the FPCS is the proper de jure denomination, and that Scripture is perspicuous).

    If that is what you are saying, then I agree. These things should make me consider that possibility. But then I will add, as I did in comment #236, that these things are not decisive in themselves in determining whether I am wrong or right. For the sorts of reasons I offered in comment #236, I think there are other factors that overshadow any force coming from my minority status or the FPCS’s smallness.

    In short, it does not seem implausible to me that things might be as in fact I think they are. Why does it seem so implausible to you, in light of the considerations I raised in comment #236? I certainly understand that it may seem implausible on a surface reading–just as it seems implausible on a surface reading that a donkey once talked to a man, that a man 2,000 years ago was God and rose from the dead, that the Messiah would be born in a cave with hardly anyone noticing, that the true religion would belong to one small tribe in the Middle East alone for thousands of years, that Roman Catholicism is the one true religion and all other religions are fundamentally false, and many other things. But, upon a deeper reading, I just don’t see why my position is implausible. Again, if there were Agnostics here, they would say both of our views are ridiculously implausible, and they would be able to offer some good-sounding arguments for their position. But their arguments wouldn’t hold up under deeper critical scrutiny.

    You’ve been hinting for some time now at how implausible my position is, but you haven’t yet really spelled out specifically how you can argue that it is implausible. So what are your specific arguments, in light of my comments in comment #236, to show me that my position is likely to be false?

    Again, as I argued in comment #236, I think your boat is not so different from mine as it may seem at first glance. (I know, I’m overdoing the boat metaphor. :-)) How do you explain all the people in the world who aren’t Roman Catholic? If the evidence is clear enough for you to know RC is true, why doesn’t everyone else see it? Why don’t I see it? Why aren’t the Agnostics right, who look around, see all the competing religions, and conclude that nobody really knows what they are talking about (except them)? Ultimately, you have to say that not all people follow the available evidence where it leads, for whatever reasons. And that’s what I say as well. RC is a much bigger group than Reformed Christians, or than the FPCS. But I don’t see how that shows that I am wrong, and I don’t see how can you escape the same thing you are suggesting might sink my boat (there we go with the boats again!), since there are tons of people who don’t think RC is right.

    Once again, I must go. More later. Thanks!

  267. Mark, (re: #233)

    I’m making my way through your comments, so I’m still in the #230s at this point. In #233 you wrote:

    My basis for assuming Sola Scriptura is my evaluation of the data of history regarding the Christian tradition (including the scriptural books, the church fathers, the claims of various Christian churches, the credibility of claims to infallibility by some churches, and any other relevant data …

    Your evaluation of the data cannot be the basis for your assumption; otherwise I could appeal to my evaluation of the data as the basis for my contrary assumption, and then we’d be stuck. The act of evaluating data is not a basis for a position. So the historical data has to be the basis. And that’s why in order to consider which evaluations of the data are good, and which are not good, we have to move from referring merely to the evaluation of the data, to the data itself.

    So, first, which historical data do you think is incompatible with the Catholic doctrine that the oral apostolic Tradition is preserved without error in the Catholic Church as a whole? This is part of the doctrine of the apostolicity of the Church, as Pope Francis recently explained:

    Second, what historical data do you think is incompatible with the Catholic doctrine concerning the infallibility of the Church, as taught both at the Fourth Session of the First Vatican Council, and in section 25 of the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  268. Mark, (Re: 249)

    Jonathan: In this case, I would deny that the arguments on both sides are equally strong. I think the paedobaptists have objectively the better argument, and that we should therefore follow that position. If the arguments were exactly equal in force, there would be no way to decide between them, and thus we would have to take an Agnostic position on the subject (assuming Sola Scriptura).

    From the arguments I have heard or read for paedobaptism or credobaptism, the argument of neither side actually refutes the other’s argument. Rather, the arguments appeal to different things. The paedobaptist argument might, for instance, appeal to the similarity between baptism and circumcision, or appeal to baptism as a sign of the covenant. The credobaptist argument might appeal to the fact that there is no clear example of infant baptism in scripture, or that in every example of baptism in scripture, repentance / belief precedes baptism.

    Without an argument which refutes the other position, the Christian is left to judge qualitatively which argument is stronger or weightier, without the ability to judge logically that one argument is true and another is false, based on scripture.

    If you know of a paedobaptist argument that actually refutes the credo-baptist argument on the basis of scripture, then I would like to hear it.

  269. Mark, (re: #236)

    In response to what I said in #234, you raise two objections. The first is that I’m failing to consider human fallenness, and the second is a perspicuity tu quoque. I’ll address the second in a subsequent comment. But here’s your first objection:

    Bryan, you want to make it out as implausible that things should be such that so few people are not in schism with the de jure catholic church. I understand where you’re coming from, but I think your argument is superficial because it assumes a particular explanation for disagreement without adequately dispensing with a perfectly plausible alternative explanation. Your argument is also applied selectively, because if true it would pose a problem not just for my position but for your Roman Catholic position as well.

    The alternative explanation you are not adequately considering is that we live in a fallen world, and that people in this world do not in fact tend to follow the evidence where it leads and converge on the truth–for a whole host of reasons. If the world is naturally blind and sinful since the Fall, we would expect the world to be full of religious disagreement, and this is exactly what we find. My understanding of human nature predicts such religious diversity. Your assumption about human beings, on the other hand, seems to be that that if sufficient evidence is available to know something (such as if the Scriptures were clear enough to allow them to be objectively understood), we should expect not disagreement but convergence in the truth. I would argue that the state of the world, with all its religious diversity, is a mark against your expectation and in favor of mine. At the very least, my explanation is a viable, reasonable possibility. And as long as it is so, it cannot be simply dismissed as unreasonable. Therefore, the mere fact that my beliefs are in the minority in the world simply does not falsify my beliefs, nor does it falsify the claim of the perspicuity of Scripture.

    In response, let me point out that it would be helpful to distinguish between a criticism of me (i.e. some epistemic failure on my part of not adequately considering something), and a criticism of my positions or arguments. You seem to conflate them here a bit in this comment. That *I* am not adequately considering something doesn’t falsify what I said in #234.

    What I said in #234 is, among other things, that if (notice the “if”) the perspicuity thesis is false, your appeal to the noetic effect of sin to explain the extremely low schism-avoiding interpretive success rate (while exempting yourself from the radically self-doubting / self-deceiving implications of that same noetic effect present within yourself) prevents you from discovering that the perspicuity thesis is false. Empirically, there is no difference between a situation in which Scripture is not perspicuous (in the sense defined above), and Scripture is perspicuous except everyone else is deceived and misled by the noetic effect of sin except oneself and those who agree with oneself, just as there is no empirical difference between the case in which the Emperor is wearing no clothes, and the Emperor is wearing invisible clothes that only the tailors who made them can see. So while there is a theoretical possibility (in the sense of no internal contradiction) in your position, nevertheless, in its empirical consequences your position is exactly equivalent to the position in which the perspicuity thesis is false, the Catholic Church is the true Church Christ founded, and you are deeply self-deceived. In that case, it becomes meaningless to speak of the perspicuity of Scripture as having any empirical implications, because whether the thesis is true or false the empirical data is identical. In that way the term ‘perspicuous’ becomes vacuous, just as the “trombulation thesis” (which I just made up) is empirically meaningless if when that thesis is true all the empirical data is identical to all the cases when that thesis is false. (It is a bit like claiming that there is a visible catholic church, even when, if there were no such thing, all the empirical data would be exactly the same; it turns out to be merely semantic reification.)

    At that point, however, perspicuity can no longer be appealed to as something to be expected if God wants us to know what He revealed, and if God did not provide an authoritative magisterium by which to resolve interpretive disagreements, just as in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes the normativity of wearing clothing to cover one’s private parts can no longer be appealed to if clothes are visible only to the tiny few who ‘weave’ them. The notion that perspicuity is something to be expected if God wants to make His revelation accessible to the world and doesn’t provide an authoritative magisterium, is not satisfied by a situation in which on account of the noetic effect of sin (a) very few are able to understand this revelation rightly when they study it, and (b) each disagreeing group holding the perspicuity thesis thinks its own interpretation is correct, (c) the longer the perspicuity thesis is held, the greater the fragmentation occurs among the communities holding the perspicuity thesis, and (d) among those ever-fragmenting groups holding the perspicuity thesis, after five hundred years there is still no prospect of resolving these interpretive disagreements. In such a case the satisfaction of that expectation (that God would make Scripture perspicuous if He wants the whole world to know His revelation and did not provide an authoritative magisterium by which interpretive disagreements may be definitively resolved) is semantic only, not actual. That’s why your notion that you should expect to be in the tiny minority, on account of other such cases in OT redemptive history, is at odds with your claim that we should expect Scripture to be perspicuous if God wants to make His revelation accessible to the whole world and doesn’t provide an authoritative magisterium by which to resolve the interpretive disputes.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  270. Mark, (re: #236)

    Regarding your perspicuity tu quoque you wrote,

    In fact, your explanation of religious disagreement–that it points to lack of clarity in available evidence–if true, is a problem for your view and not just for mine. Roman Catholics certainly make up much more of the world than Free Presbyterians, but there is still a large portion of the human race that is not Roman Catholic, even among those who have had opportunity to be exposed to it to some degree. If your expectations are how people respond to sufficient evidence is correct, we should expect at least the vast majority of the human population to be Roman Catholic. There should be very few, if any, non-Roman Catholics left in the world. But that is obviously not the case. How do you explain this? I don’t think you can, unless you appeal to the same sort of explanation I use to explain why I am in a minority. And once you do that, you lose the basis of your argument against me on this point.

    Here your claim is that I am in the same boat. In other words, you are claiming that if the phenomenon of widespread religious disagreement is a problem for the perspicuity thesis, then it is a problem for Catholicism as well. Now, the first thing to point out is that the tu quoque response is a fallacy. You don’t get off the hook for having a faulty position by pointing to problems (or alleged problems) with the messenger’s position. Nor do you establish the truth of your position by pointing to an alleged problem with my own. But let’s set that aside. The second thing to point out is that your claim is unsubstantiated. You provide no argument showing that religious disagreement is a problem for Catholicism; you merely assert it. I’m very willing to consider an argument having that as its conclusion, if you would like to offer one. I see no reason to believe that religious disagreement is some kind of evidence against the truth of the Catholic Church.

    If any Agnostics were here with us involved in this conversation, they would use your reasoning against both of us. They would say this: “Look at all the religious disagreement in the world! There are Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Muslims, etc. If anyone could really know the truth, surely there wouldn’t be all this diversity! You may think you’re right, but everyone thinks he’s right, and you all disagree! It is absurd to think you are right in such conditions! Obviously, the truth is that no one really knows what he thinks he knows in these matters, and you should all be Agnostic.”

    Notice that you are conflating two distinct theses: the perspicuity of some truths, and the discoverability of some truths. I agree that widespread and chronic disagreement regarding a question or subject does not entail that the truth of the matter cannot be discovered. But widespread and chronic disagreement concerning a matter is evidence that the truth of the matter is not perspicuous, all other things being equal.

    It is also the case that your account of how much in the minority I am is somewhat misleading. Perhaps only 1,000 to 2,000 people are in the FPCS. However, a great many of the beliefs I hold as a Christian are also held by all or most other Christians. It is not as though the FPCS disagrees with all other Christians on everything. Most of my beliefs agree with most Protestants, and the vast majority of my beliefs I have in common with all other traditional Reformed people. The differences between the FPCS and other conservative Reformed churches are very slight overall–especially compared to differences with the non-Reformed world. So it is not as though I am in so much a minority among Christians, Protestants, or the rest of the Reformed on most things.

    If, however, schism from the “catholic church” is the great sin the Church Fathers teach it to be, and if Christ’s purpose in establishing His Church is that she be the ark of the New Covenant, the Mountain of the Lord into which all the nations stream, and from which the law of the Lord goes forth, if visible unity to the world is intrinsic to the telos of Christ’s Church, then both this purpose and the means to achieving this purpose should be perspicuous in Scripture, given the truth of the perspicuity thesis. So on these conditions an abominable schism-avoiding interpretive success rate is problematic for the perspicuity thesis, even if among some of the persons holding the perspicuity thesis there is some doctrinal agreement.

    One more thing to add on this point: If it seems strange that the heir to the de jure catholic church today should be some measley denomination mostly in Scotland, consider more carefully and see if it really is all that strange. God often chooses the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and strong. Who would have thought that a few thousand years ago, the true religion was entirely the province of a small tribe in the Middle-East, usually without much prestige in the world? Who would think that God often chooses the younger over the firstborn for privileges? Who would have thought that God would choose a poor speaker like Moses to proclaim liberty to his people? Who would have thought that the Messiah would be a poor, humble carpenter of humble parentage, born in a cave and not in a palace? Who would have thought (despite the words of the Scriptures) that the Messiah would be crucified ignominiously under the Jews and the Roman occupiers? Who would have thought his apostles would be unlearned fishermen and tax collectors, while the great political and religious leaders of the people would have gotten things wrong? And so on. If I were brought out of the first century into the present century and given a list of current Christian denominations plus the stats on their membership, knowing what I know about how God works, would it really be wise to pick the biggest and most prestigious of those denomination and assume that that must be the true heir to the de jure church? Would I not be wiser to choose a meeker, lowlier denomination as fitting in with God’s character and how he often does things? If I’ve got two churches, one with a golden bishop’s chair and one with a small building on a street corner, is it really so obvious that the one with the gold chair is going to be the true church? Are we perhaps too prone to make all-too-human assumptions about these matters, and not consider enough the foolish (to the world) ways in which God often works?

    Mark, I think this notion reflects an implicit confusion regarding the incarnation. The purpose of the calling and unique sanctification of the people of God in the OT was to prepare the way for Christ. The New Covenant is greater than the Old, and the mission of the New Covenant is greater. The Church is to be a light to the whole world, a mountain that fills up the whole world. Denying this makes Christ out to be equivalent to the prophets of old. If Christ could fail, or if the Church He founded could fail, it would mean He isn’t truly divine. His claim to be God, and the success of His Church, go hand in hand. If His Church is now, after 2,000 years of missions and evangelism, only a group of 2,000 people in Scotland, then Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be; He was just another prophet, like Elijah of old. That’s why catholicity is one of the four marks of the Church, as I have explained in comments #17 and #21 in the “A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnsons’ “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology” post. Catholicity is directly tied to Christ’s divinity, and losing the former implicitly loses the latter.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  271. Mark, (re: #237)

    You wrote:

    Again, an Agnostic could make the same argument against both of us: “No benevolent, wise being would leave the evidential situation in such a mess …

    I wouldn’t grant the claim that the evidential situation is “a mess.” But that doesn’t pin the Catholic Church with the perspicuity thesis.

    I can’t provide a full account of this here. That’s why I added this in my earlier post:
    I’ve written a book entitled Why Christianity is True, which is (as the title suggests) an apologetic for Christianity. In this book (which can be downloaded here), in a chapter on “The Bible as an Infallible Divine Revelation” (or something like that–I don’t have it in front of me and can’t remember the exact chapter title or which chapter number it is), I have made a brief case that fleshes out what I’ve been saying. It shows why, specifically, I think a study of the data leads to taking the Bible as the only infallible source of authority and not other claimed sources of infallible authority.

    I’d be glad to look at your book, if you would send me a copy by email. (I don’t have a Lulu account.)

    To summarize briefly, what I have found in looking at the writings of the Christian tradition is that the early church is clear in pointing to Scripture as an infallible source of authority,

    I agree.

    The Scriptures do not given any indication of an infallible teaching magisterium, or an oral tradition that is to last through the ages as a complement to Scripture.

    And that entails sola scriptura only if one presupposes sola scriptura. If the NT writings were not intended to be the sufficient and exhaustive collation of the apostolic deposit, then of course we shouldn’t expect to find the entirety of apostolic doctrine within them.

    It does, however, indicate the fallibility of elders who are appointed over the church. It also presents a strong critique of the Pharisees for adding an oral tradition to the written Word of God.

    I agree with both of those statements.

    It suggests, in fact, that we should not expect an infallible oral tradition or an infallible teaching authority.

    Where does it say that?? (It doesn’t sound like you’re going by Scripture, but rather by *your interpretation* of Scripture.)

    The early church fathers often say things supporting a Sola Scriptura point of view. Irenaeus rejects the concept of an oral tradition needed to understand the Scriptures as a gnostic idea, and speaks of the Scriptures as being plain.

    That’s an over-simplification of what St. Irenaeus says. I’ve addressed this in comment #144 of the “Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue Between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross” article.

    The fathers do sometimes talk about oral traditions received from the apostles, but this contradicts other things they say about Sola Scriptura

    Could you be more specific?

    and the evidence suggests they are untrustworthy in handing down oral traditions. For one thing, they themselves say they are not infallible (and sometimes even suggest that church councils are not infallible).

    The fallibility of the Fathers does not entail that the oral Tradition cannot be divinely protected (and even developed) by the working of the Holy Spirit within the Church.

    And this seems proved from things they actually say, such as the controversy over Easter, both sides claiming to have oral apostolic tradition.

    They both *did* have oral apostolic tradition. There was more than one Apostle, and the evidence indicates that this was celebrated on different days by different Apostles in different cities.

    Sometimes the claimed oral tradition is very suspect, such as Irenaeus’s claim to know from John that Jesus lived to be fifty years old.

    Agreed, but that’s not how we determine the Tradition. We don’t just go by one claim. We follow the moral consensus of the Fathers.

    We must also add in here the controversy between the east and the west over the role of the pope and other things,

    If controversy somehow refutes oral tradition, then the controversies in the NT refute the NT. Alternatively, if the controversies in the NT do not refute the NT, then the controversies regarding the role of the pope and other things do not refute the oral tradition.

    the lack of later Roman doctrines in the early church,

    Such as?

    examples of contradictions in church teachings at different times in Roman Catholic history, etc.

    Again, you’ll need to be specific. All this hand-waving isn’t helpful. (I understand that you’re just giving a summary, but there’s just n0 way to discuss these points fruitfully without going into more detail.)

    In short, the Christian tradition points clearly to the Protestant canon of Scripture as infallibly authoritative revelation from God, but not clearly to anything else. Therefore, I conclude Sola Scriptura.

    If you include the sixteenth century controversy over sola scriptura, then by the standard you’ve just applied to the first four centuries, this would show that sola scriptura isn’t clear either.

    Obviously, all of this would have to be fleshed out further to argue about it, but at least that gives you a brief outline of how I am reasoning here. Certainly here we have the true foundation of my position. If my reading of all of this data is wrong, then my Sola Scriptura conclusion may be wrong. But this is how the data looks to me at present.

    Fair enough, but I think we both would agree that the only way to work this out is to get into the details of history.

    The underlying assumption of your arguments seems to be that if I check an authority against some other standard and only accept that authority when it agrees with that other standard, I am not really accepting that authority. But if this were true, it would mean that there cannot possibly be any such thing as a fallible authority, and I don’t think you think that is the case any more than I do. Scripture tells wives to submit to husbands, but surely this does not imply that husbands are infallible. Wives are to “ask their husbands at home” when they want to know something, but this does not imply that husbands can’t err. Wives should not put implicit trust in their husbands as if they cannot err, but there is to be a limited submission nonetheless–a deference, a level of trust, but not without a critical evaluation that tests what their husbands say against a higher authority. According to you all, though, that would mean that there is no true submission. The same thing can be said of other instances of fallible authority, such as the authority of parents over their children, the authority of the civil government, and also the authority of bishops and church councils. You all will grant that individual bishops are not infallible teaching authorities, and neither are non-ecumenical councils. These can err, and we must only accept what they say if they are in agreement with higher authorities. We are to submit, but critically, examining what is said in light of the higher levels of the magisterium (the pope’s infallible pronouncements, ecumenical councils, etc.) But according to your argument against me, this would mean that you are not really submitting to bishops or lower councils, because you are checking them against a different and higher standard and agreeing with them only when they agree with that higher standard.

    You should have considered the possibility that this rebuttal was so easy, that maybe you were missing something in the Catholic position. :-) See the last four paragraphs in section V. A. Tu Quoque: “The Catholic Position Does not Avoid Solo Scriptura.” That four paragraph section begins with the line, “A related objection takes the following form.”

    Now at this point, you will probably say that when I talk about submitting to the Scriptures, I am really only submitting to myself, because I am submitting to my interpretation of the Scriptures. But this is where your argument begs the question (unless you attach your arguments about perspicuity directly to your argument here), because you are assuming the Scriptures are unclear so that “my interpretation of the Scriptures” really means “my own personal opinions.” But if Scripture is perspicuous, then “my interpretation of Scripture” is no more the same as “my own personal opinions” than “my interpretation of the church magisterium” or “my interpretation of the pope.”

    Let’s test that claim. If you think a doctrine of the Catholic Church contradicts not merely your interpretation of Scripture, but Scripture itself, which doctrine does this, and which verse or verses of Scripture does this doctrine contradict? (Just as a heads-up, what I’ll do in response to what you say in reply to this question will be very much along the lines of what I did in reply to TurretinFan in comments 1009 and 1061 of “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  272. If Scripture is hermeneutically underdetermined in this respect, and capable of multiple incompatible interpretations by truth-seeking persons, how would you come to know this?

    I could come to know this by personally seeing as I interpret the Bible that it is impossible to find out what the best reading of the text is. I could also come to know this by seeing good reasons for believing in an infallible oral tradition or an infallible magisterium in the evidence of Christian history.

    And again, lots of people disagree with Roman Catholicism. Even within the Roman Catholic Church, there are many people who disagree with various aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine. (I was reminded of this just this morning as I saw an article on Notre Dame celebrating National Coming Out Day.) Why do you not accept the fact that these people disagree with you as evidence that you might be wrong? If the evidence for Roman Catholicism were so insufficient that there was no good reason to be a Roman Catholic, what would be different, in terms of such disagreement? An Agnostic would say that such widespread disagreement with Roman Catholicism shows that there is no good, sufficient, objective reason to think that Roman Catholicism is true.

    And if you don’t believe in the hermeneutical underdetermination of Scripture, then you need to explain what would be different (among Christians) if the underdetermination thesis were true. If nothing, then your perspicuity position is nothing more than semantically different from the undermination thesis, because the two are *practically* (i.e. in practice) equivalent.

    I’m not sure anything would be different if the underdetermination thesis were true. This does not mean that the non-underdetermination thesis is only semantically different from the underdetermination thesis. It is simply an illustration of the fact that sometimes two hypotheses can be compatible with the same set of data. Both theses are compatible with the fact of widespread disagreement with my views and widespread separation from the FPCS. But the underdetermination thesis is less compatible with other elements of the overall data–such as the lack of any good evidence in the data of Christian history to believe in an infallible magisterium, etc.

    However, the underdetermination thesis is to a great degree, I think, based on the assumption that disagreement implies lack of sufficient clarity in the available evidence, and this is mostly based on the further assumption that where sufficient evidence exists, there will be convergence of opinion. But I dispute that that latter assumption is going to be necessarily true in a fallen world.

    That’s why denying that Trent was guided aright by divine providence but claiming that the early Church was guided aright by divine providence in determining the canon, is ad hoc special pleading. It annexes God’s seal of approval to one’s own theological judgments, and withholds it from those of persons who disagree with oneself. And that’s self-serving and dangerous, for reasons I hope are obvious.

    I don’t appeal to the idea of God’s providential guidance to arbitrarily determine which church or teaching I want to think to be true. The thesis of providential guidance is derived logically from the conclusion that Christianity is a true divine revelation, and I use it to reason that God will have made sure that the best objective reading of all the available evidence will point in the right direction as to what the loci of divine revelation are.

    If that fallible oral tradition is not reliable, then why should you (or anyone) appeal to it or be guided by it? But if that fallible oral tradition is reliable, then how does that square with your claim in #219 not to have found sufficient evidence for such a thing?

    My view is that the oral traditions recorded in the writings of church fathers do not seem to be reliable enough to trust implicitly (as if they were to be taken as infallible), and yet still they are there in the writings of the fathers, and each one can be taken by itself and its merits can be examined in light of other evidence, and perhaps some interesting and useful things can be sometimes learned from some of them (about the history of the church, or perhaps tips can be gained for interpreting Scripture, etc.).

    Should I therefore conclude that you are confused in your theology regarding schism, and all the theological claims you are making here, or is there an implicit exception for yourself [and those who agree with you] in the above statement?

    My statement was not meant to say that all people in a fallen world are always confused about everything. I think that the fact of the fallenness of the world implies simply that we should not be surprised if there is widespread disagreement on many religious matters due to confusion arising from a whole host of factors. We cannot use this fact to dismiss any particular argument from any particular person. I cannot dismiss any of your arguments, for example, by saying, “Oh, you’re only saying that because you are a confused person in a fallen world.” I have to evaluate each and every argument on its own merits. I believe that my ideas are correct because I observe them to be correct (this is the only way any of us ever know that we are right in what we are saying), but I can’t prove to you that I am not confused merely by saying I am not confused. Neither should you assume that I am confused and my arguments wrong merely because I am a fallen person in a fallen world. All arguments must be evaluated on their own merits.

    Of course you had limited intentions in bringing up human fallenness. I understand. But once you open that universal acid, you cannot compartmentalize it, i.e. use it as an explanation for a .0000909% schism-avoiding interpretive success rate and then make an ad hoc exception for yourself and the probability of the veracity of your own interpretive judgments. Your position implies that there is about a 99.9999091% chance that your own interpretations are mistaken. But you are not treating your own interpretation with that level of self-skepticism; rather, you are treating your own interpretation as having a “high degree of probability” of being true.

    The fact of human fallenness, and all the various ways in which that can lead to disagreement (sometimes through direct immorality, sometimes through non-moral confusion, etc.), means that there may sometimes be circumstances in which some people may know something to be right in spite of widespread disagreement, or even when their position is strongly in the minority. Whether that is the case in any particular instance will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Taking my claims about the FPCS, yes, this is a strongly minority point of view. That minority status does indeed mean that I should be very careful to be sure that I am right, but it does not prove that I am not right. I must decide whether or not my position is correct on the basis of the merits of my arguments, and so must everyone else. My own opinion as of now is that my arguments are good and my position is correct. I do not think this conclusion is implausible, because such a situation is not an unlikely possibility in a fallen world.

    I think it is fallacious to say that my position implies that there is a 99.9999091% chance that my position is wrong. The chance that a position is wrong does not correlate in this way with how many people agree with it. You don’t apply that to your own views. I don’t know how many people relative to the overall human population are Roman Catholic, but let’s say it’s around 50%. (Am I being too generous here?) You don’t say, “Therefore, there is a 50% chance that my position is wrong.” There is just no reason to chart things in that way. And, remember, it is not as though all of my views are only held by people in the FPCS. Many of my views are shared by many more people in the Reformed and the non-Reformed world. Not taking that into account presents a misleading view of how much in the minority I am.

    So, first, which historical data do you think is incompatible with the Catholic doctrine that the oral apostolic Tradition is preserved without error in the Catholic Church as a whole? . . . Second, what historical data do you think is incompatible with the Catholic doctrine concerning the infallibility of the Church, as taught both at the Fourth Session of the First Vatican Council, and in section 25 of the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium?

    I think these are very fruitful questions, much more fruitful than the a priori attacks on perspicuity and on the minority status of some of my opinions. I gave an outline of how I might start to go about answering these questions later on in my comments, so I think you’ll get to them shortly, and we can expand on them from there.

    Benjamin:

    If you know of a paedobaptist argument that actually refutes the credo-baptist argument on the basis of scripture, then I would like to hear it.

    I think that, overall, the paedobaptist position is an objectively better reading of Scripture than the credobaptist position, and so it should be taken to be the correct reading. It would take too long to flesh that out here, but if you like, you can send me an email (mhausam@hotmail.com) and I will send you a sermon I wrote outlining my arguments.

    I’ll post this now before it gets any longer, and then continue in another post.

  273. Bryan:

    In response, let me point out that it would be helpful to distinguish between a criticism of me (i.e. some epistemic failure on my part of not adequately considering something), and a criticism of my positions or arguments. You seem to conflate them here a bit in this comment.

    I only intended to point out what I took to be a flaw in your reasoning.

    So while there is a theoretical possibility (in the sense of no internal contradiction) in your position, nevertheless, in its empirical consequences your position is exactly equivalent to the position in which the perspicuity thesis is false, the Catholic Church is the true Church Christ founded, and you are deeply self-deceived. In that case, it becomes meaningless to speak of the perspicuity of Scripture as having any empirical implications, because whether the thesis is true or false the empirical data is identical.

    What I hear you saying is that my position is unfalsifiable, because all the data would be the same whether my position is false or whether it is true. If this were the case, then we would have to say that my position might be true and might not be true, and there is no way to tell. But this is not the case. My position is not unfalsifiable. My position is based on my evaluation of all the relevant data, and I think that data points to my position and away from yours. We haven’t gotten into the specifics of this too much because we’ve been focusing on the a priori arguments, but, again, I’ve outlined some of the data in a comment you will shortly be coming to, and we can go from there.

    That’s why your notion that you should expect to be in the tiny minority, on account of other such cases in OT redemptive history, is at odds with your claim that we should expect Scripture to be perspicuous if God wants to make His revelation accessible to the whole world and doesn’t provide an authoritative magisterium by which to resolve the interpretive disputes.

    First of all, one quibble with your statement of my views here: I wouldn’t say that I would expect necessarily to be in the minority. What I would say is that it is not surprising or implausible that some correct views will be in the minority.

    I think your argument in the paragraph from which the above quote came is that it is unlikely that God would provide a revelation of his will to the world, but then make it so that very few people “get” it.

    In answer to this, first of all, remember that it is not just the FPCS people who “get” most of it. Most FPCS beliefs are held in common with all other Reformed people, and even in common with all traditional Christians. Again, we don’t want to overstate the minority status of these opinions.

    Secondly, I find it difficult to judge a priori how much God would ordain that the people of the world will “get” his revelation or various aspects of it. Again, at least close to half the world (again, I may be being too generous here) is not Roman Catholic. If we let that sink in a moment, we will realize that that is a lot of people! Why don’t they “get” Roman Catholicism? If I were in your shoes, I would explain this by saying that although God has made his revelation known to all, yet the fallenness of the world makes it such that, for many reasons, various people don’t “get” it. You have to say something to explain the lack of universal convergence onto your belief system, just as I do. Again, I think you think you don’t have to worry about this issue because there are more Roman Catholics than FPCS or Reformed people, but this doesn’t let you off the hook of having to explain the massive lack of convergence even to your viewpoint. Everyone has this problem, because every worldview has to deal with lots of people disagreeing with it. Agnostics use this problem to argue for their view, while ignoring that their view suffers as much from it (if it is a problem) as anyone else’s. And you, too, can’t use this problem as an argument against my position while not dealing with how it goes against your own position as well.

    I see no reason why the current situation, as I view it, is implausible. Why is it absurd to think that the church might be in the state it is in today, with the Christian and the Reformed world sadly divided and only a small denomination being the legally proper branch of de jure legitimacy and authority? What is the evidence that says that God wouldn’t do that? How do you know he wouldn’t? (I see that in a later comment you get into this a bit, so I’ll say more there.)

    Here your claim is that I am in the same boat. In other words, you are claiming that if the phenomenon of widespread religious disagreement is a problem for the perspicuity thesis, then it is a problem for Catholicism as well. Now, the first thing to point out is that the tu quoque response is a fallacy. You don’t get off the hook for having a faulty position by pointing to problems (or alleged problems) with the messenger’s position. Nor do you establish the truth of your position by pointing to an alleged problem with my own.

    Of course not. I’m not using this argument in such a fallacious way. I’m just pointing out that your own use of widespread disagreement as an argument against me and for your position is inconsistent, because if it shoots me it shoots you too. I don’t think it shoots anyone, in fact.

    You provide no argument showing that religious disagreement is a problem for Catholicism; you merely assert it. I’m very willing to consider an argument having that as its conclusion, if you would like to offer one. I see no reason to believe that religious disagreement is some kind of evidence against the truth of the Catholic Church.

    I don’t think religious disagreement is a problem for Catholicism. I do think that your use of religious disagreement as an argument against my position is inconsistent, considering that, if it is a good argument against me, it is also a good arguments against you. Or let me put it this way: Your use of religious disagreement as an argument against my position is based on the assumption that where there is sufficiently clear evidence to know that something is true, we should expect widespread convergence among humans on that truth. If such convergence is to be expected, the lack of such convergence is a problem for your claims as well as for mine. My response to all of this is to dispute that underlying assumption. I do not believe that convergence is necessarily to be expected in a fallen world. Therefore, I don’t think lack of convergence is a problem for you or for me.

    Notice that you are conflating two distinct theses: the perspicuity of some truths, and the discoverability of some truths. I agree that widespread and chronic disagreement regarding a question or subject does not entail that the truth of the matter cannot be discovered. But widespread and chronic disagreement concerning a matter is evidence that the truth of the matter is not perspicuous, all other things being equal.

    It sounds like you are defining “perspicuous” here differently than I do. You seem to be contrasting “perspicuous” with “discoverable,” whereas I mean the same thing by these terms. Your distinction seems to imply that “perspicuous” means something like “easy to discover.” But I do not claim that it is easy to interpret Scripture correctly, just that it is possible to do so.

    When you say, “I agree that widespread and chronic disagreement regarding a question or subject does not entail that the truth of the matter cannot be discovered,” you seem to be granting everything I have been arguing for on this subject. Some of my positions are in the minority, but this does not imply that I don’t have good, sufficient evidence to conclude that I am correct. The simple fact that I am in a minority just doesn’t falsify my position (or yours).

    If, however, schism from the “catholic church” is the great sin the Church Fathers teach it to be, and if Christ’s purpose in establishing His Church is that she be the ark of the New Covenant, the Mountain of the Lord into which all the nations stream, and from which the law of the Lord goes forth, if visible unity to the world is intrinsic to the telos of Christ’s Church, then both this purpose and the means to achieving this purpose should be perspicuous in Scripture, given the truth of the perspicuity thesis. So on these conditions an abominable schism-avoiding interpretive success rate is problematic for the perspicuity thesis, even if among some of the persons holding the perspicuity thesis there is some doctrinal agreement.

    I think that what I hear you saying here is that because visible unity is such an important thing to God, he will have made it so that it is relatively easy to discover which church is the correct one to be a part of, whereas the fact that so few people are members of the FPCS suggests that it is not so easy to discover that the FPCS is the correct church to be a part of.

    In answer to this, first of all, I’m not sure we can judge a priori just how easy God will have made finding the truth, even when he considers that truth important. This argument is reminiscent of the arguments Atheists and Agnostics use against both of us, saying, “If God really wanted us to find the true religion, he would have made it easier to find! He would have created it with some visible sign (such as great, undeniable miracles that are obvious to all) such that everyone would see what it is and get it right. Instead, all you Christians have to offer are a bunch of obscure arguments that don’t win the consent of all. That calls into question whether your claims are really true.” My response to this would be, “If God has given sufficient evidence to know what the true religion is, we have a moral obligation to follow that evidence where it leads. It is not up to us to decide just how much evidence God is obligated to put into the world. If he wants to make it so the truth is difficult, but possible, to find, in order to weed out those who truly care about truth and those who don’t, and for other reasons, who are we to say this is wrong or it should not be this way? We have no basis to say any such thing. Our job is to follow the evidence we are given.”

    Secondly, I agree with you that the visible unity of the church is important to God. I think the Bible indicates that the visible unity of the church will be a major factor in the conversion of the world to Christ, and thus in itself as well as for this reason it is very important. However, God has a narrative for history that he is working out, and it is not the case that at every point along that narrative God has made or will make the church to be in the sort of pristine state it ought to be in. I do not find it implausible that at this point in time, God should have let the church be in such a messy, divided condition. It will not always be so, but why assume that we are not at a point in history where it is in fact so? We must acknowledge that it is in fact so to some degree, whether from my perspective or from yours. Even if the RCC is the true church, how well is it really doing these days? We are seeing widespread secularism all across Europe (former Christendom); we’ve seen the breakup of the church owing to the Reformation; we’ve seen the serious diminishment of Roman Catholic influence over the past few centuries; the RCC itself has been rocked with public scandal lately; the RCC is full of liberals (especially in America) who are getting away with all sorts of things; and so on. And things have often been bad in the past as well, throughout Christian history.

    Do we have the right to say, in light of all of these things, “If God really cares about the church being a city on a hill, he ought to do better at making it so!”? I think this is presumptuous. Now, going back to my point of view, perhaps we can say that things are even worse for us than they are for you, in some ways. We (the Reformed world) are more divided, in a sense. (Though, as I write that, I wonder, “Are we really more divided?” There is lots of diversity in RCC, including much liberalism and disagreement with official church teaching. Perhaps we conservative Reformed really have more unity amongst ourselves in some ways than Roman Catholics do overall; it’s just less obvious because we tend to divide into multiple denominations.) But the church and the gospel are still in the world, bearing fruit, in spite or there being lots of confusion and a lack of the unity there should be. Again, I don’t think that the Christian world exists only in the FPCS. I think that denomination has the claim to legal authority and everyone ought to be in full communion with them, but they do not exhaust the presence of the church in the world. That church is present among many different denominations, including among Roman Catholics. So things are had, but we don’t want to overestimate their badness from either of our points of view.

    The purpose of the calling and unique sanctification of the people of God in the OT was to prepare the way for Christ. The New Covenant is greater than the Old, and the mission of the New Covenant is greater. The Church is to be a light to the whole world, a mountain that fills up the whole world. Denying this makes Christ out to be equivalent to the prophets of old. If Christ could fail, or if the Church He founded could fail, it would mean He isn’t truly divine. His claim to be God, and the success of His Church, go hand in hand. If His Church is now, after 2,000 years of missions and evangelism, only a group of 2,000 people in Scotland, then Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be; He was just another prophet, like Elijah of old.

    What I hear you saying here (although I may put it in my own way to some extent, hopefully preserving the basic substance) is that Christ, as the Messiah, has been promised the nations as an inheritance. His kingdom is the rock in Daniel that is to grow and fill the whole earth. Therefore, we should expect the church to be growing and growing, filling the earth more and more. The church conquered the Roman Empire in its earlier days, and we should expect it to be going on through the rest of history conquering more and more, not getting smaller or becoming weaker, but becoming bigger and greater through time. In light of this, my view that the de jure heir of the church is some measly denomination in Scotland seems like a defeat to God’s plan and to Christ’s divine Messiah-hood.

    This is an important biblical argument. I agree with you that the Scriptures promise that the church will grow and fill the earth, that all nations will be converted, that the church will be a city on a hill in time. It started out small, but grew to conquer the Roman Empire, and that was only the beginning.

    However, I’m not sure the Scriptures portray that this overall process of growth and success will always go smoothly and have no setbacks, or that there will be no times of significant setback. In fact, I think the Scriptures predict that there will be times of difficulty in the midst of the church’s history and its overall growth and success. Particularly, the Scriptures speak of a falling away that will occur in connection with the “man of sin,” or the beasts of Revelation, or the “Antichrist.” The church and the world are to have much trouble from this evil source before the final victory. I share the historic Protestant view that a major part of this is the ascension of the papacy and the errors church leadership in connection with the papacy introduced into the church. As Antichrist grew in ascendency over the church in he Middle Ages, the church became more and more corrupted. The doctrines of grace were greatly obscured, and a Pelagian-like moralism greatly invaded the church. idolatry became prevalent. Church leadership became horribly corrupt. And so on. Eventually, this led to the Reformation, as men raised up by God worked to reform the church of all this corruption. When the Roman church refused to reform, the church split into many different pieces. The loss of overall unity led to more and more splits, and the disunity of the church enabled and encouraged the rise of Naturalistic thinking, and all of this has led to the current deplorable backslidden situation of the world and the church in the world.

    Obviously, there is much that can be argued and disputed in all of this. I bring it all up now in order to show why I am not convinced that the fact that Christ will ultimately have victory must mean that we could not be in a condition right now in the world in which there have been great setbacks. Things will not always be this way. Christ will have the final victory, and the gates of hell will never prevail against the church. But there are times of trouble, and I think we certainly live in a big one right now. Therefore, I do not think that the fact of Christ’s divine destiny as conqueror of the world is incompatible with my view of the current state of the church.

    And even assuming your Roman Catholic point of view, you’ve got to admit that the past few centuries have been centuries of major setback for Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church used to be the undisputed culturally dominant force in all of Europe. Now, it is far from it. There has been a massive falling away from RC, including the Protestant Reformation, Enlightenment secularism, and the effects of both over time. I’m not really even sure whether the church is in a worse state today from my point of view or from yours. You’ve got more people in your denomination, but many of them are liberal and there is a lot of corruption. You’ve lost huge swaths of people over the past few centuries. On the other hand, we Reformed are more obviously divided, but we see the Reformation as a major victory against Antichrist and a forward move for the church, and so we do not see the past few centuries as as much of a complete loss as you must. The current state of confusion in the world and in Christendom is a result of rebellion against Antichrist, and this rebellion will eventually be successful, even if it enables much chaos along the way.

    (By the way, just to be clear, I don’t of course mean to cause offense by the use of terms like “Antichrist.” I do not bring up such language to offend, but because it is part of a historic Protestant point of view that is important to understand in the current conversation. Likewise, I am not offended to be told that the Reformed faith is “heretical” or “schismatic.” Such negative evaluations of each other are simply a part of the divisions we have inherited, and they must be faced squarely on all sides. But they also must not be used as excuses to be unnecessarily unkind.)

    Some of the specific issues discussed in your comment #271 (such as what Irenaeus said about oral tradition, where I think the RCC may have contradicted itself over time, etc.) will require further fleshing out, as you note. In fact, I think that going in that direction would be the most productive thing to do, since the real basis for my Sola Scriptura position is going to be found in the details of the examination of history. We can continue to deal with the a priori if you want to, but I think that our differences there may really be rooted in our differences in these other areas, and we may end up just saying the same things over and over again until we get into those specifics.

    Therefore, I will consider some specific historical reasons as to why I am skeptical of Roman Catholic claims to infallibility and why I favor Sola Scriptura, and I will begin to present some of those. A methodological question at this point: You’ve all dealt with some of these issues in other articles (the most recent example being your article on religious freedom). Would you rather have me continue to post comments on this thread, or would it be better for me to address particular comments to other threads that deal with the subject matter of the particular comment (at least when there are such threads in existence)?

    Thanks again for the great conversations!

  274. Hello Mark, (re: #249)

    In #249 you wrote:

    I would define Scripture’s perspicuity, rather, as the idea that Scripture is possible to understand, not necessarily that everything in it is easy to understand.

    Then in #273 you say again:

    It sounds like you are defining “perspicuous” here differently than I do. You seem to be contrasting “perspicuous” with “discoverable,” whereas I mean the same thing by these terms. Your distinction seems to imply that “perspicuous” means something like “easy to discover.” But I do not claim that it is easy to interpret Scripture correctly, just that it is possible to do so.

    One problem with this definition is that it is fully compatible with Catholicism, that is, with the Catholic doctrine that Scripture can be understood rightly and fulfill its function in preserving and teaching the Church in the unity of the truth only by the light of the Tradition and the guidance of the magisterium of the Church, a guidance both in explicating the Scriptures and in guarding and identifying what does and does not belong to the Apostolic Tradition.

    So if that’s all you mean by ‘perspicuity,’ i.e. that Scripture can possibly be interpreted correctly, then since that doesn’t rule out the truth of the Catholic position, you cannot presume to use your own interpretation of Scripture to stand in judgment of the Church’s doctrine, because that just begs the question, i.e. presupposes that the Catholic understanding of how Scripture is to be rightly understood, is false. That is, in order to use your interpretation as a standard by which to judge the doctrine of the Catholic Church, it cannot merely be possible to interpret Scripture correctly; it must be so easy to interpret it rightly that your interpretation is very likely true. Otherwise, if your interpretation is no more likely to be true than that of the Catholic Church, humility would call for giving the benefit of doubt to the Church.

    This is why at the outset I laid down a preliminary working definition of ‘perspicuity’ in #234, precisely so we wouldn’t have to worry about the moving of the definitional goal posts. (See my comment #254.) In the last paragraph of #251 you gave another definition of ‘perspicuity’ in which you added the need for means in interpreting Scripture, among which are the fallible magisterium and the fallible oral tradition. I then explained in #256 why this definition reduces to the one I provided in #234. Here’s the problem. The definition in #234 is not the same as the definition you give in #249 and #273. The one you give in #249 and #273 is compatible with Catholicism; the one I give in #234 (and to which your definition in #251 reduces) is not compatible with Catholicism. So, since in your mind (and in my own as well), perspicuity lies at the heart of the disagreement, perhaps before we go any further, would you clarify what exactly you mean by perspicuity?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  275. Mark,

    Here’s what it seems like you’re doing. When I point to the .0000909% schism-avoiding success rate as a problem for the perspicuity thesis, you respond by using the same response you use to agnostics; difficulty does not entail impossibility. Perspicuity just means possibility; it says nothing whatsoever about degree of difficulty. But since that thesis would be took weak of a conception of perspicuity to justify placing one’s own interpretation above that of the visible Church, and since it is too weak to meet the condition that God wants His revelation to be readily knowable to the world, you move to a conception of perspicuity that is much stronger, as when you say, “the truth is sufficiently clear such that a rational, honest person trying to find it with a competent effort would be able to do so ” (#222), and “the Word must be sufficiently perspicuous such that reasonable, competent, honest people actually practicing such traits well should be able to figure out what it is saying. ” (#228) So it seems to me that you are making two distinct claims: (1) Scripture is perspicuous (i.e. possible to interpret correctly), and (2) Scripture is much more than merely perspicuous; it is sufficiently perspicuous that reasonable, competent, honest people actually practicing such traits well should be able to figure out what it is saying. You seem not to be distinguishing those two claims, so that when I bring up the problem of the abysmal schism-avoiding interpretive success rate, you pull back to the weaker claim. But then to avoid the problems with the weaker claim (i.e. it is both compatible with Catholicism and does not fit with the idea that God wants His revelation to be readily knowable to the world), you move back to the stronger claim. So would you clear this up? Is your perspicuity claim merely that it is possible to discover the meaning of Scripture even if very difficult or extremely unlikely, or is your perspicuity claim the strong claim that Scripture is so clear that any “reasonable, competent, honest” person can come to the right interpretation?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  276. Bryan,

    Let’s try this: “My perspicuity thesis is that the Scriptures are sufficiently perspicuous so that a rational, honest, competent person making use of all available means and putting in sufficient effort will be able to understand what they are saying, without the help of an infallible magisterium or an infallible oral tradition.”

    The key point, in my view, is that the Scriptures can be understood without any other infallible authorities. I have come to that conclusion on the grounds that I don’t think the evidence points to any other infallible authorities existing.

  277. Mark, (re: #276)

    If you thought that Catholics are all either irrational, dishonest, incompetent, or unwilling to put in sufficient effort, then of course you would be wasting your time talking to the Catholics here (myself included). But, if you think that at least some Catholics (say, perhaps the ones here, or at least some of the ones here) are not irrational, not dishonest, and not incompetent or unwilling to put in the necessary effort, and instead are merely ignorant of Scripture, then all that remains is to show us from Scripture where we’ve gone wrong. Of course, if you do not persuade us you can always conclude that we’re irrational, dishonest, lazy, deceived by the devil and our own sinful desire to want to add our own part to our salvation rather than trusting in the finished work of Christ alone, etc.. But why not at least try? If Scripture is perspicuous as you define it, and we’re not irrational dishonest imbeciles, and we want both the truth Christ has revealed and unity in the truth with you (as one who loves Christ), then this is a good place to show us what we don’t know about Scripture that keeps us [Protestants and Catholics] apart.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  278. Bryan:

    One interesting thing about this is that I think we are all in the same boat (There we go with the boats again! I need to come up with some additional metaphors for this point. :-)) with regard to each other. Since you are Roman Catholic, you must think that the objective evidence is sufficiently clear so that people in general can find out that Roman Catholicism is true (after all, you did). And yet I am not yet a Roman Catholic. Why is that? Is it because I am “irrational, dishonest, incompetent, or unwilling to put in sufficient effort,” am I simply confused, or have I not had the evidence adequately presented to me before? You really don’t know. I claim that I am honest and competent, of course, but I can’t prove to you that I am.

    From my point of view, why are you not a Reformed Protestant? I don’t know. I like to assume the best, and I don’t have a clear reason why I must assume some conscious or sub-conscious immoral motive. So I am here both to learn and to engage in dialogue for the very reasons that are the raison d’etre of this site–the hope to bring us all into closer communion in the truth. I believe, as you do, that this is not a hopeless goal, and I assume in hope that all of us are willing to learn and follow the evidence where it leads. (I could add that even if you all were “irrational, dishonest, incompetent, or unwilling to put in sufficient effort,” it would still not be a hopeless goal, for God’s grace can change these traits.)

    At any rate, I entirely agree with your approach, and I look forward to continuing to examine the variety of issues that stand between us.

  279. Mark, (re: #278)

    The reason why I’m not in the same boat is that I have no reason to believe that you’ve already examined all the motives of credibility for the Catholic Church, or had them presented to you in a comprehensive, careful and sympathetic manner, whereas I would imagine that you already know (from our Authors page) that many of us here (myself included) were trained in the Hebrew and Greek and the whole of Scripture over a three to four year period of Reformed seminary education, and that therefore there is not a verse of Scripture we have not seen. I’ve discussed this perspicuity tu quoque in comments #200 and #210 in “Mathison’s Reply to Cross and Judisch: A Largely Philosophical Critique.”

    I am absolutely serious in my request that you show me what I don’t know about Scripture, that keeps us apart. If you think my being Catholic shows that I don’t know Scripture, then I would like to learn what in Scripture you think I don’t know.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  280. Bryan,

    There seems to be a problem with the phrase “Catholic Church headed by the Pope”. What is signified by these words during an interregnum ? How you deal with this may shed light on the Protestant’s problem with “visible catholic church”.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  281. Bryan:

    I think that on both our sides, it can be said that the circumstances and motives that are involved in why people think the way they think are often very complex. Because of this, I am hesitant to make too many judgments about just how honest, competent, etc., individual people are. Sometimes, it is necessary to make some judgments. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 1, tells us that no one has any excuse for not worshiping God as God. That puts some constraints on how innocent we are allowed to think that Atheists and idolaters are, for example, though even here there are nuances and much care and charity must be exercised. When it comes to other Christians, there should be even more care to be sure not to judge too negatively. And I don’t find it helpful in general, usually, to talk to people about what their motives might be. Even if I have reason to think someone is being dishonest, unless the dishonesty is obvious to all, the other person is not likely to admit it, and such a conversation often becomes quite pointless. I find it more useful usually to focus on the merits of individual arguments.

  282. Eric, (re: #280)

    Your first statement is an assertion that there is a problem with the phrase “Catholic Church headed by the Pope.” That is followed by a question. So you don’t specify what the problem is. And merely asserting that there is a problem does not establish or demonstrate that there is a problem. What is signified by the phrase is the Catholic Church. That the Catholic Church is headed by the pope functioning in his papal office with the keys given to St. Peter does not entail that the Catholic Church goes out of existence during interregnum. If you think it does, feel free to present an argument having that as its conclusion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  283. Mark, (re: #281)

    Ok, so let’s move this conversation forward. If the perspicuity thesis (as you’ve defined it) is true, and if you think I’m honest, rational, and competent, then we should be able to come to agreement concerning the meaning of Scripture. So what verses do you think I must not know or do not understand?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  284. Bryan,

    I cannot see how the hierarchically organized institution is not affected by the absence of its most important visible member. The Catholic Church has no visible head during an interregnum, therefore, it is subject to eliminative reductionism. The Catholic Church seems to not be an actual whole because of an interregnum. What actual entity is catholic and visible when the living principle of hierarchical unity is not there to unify ?

    Eric

  285. Eric, (re: #284)

    The papal office remains during the interregnum; it is this office that is vacated at the moment a pope dies, and is then filled again at the moment the bishop elected by the conclave accepts his canonical election. During the interregnum the college of cardinals govern the church, but their authority, which is from the pope, is not identical to that of the pope himself. Their authority during the interregnum is limited to matters that cannot be postponed, and to selecting a new pope, as spelled out in Universi Dominici Gregis. So during the interregnum the Catholic Church still has a visible head in the Church at Rome, which retains the authority of the Apostolic See. And that authority is possessed and exercised in a limited way by the college of cardinals, until the next pope is selected. During the interregnum the Catholic Church does not become a mere plurality of particular Churches in communion with one another. It remains a unified body in part because it retains a hierarchy unified in relation to the papal office, the authority of which, in limited capacity, is retained by the college of cardinals.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  286. Bryan, interesting stuff with Mark, perspicuity is where, as a Presbyterian, I find myself, along with Mark. You seem to want to say that our view of perspicuity means we have to show you where you don’t understand Scripture. I would respond that the words of Scripture can be sufficient in and of themselves to explain the way of salvation. Now the work of the Holy Spirit is required, of course, for saving faith to occur. But if, as I state, salvation is possible by means of the plain words of Scripture, that would seem to me to be the crux of the issue. For what do I need more, in becoming a member of your communion, if salvation is mine through the Holy Spirit’s work whilst I read the plain words of Scripture explaining to me that salvation? Hopefully I am being clear. Take care.

  287. Andrew B (re: #286),

    I do not believe, nor have I claimed, that Mark’s or your view of perspicuity means that you have to show me where I don’t understand Scripture. It was just a request: please show me where I don’t understand Scripture.

    I would respond that the words of Scripture can be sufficient in and of themselves to explain the way of salvation.

    If the Scriptures don’t need explaining, then your denomination shouldn’t have seminaries. You should just read the Scriptures, and then sit back down like the Quakers do.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  288. Bryan, not exactly sure whar you mean. You’re the reformed seminarians of the two of us. I was merely thinking along the lines of what you were taught about WCF 1.7 when you were at seminary. Regards, Andrew

  289. Bryan,

    You wrote:
    During the interregnum the Catholic Church does not become a mere plurality of particular Churches in communion with one another. It remains a unified body in part because it retains a hierarchy unified in relation to the papal office, the authority of which, in limited capacity, is retained by the college of cardinals.

    Response:
    The College prevents reductionism at the expense of the Catholic Church’s constitutional integrity. It is neither a mere plurality of particular Churches, nor a unified body signified by the following words:

    This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, (12*) which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,(74) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority,(75) which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”.(76) This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,(13*) although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. – VII, Lumen Gentium, #8
    —————-

    During an interregnum, the “Successor of Peter” and “hierarchy unified in relation to the papal office” do not correspond as the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. Here Providence strikes the Shepherd with death, then the sheep gather around the office of Shepherd.

    Eric

  290. Eric, (re: #289)

    The College prevents reductionism at the expense of the Catholic Church’s constitutional integrity.

    I see you asserting this, but assertions do not establish the truth of what they assert.

    It is neither a mere plurality of particular Churches, nor a unified body

    Again, this is a mere assertion.

    During an interregnum, the “Successor of Peter” and “hierarchy unified in relation to the papal office” do not correspond as the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.

    I don’t understand that sentence.

    Here Providence strikes the Shepherd with death, then the sheep gather around the office of Shepherd.

    Ok.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  291. Bryan,

    As we get down to some specifics in this overall conversation, I have just posted a comment on the new “Religious Liberty” article in which I have further argued for a parrticular objection to the Roman Catholic claim that the RCC is has an infallible teaching authority. Part of my reason for accepting Sola Scriptura is that the modern exemplars of the “the church has an infallible teaching authority” paradigm have contradicted themselves, or contradicted reason and/or Scripture, in some way. That comment on religious freedom is one example of what makes me think so. I’ll post another example here later.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  292. Bryan,

    I hope this leads to a better understanding….

    ….This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him….

    Interregnum means no successor of Peter. The College of Cardinals in communion with the particular churches is not a mere plurality of particular churches, nor the entity (Catholic church with a living pope) signified by the words of VII. Constitutional integrity is compromised because VII words sometimes signify an entity having no successor of Peter. How can a non-existing successor govern as an existing successor ? It cannot and no successor substitute can be advanced during an interregnum.
    —————-

    You recommended in the article,

    If the local church must be hierarchical in order to be visible, then Reformed Protestants must either form a worldwide hierarchy if they wish to affirm a “visible catholic Church,” or drop the claim that there is a “visible catholic Church” to which they belong.

    I recommend,

    If the RC Church must be the one Church of Christ constituted as a society in the world, then it must either have seamless successors of Peter (no interregnums), or drop the claim that its constitutional integrity is always the same.

    Eric

  293. Eric, (re: #292)

    Interregnum means no successor of Peter. The College of Cardinals in communion with the particular churches is not a mere plurality of particular churches, nor the entity (Catholic church with a living pope) signified by the words of VII.

    Again, assertions are not arguments. What you’re doing here is confusing concepts and referents. The same referent can be picked out by more than one concept, just as the same planet (i.e. Venus) can be picked out by more than one concept (i.e. “the morning star” and “the evening star”).

    Constitutional integrity is compromised because VII words sometimes signify an entity having no successor of Peter.

    Again, the same referrent can be picked out with multiple concepts. The organization which does not have a pope during the interregnum is the same organization having a pope prior to and after the interregnum, just as the organism that does not have consciousness when you are asleep is the same organism that does have consciousness when you are awake.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  294. Here is another example of where it appears to me that the Roman Catholic Church has contradicted Scripture and reason, or has contradicted itself, in its teaching.

    In the bull “Cum Occasione,” in 1653, the Roman Catholic Church condemned five propositions it said it found in the writings of Cornelius Jansen:

    * Some of God’s commandments are impossible to just men who wish and strive (to keep them) considering the powers they actually have, the grace by which these precepts may become possible is also wanting;
    * In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace;
    * To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we must be free from all external constraint, but not from interior necessity,
    * The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even for the beginning of faith; but they fell into heresy in pretending that this grace is such that man may either follow or resist it;
    * To say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men, is Semipelagianism.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Jansen (from which I copied the five propositions) goes on to add:

    These five propositions were rejected as heretical, the first four absolutely, the fifth if understood in the sense that Christ died only for the predestined.

    The problem is that some of the substance of these five propositions is evident both from reason and from Scripture, and other aspects of them follow logically from doctrines affirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. Let me go through each one briefly and show why I say these things.

    Proposition #1: “Some of God’s commandments are impossible to just men who wish and strive (to keep them) considering the powers they actually have, the grace by which these precepts may become possible is also wanting;”

    The background of this idea, as with all of Jansen’s ideas, is an Augustinian view of how grace works. There is no such thing as a “liberty of indifference,” in which man’s free will has the internal ability to produce its own acts from itself as from a first cause. Rather, the will is always moved by desires, which are part of a larger causal nexus under the ultimate control of God. Therefore, if God gives a grace sufficient to make it possible for the will to obey a commandment of God, that grace will effectually cause the will to do so. If the will does not do so in any given instance, it must be that God did not give sufficient grace for that particular act of obedience at that specific time.

    I would argue that this Augustinian idea is completely correct, and it is evident from Scripture and reason. The concept of a liberty of indifference is irrational, since it posits that events can happen without sufficient causes, and this violates the law of causality. Whatever anyone actually wills at at given time is the only thing that could actually be willed at that time. For example, if I have an option to eat a tuna sandwich or a salad, and I choose to eat the salad, it is true that I could have eaten the tuna sandwich if I had wanted to, but, given the causal factors acting on my will at the time of choice which produced in my will the choice of the salad, it was impossible that I could have wanted to do so and therefore that I could have chosen to do so. Therefore, applying this to the current issue, anytime a just man sins, it must be the case that he was not given sufficient grace to resist that sin at that time, or else he wouldn’t have sinned.

    Now, there are ways in which one can define terms such as to rightfully affirm that all men always have sufficient grace to obey God. For example, one can say that all men have sufficient grace–meaning that there is nothing wanting to allow them to choose to obey if they in fact desire to do so, while yet they have not been given grace to make it possible that they will desire to do so. But Jansen would have affirmed the idea of “sufficient grace” defined in this way. He denied “sufficient grace,” rather, in the sense that I previously defined it, and his view is the only possible rational view.

    Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church’s condemnation of Jansen on this point, assuming that condemnation was not misleading, deceived, or inaccurate, condemned a deliverance of reason. (I could also argue this from Scripture, but it is faster to argue from reason for now, and it also avoids the greater complexities of biblical interpretation for the present.) And not just any deliverance of reason, but a deliverance of reason that is essential to the Christian worldview. For if “liberty of indifference” exists, it means that random chance operates in the universe, which destroys the very core of the idea of the divine sovereignty and makes chance the god of the universe. (It also violates the doctrine of divine grace, but I’m just putting out a bit at a time here.)

    Now, I say, if the condemnation was not “misleading, deceived, or inaccurate,” because it might be said that the bull condemned five propositions that Jansen did not really affirm and accidentally attributed them to Jansen. But surely this is incompatible with a useful, infallible teaching authority. For the Church to condemn five false propositions in the form of saying they are in a particular book, when in that book are five fundamentally different (but similar-sounding) propositions that are true, rational, and essential both to reason and the Christian faith, is to act the part of deceiver to the people of God and to the world, and to condemn a just man unjustly. The bull might have taken issue with Jansen’s language while making clear it did not condemn his actual doctrine, but it made no such distinction. In fact, it rather suggested that doctrine, not language, was what was in view, considering that for the fifth proposition, as noted above, it clarified a particular sense in which that proposition was condemned but it didn’t do that for the other four.

    Proposition #2: “In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace;”

    Jansen’s idea here is that that grace which actually changes the heart and will of man, producing obedience to the divine will, is never resisted, simply because it is, by nature, effectual. Again, this is pure Augustinianism, and it is both rational and biblical, and the denial of it implies an irrational and unbiblical “liberty of indifference.” Of course, there is a sense in which one can be said to resist interior grace–in the sense that there can be a grace given which does not convert the soul, and thus the soul can resist it–but that is not what Jansen was talking about. So here, again, the Roman Catholic Church condemned a doctrine essential to Augustinianism, biblical theology, and reason. (Or if it didn’t, it gave every natural impression that it did, thus acting the part of deceiver.)

    Proposition #3: “To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we must be free from all external constraint, but not from interior necessity,”

    Jansen’s idea here was simply that man’s will cannot be coerced if he is to be free, but it need not be free of all causal influences that determine it in order to be free. Again, he is simply affirming that the will of man is not a first, uncaused cause, but is rather part of a larger causal nexus. This idea follows simply from the law of causality and the intrinsic nature of the will.

    Proposition #4: “The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even for the beginning of faith; but they fell into heresy in pretending that this grace is such that man may either follow or resist it;”

    Again, Jansen is simply saying that grace is effectual, so that when it is operative man will not resist it. If it could be resisted in the sense that Jansen is getting at, it would mean that the grace itself does not effectually produce the obedience of the will, but rather the will itself, as a first cause, produces obedience. Jansen was condemning this unbiblical and irrational notion.

    Proposition #5: “To say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men, is Semipelagianism.”

    Jansen affirmed that Christ did not die for all men with an intention to bring them all to final salvation. This is, of course, true, since not all men are saved, and God never has an intention to bring about what will never happen.

    Again, in many of these points, the wording is tricky and can be taken in more than one sense. But the Roman Catholic Church put out these condemnations not completely abstractly, but in response to a particular controversy, to particular ideas, and even to a particular book. Unless we assume deception (intentional or otherwise), we must understand the wording to refer to the doctrines actually taught in the book by Jansen. But Jansen’s understanding of these ideas was biblical and rational and necessarily true, and therefore the Roman Catholic Church condemned a number of central and necessary truths in this bull. And that’s a problem for an infallible divine teaching authority.

    Blaise Pascal, who was partial to the Jansenists, pointed out the deceptiveness of some of the language used by various parties in the Jansenist controversy in his <a href="http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/pascal/letters-contents.html&quot;?Provincial Letters, especially Letters I, II, and XVIII. It is fascinating reading.

    Some of these same issues were at play in the controversies at the time of the Protestant Reformation as well, but I won’t get into that right now.

    What do you think?

  295. Mark, (re: #294)

    What do you think?

    Here’s what I think. You started your comment by saying, “Here is another example of where it appears to me that the Roman Catholic Church has contradicted Scripture …” but then you never listed or referred to a single Scripture passage allegedly contradicted by the Catholic Church.

    And that’s what this whole perspicuity discussion has been about. If you want to change the question, and move to the topic of considering whether the Catholic Church has contradicted reason, or contradicted itself, that’s fine, but it would be good at least to acknowledge that you’re done with the perspicuity discussion and would like to move on to some other question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  296. Mark, (re: #294)

    The concept of a liberty of indifference is irrational, since it posits that events can happen without sufficient causes, and this violates the law of causality.

    That’s a straw man version of libertarian free will. The sufficient cause is the agent him/herself. Otherwise, something other than God would have been needed to move God to create rather than not create. But nothing moves God. So God Himself is the sufficient cause for His creating rather than not creating. And yet God could have done otherwise, as the First Vatican Council teaches, “If anybody says that God created things not in virtue of a will free from all necessity, but in virtue of the necessity by which He necessarily loves Himself, let him be anathema.” Hence God chooses freely between these alternatives (i.e. creating or not creating), and yet this is not a violation of the law of causality, nor is He moved to choose by anything outside Himself. He is the sufficient cause of His choice. And if God can be the sufficient cause of His choice, then there is no a priori reason why free creatures cannot be the sufficient cause of their choices. See “Lawrence Feingold on Freedom of the Will.”

    For if “liberty of indifference” exists, it means that random chance operates in the universe

    That’s a false dilemma. There is another position between random chance and determinism: libertarian free will. To deny that there is any possible position between those two is just to beg the question against the libertarian.

    Of course, there is a sense in which one can be said to resist interior grace–in the sense that there can be a grace given which does not convert the soul, and thus the soul can resist it–but that is not what Jansen was talking about.

    When the Church condemns an error, she condemns the error as the Church defines the terms, not as the person allegedly holding the error defines the terms. It is an error that in the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace as the Church defines the term ‘interior grace’. For the purposes of the Church’s condemnation of the error it does not matter whether Jansen held that error or not.

    Your mistake regarding Proposition #3 follows from your mistake regarding Proposition #1, which I already addressed above.

    Regarding Proposition #4, the reason it is an error is because it completely gets wrong what Semi-Pelagianism was and is. The Semi-Pelagians denied the necessity of interior preventing grace. That’s what the Second Council of Orange condemned; it did not condemn either the notion of the necessity of interior preventing grace, or the notion of the resistability of interior preventing grace. (See “Did the Council of Trent Contradict the Second Council of Orange?“)

    Regarding Proposition #5, the reason that’s an error is because the claim that Christ died for all men is not Semi-Pelagianism. It is a truth of Catholic faith (and a teaching of Scripture rightly interpreted) that Christ died for all men, as is explained in “Lawrence Feingold on Christ’s Universal Salvific Will.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  297. Bryan,

    I will try harder to argue and stop mere assertions.
    —————–

    You wrote:
    The same referent can be picked out by more than one concept, just as the same planet (i.e. Venus) can be picked out by more than one concept (i.e. “the morning star” and “the evening star”).

    Response:
    You are treating the Catholic Church like a simple entity. Increasing concepts indicates that the referent is more simple, and less complex. While I am not opposed to multiplying concepts related to a referent, it should be remembered that the Catholic Church is not simple. The papal office has a real relation to the Catholic Church governed by the Pope or the Cardinals, but the actual successor does not. Is this your position ? If so, then I think any actual successor is essential and an interregnum MUST cause an essential change BY DEFINITION. I’m confident that the magisterium teaches an actual successor is essential to the complex reality called the Catholic Church. Moreover, office is basically the same as supreme power and this is derived from Christ alone.
    —————-

    Constituted and organized as a society demands the constant presence of the Bishop of the Catholic Church:

    In fact, the unity of the Church is also rooted in the unity of the Episcopate. As the very idea of the Body of the Churches calls for the existence of a Church that is Head of the Churches, which is precisely the Church of Rome, “foremost in the universal communion of charity”, so too the unity of the Episcopate involves the existence of a Bishop who is Head of the Body or College of Bishops, namely the Roman Pontiff. Of the unity of the Episcopate, as also of the unity of the entire Church, “the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is a perpetual and visible source and foundation”. This unity of the Episcopate is perpetuated through the centuries by means of the apostolic succession, and is also the foundation of the identity of the Church of every age with the Church built by Christ upon Peter and upon the other Apostles.

    The Bishop is a visible source and foundation of the unity of the particular Church entrusted to his pastoral ministry. But for each particular Church to be fully Church, that is, the particular presence of the universal Church with all its essential elements, and hence constituted after the model of the universal Church, there must be present in it, as a proper element, the supreme authority of the Church: the Episcopal College “together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him”. The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the episcopal College are proper elements of the universal Church that are “not derived from the particularity of the Churches”, but are nevertheless interior to each particular Church. Consequently “we must see the ministry of the Successor of Peter, not only as a ‘global’ service, reaching each particular Church from ‘outside’, as it were, but as belonging already to the essence of each particular Church from ‘within'”. Indeed, the ministry of the Primacy involves, in essence, a truly episcopal power, which is not only supreme, full and universal, but also immediate, over everybody, whether Pastors or other faithful. The ministry of the Successor of Peter as something interior to each particular Church is a necessary expression of that fundamental mutual interiority between universal Church and particular Church.

    – Some aspects of the Church understood as communion, #12 & 13
    —————–

    You wrote:
    The organization which does not have a pope during the interregnum is the same organization having a pope prior to and after the interregnum, just as the organism that does not have consciousness when you are asleep is the same organism that does have consciousness when you are awake.

    Response:
    Not if a Pope has a real relation to the Catholic Church.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  298. Eric, (re: #297)

    You are treating the Catholic Church like a simple entity. Increasing concepts indicates that the referent is more simple, and less complex. While I am not opposed to multiplying concepts related to a referent, it should be remembered that the Catholic Church is not simple.

    Ok.

    The papal office has a real relation to the Catholic Church governed by the Pope or the Cardinals, but the actual successor does not. Is this your position ?

    No. Successors are related to the whole Church through the office.

    If so, then I think any actual successor is essential and an interregnum MUST cause an essential change BY DEFINITION.

    When the cardiac surgeon stops a heart, and replaces it with another heart, that doesn’t mean that the patient is now a new species or a [numerically] different individual. The replacement of something that is essential is not necessarily a change of essence, or substantial change. Receiving a heart transplant does not make the patient an altogether different person, but the same person with a new heart.

    Constituted and organized as a society demands the constant presence of the Bishop of the Catholic Church:

    Not of the bishop himself, but of his ministry, which, as I explained above, is carried on in a diminished capacity in the interregnum by the college of cardinals. The Church has been aware of the interregnum for 2,000 years. So I suggest being cautious with the thesis that you’ve discovered something that causes the Church Christ founded to go out of existence during every interregnum, and be replaced by a new Church when the next pope takes office.

    Not if a Pope has a real relation to the Catholic Church.

    Again, this is a mere assertion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  299. Bryan, (re: #295, #296)

    And that’s what this whole perspicuity discussion has been about. If you want to change the question, and move to the topic of considering whether the Catholic Church has contradicted reason, or contradicted itself, that’s fine, but it would be good at least to acknowledge that you’re done with the perspicuity discussion and would like to move on to some other question.

    Sorry for the confusion. I did not see what I was doing as changing to another question. The whole perspicuity discussion was a part of a larger discussion over my adherence to Sola Scriptura. My reasons for holding to Sola Scriptura are rooted in my overall analysis of the data coming from the history of the Christian tradition. As I look at that data, I see reason to think that the Scriptures (and particularly the books in the Protestant canon) are the infallible Word of God, but I see no reason to think anything beyond these books (other than the true deliverances of reason) are a source of infallible information from God. This conclusion is based partly on the absence of positive evidence in the Christian tradition to believe that God has set up an infallible magisterium or provided an infallible oral tradition. It is also partly based on positive evidence that the churches that have claimed infallibility have erred in various ways–by contradicting themselves, contradicting reason, or contradicting Scripture. In order to continue the conversation, I have begun (slowly and in a piecemeal fashion–there is a lot to talk about) to bring up various specific instances of these claims.

    It is true that I did not bring up any Scriptural evidence in my last post on the five propositions. As I said in that post, that was because I decided to focus on reason, thinking that might be easier to address at the start of the conversation. If I can show that the Roman Catholic Church has contradicted reason, I have shown that it is not infallible in its teaching magisterium, thus, at least in part, vindicating Sola Scriptura. So, in my mind, all of this is a part of the overall conversation.

    Let me put my concerns in connection to the Jansenist controversy into a broader framework. It is my understanding that the philosophy of Molinism posits a libertarian conception of the will. I hold that this concept of the will is inherently irrational, for reasons I stated earlier (and which I will come back to in a moment). The Roman Catholic Church has refused to condemn Molinism as heretical, and has allowed it to remain as an orthodox opinion. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church has condemned clear expressions of Augustinian doctrine, such as that found in the Reformers as well as in the Jansenists. The condemnation of the five propositions is an example of that (I chose that example because it seemed one of the easiest to pin down and bring into a discussion of this sort of format). If Rome had only condemned Jansen’s wording, but not the substance of his opinions (as expressed in the five propositions), I wouldn’t have a problem with the condemnation. But Rome condemned the propositions themselves, clearly implying that the substance and not merely the wording was being condemned. But the substance of what Jansen was saying is necessary to rationality. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church has condemned rationality in its condemnation of the five propositions. And that is a serious problem for the idea that the Roman Catholic Church has an infallible teaching authority from God.

    This difficulty cannot be escaped by the sort of strategy used by the Jansenists. After the five propositions were condemned, they made use of the ambiguity of language to maintain that the five condemned propositions were not actually the views held in Jansen’s book, but were actually completely different, but similar-sounding, propositions not contained in Jansen’s book. They held that the church was right in condemning these doctrines (and they said they condemned them too), but wrong in thinking they were in Jansen’s book. Rome responded that it had the authority to say that those teachings were in Jansen’s book, and that it was intending to condemn that which was in Jansen’s book and not something else. Therefore, I think we must say that what Rome was intending to oppose were the very ideas of Jansen, and the five propositions as they actually represented his thought. But, I hold, his thought was orthodox and essential to reason. Therefore, the church erred in condemning his thought.

    OK, now to the substance of the issue. The condemnation of Jansen’s thought implied an acceptance of various irrational doctrines, such as the doctrine of the liberty of indifference, or “libertarian” free will. Libertarian free will is both irrational and unbiblical. It is irrational because it contradicts the law of causality and thus destroys logic, which is the fabric that holds all reality together. Bryan, you try to escape from this conclusion by asserting that there is a sufficient cause involved in a libertarian free act–the cause of the agent himself acting. But this doesn’t work, because the agent’s action in any particular instance is an event, and it must have a cause. Certainly, the agent himself performs the act of choice. However, the deeper question is this: Why, at any particular time, does the agent choose what he does choose, and not something else? To answer this, we must refer to his motives–his desires, and all that influence them. At any given time, any given agent has a set of motives that are in a certain condition, and given that condition, some particular choice will follow. Only one choice is possible in any specific instance, and that is the choice actually made. For in order for another choice to have been made, the agent’s motives would have had to have been different, which they weren’t. The agent’s motive could have been different, if other things that caused those motives to be what they were would have been different, and so on, all the way back to God, the First Cause. Therefore, God’s eternal decree sets in motion a series of events that cannot ultimately be otherwise, and that series includes all free choices ever made. If we deny this and assert that, at any given time, more than one choice is actually possible to the will–in the sense that it might actually be made–we have to assert that there was no sufficient reason at that time why the agent made the particular choice he did, and thus we violate the law of causality (by which I mean the idea that all events must have an adequate cause that explains them, so that nothing is coming from nothing).

    Libertarian free will also violates the sovereignty of God, and indeed the very idea of God. God is First Cause, and the only source of all reality ultimately. There are only two kinds of things in reality–God, and that which has come from him. Libertarian free will requires a third kind of entity–chance. It posits events that have in them that which is not ultimately traceable to the divine will, and this removes God from his sovereignty over the creation–a characteristic essential to his divinity.

    Libertarian free will also violates the doctrine of salvation by grace. It is evident both to Scripture and to reason that if we are sinners by nature, with no good in us on our own (which the condemnation of Semi-Pelagianism implies), then all good that ever ends up being in us must be owing to divine grace. But if libertarian free will is true, grace cannot really produce a good will, because every act of the will must be produced only by the agent himself as its ultimate cause. Therefore, if libertarian free will is true, all good acts we perform are really ultimately due to ourselves. If all men have sufficient grace, then grace itself does not produce the good will. That must happen only by the will itself making itself good. So our merits cannot be owing to divine grace.

    I am running short on time, but let me give some Scriptural references that are undermined by Roman Catholic condemnation of Jansenism: Romans 9 (which teaches unconditional election that not all men have sufficient grace to bring them to eternal life), Ephesians 1 (which teaches that all things happen according to the counsel of God’s will, which is not the case if chance exists in the universe), and Ephesians 2 and Philippians 2:13 (which teaches that all our good works are from God entirely, and not to ourselves as an ultimate cause).

    So there’s a start at least. Sorry for these short bursts of material. The nature of my life and work requires that I comment in this sort of way if I am going to comment at all. I try to make comments that are not the end-all comments on the subject, but which can be a foundation for further dialogue as we dig deeper into various points.

    Thanks again!

    Mark

  300. Mark (re: #299)

    Only one choice is possible in any specific instance, and that is the choice actually made. For in order for another choice to have been made, the agent’s motives would have had to have been different, which they weren’t.

    You passed over, and did not address, the defeater I pointed out in #296 concerning God’s free choice to create or not create. So do you believe that God could have chosen not to create, or do you believe that God could not have chosen not to create, but by necessity had to create?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  301. Mark, (re: #299)

    Why, at any particular time, does the agent choose what he does choose, and not something else? To answer this, we must refer to his motives–his desires, and all that influence them. At any given time, any given agent has a set of motives that are in a certain condition, and given that condition, some particular choice will follow. Only one choice is possible in any specific instance, and that is the choice actually made. For in order for another choice to have been made, the agent’s motives would have had to have been different, which they weren’t.

    That simply begs the question, i.e. presupposes the falsehood of the libertarian position. The libertarian position is precisely that given all our desires and motivations, we retain the ability to choose more than one possible action. In Catholic theology, when Eve handed Adam the forbidden fruit, he could truly have said no. He was culpable for disobeying God because he knew what he should do, and truly could have obeyed, even given all the beliefs and desires he had at the time.

    If we deny this and assert that, at any given time, more than one choice is actually possible to the will–in the sense that it might actually be made–we have to assert that there was no sufficient reason at that time why the agent made the particular choice he did, and thus we violate the law of causality (by which I mean the idea that all events must have an adequate cause that explains them, so that nothing is coming from nothing).

    Again, that simply begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question. If the free agent’s power of free will is the sufficient explanation, then we don’t “have to assert that there was no sufficient reason at that time why the agent made the particular choice he did,” or “violate the law of causality.” The agent’s free will can be the “adequate cause” that explains why he chose to x rather than y.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  302. Mark, (re: #299)

    Romans 9 (which teaches unconditional election that not all men have sufficient grace to bring them to eternal life), Ephesians 1 (which teaches that all things happen according to the counsel of God’s will, which is not the case if chance exists in the universe), and Ephesians 2 and Philippians 2:13 (which teaches that all our good works are from God entirely, and not to ourselves as an ultimate cause).

    Regarding Romans 9, see Question 11 in the Q&A session at the link here. (There is also a helpful exposition of it from an Orthodox perspective here.) Ephesians 1 is addressed starting in minute 34′ of the lecture at that same link.

    Philippians 2:13 reads, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” That is fully compatible with the falsehood of the five condemned propositions. If you don’t agree that the truth of this passage is fully compatible with the falsehood of the five condemned propositions, you’ll need to show where, exactly, there is some contradiction between the truth of the verse and the falsehood of the five propositions.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  303. Bryan, (#300, #301, #302)

    You passed over, and did not address, the defeater I pointed out in #296 concerning God’s free choice to create or not create. So do you believe that God could have chosen not to create, or do you believe that God could not have chosen not to create, but by necessity had to create?

    It is not actually possible that God could have done anything other than what he in fact has done. God’s choices are not arbitrary, but are rooted in his divine nature. God could not have chosen not to create, because he saw creation as an action worth doing.

    I don’t think I begged the question in my arguments against libertarianism. Let me make one of the arguments again in another way: Let’s say that Agent X has a choice between Option A and Option B at Time T.. If the law of causality is true–that is, if something cannot come from nothing–then it must be the case that if there is a sufficient cause at Time T for Option A to be chosen by Agent X, there cannot be at Time T sufficient cause to cause Agent X to choose Option B. If it were the case that, at Time T, all causal factors being equal, it could happen that either Option A or Option B could be chosen, then there is nothing in those causal factors that explains why Option A is actually chosen over Option B, for the causal factors would be exactly the same in either case. Therefore, as there is nothing in the causal factors that explain the choice of A over B, the choice of A over B is an event produced by no cause at all, violating the law of causality.

    But the law of causality can never be violated, because it is an essential element of logic. It is inherent to the concept of “nothing” that it does nothing. “Nothing” can exert no power to cause anything. To say that nothing caused the choice of Option A is to attribute causal powers to “nothing,” thus making it out to be “something,” contrary to its essential nature. The idea of “nothing” being “something” is a contradiction, and contradictions cannot be the case.

    Therefore, libertarian free will is irrational.

    A question at this point: Is it your view that libertarian free will is an idea affirmed and taught by the Roman Catholic Church? My own reading of Roman Catholic theology suggests that Rome wants to avoid teaching it explicitly; but as it is necessarily implied in the condemnation of the five Jansenist propositions (and in other places), we must say, to be consistent, that Rome teaches it. And since it is false (along with being a matter of fundamental importance), that is a serious problem.

    My own view of the will, of course, is compatibilism. A free choice occurs when the choice arises from the agent’s own reason, desires, etc., even though the choice could not not have occurred given the causal factors operating at the time of the choice (and ultimately traceable back to God as the First Cause).

    Regarding Romans 9, see Question 11 in the Q&A session at the link here. Ephesians 1 is addressed starting in minute 34′ of the lecture at that same link.

    Thank you for the link to the mp3s. I was happy to see that I can download the mp3s, because I very rarely am able to listen to something sitting at a computer. Mostly, my only chance of listening to anything is in the car. You gave me some earlier links to Feingold, but I didn’t see any way to get the mp3s. I’ll look some more, but if you’ve got them handy, would you mind putting a link to them if they are available? Thanks!

    Philippians 2:13 reads, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” That is fully compatible with the falsehood of the five condemned propositions. If you don’t agree that the truth of this passage is fully compatible with the falsehood of the five condemned propositions, you’ll need to show where, exactly, there is some contradiction between the truth of the verse and the falsehood of the five propositions.

    As I showed back in comment #294, the denial of the five propositions entails the acceptance of a libertarian conception of the will. That is the only way one can maintain that sufficient grace can be given to two men, one of whom makes it effectual by cooperating with it while the other does not. But libertarian free will necessarily implies that grace cannot convert the will or cause a good will. Grace can try and persuade a will to become good, but only the will itself can actually turn itself to be good. In this scenario, it is the not the case that God is at work in the just to will and to work for his good pleasure. This verse teaches a causality exercised by God that libertarianism disallows. In a libertarian view, only the will itself is at work causing its own goodness (or anything else in it).

    Thanks!

    Mark

  304. Mark, (re: #303)

    It is not actually possible that God could have done anything other than what he in fact has done. God’s choices are not arbitrary, but are rooted in his divine nature. God could not have chosen not to create, because he saw creation as an action worth doing.

    It is worth considering carefully the implications of this claim, because this is precisely one of the gnostic claims opposed by the early Church Fathers, and opposed again in the Neoplatonists. The notion that God could not have chosen not to create makes the act of creating not a free and loving gift, but instead something God was compelled by His own nature to do, as a man is compelled by nature to relieve his bowels.

    From this position it follows that by coming into existence we allow God to fulfill His nature, which would otherwise be unfulfilled and incomplete prior (logically at least) to creating us, since His natural appetite for creation, that same appetite that compelled Him necessarily and irresistibly to create us, would be unfulfilled and unsatisfied if we did not exist. This position would thus entail that God needs us in order to complete Himself. This would mean that the happiness of God is imperfect and incomplete until He creates us. And this could be the case only if the goodness of God is not perfect, for if the goodness of God were perfect, His happiness would be perfect even without creating us.

    But any being whose goodness is not perfect is not God, for its imperfection would be measured by a perfection higher than itself, and nothing is higher than God. Therefore such a being would not be God. Nor could our goodness have come from such a being, because if the missing goodness we supply to him had first come from him, he would already have had it before creating us, and thus would already have been perfectly happy before creating us. But since this being is missing this completing goodness until we supply it, our goodness did not come from him. But our goodness comes from our Creator. Therefore this being is not our Creator. But if the being one worships is not the Creator, one’s position is a form of Marcionism at best, or just plain idolatry. So the consequences of this position are non-trivial.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  305. Mark, (re: #303)

    I don’t think I begged the question in my arguments against libertarianism. Let me make one of the arguments again in another way: Let’s say that Agent X has a choice between Option A and Option B at Time T.. If the law of causality is true–that is, if something cannot come from nothing–then it must be the case that if there is a sufficient cause at Time T for Option A to be chosen by Agent X, there cannot be at Time T sufficient cause to cause Agent X to choose Option B.

    That’s a non sequitur. If a being with free will is by that power a sufficient cause for option A at time t and a sufficient cause for option B at time t, then the conclusion you drew does not follow. Such a conclusion would follow only if you presupposed that free will is not capable of being a sufficient cause for both options. And that presupposition precisely begs the question.

    A question at this point: Is it your view that libertarian free will is an idea affirmed and taught by the Roman Catholic Church?

    It is taught in the Catechism:

    Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

    As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach. (CCC 1731-1732)

    You wrote:

    And since it is false (along with being a matter of fundamental importance), that is a serious problem.

    So far, all your arguments attempting to show that libertarian free will is false, have been fallacious arguments.

    As I showed back in comment #294, the denial of the five propositions entails the acceptance of a libertarian conception of the will. That is the only way one can maintain that sufficient grace can be given to two men, one of whom makes it effectual by cooperating with it while the other does not. But libertarian free will necessarily implies that grace cannot convert the will or cause a good will.

    Careful. Libertarian free will does not imply that grace *cannot* covert the will or cause a good will. The ability of the will to resist grace as it is given does not entail that grace could not be given in such a way as to covert that same will or cause it to be a good will. Libertarian free will does not entail a denial of divine omnipotence.

    Grace can try and persuade a will to become good, but only the will itself can actually turn itself to be good.

    That’s another straw man. God by operative actual grace moves the will, but the person may still resist this movement. If he does not resist, but instead cooperates, God gives cooperative grace, and he is converted. Here’s St. Augustine:

    He, therefore, who wishes to do God’s commandment, but is unable, already possesses a good will, but as yet a small and weak one; he will, however, become able when he shall have acquired a great and robust will. When the martyrs did the great commandments which they obeyed, they acted by a great will,— that is, with great love. Of this love the Lord Himself thus speaks: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) In accordance with this, the apostle also says, He that loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18) Love works no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10) This love the Apostle Peter did not yet possess, when he for fear thrice denied the Lord. (Matthew 26:69-75) There is no fear in love, says the Evangelist John in his first Epistle, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18) But yet, however small and imperfect his love was, it was not wholly wanting when he said to the Lord, I will lay down my life for Your sake; (John 13:37) for he supposed himself able to effect what he felt himself willing to do. And who was it that had begun to give him his love, however small, but He who prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation what He initiates by His operation? Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, I am confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6) He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will. Now, concerning His working that we may will, it is said: It is God which works in you, even to will. (Philippians 2:13) While of His co-working with us, when we will and act by willing, the apostle says, We know that in all things there is co-working for good to them that love God. What does this phrase, all things, mean, but the terrible and cruel sufferings which affect our condition? That burden, indeed, of Christ, which is heavy for our infirmity, becomes light to love. For to such did the Lord say that His burden was light, (Matthew 11:30) as Peter was when he suffered for Christ, not as he was when he denied Him. (On Grace and Free Will, 33 [XVII], emphases mine)

    St. Thomas Aquinas does not deviate from Augustine on this point. St. Thomas is very clear that when God moves a thing, He moves it according to its nature. And this is why for St. Thomas, God moves a free creature in a way that upholds the creature’s freedom, and does not necessitate the movement of the creature’s will. St. Thomas denies that the will is moved by God in such a way that the will is moved by necessity [quod voluntas a Deo ex necessitate moveatur]. (ST I-II Q. 10 a.4 ad 3)

    St. Thomas writes:

    As Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) “it belongs to Divine providence, not to destroy but to preserve the nature of things.” Wherefore it moves all things in accordance with their conditions; so that from necessary causes through the Divine motion, effects follow of necessity; but from contingent causes, effects follow contingently [ex causis autem contingentibus sequuntur effectus contingenter]. Since, therefore, the will is an active principle, not determinate to one thing, but having an indifferent relation to many things, God so moves it, that He does not determine it of necessity to one thing, but its movement remains contingent and not necessary, except in those things to which it is moved naturally.

    The Divine will extends not only to the doing of something by the thing which He moves, but also to its being done in a way which is fitting to the nature of that thing. And therefore it would be more repugnant to the Divine motion, for the will to be moved of necessity, which is not fitting to its nature; than for it to be moved freely, which is becoming to its nature. (ST I-II Q.10 a.4)

    And elsewhere St. Thomas says something quite similar:

    The justification of the ungodly is brought about by God moving man to justice. For He it is “that justifieth the ungodly” according to Romans 4:5. Now God moves everything in its own manner, just as we see that in natural things, what is heavy and what is light are moved differently, on account of their diverse natures. Hence He moves man to justice according to the condition of his human nature. But it is man’s proper nature to have free-will. Hence in him who has the use of reason, God’s motion to justice does not take place without a movement of the free-will; but He so infuses the gift of justifying grace that at the same time He moves the free-will to accept the gift of grace, in such as are capable of being moved thus. (ST I-II Q.113 a.3)

    God moves a thing according to its nature or condition. Grace perfects nature; grace does not destroy nature. Since man is by nature a rational (and hence freely willing) creature, and the will is not determined to one action but is open to many actions, and since grace always perfects nature, therefore grace does not take away our freedom, but enhances and perfects it. So when St. Thomas comments on co-operating grace, he says:

    As stated above (Question 110, Article 2) grace may be taken in two ways; first, as a Divine help, whereby God moves us to will and to act; secondly, as a habitual gift divinely bestowed on us.

    Now in both these ways grace is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating. For the operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of “operating grace.” But in that effect in which our mind both moves and is moved, the operation is not only attributed to God, but also to the soul; and it is with reference to this that we speak of “cooperating grace.” Now there is a double act in us. First, there is the interior act of the will, and with regard to this act the will is a thing moved, and God is the mover; and especially when the will, which hitherto willed evil, begins to will good. And hence, inasmuch as God moves the human mind to this act, we speak of operating grace. But there is another, exterior act; and since it is commanded by the will, as was shown above (Question 17, Article 9) the operation of this act is attributed to the will. And because God assists us in this act, both by strengthening our will interiorly so as to attain to the act, and by granting outwardly the capability of operating, it is with respect to this that we speak of cooperating grace. Hence after the aforesaid words Augustine subjoins: “He operates that we may will; and when we will, He cooperates that we may perfect.” And thus if grace is taken for God’s gratuitous motion whereby He moves us to meritorious good, it is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating grace.

    But if grace is taken for the habitual gift, then again there is a double effect of grace, even as of every other form; the first of which is “being,” and the second, “operation”; thus the work of heat is to make its subject hot, and to give heat outwardly. And thus habitual grace, inasmuch as it heals and justifies the soul, or makes it pleasing to God, is called operating grace; but inasmuch as it is the principle of meritorious works, which spring from the free-will, it is called cooperating grace. (ST I-II Q. 111 a.2, my emphases)

    You wrote:

    In this scenario, it is the not the case that God is at work in the just to will and to work for his good pleasure. This verse teaches a causality exercised by God that libertarianism disallows. In a libertarian view, only the will itself is at work causing its own goodness (or anything else in it)

    Again, this is a straw man. You’ve made this verse out to be opposed to libertarianism by constructing a Semi-Pelagian straw man version of libertarianism. The Catholic position is the one articulated by St. Augustine and St. Thomas.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  306. Bryan, (re: #304)

    It is worth considering carefully the implications of this claim, because this is precisely one of the gnostic claims opposed by the early Church Fathers, and opposed again in the Neoplatonists. The notion that God could not have chosen not to create makes the act of creating not a free and loving gift, but instead something God was compelled by His own nature to do, as a man is compelled by nature to relieve his bowels.

    I think this is an area where a libertarian conception of the will has confused Christians. Libertarians think that all necessity is contrary to freedom and responsibility. But this is not the case. All that is required for an act to be a free and responsible act is for the act to flow from the beliefs, desires, values, etc., of the agent. The fact that the choice, desires, beliefs, etc., do not occur in a causal vacuum, but are part of a larger causal nexus and could not have played out otherwise than they in fact played out, does not at all diminish freedom or responsibility. We praise and blame people, when they do something good or bad, because the good or bad action flowed intentionally from that person’s own mind and heart and thus reflect the character of that mind and heart; and none of this is incompatible with the sort of causal necessity compatibilists have (and the Jansenists had) in mind.

    God did not create the world arbitrarily, for no reason, without motive. God’s will is not an irrational impulse. If God created the world, there was something he wanted to accomplish in doing so, and his motives were rooted in his unchanging nature and thus could not have been otherwise.

    From this position it follows that by coming into existence we allow God to fulfill His nature, which would otherwise be unfulfilled and incomplete prior (logically at least) to creating us, since His natural appetite for creation, that same appetite that compelled Him necessarily and irresistibly to create us, would be unfulfilled and unsatisfied if we did not exist. This position would thus entail that God needs us in order to complete Himself. This would mean that the happiness of God is imperfect and incomplete until He creates us. And this could be the case only if the goodness of God is not perfect, for if the goodness of God were perfect, His happiness would be perfect even without creating us.

    Since God had a motive in creating the world, he must have had a goal in doing so. That is, he wanted something that he would not have had otherwise. However, it does not follow from this that he is incomplete in his own nature, or that the creation adds something to him that he did not have in his own nature. Rather, we should say this: It is an intrinsic part of God’s nature that he is happy in the enjoyment of his own perfections, and it is an intrinsic part of God’s enjoyment of his own perfections to see those perfections displayed through his works of creation and providence. This does not entail that God attains happiness from outside of himself, for these reasons: 1. God is outside of time, and so it is inappropriate to ask about his condition before the creation. There is no such state in God’s own internal experience, because all times are part of his eternal present. Therefore, to picture God as lacking something before the creation that he will later attain by means of the creation is erroneous. All that God enjoys by means of the creation he enjoys as part of his unchanging, timeless experience, and therefore never is in a condition of lacking. 2. All the good that is in the creation is from God. There is nothing there that is not ultimately derived from him (unlike a case in which libertarian free will existed). Therefore, his enjoyment of any good produced through the creation is not an enjoyment of a good coming from outside of himself, but is rather an aspect of his enjoyment of himself.

    (re: #305)

    Such a conclusion would follow only if you presupposed that free will is not capable of being a sufficient cause for both options. And that presupposition precisely begs the question.

    The same cause or set of causes cannot be sufficient for two diverse effects. That is precisely what I was trying to show in my “Agent X” example. The reason this is the case is because if we have the same set of causes for two diverse effects, then the causes do not explain the peculiarities of each effect. If the same set of causes is posited for both Option A and Option B, then that set of causes does not provide the explanation for why A or B would be chosen over the other option. The set of causes could explain that which is common to both A and B, but as the causes do not themselves incline either to A or to B specifically, that inclination or motion towards either A or B is not explained by the causes, leaving them uncaused–which violates the law of causality and thus logic.

    It is taught in the Catechism:

    I agree that it seems to be implied there, although the words are somewhat ambiguous, as compatibilists could use them as well in a different sense. In fact, it would seem that that ambiguity is precisely how the Thomists have managed to remain in the Roman Catholic Church. It is apparently also this ambiguity that James Akin is drawing on be able to say (as he does here) that the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible (efficacious) grace is not contrary to Roman Catholic thought:

    This is the principal issue between Thomists and Molinists. [29] Thomists claim this enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious; by its very nature, because of the kind of grace it is, it always produces the effect of salvation. Molinists claim God’s enabling grace is only sufficient and is made efficacious by man’s free choice rather than by the nature of the grace itself. For this reason Molinists say that enabling grace is extrinsically efficacious rather than intrinsically efficacious. [30]

    A Catholic can agree with the idea that enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious and, consequently, that all who receive this grace will repent and come to God. Aquinas taught, “God’s intention cannot fail… Hence if God intends, while moving it, that the one whose heart he moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it, according to John 6:45, ‘Everyone that has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.'”

    30. One should note Thomists do believe in free will, although not the sort Molinists believe in. They claim God’s grace establishes what will be freely chosen, but in a way that does not disturb the will’s freedom. Aquinas said, “God changes the will without forcing it. But he can change the will from the fact that he himself operates in the will as he does in nature,” De Veritatis 22:9.

    What it seems to me that the Roman Catholic Church has done is to condemn the Augustinian and Thomistic view of the will and how grace works and affirm the contrary (it did so in the condemnation of Jansen, earlier in the Council of Trent, and other times), and yet use the ambiguity of language to allow those who hold the substance of the condemned view of the will and how grace works to remain in the church, provided they use only church-approved language (that is, language that doesn’t offend the other side too much) in describing their position. I mentioned Blaise Pascal’s book, The Provincial Letters, back in comment #294, as he provides an excellent commentary on how this ambiguity worked out during the time of the Jansenist controversy.

    Libertarian free will does not imply that grace *cannot* covert the will or cause a good will. The ability of the will to resist grace as it is given does not entail that grace could not be given in such a way as to covert that same will or cause it to be a good will. Libertarian free will does not entail a denial of divine omnipotence.

    Libertarian free will does indeed imply that grace cannot convert the will and make it good. The entire point of libertarian free will, as distinguished from compatibilistic free will, is that no causal factors outside the will itself can cause it to will anything. Outside factors can attempt to influence and persuade it, but they cannot effectually cause it to choose anything. Thus, so long as sinners have libertarian free will, grace cannot turn a bad will into a good will. Only the will itself can do that. And that means that grace can never actually effect regeneration, contrary to reason and Scripture.

    Your comment seems to suggest that you don’t think that the concept of libertarian free will precludes the possibility of efficacious grace that can convert the will. As I just showed, it does indeed preclude that possibility. But let’s say that efficacious grace is indeed in fact still possible. In that case, why does God not give efficacious grace to everyone? I’ve begun to listen to the Lawrence Feingold lectures (thank you again for those!). I listened this morning (almost completely–I’ve got about fifteen minutes left in the Q&A period) to the lecture on “God’s Universal Salvific Will.” Do you share his overall view on this point? He seems to think that God does everything he can to save all, because he wills to save all. He complains about Luther and Calvin denying God’s salvific will. Well, if God can give efficacious grace to all, and he wills all to be saved, why does he not give efficacious grace to all? Feingold’s view seems to be that he can’t save all because, as the Council of Trent seemed also to affirm, grace cannot efficaciously convert the will. The will must provide independent cooperation.

    And I think that libertarian free will does indeed entail a denial of divine omnipotence. It does so because it posits a source of causality–that is, power–not rooted ultimately in God–namely, chance. Also, if God wills all to be saved, and cannot save all because of libertarian free will, then God’s will is thwarted, and in this way also he proves not to be omnipotent.

    That’s another straw man. God by operative actual grace moves the will, but the person may still resist this movement. If he does not resist, but instead cooperates, God gives cooperative grace, and he is converted.

    No, it’s not a straw man. If God’s operative actual grace requires human cooperation in the sense you are envisioning, then that grace cannot turn the bad will good. In this case, grace acts on the will, but it may stay bad if it wishes to. If it wishes to, it may choose to cooperate with that grace, which is to make a good choice, and thus at this point it is already a good will. Further grace may be given to help that good will do various good things, but it is ultimately the will itself which provides the causal power to turn itself from bad to good, not grace. If you want to say that grace converts a bad will into a good will (i.e. a will that chooses evil to a will that chooses good), you will have to abandon libertarian free will and adopt Augustine’s and Thomas’s (and Jansen’s and Calvin’s) compatibilism. By denying compatibilism and affirming libertarianism, the Roman Catholic Church has condemned the concept of a good will created by grace.

    From your quotation of Augustine:

    He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us.

    What Augustine is saying in this quotation, as exemplified in this sentence, is that grace changes the bad will into a good will by itself. Then, once the will is good, it cooperates with further grace to become even better. That’s fine. Calvin and Luther would completely agree (and so do I). In this view, all the goodness of the will, including the cooperating of the will after it has been made initially good, is a produce of grace. The problem is that if libertarian free will is true, grace could not have turned the bad will into the good will in the first place. So Augustine is fundamentally against you here, and against Roman Catholicism. But Augustine is right.

    Thomas agrees with Augustine, as you say. But they both agree against what you are affirming. Thomas didn’t hold to libertarian free will any more than Augustine did. From your last quotation of Thomas:

    Now there is a double act in us. First, there is the interior act of the will, and with regard to this act the will is a thing moved, and God is the mover; and especially when the will, which hitherto willed evil, begins to will good. And hence, inasmuch as God moves the human mind to this act, we speak of operating grace. But there is another, exterior act; and since it is commanded by the will, as was shown above (Question 17, Article 9) the operation of this act is attributed to the will. And because God assists us in this act, both by strengthening our will interiorly so as to attain to the act, and by granting outwardly the capability of operating, it is with respect to this that we speak of cooperating grace.

    But if grace is taken for the habitual gift, then again there is a double effect of grace, even as of every other form; the first of which is “being,” and the second, “operation”; thus the work of heat is to make its subject hot, and to give heat outwardly. And thus habitual grace, inasmuch as it heals and justifies the soul, or makes it pleasing to God, is called operating grace; but inasmuch as it is the principle of meritorious works, which spring from the free-will, it is called cooperating grace.

    Operative grace turns the will from good to bad, and then once it is turned, the will begins to cooperate with further grace. But if libertarian free will is true, grace cannot turn the will from good to bad.

    From your first quotation of Thomas:

    The Divine will extends not only to the doing of something by the thing which He moves, but also to its being done in a way which is fitting to the nature of that thing. And therefore it would be more repugnant to the Divine motion, for the will to be moved of necessity, which is not fitting to its nature; than for it to be moved freely, which is becoming to its nature. (ST I-II Q.10 a.4)

    I entirely agree that grace perfects nature and does not destroy nature, and that grace moves the will in a way consistent with its nature. Calvinists have always said the same. For example, see the Westminster Confession:

    God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil. (WCF 9:1)

    All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

    See also these couple of quotations from Francis Turretin, one of the most famous of Reformed theologians, speaking of conversion and regeneration:

    However, although in every instance God and man concur, still they concur in different ways. God is the sole cause of habitual conversion. He effects it by the heart-turning power of his Spirit without any cooperation from man. Here man (since it treats of his renewal) is only passive and subjective inasmuch as he is a mere subject receiving the action of God. But with respect to the actual, the principal cause is indeed God, but the proximate and immediate cause is man, who (excited by the Holy Spirit and imbued with the habits of faith and love) believes and loves. Hence although the act of believing is produced by God, yet because it is exercised by man as the proximate cause, it is ascribed not to God, but to man. Thus man holds himself here, both passively to receive the motion of prevenient and exciting grace (for the will does not act unless acted upon) and actively and efficiently because he actually believes and works under God. Still thus he is said to be the cause of his own conversion that he is not such from himself, but from grace, both because the power of believing is only from God and because the very act of believing depends upon God himself exciting the faculty to its operation. (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, Eleventh Through Seventeenth Topics, trans. George Musgrave Giger and ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994], 523)

    It is not simply physical because it is concerned with a moral faculty which ought to be moved in a way appropriate to its nature; nor is it simply ethical, as if God acted only objectively and used mild suasion (as the Pelagians maintain). Rather it is supernatural and divine, rising above all these classes. In the meantime, it partakes somewhat of the ethical and the physical because the Spirit in our conversion operates both powerfully and sweetly, pleasingly and invincibly. It pertains to a physical mode that God by his Spirit creates, regenerates, gives us a heart of flesh and infuses into us efficiently the supernatural habits of faith and love. It pertains to a moral mode in that it teaches, inclines, persuades and draws to itself by various reasons as if by the chains of love. Hence Augustine is accustomed everywhere to express it by the phrase ‘delightful conqueror’ (cf. On the Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism 2.32 [19] [NPNF1, 5:57; PL 44.170]) who has conjoined with the highest pleasantness and sweetness, the greatest efficacy and power which expels all the obstinacy of the heart. Thus neither that strength nor efficacy compels the man unwillingly, nor sweetly moves him now running spontaneously; but each joined together both strengthens the weakness of man and overcomes the hatred [love?] of sin. It is powerful that it may not be frustrated; sweet that it may not be forced. Its power is supreme and inexpugnable that the corruption of nature may be conquered, as well as the highest impotence of acting well and the necessity of doing evil. Yet still it is friendly and agreeable, such as becomes an intelligent and rational nature. (Ibid., 524-525)

    However, libertarian free will is not part of the nature of the will. Grace does not destroy nature when it works effectually to transform a bad will into a good will. When Thomas speaks of the will not being moved by “necessity,” it is clear from context that he is rejecting the same thing rejected by the Westminster Confession in the first quotation above–that is, a necessity which operates mechanically, and not alongside the voluntary nature of the will. He is not denying “necessity” in the sense that grace actually, effectually, causes the will to act in a certain way.

    Again, this is a straw man. You’ve made this verse out to be opposed to libertarianism by constructing a Semi-Pelagian straw man version of libertarianism. The Catholic position is the one articulated by St. Augustine and St. Thomas.

    I have not constructed a fallacious version of libertarianism. I have described the true version accurately. The Roman Catholic position that you are articulating is not the position advocated by Augustine or Thomas, but is opposed to both of them, for they both rejected libertarian free will and held to compatibilism and efficacious grace.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  307. Mark, (re: #306)

    I think this is an area where a libertarian conception of the will has confused Christians.

    I’ll ignore the ad hominem, but perhaps in the future you could refrain from personal criticisms. (i.e. direct your criticism to positions, not to your interlocutor).

    Libertarians think that all necessity is contrary to freedom and responsibility.

    No they don’t. Please let libertarians define their own position, rather than attempting to dictate to them what you think they believe. Logical necessity, for example, is not incompatible with libertarian freedom. St. Augustine explains this in his “On the Freedom of the Will.”

    All that is required for an act to be a free and responsible act is for the act to flow from the beliefs, desires, values, etc., of the agent.

    That assertion simply begs the question against the libertarian.

    The fact that the choice, desires, beliefs, etc., do not occur in a causal vacuum, but are part of a larger causal nexus and could not have played out otherwise than they in fact played out, does not at all diminish freedom or responsibility.

    Again, that assertion simply begs the question against the libertarian. Hopefully you see how merely table-pounding question-begging assertions are not helpful at all for resolving the disagreement.

    God did not create the world arbitrarily, for no reason, without motive. God’s will is not an irrational impulse. If God created the world, there was something he wanted to accomplish in doing so, and his motives were rooted in his unchanging nature and thus could not have been otherwise.

    And that too is a question begging assertion. You are assuming that for God’s motive to be rational, His choice could not have been otherwise. And that simply begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question.

    Since God had a motive in creating the world, he must have had a goal in doing so. That is, he wanted something that he would not have had otherwise. However, it does not follow from this that he is incomplete in his own nature, or that the creation adds something to him that he did not have in his own nature. Rather, we should say this: It is an intrinsic part of God’s nature that he is happy in the enjoyment of his own perfections, and it is an intrinsic part of God’s enjoyment of his own perfections to see those perfections displayed through his works of creation and providence.

    If God is truly happy in the enjoyment of His own perfection, then it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.” Otherwise, if He were lacking something He wanted, He wasn’t completely happy. So either God was completely happy, in which case there was nothing that He wanted but didn’t have, or God was not completely happy.

    All the good that is in the creation is from God. There is nothing there that is not ultimately derived from him (unlike a case in which libertarian free will existed). Therefore, his enjoyment of any good produced through the creation is not an enjoyment of a good coming from outside of himself, but is rather an aspect of his enjoyment of himself.

    If all the good that is in creation is from God, then it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.” Either there is some good He didn’t have, in which case that extra good did not come from God, or if that good came from Him then He already had it, in which case it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.”

    The same cause or set of causes cannot be sufficient for two diverse effects.

    That statement precisely begs the question against the libertarian position, because that’s precisely what the libertarian believes.

    That is precisely what I was trying to show in my “Agent X” example. The reason this is the case is because if we have the same set of causes for two diverse effects, then the causes do not explain the peculiarities of each effect.

    The assumption that the explanation for the choice of one option over the other must be in something behind or under free will is a question-begging assumption against the libertarian position.

    If the same set of causes is posited for both Option A and Option B, then that set of causes does not provide the explanation for why A or B would be chosen over the other option.

    In the libertarian position the agent’s free choice is the explanation. He or she freely chose A over B, and while other factors allowed him or her to see A as a good, ultimately the explanation of the choice of A over B is the free act of the will. So your assertion that this does not provide “the explanation for why A or B would be chosen over the other option” just begs the question against the libertarian position.

    The set of causes could explain that which is common to both A and B, but as the causes do not themselves incline either to A or to B specifically, that inclination or motion towards either A or B is not explained by the causes, leaving them uncaused–which violates the law of causality and thus logic

    Again, this simply begs the question, by presupposing that there is no such thing that has in itself the capacity to choose freely between two distinct alternatives. If there is such a thing as libertarian free will, then the operation of such a will is the buck-stopping point in the explanation of the choice.

    I agree that it seems to be implied there, although the words are somewhat ambiguous, as compatibilists could use them as well in a different sense. In fact, it would seem that that ambiguity is precisely how the Thomists have managed to remain in the Roman Catholic Church. It is apparently also this ambiguity that James Akin is drawing on be able to say

    You’re confusing the orders of nature and grace. We’ve been speaking about the order of nature. Akin is talking about the order of grace. Free will as a power by which we can choose between alternatives, with the genuine ability to have done otherwise, is part of Catholic doctrine. That’s what the CCC is talking about.

    Libertarian free will does indeed imply that grace cannot convert the will and make it good. The entire point of libertarian free will, as distinguished from compatibilistic free will, is that no causal factors outside the will itself can cause it to will anything.

    No, not all forms of libertarianism hold that. The beatific vision, for example, moves the will irresistibly. And a libertarian can affirm that, and still be a libertarian.

    As I just showed, …

    As you just *asserted.* Assertions are not demonstrations.

    why does God not give efficacious grace to everyone?

    Precisely to preserve self-determining freedom. If God overwhelmed us, our response wouldn’t be free, and thus wouldn’t be loving, or self-determining.

    Feingold’s view seems to be that he can’t save all …

    No, that’s not his position

    And I think that libertarian free will does indeed entail a denial of divine omnipotence. It does so because it posits a source of causality–that is, power–not rooted ultimately in God–namely, chance.

    No, that’s another straw man. Chance does not cause anything. The agent, by the power God gave him or her to choose, is the cause. So no, it is not true that the cause is “not rooted in God.” But not every cause rooted in God is a determinate cause acting by necessity and incapable of choosing between alternatives. Adam, given his exact same endowment and internal condition, could have chosen not to sin.

    Also, if God wills all to be saved, and cannot save all because of libertarian free will, then God’s will is thwarted, and in this way also he proves not to be omnipotent.

    Here you are conflating the distinction between God’s antecedent will and consequent will. Again see the Feingold article on God’s universal salvific will.

    No, it’s not a straw man. If God’s operative actual grace requires human cooperation in the sense you are envisioning, then that grace cannot turn the bad will good.

    That begs the question, by presupposing that unless the turning is monergistic, then the operative grace did not move the will. Again, that simply begs the question, i.s. presupposes precisely what is in question.

    In this case, grace acts on the will, but it may stay bad if it wishes to. If it wishes to, it may choose to cooperate with that grace, which is to make a good choice, and thus at this point it is already a good will.

    Again, this begs the question, by presupposing that cooperation with the movement of grace in the turning of the will back to God entails that the will is already “good.” But if the will is not “good” until converted back to God, then cooperation with grace in the turning of the will does not entail that the will is already good.

    Further grace may be given to help that good will do various good things, but it is ultimately the will itself which provides the causal power to turn itself from bad to good, not grace.

    No, that’s a straw man of the Catholic position. It is actual grace that moves the will, and if the will corresponds with that grace, the movement is still a divine movement, in which the will is cooperating. The either/or assumption you are imposing on the Catholic position is part of the Protestant paradigm, not part of the Catholic paradigm. That assumption thus begs the question against the Catholic position.

    What Augustine is saying in this quotation, as exemplified in this sentence, is that grace changes the bad will into a good will by itself. Then, once the will is good, it cooperates with further grace to become even better.

    I understand that you interpret it that way, but in the Catholic paradigm, that operative grace does not make the will good unless the will chooses not to resist, but to cooperate.

    By denying compatibilism and affirming libertarianism, the Roman Catholic Church has condemned the concept of a good will created by grace.

    That statement begs the question, by presupposing that the only way a will can be made good by grace, is if there is no cooperation. But that’s precisely the point in question.

    The problem is that if libertarian free will is true, grace could not have turned the bad will into the good will in the first place.

    Again, this begs the question, by presupposing that the only way a will can be made good by grace, is if there is no cooperation.

    However, libertarian free will is not part of the nature of the will.

    That just begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question.

    I have not constructed a fallacious version of libertarianism. I have described the true version accurately.

    As long as you keep insisting that you know my own position better than I do, we’re not going to make any progress (and on my end it will get tiring in a hurry). There is just no point in continuing, when just about every criticism you offer is a straw man or begs the question. And I’m guessing that you probably just set a record here at CTC for most questions begged in a single comment.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  308. Bryan (#298),

    Ok, I will consider your suggestion. If not an essential change, then perhaps an interregnum
    “wounds” the Catholic Church. Death is a consequence of sin in general.
    —————

    You wrote in the article:
    When we apply this test to the Catholic Church, by contrast, we find that in order to remove the whole and leave the parts, we have to change the world. This is because the Catholic Church’s hierarchical unity changes and orders the activity of her members. And this is also true of a society, on account of its singular government.

    Response:
    Why should anyone apply the test based on the following?

    From the Church, which in its origins and its first manifestation is universal, have arisen the different local Churches, as particular expressions of the one unique Church of Jesus Christ. Arising within and out of the universal Church, they have their ecclesiality in it and from it. Hence the formula of the Second Vatican Council: The Church in and formed out of the Churches (Ecclesia in et ex Ecclesiis), is inseparable from this other formula: The Churches in and formed out of the Church (Ecclesia in et ex Ecclesiis). Clearly the relationship between the universal Church and the particular Churches is a mystery, and cannot be compared to that which exists between the whole and the parts in a purely human group or society.
    -Some aspects of the Church understood as communion, #9
    ———————

    You wrote:
    But what allows the removal of the “visible catholic Church” from Protestant ecclesiology, without changing anything else, is that Protestantism mistakenly denies the necessity of hierarchical unity for visible unity at the universal (i.e. catholic) level. Reformed Protestantism recognizes that local churches, in order to be visible, must be hierarchical.

    Response:
    Protestant ecclesiology teaches two things: (a) that a particular church is an expression of Christ governing his church before the ascension. (b) the college of bishops or pastors reflect the universal church under the Apostles. Since we believe that Jesus did and Peter did not have hierarchical primacy, then there is no necessity to have hierarchical unity at the universal level. However, reflecting collegiality is required because the universal church was present and constituted this way at Pentecost.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  309. Eric, (re: #308)

    Why should anyone apply the test based on the following?

    I never claimed anyone should apply the test based on that quotation from “Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion.”

    Protestant ecclesiology teaches two things: (a) that a particular church is an expression of Christ governing his church before the ascension. (b) the college of bishops or pastors reflect the universal church under the Apostles. Since we believe that Jesus did and Peter did not have hierarchical primacy, then there is no necessity to have hierarchical unity at the universal level.

    The problem with that position, as Tom Brown and I pointed out in the “Christ Founded a Visible Church” article, is that it undermines the hierarchy at the local level. If hierarchy is unnecessary for the unity of the universal church, then hierarchy is unnecessary for the unity of the local church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  310. Bryan, (re: #307)

    I actually have not been begging the question. What you are calling mere assertions are arguments. I am analyzing what is going on in a libertarian choice and demonstrating how libertarianism has a problem with causality.

    In the libertarian position the agent’s free choice is the explanation. He or she freely chose A over B, and while other factors allowed him or her to see A as a good, ultimately the explanation of the choice of A over B is the free act of the will. So your assertion that this does not provide “the explanation for why A or B would be chosen over the other option” just begs the question against the libertarian position.

    I see what you are saying here. But I don’t think it saves libertarianism from being a violation of the law of causality. Man’s choices are events occurring in time. No events occurring in time can be First Causes, because they are essentially contingent. If Agent X chooses Option A over Option B, that is a specific event–we’ll call it the event of “Agent X choosing Option A.” Now, this event is not a First Cause, because it begins to be, and thus it must be traced back to logically preceding causes. So we must ask, “What was the cause of ‘Agent X choosing Option A’?” The problem with your argument I just quoted is that it doesn’t answer this necessary question. Your position suggests that it has no answer, because “Agent X choosing Option A” is a First Cause (I’m using caps because I think the only First Cause is God–he is the only thing that does not need to be explained by logically preceding causes). But it can’t be. So there must be some preceding cause to explain “Agent X choosing Option A.”

    Well then, what is the cause of this event? To determine this, I think it is helpful to carefully examine what a choice actually is. We can do this by observing human psychology and watching what goes on in a choice. When I make a choice, what is happening seems to be basically this: I exist and have a mind. I have options in front of me that can be objects of my choice. I deliberate (to some degree or another) on the question of which available option I most want, all things considered. Taken into account in this deliberation are my personal desires and preferences, my beliefs, my values, etc. At some point, I come to a conclusion as to what I believe I most want, all things considered. At this point, my mind initiates the action of actually pursuing the preferred option. As I observe myself and others, this is what it looks like is going on when I and others make choices.

    So, working from that, we can try to answer the earlier question, “What was the cause of ‘Agent X choosing Option A’?” Obviously, since this is an abstract example, we cannot be specific. But our general answer will be thus: “Agent X choosing Option A” happened because, upon deliberation, Agent X found that he preferred Option A to Option B, all things considered. The next logical question, then, is, “Why did Agent X prefer Option A to Option B?” The answer to that, broadly and generally speaking, will be include all the things that have influences Agent X in his life up to this point–including his beliefs and values, how he came to have those beliefs and values, his emotional and psychological make-up, his personality, his upbringing, his moral influences, his past experiences and choices, perhaps whether or not he has received grace, etc. And ultimately, if we keep tracing it back as far as we can, this whole chain of causes and effects will reach back to the divine will, since God is the only First Cause.

    One of the greatest book-length works I have found on the topic of free will is Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will. I love this short selection, which addresses the same argument of yours I’ve been addressing. (You may think that Edwards is involving ad hominems in his discussion, but hopefully you won’t mind since they aren’t coming from me and I am not endorsing them. I still think the quote is valuable.)

    The question is not so much, How a spirit endowed with activity comes to act, as why it exerts such an act, and not another; or why it acts with such a particular determination? If activity of nature be the Cause why a spirit (the soul of man, for instance) acts, and does not lie still; yet that alone is not the Cause why its action is thus and thus limited, directed, and determined. Active nature is a general thing; it is an ability or tendency of nature to action, generally taken; which may be a Cause why the soul acts as occasion or reason is given; but this alone cannot be a sufficient Cause why the soul exerts such a particular act, at such a time, rather than others. In order to this there must be something besides a general tendency to action; there must also be a particular tendency to that individual action.—If it should be asked, why the soul of man uses its activity, in such a manner as it does; and it should be answered, that the soul uses its activity thus, rather than otherwise, because it has activity; would such an answer satisfy a rational man? Would it not rather be looked upon as a very impertinent one?

    Please let libertarians define their own position, rather than attempting to dictate to them what you think they believe. Logical necessity, for example, is not incompatible with libertarian freedom.

    Yes, you are right there. I stand corrected. What I should have said is that libertarians tend to think that all necessity which makes it so the will can only possibly act in one way at any given time is incompatible with freedom and moral responsibility.

    I should add here that what you describe as attempting to dictate to libertarians what you think they believe is not really that (generally speaking). Rather, what I am doing is trying to point out that libertarianism leads logically to certain conclusions, although those conclusions may not be acknowledged or recognized by many libertarians. We may disagree about what libertarianism logically implies, but for me to make such an argument is common fare in philosophical discussions.

    If God is truly happy in the enjoyment of His own perfection, then it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.” Otherwise, if He were lacking something He wanted, He wasn’t completely happy. So either God was completely happy, in which case there was nothing that He wanted but didn’t have, or God was not completely happy.

    If all the good that is in creation is from God, then it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.” Either there is some good He didn’t have, in which case that extra good did not come from God, or if that good came from Him then He already had it, in which case it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.”

    I believe I answered these objections already in my previous comment (#306), so I don’t have anything to add here.

    No, not all forms of libertarianism hold that. The beatific vision, for example, moves the will irresistibly. And a libertarian can affirm that, and still be a libertarian.

    I think that the idea that the beatific vision moves the will irresistibly is incompatible with the core idea of libertarianism, so that a libertarian cannot hold that view consistently. I say this because the core idea of libertarian free will is that any necessity determining the will destroys freedom and responsibility. That is precisely why libertarians object to efficacious grace. The core of that objection is, “Efficacious grace would destroy the will’s freedom, because it will remove the will’s power to go either way, and that is essential to its freedom.” Well, if that is essential to its freedom, why would it stop being essential to its freedom just because the will is in heaven? If the will can be free and morally responsible while being moved irresistibly in heaven by the vision of God, I submit that this implies that the very core of the objection to efficacious grace (and the very central idea of libertarianism) has been eliminated.

    Here you are conflating the distinction between God’s antecedent will and consequent will. Again see the Feingold article on God’s universal salvific will.

    OK. If you say that God does not actually will all to be saved, but rather he wills that salvation would be possible to all and that all who cooperate with grace will be saved, then you can say that God is still accomplishing all he wills to accomplish and so resolve that objection regarding his omnipotence. I’ll grant that.

    That begs the question, by presupposing that unless the turning is monergistic, then the operative grace did not move the will.

    I am not presupposing this; I am arguing for it. My argument is this: If free will is libertarian, then the will is the First Cause of its own choices, and nothing else is the ultimate explanation for its choices, including grace. Grace can try to persuade the will and influence it, but the actual turning of the will from bad to good must be done by the will itself. The actual power comes from the will.

    Again, this begs the question, by presupposing that cooperation with the movement of grace in the turning of the will back to God entails that the will is already “good.” But if the will is not “good” until converted back to God, then cooperation with grace in the turning of the will does not entail that the will is already good.

    I think it does imply the will is already good. A will that cooperates with grace is a good will, because it has ceased its resistance to God and is now choosing to do the right thing. That is what moral goodness is. That is why Augustine and Thomas talk about grace producing, by itself, a good will, and then cooperating with that good will to be even better by becoming strengthened and by producing even further acts of obedience.

    It is actual grace that moves the will, and if the will corresponds with that grace, the movement is still a divine movement, in which the will is cooperating.

    If libertarian free will is true, then grace cannot cause the will to will anything. Only the will can cause the will to will anything. In this case, grace may make it possible for the will to will, but the actual turning of the will from bad to good is from the will and not from grace.

    To put it another way: What does grace do? It comes to two people–say, Bob and Greg–and tries to get them to will the good. Bob cooperates, and so turns his will from bad to good. Greg resists, choosing to keep his will bad. The actual turning is not from grace, but from the will.

    As long as you keep insisting that you know my own position better than I do, we’re not going to make any progress (and on my end it will get tiring in a hurry). There is just no point in continuing, when just about every criticism you offer is a straw man or begs the question.

    I’m not doing either of these things. I am not saying I know your position better than you do, except in the sense that I think I see logical implications of it that you apparently don’t see. There’s nothing wrong with pointing those things out when they are relevant to the conversation. Also, as I said earlier, I don’t think I’m begging the question.

    A question at this point: Do you believe it is worth while continuing this conversation here? I am open to it (although I’ll probably slow down my speed/frequency of responses), as I do find value in it. But I only want to continue in it if you think it is worth while. If you think it would make more sense to end it here, that’s perfectly fine with me. That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to converse in other ways periodically (person to person, as I make comments elsewhere from time to time, etc.)

    Thanks!

    Mark

  311. Mark, (re: #310)

    I actually have not been begging the question. What you are calling mere assertions are arguments.

    The problem with that claim is that if they weren’t arguments, but were actually mere assertions, they wouldn’t look any different. Anyone can call their mere assertions ‘arguments.’

    I am analyzing what is going on in a libertarian choice and demonstrating how libertarianism has a problem with causality.

    Except that you have not offered a non-question-begging “demonstration” that there is a problem.

    Man’s choices are events occurring in time. No events occurring in time can be First Causes, because they are essentially contingent. If Agent X chooses Option A over Option B, that is a specific event–we’ll call it the event of “Agent X choosing Option A.” Now, this event is not a First Cause, because it begins to be, and thus it must be traced back to logically preceding causes. So we must ask, “What was the cause of ‘Agent X choosing Option A’?” The problem with your argument I just quoted is that it doesn’t answer this necessary question. Your position suggests that it has no answer, because “Agent X choosing Option A” is a First Cause (I’m using caps because I think the only First Cause is God–he is the only thing that does not need to be explained by logically preceding causes). But it can’t be. So there must be some preceding cause to explain “Agent X choosing Option A.”

    Once again, the question-begging assumption here is “it can’t be.” A created agent can be a first cause in one sense, without being a first cause in every sense. But your argument begs the question by assuming that if a created agent can’t be a first cause in one sense, then he can’t be a first cause in any sense.

    As for the Edwards quotation, he makes the same question-begging assumption you are making when he asserts “this alone cannot be a sufficient Cause …”

    I had written:

    If God is truly happy in the enjoyment of His own perfection, then it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.” Otherwise, if He were lacking something He wanted, He wasn’t completely happy. So either God was completely happy, in which case there was nothing that He wanted but didn’t have, or God was not completely happy.

    If all the good that is in creation is from God, then it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.” Either there is some good He didn’t have, in which case that extra good did not come from God, or if that good came from Him then He already had it, in which case it is not true that He “wanted something He could not have had otherwise than by creating.”

    You replied:

    I believe I answered these objections already in my previous comment (#306), so I don’t have anything to add here.

    Ok. I don’t think those objections are refuted, but if you do, then we’re at an impasse on the question.

    If the will can be free and morally responsible while being moved irresistibly in heaven by the vision of God, …

    Who said that? Not me. Natural freedom (i.e. the freedom to choose between alternatives) and moral responsibility is *not* present with respect to having the vision of God; it is present in, among other things, the acts of faith in this present life.

    OK. If you say that God does not actually will all to be saved, but rather he wills that salvation would be possible to all and that all who cooperate with grace will be saved, then you can say that God is still accomplishing all he wills to accomplish and so resolve that objection regarding his omnipotence. I’ll grant that.

    Except that would be a straw man of my position. God’s antecedent universal salvific will is not merely willing the *possibility* of salvation to all, but willing also the sufficient means for the salvation of all.

    I am not presupposing this; I am arguing for it. My argument is this: If free will is libertarian, then the will is the First Cause of its own choices, and nothing else is the ultimate explanation for its choices, including grace.

    Just because the choice whether to cooperate with grace or not cooperate with grace belongs to the will, it does not follow that the turning of the will to God is monergistic. Your assumption that the choice to cooperate with grace is itself the turning of the will to God is the question-begging assumption. The movement toward God, given by actual grace, is that by which and with which the will cooperates when it consents, and which it acts against by its own evil [in the privation-of-goodness-and-order-where-goodness-and-order-ought-to-be sense] motion, when it resists.

    A will that cooperates with grace is a good will, because it has ceased its resistance to God and is now choosing to do the right thing. That is what moral goodness is.

    If goodness of the will is love for God, then merely choosing to cooperate with grace, even though “the right thing,” does not mean that the will is good, until the will has reached the terminus of this movement.

    If libertarian free will is true, then grace cannot cause the will to will anything. Only the will can cause the will to will anything.

    No, that’s inaccurate. Your claim presupposes that unless a cause can irresistibly move the will, it cannot be a cause in the will’s movement. And that’s a question-begging presupposition.

    Also, as I said earlier, I don’t think I’m begging the question.

    I know you don’t. That’s because it seems to me that on these matters you haven’t yet grasped the possibility of another paradigm besides your own. So you assert the assumptions of your own paradigm as if they are necessarily true.

    A question at this point: Do you believe it is worth while continuing this conversation here?

    No, not if the continuing pattern is you offering a long string of question-begging criticisms, and me responding by pointing out that these are question-begging, and then repeating that process. I don’t think that sort of pattern is worthwhile, hopefully for obvious reasons. There are certain virtues needed for fruitful dialogue, as I’ve explained elsewhere, among which is the disposition to avoid as much as possible fallacies such as question-begging and straw men. But, I don’t think our exchanges have to follow that unfruitful pattern. And if they were able to avoid that pattern, then I think they could be worthwhile.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  312. Bryan, (re: #311)

    No, not if the continuing pattern is you offering a long string of question-begging criticisms, and me responding by pointing out that these are question-begging, and then repeating that process. I don’t think that sort of pattern is worthwhile, hopefully for obvious reasons. There are certain virtues needed for fruitful dialogue, as I’ve explained elsewhere, among which is the disposition to avoid as much as possible fallacies such as question-begging and straw men.

    Well, since I don’t think I’ve been begging the question, and it would seem that I must agree with your view of what I’ve been doing to continue the conversation (or at least it is hard to see how I will be able to say anything substantial on this topic without bringing the “begging the question” charge), it would seem that we’d better not try to continue the conversation. It’s probably about time to end it anyway, since we’ve been having it for two weeks.

    I’ve appreciated all the interaction! I’ve learned a lot, and I look forward to continuing to read articles (and commenting now and then) in the future. Thank you, Bryan, and thank you everyone else who has been involved as well!

    While I’m here, let me ask one further question: Bryan, could you point me to some positive evidence that God appointed an infallible teaching authority in the church? I’m interested in evidence in general, but evidence from the church fathers in particular–such as evidence they believed in the infallibility of ecumenical councils, etc.–would be particularly interesting.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  313. Hi Mark, (Re: #312)

    Regarding your “further question” to Bryan, have you read the articles on this site entitled “Ecclesial Deism” and “Christ Founded a Visible Church”? Also, have you read the little book by Adrian Fortescue called “The Early Papacy”? These resources each describe some of the patristic evidence which points an early belief in the infallibility of the Church.

    I was reading intently your discussion with Bryan. Thank you for that. Although Bryan called it “question begging”, it was certainly helpful to me because it helped me understand better the question. I’ve never considered the Determinist and Libertarian positions before now.

  314. Jonathan, (Re: #313)

    Thanks for the tips!

    If you’re interested in learning more about the compatibilist (determinist) point of view, here are a few resources I would recommend:

    “The Reformed Faith,” by Loraine Boettner – a short article that introduces some of the central issues from a Calvinist point of view.

    The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, by Loraine Boettner – a book-length treatment by the same author.

    I already linked above to Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will, which is an excellent mostly philosophical treatment of the different views of free will.

    I would also recommend the works of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, both of whom held the determinist/compatibilist position. Thomas speaks of these matters in his Summa Theologica in a number of places (such as under the headings of “The Effects of Grace” and “Predestination”). Augustine speaks of these matters in his anti-Pelagian writings, such as On Grace and Free Will, cited by Bryan earlier. Another book I have heard recommended by Roman Catholics is called Predestination, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who was a Thomist (a school of thought within the Roman Catholic Church that endorses compatibilism/determinism), though I myself haven’t yet read this book yet (I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it sometime soon).

    If you have any particular questions about the determinist/compatibilist/Calvinist position (noting, of course, that the Calvinist and the Roman Catholic determinist positions have some differences), or if you want to run any thoughts or arguments by me to see what I might say about them, feel free to do so. This is a topic of great interest to me. And, as I noted in the above conversation, this is an area where I think the Roman Catholic Church has fallen into some significant error, and so it is a topic of great importance in the overall subject of the evaluation of Roman Catholic claims to infallibility, etc.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  315. Bryan (#309),

    You wrote:
    If hierarchy is unnecessary for the unity of the universal church, then hierarchy is unnecessary for the unity of the local church.

    Response:
    This is true if the local church was constituted as a model of the universal church. It was not, so hierarchy is not necessary for the universal church. For every scriptural example of a plurality of local churches there is no mention of any particular church functioning as their head. Christ is the head of the visible catholic church as he is the head of every man made in the image of God.
    Consequently, the aggregate of all local churches is analogous to the aggregate of all men/women.

    Identifying the parts of the mystical body as unified persons is good, but it means that all those things with an exterior character (like sacraments) cannot distinguish between persons in unity or in outward conformity. I pick the latter because the Roman universal church has a tendency towards pain and penalty to enforce it.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  316. Hi Mark,

    Hmmm… do you agree with Aquinas in what he says about free will? Specifically, he asks the question “Whether man has free will?” and answers in the affirmative (see Article 1 in this link):
    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1083.htm

  317. Eric (re: #315)

    This is true if the local church was constituted as a model of the universal church. It was not, so hierarchy is not necessary for the universal church.

    Whether or not the local church was constituted as model of the universal church, if in order to be unified the visible local church requires hierarchy, then that very same reason [why the visible local church requires hierarchy in order to be unified] entails that in order for the universal visible church to be unified, it must be hierarchically unified.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  318. Mark,

    Was surprised/disheartened to read your comment #312. Been busy with teaching/parenting duties so I couldn’t reply until now.

    You wrote:

    I don’t think I’ve been begging the question

    That’s good since arguments which beg the question are bad arguments. I’ve given the example before but I’ll repeat it here. Suppose I try to persuade you to become Catholic by quoting the Council of Trent to show that you’re wrong. You will be (or at least should be!) unpersuaded because my quoting Trent to you entails an argument which relies on premises that you don’t accept (that Trent was an ecumenical council, that ecumenical councils are constitutive of orthodoxy, etc). So I shouldn’t be surprised if my quoting Trent fails to persuade you to give up Protestantism. Likewise, if your arguments beg the question you shouldn’t be surprised when they fail to persuade persons to give up Catholicism.

    [I]t would seem that I must agree with your view of what I’ve been doing to continue the conversation

    I rather doubt that Bryan thinks you must agree that you’re begging the question in order to continue conversing here. He has generally claimed that your arguments beg the question. Your options presumably are to either admit that you have begged the question (if he’s right) or to show that you haven’t begged the question (if he’s wrong). From the first quote above I gather that you think he’s wrong – that is, I gather that you don’t think you are begging the question with your arguments. Fair and good – but then you’ll need to give some or other argument whose conclusion is that “My arguments A, B, C…n do not beg the question”. But your last comment attempted no such thing and you seem disinclined to try (?) Kind of surprising and, as I said above, disheartening.

    …[A]t least it is hard to see how I will be able to say anything substantial on this topic without bringing the “begging the question” charge

    This is ambiguous. If you mean it’s hard for you to say anything substantial without your actually begging the question, then that means your arguments are bad. But if you mean it’s hard for you to say anything without being (incorrectly charged with) begging the question, then all you need to do is show that you do not actually beg the question. Or maybe slightly reformulate the arguments you’ve given so that they’re largely the same but now don’t beg the question.

    I think a lot of people are unclear as to how to avoid begging the question. Here are some standard methods:

    1) Don’t rely on a premise p in your argument that you accept but your opponent rejects. Using premises accepted by both sides (or all sides, etc) is just fine.

    2) Do “internal” criticisms rather than “external” criticisms. (This was first presented to me in the context of a graduate class I took on Marxism). One can give “external” arguments against Marxism and these would, for example, take the form of arguing that Marxism is wrong based on some or other capitalistic premises. Alternatively, one can give “internal” arguments against Marxism – arguments that, even granting Marxist premises, Marxism is still wrong on its own terms. In this context, your arguments about Free Will were purely external. (I’ll summarize and apologize in advance if I misunderstood some claim you made): A. Catholicism denies the position on Free Will known as compatibalism and allows the position on Free Will known as libertertarianism. B. But libertarianism is wrong and compatibalism is correct. So, C, Catholicism is wrong. So, D, Catholicism is false. Since your justifications for (B) relied on premises not accepted by Catholics, your criticisms were external rather than internal. Further, (B) is quite controversial – so even in terms of external arguments it’s very weak (for external criticisms you want your premise accepted by one side but not the other to be as uncontroversial as possible – because the more controversial it is, the less likely it is to persuade anybody, much less someone who antecedently disagrees with your premises!) (Obviously, 2 is just an argumentative application of 1.)

    An internal criticism of Catholicism would be to find two infallible doctrines, one of which asserts p and the other of which asserts ~p (not-p) in the same sense. On premises fully accepted by Catholics, if the Magisterium has infallibly held to a contradiction like that, Catholicism is false. So, when I was doing my “due diligence” before converting, I thought “Surely an institution which has been around so long must have contradicted itself at some point or other, particularly if [as my OPC pastor said] Catholicism is a man-made institution”. After my examination, and having found no such contradictions, this constituted significant evidence (although not proof) that the Catholic Church was what she claimed to be – that is, the Church founded by Christ.

    But since you opted for an external criticism based on a significantly contentious premise, you’ve thoroughly weakened your own argumentation, particularly since it’s far from obvious that compatibalism is (philosophically) correct or (theologically) necessitated by correct Biblical exegesis. (And it kind of doesn’t matter, because one of the very points in dispute is whether the Roman Catholic Church gets exegetical priority over my or your individual exegeses – but if the Catholic Church gets exegetical priority, then your arguments about correct Biblical interpretation would have to give way to the Church’s declarations anyways.) Speaking of…

    3) Make your claims if/thens. Not sure if you’ve read Mike Liccione’s philosophical piece here or not but he does a masterful job of avoiding begging the question by doing just this. More specifically, one of Mike’s claims (or rather, my summary of it) is that if there is to be a principled way to distinguish human opinion from divine revelation, then Protestantism has no means to provide that kind of distinction. What I found fascinating when I talked (at relatively great length) with conservative Presbyterian pastors (OPC and RPCNA) was that they conceded that there was no principled way to distinguish human opinion from divine revelation itself. But Mike’s argument avoids begging the question because it did not assert a premise rejected by his opponents – indeed, these confessional pastors I talked to fully agreed that if there was to be a principled way to distinguish human opinion from divine revelation, then Protestantism couldn’t do it – they just also thought no such principled way actually existed.

    Anyway, there are some tips about how to avoid begging the question. I’d love to read more of your comments (not sure how much I can engage…dissertation takes priority over internet theological debates!) But at the very least when you’re conversing with Bryan you ought to make sure you don’t beg the question against him by relying on a premise he doesn’t accept. (Similarly when conversing with any Catholics…and of course any Catholic persons shouldn’t give arguments which beg the question against Protestantism either). Hopefully this comment will be of some service in helping you reformulate your arguments such that they don’t beg the question anymore. :-)

    Yours Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  319. Jonathan, (re: #316)

    Part of the confusion that often arises in conversations about free will is that the term “free will” can be ambiguous. There are different ideas of what “free will” is. In Reformed literature, you will find theologians rejecting “free will” and other theologians accepting “free will,” and sometimes the same theologian doing both. What is happening here is that different ideas of “free will” are being discussed.

    Reformed theology has no problem whatsoever with Thomas’s basic concept of free will. Thomas speaks of the will’s movement as essentially different from a movement of necessity–meaning a “mechanical” sort of necessity which works involuntarily or with natural instinct apart from reason, like a car necessarily starting up when one turns the key or a donkey instinctually drawn to eat. The rational will, on the other hand, works by means of rational deliberation upon options. Here is how Thomas puts it:

    I answer that, Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain. In order to make this evident, we must observe that some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, judges it a thing to be shunned, from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges, not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals. But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various things. For reason in contingent matters may follow opposite courses, as we see in dialectic syllogisms and rhetorical arguments. Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses, and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will. (ST I Q.83 a.1)

    The Westminster Confession also denies the necessity of the will in this sense:

    God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil. (WCF 9:1)

    However, Thomas makes clear that the will, though free from mechanical or instinctual necessity, yet is not a first cause of its own actions. The human will and its acts falls under the providence and decrees of God, the First Cause:

    Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature. (ST I Q.83 a.1)

    I answer that, Divine providence imposes necessity upon some things; not upon all, as some formerly believed. For to providence it belongs to order things towards an end. Now after the divine goodness, which is an extrinsic end to all things, the principal good in things themselves is the perfection of the universe; which would not be, were not all grades of being found in things. Whence it pertains to divine providence to produce every grade of being. And thus it has prepared for some things necessary causes, so that they happen of necessity; for others contingent causes, that they may happen by contingency, according to the nature of their proximate causes. (ST I Q.22 a.4)

    The order of divine providence is unchangeable and certain, so far as all things foreseen happen as they have been foreseen, whether from necessity or from contingency. (ST I Q.22 a.4)

    That indissolubility and unchangeableness of which Boethius speaks, pertain to the certainty of providence, which fails not to produce its effect, and that in the way foreseen; but they do not pertain to the necessity of the effects. We must remember that properly speaking “necessary” and “contingent” are consequent upon being, as such. Hence the mode both of necessity and of contingency falls under the foresight of God, who provides universally for all being; not under the foresight of causes that provide only for some particular order of things. (ST I Q.22 a.4)

    We see also, in his section on “Predestination,” that Thomas held an unconditional view of predestination–that is, that God elects to save some and not others based not at all on foreseen merits or choices, and that this prestination is a part of his overall providence. And he also held the view that grace works efficaciously on the will of man. That is, grace does not come to man to be rejected or accepted by an independent, first-causal free will, but rather grace itself efficaciously causes the human will to choose good. After the will has been made good by operating (monergistic) grace, the good will then cooperates with grace in the further work of sanctification:

    Now in both these ways grace is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating. For the operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of “operating grace.” But in that effect in which our mind both moves and is moved, the operation is not only attributed to God, but also to the soul; and it is with reference to this that we speak of “cooperating grace.” Now there is a double act in us. First, there is the interior act of the will, and with regard to this act the will is a thing moved, and God is the mover; and especially when the will, which hitherto willed evil, begins to will good. And hence, inasmuch as God moves the human mind to this act, we speak of operating grace. But there is another, exterior act; and since it is commanded by the will, as was shown above (Question 17, Article 9) the operation of this act is attributed to the will. And because God assists us in this act, both by strengthening our will interiorly so as to attain to the act, and by granting outwardly the capability of operating, it is with respect to this that we speak of cooperating grace. Hence after the aforesaid words Augustine subjoins: “He operates that we may will; and when we will, He cooperates that we may perfect.” And thus if grace is taken for God’s gratuitous motion whereby He moves us to meritorious good, it is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating grace. (ST I-II Q.111 a.2)

    Reply to Objection 2. God does not justify us without ourselves, because whilst we are being justified we consent to God’s justification [justitiae] by a movement of our free-will. Nevertheless this movement is not the cause of grace, but the effect; hence the whole operation pertains to grace.

    Reply to Objection 3. One thing is said to cooperate with another not merely when it is a secondary agent under a principal agent, but when it helps to the end intended. Now man is helped by God to will the good, through the means of operating grace. And hence, the end being already intended, grace cooperates with us. (ST I-II Q.111 a.2)

    These teachings are the same as those in the Westminster Confession:

    Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly: yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (WCF 5:2)

    God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF 3:1)

    3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.

    4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. (WCF 3:3-4)

    1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

    2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. (WCF 10:1-2)

    So it is misleading when it is said that the Reformed view denies free will while Augustine and Thomas accepted it. Actually, they both accepted it in the sense defined above and rejected it in the libertarian sense, which is the one articulated by Bryan. However, the Roman Catholic Church, both at the Council of Trent and in the condemnation of Jansen, and at other times, seems to have embraced libertarian free will and rejected compatibilism, while at the same time allowing Thomists, whose views are opposed to these things, to exist in the church without being declared heretics. I find this whole affair to be very problematic for a church that claims an infallible teaching authority.

    I’ve just listened to a great lecture (Thanks again, Bryan, for letting me know about them!) on some of these matters by Lawrence Feingold. I think he sums up very well the Roman Catholic official position, and he brings out well the dispute between compatibilists and libertarians within the Roman Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, he says that the Reformed view denies free will, which is an oversimplification, but one that almost seems necessary in order to avoid making the Roman Catholic Church seem inconsistent for condemning the Reformed view of the will and grace as heretical while not so condemning the Thomist/Dominican view.

    Mark

  320. Benjamin,

    I just saw your comment after posting my new comment. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll read your comment and get back to you soon.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  321. Mark,

    Ben’s comment above is helpful. I would add only one thing. When after presenting claims or arguments to your interlocutor, your interlocutor responds by claiming that these claims or arguments “beg the question,” and you do not believe that they beg the question, then instead of responding by pounding the table and asserting that they do not, the better response is “How so? Why do you think they beg the question?” Then, after your interlocutor answers this question, you can either (a) show that your interlocutor holds all the premises you use in your argument, or himself agrees with the claims you have been making, and thus that you haven’t begged the question or (b) acknowledge that your claims/arguments beg the question, and step back to find common ground. In that way, the conversation can move forward productively. But merely responding with the table-pounding ‘No I’m not’ basically shuts down the possibility of continuing rational dialogue between the two persons.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  322. Benjamin (re: #318) and Bryan (re: #321),

    Thanks for your thoughts and tips. I appreciate your efforts to help conversation proceed more smoothly.

    I’m happy to continue to converse on the subject of free will, etc. I intended to stop mostly because I didn’t want to labor on with a conversation that was becoming frustrating to you (Bryan) when it didn’t seem likely that would change. But I’m happy to keep trying, if you think it worth it.

    Sometimes philosophical arguments can be mistaken for mere assertions, and I think you were so mistaking my earlier arguments, Bryan. I’ve had the same experience in many conversations with Atheists/Agnostics over the existence of God, or with empiricists when I use reason-based arguments (in fact, I just blogged on this recently–see here). It’s happened many times: I present an argument for the existence of God (you can see the sort of reasoning I present, Bryan, in the first section of the chapter on God in my book), and the response is not a critique of any particular point in my argument, but rather simply a statement such as, “But you’re just making assertions, not arguments.”

    If you go back and look at what I’ve said, you will see that I was making very clear and specific arguments that require responses. As you continued to say I was begging the question, I kept trying to make my arguments more and more specific so that you would see that I am not, but it didn’t seem to be working.

    I’ll go back to your next-to-last comment, which I never responded to, and I’ll respond to it, and we’ll see if we can keep moving forward. If you feel the conversation is still unproductive, feel free to say so, and I’ll stop.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  323. Bryan (re: #311),

    Once again, the question-begging assumption here is “it can’t be.” A created agent can be a first cause in one sense, without being a first cause in every sense. But your argument begs the question by assuming that if a created agent can’t be a first cause in one sense, then he can’t be a first cause in any sense.

    My statement, “It can’t be,” was not a question-begging assertion. I had just before provided an argument for it. Here is my argument: My claim is that nothing that begins to be can be a first cause. By “first cause,” I mean “something which is not itself owing to logically preceding causes.” The reason something that begins to be cannot be a first or ultimate cause is because, being a temporal event, it came into existence, and anything that comes into existence requires a logically preceding cause to explain its coming into existence. Why can’t something come into being without a cause? Because when something comes into being, the very idea of that act implies that energy is being exerted in the bringing of the new being into being. But energy must be exerted only by something, and not by nothing, because “nothing” has the essential property of being able to exert no energy. (Of course, this is the same sort of reasoning used in arguments for the existence of God as First Cause in classical apologetics).

    Who said that? Not me. Natural freedom (i.e. the freedom to choose between alternatives) and moral responsibility is *not* present with respect to having the vision of God; it is present in, among other things, the acts of faith in this present life.

    OK, I misunderstood you there. But now that I understand your actual position, it seems to me to be problematic. If true choice and moral responsibility require libertarian freedom, and we don’t have that when faced with the Beatific Vision, then it would seem that our state in eternal life must be that of a mere robot, unable to truly love God. For love requires voluntariness. Why do I say that love requires voluntariness? Because it is an act of the will. Love of God involves inherently the idea that we value God supremely, infinitely more than all things, and this love inherently involves the idea of a choice in the will. But if free will requires a libertarian ability to go either way, and the Beatific Vision only allows us to go one way, then our love for God must not be truly free, and so not truly love.

    Or perhaps you simply meant to say that the Beatific Vision doesn’t allow us to choose otherwise, not because we are not free, but because there are no other options. If so, I don’t think that solves the problem, because there are always other options. One could continue to hate God instead of loving him. If it is argued that this is impossible, because one cannot hate a being of such beauty when one sees him clearly, I would agree, but I would argue that this subverts the core of the idea of libertarian free will. The main point of libertarian free will is that one’s will cannot be determined by one’s view of something, or one’s desires, or one’s intellectual reasoning. The will must always be able to go more than one way, no matter what causes are acting on it.

    Except that would be a straw man of my position. God’s antecedent universal salvific will is not merely willing the *possibility* of salvation to all, but willing also the sufficient means for the salvation of all.

    I was including that in what I meant by willing the possibility of salvation.

    The movement toward God, given by actual grace, is that by which and with which the will cooperates when it consents, and which it acts against by its own evil [in the privation-of-goodness-and-order-where-goodness-and-order-ought-to-be sense] motion, when it resists.

    Here we need to ask, “What exactly is this movement towards God given by actual grace, and what does it actually accomplish in the will?” Does actual grace, acting operatively, cause the will to choose God? Or does it simply encourage the will to choose God, without actually producing that choice, leaving it up to the will itself to choose or not to choose God of its own independent power (that is, by a movement not itself produced by grace)? If the former, then grace turns the will towards God and causes it to choose God monergistically, and this is incompatible with libertarian free will because in libertarianism, the will cannot be caused to choose something by anything outside of itself, although it can be influenced and encouraged. If the latter, then libertarian free will is preserved, but I think this position does not jive with the views of Augustine or Thomas (see my quotations of them in #306 and #319), as it seems they held that grace works operatively to produce a good will.

    I’ve just once again read over your quotation immediately above. It seems you are defining the movement towards God by actual grace as being something distinct from the will or the choice of the will. This makes sense, considering your libertarian point of view. But, again, I don’t think it matches what Augustine or Thomas say.

    If goodness of the will is love for God, then merely choosing to cooperate with grace, even though “the right thing,” does not mean that the will is good, until the will has reached the terminus of this movement.

    I disagree, and I think Augustine and Thomas would have as well, judging from what they actually said. A person can sometimes do the right thing, but not for morally good motives. For example, a person might rescue another person from a burning building, but only because the second person owes him money. For another example, I might be kind to people, but only because I happen to be in a good mood and not because I have a respect for human persons. However, I don’t think this is what Augustine and Thomas have in mind when they talk about the sort of will produced by operative grace. As I recall, they both talk about operative or actual grace producing “a good will.” And the very concept of a will cooperating with grace vs. one not cooperating seems to involve something more than a mere accidental, non-moral agreement, but rather a moral agreement–a will that has decided to stop resisting God out of lack of supreme love for God (which is the essence of wickedness) and has decided to start cooperating with him or moving towards him (manifesting a virtuous love of him).

    Certainly, both Augustine and Thomas (and I) agree that the will can be further strengthened in goodness as it cooperates with further grace; but it still would seem to be the case that the state of the will produced by monergistic, operative grace is indeed a truly good will. That is precisely why it begins to cooperate with grace.

    But as I think further, considering the quotation from you just above the most recent quotation, it would seem that you don’t believe that operative grace actually produces any choice in the will at all, even the choice to cooperate with grace. That has to be contributed by the will itself, and cannot be a result of the power of grace itself. So I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether the cooperation of the will implies the will is good or not, since operative grace doesn’t produce any actual choice anyway. But, again, I think Thomas and Augustine quite disagree.

    No, that’s inaccurate. Your claim presupposes that unless a cause can irresistibly move the will, it cannot be a cause in the will’s movement. And that’s a question-begging presupposition.

    If we think about the idea of a cause, we can see that what makes a cause a cause is that it produces, of itself, some actual effect. Effectualness is essential to the very idea of a “cause.” This is even the case when multiple causes combine forces to produce some effect. It may be the case that causes A, B, and C are all necessary to produce effect D, but cause A is only an actual cause if it effectively exerts some influence on effect D. If it succeeds in producing no influence at all, it is no cause at all.

    In a libertarian view of the will, various causes can be said to have an influence on the will, and in that sense can act as true causes. However, no cause external to the will itself can actually effect, of itself, any choice. The whole point of libertarianism is that it remains immune from being determined by anything outside of itself, so that it is always the ultimate determiner of its own acts. With this view of the will, then, it is impossible that any operative grace could result in a will choosing good, or choosing to cooperate with grace, or choosing anything. To put it another way, grace could not act with effectualness on the will to produce of itself any choice in the will. And you seem to agree with this, from what you’ve already said.

    In order to avoid confusion here, it may be helpful to make a distinction: When I talk about an outside cause (such as operative grace) causing the will to choose something, or determining the will to choose something, I do not mean that the external cause overpowers the will’s very nature, forcing an involuntary movement–as if one’s body was taken over by aliens and one was forced to act involuntarily. Rather, what I mean is that the external cause exerts such an influence on the mind of the person that it infallibly causes him to prefer and thus voluntarily choose some particular object or end. I believe that this is what Augustine and Thomas have in mind when they talk about operative grace creating a good will.

    I know you don’t. That’s because it seems to me that on these matters you haven’t yet grasped the possibility of another paradigm besides your own. So you assert the assumptions of your own paradigm as if they are necessarily true.

    Be careful of making an assumption like this about me, lest it make you miss something I am saying in my arguments. I do indeed understand your paradigm quite well. I simply disagree with it. I’ve put a lot of thought into these issues over the years, and I am not ignorant of the libertarian way of thinking about things.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  324. Dear Mark,

    I’m glad it was helpful. I think lots of people don’t see *why* begging the question is bad, or if they see it they’re not sure how to avoid it. So hopefully my comment will help you (and me!) avoid begging questions. Before you return to your free will discussion, I must admit that I’ve kind of lost the forest for the trees at this point in the discussion. :-p What precisely are you trying to prove, again? Are you trying to present an internal or external criticism of Catholicism (in the sense which I used the terms above)? If so, what precisely is your internal/external criticism? Or are you just considering something which (ultimately) is irrelevant to Catholicism’s truthhood or falsity?

    (An example of an internal criticism would be: The Catholic Church has both infallibly accepted and infallibly anathematized some proposition p. [Then you say what the proposition is, where it's affirmed, where it's denied, and the discussion continues.] Or an example of an external criticism would be: The Catholic Church has infallibly accepted position p on free will but p is wrong [because of some or other arguments]).

    It seems, though, like you’ve kind of veered off into discussions about whether Aquinas was (or wasn’t) a compatibalist, etc. Obviously even if he were I don’t see how that’d falsify Catholicism. But perhaps that’s not what these arguments are trying to do? A little clarification would help me out considerably. Thanks!

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  325. Mark, (re: #323)

    My statement, “It can’t be,” was not a question-begging assertion. I had just before provided an argument for it. Here is my argument: My claim is that nothing that begins to be can be a first cause. By “first cause,” I mean “something which is not itself owing to logically preceding causes.” The reason something that begins to be cannot be a first or ultimate cause is because, being a temporal event, it came into existence, and anything that comes into existence requires a logically preceding cause to explain its coming into existence. Why can’t something come into being without a cause? Because when something comes into being, the very idea of that act implies that energy is being exerted in the bringing of the new being into being. But energy must be exerted only by something, and not by nothing, because “nothing” has the essential property of being able to exert no energy. (Of course, this is the same sort of reasoning used in arguments for the existence of God as First Cause in classical apologetics).

    The cause of the event is the agent. You keep characterizing my position as though it is that events come out of nothing. And that’s a straw man. The event is caused by the agent.

    But now that I understand your actual position, it seems to me to be problematic. If true choice and moral responsibility require libertarian freedom, and we don’t have that when faced with the Beatific Vision, then it would seem that our state in eternal life must be that of a mere robot, unable to truly love God. For love requires voluntariness.

    I agree that the love we have for God in the Beatific Vision is voluntary.

    But if free will requires a libertarian ability to go either way, and the Beatific Vision only allows us to go one way, then our love for God must not be truly free, and so not truly love.

    Libertarian free will requires a libertarian ability to go either way, but acquired freedom does not. Our love for God in the Beatific Vision is free as acquired freedom. (See the first link in #296.) But acquired freedom is acquired through the right exercise of [libertarian] free will.

    But as I think further, considering the quotation from you just above the most recent quotation, it would seem that you don’t believe that operative grace actually produces any choice in the will at all, even the choice to cooperate with grace.

    Operative grace does produce the positive choice in the will, unless the will resists. If we don’t resist, the movement is that of grace. If we do resist, the movement is our own.

    There is nothing here that either shows the Catholic position to contradict Scripture or to contradict reason or to contradict itself.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  326. Benjamin,

    This part of the conversation started out with me providing reasons why I accept Sola Scriptura. The reasoning that leads me to accept Sola Scriptura includes lack of positive evidence to believe there is any other infallible source of authority, plus positive reasons to disbelieve claims of particular infallibility-claiming churches to have infallibility. I brought up the controversy over free will as an example of one of those positive reasons. The main claim I am trying to make is that the Roman Catholic Church has embraced libertarian free will (along with some related points), and that this position is contrary to reason and to Scripture. The conversation has come to involve a discussion of Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, and in that part of the discussion I am arguing that they agree with me on these issues and not Bryan (or the Roman Catholic Church).

    Hope that helps a bit! :-) I’ll work to make my own comments more succinct when I can, to make it easier to follow the conversation.

    Also, I’ll be taking longer between my comments from here on out. I find the conversation quite valuable, but I can’t keep up the rate we were continuing at until last Thursday.

    Bryan, I’ll get back to you before too long.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  327. Bryan (re: #325),

    Well, I got back to you sooner than I expected to this time! I had another task that I needed to complete before 5:00, and I finished it a few minutes sooner than I expected.

    I think I’ll focus in, for now, on the arguments surrounding the Scripturality (I think I just coined that :-)) and rationality of libertarian free will, in order to make the conversation more efficient. But if I skip over something you want me to comment on, let me know.

    The cause of the event is the agent. You keep characterizing my position as though it is that events come out of nothing. And that’s a straw man. The event is caused by the agent.

    I do understand that this is your position. Perhaps part of your frustration over my comments in previous posts stems from your thinking I am not listening to you when you say that the agent is the cause of the choice? But if you’ll look back at comment #310, at the beginning of that comment I tried to specifically address this position (and I had tried to address it in earlier comments as well).

    My response is this: I grant that the agent is the cause of the choice, but I don’t think this gets you out of the difficulty of ending up with something coming from nothing. To see why, let’s go back to my earlier scenario where we had Agent X choosing between Option A and Option B. Now, I have no problem in assigning the cause of the choice to be Agent X himself. Of course he is the cause of the choice. Choices, by definition, can only be caused by agents. They can’t be caused, for example, by rocks or electrons.

    But if, at the time of the choice, all things being exactly equal, it is really possible that either Option A or Option B might be chosen, and Option A in fact is chosen, then Agent X cannot be the explanation for why Option A was chosen. Here’s why: It is a principle of reason that when there is a difference in the effect, there must be a difference in the cause. Imagine two scenarios: In the first scenario, Agent X chooses Option A, and in the second he chooses Option B. For Agent X to be the cause of A and of B in the two scenarios, something has to be different about Agent X in each scenario. If Agent X is exactly the same in each scenario, then there should not be a difference in the choice made in each scenario. If you say that there is a difference in the cause, and the difference is that Agent X is making a different choice in each scenario, then we have to ask, Why did Agent X choose differently in the different scenarios? If Agent X, in the two scenarios, produced two different choices, then Agent X himself must have been different in some other way in each scenario, in order to have produced the two distinct choices–because the same cause or set of causes cannot produce different effects. I would posit here, from my point of view, that what is different in each scenario is Agent X’s preferences, and these are different because of something different in his beliefs, desires, etc., and these were different because of other factors, and these were different because of other factors, and so on, all the way back to God, the First Cause. But, as a libertarian, you can’t and don’t want to say that.

    But I don’t think you have any other choice. The key principle in my reasoning is the idea that different effects cannot flow from the same exact cause. Why is that so? Because if the cause is exactly the same, then the difference in the effects cannot be owing to the cause. So if Agent X is exactly the same in scenario 1 and scenario 2 above, then he cannot be the explanation for why Option A is chosen in the first scenario or Option B is chosen in the second scenario.

    I’m afraid that you will now accuse me of begging the question, and I’m trying to figure out how to avoid it. Sometimes, in philosophical argumentation, one argues by trying to paint a picture of something and trying to get other people to see it. That is what I am doing with the above illustrations. I am trying to get you to see that you cannot explain two different effects by one and the same cause. If we were in the same room, I would draw a diagram in which I would have something like “Cause X,” and then I would draw two arrows coming from Cause X and going in different directions, one of them pointing to “Option A” and the other pointing at “Option B.” Envision such a diagram in your mind. Can you see why having the same cause (Cause X) to explain both Option A and Option B doesn’t work? If the cause is the same, and yet two different things happen or can happen, the difference cannot be attributed to the cause. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about inanimate causes or voluntary causes. In both causes, we have to have a cause that sufficiently explains the details of the effect. If Agent X exerts an act of the will to choose Option A, then in order for Option B to have been chosen by him, something about him would have first to be different. If we have the same exact Agent X in the same exact state, we will get the same exact choice.

    In my earlier comment (#310), I tried to describe how a choice actually works as we examine it by looking at our own experience and that of others, in order to help illuminate what is going on in a choice. Choices don’t occur in a vacuum. They flow from preferences, desires, beliefs, and all kinds of things. Of course they do, for neither human agents’ acts of will nor human agents themselves are ultimate beings. They are both contingent beings, and must be explained by logically previous causes, ultimately traced back to God.

    I hope that helps a bit!

    Thanks!

    Mark

  328. Mark, (re: #327)

    if, at the time of the choice, all things being exactly equal, it is really possible that either Option A or Option B might be chosen, and Option A in fact is chosen, then Agent X cannot be the explanation for why Option A was chosen. Here’s why: It is a principle of reason that when there is a difference in the effect, there must be a difference in the cause.

    What you are calling a “principle of reason” is a question-begging presupposition.

    If you say that there is a difference in the cause, and the difference is that Agent X is making a different choice in each scenario, then we have to ask, Why did Agent X choose differently in the different scenarios? If Agent X, in the two scenarios, produced two different choices, then Agent X himself must have been different in some other way in each scenario, in order to have produced the two distinct choices–because the same cause or set of causes cannot produce different effects.

    There again is the question-begging presupposition. It presupposes that libertarian free agents cannot possibly exist.

    The key principle in my reasoning is the idea that different effects cannot flow from the same exact cause.

    I agree that this is the key assumption you are making. It is also a question-begging assumption.

    Why is that so? Because if the cause is exactly the same, then the difference in the effects cannot be owing to the cause.

    This claim precisely begs the question, by presupposing that there can be no such thing as libertarian free will. It is easy to ‘refute’ a position by assuming its impossibility, and then claiming that one is not begging the question.

    So if Agent X is exactly the same in scenario 1 and scenario 2 above, then he cannot be the explanation for why Option A is chosen in the first scenario or Option B is chosen in the second scenario.

    There again is the same question-begging assumption.

    I’m afraid that you will now accuse me of begging the question, and I’m trying to figure out how to avoid it.

    The way to avoid it is not to do it.

    Sometimes, in philosophical argumentation, one argues by trying to paint a picture of something and trying to get other people to see it. That is what I am doing with the above illustrations. I am trying to get you to see that you cannot explain two different effects by one and the same cause.

    Feel free to use a non-question begging argument, if you want to get me to “see” that.

    If we were in the same room, I would draw a diagram in which I would have something like “Cause X,” and then I would draw two arrows coming from Cause X and going in different directions, one of them pointing to “Option A” and the other pointing at “Option B.” Envision such a diagram in your mind. Can you see why having the same cause (Cause X) to explain both Option A and Option B doesn’t work?

    You haven’t provided a non-question-begging reason to believe that this “doesn’t work.”

    If the cause is the same, and yet two different things happen or can happen, the difference cannot be attributed to the cause.

    There again is the question-begging assumption.

    It doesn’t matter if we are talking about inanimate causes or voluntary causes. In both causes, we have to have a cause that sufficiently explains the details of the effect.

    Right, and the free choice of an agent with libertarian free will provides that explanation: he freely chose A over B while equally able to choose B, or, he freely chose B over A while equally able to choose A.

    If Agent X exerts an act of the will to choose Option A, then in order for Option B to have been chosen by him, something about him would have first to be different.

    There’s the question-begging assumption again.

    If we have the same exact Agent X in the same exact state, we will get the same exact choice.

    Again, this claim begs the question.

    neither human agents’ acts of will nor human agents themselves are ultimate beings. They are both contingent beings, and must be explained by logically previous causes, ultimately traced back to God.

    And this again begs the question.

    In #323 you wrote:

    I do indeed understand your paradigm quite well. I simply disagree with it. I’ve put a lot of thought into these issues over the years, and I am not ignorant of the libertarian way of thinking about things.

    The best way to show me that you understand my paradigm, is to stop begging the question when arguing against it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  329. Mark:

    I’ve been following your exchanges with Bryan and Benjamin, both of whom are professional philosophers. I believe B & B are right on the money when they say that you’re continuing to beg the question. Actually, you’re begging two distinct questions.

    The first is whether St. Thomas Aquinas’ account of free will is compatibilist and, for that and other reasons, essentially the same as that of the WCF and Jonathan Edwards. Admittedly, you have tried to present an argument to that effect. It consists essentially in supplying pertinent quotations from the sources in question and then asserting that the sources all mean essentially the same thing. But you have presented no rebuttal of the many scholars who interpret Aquinas otherwise. For my own part, I would deny that Aquinas is either a compatibilist like Edwards or a libertarian like Molina. A good argument for my position can be found here. Unless and until you engage such arguments, your interpretation of Aquinas begs the question.

    The other question you’re begging is that of the very nature of causality. As I interpret your position, you’re assuming two things:

    (1) Events, including free choices, are explicable only in terms of their prior causes

    and

    (2) A cause or chain of causes C explains its effect D only if C necessitates D.

    Now if both (1) and (2) are true, it follows that

    (3) Any free action F that’s explicable is necessitated by F’s prior causes.

    Now (3) is, itself, a key corollary of compatibilism. But neither (1) nor (2) can be taken for granted; many philosophers–including the ones you’re disputing with here–would deny them. They need to be argued for. But you do not argue for them. You simply take them for granted.

    Of course, I might be misinterpreting you when I ascribe (1) and (2), and therefore (3), to you. If I am, then please correct me. Then we’ll see if you’re still begging the question.

    Best,
    Mike

  330. Bryan and Mike, (re: #327-328),

    I remember hearing something about Eleanore Stump arguing one way or the other on whether Aquinas was a compatibilist?

    Is there a way to access any of her articles online regarding free will? William Lane Craig also mentions her work in providing a defense of libertarian freedom in one of his mp3s.

    Are either of you aware of her work in this regard?

    Peace,
    John D.

  331. And it is worth keeping in mind the statement I mentioned in #296, from the First Vatican Council:

    If anybody says that God created things not in virtue of a will free from all necessity, but in virtue of the necessity by which He necessarily loves Himself, let him be anathema.

    For a Catholic, this dogma all by itself entails that any claim entailing that libertarian free will is impossible, is false.

  332. JohnD (#330):

    Bryan worked with Eleonore Stump at St. Louis U. If anybody can gain you access to her relevant stuff, he can.

    Best,
    Mike

  333. Hi Michael (re: #329),

    Thanks for that very interesting article on Thomas’s view of free will. I think it is a very helpful contribution to this discussion.

    First of all, I noted as I read that the article articulates the very argument that I’ve been making against libertarian freedom–the argument that Bryan, yourself, and others think is not an argument at all but merely a begging of the question:

    On the other hand, if human choices are not determined by anything at all, are they not eerily arbitrary? As Rogers puts it, “If it is true that at some key choices in your moral career you faced literally open options, then there is no answer to the question, But why did you opt for this over that?” Metaphysically speaking, are not acts of libertarian choice exceedingly odd exceptions to the theist’s claim that all non-divine beings are caused to exist by God? If the agent is the sole cause of his choices, has not God’s causality been excluded?

    At the end of the article, the author of the article dismisses this objection and seems to decide to simply rest with the idea that our choices are arbitrary. I would say that this is irrational, on the grounds that all events must have sufficient causes. If there is anything in the event that is not explained in terms of some cause, then to that extent the event is cause-less, and so we have something coming from nothing. Rogers, in the quotation, articulates exactly why libertarianism violates the law of causality, and it is the same argument that I have made: If, all things being exactly the same at the moment of choice, Agent X might choose either Option A or Option B, and he in fact chooses Option A, then there is no answer to the question, “Why did Agent X choose Option A over Option B?” In other words, there is nothing in the cause or set of causes that explains A over B, and so A over B has no cause but comes from nothing. But more on this shortly.

    Secondly, I agree with what the article says about Thomas–that he makes a distinction between the necessary act of the will in choosing happiness and non-necessary acts of the will in choosing various means to happiness. However, the author has given this aspect of Thomas’s thought an indeterministic spin that I don’t think is necessarily there in Thomas himself. I say this because it is possible to understand what Thomas is saying here in two different ways. One way, the way the author chooses, is that Thomas is saying that the choice of happiness is determined and not cause-less but that other lesser choices within that higher choice are cause-less. But we can also understand Thomas in this way: The choice of happiness is such a broad choice that there literally are no other options available, and so the will can only choose one way. However, the means to happiness at a finite level and in a finite world are so various that the will has many options and so is not necessarily inclined towards only one option. This does not necessarily mean that the will chooses between these lesser options arbitrarily. It could simply mean that, speaking generally, multiple choices are possible, while we say at the same time that in any given instance, the will will choose whatever seems most desirable all things considered at that particular time (and so that particular choice is necessary in that particular situation). In short, the choice of particular lesser goods is not necessary in the same way the choice for happiness is, because there are multiple options available that are plausible objects of choice; but it remains true that, given the will’s particular view at some particular time, only one choice will seem reasonable to the will at that time and so the will will choose that option.

    Jonathan Edwards, in his Freedom of the Will, addresses something like this issue under the form of discussing situations where it seems the will makes choices when the options are completely indifferent to it.

    Thus, supposing I have a chess-board before me; and because I am required by a superior, or desired by a friend, or on some other consideration, I am determined to touch some one of the spots or squares on the board with my finger. Not being limited or directed, in the first proposal, to any one in particular; and there being nothing in the squares, in themselves considered, that recommends any one of all the sixty-four, more than another; in this case, my mind determines to give itself up to what is vulgularly called accident, by determining to touch that square which happens to be most in view, which my eye is especially upon at that moment, or which happens to be then most in my mind, or which I shall be directed to by some other such like accident. Here are several steps of the mind proceeding (though all may be done, as it were, in a moment). The first step is its general determination that it will touch one of the squares. The next step is another general determination to give itself up to accident, in some certain way; as to touch that which shall be most in the eye or mind at that time, or to some other such like accident. The third and last step is a particular determination to touch a certain individual spot, even that square, which, by that sort of accident the mind has pitched upon, has actually offered itself beyond others. Now it is apparent that in none of these several steps does the mind proceed in absolute indifference, but in each of them is influenced by a preponderating inducement. So it is in the first step, the mind’s general determination to touch one of the sixty-four spots: the mind is not absolutely indifferent whether it does so or no; it is induced to it, for the sake of making some experiment, or by the desire of a friend, or some other motive that prevails. So it is in the second step, the mind determining to give itself up to accident, by touching that which shall be most in the eye, or the idea of which shall be most prevalent in the mind, &c. The mind is not absolutely indifferent whether it proceeds by this rule or no; but chooses it, because it appears at that time a convenient and requisite expedient in order to fulfil the general purpose. And so it is in the third and last step, which is determining to touch that individual spot which actually does prevail in the mind’s view. The mind is not indifferent concerning this; but is influenced by a prevailing inducement and reason; which is, that this is a prosecution of the preceding determination, which appeared requisite, and was fixed before in the second step.

    Accident will ever serve a man, without hindering him a moment, in such a case. Among a number of objects in view, one will prevail in the eye, or in idea, beyond others. When we have our eyes open in the clear sunshine, many objects strike the eye at once, and innumerable images may be at once painted in it by the rays of light; but the attention of the mind is not equal to several of them at once; or if it be, it does not continue so for any time. And so it is with respect to the ideas of the mind in general: several ideas are not in equal strength in the mind’s view and notice at once; or at least, does not remain so for any sensible continuance. There is nothing in the world more constantly varying, than the ideas of the mind; they do not remain precisely in the same state for the least perceivable space of time; as is evident by this: — That all time is perceived by the mind, only by the successive changes of its own ideas. Therefore while the perceptions of the mind remain precisely in the same state, there is no perceivable length of time, because no sensible succession at all.

    As the acts of the Will, in each step of the aforementioned procedure, do not come to pass without a particular cause, but every act is owing to a prevailing inducement; so the accident, as I have called it, or that which happens in the unsearchable course of things, to which the mind yields itself, and by which it is guided, is not any thing that comes to pass without a cause. The mind in determining to be guided by it, is not determined by something that has no cause; any more than if it be determined to be guided by a lot, or the casting of a die. For though the die falling in such a manner be accidental to him that casts it, yet none will suppose that there is no cause why it falls as it does. The involuntary changes in the succession of our ideas, though the cause may not be observed, have as much a cause, as the changeable motions of the motes that float in the air, or the continual, infinitely various, successive changes of the unevennesses on the surface of the water.

    I will also note here that, as the author himself notes at the end of the article, positing arbitrariness in lesser choices though not in the highest choice does not solve the arbitariness problem that plagues libertarianism. As I’ve argued, arbitrariness at any level remains a problem because it inherently involves the idea of something coming from nothing.

    Lastly, the article notes well that Thomas has no problem in general with the will being moved effectually and infallibly in its choices by causes outside of the will–such as the intellect and ultimately God. In holding this position, Thomas completely rejects the core of the idea of libertarian free will, which is that acts of the will cannot be causally determined by anything outside of the acts of the will themselves. Since he shows he doesn’t share that core concern of libertarianism, we need not interpret what he says about lesser choices in a libertarian manner. In light of all else that Thomas says about providence, predestination, operative grace, etc., I think it makes the most sense to read Thomas as a compatibilist.

    More in a moment . . .

  334. Michael (re: #329),

    The other question you’re begging is that of the very nature of causality. As I interpret your position, you’re assuming two things:

    (1) Events, including free choices, are explicable only in terms of their prior causes

    and

    (2) A cause or chain of causes C explains its effect D only if C necessitates D.

    Now if both (1) and (2) are true, it follows that

    (3) Any free action F that’s explicable is necessitated by F’s prior causes.

    Now (3) is, itself, a key corollary of compatibilism. But neither (1) nor (2) can be taken for granted; many philosophers–including the ones you’re disputing with here–would deny them. They need to be argued for. But you do not argue for them. You simply take them for granted.

    Yes, you have described my position on this point accurately. Here is my argument as to why causes are inherently necessitating or deterministic: The very idea of a cause is something that, of itself, produces an effect on something. So, for example, my oven can be considered a causal factor in why my apple pie is hot only if the oven actually has some effect on my pie that is involved in why it is in fact hot. If a cause does not actually have any effect, it is not a cause. In this sense, causes are always deterministic or necessitating–because they always actually produce some effect.

    Now, a cause doesn’t need to be in itself sufficient to produce a certain effect to be considered, in part, a cause of that effect. In many cases, there are many causal factors that only together produce a certain effect. So we can talk of Cause A, Cause B, and Cause C working together to produce Event D. Cause A is a cause because it effectually does something that actually contributes to Event D. If it made no actual contribution at all to Event D, it could not be considered a cause of event D. Cause A, to be a cause of Effect D, doesn’t need to produce Effect D all by itself, however. It is acceptable that it work together with other causes to produce Effect D.

    Now, let’s go back to Agent X choosing Option A over Option B. In this scenario, Agent X’s will is the cause that is sufficient to produce the choice of Option A. For Agent X’s will to be sufficient to produce that event (the choice of Option A), it must explain every aspect of that event. If there is something in the event that is not owing at all to Agent X’s will, then Agent X’s will cannot be considered a cause of that something. But in our libertarian version of this scenario, we have said that all things (including Agent X) being exactly the same at the moment of choice, it is possible that either Option A or Option B might be chosen. Because we suppose everything to be exactly the same no matter which option is chosen, except for the actual choice itself, nothing in any of the causes of the choice can explain why Option A is chosen over Option B. No matter whether Option A or Option B is chosen, the same set of causes are operating in either case. Therefore, nothing in that set of causes accounts for Option A being chosen over Option B, and so the choice of Option A over Option B is cause-less, and so arbitrary, and so involves something coming from nothing.

    The very idea of libertarianism is that different choices can occur no matter what causal factors are at work at the moment of choice. The same set of causal factors can be in place and yet different choices could happen. This means that the event of the choice of one option over another is not explained by that set of causal factors, and so nothing explains it. It has no cause. Nothing makes it so. It comes from nothing.

    Bryan (re: #331),

    If anybody says that God created things not in virtue of a will free from all necessity, but in virtue of the necessity by which He necessarily loves Himself, let him be anathema.

    For a Catholic, this dogma all by itself entails that any claim entailing that libertarian free will is impossible, is false.

    If that is so, then it would seem that the school of the Thomists/Dominicans who oppose libertarian free will is implicitly condemned as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. So why is this not made explicit by the church?

    Also, I assume you must, then, disagree with James Akin’s article I linked to earlier in the conversation in which he says that one can hold to irresistible grace and unconditional election and consistently be a Roman Catholic?

    Thanks!

    Mark

  335. Mark, (re: #334)

    If that is so, then it would seem that the school of the Thomists/Dominicans who oppose libertarian free will is implicitly condemned as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. So why is this not made explicit by the church?

    No. Again, as I explained in #307 above, you’re confusing (i.e. not distinguishing) the order of nature and the order of grace. Libertarian free will in the order of nature is part of Catholic teaching. The Báñezian / Molinist dispute (discussed here) is at the order of grace. If you want to understand the difference between the two orders (i.e. nature and grace), see “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”

    Also, I assume you must, then, disagree with James Akin’s article I linked to earlier in the conversation in which he says that one can hold to irresistible grace and unconditional election and consistently be a Roman Catholic?

    Again, as I explained in #307 when you referred to the Akin article, he is referring to the order of grace. So, no, I don’t disagree with Akin.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  336. Bryan (re: #335),

    I understand the distinction between nature and grace, but I don’t see how that deals with the issues I asked you about. Akin says that the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace can be held consistently by Roman Catholics. But irresistible grace is incompatible with a libertarian view of how the will functions–i.e. the will cannot be determined by causes outside of itself and still maintain true freedom and moral responsibility–because irresistible grace involves the idea of grace effectually determining the will to certain choices. And the Thomistic idea of effectual grace is the same thing. So I still don’t see how you can affirm that the denial of libertarian free will has been affirmed to be wrong by the Roman Catholic Church, and yet it is still consistent to be a Thomist or believe in irresistible grace while being a Roman Catholic.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  337. Mark, (re: #336)

    But irresistible grace is incompatible with a libertarian view of how the will functions— i.e. the will cannot be determined by causes outside of itself and still maintain true freedom and moral responsibility–because irresistible grace involves the idea of grace effectually determining the will to certain choices.

    You’re foisting on the libertarian beliefs that he or she does not necessarily hold, just as you did above when we discussed the Beatific Vision. The ability to do otherwise in the order of nature does not entail that in the order of grace there is no such thing as acquired freedom (and thus no “true freedom” other than libertarian freedom).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  338. Bryan (re: #337),

    Are you saying that free will doesn’t need to be libertarian when it comes to gracious events like the process of conversion? It is fine to believe that grace operates irresistibly or effectually in conversion? If you are, how does that jive with the Council of Trent (Sixth Session, Chapter V of the Decree on Justification), which seems to posit a libertarian picture of how conversion works:

    The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient [Page 33] grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God. (emphasis added)

    If you are not saying that free will need not be libertarian in conversion, then I don’t understand what you are saying. The issue I raised is the apparent incompatibility between affirming that we must affirm a libertarian free will to hold Roman Catholic doctrine and at the same time affirming that it is consistent with Roman Catholic doctrine to hold the Thomist or Calvinist position on efficacious/irresistible grace. If libertarianism doesn’t apply to conversion, then at least part of that issue is resolved (but not the whole of it, because I doubt that Thomists will agree that libertarian freedom happens in the state of nature any more than in the state of grace or conversion); but I thought you would say that libertarianism is especially important to affirm in conversion. If libertarianism is in fact important in the process of conversion (as the Council of Trent seems to be saying), then you can’t believe in the Thomistic/Calvinistic idea of irresistible/effectual grace in conversion and be consistent with Roman Catholic teaching, contrary to James Akin’s assertions on that point.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  339. Mark, (re: #338)

    That section of Trent is talking about cooperation with actual grace; after the action of operative actual grace we then cooperate with cooperative actual grace. Cooperation with cooperative actual grace leads to justification in baptism, through which we receive the infusion of sanctifying grace and all the theological virtues. But nothing [in Catholic dogma] entails that operative actual grace cannot ever be efficacious in the Báñezian sense. The Church has not condemned Báñezianism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  340. Bryan (re: #339),

    A couple of questions:

    1. Do you see anything at all about libertarian free will being taught in that quotation from the Council of Trent? If so, where exactly do you see libertarian free will taught in it?

    2. In your opinion, is there anything in the quotations below from the Westminster Confession that is out of accord with Roman Catholic doctrine (especially the doctrine articulated in that quotation from Trent), except for the fact that the Confession makes no distinction between the gift of regeneration and the gift of final perseverance (assuming the latter as implied in the former)? If so, what exactly is out of accord?

    1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

    2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.

    1. God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. . . .

    3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.

    4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

    5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto: and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

    6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

    7. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath, for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.

    Thanks!

    Mark

  341. Mark (re: #340)

    1. Do you see anything at all about libertarian free will being taught in that quotation from the Council of Trent?

    No, not explicitly. It is presumed (especially in the “forasmuch as he is also able to reject it” line). But the Báñezian can take the “forasmuch as he is also able to reject it” line to be referring to the free rejection of sufficient grace, not the rejection of efficacious grace.

    In your opinion, is there anything in the quotations below from the Westminster Confession that is out of accord with Roman Catholic doctrine

    The “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only” line is a problem, as you already anticipated. The other possible (possible in the sense of depending on how one interprets the WCF lines) problem is that of double predestination. The Catholic Church does teach that some are destined to hell, not by a divine decree, but on the basis of their foreseen sin and free rejection of God. But she teaches that no one is predestined to sin; see, for example, the Second Council of Orange, and the Church’s condemnation of double predestination at the Council of Mainz and the Council of Quierzy. God’s foreknowledge of man’s sin imparts no necessity on man’s free will to sin. No one perishes because he is unable to be saved, but only because he is unwilling to be saved. God truly desires all men, without exception, to be saved. God gives sufficient grace [for salvation] to all men, yet not all men are saved. Of course the WCF lines you quoted can be read not as teaching double-predestination, but if a person were to read them as endorsing double-predestination, then, as interpreted in that way, it would not be in accord with Catholic teaching. But other than that, I think the rest of what you quoted, as it is stated, is compatible with Catholic teaching, at least at the moment I’ve taken to think about. (Just saying I might think of something else later.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  342. Bryan (re: #341),

    Thank you. Those answers were very helpful.

    But the Báñezian can take the “forasmuch as he is also able to reject it” line to be referring to the free rejection of sufficient grace, not the rejection of efficacious grace.

    My position, typical of Calvinism, is that God gives efficacious grace that causes the will to turn to Christ only to the elect, and all others are not given that grace and so, voluntarily but inevitably, reject God, his law, and the gospel (if they have the opportunity to hear it). If by “sufficient grace,” we mean “enough resources so that people who reject God know they ought to accept him and so are non-innocently voluntary in their rejection of him,” then I accept the idea of “sufficient grace.” But if “sufficient grace” means “enough grace such that it is truly possible that a person might actually turn to God,” I deny that all men have sufficient grace. The unregenerate man cannot turn to God, because his heart is inclined to evil. He could turn to God if he wanted to, but he’ll never want to because of his evil heart. So we could say that it is possible for all men to turn to God in the sense that it is an option legitimately laid before their will, so that their rejection of God is voluntary; but we must also say in another sense that it is not possible for all men to turn to God, in the sense that the turning of the will to God can never actually happen, due to the voluntary but insuperable (without efficacious grace) sinfulness of the fallen human heart.

    Does my view adequately affirm “sufficient grace” such that it is in accord with Roman Catholic doctrine on that point (recognizing, again, the difference in the area of the distinction between conversion and final perseverance)?

    Another question: If Roman Catholic doctrine does not require people to believe in libertarian free will in the process of conversion, where exactly does it require people to believe in libertarian free will?

    Thanks!

    Mark

  343. Mark (#334):

    In your reply to me, a few passages clarify for me where you’re going wrong. The first is:

    The very idea of a cause is something that, of itself, produces an effect on something. So, for example, my oven can