Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority

Nov 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Articles

According to Keith Mathison, over the last one hundred and fifty years Evangelicalism has replaced sola scriptura, according to which Scripture is the only infallible ecclesial authority, with solo scriptura, the notion that Scripture is the only ecclesial authority. The direct implication of solo scriptura is that each person is his own ultimate interpretive authority.

This image depicts the Catholic understanding of Scripture's relation to the Magisterium. Just as Christ holds and teaches Scripture, so likewise the Apostles and their successors hold and teach the Scripture. We come to Scripture through the Church, and understand Scripture by the light of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church through the MagisteriumChristus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalù

Solo scriptura is, according to Mathison, an unbiblical position; proponents of sola scriptura should uphold the claim that Scripture is the only infallible authority, but should repudiate any position according to which individual Christians are the ultimate arbiters of Scriptural truth. In this article we argue that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority, and that a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead.

Contents:

I. Introduction
II. Description of Solo Scriptura and What is Wrong with It, According to Mathison
III. Mathison on Sola Scriptura, and How It Differs from Solo Scriptura
IV. Why There Is No Principled Difference Between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura

A. Direct and Indirect Ultimate Interpretive Authority
B. The Contradiction Internal to the Sola Scriptura Position
C. The Delusion of Derivative Authority

V. Objections and Replies

A. Tu Quoque: “The Catholic Position Does Not Avoid Solo Scriptura
B. Sola Ecclesia: The Church is Autonomous, a Law unto Itself, and Unaccountable

VI. Implications

I. Introduction

Sola scriptura is arguably the most foundational point of disagreement underlying the nearly five-hundred year rift between Catholic and Protestant Christians.  The Catholic Encyclopedia identifies sola scriptura, alongside sola fide and the ministerial priesthood of all believers, as one of the three fundamental principles of Protestantism; and nineteenth century Church historian Philip Schaff, in agreement with many Protestant thinkers, describes sola scriptura as the “formal principle” of Protestant theology.1 The doctrine may be viewed as a “dangerous idea” by some, or as an exhilarating and liberating one by others.2 But there can be little doubt that sola scriptura is an essential component of historic Protestant theology, and that it is crucial to the justifiability of the sixteenth-century schism and the perpetuation of this schism today.

Catholic critics of sola scriptura have argued that sola scriptura is essentially a denial of ecclesial authority, and hence that sola scriptura necessarily leads to a fragmentation in which each person interprets Scripture as seems right in his own eyes. In this way, they argue, sola scriptura is largely responsible not only for the separation of Protestants from the Catholic Church, but also for the vast number of schisms between Protestants. But a relatively recent book has given Protestants a way of replying to these criticisms, by seeking to accommodate the Catholic critics’ legitimate concerns while simultaneously repudiating their vision of the relation between Scripture and Tradition. That book is titled The Shape of Sola Scriptura, by Keith A. Mathison, the associate editor of Tabletalk.

In his book, Mathison distinguishes between sola scriptura, which he claims to have been the belief of the early confessional Protestants, and what he calls solo scriptura, which Mathison believes is a deviation of the last one hundred and fifty years from the belief and teaching of the early confessional Protestants. As a result of Mathison’s book, in our experience, Protestants now more commonly respond to Catholic arguments against sola scriptura by claiming that these are arguments against solo scriptura, not against sola scriptura. In other words, the common Protestant response to the Catholic critique of sola scriptura is that the Catholic argument aimed at sola scriptura criticizes a straw man, critiquing solo scriptura instead of sola scriptura.

We understand and appreciate the prima facie significance of the distinction Mathison wishes to draw between solo and sola scriptura.  However, as we shall argue below, there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the locus of “ultimate interpretive authority:” sola scriptura, no less than solo scriptura, entails that the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture. This implies that what Mathison calls ‘solo scriptura‘ is in fact a more clearly distilled manifestation over time of the true nature of sola scriptura. Moreover, we shall show that the only way to avoid the solo/sola position (and the unbiblical consequences to which it leads) is by way of apostolic succession.

The overall structure of our article is as follows. In the second section we present an overview of Mathison’s account of solo scriptura, explaining exactly what he believes to be wrong with solo scriptura. In the third section we present Mathison’s explanation of sola scriptura, and describe the putative contrast between solo scriptura and sola scriptura. In section four we show why there is no principled distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. In section five we consider some objections to our argument, and show why they do not refute our argument. Finally, in section six we lay out a few noteworthy implications of our argument, including the implication that all the criticisms Mathison levels at solo scriptura apply equally to sola scriptura.

II. Description of Solo Scriptura and What Is Wrong with It, According to Mathison

In his book and his related article, Keith Mathison criticizes the position he calls ‘solo scriptura,‘ namely, the position that “Scripture [is] not merely the only infallible authority but that it [is] the only authority altogether.”3 He describes the solo scriptura position as rejecting altogether even “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei“ (i.e., the “rule of faith”).4 Mathison admirably demonstrates various significant problems with solo scriptura, including a hermeneutical problem, a set of historical problems, and a Scriptural problem. Because we agree substantially with Mathison’s critique of solo scriptura, we shall present his criticisms with scant commentary before turning our attention to his account of sola scriptura.

Hermeneutical Problem with Solo Scriptura

Mathison begins his criticism of solo scriptura by pointing his readers to the widespread “hermeneutical chaos and anarchy” caused by the existence of conflicting interpretations of Scripture. Why is this “hermeneuetical chaos” a problem? One primary reason, according to Mathison, is that the divisions and disagreements between Christians undermine the credibility of Christians and the gospel. He writes:

One of the most obvious facts facing any intelligent person who has been a Christian for more than a few days is the reality of multitudes of conflicting interpretations of Scripture. . . .

Is there any way to ever resolve the hermeneutical chaos and anarchy that exists within the Protestant church largely as a result of its adoption of radical individualism? Most Protestants do not seem to have taken this question seriously enough if they have considered it at all. If we proclaim to the unbelieving world that we have the one true and final revelation from God, why should they listen to us if we cannot agree about what that revelation actually says? Jesus prayed for the disciples that they would be one (John 17:21a). And why did He pray for this unity? He tells us the reason, “that the world may believe that You sent me” (17:21b). The world is supposed to be hearing the Church preach the gospel of Christ, but the world is instead hearing an endless cacophony of conflicting and contradictory assertions by those who claim to be the Church of Christ. This is the heart of the hermeneutical problem we face in the Church today.5

The fact of so many different conflicting interpretations dims the light of the gospel to the world.6 This “cacophony of conflicting and contradictory assertions” leaves even the Christian bewildered and uncertain, groping about to find the way, the truth and the life of Christ and His gospel. Mathison writes:

Almost every Christian who has wrestled with theological questions has encountered the problem of competing interpretations of Scripture. . . . Each man will claim that the other is in error, but by what ultimate authority do they typically make such a judgment? Each man will claim that he bases his judgment on the authority of the Bible, but since each man’s interpretation is mutually exclusive of the other’s, both interpretations cannot be correct. How then do we discern which interpretation is correct?7

The cause of this hermeneutical chaos, according to Mathison, is solo scriptura. Solo scriptura creates this hermeneutical chaos because it leaves no interpretive authority by which interpretive disputes may be definitively resolved. He writes:

The typical modern Evangelical solution to this problem is to tell the inquirer to examine the arguments on both sides and decide which of them is closest to the teaching of Scripture. He is told that this is what sola scriptura means-–to individually evaluate all doctrines according to the only authority, the Scripture. Yet in reality, all that occurs is that one Christian measures the scriptural interpretations of other Christians against the standard of his own scriptural interpretation. Rather than placing the final authority in Scripture as it intends to do, this concept of Scripture places the final authority in the reason and judgment of each individual believer. The result is the relativism, subjectivism, and theological chaos that we see in modern Evangelicalism today.8

According to Mathison, then, when each person is deciding for himself what is the correct interpretation of Scripture, Scripture is no longer functioning as the final authority. Rather, each individual’s own reason and judgment becomes, as it were, the highest authority, supplanting in effect Scripture’s unique and rightful place. Can we avoid this result simply by letting Scripture interpret itself? According to Mathison, the answer is no:

All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation? People with differing interpretations of Scripture cannot set a Bible on a table and ask it to resolve their differences. In order for the Scripture to function as an authority, it must be read and interpreted by someone. According to “solo” Scriptura, that someone is each individual, so ultimately, there are as many final authorities as there are human interpreters.9

This is a fundamental insight. All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. But, according to Mathison, adherents of solo scriptura have not realized that all appeals to Scripture are in fact appeals to interpretations of Scripture. Because they fail to appreciate this fact, Mathison charges that:

Ultimately the interpretation of Scripture becomes individualistic with no possibility for the resolution of differences. This occurs because adherents of solo scriptura rip the Scripture out of its ecclesiastical and traditional hermeneutical context, leaving it in a relativistic vacuum. The problem is that there are differing interpretations of Scripture, and Christians are told that these can be resolved by a simple appeal to Scripture. . . . The problem that adherents of solo scriptura haven’t noticed is that any appeal to Scripture is an appeal to an interpretation of Scripture. The only question is: whose interpretation? When we are faced with conflicting interpretations of Scripture, we cannot set a Bible on a table and ask it to resolve our difference of opinion as if it were a Ouija board. In order for Scripture to serve as an authority at all, it must be read, exegeted, and interpreted by somebody.10

Because Scripture must be interpreted, and because Scripture cannot interpret itself by itself, it follows that some person or persons must interpret Scripture if Scripture is to function as an authority. Otherwise, irreconcilable hermeneutical disputes can only end in division, as each faction has no recourse but to separate. And these divisions are contrary to the will of Christ who prays in John 17 that all His followers would be one, so that the world would see that the Father sent the Son. These divisions are also contrary to the command of the Apostle Paul, who exhorts us that there be no divisions among us.11 According to Mathison, the false assumption among advocates of solo scriptura is that the individual Christian can somehow bypass the interpretive process, resolving these hermeneutical disputes by a “simple appeal to Scripture.” But that does not resolve the dispute, as Mathison rightly notes, precisely because each disagreeing party is in actuality appealing to his own interpretation of Scripture. And hermeneutical disputes cannot be resolved so long as the disputing parties deny that hermeneutics is involved. So the necessity of interpretation leads us to the obvious question: “Whose interpretation should be given the final say?”

To this question Mathison responds forthrightly, “the Church.”  And naturally, our dispute with Mathison on this point does not center upon his answer (“the Church”), so much as the referent he assigns to that term, and the basis for its being the referent of that term, as we shall discuss below. First, however, we explain why Mathison contends that solo scriptura is not only false, inasmuch as it fails to align with the Biblical pattern and example, but is also pernicious.

According to Mathison, when Christians do not follow the authoritative guidance of the Church in their interpretation of Scripture, not only do they fall into various kinds of errors, but Scripture itself, as he shows by various examples, necessarily ceases to function as their authority. In one example, he refers to Reformed theologian Robert Reymond’s call for “an abandonment of the Nicene Trinitarian concept in favor of a different Trinitarian concept,” referring to Reymond’s rejection of the Nicene Creed’s teaching that Christ is eternally begotten.12 According to Mathison, this shows that for proponents of solo scriptura the Nicene Creed has no real authority.13

Mathison also refers to Edward Fudge, who defends annihilationism, as another example of someone operating according to solo scriptura. Fudge claims that Scripture “is the only unquestionable or binding source of doctrine on this or any subject.”14 The fact that annihilationism is heterodox does not deter him; he believes that his own interpretation of Scripture is correct on this matter, and that here the Church has been wrong. In addition to these examples, Mathison identifies Ed Stevens, who defends hyperpreterism, as another proponent of solo scriptura. Mathison quotes Stevens as writing:

Even if the creeds were to clearly and definitively stand against the preterist view (which they don’t), it would not be an overwhelming problem since they have no real authority anyway. They are no more authoritative than our best opinions today, but they are valued because of their antiquity. . . . We must not take the creeds any more seriously than we do the writings and opinions of men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, the Westminster Assembly, Campbell, Rushdoony, or C.S. Lewis.15

Referring to this quotation, Mathison writes:

Here we see the clear rejection of scripturally based structures of authority. The authority of those who rule in the Church is rejected by placing the decisions of an ecumenical council of ministers on the same level as the words of any individual. This is certainly the democratic way of doing things, and it is as American as apple pie, but it is not Christian. . . . If this doctrine of solo scriptura and all that it entails is true, then the Church has no more right or authority to declare Arianism a heresy than Cornelius Van Til would have to authoritatively declare classical apologetics a heresy. Orthodoxy and heresy would necessarily be an individualistic and subjective determination.16

The fundamental problem in each of these three examples, according to Mathison, is that the individual is failing to recognize the secondary authority of the Church and of the creeds. The result of making the individual the final interpretive authority, and not recognizing the interpretive authority of the Church, argues Mathison, is that the authority of Scripture is destroyed:

The adherents of solo scriptura dismiss all of this claiming that the reason and conscience of the individual believer is the supreme interpreter. Yet this results in nothing more than hermeneutical solipsism. It renders the universal and objective truth of Scripture virtually useless because instead of the Church proclaiming with one voice to the world what the Scripture teaches, every individual interprets Scripture as seems right in his own eyes. The unbelieving world is left hearing a cacophony of conflicting voices rather than the Word of the living God.17

Mathison’s point is that when individuals take Scripture out of its ecclesial context, and treat themselves as the ultimate or highest interpretive authorities, the practical authority of Scripture is effectively destroyed. Scripture can function as an objective authority only when interpreted in and by the Church.18

When each individual acts as his own ultimate interpretive authority, the result, argues Mathison, is a kind of de facto relativism. One person thinks a passage means one thing; another person claims that the same passage means something else. But without a divinely established interpretive authority to adjudicate the dispute, the practical result is that the meaning of Scripture is reduced to “what it means to me.” There is no one with interpretive authority to say, “That’s not what it means.” Rather, without interpretive authority the objector’s disagreement with another’s interpretation amounts to, “That’s not what it means to me.” To this the first person understandably replies, “I understand that that’s not what it means to you, but that’s what it means to me.” And this situation is a form of practical relativism. In this way, argues Mathison, solo scriptura “destroys” the authority of Scripture.19

Historical Problems with Solo Scriptura

According to Mathison, not only is there a hermeneutical problem with solo scriptura, there are also historical problems. The primary historical problem is that solo scriptura was not the position of the early Church or the medieval Church.20 The early Christians, not only layman but even presbyters and bishops, did not resolve theological disputes by taking to themselves ultimate interpretive authority.21 The historical position, according to Mathison, is for a synod of bishops to address the matter with an authoritative decision. On this point Mathison quotes John Calvin, who wrote:

We indeed willingly concede, if any discussion arises over doctrine, that the best and surest remedy is for a synod of true bishops to be convened, where the doctrine at issue may be examined.22

Mathison defends this position by pointing out that the Apostles provide an example of meeting in council (Acts 15:6-29) to resolve a question or dispute.

Another historical problem entailed by solo scriptura, according to Mathison, is that if the Church had no authority, then we would not have any certainty regarding the canon of Scripture.23 According to Mathison, solo scriptura thus leads to a “fundamental self-contradiction” in the solo scriptura position.24 The contradiction is that proponents of solo scriptura appeal to Scripture as their only authority, yet without the authority of the Church they would not know with certainty which books belong to the canon of Scripture. In this way, argues Mathison, supporters of solo scriptura could not adequately respond to a modern-day Marcion who challenged the canon of Scripture, because they could not appeal to any authority to establish or confirm the canon.25

A third historical problem is the multiplication of schisms, which Mathison largely attributes to solo scriptura. He writes:

The Christian Church today is split into literally tens of thousands of denominations with hundreds of new divisions arising daily. Much of the responsibility for this divisiveness rests with the doctrine of solo scriptura. When each individual’s conscience becomes the final authority for that individual, differences of opinion will occur. When men feel strongly enough about their individual interpretations, they separate from those they believe to be in error. In the world today, we have millions of believers and churches convinced of thousands of mutually contradictory doctrines, and all of them claim to base their beliefs on the authority of Scripture alone.

Not only has solo scriptura contributed heavily to this division and sectarianism, it can offer no possible solution. Solo scriptura is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a nation with a constitution but no court of law to interpret that constitution. Both can lead to chaos. . . . But using Scripture alone, it cannot tell us what “Scripture” is or what it means. It simply cannot resolve differences of interpretation, and the result is more and more division and schism. The resolution of theological differences requires the possibility of authoritatively defining the propositional doctrinal content of Christianity, and it requires the possibility of an authoritative ecclesiastical “Supreme Court.” Since neither of those possibilities are allowed within the framework of solo scriptura, there can be no possibility of resolution.26

As Catholics, we do not believe that Christ’s Church is split, because we believe that unity is one of the four essential marks of the Church specified by the Nicene Creed, and that since Christ cannot be divided, therefore Christ’s Body, the Church, cannot be divided. Any persistent schism therefore involves schism from the Church. 27 But, we do agree with Mathison that non-Catholic Christians are split into thousands of denominations, and that these divisions are primarily the result of each individual treating himself as his own final interpretive authority.

A fourth historical problem resulting from solo scriptura, according to Mathison, is that it destroys the historic Christian faith by denying the ecclesial authority by which certain doctrines were definitively determined at particular times in the history of the Church to be orthodox and essential, and other doctrines definitively determined to be heretical. By rejecting the authority of the Church, solo scriptura reduces the authority of the ecumenical councils and creeds to that of the opinion of any individual Christian, and thus eliminates the possibility of an objective Christianity handed down to us through history.28

In that respect, rejecting the authority of the Church, according to Mathison, has devastating consequences for Christianity, because it eliminates the creeds, and thereby eliminates the historic Christian faith as an objective reality.

If the ecumenical creeds have no real authority, then it cannot be of any major consequence if a person decides to reject some or all of the doctrines of these creeds-–including the Trinity and the deity of Christ. If the individual judges the Trinity to be an unbiblical doctrine, then for him it is false. No other authority exists to correct him outside of his own interpretation of Scripture. This is precisely why solo scriptura inevitably results in radical relativism and subjectivity. Each man decides for himself what the essential doctrines of Christianity are, each man creates his own creed from scratch, and concepts such as orthodoxy and heresy become completely obsolete. The concept of Christianity itself becomes obsolete because it no longer has any meaningful objective definition. Since solo scriptura has no means by which Scripture’s propositional doctrinal content may be authoritatively defined (such definition necessarily entails the unacceptable creation of an authoritative ecumenical creed), its propositional content can only be subjectively defined by each individual. One individual may consider the Trinity essential, another may consider it a pagan idea imported into Christianity. Without an authoritatively defined statement of Christianity’s propositional doctrinal content, neither individual can definitively and finally be declared wrong. Solo scriptura destroys this possibility, and thereby destroys the possibility of Christianity being a meaningful concept. Instead, by reducing Christianity to relativism and subjectivity, it reduces Christianity to irrationalism and ultimately nonsense.29

Here again, Mathison is quite right. Denying the authority of the Church, by treating oneself as having greater interpretive authority than the Church, destroys the Christian faith for the very reasons Mathison so aptly explains. The content of the deposit of faith then becomes like a silver dollar hidden among a sea of silver dollars; there is no principled way of distinguishing it from the myriad of contending theological opinions. This is not the situation that Christ the Good Shepherd would have handed on to His sheep. But the problem here is not merely that the deposit of faith becomes murky and inscrutable. According to Mathison,

Solo scriptura results in the autonomy of the individual believer who becomes a law unto himself. Scripture is interpreted according to the conscience and reason of the individual. Everything is evaluated according to the final standard of the individual’s opinion of what is and is not scriptural. The individual, not Scripture, is the real final authority according to solo scriptura. This is rebellious autonomy, and it is a usurpation of the prerogatives of God.

Adherents of solo scriptura have not understood that “Scripture alone” doesn’t mean “me alone.” The Bible nowhere gives any hint of wanting every individual believer to decide for himself and by himself what is and is not the true meaning of Scripture.30

By rejecting the interpretive authority of the Church, the individual makes himself autonomous. He might not think of himself as being autonomous or rebellious; he most likely thinks of himself as following God, by following [his own interpretation of] God’s Word as contained in Sacred Scripture. But by disregarding the divinely established interpretive authority of the Church, the individual usurps to himself an authority that Christ entrusted to the Church. This is why, according to Mathison, taking final interpretive authority to oneself makes the individual guilty of “rebellious autonomy.”31

Solo Scriptura is Unbiblical

Mathison argues that the solo scriptura position is unbiblical. He writes:

The Bible itself simply does not teach “solo” Scriptura. Christ established his church with a structure of authority and gives to his church those who are specially appointed to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2-4). When disputes arose, the apostles did not instruct each individual believer to go home and decide by himself and for himself who was right. They met in a council (Acts 15:6-29).32

Scripture itself indicates that the Scriptures are the possession of the Church and that the interpretation of the Scriptures belongs to the Church as a whole, as a community. In particular it has been entrusted to specially gifted men. … The fundamental point is that Christ established His Church with a structure of authority that is to be obeyed (Heb. 13:7). … The modern Evangelical doctrine of Scripture essentially destroys the real authority of ministers of the Word and the Church as a whole.33

According to Mathison, Scripture itself teaches that Scripture belongs to the Church and is to be interpreted in and by the Church. Importantly, he is not here speaking of an invisible Church. He is saying that Scripture teaches that Christ founded a visible Church, with a visible authority structure composed of ordained men entrusted with the responsibility of expositing and interpreting the Scriptures. Scripture itself, according to Mathison, teaches that these men are to be obeyed.34 Because solo scriptura denies the interpretive authority of the Church, claims Mathison, therefore solo scriptura is contrary to Scripture.

III. Mathison on Sola Scriptura, and How It Differs from Solo Scriptura

In contrast to the ‘solo scriptura‘ position, Mathison defends what he calls ‘sola scriptura,’ namely, the position that “Scripture [is] the sole source of revelation; that it [is] the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it [is] to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it [is] to be interpreted according to the regula fidei.”35 Notice that for Mathison these four claims together constitute sola scriptura. Mathison is emphatic that sola scriptura is not the notion that Scripture is the only ecclesial authority. In this respect sola scriptura differs from solo scriptura. He writes:

It is important to notice that sola scriptura, properly understood, is not a claim that Scripture is the only authority altogether. … There are other real authorities which are subordinate and derivative in nature. Scripture, however, is the only inspired and inherently infallible norm, and therefore Scripture is the only final authoritative norm.36

As mentioned above, he approvingly quotes Calvin proposing that doctrinal disputes be resolved by recourse to synods and councils.37 And Mathison defends this position by pointing out that the Apostles provide an example of meeting in council (Acts 15:6-29) to resolve a question.

According to Mathison, Scripture must be interpreted in and by the Church:

Scripture does not exist in a vacuum. It was and is given to the Church within the doctrinal context of the apostolic gospel. Scripture alone is the only final standard, but it is a final standard that must be utilized, interpreted, and preached by the Church within its Christian context. If Scripture is not interpreted correctly within its proper context, it ceases to function properly as a standard.38

It is therefore to the Church that we must turn for the true interpretation of the Scripture, for it is in the Church that the gospel is found. … Although individuals can and must read and study Scripture in order that their conscience may ultimately be bound by the Word of God, final ecclesiastical authority does not and cannot rest in the judgment of each individual member of the Church. … Individual private judgment, however, does not replace the corporate judgment of the covenant community. The creeds of the Church are the authoritative confessions of the communion of saints as the covenantal body of Christ. Excommunication is an authoritative judgment of the communion of saints as the covenantal body of Christ.39

But sola scriptura does not mean only that Scripture must be interpreted in and by the Church. According to Mathison sola scriptura also means that Scripture is the final authoritative standard. He writes:

Scripture alone, therefore, can function as the “canon,” the rule, the final authoritative standard of truth against which all else is measured. Yes, it is the Church which does the measuring, and yes the rule of faith provides the basic parameters of measurement, but it is the Scripture and Scripture alone that is the standard norm.40

An essential aspect of sola scriptura is that it affirms the infallibility of Scripture, and denies the infallibility of the Church. For this reason, according to Mathison, the Church, being fallible, is corrected by Scripture and subordinate to Scripture. He writes:

Because of the Church’s propensity to wander from the true path, she needs a standard of truth that remains constant and sure, and that standard cannot be herself. It can only be the inspired and infallible Scripture.41

For Mathison, then, sola scriptura ascribes the highest ecclesial authority to Scripture, and ascribes subordinate ecclesial authority to the Church and the creeds. The individual believer is to be subject both to the primary authority of Scripture and to the secondary authority of the Church and creeds. The primacy of the Scripture’s authority, according to Mathison, does not nullify the genuine secondary authority of the Church.42

But this does raise a difficult question. If the Church has higher interpretive authority than does the individual, what is the individual to do when he or she disagrees with the Church’s decision regarding what Scripture teaches? In other words, what is the relationship between private judgment and the Church’s interpretive authority? Mathison answers this question by appealing to Francis Turretin.

As Turretin explains, although the corporate doctrinal judgment of the Church is not infallible and does not have an authority equal to that of Scripture, it does have true authority over those who are members of the visible communion of the Church. What then is the relationship between private judgment and this corporate judgment? What is an individual Christian to do if he believes the corporate judgment found in the creeds and confessions to be in error? Turretin explains,

“Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the word of God (which alone has the power to bind the conscience).”43

According to Turretin, the individual Christian should submit to the Church’s teaching and interpretation, except when his conscience, ultimately informed by his own interpretation of Scripture, cannot accept what the Church says. Mathison adds,

There is a difference then between the external ecclesiastical court and the internal court of conscience. The inward court of the individual conscience cannot be bound by anything other than the Word of God, but the Church does have doctrinal authority in the external ecclesiastical court. This authority is given to preserve unity in the Church’s faith and to reject the errors of heretics.44

Mathison maintains that the only authority that can bind the conscience is the Word of God. So when the Church teaches something that is incompatible with one’s conscience, as informed by one’s own interpretation of Scripture, one should reject the Church’s teaching and follow  one’s own conscience. We can summarize Mathison’s explanation of the distinction between solo scriptura and sola scriptura as follows. Whereas solo scriptura rejects the interpretive authority of the Church and the derivative authority of the creeds, sola scriptura affirms the interpretive authority of the Church and the derivative authority of the creeds, except when they teach something contrary to one’s conscience, as informed by one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

IV. Why There Is No Principled Difference Between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura

A. Direct and Indirect Ultimate Interpretive Authority

What makes the solo scriptura position problematic, according to Mathison, is not its high view of Scripture, but its presumption that the individual has higher interpretive authority than does the Church. Solo scriptura treats the individual as having the ultimate or final interpretive authority regarding whatever matters he or she considers to be theologically essential or important. That is precisely why solo scriptura leads to the situations Mathison describes in his book. Robert Reymond can reject one line of the Creed because he sees himself as having at least equal interpretive and magisterial (i.e. teaching) authority to the bishops who gathered at Nicea in AD 325 to formulate the Creed. If Reymond believed that those bishops had greater interpretive and magisterial authority than himself, he would treat the Creed as a corrective to his own interpretation and position, in whatever areas his interpretation and position were at odds with that of the Creed.

But there are two ways to make oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. One is a direct way and the other is an indirect way. The direct way is to subject all theological questions directly to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. That is the solo scriptura position. Because it is direct, the nature of the position is quite transparent; we can see clearly in such a case that the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive authority.

The indirect way of making oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority is more complicated and subtle. In this case the individual, based upon his own interpretation of Scripture, either establishes or chooses an ecclesial community that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important. Then, he ‘submits’ to this institution so long as it continues to speak and act in accordance with his own interpretation of Scripture. If it deviates from his own interpretation of Scripture in matters he deems important, he repeats the process of either establishing or choosing an institution or congregation that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important.

In both the direct and indirect ways, the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. But his doing so is more difficult to see in the indirect case because he appears to be submitting to the interpretive authority of a body of persons other than himself. Yet, because he has established or selected this body of persons on the basis of their conformity to his own interpretation of Scripture, and because he ‘submits’ to them only so long as they agree with his interpretation on matters he considers to be essential or important, therefore in actuality his ‘submission’ to this body is in fact ‘submission’ to himself. To submit to others only when one agrees with them, is to submit to oneself. But submission to oneself is an oxymoron, because it is indistinguishable from not submitting at all, from doing whatever one wants. Yet because this indirect way of being one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority maintains the appearance of being in submission to another body of persons, it allows those who practice it to believe falsely that they are genuinely submitting to another body of persons, and not acting as their own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. Accumulating for themselves this body of persons to whom they ‘submit’ allows them to remain under a delusion that they are submitting to the Church.45

Solo scriptura is the direct way of acting as one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. But as we show below, the indirect way of acting as one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority is precisely the methodology entailed by sola scriptura. Here’s why. In Mathison’s account of sola scriptura, Scripture must be interpreted “in and by the church.” He even says that we must turn to the Church for the true interpretation of Scripture, “for it is in the Church that the gospel is found.”46 Notice that Mathison claims that it is in the Church that the gospel is found.

But how does he determine what is the Church? Being Reformed, he defines ‘Church’ as wherever the gospel is found, because the early Protestants defined the marks of the Church as including “the gospel,” where the gospel was determined by their own private interpretation of Scripture. So he claims that it is in the Church that the gospel is found, but he defines the Church in terms of the gospel. This is what we call a tautology. It is a form of circular reasoning that allows anyone to claim to be the Church and have the gospel. One can read the Bible and formulate one’s own understanding of the gospel, then make this “gospel” a necessary mark of the Church, and then say that it is in the Church that the gospel is found. Because one has defined the Church in terms of the gospel [as arrived at by one's own interpretation of Scripture], telling us that the gospel is found “in the Church” tells us nothing other than “people who share my own interpretation of Scripture about what is the gospel are referred to by me as ‘the Church.’” This kind of circular reasoning allows falsehood to remain hidden.

The Catholic position does not suffer from this circularity, because ‘Church’ is not defined in terms of “gospel,” but in terms of apostolic succession, involving an unbroken line of authorizations extending down from the Apostles. Just as Christ authorized and sent the Apostles to preach and teach in His Name, and govern His Church, so the Apostles, by the laying on of their hands, appointed bishops as their successors, and by this mystery handed on to them the divine authority to preach and teach and govern the Church. And these men also, in the same way authorized other men to succeed them to preach and teach the gospel and govern Christ’s Church. Only those having the succession from the Apostles are divinely authorized to preach and teach and govern Christ’s Church. For that reason, the Church is defined not by the gospel (as determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture). Rather, the content of the gospel is specified by the Church, and the Church is located by the succession from the Apostles. This is why apostolicity is one of the four marks of the Church taught in the Creed: “we believe one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” But given Mathison’s account, what counts as ‘church’ is always and ultimately up to each individual to decide on the basis of his or her own determination of the gospel, on the basis of his or her own interpretation of Scripture. So on Mathison’s account, no one has any more authority than anyone else to say definitively what is the Church and where is the Church, and what is her doctrine and what is not her doctrine.

That can be seen in the very events of the Protestant Reformation. The first Protestants did not submit their interpretations of Scripture to the judgment of the Catholic Church in which they had each been baptized and raised. Rather, the first Protestants appealed to their own interpretation of Scripture to judge the Church to be apostate, and thus justify separating from her. They did this by redefining the marks of the Church. The first generation of Protestants, without any authorization from their bishops, appealed to their own interpretation of Scripture to determine three (or two) new “marks of the Church,” beyond the four marks given twelve hundred years earlier in the Nicene Creed. These new marks consisted of: (1) the preaching of the gospel (or ‘sound doctrine’), where what counts as ‘gospel’ and ‘sound doctrine’ was determined according to their own interpretation of Scripture, (2) the proper administration of the sacraments, where what counts as a sacrament and what is its proper administration were determined again by their own interpretation of Scripture, and (3) the right exercise of church discipline, again, as determined by their own interpretation of Scripture.47 By these new marks derived from their own interpretation of Scripture, they determined that the Catholic Church governed by the successor of the Apostle Peter had become apostate, and thus that the Catholic bishops under whose authority they lived, had no ecclesial authority, and that they themselves [i.e. these first Protestants] were the continuation of the Church.

In this way they could seem to affirm devoutly the prohibition against spurning the authority of the Church, as Calvin did when he wrote:

However it may be, where the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard and the sacraments are not neglected, there for the time being no deceitful or ambiguous form of the church is seen; and no one is permitted to spurn its authority, flout its warnings, resist its counsels, or make light of its chastisements — much less to desert it and break its unity. For the Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true meaning of Word and sacraments.48

How did Calvin, who was baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant, and yet lived the last thirty or so years of his life in separation from the Catholic Church, avoid believing that he was spurning the authority of the Church? Simply by redefining the Church as “wherever the preaching of the gospel [as determined by Calvin's own interpretation of Scripture] is heard and the sacraments [as determined by Calvin's own interpretation of Scripture] are not neglected.”

The early Protestants appealed to their own interpretation of Scripture to make sola fide the sine qua non of the gospel, and appealed to their own interpretation of Scripture to make “the gospel” a new mark of the Church. In thus stipulating that sola fide was a now a mark of the Church, based on their own interpretation of Scripture and without any authorization from their bishops, the Reformers ‘avoided rebelling’ against their Catholic bishops simply by redefining ‘Church’ to match their own interpretation of Scripture, so that, by this redefinition of the ‘Church,’ their Catholic bishops were no longer even members of the Church. In doing so, these first Protestants placed their own interpretive authority above that of their bishops. For this reason, the assumption that final interpretive and teaching authority belongs to oneself is intrinsic to Protestantism, because to subordinate the individual’s interpretive and teaching authority to that of the Church would undermine the act by which the first Protestants separated from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and thus undermine the very legitimacy of Protestantism as such.

Our point here is not to show which side was right and which side was wrong in the sixteenth century schism. Our point is to show that implicit within the claim by proponents of sola scriptura to be submitting to the Church, is always a prior judgment concerning which body of persons count as the Church, and a theological assumption about how that judgment is to be made. Mathison cannot say, “All Christians should submit to the Church’s determination of the marks of the Church,” because such a claim would beg the question, i.e. presume the very thing in question, by presuming the identity of the Church in determining the identity of the Church. At most he can say that all Christians should accept the three Protestant marks of the Church, on the ground that according to his [Mathison's] own interpretation of Scripture, these three are the marks of the Church. Mathison’s position does not allow the Church to have the definitive and authoritative interpretation and teaching of Scripture regarding the marks of the Church. Mathison’s position entails that the authoritative determination of the marks of the Church ultimately and perpetually rests with the individual.

No Middle Ground: Solo Scriptura or Apostolic Succession

This implication follows from Protestantism’s rejection of apostolic succession. Without apostolic succession, there is within Protestantism no group of persons already having divine authorization to provide the definitive decision regarding matters of doctrine and interpretation, including the marks of the Church. By granting a position in which each individual has the highest interpretive authority in determining the marks of the Church, Mathison leaves himself without a principled distinction between solo scriptura and sola scriptura, and thus his position is likewise open to the individualism and fragmentation that he rightly recognizes result from solo scriptura. Hence for this reason as well, sola scriptura reduces to solo scriptura.

The same point applies to determining which tradition is authoritative. Protestant theologian R. Scott Clark, in his book Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry, claims that Christians should read Scripture through the eyes of the Reformed and Presbyterian standards, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith.49 The only available basis by which he can argue for this is that the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) matches his own interpretation of Scripture, and that of those who share his interpretation. Clark has no a priori ecclesial authority to which all Christians should submit. Nor can the individual Christian use the WCF as the standard by which to evaluate the WCF. Nor can he use the WCF in order to evaluate the other Protestant confessions, without begging the question. Thus, if one denies apostolic succession, then in order to determine whether Scripture should be interpreted according to the doctrinal framework specified by the WCF, the individual Christian must evaluate the WCF by comparing it to his own interpretation of Scripture. For this reason, without apostolic succession, the secondary ‘authority’ of a tradition or ‘standard’ by which to interpret Scripture ultimately remains subordinate to the judgment of the individual, and thus retains only the illusory appearance of authority, not any actual authority.50

For the proponent of sola scriptura, if his interpretation of Scripture changes concerning what doctrines or practices constitute ‘sound doctrine,’ or if the body of persons presently satisfying his determination of what counts as ‘Church’ makes a decision that is contrary to his own determination from Scripture of what is essential or important, then there is no reason for him to submit to them. By that very fact (i.e. change of this sort) they no longer satisfy his criteria for what is essential to the Church, just as the Catholic bishops were simply defined out of authority by the first Protestants. When that happens, the proponent of sola scriptura then establishes or chooses another body of persons that matches his current interpretation of Scripture, and ‘submits’ to them, until he and this new body of persons sufficiently diverge in their determination of what counts as ‘sound doctrine,’ proper administration of the sacraments, and right discipline. So the reason why there is no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura is that in both cases the individual is his own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority: solo scriptura in a direct way, sola scriptura in an indirect way.

We can see then that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura because given sola scriptura and the denial of apostolic succession, and thus given the equality in interpretive authority between the individual and the Magisterium, no Church council or promulgation of a dogma can bind the conscience of any individual. For any line in any creed or Church pronouncement, the individual may stand in judgment over it, just as the early Protestants stood in judgment of the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent (and other earlier ecumenical councils), based on their own interpretation of Scripture. As we saw above, Calvin seems to recognize the authority of Church councils, as when he wrote:

We indeed willingly concede, if any discussion arises over doctrine, that the best and surest remedy is for a synod of true bishops to be convened, where the doctrine at issue may be examined.51

But notice the term ‘true bishops.’ Without apostolic succession, what counts as a “true bishop” can only be “one who agrees with my interpretation of Scripture.” In other words, Calvin’s statement amounts to being willing to submit to a synod composed of bishops who agree with his own interpretation of Scripture. And there is no principled difference between this and solo scriptura; the former is solo scriptura masking itself from itself. ‘Submitting’ only to those with whom I agree, is merely a species of “submitting only when I agree,” which is itself an indirect form of “submitting only to me,” which is submitting only in semblance.

Calvin and the early Protestants rejected the decree of the Council of Trent regarding sola fide. They did so based on their prior determination, according to their own interpretation of Scripture, that sola fide was a mark of the Church. Because the Council of Trent denied justification by faith alone,52 the Council had not satisfied one of the Protestants’ own stipulated marks, and was therefore ipso facto not constituted of “true bishops,” and was ipso facto an invalid council.53

Since apart from apostolic succession the determination of ‘the gospel’ and ‘sound doctrine’ rests ultimately and irrevocably on the individual’s own interpretation of Scripture in order to identify the Church, it follows that any particular line of any creed or Church decree becomes ‘authoritative’ only if the individual approves it as being sufficiently in agreement with his own interpretation of Scripture. If he judges it to be sufficiently contrary to his own interpretation of Scripture, and of sufficient import, then it ipso facto has no ‘authority’ over him. His disagreement with “the Church’s” interpretation of Scripture does not make his position heretical. It may very well be (according to his line of thought) that ‘the Church’ is heretical, and his own position is orthodox (and hence that he himself is the continuation of the actual Church, the rest being heretics). We may never know for sure this side of heaven. Thus ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’ are relativized by the rejection of apostolic succession. Because sola scriptura rejects apostolic succession no less than does solo scriptura, and because the rejection of apostolic succession entails the relativization of heresy and orthodoxy, there is also for this reason no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura.

That is because given sola scriptura and a denial of apostolic succession, the individual has final interpretive and teaching authority in determining what is the ‘gospel’ and what is ‘sound doctrine,’ in order to determine who and what is the Church. If, however, apostolic succession is true, and the Church has final interpretive and teaching authority in determining what counts as the ‘gospel’ and ‘sound doctrine,’ then the first Protestants were not justified in separating from the Catholic Church. They could attempt to justify separating from the Catholic Church only by appealing to their own interpretation of Scripture regarding the marks, and thus only by rejecting apostolic succession and presuming that they themselves had equal or greater interpretive authority than did those Catholic bishops under whose authority they had been placed at their baptism. For this reason sola scriptura can never grant final interpretive authority to the Church, without refuting itself. So even though sola scriptura creates the appearance of submitting to Church authority, with regard to ultimate interpretive authority there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. In both solo scriptura and sola scriptura, the individual is and remains his own final interpretive and teaching authority.

In sum, Mathison thinks he is defending a position that is fundamentally distinct from solo scriptura, but in fact it is in essence the same position, only hidden within a personally selected practice and a personally selected people such that its true essence is concealed. This can be seen in Mathison’s description of sola scriptura. On the one hand, he rejects the notion that the individual has final interpretive and teaching authority; according to Mathison the idea that each individual has final interpretive and teaching authority is precisely what is wrong with the solo scriptura position. On the other hand, Mathison grants that each individual may appeal to Scripture to correct the Church, disobey the Church and leave the Church, so long as he is following his conscience.54 According to Mathison, the individual’s conscience is bound only by his own interpretation of Scripture. That notion reduces every other so-called ecclesial authority (e.g. creed, confession, magisterium) to mere advice. Here’s why.  Without apostolic succession no one’s teaching and interpretation is divinely authorized, and therefore one’s conscience is not bound by any interpretive or teaching authority other than that of one’s self. And that is exactly the essence of solo scriptura. In order for the individual to stand in judgment of the interpretation of the Church, he must have equal or greater interpretive and teaching authority than does the Church. Otherwise, if the Church’s interpretation differed from that of the individual, the Church’s teaching and interpretation would serve as the standard to which the individual should make his own interpretation conform.55

The Argument

1. According to solo scriptura, Scripture is the only ecclesial authority. [def]

2. If solo scriptura is true, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [1]

3. According to sola scriptura, Scripture is the only infallible ecclesial authority. [def]

4. If sola scriptura entails that each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential, then in this respect there is no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura.

5. If apostolic succession is false, then no one’s determination of the marks of the Church is any more authoritative than anyone else’s.

6. If no one’s determination of the marks of the Church is any more authoritative than anyone else’s, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential.

7. If apostolic succession is false, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [(5),(6)]

8. The doctrine of apostolic succession is false. [A]

9. If sola scriptura is true, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [(7),(8)]

10. There is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. [(4),(9)]

B. The Contradiction Internal to the Sola Scriptura Position

Mathison’s account of the sola scriptura position contains an internal contradiction. On the one hand, he claims that all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture:

All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation? People with differing interpretations of Scripture cannot set a Bible on a table and ask it to resolve their differences. In order for the Scripture to function as an authority, it must be read and interpreted by someone.56

On the other hand, he claims that Scripture is the final authority:

Of significant importance to the doctrine of sola scriptura is the insistence that Scripture is the one final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice.57

Each of these newer concepts of tradition [Catholic and Evangelical] confuses the locus of final authority, ultimately placing it in either the mind of the Church or the mind of the individual. This always results in autonomy and rebellion against the authority of God and His Word.58

But, if all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, then it follows necessarily that either someone’s interpretation of Scripture is the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice, or Scripture itself cannot be the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice. The latter option is not open to Mathison as a Protestant, because to deny that Scripture is the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice is to deny sola scriptura, the very foundation of Protestantism. But neither is the former option open to Mathison, because without apostolic succession, Protestantism has no sacramental basis for anyone’s interpretation being the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice. Mathison’s position thus creates a dilemma for himself that cannot be resolved without ceasing to be Protestant.

There is no middle position between the Church having final interpretive authority and the individual having final interpretive authority. Mathison recognizes that all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, and denies that the individual has final interpretive authority. But at the same time, as a Protestant, Mathison maintains that the individual can appeal to his or her own interpretation of Scripture to hold the Church accountable to Scripture, even to walk away from the Church (and thus treat himself as the continuation of the Church), otherwise Mathison would undermine the very basis for Protestants separating from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. So Mathison’s position essentially reduces to this: the Church has final interpretive authority, except when the Church’s interpretation disagrees with the individual’s interpretation. But that exception belies the charade, because “when I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.” For this reason, in sola scriptura it is the individual who ultimately has and always retains final interpretive authority. Sola scriptura is a more sophisticated version of solo scriptura, but this added sophistication makes the position more deceptive, by allowing the individual to believe that he is not one of those me-and-my-Bible individualists.

C. The Delusion of Derivative Authority

Mathison claims that the creeds, the tradition, the ecumenical councils, and the fathers are authentic secondary authorities having derivative authority. Recognition of their genuine, though secondary authority, is one of the primary ways in which Mathison seeks to distinguish sola scriptura from solo scriptura. What does he mean by “secondary” and “derived”? He writes:

[T]he traditions, the fathers, and the Church are all inherently fallible standards. What this means is that these fallible traditions, these fallible fathers, and this fallible Church must be measured against the one infallible perfect standard.59

And he writes that the Church’s authority:

consists in the fact that the Church has been entrusted with the Scriptures (Rom 3:2); in the fact that she is the proclaimer and defender of Scripture (1 Tim 3:15); and in the fact that she must make doctrinal judgments for the sake of the communion (Acts 15:6-35). These judgments usually find their public expression in the creeds and confessions of the Church. But these authoritative judgments are not to be confused with the final authority of Scripture. Their authority derives from and depends upon their conformity with the inherently authoritative Word of God.”60

We showed above how Mathison argued that the proponents of solo scriptura do not recognize the secondary (or derived) authority of the Church and of the creeds. But here we want to show that Mathison’s own position is essentially equivalent to the denial of secondary authority. Mathison claims here that the authority of the creeds and other judgments of the Church “derives from and depends upon their conformity with the inherently authoritative Word of God.” But recall that according to Mathison, all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture.61 Therefore, the notion that the authority of the creeds and other judgments of the Church “derives from and depends upon their conformity with the inherently authoritative Word of God” entails that the authority of creeds and other judgments of the Church depends upon their sufficient conformity to the individual’s interpretation of Scripture. In other words, Mathison’s position entails that the creeds and other judgments of the Church are ‘authoritative’ only insofar as they agree with the individual’s interpretation of Scripture. But that conception of derivative authority is no different from that of Reymond, Fudge or Stevens, the very exemplars of solo scriptura that Mathison rejects.

The only relevant difference between Mathison’s position on the one hand, and that of Reymond, Fudge and Stevens on the other hand, is a merely accidental difference. According to Mathison’s interpretation of Scripture, the traditional positions of the Church on the eternal generation of the Son, annihilationism, and hyperpreterism, happen to be correct, meaning, they conform to Mathison’s own interpretation of Scripture. According to the Reymond, Fudge and Stevens’ interpretations of Scripture, respectively, the traditional positions of the Church are incorrect. Mathison himself rejects the teachings of the Council of Trent, because they do not conform to his interpretation of Scripture. So Mathison’s criticism’s of Reymond, Fudge and Stevens amount to “you are not conforming to my interpretation of Scripture.” And the proper response from Reymond, Fudge, and Stevens is, “So what? You have no more authority than do we, that we should conform our interpretations to yours. Moreover, you too pick and choose among the councils, according to your own interpretation of Scripture. So there is no principled difference between your practice and ours.”62

Mathison addresses the heart of the issue when explaining how solo scriptura undermines ecclesial authority by treating the individual as having final interpretive authority. He writes:

Solo scriptura also undermines the legitimate ecclesiastical authority established by Christ. It negates the duty to submit to those who rule over you, because it removes the possibility of an authoritative teaching office in the Church. To place any kind of real hermeneutical authority in an elder or teacher undermines the doctrine of solo scriptura. Those adherents of solo scriptura who do have pastors and teachers to whom they look for leadership do so under the stipulation that the individual is to evaluate the leader’s teaching by Scripture first. What this means in practice is that the individual is to measure his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture. The playing field is leveled when neither the ecumenical creeds nor the Church has any more authority than the individual believer, but Christ did not establish a level playing field. He did not establish a democracy. He established a Church in which men and women are given different gifts, some of which involve a special gift of teaching and leading. These elders have responsibility for the flock and a certain authority over it. Scripture would not call us to submit to those who had no real authority over us (Heb 13:17; Acts 20:28).63

Here Mathison is arguing that solo scriptura undermines legitimate ecclesial authority established by Christ. It does so by denying the “authoritative teaching office” in the Church, and the “hermeneutical authority” of those holding that office. How does it do that? Mathison is explicit: “the individual measures his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture.” For Mathison, God did not establish the Church as a democracy; rather, He gave specific gifts to men to teach and govern His Church.

The problem, however, is that the very basis for the existence of Protestantism as such, the very basis for the separating of Protestants from the Catholic Church, is this very act. The individual measured his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture, and in doing so performatively denied the authority of the teaching office of the Catholic Church. Mathison wants to affirm genuine ecclesial authority as a secondary authority to which individuals should submit, but his position is contravened in two ways. First, the existence of Protestantism as such is based on the legitimacy of the individual rejecting the established ecclesial authority on the basis of his own interpretation.64 So Mathison is trying to propose a system incompatible with Protestantism’s historic foundation, and thus intrinsically incompatible with Protestantism as such.

Second, given Mathison’s denial of apostolic succession, he cannot make a principled appeal to any ecclesial authority as that to which every individual ought to submit. Nothing can give what it does not have. But Mathison’s foundational starting point does not include apostolic succession, and hence de facto it begins with each individual as his own highest interpretive and teaching authority. Therefore no qualitatively greater ecclesial authority than the teaching and interpretive authority derived from the “permission of those who sufficiently agree with me” is available to Mathison. Every secondary authority, given Mathison’s starting point, can be nothing more than a permission extended from the individual to the ‘secondary authority’ to function as an authority for the individual at that present time.

Mathison is right about the implications of denying creedal authority. He writes:

The modern Evangelical denial of creedal authority necessarily results in the impossibility of authoritatively and objectively defining the propositional content of Scripture. The very act of authoritatively defining the propositional doctrinal content of Scripture would be the creation of a creed — that which is deemed unacceptable within the framework of solo scriptura. This leaves the responsibility for defining Scripture’s doctrinal content to each individual. In other words, the modern Evangelical denial of genuine creedal authority reduces the doctrinal content of Christianity to mere subjectivism.65

The modern Evangelical church must come to the realization that if the ecumenical creeds have no authority, then there are no essential or necessary doctrines of the Christian faith. There would be only subjective individual opinions of what the “essential truths” of the Christian faith are.66

He is correct that solo scriptura undermines the possibility of authoritatively defining the propositional doctrinal content of Scripture. He is correct that undermining the authority of the creeds practically entails that “there are no essential or necessary doctrines of the Christian faith.” But Mathison’s position does exactly the same thing, because by denying apostolic succession, he undermines the possibility of a creed having any more authority than anyone’s subjective opinion. Apart from apostolic succession, the only ultimate basis for a creed’s ‘authority’ is (1) it agrees with one’s own interpretation of Scripture and/or (2) it was formulated by persons who sufficiently shared one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But both of those reasons reduce to “when I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me,” the very essence of the solo scriptura position Mathison rightly rejects.

How does Mathison attempt to defend his position from this sort of critique? He claims that the authority of the ecumenical creeds follows from the perspicuity of Scripture.

It is interesting to observe that the authority of these ecumenical creeds necessarily follows from one of the fundamental qualities of Scripture itself — its perspicuity. Scripture itself indicates it’s [sic] essential perspicuity or clarity on basic and essential matters.67

If we confess the perspicuity of Scripture, then a confession of the ecumenical creeds inevitably follows. The ecumenical creeds are simply the written form of the confession of the faith of the universal Church. They are a confession of what the Church as a whole has read in the Scriptures.68

[A] denial of this consensus of faith is not only a denial of the perspicuity of Scripture, it is in effect a denial of Scripture itself. Why? If the essential teachings of Scripture are clear (perspicuous); if the Holy Spirit has been promised to guide the Church into the knowledge of the truth of Scripture; if the entire Church for thousands of years confesses to being taught by the Spirit the same essential truths in Scripture, then it follows that those truths are what Scripture says.69

This only compounds the problems with Mathison’s position. If the authority of the ecumenical creeds only followed from the perspicuity of Scripture, there would be no need for the creeds in the first place, since the creeds would have restated only what was already plainly explicit in Scripture. This would entail that all those who opposed the creeds were blind, deaf, and stupid. But history does not support that notion. The Arians, for example, were not unintelligent. They argued from the Scriptures that Christ was the first of God’s creation, a lesser deity, and the  highest of all created things. The Macedonians and Nestorians and Sabellians, etc. all argued from Scripture for their respective heresies. Resolving these disputes was precisely the primary purpose of the ecumenical councils. So the purpose of the ecumenical councils shows that Scripture alone was not sufficient to resolve the theological disputes. And this shows that the ecumenical creeds are neither restatements of Scripture (which would simply leave the dispute unresolved) nor are they limited to statements simply and obviously deducible from Scripture by all persons of at least ordinary intelligence. The ecumenical creeds address doctrinal questions not clearly and explicitly stated in Scripture. Hence the authority of the ecumenical creeds cannot come from the perspicuity of Scripture. Mathison’s position is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He wants the creeds and the Church to have secondary authority so as to avoid solo scriptura, but his rejection of apostolic succession leaves any secondary authority with no possible basis except agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.70

His position also faces similar problem consisting of the following dilemma. He claims that it is “to the Church that we must turn for the true interpretation of the Scripture, for it is in the Church that the gospel is found.”71 But at the same time he claims that “Because of the Church’s propensity to wander from the true path, she needs a standard of truth that remains constant and sure, and that standard cannot be herself. It can only be the inspired and infallible Scripture.”72 So, since for Mathison all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, then when, as Mathison claims, the Church wanders from the true path, whose interpretation of Scripture will correct her? If it is the individual’s, then it is false that we must turn to the Church for the true interpretation of Scripture. The individual has no more reason to believe a priori that the Church’s present interpretation of Scripture is correct than he has to believe that the Church now stands in dire need of correction from his own lips on the basis of his own personal interpretation of Scripture. On the other hand, if it does not belong to the individual to correct the Church when she “wanders from the true path,” then it can belong to none other than the Church to correct herself when she wanders from the true path.” So the errant Church is then supposed to be corrected by her own erronious interpretation of Scripture. Not only does that seem implausible, if Protestants truly believed that to be the case, they would simply have remained in the Catholic Church, waiting for the ‘erring’ Church to be corrected back to the truth on the basis of her own erroneous interpretation of Scripture. But Protestants did not remain in the Catholic Church; and this indicates that Protestants did not and do not in fact believe that Scripture corrects the Church when she “wanders from the true path.” The problematic assumption in Mathison’s position entailing this dilemma is his notion that the Church “wanders from the true path,” something he has to hold in order to justify being a Protestant.73

V. Objections and Replies

A. Tu Quoque: “The Catholic Position Does not Avoid Solo Scriptura

One objection to our argument that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura is that the Catholic position likewise ultimately reduces to solo scriptura. This is so, according to the objection, because the individual who becomes Catholic must start in the same epistemic position as the person who becomes Protestant. In choosing to become Catholic, he has simply chosen the denomination that best conforms to his own interpretation of Scripture. He places himself under the authority of the Catholic bishops in the same way that a Lutheran places himself under the authority of a Lutheran pastor, that a Baptist places himself under the authority of a Baptist pastor, or that a Presbyterian places himself under a Presbyterian pastor. Hence if the person who becomes Protestant retains final interpretive authority, then so does the person who becomes Catholic.

The objection is understandable, but it can be made only by those who do not see the principled difference between the discovery of the Catholic Church, and joining a Protestant denomination or congregation. Of course a person during the process of becoming Catholic is not under the authority of the Church. At that stage, he or she is like the Protestant in that respect. But the Catholic finds something principally different, and properly finds it by way of qualitatively different criteria. The Protestant is seeking a group of persons who believe, teach and practice what his interpretation of Scripture indicates was the belief, teaching and practice of the Apostles. He retains his final interpretive authority so long as he remains Protestant. No Protestant denomination has the authority to bind his conscience, because [in his mind] the Church must always remains subject to Scripture, which really means that the Church must always remains subject to [his interpretation of] Scripture, or at least that he is not ultimately subject to anyone’s interpretation but his own.

The person becoming Catholic, by contrast, is seeking out the Church that Christ founded. He does this not by finding that group of persons who share his interpretation of Scripture. Rather, he locates in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say and do viz-a-viz the transmission of teaching and interpretive authority, traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching. By finding the Magisterium, he finds something that has the divine authority to bind the conscience.

Here we should say something about what it means to bind the conscience. It is of the very nature of law to bind the conscience. Law does not coerce the will, but law binds the conscience precisely insofar as reason grasps it as the standard or rule to which our beliefs, words and actions ought to conform. God’s law, written on our hearts in the form of the natural law, informs the conscience of every man. Once one knows the law, then one knows acting against the law to be unlawful. Likewise, once one knows the Church’s magisterial authority, and her divinely revealed laws and dogmas concerning faith and morals, then one’s conscience is bound to believe and obey them. One knows that to disbelieve the Church’s dogmas is heresy and sinful, because one knows that what the Church has definitively determined, the Holy Spirit has ipso facto spoken. When the Church, with the authority she has received from Christ through the Apostles, definitively declares dogma, she ipso facto binds the conscience insofar as the hearer knows both the content of these dogmas and the divine authority by which they have been determined.

So for the person becoming Catholic, when he recognizes the authority of the Magisterium, he recognizes that his beliefs and interpretation of Scripture must conform to the authoritative teachings of the Church’s Magisterium. “When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement that a teaching is found in Revelation,” he assents to it by an act of faith, believing this pronouncement to be the teaching of Christ, on account of the divine authority given to the Magisterium through apostolic succession to teach in Christ’s name and with His authority.74 In this way, his faith in Christ is expressed as an act of faith in the infallible pronouncement of the Church’s Magisterium. In those teachings which are not infallible, he also, as an act of faith in Christ, gives religious submission of intellect and will, even while recognizing the fallibility of those teaching.75

The Protestant, by contrast, in joining a Protestant community does not find the Magisterium. That is because he does not find something that can bind his conscience regarding the canon of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, and the identity of orthodoxy and heresy. This is why in his Protestant community he perpetually retains final interpretive authority, because no decision of that community has the authority to bind his conscience. This is why Mathison, drawing from Turretin, claims that “the individual conscience cannot be bound by anything other than the Word of God.”76 And since, for Mathison, “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture,”77 it follows that the individual conscience cannot be bound by anything other than his own interpretation of Scripture.

Here we see precisely why the tu quoque fails against the Catholic. The person who becomes Catholic finds something that binds his conscience viz-a-viz the canon of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture; he finds the Magisterium that the incarnate Christ established and authorized. By contrast, the person who becomes Protestant, finds nothing outside himself that binds his conscience viz-a-viz the canon of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture. For this reason, until a person finds the Magisterium, he remains his own final interpretive authority, because he knows of nothing that can bind his conscience regarding the interpretation of Scripture. But when a person finds the Magisterium, and recognizes it for what it is, he immediately ceases to be his own final interpretive authority. He recognizes that his interpretation of Scripture ought to be conformed to the teaching and interpretation of the Magisterium, and that to reject the teaching of the Magisterium would be to reject Christ, just as Jesus said to the Apostles:

The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me. (Luke 10:16)

The Protestant epistemological stance, by contrast, is exemplified in the words of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God.78

Luther’s statement captures the very essence of Protestant religious epistemology. All Protestants who followed Luther’s example took this very same stance, subjecting the Church’s teaching, councils, and interpretive tradition to the standard of their own interpretation of Scripture, picking and choosing from them as though they were mere advice. Since according to Mathison “all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture,” Luther’s claim that his conscience was “captive to the Word of God” means in actuality that his conscience was ultimately bound by his own interpretation of Scripture. That very claim, namely, that our conscience is bound ultimately by our own interpretation of Scripture, is contrary to the perpetual teaching of the Church, because that claim denies that Christ established a perpetual teaching authority in His Church, a magisterial authority through which the Holy Spirit works to determine definitively matters of faith and morals, and to which all Christians are to be subject. If the Church has the authority from Christ to give the definitive decision regarding some question of faith or morals, then she has the authority to bind the conscience ultimately regarding such matters. If the Church did not have the authority to bind the conscience, she could do nothing more than offer advice, because in that case no decision she made regarding faith or morals would be definitive.

The follow-up objection to our argument takes the form of a dilemma. The dilemma runs like this. Either the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, or not. If the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, then he will need the guidance of another interpretive authority when interpreting the first interpretive authority. And he will need the guidance of third interpretive authority when interpreting the second interpretive authority. That would lead to an infinite regress. But there cannot be an infinite regress, hence the individual does not need the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture.

The problem with this dilemma is that it ignores the qualitative ontological distinction between persons and books, and so it falsely assumes that if a book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to function as an ecclesial authority, so must a living person. A book contains a monologue with respect to the reader. An author can often anticipate the thoughts and questions that might arise in the mind of the reader. But a book cannot hear the reader’s questions here and now, and answer them. A living person, however, can do so. A living person can engage in genuine dialogue with the reader, whereas a book cannot. Fr. Kimel talks about that here when he quotes Chesterton as saying that though we can put a living person in the dock, we cannot put a book in the dock. In this respect, a person can do what a book cannot; a person can correct global misunderstandings and answer comprehensive interpretive questions. A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. This unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end. A book cannot speak more about itself than it does at the moment at which it is completed. A person, by contrast, remains perpetually capable of clarifying further any of his previous speech-acts.

This objection can also take the following form. Even if the Church possesses final interpretive authority, yet because the individual must nevertheless interpret the Church’s dogmatic pronouncements, therefore, the individual must be the final interpretive authority of the Church’s dogmatic pronouncements. This objection conflates two senses of the term ‘final.’ ‘Final’ can mean the terminus of a movement or of a series of movements, as an airplane has a final destination, the terminus of a series of flights for the day. ‘Final’ can also mean the terminus in an order or hierarchy, as the Commander in Chief is for the military.79 In a communication, the individual receiving that communication is, by definition, the terminus of the movement whereby knowledge is transmitted. He is, in that sense, the final interpreter. But he is not thereby the final interpretive authority in the sense of a terminus in an order or hierarchy. He may be the terminus of the motion of the communication, while remaining subordinate in the order of interpretive authority. The exercise of interpretive authority by the Magisterium, say, at an ecumenical council, does not prevent believers from interpreting Scripture or any other communication. Nor does it withhold from them the skill by which to interpret Sacred Scripture. On the contrary, the exercise of this teaching and interpretive authority provides a supernatural light by which the believer ought to interpret Scripture. We ignore or disregard that interpretive authority at our peril, because it is God-given authority, for our good.80

A related objection takes the following form. Civil government leaders have genuine authority, yet they are neither infallible nor can they bind the conscience nor do they require some kind of analog to apostolic succession. Therefore neither infallibility nor the power to bind the conscience nor apostolic succession is necessary for genuine Magisterial authority in the Church. In response, it is true that civil government leaders have genuine civil authority, which they have received from God. And it is true that they are not infallible. But it is not true that they cannot bind the conscience. Civil laws bind the conscience in that we are obligated to obey them, so long as they do not conflict with a higher law, whether that be the natural law, or the law of God as revealed through the Church. Hence the nature of genuine civil authority does not show that the Magisterium cannot bind the conscience of the faithful.

In addition, the nature of the Church’s Magisterial authority is not rightly determined by determining what nature of authority is sufficient for civil government. Such a method would presuppose both that the Church is equivalent in nature to a civil society and that there is no existing ecclesial authority that provides the definitive answer to questions about the nature of the Church’s authority. Hence the fallibility of civil authority does not show that the Church’s Magisterial authority is always likewise fallible. Most importantly, Magisterial authority differs from civil authority in that the Magisterium of the Church provides the authoritative interpretation both of natural law and divine law supernaturally-revealed. For this reason, while the civil authority cannot bind the conscience with respect to natural and divine law, the Magisterium of the Church does bind the conscience with respect to natural and divine law. Those who know this can never, in good conscience, oppose the definitive teaching of the Magisterium in matters of faith and morals, by claiming that they must obey God rather than men. The definitive teaching of the Magisterium is the voice of God to the Catholic, just as conscience is the voice of God to the pagan. This is why the Catholic must seek to conform his conscience according to the definitive teaching of the Church in matters of faith and morals, because the Church’s Magisterium is a higher authority than his conscience (i.e. than reason alone).

Regarding whether civil authorities acquire their authority through some kind of analog to apostolic succession, the answer is both yes and no, though in different respects. The rightful ruler in a civil society is the one who has been selected according to the process specified by the law. A usurper, no matter how popular, is not the rightful ruler. In this respect, the way in which a civil authority acquires his civil authority is similar to the way a person holding ecclesial authority acquires that ecclesial authority, because an ecclesial authority rightly acquires such authority by a process already laid down in Church law and tradition. And we know that the civil authority has been given his authority by God’s providence, as Jesus indicates in John 19:11 in speaking to Pilate. And St. Paul teaches the same in Romans 13:1.

Magisterial authority in the Church, however, cannot be acquired only through providence. If there were no essential difference between these two authorities, the Church would be nothing more than a civil society, and this would contradict Christ’s statement, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). When Jesus says that His Kingdom is not of this world, He is not saying that His Kingdom is located in some other world; He is saying that His Kingdom, which is in this world, does not have its authority from the world, i.e. from the natural order. What makes the Church a supernatural society, and not merely a natural society, is precisely that the authority by which she is governed is a supernatural authority. That supernatural authority is Christ’s own authority. His authority is supernatural because He is God. And He gave His supernatural authority sacramentally to His Apostles, and they in turn handed it on to their successors.81 For this reason, without apostolic succession, the Church would be a natural society providentially governed by God, another nation among the nations. Only by apostolic succession is she a divine society that does not compete with natural societies, because grace builds on nature. In short, civil authorities acquire their natural civic authority by God’s providence through lawful processes. Since the Church is a supernatural society, ecclesial authorities cannot acquire their authority naturally under providential guidance. Ecclesial authority is not natural authority, but supernatural authority, and therefore requires succession from a supernatural source.

B. Sola Ecclesia: The Church Is Autonomous, a Law unto Itself, and Unaccountable

A second type of objection follows directly from the preceding paragraph. According to this objection, if the Church’s Magisterium has final interpretive authority, then the Church is placing itself above Scripture, making itself autonomous, and entirely unaccountable. Mathison himself makes this sort of objection against the Catholic Church. Recall that for Mathison the problem with solo scriptura is that it “results in the autonomy of the individual believer.”82 He claims that Catholic doctrine makes the Church similarly autonomous. He writes:

The fundamental problem with “solo” Scriptura is that it results in autonomy. It results in final authority being placed somewhere other than the Word of God. It shares this problem with the Roman Catholic doctrine. The only difference is that the Roman Catholic doctrine places final authority in the church while “solo” Scriptura places final authority in each individual believer. Every doctrine and practice is measured against a final standard, and that final standard is the individual’s personal judgment of what is and is not biblical.83

One difficulty for Mathison is that if, as he argues, “the church” has greater interpretive authority than the individual, then Mathison cannot avoid the result that “the church” must likewise be ‘final’ in the sense he thinks is objectionable. In that case it follows that his own interpreters must also be subject to the charges of “autonomy” and to a Reformed version of “sola ecclesia.”  Mathison’s objection to the Catholic Church’s position is that in relation to Scripture the Catholic Church is hermeneutically equivalent to a large subjective individual composed of many individuals — a collective version of the individual proponent of solo scriptura — and that the Catholic Church therefore falls victim to the same problem of individualism found in solo scriptura, except that it does so in a large scale, institutional way. So if he thinks all this follows against the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church (as opposed to Scripture) has, or makes itself out to have,  final interpretive authority, then, if it follows that in his own sola scriptura position “the church” is also the final interpretive authority, then his position must also face the same problems that he attributes to the Catholic position.

Mathison clarifies this somewhat by claiming that what makes the Catholic Magisterium autonomous viz-a-viz Scripture is the notion that the Magisterium is infallible under certain conditions. He writes:

Finally, we must always be mindful that claims to infallibility by the Church or any member of the Church inevitably lead to autonomy on the part of the one or ones claiming such infallibility. Even such qualified infallibility as that which is claimed by Rome has led to virtual autonomy. The Roman church has become a law unto herself. Against what higher standard can an infallible Church be measured? None. The only standard against which Rome allows herself to be measured is Rome.84

Mathison thinks that if the Church claims to be guided infallibly in her definitive formulations of dogma, this makes her a “law unto herself,” not subject to a higher standard. And that result, thinks Mathison, is precisely the mistake of solo scriptura; it makes final authority rest some place other than the Word of God.

Let’s consider this objection carefully. Mathison claims that “the only difference [between Catholic doctrine and the 'solo scriptura' position] is that the Roman Catholic doctrine places final authority in the Church while solo Scriptura places final authority in each individual believer.” Notice that he does not specify what he means by ‘final authority.’ The term can refer to two different types of authority. It can refer to the authority of the deposit of faith entrusted by Christ to the Apostles, or it can refer to teaching and interpretive authority with respect to that deposit of faith. Mathison seems to conflate the two types, or fail to distinguish between them, as though having final interpretive authority with respect to Scripture is to be equal in authority to the deposit of faith.

There is a difference, however, between the authority of the deposit of faith, and interpretive authority. We can see this difference already in Tertullian, who writes:

Our appeal [in debating with the heretics], therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. For a resort to the Scriptures would but result in placing both parties on equal footing, whereas the natural order of procedure requires one question to be asked first, which is the only one now that should be discussed: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong? From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.85

Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you?’”86

Before debating the interpretation of Scripture, says Tertullian, we must first discover who has teaching and interpretive authority with respect to the deposit of faith. To do this, we locate those to whom the deposit of faith was entrusted, as handed down from the Apostles. Tertullian was writing about one hundred years after the death of the last Apostle. So the method he indicates for locating interpretive authority was not limited only to the generation after the Apostles. Tertullian indicates here a relation between interpretive authority and apostolic succession. In each generation, those persons having interpretive authority viz-a-viz the Scriptures are those to whom the deposit of faith was entrusted in the previous generation, all the way back to the Apostles themselves.

In this way Tertullian provides a clear example of the Catholic understanding of interpretive authority, and the basis for it in apostolic succession. Regarding the interpretive authority of the Church viz-a-viz the individual, the Council of Trent stated the following:

Furthermore, to check unbridled spirits, it decrees that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers.87

And the First Vatican Council reaffirmed this, saying:

Now since the decree on the interpretation of Holy Scripture, profitably made by the Council of Trent, with the intention of constraining rash speculation, has been wrongly interpreted by some, we renew that decree and declare its meaning to be as follows: that in matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of Holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which Holy mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of Holy Scripture. In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers.88

In the Catholic understanding, the individual’s own interpretation of Scripture does not have equal or greater authority than does that of the Magisterium. One of the primary tasks of the Magisterium is to give the authoritative interpretation of the deposit of faith.

The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.89

The pronouncements of the teaching and interpretative authority of the Church do not hold the same intrinsic authority as the deposit of faith, just as the Apostles were not equal in authority to Christ Himself. Christ has greater authority than did the Apostles, but that does not entail that when the Apostles were preaching and teaching they had no authority, or that they only had authority when what they were saying was divinely inspired. Having interpretive authority does not entail that the interpreter has the same or more authority than what is being interpreted. Jesus told them, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me.” (Luke 10:16) When the Apostles testified that Jesus is the Christ, they did not take away from Christ’s authority; they spoke with His authority, by His authorization. But if interpretive authority were ipso facto equivalent in authority to that which it had been given the authority to interpret, then since the Apostles had the authority to speak in Christ’s name and interpret and explain what He had said, it would follow that the Apostles and Christ had equal authority. The Apostles and Christ, however, do not have equal authority. Therefore, interpretive authority is not ipso facto equivalent in authority to that which it has been given the authority to interpret. An authorized witness can give an authoritative testimony concerning an authority greater than himself; otherwise no one could have come to believe in the divinity of Jesus through the authority of the Apostles’ testimony. That is why, according to Catholic doctrine, the Magisterium “is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant.”

Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.90

Protestants sometimes mistakenly think that the Catholic position is sola ecclesia, but that is inaccurate. There is a three-fold arrangement of ecclesial authority consisting of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and Magisterium, each according to its own mode:

It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.91

In Catholic theology Scripture is something known and properly understood only within the bosom of the Church, and only as explicated by the Magisterium of the Church. Of course this does not preclude private study of Scripture; that is encouraged.92 But in the Catholic Church Sacred Scripture is something properly known and understood through the Magisterium’s teaching authority guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit operates through the Magisterium to cast a supernatural light upon Scripture, so that it may be understood according to the same Spirit by Whom it was inspired.

So, in sum, the authority of Scripture is the authority of the deposit of faith. The authority of the Magisterium, on the other hand, is interpretive authority with respect to the deposit of faith. These are two different types or modes of authority. They do not compete with each other, but complement each other, and are mutually dependent. The Magisterium cannot exist as an interpretive authority, without the sacred deposit of the Word of God. Similarly, the Sacred Scriptures cannot provide their own authentic and authoritative interpretation to the Church, and so require the Magisterium in order to fulfill their purpose in the Church.

Mathison indicates that it is not teaching and interpretive authority per se, that (in his view) entails Magisterial autonomy. It is primarily the doctrine of Magisterial infallibility.93 There are at least two principled reasons why a Protestant might object to the doctrine that the Magisterium is infallible. First, one might believe that if any doctrinal pronouncements by the Magisterium are infallible, then such pronouncements are equivalent in authority to Scripture. Second, he might think that if any doctrinal pronouncements by the Magisterium are infallible, then there is no court of appeals for such doctrines.

Consider the first reason. If two statements are true, this does not entail that they are equally authoritative. Authority is not reducible to truth. The statement “I exist” is no less true than Christ’s statement, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) Both statements are equally true, but the latter has greater authority because it was spoken by God Himself. Since infallibility means protected from error, therefore it only means that the result is true. It does not, in itself, determine the degree of authority the statement has. Authority in this sense is that to which submission and obedience is due from those entrusted to it. Reducing authority to truth conceptually eliminates authority. That is because such a reduction would imply that we need only submit to authority when the authority speaks what we already believe, or can independently verify, to be the truth.  Hence, the result would eliminate authority, because “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.”

So the true interpretation of Scripture is not authoritative because the interpretation is true, but this interpretation can be known to be true because it has been divinely authorized. An authoritative interpretation of Scripture is authoritative not because it is true (though it is true), but because of the authority given by Christ to the Magisterium to which is due submission of mind and will regarding the authentic interpretation of Scripture. For this reason the infallibility of a doctrinal pronouncement by the Magisterium does not make that doctrinal pronouncement as authoritative or more authoritative than Scripture itself.

The other objection to Magisterial infallibility is that it removes the possibility of a court of appeals for such doctrines. More specifically, given this doctrine of infallibility, the Scripture cannot be the “final court of appeal” if the Magisterium has already definitively and infallibly ruled on some matter of faith or morals, and there is no court of appeal beyond the Magisterium. In reply, recall that for Mathison,

All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation?94

There are a few things we can say here. First, if all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, then Scripture alone cannot function as the “final court of appeals.” So Mathison’s requirement that Scripture be the final court of appeal is incompatible with his claim that all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretation of Scripture.

Second, if the Church’s definitive rulings are infallible, then there is no reason to challenge them by appealling to some higher authority. It makes no sense to appeal an infallible decision. So Mathison’s autonomy charge against the Catholic doctrine of Magisterial infallibility only applies if the Catholic doctrine of Magisterial infallibility is false. Hence in that respect Mathison’s charge begs the question (i.e. presumes precisely what is in question). Wishing to appeal an infallible ruling begs the question, by presuming that the infallible ruling is fallible. The problem in that case is not that the Magisterium has a charism of infallibility, but that the person requiring an additional court of appeals has not recognized that the Magisterium has this charism.

Third, when Mathison claims that the Church’s Magisterium needs to be accountable, he only pushes back the question. Accountable to whom? It cannot be Scripture itself, for the reason shown above, that Scripture needs to be interpreted. So it must be some other person or persons. Designate those to whom the Magisterium is accountable as x. Now, to whom are x accountable? Designate those to whom x are accountable as y. Now to whom are y accountable? We can keep asking this question. Either there is an infinite regress, or there is a final interpretive authority. But an infinite regress of accountability is absurd. So if there is to be accountability with respect to doctrinal and interpretive judgments, there must be a highest or final interpretive authority. Therefore the request for the Magisterium to be accountable to some other body is a denial that the Magisterium is the Magisterium, and a presumption that there is another Magisterium having final interpretive authority.

But the person who wants the Magisterium to be accountable to some other body, can only be satisfied if that body is either himself or those whom he approves. Otherwise his dissatisfaction with the lack of accountability would necessarily remain, for any body which has final interpretive authority. Hence the person who demands that the Magisterium be accountable to some other body is in actuality demanding that the Magisterium be accountable (directly or indirectly) to himself. And that is another way of showing that the demand is in essence an implicit arrogation to oneself of Magisterial authority. It is an expression of the maxim: “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.”95

VI. Implications

The Objections to Solo are Objections to Sola

In this paper we have argued that apart from apostolic succession, there is no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura. If our argument is sound, it follows that the criticisms Mathison raises against solo scriptura apply no less to sola scriptura. If “hermeneutical chaos and anarchy” result from solo scriptura, then they likewise result from sola scriptura. If solo scriptura leads to the “multiplication of schisms,” so does sola scriptura. If solo scriptura entails that the creeds have no “real authority,” then sola scriptura likewise entails that the creeds have no real authority. If the necessary result of solo scriptura is a practical relativism concerning the content of Scripture, then this too is the necessary result of sola scriptura. If solo scriptura “destroys” the authority of Scripture “by making the meaning of Scripture dependent upon the judgment of each individual,” then so does sola scriptura. Given the soundness of our argument, it follows that the claim by various Catholics that sola scriptura is the source of Protestant fragmentation and division in which each person interprets Scripture as seems right in his own eyes, is not a criticism of a straw man, but is in fact quite accurate.

Concerning solo scriptura, Mathison writes,

By denying the authority of the corporate judgment of the Church, solo scriptura has exalted the individual judgment of the individual to the place of final authority. It is the individual who decides what Scripture means. It is the individual who judges between doctrines on the basis of his individual interpretation of Scripture. It is the individual who is sovereign.”96

In light of our argument that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, Mathison’s criticism of solo scriptura turns out to be a criticism of sola scriptura. So long as the individual retains final interpretive authority, it is the “the individual who is sovereign.” Yet as we have shown, in sola scriptura, the individual retains final interpretive authority. Hence it follows that in sola scriptura, it is the individual who is sovereign.

Solo Scriptura is the Fuller Manifestation and Outworking of Sola Scriptura

Moreover, our argument helps explain the rise over the last one hundred and fifty years of the explicit embrace of a solo scriptura approach within Protestantism. Philosophies and theologies more fully manifest their nature over time. If there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, then we would expect the sola scriptura doctrine taught by the early Protestant to come to manifest its true nature over time as outright solo scriptura. Sola scriptura could temporarily conceal its true nature, as Protestantism lived on the inertial remnants of Catholic conceptions of sacramental authority. Sacramental magisterial authority is supernatural in origin, as we explained above, because the Church is a divine institution. The denial of sacramental magisterial authority closes a person off to the Church as supernatural, leaving only the possibility of democratic (bottom-up) man-made authority under providential guidance. As Protestants have come to understand more clearly the democratic nature of Protestant ecclesial authority, they have come to see that as Protestants, they themselves as individuals, hold final interpretive authority, and have come to live as such. This explains the widespread solo scriptura phenomenon within Protestantism that Mathison decries. Louis Bouyer concurs, saying:

The main difficulty Protestants have with the Catholic Church (and with the separated Eastern church as well) is on the subject of authority, and more particularly the teaching authority she claims. The opposition of those Protestants who are closest to the spirit of primitive Protestantism rests, as we have said, on the fear that whatever is conceded to the authority of the Church detracts correspondingly from the authority of the Word of God in the Bible. The opposition of those who adhere to doctrinal liberalism, however, while equally strong, has a different object, quite the reverse of the other. They object to the authority of the Church not for replacing another authority held to be divine and, as such, claiming man’s exclusive and undivided submission. They object to it simply because it is authority and therefore something inimical to the individual religious conscience.

This being the case, we may be tempted to believe that Protestantism, in the course of its development, has passed from one extreme to the other. That is to a certain extent, but not absolutely, true. The Protestantism which rejects the authority of the Church because it rejects all authority has come out of the Protestantism which rejected the authority of the Church because of the fear it wronged that other authority, held to be sovereign, of the Scriptures. If it was possible for the first to come from the second, it must somehow have been contained therein.97

Bouyer presents two stances within Protestantism toward Magisterial authority. One of them, which he refers to as those closest to early Protestantism, fears that Magisterial authority detracts from the authority of Scripture, as though the two are the same sort of authority, and hence must be in competition with each other. Liberal Protestantism, by contrast, likewise objects to Magisterial authority, not for fear that it might detract from the authority of Scripture, but simply because it rejects authority. We might be tempted, claims Bouyer, to think that liberal Protestantism’s attitude toward authority is the opposite extreme of early Protestantism’s notion of authority. But according to Bouyer, that would be inaccurate. The liberal rejection of authority came out of the earlier Protestant conception of authority, precisely because it was somehow contained within it.

Recovering Apostolic Succession is the only way to avoid Solo

How then can Protestants avoid solo scriptura? Only by recovering apostolic succession. Solo scriptura logically follows the denial of apostolic succession. Either ecclesial authority has its basis in agreement or approval as determined by the individual’s own interpretation of Scripture, or ecclesial authority has its basis in Christ’s authorization and appointment. Wherever ecclesial authority has its basis in the individual’s agreement with that authority’s interpretation, there in essence is solo scriptura. And there in essence is the fulfillment of St. Paul’s prophecy:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3.)

Only where ecclesial authority has its basis in Christ’s authorization and commission is the individual’s interpretation ultimately subject to that of the Church. Mathison’s positive intention to read and understand Scripture in the Church has genuine implications only if ‘Church’ is not defined as those who interpret Scripture like he does regarding the marks of the Church.98 But authorization and appointment by the incarnate Christ can be found only in those having the succession of authorizations extending back through the Apostles to Christ Himself. Without apostolic succession, the individual has no less interpretive authority than does the Church. For this reason, only by recovering apostolic succession can Protestants overcome solo scriptura and all its destructive effects. May Christ the Good Shepherd bring us all into the one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16).

By Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch

  1. See the Catholic Encyclopedia entry ‘Protestantism.’ See also Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (Wipf & Stock, 2004). []
  2. Cf. Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (HarperOne, 2007). []
  3. Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes,” pp. 25-29, 16 Modern Reformation Mar./Apr. 2007. Cf. The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 237-253 (Canon Press, 2001) [hereinafter Shape]. []
  4. “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  5. Shape, pp. 274-275. []
  6. In his letter of March 10, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI said something quite similar. He wrote:

    Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time. A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers. Their disunity, their disagreement among themselves, calls into question the credibility of their talk of God. Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith – ecumenism – is part of the supreme priority.

    Readers are also encouraged to examine the exposition of this theme in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Ut Unum Sint. []

  7. Shape, pp. 239-240. []
  8. Shape, p. 240. On the following page Mathison writes, “Unless one can escape the effects of sin, ignorance, and all previous learning, one cannot read the Scriptures without some bias and blind spots.” Here he is decrying what he describes as the “naïve belief in the ability to escape one’s own noetic and spiritual limitations” that undergirds the solo scriptura orientation. Shape, p. 241. []
  9. Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes,” pp. 25-29. Note that we, as well as Mathison, nevertheless accept that scriptura scripturae interpres (Scripture interprets Scripture), in the sense that the whole and each of the parts of Scripture function in such a way as to illuminate the meaning of one another. Dei Verbum, one of the documents of Vatican II, teaches:

    Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, 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. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God.  Dei Verbum, 12.

    []

  10. Shape, p. 246. We do not agree with Mathison that solo scriptura necessarily entails relativism. The person holding solo scriptura may believe firmly that his own interpretation is objectively true, and that everyone who disagrees with his interpretation is wrong. But we agree with Mathison that there is some truth to the connection between solo scriptura and relativism. That is because it is difficult in our present fluid culture to sustain the notion that anyone who disagrees with one’s own interpretation is wrong. The continual encounter with those of obvious intelligence and sincerity revering the very same book, and yet interpreting it differently from oneself, makes some form of relativism attractive without a principled basis for believing that one’s own interpretation is the authorized interpretation. So in this way, solo scriptura lends itself to a ‘practical relativism,’ which easily slides into an unqualified relativism. []
  11. 1 Corinthians 1:10. Someone might object that divisions are good, since St. Paul says, “For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.” (1 Cor. 11:19.) But St. Paul is not there praising division among Christians. He is teaching that division always entails schism from, not schism within. []
  12. Shape, p. 241. []
  13. Reymond, for his part, will respond that the Nicene Creed does have “real authority,” but that the authority it possesses is derivative and contingent upon its fidelity to Scripture; and since in his estimation it fails to conform to Scripture on this point of Trinitarian doctrine, he wishes to see it rectified “in light of the Biblical teaching.” The confluence between Mathison’s and Reymond’s orientations in this instance is quite striking. Striking, too, is the appearance that for Mathison the “real authority” of the Nicene Creed entails its irreformability: for Mathison does not criticize the theological or exegetical argumentation upon which Reymond relies to justify his repudiation of the “Nicene Trinitarian Concept,” but contents himself merely to point out Reymond’s departure from it, leaving us to conclude that his departure from the Nicene Creed is ipso facto a mistake.  Yet if the “real authority” of Nicaea entails the irreformability of its Creed — as it certainly appears to here for Mathison, at least “in practice” — then it can be no argument against the “infallibility” of Nicaea or any other Council that the dogmatic decrees promulgated in them are likewise “irreformable.” Why, then, are we meant to believe that the irreformability of (infallible) Catholic dogma is objectionable, whereas the irreformability of the “real but subservient authority” of the Councils Protestants accept fails to infringe upon the ultimate authority of Scripture?   []
  14. Quoted in Shape, p. 242. []
  15. Shape, p. 243. []
  16. Shape, pp. 243-244. []
  17. Shape, p. 246. []
  18. He writes:

    The doctrine of solo scriptura, despite its claims to uniquely preserve the authority of the Word of God, destroys that authority by making the meaning of Scripture dependent upon the judgment of each individual. Rather than the Word of God being the one final court of appeal, the court of appeal becomes the multiplied minds of each believer. One is persuaded that Calvinism is more biblical. The other is persuaded that dispensationalism is more biblical. And by what standard does each decide? The standard is each individual’s opinion of what is biblical. The standard is necessarily individualistic, and therefore the standard is necessarily relativistic. Shape, pp. 246-247.

    []

  19. Someone might claim that “the science of exegesis” will overcome this problem. But the evidence does not support that claim. Protestant theologians in many different traditions have been using exegetical methods to support their particular interpretations of Scripture for almost five hundred years. And yet there has been little to no convergence of these various traditions and denominations. Instead new theological positions and traditions have arisen, positions such as dispensationalism, Pentecostalism, open theism, federal vision, etc., each defending itself by the very exegetical methods that are supposed to bring and preserve all Christians in unity. The continued diversification and variegation within Protestantism indicates that exegesis is not capable of establishing or preserving unity among Christians who believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Exegesis has shown itself to be used more within a tradition to support the theological position held by those in that tradition. So the appeal to exegesis only pushes back the question: Whose exegesis? Lutheran exegesis? Calvinist exegesis? Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, (etc.)? And we have to ask ourselves how much more time would be necessary to falsify the claim that exegesis is capable of unifying all Christians. []
  20. Mathison writes, “It should go without saying that solo scriptura was not the doctrine of the early Church or of the medieval Church. However, most proponents of solo scriptura would not be bothered in the least by this fact because they are not concerned to maintain any continuity with the teaching of the early Church.” Shape, p. 247. []
  21. The first recorded use of the term ‘layman’ in the early Church Fathers is found in St. Clement’s epistle to the Church at Corinth, written around AD 96. []
  22. Quoted in “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  23. “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  24. Shape, pp. 248-249. []
  25. “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  26. Shape, pp. 250-251. []
  27. In 1 Corinthians 1:13 St. Paul asks, “Is Christ divided?” The obvious answer is “no.” And that answer must remain the same forever. []
  28. Mathison writes:

    The doctrine of solo scriptura also reduces the essential doctrines of the Christian faith to no more than opinion by denying any real authority to the ecumenical creeds of the Church. We must note that if the ecumenical creeds are no more authoritative than the opinions of any individual Christian, as adherents of solo scriptura must say if they are to remain consistent, then the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity and the Chalcedonian doctrine of Christ are no more authoritative than the doctrinal ideas of any opinionated Christian. The doctrine of the Trinity and deity of Christ become as open to debate as the doctrine of exclusive psalmody in worship.

    It is extremely important to understand the importance of this point. If the adherents of solo scriptura are correct, then there are no real objective doctrinal boundaries within Christianity. Each individual Christian is responsible to search the Scripture (even though he can’t be told with any certainty what books constitute Scripture) and judge for himself and by himself what is and is not scriptural doctrine. In other words, each individual is responsible for establishing his or her own doctrinal boundaries-–his or her own creed. Shape, p. 249.

    []

  29. Shape, p. 250. []
  30. Shape, p. 252. []
  31. Shape, p. 252. []
  32. Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes,” pp. 25-29. []
  33. Shape, p. 245. []
  34. Mathison’s claim here is very much in agreement with that of the Catholic Church. The Catholic understanding of the relation between Scripture and the Church treats Scripture as a treasure entrusted by Christ to the Church, properly known and understood only within the bosom of the Church as explicated by her divinely appointed shepherds. Catholics come to Scripture through the guidance of Holy mother Church. []
  35. Shape, p. 256. []
  36. Shape, p. 260. []
  37. “We indeed willingly concede, if any discussion arises over doctrine, that the best and surest remedy is for a synod of true bishops to be convened, where the doctrine at issue may be examined.” As quoted in “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  38. Shape, p. 259. []
  39. Shape, p. 270-271. []
  40. Shape, p. 262. []
  41. Shape, p. 264. []
  42. To assert that the Bible is the sole infallible authority, and that the Bible is the final and supreme norm, in no way rules out the necessity or reality of other secondary and penultimate authorities. The Church is one such subordinate authority recognized by the early Church and by the Reformers. The Church was established by Jesus Christ Himself and given authority by Him. Jesus gives the Church an authority of “binding and loosing” that is not given to every member of the Church as individuals. . . . It is only within the Church that we find Scripture interpreted rightly, and it is only within the Church that we find the gospel. Shape, pp. 267-268.

    []

  43. Shape, p. 272. []
  44. Shape, p. 273. []
  45. Cf. 2 Timothy 4:3. []
  46. “It is therefore to the Church that we must turn for the true interpretation of the Scripture, for it is in the Church that the gospel is found.” Shape, p. 270. []
  47. Cf. the Confession of the English Congregation at Geneva (AD 1556), the French Confession of Faith (AD 1559), articles 26-28; the Scottish Confession of Faith (AD 1560), chapters 16 and 18, the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561), articles 27-29, and the Second Helvetic Confession (AD 1566), chapter 17. []
  48. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.i.10 [hereinafter Institutes]. []
  49. Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p. 12. []
  50. Once again: “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.” []
  51. Institutes, as quoted by Mathison in “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  52. Cf. Session 6, Canon 9. []
  53. We see here again the relevance of the statement, “When I submit (only when I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.” []
  54. Shape, pp. 272-273. []
  55. Kevin Vanhoozer writes:

    While God’s word is infallible, human interpretations are not. God is in heaven; we are on earth. Situated between heaven and earth, we lack the knowledge of angels. What, then, are our options? (1) Hermeneutical relativism: embrace the interpreter within you and live as they did in the period of the Judges where everyone did what was right in their own eyes (so long as you don’t hurt anyone, presumably!); (2) take the road to Rome and the safety of numbers; (3) join an independent church, where right reading is a function of one’s local interpretive community. None of these options inspires confidence. I propose a fourth possibility: that we set out like pilgrims on the way indicated by our book; that we employ whatever hermeneutical tools available that help us to follow its sense; that we pray for the illumination of the Spirit and for the humility to acknowledge our missteps; and that we consult other pilgrims that have gone before us as well as Christians in other parts of today’s world. “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics,” JETS 48/1 (March 2005) p. 92.

    Vanhoozer’s option (1) is a description of solo scriptura. His option (2) is Catholicism. His option (3) is a description of sola scriptura, where “independent church” replaces denomination. His option (4) is not a fourth theoretical option, but a proposal to search for a way out of the hermeneutical mess. Of course we agree that (1) and (3) are false, for reasons we have explained in this article. And we believe that Vanhoozer’s option (4) leads inevitably to option (2). []

  56. Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes,” pp. 25-29. []
  57. Shape, p. 260. []
  58. Shape, p. 276. []
  59. Shape, p. 261. []
  60. Shape, p. 270. []
  61. “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  62. John Calvin similarly says:

    In this way, we willingly embrace and reverence as holy the early councils, such as those of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus I, Chalcedon, and the like, which were concerned with refuting errors – in so far as they relate to the teachings of faith. For they contain nothing but the pure and genuine exposition of Scripture, which the holy fathers applied with spiritual prudence to crush the enemies of religion who had then arisen. Institutes, IV.9.8.

    The reason Calvin accepts the first four ecumenical councils, but not the following councils, is because the first four, but not the later ones, sufficiently agree with his interpretation of Scripture. This shows again the same problem described above: “when I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.” In other words, Calvin does not in fact recognize the authority of the first four councils. Rather, he merely ascribes authority to them on the ground that these four councils agree with his own interpretation. []

  63. Shape, pp. 251-252. []
  64. In June of 1520 Pope Leo issued the papal bull titled Exsurge Domine in which he warned Luther that he faced excommunication from the Church unless he recanted 41 sentences contained in his writings. Luther responded by publicly burning a copy of this Church document in December of that year. As a result, on January 3, 1521, he was excommunicated. In the Spring of that year, Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms. He was asked by Johann Eck, an official of the Archbishop of Trier, whether he rejected any part of his writings. At first he said, “If I am shown my error, I will be the first to throw my books into the fire.” Eck replied, “Martin, …Your plea to be heard from the Scripture is the one always made by heretics. You do nothing be renew the errors of Wyclif and Hus. . . . Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all? You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the perfect lawgiver, proclaimed throughout the world by the apostles, sealed by the red blood of the martyrs, confirmed by the sacred councils, defined by the Church in which all our fathers believed until death and gave to us as an inheritance, and which now we are forbidden by the pope and the emperor to [debate] lest there be no end of debate. I ask you, Martin — . . . do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?” Luther replied, ” . . . Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, pp. 143-144 (Mentor, 1950). []
  65. Shape, p. 278. []
  66. Shape, p. 278. []
  67. Shape, p. 279. []
  68. Shape, p. 279. []
  69. Shape, p. 280. []
  70. This same problem faces Kevin Vanhoozer’s attempt to distinguish between magisterial authority and ministerial authority. See his The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2005). []
  71. Shape, p. 270. []
  72. Shape, p. 264. []
  73. See our previous article, “Ecclesial Deism.” []
  74. Donum Veritatis, 23. []
  75. Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. Lumen Gentium, 25.

    When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. Donum Veritatis, 23.

    []

  76. Shape, p. 273. []
  77. “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  78. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, pp. 143-144. []
  79. Of course the Commander in Chief is under the authority of God, but here we are speaking of ‘final’ only in a certain respect, i.e., within the human society. []
  80. Hebrews 13:17. []
  81. Christ did this when He instituted the Eucharist, and when He breathed on them and gave them the authority to forgive sins. Cf. Luke 22:19 and John 20:22-23. []
  82. Shape, p. 239. []
  83. “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  84. Shape, p. 264. []
  85. Tertullian, On Prescription Against the Heretics, ch. 19. []
  86. Ibid., 37. []
  87. Council of Trent, Session IV. []
  88. First Vatican Council, Session 3, ch. 2, paras. 8-9. []
  89. Dei Verbum, 10. []
  90. Dei Verbum, 10. []
  91. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 95. []
  92. Cindy Wooden, “Pope encourages Christians to read Bible,” Catholic News Service (Nov. 14, 2007). []
  93. See Lumen Gentium, 25. []
  94. “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes.” []
  95. This does not mean that an infallible doctrine cannot be further developed (i.e. unpacked, unfolded, unveiled, etc.) Anything taught by the Magisterium can be further developed. This is how the Nicene Creed went from the form it had in AD 325 to the form it acquired in AD 381. But development never contradicts what has already been given. If it could, then over the last 2000 years, nothing at all would have been definitively established; the Arians might still turn out to have been right. And in that case, there would have been no point in holding any councils. []
  96. Shape, p. 276. []
  97. The Word, Church and Sacraments: In Protestantism and Catholicism, pp. 37-38 (Ignatius Press, 2004). []
  98. See Scott Hahn’s article titled “The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Benedict XVI” in 2 Letter & Spirit, pp. 97-149 (2006). []
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  1. Dear Bryan,

    Excellent article. Some of my closest reformed friends have taken up Mattison’s argument which you describe in rejecting solo scriptura in favor of sola scriptura. I think you are right in pointing out that ultimately there is no difference between the two. What I had not seen before reading your article was how somebody indirectly makes themselves their own interpretive authority.
    Here’s what I found interesting in light of a class I recently dropped at RTS (partially over this issue). I think my Professor might have realized the strength of the Catholic argument on this huge point, so he was very careful to say that the issue is not interpretation, but rather, making things up which are nowhere even hinted at in Scripture (he then discussed the Assumption of Mary, Immaculate Conception, ect…ironically all doctrines which were formally defined long after the Reformation – so even if they were wrong I’m not sure how they would justify the reformation). Have you seen this approach, which my Professor took before? How would you respond to it?

  2. Jeremy,

    Isn’t the Catholic critique of sola scriptura just as powerful as the case made above against Mattison’s argument? The Catholic position does not abide by sola scriptura therefore your professor has still begged the question. He operates from a sola scriptura paradigm (which cannot be found in Scripture) and then hammers the Catholics for not operating from sola scriptura. But sola scriptura is the novelty, and therefore doesn’t it have to be justified appropriately before one can reasonably appeal to that principle to critique that which has always existed?

    Best,
    Bill

  3. Our point is to show that implicit within the claim by proponents of sola scriptura to be submitting to the Church, is always a prior judgment concerning which body of persons count as the Church, and a theological assumption about how that judgment is to be made.

    I know this has come up before and will do so again, but how is it that the Catholic is not doing the exact same thing (albeit in a different way)? Bryan, you have made a “prior judgment concerning which body of persons count as the church,” haven’t you? Your own interpretation of history and Scripture tells you that it is apostolic succession that locates the church, while Mathison’s tells him it’s the gospel that locates it. But in both cases, private judgment is being followed in order to locate where exactly Christ’s church is.

  4. JJS > Section V above deals with that argument. Also Dr. Liccione on “Bad Arguments Against the Magisterium Part 2″ would be good supplemental reading.

  5. Hello Jeremy,

    I’m glad you appreciated our article. You asked me how I would respond. I would call into question his working assumption that if a doctrine is not explicitly stated in Scripture, then Christians do not need to believe it. I might write a post up on the subject of Scripture and Tradition, but in the mean time, I recommend listening to the first lecture in this lecture series by Prof. Feingold. Then I would recommend reading Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, if you have not already done so. The fact of development should lead us to be very cautious about inferring from apparent early silence about a doctrine to the conclusion that the doctrine is a heretical accretion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  6. Tim,

    You’re right, I posted my comment before I had finished the article (and I am doing it again right now, only now I’m closer to the end).

    The Protestant is seeking a group of persons who believe, teach and practice what his interpretation of Scripture indicates was the belief, teaching and practice of the Apostles….

    The person becoming Catholic, by contrast, is seeking out the Church that Christ founded. He does this not by finding that group of persons who share his interpretation of Scripture. Rather, he locates in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say and do viz-a-viz the transmission of teaching and interpretive authority, traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching.

    I still don’t see the difference. The Catholic convert studies the Scripture and the fathers and concludes that the church Christ founded looks like what the Catholic Catechism says it is, while the Protestant does the same and concludes the church looks like what the Heidelberg Catechism says it is.

    It sounds like the position being advocated is that as long as one uses his private judgment to come to the right position, it’s OK. If you step outside your tradition for a moment and consider this, can you see how it looks to the rest of us?

  7. Very well thought out and structured article. I love it. Just what I’ve been waiting for.

  8. Bryan,

    There are a number of ways to address your points. One of them is to point out that we don’t believe that apostolic succession is false. Now if you are just assuming the RCC understanding of apostolic succession that’s a different story. But if we assume Rome’s understanding of apostolic succession then we don’t need to talk about sola scriptura at all, do we? If the only thing that matters concerning ecclesiastic validity is for there to be literal succession from the bishops of the 1st century to now then Rome is right about everything, end of story. In short to assume the RCC definition of apostolic succession is to define away Protestantism.

    But let me give you another way of looking at the issue. At the origins of Christianity we find writings of men who assumed the infallibility of the Scriptures. We have talked about Clement on a number of occasions here. He speaks with great authority by pounding home verse after verse from the Bible. He assuredly believed what the Apostles and Prophets had before him that the Scriptures were the infallible Word of God because they were inspired and thus these could be used as an ultimate standard. The question before us is then whether or not the ECF’s believed that there was anything else that rose to the level of the Scriptures. If they did not,then we are left with Scripture alone (unless you want to suggest another possibility?). If they did, then they did not believe in Scripture alone, they believed in Scripture plus this something else. But note this – if they did believe that only Scripture alone could provide this ultimate authority, this fact does not undermine the Church’s ability to rule or act authoritatively. The Church could still act as a Church whether shew was using either a standard of 1) only Scripture or 2) Scripture + whatever tradition might be around at the time.

    Now of course as a Protestant my position is that the Scriptures are superior to the words of the bishops (as Augustine held), but I think we have been through that before. The point I want to really bring home is that the Church would not have fallen apart if she had always viewed tradition as a secondary authority to the Scriptures. Play this thought game for me, Bryan. Assume for the moment that Clement and his contemporaries believed that only Scripture could be the final bar of authority. Now given this belief of the Early Church, what would have stopped the Church from acting authoritatively as that authority was laid out by Christ and the Apostles?

  9. The point I want to really bring home is that the Church would not have fallen apart if she had always viewed tradition as a secondary authority to the Scriptures.

    The history of Protestantism until now shows this statement to be patently false.

  10. Bryan and Neil,

    Excellent article! Of course, I will have to read it several times to absorb it completely. Professor Feingold is an amazing gift to the Church. As a Jewish Convert to the Catholic Church, his insights are phenomenal. I believe you suggested his lecture series, Bryan. All of his lectures give new meaning to our common faith.

    May Our Lord bless your work and give you His peace,
    Teri

  11. Andrew,

    The comment box is intended for use only by those who have read the article. The article is long, I understand, but if you wish to comment, please read the article first.

    Also, comments should stay on-topic, that means, directly interacting with the argument in this article. Comments that don’t interact with the article, but strike off on a different topic, will not be approved.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  12. Andrew,

    Its not as if the Catholic definition of apostolic succession was just invented yesterday and we are backing into something here. This is creedal Christianity.

    “For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: ‘Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it !’ The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: — Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Iginus, Anicetus, Pius, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor, Zephirinus, Calixtus, Urbanus, Pontianus, Antherus, Fabianus, Cornelius, Lucius, Stephanus, Xystus, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychianus, Gaius, Marcellinus, Marcellus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found. But, reversing the natural course of things, the Donatists sent to Rome from Africa an ordained bishop, who, putting himself at the head of a few Africans in the great metropolis, gave some notoriety to the name of “mountain men,” or Cutzupits, by which they were known.”
    Augustine, To Generosus, Epistle 53:2 (A.D. 400)

    Augustine, here, describes what Apostolic Succession means. Its pretty clear which definition is a later invention intended to back into a presupposition.

    “In like manner as if there take place an ordination of clergy in order to form a congregation of people, although the congregation of people follow not, yet there remains in the ordained persons the Sacrament of Ordination; and if, for any fault, any be removed from his office, he will not be without the Sacrament of the Lord once for all set upon him, albeit continuing unto condemnation.”
    Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, 24:32 (A.D. 401).

    The second part of your comment is an attempt to pit scripture against the church. This is not the Catholic position.

    Scripture must be interpreted by the Church. Bryan’s paper addresses the question of how one defines church and specifically addresses Mathison’s error in not identifying the church by apostolic succession.

  13. Jason,

    Both the person becoming Protestant, and the person becoming Catholic, are using their own judgment. That’s not where the difference is located. And you are correct that the Catholic convert might study Scripture and the Fathers. And the Protestant convert might study Scripture and the Fathers. That too is not where the difference is located. The difference is that while the person becoming Protestant bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on agreement with his own interpretation of Scripture (not on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church), the person becoming Catholic bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  14. Congratulations to Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch for a great article.

    So long as the individual retains final interpretive authority, it is the “the individual who is sovereign. … As Protestants have come to understand more clearly the democratic nature of Protestant ecclesial authority, they have come to see that as Protestants, they themselves as individuals, hold final interpretive authority, and have come to live as such.

    To me, the “democratic nature of Protestant eccelesial authority” and the belief that it is “the individual who is sovereign” is reflected most glaringly in the Protestant practice of church shopping. The practice of church shopping indicates two things, that the individual believes that he has the right to church shop until he finds a church that agrees with his own private interpretation of scriptures, and that the Protestant churches have the right organize themselves via democratic principles. I am astounded that so many “bible believers” can practice church shopping without being bothered by the practice. Where in the Bible did the Old Testament prophets teach synagogue shopping or the Apostles teach church shopping?

    Even worse than church shopping is the idea that a bible believer has the authority to found a new church that teaches novel doctrines. The new non-denominational church in town spun off from the Vineyard Church that spun off from the Calvary Chapel Church, that spun off from the … Sheesh! Do Protestants really have the freedom to go church shopping and found new sects that teach novel doctrines? The answer to that question depends on the answer that one gives to “the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    Mathison grants that each individual may appeal to Scripture to correct the Church, disobey the Church and leave the Church, so long as he is following his conscience.

    I find it surprising that this particular Protestant doctrine doesn’t have a name by which it is commonly known, such as the Doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience, or the Doctrine of the Primacy of the Believer. The closest thing that I can think of that expresses this doctrine is what some Protestant sects call “Bible Freedom”.

    Without apostolic succession, there is within Protestantism no group of persons already having divine authorization to provide the definitive decision regarding matters of doctrine and interpretation …

    The Jehovah Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are sects that take issue with their Protestant brethren over the doctrine of “Bible Freedom”. Both Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons teach that the believer must submit to the men that hold the authority of a teaching office within their respective churches:

    Hence, besides individually possessing God’s Word, we need a theocratic organization. Yes, besides having God’s spirit of illumination, a Christian needs Jehovah’s theocratic organization in order to understand the Bible. (Watchtower; June 15, 1951; p. 375)

    As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to be led by living prophets—inspired men called to speak for the Lord, as did Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, Nephi, Mormon, and other prophets of the scriptures. We sustain the President of the Church as prophet, seer, and revelator—the only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Prophets – The Church of the Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints

    The Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons may claim that certain men are vested with the authority of a teaching office within their respective churches – what they can’t claim is that doctrine that their churches officially teach has always been the same. A church hierarchy that can change the doctrine of the church cannot also be a source of infallible truth.

    … “when I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.” For this reason, in sola scriptura it is the individual who ultimately has and always retains final interpretive authority.

    … that our conscience is bound ultimately by our own interpretation of Scripture, is contrary to the perpetual teaching of the Church, because that claim denies that Christ established a perpetual teaching authority in His Church …the Catholic must seek to conform his conscience according to the definitive teaching of the Church in matters of faith and morals, because the Church’s Magisterium is a higher authority than his conscience (i.e. than reason alone).

    The Catholic Church has never taught a doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience, but has, instead, taught the doctrine of the Primacy of Peter. Who among those that adhere to the doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience believe that all men and women are born with perfectly formed consciences? The man born with a conscience that is perfectly formed does not need scripture to form it, and the man that does not have a perfectly formed conscience could not depend on his conscience to infallibly guide him in his interpretation of scriptures.

    If the authority of the ecumenical creeds only followed from the perspicuity of Scripture, there would be no need for the creeds in the first place, since the creeds would have restated only what was already plainly explicit in Scripture. This would entail that all those who opposed the creeds were blind, deaf, and stupid …

    Very good point. The creeds are summaries of the doctrines believed by the Church. I always wonder how Protestants can seriously claim to believe in the perspicuity of scriptures and then reconcile that belief with the reality that outside of their particular Protestant sect there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that that teaching contradictory church doctrine.

    Do most Protestants think that the Protestants belonging to the other sects that preach contradictory doctrine are “blind, deaf, and stupid”? I doubt it, since most Protestants also believe that there is nothing wrong with church shopping. What sane person would look for the truth in a church that is comprised of the blind, deaf and stupid? Nor do I believe that Protestants think that the other Protestants that preach contradictory doctrine are doing so because they actually know the truth and are maliciously teaching heresy. I suppose one way to reconcile these two beliefs is to become hostile the concept of doctrine, which is a stance that is not uncommon among the members of Protestant “bible churches”.

    I also find it hard to accept Mathison’s thesis that Protestants are oblivious to the “the hermeneutical chaos and anarchy that exists within the Protestant church” for the reason that he gives: “Most Protestants do not seem to have taken this question seriously enough if they have considered it at all.”

    I believe that most Protestants are, in fact, not oblivious to the reality that there are thousands of other Protestant sects that teach contradictory church doctrine. But what, exactly, is the source of the “hermeneutical chaos and anarchy” within Protestantism if it is not a misplaced belief in sola sciptura, not a misplaced belief in the perspicuity of scriptures, not a belief that Protestants that disagree with them are “blind, deaf, and stupid”, and not a belief that other Protestants know the truth and are maliciously spreading heresy? From whence does the scandal of Protestant division spring?

    Mathison is most certainly correct, the scandal of Protestant division is a scandal to the unbelieving world that hinders the spread of the gospel: “If we proclaim to the unbelieving world that we have the one true and final revelation from God, why should they listen to us if we cannot agree about what that revelation actually says?”

    May Christ the Good Shepherd bring us all into the one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16).

    Amen!

  15. Bryan,

    The difference is that while the person becoming Protestant bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on agreement with his own interpretation of Scripture (not on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church), the person becoming Catholic bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church.

    I understand that, but is it not true that the Catholic’s “basing his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church” itself a result of that Catholic’s own private determination of whose judgment is most trustworthy?

    In other words, this is how it sounds to someone who doesn’t share your assumptions: “The problem with Protestantism is not its use of private judgment (since all decisions involve this). Rather the problem with Protestantism is that it understands church authority as being derivative rather than rooted in an infallible Magisterium. How Protestant of those Protestants!”

    Your claim seems self-serving. You admit that before you became a Catholic, you were not under the Church’s authority. But then somehow, through lots of study I’m sure, you came to believe (before coming under the jurisdiction of Rome) that the best way to locate the church Jesus founded was to consult the successors of the apostles (whom you somehow, through lots of study I’m sure, came to believe were the God-ordained and infallible leaders of the church for endless generations).

    Forgive me for being overly dense, but I still fail to see how this is different from that for which you fault us Protestants. What is the difference between using my decision-making power to conclude that the Bible is the only infallible authority, and using my decision-making power to conclude that it isn’t?

  16. Thank you for this excellent article. I found it really helpful. I have some questions about the answers to the objections part which I hope to ask if I get some time later, but I had an insight I wanted to share which I hope is relevant to this part:

    “The objection is understandable, but it can be made only by those who do not see the principled difference between the discovery of the Catholic Church, and joining a Protestant denomination or congregation….But the Catholic finds something principally different, and properly finds it by way of qualitatively different criteria.”

    For myself, a convert from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism, the word “discovery” exactly describes my experience, and I would draw an analogy of this experience to when I found Christ a year or so before becoming Catholic. When I “discovered” Christ as an atheist, all of a sudden my entire life’s paradigm shifted: I realized that there was One who created me and loved me and that I wanted to love Him in return. It was no longer a question of following what I had previously thought to be true but to re-orient myself to the One who could not lie. I wanted to know who Jesus was, what he taught, his truth and then live that truth by his grace.

    This is not a perfect analogy, but as a Protestant when I continued looking ever deeper for Christ’s truth in the Faith and in morals, I read the Bible daily, prayed all the time, had Bible studies, listened to pastors preach at church and on tapes: I was always trying to discern whether one interpretation of the Scriptures or system of interpreting them made more sense than others so that I could have an accurate understanding of God’s truth which is found in them. I only got so far before realizing that, unless God has divinely protected “some Church” from error could I ever hope to have a correct Faith and not believe and follow falsehoods. No Protestant Community I had heard of even claimed to have this fullness of the truth. It seems that the Mormons claimed it and the Catholics and Orthodox did. The Mormons were not credible in my eyes.

    So I began researching into the history of the Faith. How credible was the Catholic Church’s claim to being the Church Christ founded and protected from error? I don’t want to go too far off topic here, but I “discovered” the Catholic Church was this Church and knew that I could trust her as I would trust Christ because Jesus preserved his Bride from error. This discovery was a paradigm shift from Protestantism, where it was very much “do you best to find the denomination and local church that seems to most closely match what I currently believed to be the right interpretation of the Bible.”

    I hope that this is not off-topic. Thanks and God bless!

  17. Jason,

    I’ll respond to your comments paragraph by paragraph, if you don’t mind.

    I understand that, but is it not true that the Catholic’s “basing his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church” itself a result of that Catholic’s own private determination of whose judgment is most trustworthy?

    In the case of the person becoming Catholic, the judgment regarding who is most trustworthy follows from the discovery of a living divinely authorized teaching office having the divine authority to bind the conscience. In the case of the person becoming Protestant, the judgment regarding who is most trustworthy does not follow from the discovery of this divinely authorized teaching office; it follows from one’s interpretation of Scripture, to determine who is teaching most closely in accordance with one’s interpretation.

    In other words, this is how it sounds to someone who doesn’t share your assumptions: “The problem with Protestantism is not its use of private judgment (since all decisions involve this). Rather the problem with Protestantism is that it understands church authority as being derivative rather than rooted in an infallible Magisterium. How Protestant of those Protestants!”

    The problem with understanding church authority as being derivative (rather than being based on apostolic succession) is not that it is Protestant. That would just be putting a label on the practice, not pointing to an actual problem. The problem is that there is a contradiction internal to the sola scriptura position. It claims to be different in a principled way from solo scriptura, but because it understands church authority as being derivative, there is ultimately [as we showed in the article] no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura.

    Your claim seems self-serving. You admit that before you became a Catholic, you were not under the Church’s authority. But then somehow, through lots of study I’m sure, you came to believe (before coming under the jurisdiction of Rome) that the best way to locate the church Jesus founded was to consult the successors of the apostles (whom you somehow, through lots of study I’m sure, came to believe were the God-ordained and infallible leaders of the church for endless generations).

    Correct.

    Forgive me for being overly dense, but I still fail to see how this is different from that for which you fault us Protestants. What is the difference between using my decision-making power to conclude that the Bible is the only infallible authority, and using my decision-making power to conclude that it isn’t?

    The difference is not in the initial use of one’s decision-making power. The difference lies in whether or not one discovers the living teaching authority appointed and authorized by the incarnate Christ. Because the Protestant convert does not discover this, he retains ultimate interpretive authority (and hence this creates the contradiction in his claim to reject solo scriptura). But the Catholic convert does discover this, and so does not retain ultimate interpretive authority. This is why, as we argued in the article, the only way to avoid solo scriptura is by discovering apostolic succession.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  18. What is the difference between using my decision-making power to conclude that the Bible is the only infallible authority, and using my decision-making power to conclude that it isn’t?

    There is no difference in the process, but in the result. What is the difference in me concluding that Jesus is the Messiah and that He isn’t? Well, nothing (in the process) and everything (in result).

    There is a qualitative difference in what happens when you submit to the Catholic Church and when you join a denomination just as there is a qualitative difference when you submit to Christ and when you submit to the President of the United States.

    This is exemplified when we start talking about the Church being infallible. That’s scares the hell out of men because it means that we have to obey her even if we think we know Scripture better than her.

  19. Hi JJS,

    You asked: “What is the difference between using my decision-making power to conclude that the Bible is the only infallible authority, and using my decision-making power to conclude that it isn’t?”

    I see one difference (there are many others) in our use of private judgment as the following. If you read the bible carefully, and concluded that your denomination’s belief about (say) Matthew 16 was sufficiently likely to be wrong, and your denomination refused to change it’s interpretation and tried to make you agree publicly that it’s interpretation was at least concurrently acceptable, you would leave your denomination for another one. And your denomination couldn’t really complain, because they have never claimed to have an infallible interpretation of Matthew 16 or of any other bible verse.

    But if I use my private judgment to conclude that the Catholic church is likely wrong about Matthew 16 based on non-magisterial data, I won’t leave the Catholic Church. Because I include the magisterial data as of sufficient weight to override my own best interpretations of scripture. Thus, when Augustine developed different views of the verses in Matthew over time, he didn’t feel so sure of these new views that he could either leave the Catholic Church or demand that the Church’s various traditional interpretations of these verses needed to change. Rather, he required of himself and others to stay in the Catholic Church, and recognized that his new interpretation should not ipso facto replace the traditional ones in Church teaching.

    Thus, we simply don’t use our private judgment to church shop in the same way that protestants do. We of course use private judgment to: (a) determine that apostolic succession is necessary for the true church, and (b) identify the church with the best claims to apostolic succession. But once we apply our private judgment to (a) and (b), we turn off the private judgment and accept magisterially-taught doctrines whether we have sufficient non-magisterial proof or not.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you would not accept a protestant doctrine without a plain proof from scripture, and if your best private interpretation of scripture changed with sufficient certainty, then you would not accept any magisterial teaching as capable of overturning that certainty? In other words, you wouldn’t do what we do: accept magisterial teachings whether or not we think the non-magisterial evidence points against them?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

    p.s. I have always found the non-magisterial evidence to be quite consistent with Catholic magisterial teaching. But to the extent that I don’t initially see the evidence perfectly in line, I still accept the magisterial teaching. The correlation between evidence and teaching doesn’t eviscerate the obedience.

  20. Very Good point by K. Doran! :)

    I would like to add that when it comes to using our private interpretation (which is unavoidable for everyone), as K. Doran points out, the Catholic spirit is to withhold final judgement from ourselves and leave it for those given the responsibility and authority to make those final judgements, and that the spirit and mind of the church collectively, while being ordered properly, is the true spirit and mind of Christ. By holding final judgement to ourselves, we withhold from ourselves the promise Christ made that he will send the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth. There must be some kind of final, infallable judgement on doctrine if the Scriptures and Apostolic tradition will have any meaning or use to us, to the effect that it will unite us as one body. Since final judgement is not to be assumed by any individual who so chooses, then it must be assumed by someone, or else we have the effects of solo scriptura, which are contrary to the will of Christ. Whatever the final judgement is it must be infallable, or else we inevitably have the effects of solo scriptura, which are contrary to the will of Christ. If the final judgement on doctrine is to be infallable, that infallable body must be easily identified and recognized, or else we have the effects of solo scriptura, etc. Apostolic succession is that thing which is easily identified and recognized–it is the one thing that is perspicious. It is as easy as using our private judgement to determine the color of the sky–every one uses there own private judgement, but the color of the sky is so perspicious and apparent that those who use their private judgement to recognize it need not be blamed for using private judgement, while those who would deny that the sky is blue can be blamed for using private judgement, for they oppose what is so perspicuous and apparent. This isn’t the best analogy, but it is the quickest analogy my limited mind can think of at the moment. No protestant denomination can say they have authorization to make such final judgements, because no member of any protestant denomination has been given (i.e. ordained) authority to do so by a prior valid authority, and this is easily recognizable. If authority is to be derived, it cannot be derived privately; it cannot be privately assumed without order (this is protestantism).

    One may object that Apostolic succesion is not easily identified and recognized, but I would only point out that at the very least we can easily identify and recognize what/who does not have that necessary kind of authority, i.e. protestantism.

    For the first 1500 years of the Church’s existence it has held reletively few divisions, and there is no reason the true Chruch of Christ cannot be recognized today by those seperated from her, despite our private scruples with her doctrine.

  21. Matt Yonke has made some brief and lucid comments about the relationship of authority and private judgment in the act of conversion. See Podcast #8, beginning around the 30:00 minute mark.

  22. Hi Bryan,

    I just ran across this critique of my book. I’ve only had time to skim it so far, but I do plan to read it carefully. I appreciate you taking the time to try present my argument fairly, even while disagreeing with it. That doesn’t always happen in such discussions. Do you mind if I interact with your paper here in the comments section of the site?

    I don’t have anything substantive to say in response to the paper itself yet since I haven’t read it all the way through, but in the meantime, may I ask about something you wrote in response to Jason in comment #13? You wrote:

    “Both the person becoming Protestant, and the person becoming Catholic, are using their own judgment. That’s not where the difference is located. And you are correct that the Catholic convert might study Scripture and the Fathers. And the Protestant convert might study Scripture and the Fathers. That too is not where the difference is located. The difference is that while the person becoming Protestant bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on agreement with his own interpretation of Scripture (not on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church), the person becoming Catholic bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church.”

    This looks to me like you are saying:

    The person becoming Protestant determines the nature and location of the Church by examining Scripture and/or history.

    The person becoming Catholic determines the nature and location of the Church by asking the Roman magisterium (those having succession).

    To those of us who aren’t Roman Catholic, it seems that to ask Rome if Rome is the Church begs the question since the very point to be determined is whether Rome is the Church.

    Even if this were not the case, by what criteria would the person determine that the best way of determining the nature and location of the church is to ask the Roman magisterium? Does he ask the Roman magisterium if asking the Roman magisterium is the best way, or does he determine (discover) that the Roman magisterium is the best way to determine the location and nature of the church by examining Scripture and history?

    I’m not sure whether your response gets to the heart of Jason’s question since the person in question will have to base his evaluation of the magisterium’s claims either on some other criterion or combination of criteria (Scripture, history, reason, etc.) or else make a fideistic leap of faith and accept the magisterium’s claims because they are the magisterium’s claims.

    I look forward to going through your paper and hope you don’t mind my following up on it here.

    Keith

  23. Hello Keith,

    I’m glad you commented here, and yes, you’re welcome to comment here about the article. I tried to look up your email address yesterday, to send you a heads-up on our article, but I couldn’t find your email address through the Ligonier site. So, I’m glad you came across our article.

    In regard to your question, you put it this way:

    The person becoming Protestant determines the nature and location of the Church by examining Scripture and/or history.

    The person becoming Catholic determines the nature and location of the Church by asking the Roman magisterium (those having succession).

    To those of us who aren’t Roman Catholic, it seems that to ask Rome if Rome is the Church begs the question since the very point to be determined is whether Rome is the Church.

    If I had been making an argument, and my premise was “The Catholic Church claims to be the Church Christ founded”, and then concluded, “Therefore, the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded” that would be question-begging. In other words, if I was here (in this thread) arguing that we should all be Catholics and not Protestants, and using as my reason “that Rome says so”, I would indeed be begging the question. But, in my comments (in the combox here) I haven’t been arguing that the Catholic Church is the true Church that Christ founded (even though I believe that it is). Rather I have been pointing out that there is principled epistemic difference between the person who becomes Catholic, and the person who becomes Protestant. The person becoming Catholic discovers (from his study of all these things) that Christ instituted apostolic succession. The Protestant does not. That discovery changes the epistemic condition of the Catholic viz-a-viz the Protestant, regarding the retention of ultimate interpretive authority by the individual. And so my point has been that the Catholic is not subject to the tu quoque objection in response to our argument that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority.

    Even if this were not the case, by what criteria would the person determine that the best way of determining the nature and location of the church is to ask the Roman magisterium? Does he ask the Roman magisterium if asking the Roman magisterium is the best way, or does he determine (discover) that the Roman magisterium is the best way to determine the location and nature of the church by examining Scripture and history?

    This will involve an investigation into early Church history, to determine whether the early Church practiced apostolic succession, and how the early Church understand the role of Peter and his successors. If such things are found, then we can either believe that those were corruptions or, that they were manifestations of the Spirit-protected unfolding of the deposit of faith entrusted by the Apostles to the Church.

    I’m not sure whether your response gets to the heart of Jason’s question since the person in question will have to base his evaluation of the magisterium’s claims either on some other criterion or combination of criteria (Scripture, history, reason, etc.) or else make a fideistic leap of faith and accept the magisterium’s claims because they are the magisterium’s claims.

    It would most definitely not be the latter, i.e. the fideistic option. But, the false dilemma is that we have to choose between being governed ultimately by our own interpretation of Scripture and leaping blindly into the dark. The other possibility is that we can, through an investigation of early Church history, discover the Church’s understanding and practice of apostolic succession, and all its implications. Once we discover that magisterial authority, and trace the lines of succession, then that changes our epistemic position viz-a-viz the interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  24. Bryan et al,

    Thanks for your responses. So am I right in understanding you to be saying that there is no difference between the Catholic’s and Protestant’s process of arriving at their respective destinations, but once we’ve each landed, THEN the difference kicks in (the Protestant retains, while the Catholic surrenders, ultimate interpretive authority)?

    Because if so, my question now becomes, “If the Catholic’s ‘discovery’ that he is supposed to listen to the Magisterium is no less a result of his private study than the Protestant’s discovery that, as messy as it may be, Scripture is our only infallible authority, then how exactly does this furnish the Catholic with bragging rights against the Protestant?”

    I mean, if the initial discovery was made through private judgment, and then (and only then) is private judgment set aside, that seems problematic, not unlike the guy who favors free markets, but only after the government gives everyone a house and farm, with six acres and ten cows to begin to make their living.

  25. So then, Bryan, if one does indeed investigate early Church history and comes to different conclusions than what you’ve come to, then that person is somehow epistemically deficient? What other options are there (to view the other’s Protestant or Orthodox or [fill in the blank] choice) for the one who consciously chooses to become Roman Catholic? You’ve “arrived,” in a manner of speaking.

    Well, good for you.

  26. JJS, if I may step in. My response to you earlier may have muddied the waters a bit. Bryan is answering you from a different angle so I don’t want the two angles to add confusion.

    When we say “private judgment” it has a negative overtone, but on the other hand, “reason” has a positive overtone. What is the difference? In most practical applications – there is none. Did I submit to the authority of the Catholic Church by reason (private judgment)? Yes I did. How about the young man who grew up Pentecostal, searched the Scriptures and studied great theologians and came to the conclusion that conservative Presbyterianism most faithfully represented biblical truth? He also used reason (private judgment). In this specific respect, there is no difference (in that we both used reason to decide which was best).

    But what evidence did we evaluate? Was it the same? Some of it was, but not all of it. We both used Scriptures, reason, theologians, (possibly) Church fathers. But the Catholic also uses the evidence of material succession to determine the true Church. So at least on that point we differ.

    Additionally, my submission to the Catholic Church involves an act of faith that her teaching authority is divinely protected from error. The young man selecting the Presbyterian church makes no such act of faith. He believes that she is capable of teaching error and when she does, then he will leave.

    So there is a difference in the ‘selection’ process, but not one that excludes reason or private judgment from either side. As far as using reason to make a decision, we are both in the same boat.

    Compare it to a man who wanted to discover the teaching authority of America and judged by reason that a particular group of the constitution party was the rightful government of America because they most faithfully reflected the founding fathers’ intentions for the government (in his judgment). Another man decides that Obama, the legislators, and duly elected judges were the rightful authorities. Was there a principled difference in the way these two men chose their authority? Is there any principled difference in their selections? They both used private judgment yes, but one used his private judgment correctly and the other used it incorrectly. The former may say to the latter “Well you also used private judgment to submit to your government.” He would be right that they both used private judgment, but wrong about thinking they were in the same boat. The latter’s position does not reduce to solo-constitutiono because he evaluated a tangible, objective, piece of evidence that is not contingent upon his private interpretation of the constitution. The former’s position is reducible to solo-constitutiono because it is entirely based on his private interpretation.

  27. I am currently in RCIA in part because I started asking questions about sola scriptura. One of my family members, who is a Protestant minister, gave me a copy of Mathison’s book and it was definitely a challenge to the arguments against sola scriptura I had been considering. I had assumed that sola scriptura = solo scriptura and was intrigued by Mathison’s difference – I wondered if this might be a way to answer my worries without having to go “all the way” to Rome.

    Everything sounded fine with Mathison’s argument that Scripture should be interpreted by the Church using the regula fidei, but my question then became, “Where is the Church?” I was really hoping Mathison would give some set of objective criteria by which I could determine what is the true Church with the authority to interpret the Scripture. I was hoping to read, “The true Church is the church that teaches doctrines x, y, and z” or even “The true Church is the Presbyterian Church in America”. That would give me something solid and objective to investigate. Instead Mathison identifies the Church in a very vague and subjective way, and I recall it being very disappointing and anti-climactic when I read it.

    I enjoyed this article very much because it clearly articulates the vague feeling of uneasiness that I had with Mathison’s argument. It states and develops as a logical argument what I felt as sort of a vague feeling of not quite being convinced. As much as I wanted it to be correct and to give me a “way out”, his vague identification of the Church left me disappointed. I also suspected that Mathison’s definition of sola scriptura was attempting to walk a fine line between solo scriptura on the one hand and full-fledged church authority on the other, and I wasn’t fully convinced that his position avoided falling into one side or the other.

    I’m very glad that Dr. Mathison is interacting in the comments on this site and look forward to following the dialogue.

    Bryan, I notice that this article did not deal with the sections of Mathison’s book dealing with church history and the allegations of erroneous and contradictory pronouncements that Mathison rasises. Nor do you interact with his distinction of Tradition 0/I/II/III. These may be topics for future articles, but I am your curious what your thoughts are regarding Mathison’s claim that the Catholic Church has shifted from Tradition I (sola scriptura) to Tradition II (scripture + tradition) and Tradition III (magisterium).

  28. Chris – JJS is not arguing that the Catholic Church is not, in fact, in material succession from the apostles. He’s arguing that (or asking why not) the Catholic Church is in the same epistemic boat. Bryan showed him why this is not the case.

    Person a: “Whoever I privately decide is the heir to the throne of England is the true heir.”
    Person b: “Whoever is the first to touch the throne after the king dies is the true heir.”

    They are not in the same epistemic boat. Person b’s criteria does not rely on private judgment like person a’s does. Person b is wrong, but he is not in the same boat as person a. The issue immediately at hand is not whether or not the Catholic Church actually has material apostolic succession nor whether material apostolic succession is a valid indication of the true Church, but whether or not we are in the same epistemic boat as Protestants. We have sufficiently shown that we are not.

  29. Tim,

    Compare it to a man who wanted to discover the teaching authority of America and judged by reason that a particular group of the constitution party was the rightful government of America because they most faithfully reflected the founding fathers’ intentions for the government (in his judgment). Another man decides that Obama, the legislators, and duly elected judges were the rightful authorities. Was there a principled difference in the way these two men chose their authority? Is there any principled difference in their selections? They both used private judgment yes, but one used his private judgment correctly and the other used it incorrectly.

    Well, sure, but what if the whole issue at stake centered around whether the way we choose leaders itself is legitimate or not? And furthermore, what if some Americans believed that the whole legitimacy and authority of our government rested in the passing on of some invisible gift to the president, and NOT in merely electing someone? And what’s more, what if our country were really, really old (like 2000 years), and our entire existence hinged upon there never being a break in that link (a claim that millions of us thought was fanciful and romantic)?

    You see, that’s my problem with Bryan’s language of “discovery” on the part of the Catholic of the Magisterium, it seems to assume that it is true, and that I have just failed to discover it.

    Returning to your illustration, any American today would (and should) be laughed at for denying that the government we really have is the legitimate one. But in the case of the church, you have millions of people who question whether or not Rome was ever intended to be (by God) or thought to be (by the early fathers) what she claims to be today. And it’s not just Protestants, either.

    So like I said before, THE main issue, namely apostolic succession, is precisely the issue that the Catholic must embrace as a result of his private judgment. And that’s why I don’t see why you claim bragging rights.

  30. I don’t get it.

    You are, Tim, not unlike the rest of us, born into this fragmented world—which includes, obviously, deeply divided religious institutions. And, like the rest of us, you are forced to choose which you’d like to belong to. This is your heretical imperative. You cannot escape it. We are in epistemic communion. And I am the fellow touching your shoulder. Take your head out of the sand.

  31. Bryan, glad to see you finished this piece. I look forward to reading it.

  32. Jason,

    So am I right in understanding you to be saying that there is no difference between the Catholic’s and Protestant’s process of arriving at their respective destinations, but once we’ve each landed, THEN the difference kicks in (the Protestant retains, while the Catholic surrenders, ultimate interpretive authority)?

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. If the process were absolutely identical, the destination would be identical. The process is the same in one respect, but differs in another respect. The process is the same in this respect: both persons use their own power of reason, and hence their private judgment, in the investigation of the data available to them. If the convert to Protestantism encounters evidence of apostolic succession in the early Church Fathers, he discounts it as an accretion, primarily because he doesn’t see it in Scripture. When the convert to Catholicism encounters evidence of apostolic succession, he treats it as evidence of what the Apostles handed down to the early bishops. So at that point, the respective processes diverge. I’m generalizing a bit, to make the point, but the Protestant is using his assumption that if it is not taught clearly in Scripture, it isn’t part of the deposit of faith, and therefore when it is found in early Church history it must be an accretion. His presupposition regarding that form of sola scriptura forces him to adopt a stance of ecclesial deism when he encounters patristic data supporting apostolic succession. The convert to Catholicism is not bringing that assumption to the investigation. He doesn’t assume that apostolic succession in the Fathers is an accretion.

    Because if so, my question now becomes, “If the Catholic’s ‘discovery’ that he is supposed to listen to the Magisterium is no less a result of his private study than the Protestant’s discovery that, as messy as it may be, Scripture is our only infallible authority, then how exactly does this furnish the Catholic with bragging rights against the Protestant?” I mean, if the initial discovery was made through private judgment, and then (and only then) is private judgment set aside, that seems problematic, not unlike the guy who favors free markets, but only after the government gives everyone a house and farm, with six acres and ten cows to begin to make their living.

    We necessarily make use of private judgment in the discovery of divine authority. But once we discover that divine authority, we subordinate our own judgments to it. That’s true for Protestants and Catholics alike. The fundamental point of difference between Catholics and Protestants is that the Catholic believes he has found living divine authority in those having the succession from the Apostles, and a Sacred Tradition from the Apostles and a written form of the Word of God as the Bible, while the Protestant would not claim to have found the first two, but only the latter.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  33. I think that Neal and Bryan’s paper demonstrates one of the important differences between (1) being Catholic and being Protestant. Some of the discussion here is pointing to the differences between (2) becoming Catholic or remaining Protestant, or between (3) an unchurched person choosing between the Catholic Church and one among the various Protestant denominations.

    Everyone seems to appreciate the difference between (1) and the other two. I suggest that there is an important difference between (2) and (3). I tried to write out what that might be, but it got all long and autobiographical, so I’ll save it for later. The second dilemma involves a much greater degree of continuity, pre- and post- conversion, and this includes the general and “irreformable” relation of all forms of Protestantism to Catholicism, than does (3).

  34. Bryan,

    Thanks for the interaction, it is helpful.

    We necessarily make use of private judgment in the discovery of divine authority. But once we discover that divine authority, we subordinate our own judgments to it. That’s true for Protestants and Catholics alike. The fundamental point of difference between Catholics and Protestants is that the Catholic believes he has found living divine authority in those having the succession from the Apostles, and a Sacred Tradition from the Apostles and a written form of the Word of God as the Bible, while the Protestant would not claim to have found the first two, but only the latter.

    But all that says is that the fundamental difference between a Catholic and a Protestant is that the former believes Catholic theology, while the latter doesn’t. I mean, if we’re both using our deliberative faculties, but you come to believe in the Magisterium and I do not, then I still fail to see why you get to slap yourself on the back.

    If we both went to Baskin Robbins and surveyed their 31 flavors, and I chose vanilla (hey, I’m Presbyterian, remember?) and you chose Rocky Road (no hidden meaning there), we can debate the merits (ahem) of our respective choices, but I don’t see how either of us is more a company man while the latter is maverick.

    Now of course, if you vow from that moment on to eat Rocky Road forever, even if they tinker with the recipe in a way that makes you a bit uncomfortable, and I make no such vow, THEN you can say that you’re a more submissive guy and I’m more of a rogue.

    Now swinging back to the point under discussion, I completely agree with you that you are more submitted to your church than I am to mine. But it’s not like we both “discovered the Church’s divine authority” but I alone rejected it. No, you believe you discovered it by means of your own personal study, while my own personal study yielded a different conclusion. So the difference between you (a Catholic) and me (a Protestant) is that you adhere to Catholic theology, while I do not. And likewise, the difference between me (a Presbyterian) and James White (a Baptist) is that I adhere to Presbyterian theology while he does not.

    Yes, James White and I each reached our conclusions through private judgment, but so did you.

  35. Great article. I hope this one makes the rounds.

    One of the frustrating things about this so-called distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura is that “solo scriptura” is an impossibility in Latin? Does Mathison have a way of justifying the ungrammatical rendering of “solo scriptura”?

    How can SOLO scriptura have any grammatical meaning?

    This seems akin to other mistakes that I see here and there by well-meaning Calvinists writing wanna-be Latin such as “sola Christus” or “post tenebrus lux”.

  36. Chris,

    I don’t think the “you’ve arrived; good for you” sort of thing is helpful for resolving the disagreement. We [both sides] cannot pretend that we don’t think we have discovered something that the other side doesn’t see or get. Protestants generally think they’ve discovered that we’re justified by faith alone, and that Catholics for some reason don’t see the truth of what they [Protestants] see. So, let’s just be open with each other and move past the offense of the other person claiming to know something (or have something) that we don’t. The more helpful/constructive response to what I’ve said in these combox comments, in my opinion, is to dig into the evidence together — in this case the evidence regarding apostolic succession. “Here, Bryan, is why I think you are wrong about the Fathers on apostolic succession.” etc. Perhaps it can’t be done in a combox. Maybe we need another article just dealing with patristic evidence related to apostolic succession, where we can sort through that evidence carefully. But I think that’s the more constructive way to move forward, and I hope you agree on that point.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  37. Bryan and Neal,

    Once one has submitted to the Roman Catholic Church, let’s say, and been sacramentally received, are there any significant epistemological or hermeneutical difficulties left for the individual within that tradition? If so, what might they be? For example, are there any significant interpretive decisions that need to be made about church teachings? Or, is everything absolutely clear? I can’t imagine the answer to that question is yes (but it could be), but I think it might be interesting to explore some of the epistemological and hermeneutical questions that remain for the intellectually sensitive Roman Catholic even after there has been a formal submission to the church.

    Matthew Anderson

  38. Taylor,

    Latinus Calvinisticum es superiorum ad Latinus Catholicus. Implorum, no continua braggadorium, it’s very unbecomingum.

    See? Latin’s easy, a piecem tortam.

  39. Chris, do any two positions on any subject vary in epistemology? The scientist and the witch doctor evaluate the cause of a man’s illness. The scientist relies on private judgment to decide whether or not to trust the scientific method and likewise, the witch doctor relies on his private judgment to decide whether or not to trust the ‘spirits’ and the omens. Are they in the same epistemological boat just because they’re both born into a world with a lot of unknowns and rely on private judgment? This is skepticism.

    It is possible, even with private judgment involved, for two positions to be on uneven epistemological ground.

  40. JJS,

    But all that says is that the fundamental difference between a Catholic and a Protestant is that the former believes Catholic theology, while the latter doesn’t.

    See #38 – we might claim that the fundamental difference between the scientist and the witch doctor is that the former uses the scientific method without begging the question. The scientific method is both what makes him a scientist and what proves that he is more objective than the witch doctor. The Catholic method for determining the Church is both what makes a man a Catholic and what makes the Catholic choice more objective than the Protestant choice.

    The Catholic method may be wrong. And we may be wrong in our estimation of it. But that’s not what we’re talking about yet. We’re just refuting the “tu quoque” idea. It seems to be the only objection raised so far.

    Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that we were able to convince you that there was an epistemological difference but you decided, even still – the Catholics either A) Can’t prove they have material succession or B) Material Succession is not proof of authority at all or more likely C) All of the above. Even given that, you would still be left in the same boat – sola scriptura is reducible to solo scriptura unless you or someone else has an unmentioned objection.

  41. Hey Chris,

    I’m glad you’re posting again! It would be a lot of fun to look at the evidence for apostolic succession and petrine ministry together. Send me an email if you’re interested!

    sincerely,

    K. Doran

  42. Bryan (#36) — of course not, but neither are some of the implications of what you’ve written (to resolving disagreement). Regarding the way forward, you’re not going to find much disagreement from me about apostolic succession, at least in principle. It’s how that principle has developed via Roma that’s the rub.

    Also, I hope you and others realize my tone is light when I take jabs. I know I’m a smart ass, but I don’t intend to be a jerk.

    Finally, Tim (#39): You’ve hit it on the head — This is skepticism. Welcome to the real world.

  43. I think there’s an approach to this from a slightly different angle that might help to clarify the “distinction without difference” problem a lot of our Protestant readers seem to have.

    That approach would start with the understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ. When the Body of Christ was on earth incarnate and fully present, how did He demand allegiance and how was that allegiance given? Jesus told people, give up everything and come follow me. He didn’t lay out a ten point plan, He didn’t tell the disciples what was going on and ask if they could think about it, see if it jived with their worldview and come back tomorrow to tell Him if they could get on board. He required them to believe a lot of weird stuff and follow Him.

    It seems to me that the Protestant approach to accepting the Christian faith and choosing a Church is akin to a prospective disciple who said to Jesus, “Alright, give me a list of propositions, I’ll see if they check out with my understanding of Scripture and get back to you.”

    The response of the Catholic is to realize that the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, the Catholic Church, has the words of eternal life, so we drop our nets and follow.

    Now, we certainly try to make sense out of some of the baffling things Jesus said, but we don’t follow because the propositions check out.

    Put another way, we don’t follow a list of propositions, we follow a source of propositions. The Church to us is not the ecclesial body most in line with the truth as we understand it, but the body that gives us the truth that we accept because we trust the source.

    I would also submit that the way we Catholics got to believing this truth was not a simple measuring of Catholic doctrine against reason and Scripture. There is a deeper act of faith involved that makes it truly different than the Protestant embracing one system of doctrine or another. Particularly because the Protestant could switch systems of doctrine tomorrow without undergoing a radical change to the basis of his faith.

    A way to sum this up might be to look at the reason C.S. Lewis eventually gave for not becoming Catholic before he got to Heaven ;) That was, not that he didn’t believe anything the Catholic Church taught now, but that he couldn’t commit himself to believing what the Catholic Church might teach tomorrow.

  44. Hi Bryan,

    Thank you for another thought provoking article.

    You said:

    “Maybe we need another article just dealing with patristic evidence related to apostolic succession, where we can sort through that evidence carefully.”

    I am looking forward to that article. I am very skeptical that divine authority was somehow passed down 2000 years through a succession of men who ordained each other – possibly sometimes for ill reasons. I would like to see what evidence you have that God has protected the Church in this way.

  45. Dear Pastor Stellman,

    With the risk that further discussion of the “distinction without a difference” problem detracts from Neal’s and Bryan’s primary arguments in mind, I will take a stab:

    “But all that says is that the fundamental difference between a Catholic and a Protestant is that the former believes Catholic theology, while the latter doesn’t.”

    This misses Bryan’s point about discerning (with private judgment, yes, of course) divine revelation and divine authority. The Catholic is not Catholic because he “believes Catholic theology.” The Catholic is Catholic because he believes it is the visible Church vested with the authority of Christ and graced with divine revelation and preserved from error. He believes Catholic theology because he is Catholic.

    “I mean, if we’re both using our deliberative faculties, but you come to believe in the Magisterium and I do not, then I still fail to see why you get to slap yourself on the back.”

    I think we try hard on Called to Communion to avoid back-slapping. In a discussion of the body of divine revelation and the location of divine authority, this site exists to discuss/debate/wrestle with our reaching different conclusions following the efforts of our respective deliberative faculties. With [all of] our prayers, and God’s grace, this is not a lost cause. But I hope you can see the difference Bryan has been making between reaching the conclusion that Catholic theology is right, and reaching the conclusion that Catholic authority is authoritative.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  46. Jason,

    I wrote:

    The fundamental point of difference between Catholics and Protestants is that the Catholic believes he has found living divine authority in those having the succession from the Apostles, and a Sacred Tradition from the Apostles and a written form of the Word of God as the Bible, while the Protestant would not claim to have found the first two, but only the latter.

    You replied:

    But all that says is that the fundamental difference between a Catholic and a Protestant is that the former believes Catholic theology, while the latter doesn’t.

    No, that’s not all it says. Your redescription of what I said reductively eliminates some of the relevant content of what I said. I’m not simply saying that the Protestant believes Protestant theology, and the Catholic believes Catholic theology. The person becoming Catholic does not just come to believe a theology; he discovers a living divinely-appointed authority, and that discovery then shapes his theology. The person becoming Protestant does not discover such a thing, and so remains his own ultimate interpretive authority in shaping his theology. This difference has nothing to do with back-slapping; it is simply the reason why the Catholic is not subject to the tu quoque objection, in response to our argument that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  47. Tom,

    You can just call me “Jason.”

    The Catholic is not Catholic because he “believes Catholic theology.” The Catholic is Catholic because he believes it is the visible Church vested with the authority of Christ and graced with divine revelation and preserved from error. He believes Catholic theology because he is Catholic.

    I think I need to just give up, because we’ve been talking about this for over a year and I still can’t see your point.

    You say that “The Catholic is Catholic [not because he believes Catholic theology, but] because he believes it is the visible Church vested with the authority of Christ and graced with divine revelation and preserved from error.” But isn’t the belief that “the visible Church is vested with the authority of Christ and graced with divine revelation and preserved from error” itself Catholic theology? Isn’t that the WHOLE ISSUE that we disagree on?

    So when you say that “the Catholic believes Catholic theology because he is a Catholic,” I scratch my head in bewilderment. As Bryan has repeatedly said, the convert to Rome doesn’t surrender private interpretive judgment until he has joined the church, but uses it in order to “discover a living divinely-appointed authority, and that discovery then shapes his theology.” So at the most crucial stage in the game, namely, when you are reading the Scriptures and the fathers about apostolic succession and weighing all the evidence against the Protestantism that you are now beginning to doubt, you are admittedly not yet submitted to Rome, but are still in the deliberative, investigative stage. Now regardless of which road you take (to Rome or Geneva), the decision you make is NOT made out of deference to a Magisterium, since you’re not yet convinced of its authority. Sure, once you are, you bow to it. But first you must make that determination, that “discovery.” So my question is, what constitutes it a “discovery” (which is good) rather than a something you reject? It can’t be the case that you come to believe that the Magisterium is the Magisterium because it says it is (else I’ve got a bridge to sell you). And it has already been stated that it’s not a leap into the dark. So the only other option that I can see is that you came to believe that the Magisterium demands your submission because you weighed the evidence and found it satisfactory and in accord with your private interpretation of the facts as you understand them.

    So putting aside the differences between us once we’ve chosen our road (since I’ve admitted that you’re way more submitted to your church than I am to mine), I see no difference between the way we each come to make our respective decisions.

    Please tell me what I’m missing, because it seems that you are every bit as subject to the tu quoque objection as we are.

  48. I’m still working my way through the main article, but had to comment on one thing in the comments thread:

    Taylor,

    You wrote (#35): “One of the frustrating things about this so-called distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura is that “solo scriptura” is an impossibility in Latin? Does Mathison have a way of justifying the ungrammatical rendering of “solo scriptura”? How can SOLO scriptura have any grammatical meaning? This seems akin to other mistakes that I see here and there by well-meaning Calvinists writing wanna-be Latin such as “sola Christus” or “post tenebrus lux”.

    Three quick points:

    1. I didn’t come up with this term. Doug Jones coined it.
    2. Jones knows (and I know) that it’s not grammatically correct. It was a tongue in cheek idea he had.
    3. At least it’s not as dull as Heiko Oberman’s terms – Tradition I, Tradition II, and Tradition III. :-)

    Back to the paper…

    Keith

  49. Jason,

    The tu quoque we address in our article is not “You too used private judgment to come to your position”. That’s not the point in question, because no one denies it. The tu quoque is “You too retain ultimate interpretive authority.” That’s the objection, I think, that in our article we have shown to be false.

    You might have in mind another tu quoque, namely, “you too are an ecclesial consumerist.” That’s the impression I’m getting from your following statement:

    So the only other option that I can see is that you came to believe that the Magisterium demands your submission because you weighed the evidence and found it satisfactory and in accord with your private interpretation of the facts as you understand them.

    If that’s the tu quoque you have in mind, then perhaps that explains why we’re talking past each other.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  50. Hi, this is my first post here. I have really enjoyed reading the articles here at Called to Communion.

    I have been reading the tu quoque discussion and been trying to make sure I understand it clearly. It seems to me that the important point is what type of decision is being made after the investigation, not how it is made. Both sides use their reason, etc., but the person who becomes Catholic discovers an authority and so submits to it. The person who decides on a specific protestant tradition discovers a tradition that agrees with or convinces them of its doctrine (not its authority). Tu toque would apply if the person becoming Catholic was also discovering a tradition and only being convinced of its doctrinal correctness and not its authority. Is that the correct distinction?

  51. Jason,

    I’m actually an evangelical Anglican, but my sense is that a Catholic could respond to you by saying that the process by which we come to our decisions between Catholicism or Protestantism is much the same, but the end result is different. So, yes, both sides weigh evidence, consider arguments, make individual judgements, etc., but the Catholic position entails additional epistemological security once the decision has been made to become Catholic. I think I would grant that.

    But, I would add that claims to epistemological security are not a guarantee of truth. The Church of Latter Day Saints and many other institutions and religious traditions through the ages have offered a greater sense of epistemological security to their followers, and we all know this doesn’t mean that what they teach is true. As far as I can tell, the Roman Catholic tradition does offer a greater measure of epistemological security than the Protestant tradition, but that doesn’t guarantee it to be true. Obvious, but I wanted to point it out.

    Knowledgeable Protestants or Orthodox Christians find that whatever epistemological security is offered through the papacy and Catholic magisterium, and however appealing it may be, it is on offer at too high a cost. I might say that to take refuge in this security would be theologically speaking a “Pyhrric victory,” in that it would require me to accept doctrines that appear clearly unbiblical (e.g. the perpetual sinlessness of Mary), doctrines that feel theologically dangerous (e.g. eucharistic adoration of the transubstantiated host), or doctrines that appear to contradict historical facts (e.g. the infallibility and exclusive supremacy of the Pope). Of course, my Catholic friends assure me that all of these kinds of questions can be answered. But I’ve too often found that what is driving the answers they provide is not objective historical research or cogent theological explanation, but the very thing under discussion: the desire for increased epistemological security.

    Perhaps one day God will grant me to see the truth they claim to have found. Or perhaps one day I will more fully supplement my theology with the aspects of catholic ecclesiology found in Orthodoxy or even Anglo-Catholicism. In the meantime, I’ve found the safest place to rest is what I believe is the most certain and non-negotiable core of the Christian tradition, the holy Scriptures. If they fail the church, no amount of ecclesiological scaffolding can save her, in my view.

    Lord have mercy.

  52. Tu toque would apply if the person becoming Catholic was also discovering a tradition and only being convinced of its doctrinal correctness and not its authority. Is that the correct distinction?

    That is a good distinction. Its been discussed before that somebody becoming Catholic because they agree with Catholic doctrines X, Y and Z but do not submit to the authority of the Church would be becoming Catholic for the wrong reasons.

  53. Hi Matthew,

    You said: “doctrines that appear to contradict historical facts (e.g. the infallibility and exclusive supremacy of the Pope). Of course, my Catholic friends assure me that all of these kinds of questions can be answered. But I’ve too often found that what is driving the answers they provide is not objective historical research or cogent theological explanation, but the very thing under discussion: the desire for increased epistemological security.”

    I think one thing that can help you here is to realize that the most important first step in analyzing historical data relating to a particular doctrine (such as the petrine ministry) is to look at the general relationship in the data. There will always be outliers from this general relationship because of many reasons: the insufficiency of language, the indeterminacy of intentions, large gaps in the historical record, corruptions in the historical record, etc. When the data is particularly solid (as it is for some of the counter-examples against Mormon beliefs, as I understand it) then it is good to place considerable weight on supposed contradictions of a doctrine. But when the data that makes up a supposed contradiction of the petrine doctrines is sparse, ambiguous, and interpretable in many different ways, then a reasonable person will interpret that data in light of the general relationship found in all of the data. To rely on outliers for your historical defense of doctrine is to court falsehood.

    A great example is non-papal anglo-catholic historians arguing in favor of (and indeed, perhaps basing their entire early defense of) their ecclesiology by relying on Cyprian’s theologically-incorrect temper tantrum in favor of re-baptism of those baptized by heretics. This episode is an outlier relative to the pattern of other writers from the first 350 years of Christianity, and furthermore to interpret Cyprian’s actions here without reference to his pro-papal comments elsewhere makes it even more of an outlier. Thus, it makes more sense to interpret his actions in light of his own pro-papal comments elsewhere, and in light of the general tilt of the other papal data of the first 350 years. When one does, it is certainly no contradiction of the Catholic claim that there was some form of petrine ministry in the early Church. We are certainly not obliged by the limited data to interpret the Cyprianic evidence in a manner that contradicts the Catholic claim. There is indeed so little data that the data isn’t capable of obliging us to interpret it one way or another! This makes me unsympathetic to the claim that outliers such as Cyprian’s temper tantrum can only be surmounted by ignoring the “clear” evidence that they provide against papal claims. They don’t provide clear evidence for or against any doctrine at all — to the extent that they provide any evidence, it is through interpreting them in light of the other data, which makes them weak evidence in favor of Catholic claims, not strong evidence against them.

    Do you see what I am getting at? You said: “Lord have mercy.” You sound sad and dejected about the prospects of more certainty.

    But maybe one way He will have mercy on you is for you to see that the supposed contradictions of the petrine ministry in early Christianity have been advanced without reference to the usual requirements of data analysis: careful recognition of the general relationship, humility towards the epistemic usefulness of outliers, humility towards areas of the data where the observations are sparse and hence the models that can be rejected are few, etc. If any of this is helpful, just send me an email and we can talk about the things that make you feel that the Catholic Church is an impossibility for you: KBDh02@yahoo.com

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

    p.s Sorry CTCers for not directing people back more closely to the topic at hand. I will do my best to let the discussion continue without my interruptions now!

  54. Matthew,

    Welcome to Called to Communion.

    As far as I can tell, the Roman Catholic tradition does offer a greater measure of epistemological security than the Protestant tradition, but that doesn’t guarantee it to be true.

    If there is no guarantee of truth, then there is no “epistemological security.” You also wrote:

    I might say that to take refuge in this security would be theologically speaking a “Pyhrric victory,” in that it would require me to accept doctrines that appear clearly unbiblical (e.g. the perpetual sinlessness of Mary), doctrines that feel theologically dangerous (e.g. eucharistic adoration of the transubstantiated host), or doctrines that appear to contradict historical facts (e.g. the infallibility and exclusive supremacy of the Pope). Of course, my Catholic friends assure me that all of these kinds of questions can be answered. But I’ve too often found that what is driving the answers they provide is not objective historical research or cogent theological explanation, but the very thing under discussion: the desire for increased epistemological security.

    Your claim here amounts to one long ad hominem. I have addressed that in more detail here. As for whether those uniquely Catholic doctrines are “unbiblical,” we’ll have to save that for another thread, because it would take us down multiple rabbit trails to address them here. But, we will be discussing each of these subjects, in due time.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  55. Taylor,

    We could all try nuda scriptura!

    Dr. Mathison, glad you’re in the mix here; Bryan, thanks for the article – you had mentioned a few months ago hat this was forthcoming and I am grateful for your work on the subject.

    It seems to me that lurking beneath the surface of the assertions against (a properly understood)sola scriptura is a form of the Augustinian Totus Christus – from which some might derive a doctrine of ecclesial infallibility (which for the ultramontanists becomes in the long run Papal infallibility), the attributes the Head being transferred to the Body, or at least to the ‘successors’ of the Apostles founding the Body. The ‘proposed discovery’ of an ‘authority’ suggests in fact an ‘infallible’ authority on these issues. But does Christ promise an infallible Church? Or is it more a case of a fallible Church given grace to recognize the words of the Apostles in written form as infallible and thus possessing the authority to be the regulators of what is claimed to be ‘traditioned’ to us from the apostles?

    It is the notion of apostolic succession and the nature of infallible authority supposedly passed to these successors to the Apostles which is the central issue. Answer that question in one or the other, and everything else tends to line up for debate in a different context (i.e., between RCC and EO on various spheres and nature of apostolic succession, Marian Dogmas, etc).

    Perhaps we might wish to consider the idea of a fallible community capable of infallible pronouncements. Simply because any mom can make an infallible statement regarding her child does not mean the mom is infallible on all matters concerning her child – or her husband. One might say that Mom made an infallible judgment on what constitutes Scripture – a judgment ratified by Council but made in practice by all the Church – and that this infallible reception of infallible and inspired words recognizes these words as the ultimate and infallible authoritative standard to resolve disputes as they arise for it is the sole source of infallible revelation. This does not do away with ‘lower courts’, and it places Scripture within Tradition as opposed to it coming alongside Tradition, pitting one against the other. It would also guard against the imposition of Dogmas not found in Scripture (and I note dogmas as opposed to traditions, various pietistic practices and beliefs, etc).

    Now obviously this gets into the question of which Council affirms what and when, and one suspects that this discussion will go on for some time…but it is a good discussion.

  56. From a female prospective – believing that my Bridegroom, who says He is The KING of Kings and LORD of Lords, would leave me with a book of His instructions but no one to explain them to me correctly is absurd. That is not love, much less agape love.

    A Kingdom presupposes a King and He did not abdicate His throne, nor did He leave His Bride unprotected until His promised return. How cruel of a Bridegroom who would have His beloved Bride searching door to door for someone to explain truthfully His words to prepare her for His return.

    Maybe I’m being a simple minded and terribly “female romantic”, but if my King did not leave anyone to look out for me until His return, then He doesn’t love me. If He told me that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church, which is His Bride, then I have faith in HIM for all things.

    In the peace of Christ,
    Teri

  57. Bryan,

    To be fair, my paragraph that you cite above does not amount to one long ad hominem. If I grant there is an ad hominem in the paragraph, it is the second part of it. I will take your thoughts seriously about that, but the first part of the paragraph involves my conviction that each of those three doctrines is significantly problematic for different reasons, and this can be clearly distinguished from ad hominem argumentation. And I can say that I’ve not been convinced by the Catholic responses that I’ve heard to these matters and others like them.

    By the way, do you feel it is necessary to argue that all Catholic doctrines are in any significant sense “biblical”? Wouldn’t it be a legitimate Catholic approach simply to say that not all doctrines of the Catholic Church are found in Scripture? I’m not saying that every Catholic has to take that approach, but wouldn’t it be acceptable to hold that position?

    Matthew

  58. Dear Bryan,

    I wonder if I might try slightly recasting Matthew’s argument (“As far as I can tell, the Roman Catholic tradition does offer a greater measure of epistemological security than the Protestant tradition, but that doesn’t guarantee it to be true”). When he refers to “epistemological security”, I take him to mean “subjective certainty or epistemological confidence.” If I’m right about this, then he is making the same point as you made at Principium Unitatis: certainty and truth are not the same thing, so a reduction of desire for truth to desire for certainty is not a legitimate move to make. (Thanks for the link, by the way. I’d had the same fundamental objection to McKnight’s article.) As you say, the status of the doctrines Matthew finds untenable should be addressed elsewhere. But his point is a good one, IF the Catholic’s alleged desire for truth is in fact a desire for certainty. A person who finds doctrines X, Y, and Z untenable (for whatever reason) should not acquiesce to them out of a mere desire for certainty that he believes can be fulfilled through the Magisterium. If, however, submission to the Magisterium comes about through a search for TRUTH and not merely because it seems to offer more subjective certitude than anything else on the market, then he MUST accept doctrines X, Y, and Z.

    To return to more central points in the article, I’d like to echo the pleas of several comments for a clarification from those who wish to disagree with Bryan and Neal’s article. First, the article claims that there is no principled difference between *sola scriptura* and *solo scriptura*, and I’ve yet to see anybody challenge that. Would anybody like to? Second, the arguments about the tu quoque objection have proceeded as though the objection addressed by Bryan and Neal had been, “You Catholics also are inescapably bound to private judgment.” I don’t think that’s the point. Of course Catholics are bound to private judgment (though the content of a Catholic’s private judgment vis-a-vis the relationship between Scripture, Tradition, Church, and one’s personal reasoning on a given doctrine will differ from the content of a Protestant’s personal judgment about these). But, unless I’m mistaken, Bryan and Neal simply rebut the objection, “There is no principled difference between Catholic epistemology and solo scriptura.” I haven’t seen anybody challenge that directly.

    in Christ,

    TC

  59. K. Doran,

    Thanks for your comments. If I agreed that the evidence against the *Roman Catholic* doctrine of the papacy is as insignificant as you say, then of course it would be insignificant. My reading of early church literature has not led me to such a conclusion. But, I would be interested in hearing more of your thoughts about it, and will email you.

    Matthew

  60. Not wanting to bog down this great article and its thread with sidetrails (in anticipation of Keith’s engagement), I’ve attempted to say something relevant with respect to epistemological certainty (security) over here.

    Thanks.

  61. Hello, all.

    It’s gratifying to see the discussion this article has sparked. I’m unfortunately pretty busy just now and likely won’t being playing any very large role in this thread, but I wanted to respond to some of the remarks that have been lodged so far, especially those that have been voiced by more than one participant.

    It seems the main issue so far has centered on the question whether there is parity between Catholics and Protestants along one or more of the points at which Bryan and I have criticized Protestantism. One form of the question concerns whether Catholics and Protestants as such are in the same ‘epistemic situation’, whether they’re (to use Chris’ memorable phrase) in ‘epistemic communion’. Another form takes up the question whether Catholic converts, in coming to accept the claims of the Catholic Church on the basis of their own reasoning, studies, or whatever (as of course they must), have done pretty much the same thing that any Protestant who’s moved from (say) mainline evangelicalism into a confessionally Reformed communion has done. And if so, it’s a nice and pressing question whether this implies that an affirmative answer to the first question should be given, i.e. that the current (post-conversional) ‘epistemic situations’ of Catholic and Protestant are equivalent.

    Take the second one first. To put my cards on the table, I must say that this rejoinder is exactly the one I’d use (and, in fact, did for a time use) if I were a Protestant. Sounds pretty good, pretty damning. I don’t (no longer do) find it very persuasive, but I still find myself dissatisfied by my attempts to articulate why precisely I don’t think parity holds here. But maybe someone here can help me get clearer about this. So let me try to do it indirectly, less by argument and more by way of hopefully suggestive analogy.

    Suppose you’re a presuppositionalist, and are extolling the superiority of what we can call ‘the Christian worldview’ over alternative, non-Christian worldviews. And suppose that among the reasons you find the Christian one superior and much more epistemically satisfying is that you’re not (as a presuppositionalist Christian) in the unenviable position of having to think ‘autonomously’, having to be an epistemic egoist, etc., but are now able to think in some sense “according to” the Scriptures. You’re now under an epistemic authority (a legitimate one) whereas before you weren’t. And you’re no longer saddled with systems of thought (‘worldviews’) that contain internal contradictions or evidently irresolvable tensions, and which inevitably rely upon bits and pieces of the Christian worldview that have to be borrowed from it so as to prop up the internally unstable non-Christian ones.

    We can imagine a critic of presuppositionalism arguing like this.

    Compare the ‘epistemic situations’ of two persons, Bertie and Clive. Both of them are atheists, but they decide to make a study of Scripture, historical theology, etc., and both of them (let’s add) make a reasonably thorough study of folks like Schaffer and Van Til and Bahnsen and Frame and whoever else you’d like to name. At the end of the process Bertie remains unconvinced and doesn’t convert. Clive, however, is impressed by the extent to which his previous ‘worldview’ has coming crashing down about his ears, aghast at the previously unseen or unacknowledged tensions and contradictions within his system, and has decided that Christianity does in fact deliver a uniquely coherent and satisfying worldview against which the gates of hell won’t prevail. The Spirit does His work, Clive is baptized, and spends the better part of his life as a committed and (let’s add) confessionally Reformed/presuppositionalist Christian.

    But here’s what the critic says. “It’s clear that Bertie and Clive are in the same ‘epistemic situation’ still, because Clive had to use his ‘autonomous’ reason in an effort to figure out whether he should accept Christianity, and he had to do this to the same extent that Bertie did. Bertie comes down on one side of the question, Clive the other. But that hardly implies that there is any difference between Bertie and Clive’s current ‘epistemic situations’, for despite their differences in judgment they both necessarily deployed their autonomous reasoning capacities in the act of judgment itself. So the claim that Clive is now under an epistemic authority and Bertie is not is not defensible. Clive and Bertie are autonomous thinkers to the same degree, and if Clive protests to the contrary he’d better get his head out of the sand.”

    I’ll leave the presuppositionalists (or others) to explain why the critic’s criticism misfires. My guess is that it misfires because it fails to understand that Clive, but not Bertie, hasn’t simply come to a conclusion that has left him constitutionally unaffected (epistemically speaking), but has actually undergone something like an ‘epistemic restructuring’ or ‘reconfirguring’ (in some sense), which entails a significant change in his doxastic practices. But however that may be, the point is that the presuppositionalist’s dissatisfaction with this analysis of Clive’s epistemic situation (vis-à-vis Bertie’s) is, I think, the Catholic’s dissatisfaction with the analysis that his epistemic situation is no different from that of sola (or solo) proponents. Not so, I think.

    Let’s extend (just quickly) the presuppositionalist analogy.

    It’s worth noting that the article we’ve written is taken up primarily with a presentation of Mathison’s fine refutation of solo scriptura, and an explanation as to why we agree that solo is not biblical, historically and practically problematic, etc. This constitutes (should I even say it in this context?) ‘common ground’ between us and Reformed folks like Mathison. What concerns us is that Mathison’s position (which was the position I previously held) looks to contain a number of internal tensions and conflicts, which are difficult satisfactorily to resolve given the confessional tools at his disposal and the constraints imposed on his theorizing by the pertinent Reformed commitments he must uphold. We find instead that sola scriptura evidently stepwise-reduces to solo scriptura, and that the problems with solo may be directed with apparently equal force against sola. We find that a good number of the arguments aimed at distinguishing solo from sola, and which aim at justifying the conclusion that Catholicism amounts to its own version of solo scriptura (‘sola ecclesia’), either do not work or contain suppressed premises that, after some consideration, we find ourselves unable to discover. We notice that a number of these tensions disappear if we drop sola scriptura in either of its permutations and adopt a position that would justifiably allow us to treat external interpretive authority as de facto irreformable and infallible, rather than insisting that they really aren’t either of these things, but either (a) going ahead and treating them as if they were, or (b) refusing so to treat them, and finding ourselves stuck (de facto) with solo scriptura. (The adopted position in question treats the authority as irreformable and infallible de jure.) We notice, in other words, that a pretty nice presuppositionalist-style case can be made against sola scriptura, and can lead a person to consider afresh the Catholic alternative.

    (Before anyone says it: no, the ‘alternative’ isn’t “tension-free,” and no, not everything becomes automatically clear and so forth, not in my experience at any rate.)

    Last remark before I have to go away. It might be worthwhile to consider the notion of authority more closely, specifically as it relates to the question of individual autonomy, the conditions under which it is justified, and what’s entailed by submission to an authority. Has anyone read Joseph Raz’s influential book, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford 1986)? It’s a ‘modern classic’ in political philosophy, and it contains a defense of the authority of the state which is supposed to reconcile political authority with individual autonomy under the strictures imposed by a modern liberal perspective. (This entails among other things that state authority derives, bottom up, from the authority of the autonomous [consenting] self, because the authority of self-over-self is really [according to modern liberalism] the only non-derivative authority. Both Catholics and Reformed will reject that presupposition, but there’s lots of other stuff he says that doesn’t rest upon it.)

    Bypassing questions about the conditions under which the individual is justified in submitting to authority, there are a couple of features of authoritative directives that are worth thinking about. The first is ‘content-independence’. And what this condition says is roughly that an authoritative directive is one that gives the subject a reason to follow the directive, which is such that there is no direct connection between the reason and the action for which it is a reason. In other words, within certain limits, the authority’s authority doesn’t depend on the content of the directives issued by the authority, and that the subject has reason (second-order reasons) to obey the directive irrespective of its content. (This is necessary but not sufficient for a directive to be authoritative, because things like threats, advice of experts, etc. may also satisfy this condition at times, but ‘experts’ are not ipso facto authorities.) The second interesting thesis for our purposes is the ‘preemption thesis’. What this one says, roughly, is that the fact that an authority requires performance of an action is reason for its performance that replaces (preempts, trumps) whatever other reasons the subject may have to perform it. It does not simply add another, additional reason to the set of reasons subjects may already possess to do something, but (as it were) ‘replaces’ those reasons in the sense that it becomes the reason for which the submitting subject acts.

    It’s interesting to apply these to questions about religious and epistemic authority. I won’t try to do this here since I don’t have the time, but here’s some fodder for discussion anyway: one might think that the Catholic’s epistemic situation entails that what the Church tells him to believe or do ‘preempts’ his other reasons for believing and doing those things. And it might be that the Catholic’s epistemic situation entails that what the Church tells him to believe or do provides him with reason to believe and do these things irrespective of the content of the directives or dogmas promulgated by the Catholic Church. And it may be that these things do not hold in the case of the Protestant’s epistemic situation. From this latter perspective, to the extent the Church (denomination, communion) has (apostolic) authority, it is because (and only because) of the content of the Church’s directives and dogmas – in particular, it’s exclusively about whether the Church’s teachings and decrees faithfully reflect those of the apostles’ (e.g.). Moreover, it might be that the Church couldn’t give reasons to believe or do something in a preemptive way, on Protestantism, since the Protestant’s submission to authority is going to depend at least in part upon whether he agrees that the authority in question deserves to be considered ‘the Church’, a question that cannot be answered without reference to the individual’s (Biblical-)interpretive stance. (Note well: this isn’t to say that a Protestant cannot accept something “just because” the WCF says so; I think he can. But in this case it will likely be because, in so many other and perhaps more central areas, the WCF says things he finds to be uniquely in conformity with Scripture. In this case, plausibly, the WCF and the divines who wrote it are being viewed as legitimate and trustworthy experts; but expertise isn’t the same as authority in the sense defined, as noted above.) We may then want to try to tighten up our discussion of authority by considering conditions/theses along these lines, and then move to a comparative analysis of religious and epistemic authority from the Protestant and Catholic perspectives.

    Again, just some fodder for discussion. Thanks for letting me think aloud a bit. I’ll return at some point to see what you’ve made of all this, but (again) I can’t promise a lot of prolonged interaction just now.

    Much love and so forth,

    Neal

  62. Matthew,

    What I find methodologically unhelpful [with respect to ecumenical efforts] is the mere assertion [without substantiation] that Catholic doctrines are “unbiblical,” and then the dismissal of arguments explaining in what way these doctrines are biblical, as merely a rationalization aimed at obtaining “epistemological security.” That methodology, in my opinion, is not charitable. It assumes that one’s interlocutor loves something else [i.e certainty] more than he or she loves truth.

    And I can say that I’ve not been convinced by the Catholic responses that I’ve heard to these matters and others like them.

    What we need to be doing [in ecumenical dialogue] is not substituting self-referring statements for presentations of arguments, evidence, objections, etc. Many people found Jesus’ claims unconvincing. But their remaining unconvinced by Jesus’ statements tells us nothing (positively or negatively) about whether what Jesus said was true. The focus of ecumenical dialogue, if it is to advance, must be on that which is external to us, i.e. the truth of claims, the cogency of arguments, the coherence of positions, etc., not on our own internal state.

    By the way, do you feel it is necessary to argue that all Catholic doctrines are in any significant sense “biblical”? Wouldn’t it be a legitimate Catholic approach simply to say that not all doctrines of the Catholic Church are found in Scripture? I’m not saying that every Catholic has to take that approach, but wouldn’t it be acceptable to hold that position?

    First, just to be clear, my decisions and positions are not primarily the result of feelings, nor do I think they should be. Advancing in ecumenical dialogue would be impossible if we each followed our feelings, because rational discourse requires the use of reason. Second, there is an ambiguity in the term ‘unbiblical,’ for which reason, in my opinion, the term should be avoided. The term can mean “not stated in the Bible” or it can mean “contrary to what is stated in the Bible.” If we wish to mean only that some doctrine is not stated in Scripture (or not stated clearly in Scripture), then we should use the term ‘extra-biblical.’ Otherwise, we’re implying by connotation that the other person is contradicting Scripture. You are correct that a Catholic may believe that some Catholic doctrines are not taught explicitly in Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  63. Tu toque [sic] would apply if the person becoming Catholic was also discovering a tradition and only being convinced of its doctrinal correctness and not its authority. Is that the correct distinction?

    Yes, I think that is a correct distinction, but what I can’t get past is the fact that what makes Catholic authority actually authoritative is a set of ecclesiological tenets, and if one does not share them, he will look at the so-called authority of the Magisterium and reject it. In other words, without a proper doctrine of the church, one cannot even recognize the Magisterium’s authority in the first place.

    And as I’ve been saying all along, if the initial “swallowing of the red [Catholic] pill” is due to the same kind of deliberative and investigative process as the “swallowing of the blue [Protestant] one,” then what’s the big deal? I mean, what if I joined a cult of people who believe their leader is not the vicar of Jesus, but Jesus himself, and I vow allegiance to him and will not refuse a single command he gives me? Could I not then look at Catholics and Protestants as being kind of the same, since they both are only partially submissive to their respective leaders?

  64. Jason,

    what I can’t get past is the fact that what makes Catholic authority actually authoritative is a set of ecclesiological tenets, and if one does not share them, he will look at the so-called authority of the Magisterium and reject it.

    And if one is an atheist, he will reject Christ’s authority because his world view does not allow for divine authority at all (much less in a man). So the atheist has to adopt a Christian world view before he can accept Christ’s authority. A Protestant must accept a Catholic ecclesiology before he can submit to the Church. It’s just the nature of the game.

  65. Maybe this aspect can add to the discussion…Would spiritual orientation/direction influence which epistemology a person carries? A strong part of me feels that the distinction over epistemologies is not enough because, for me, it wasn’t merely my intellectual recognition of the Catholic epistemology which made me discover the Catholic Church as being what she says she is.

    Consider…

    In order to discover which kind of ecclesiology is necessary for the Church, it is first necessary to discover the nature of authority which Christ invested into his Church before he went away for a little while. But, before it is even possible to fully comprehend the nature of that authority, one must truly and intimately comprehend the nature of the spirit of Christ–that is, what is the character of the servent of God within the body of Christ and community of the kingdom God, who participates in the building of that kingdom for the glory of God. In other words, before one can understand the nature of the authority of the Church, one must first understand what it is to submit as a servent to authority as Christ did–not merely intillectually, but spiritually and existentially. Besides the clear epistemic difference between the Catholic and Protestant positions, a deeper issue lies close at hand, and that is the spiritual virtue which accompanies the different empistemology of the Catholic and Protestant. In my own experience, and the experiences of many Catholic converts, the most significant aspect of our conversions was not so much the epistemology by which we arrived at our private conclusions, as important as that is, but primarily the virtue of Christ which we have grown to understand and experience as we moved along in our persuit of Christ and our knowldge of Him–which helped us grasp that empistemology. For my own part, I found the Catholic Church more favorable and necessary for my continuing spiritual developement because as I was growing more intimate with Christ I began to see why such and such teachings were necessary, not only for my spiritual health, but the health of the whole Church. My mindset evolved from a centerdness on my own spiritual welfare to that of the body, and only then did I discover that I was not an individual in relationship to Christ, but a small part of something much larger than myself–a very small part. I for the first time entered out of myself and into Christ, at least in a deeper way. And since that time I have learned that Christ is experienced and known in the Catholic Church in ways that are for the most part near impossible in any other communal context, i.e. Protestantism–I, at least, was not able to find it there; it was way off radar. As I entered the Catholic communion I was for the first time submitting to Christ in the most complete way(at least more complete than it was previously), and the peace and joy which accompanied that decision assured me that I was. I went from being my own authority as an individaul existing among other individuals in what was so called “church”, to a servant devoutly submitted to the authority of Christ which I could only truly find within the bosom of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    I think there is more which can be said concerning this particular point, but I think I have explained myslef decently.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  66. Jason,

    Is there a principled difference between rejecting the apostolic message (and consequently Christ himself) on the basis of (an interpretation of) scripture and a rejection of apostolic succession on the same basis? In other words, what’s the difference between my arguing against Paul or Peter vs. arguing against Timothy, Titus, Linus, Ignatius, et. al.?

  67. Dear Jason (the honorfic was always meant with respect, by the way),

    I think Matthew’s response generally aligned with what I want to communicate. Please don’t give up, and thank you for this discussion. I benefit, and I think it helps ‘place’ where a helpful Reformed-Catholic discussion should occur.

    I admit that I was using “Catholic theology” in a narrow sense—not in the fullest sense of the “study of God.” Could you take my comments above with “Catholic theology” meaning something like: “non-ecclesial doctrines”? So the Catholic believes Catholic Trinitarian doctrine, or understands the descendit clause in a Catholic way, in accordance with the ecclesial authority he [privately] concluded to be governing him.

    I think I agree with you about the hypothetical inquirer using private judgment to weigh evidence [Scripture, the Fathers, history] and reaching a conclusion. He does not choose Catholicism out of deferrence to the Magesterium, for the reason you implied. I think your articulation seems fine, that this person, after weighing the evidence, “found [Catholic authority] satisfactory and in accord with [his] private interpretation of the facts as [he] understand[s] them.”

    The difference is this: the Catholic decides [via private judgment] which authority governs him [choosing magisterium, tradition, and text], and then accedes to non-ecclesial teachings on faith and morals in submission to that authority; the Protestant decides [via private judgment] which authority governs him [choosing text over magisterium], and then decides [via private judgment] which beliefs of faith and morals are true, and then decides [via private judgment] which denomination is most in line with his own conclusions.

    I would profit from hearing from you what (if anything) is disagreeable about this perspective. I don’t think you give up that much, or maybe even anything, by this formula. And if we could agree here, we would know how to proceed with the discussion about our disagreements: we would discuss the evidence and rationale yielding conclusions of governing authority.

    (I hope this moves the ball down the field. If I lost a down and gained no yardage, I regret it.)

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  68. Nathan,

    Is there a principled difference between rejecting the apostolic message (and consequently Christ himself) on the basis of (an interpretation of) scripture and a rejection of apostolic succession on the same basis? In other words, what’s the difference between my arguing against Paul or Peter vs. arguing against Timothy, Titus, Linus, Ignatius, et. al.?

    Well, I can’t imagine a scenario in which a Protestant would “reject the apostolic message (and consequently Christ himself)” on the basis of Scripture. That just doesn’t compute. Now on your clarifying question, I would want to as you whether Linus or Ignatius ever claimed to speak under the inspiration of the Spirit. As far as I know, Catholics make a “principled,” qualitative distinction between inspired Scripture and non-inspired writings. So to answer your question, a Protestant would never knowingly disobey Scripture, but if he felt that someone’s extra-biblical teaching (which we all admit is non-inspired) was contrary to Scripture, he could not in good conscience obey it. And as far as I know, Rome teaches that one’s conscience should not be violated. So speaking for myself, I could not bow down to a statue or speak of Mary as co-Mediatrix without sinning in the process.

  69. Tom,

    The difference is this: the Catholic decides [via private judgment] which authority governs him [choosing magisterium, tradition, and text], and then accedes to non-ecclesial teachings on faith and morals in submission to that authority; the Protestant decides [via private judgment] which authority governs him [choosing text over magisterium], and then decides [via private judgment] which beliefs of faith and morals are true, and then decides [via private judgment] which denomination is most in line with his own conclusions.

    I would profit from hearing from you what (if anything) is disagreeable about this perspective.

    Yeah, I don’t see any problem with this. I would want to stress, however, that a Reformed and confessional Protestant minister like myself does not take something like “going rogue” lightly. They used to say back in the ‘30s that the difference between fundamentalists and Reformed folks was that the former left their mainline denominations rejoicing, while the latter left weeping.

    So no, I don’t disagree in general with Bryan’s points on the tensions within our position (as taught by Mathison). What was said about governments can be said about our ecclesiology: “Presbyterianism is the worst kind of church government out there, except for all the other kinds.”

    My only point in all of this has been that you guys lose all bragging rights (for lack of a better term) when you concede that at the most crucial moment—deciding that Rome’s Magisterial authority is in fact Christ’s authority—you are relying on private judgment every bit as much as I was when I finally embraced TULIP.

  70. Given the various critiques of sola scriptura offered here at CTC, it would be helpful for someone to outline a Catholic perspective on the authority of Scripture in relation to tradition as well as the nature of tradition itself. Is tradition an actual parallel stream of information flowing from the apostles? Is it simply the right interpretation of Scripture? What is it, where does one find it, and how does one defines its parameters? What should a Catholic expect Scripture supply to the Catholic faith? What should a Catholic expect tradition to supply? Should a Catholic necessarily expect a doctrine to be evidenced in Scripture or tradition, or is it appropriate to believe a doctrine that isn’t clearly found in either? Are there a variety of perspectives on these questions, and if so, does that really matter?

    I know those are several questions, each requiring extensive discussion. However, given the focus on the sufficiency/insufficiency of Scripture here, I think it will be important at some point to provide some answers to such questions.

  71. Jason (and I think Matthew A. from up above),

    I don’t know if anyone on CTC responded about the statement that “we Catholics could still be wrong/not guaranteed to have discovered the truth,” but I don’t see why we as Catholics cannot concede this point. Yes, I think I have found the fullness of the truth in the Catholic Church, but I could certainly be wrong. (If the CTC guys need to correct me here, I’m all ears.)

    Jason wrote that “My only point in all of this has been that you guys lose all bragging rights (for lack of a better term) when you concede that at the most crucial moment—deciding that Rome’s Magisterial authority is in fact Christ’s authority—you are relying on private judgment every bit as much as I was when I finally embraced TULIP.”

    I agree that we lose all bragging rights, and I know you used that phrase loosely, for the simple truth that we never had any bragging rights. If we as Catholics have found what is in actuality the fullness of the truth, then it is not because of our own greatness and brilliance, though certainly effort on our part was involved in seeking God’s truth, but instead by God’s grace that we have discovered it. If we have actually discovered something false because the Catholic Church’s claims are not true, then we failed in some way to listen to our Lord who was surely not wanting us to fall into error. This seems obvious to me, but perhaps it seems like we are claiming that we are better because we discovered the Catholic Church.

    We can only brag on God who has been merciful and gracious to us.

  72. Jason, (re: #63)

    but what I can’t get past is the fact that what makes Catholic authority actually authoritative is a set of ecclesiological tenets,

    What makes the successors of the Apostles actually authoritative is their having received this authority from the Apostle; no set of tenets makes the successors of the Apostles actually authoritative. I’m distinguishing between having authority, and recognizing that a person has authority. Even what allows a person to recognize the authority of the successors of the Apostles is not a “set of tenets,” but evidence in the Fathers that these successors were given authority by the Apostles, and that they understood themselves as having received such authority from the Apostles, and as handing down such authority to those succeeding them. That’s not a “set of tenets;” that’s evidence discoverable within the record of history.

    and if one does not share them, he will look at the so-called authority of the Magisterium and reject it. In other words, without a proper doctrine of the church, one cannot even recognize the Magisterium’s authority in the first place.

    The situation here is not some form of presuppositionalism, where we get out of it only what we bring to it. That’s the worry I hear you raising, if I’m understanding you correctly. The evidence of Church history shows that apostolic succession was the practice of the early Church, wherever the Church spread throughout the world. But if one brings ecclesial deism to the study of Church history, then everything one finds in the early Church Fathers will be subject to doubt (as to its orthodoxy) until verified by one’s own interpretation of Scripture, including this practice of apostolic succession. In that respect, ecclesial deism is a kind of hermeneutic of suspicion that strips away the evidential value of the teaching and practice of the Church Fathers, except, by arbitrary exemption, the authority of Scripture itself. And if the only thing a person believes he can truly trust is Scripture, and he doesn’t find apostolic succession in Scripture, then necessarily he will remain his own ultimate interpretive authority, and hence become or remain Protestant. But if he does not bring ecclesial deism to the evidence, then when he reads St. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, he’s going to see that he had better be figuring out where is the bishop to whom he needs to be subject, and what the bishops are teaching regarding Christ and the gospel.

    The Protestant approach is to locate the Church by figuring out the gospel from Scripture, and then finding those who hold this gospel. The Catholic approach is to locate the gospel by finding the Church, and then listening to what she says is the gospel. There is a principled difference right there.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  73. Faramir (re: #27),

    Welcome to CTC. In our article we didn’t deal with the question of Tradition, because we didn’t need to do so in order to make our argument. We have some beliefs about this issue, and about Mathison’s treatment of it, but addressing them here would take us off-topic. Look for this topic in a future post/article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  74. Jason, (re: #29)

    You see, that’s my problem with Bryan’s language of “discovery” on the part of the Catholic of the Magisterium, it seems to assume that it is true, and that I have just failed to discover it.

    But that’s exactly what the Catholic is claiming, namely, that he has discovered something (i.e. apostolic succession) that the Protestant (as Protestant) has not discovered. That shouldn’t be any more offensive than a scientist announcing he has discovered a new species of bird. Having a “problem” with the very language of discovery would presuppose that it is impossible for anyone to discover something you haven’t yet discovered. I don’t think you want to put yourself in that kind of epistemic position. (When my wife says, “What was that noise?” and I say, “I didn’t hear anything.” she rightly responds, “Just because you didn’t hear anything doesn’t mean I didn’t hear something.” Sometimes I’ll just bite the bullet, to get a rise out of her: “No, if I didn’t hear it, there was no sound.”)

    So like I said before, THE main issue, namely apostolic succession, is precisely the issue that the Catholic must embrace as a result of his private judgment. And that’s why I don’t see why you claim bragging rights.

    No one is claiming bragging rights. Claiming to have discovered the Church Christ founded does not translate into ‘bragging rights.” When Andrew went and got Peter, and said, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41), Peter didn’t say “I have a problem with your language of discovery; you used your private judgment, so you don’t get bragging rights.” Instead, they both went to Jesus. So here also, I think that if one party claims to have discovered something, the right response is, “Ok, show me, or let’s look at it together.” As I said earlier, it seems to me that what is needed, given the discussion here, is another thread(s) focusing on the patristic evidence regarding apostolic succession.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  75. One thing I’ve noticed in the original paper and the various posts is that the Catholic position (represented here by Bryan and others) is more often emphasizing the concept of apostolic succession (which is not a exclusively Roman Catholic doctrine) rather than other more distinctive Catholic ecclesiological beliefs (i.e. the Papacy). Why is this? Am I imagining this? But, my understanding is that when the Catholic position is reduced to its essentials, even apostolic succession is inadequate outside of the claims of the papacy.

    Are the various Catholic posters here granting that apostolic succession is valid and ecclesiologically adequate outside of the papacy? Or, is this a two-step argument where first one is supposed to accept apostolic succession, and then find that only the papacy can really guarantee this as well?

  76. Matthew (re: #75),

    Yes, apostolic succession is “valid” apart from the papacy. That is, from a Catholic point of view, apostolic authority can be (and is) handed down from those bishops (not presently in communion with the Pope) to those whom they ordain as successors. This is why, from the Catholic point of view, apostolic succession is retained in the Orthodox Churches, for example. And this is why ordinations among the Donatists in the fourth century were valid. But Protestants in the 16th century explicitly denied and departed from the practice of apostolic succession. This is precisely why, from a Catholic point of view, you see the difference in approach in questions 4 and 5 of the Responsa ad quaestiones. As for whether apostolic succession is “ecclesiologically adequate” outside the papacy, in order to answer that question we’d need to know exactly what you mean by “ecclesiologically adequate.” Can there be a valid Eucharist if there is apostolic succession but not full communion with the Pope? Yes. But apostolic succession apart from full communion with the universal Church, nevertheless deprives a particular Church of the fullness of communion and life of the universal Church, as explained in Communionis notio. To separate from the Church Christ founded is, in some respect, to cut oneself off from the Holy Spirit who is the soul of the Church, and from its ongoing life and growth.

    Since our article is directed toward a conversation with Protestants, among whom apostolic succession is rejected, there is no need in this article (in order to make our argument) to include an argument for the necessity of full communion with the successor of St. Peter.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  77. Bryan,

    Thanks for your response. I am aware that the Catholic church recognizes the validity of Eastern Orthodox orders. This in itself poses several interesting questions, but those aside…

    Of course, your paper is in dialogue with Protestantism, but is also about questions of theological epistemology more broadly. You’ve framed the discussion primarily as if it is between apostolic succession and sola scriptura, and I guess I’m not convinced that is an adequate representation of the Roman Catholic position. It feels to me that this particular formulation obfuscates what is actually the central claim of Roman Catholic theological epistemology, the papacy.

  78. Dear Jason,

    Yeah, I don’t see any problem with this. I would want to stress, however, that a Reformed and confessional Protestant minister like myself does not take something like “going rogue” lightly.

    Our having reached some common understanding on this matter is wonderful news to me. And you are right to make that qualification: when the Protestant uses private judgment, his judgment gives due weight to the consensus of those around him and those that preceded him, gives due weight to the cost of schism, etc.

    My only point in all of this has been that you guys lose all bragging rights (for lack of a better term) when you concede that at the most crucial moment—deciding that Rome’s Magisterial authority is in fact Christ’s authority—you are relying on private judgment every bit as much as I was when I finally embraced TULIP.

    I agree that the Catholic has no bragging rights for having done other than used private judgment to conclude that the Catholic Church has been vested with Christ’s authority. I hope I haven’t bragged. He should, however, be able to love and admire this facet which he holds to be true, just as we can all love and admire Scripture for its divine inspiration and perfection.

    All this marvelous agreement to say that the point of discussion between us should be whether the Catholic or Reformed claim of spiritual authority is true.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  79. Great article.

    “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture”. This is a stunning admission. I found this to be the biggest hurdle in becoming Catholic. Once I thought through the implications of this Sola Scriptura was dead.

    I did want to object to the dismissal of a community of like-minded people. I do think people benefit greatly from interpreting scripture as a community. I know I have. Even as Catholics we are called to do that. I know such a community is not going to question your entire exegetical framework. But they can correct a lot of errors.

    I can see your point but it seems made to strong. Such a community is not useless. It is, I think, in a different philosophical category that we are talking about. It is more along the line of best practices rather than core principles. Something like always reading scripture in context. A good thing to do but it does not really belong in this conversation.

    Maybe it is a subtle distinction but I don’t really believe there is no difference between what he calls Sola and Solo. Sola is better and evangelicals know it. But it does not have a better foundation. It does more to make up for it’s flaws. Still it does not do enough. This is proved because there are different truths arrived at.

  80. Matthew, do you agree that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura? If not, why not?

    The papacy is a separate issue. If you think that the papacy is involved in the fact that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, then please explain how.

  81. Matthew,

    We call this the “stinking fish fallacy”, where the objector says, “I smell a stinking fish here,” but does not explain what it is, or how it refutes the argument. So the objector discredits the argument by suggestion, without refuting the argument. To avoid that sophistic fallacy, the one raising the objection to the argument must identity the error, and show how the error makes the argument unsound. In other words, show that because of the [alleged] error, either the conclusion does not follow from the premises, or one of the premises is not true.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  82. Matthew – Also, to see where the Catholic Church is coming from on the issue of Scripture and its relation to Sacred Tradition, see Dei Verbum.

  83. Well, I think did explain what I though the “stinking fish” is, but generally it is that broad appeals to “apostolic succession” or even a “magisterium” do not get to the heart of Roman Catholic theological epistemology. And so this makes, in my view, the comparison between sola scriptura and “apostolic succession” somewhat misleading. The evidence for this can be found in the First Vatican Council, but the fact is, that according to Roman Catholicism, even a council of bishops in apostolic succession will need to have papal approval for its decrees. So, what validates epistemologically the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church is not apostolic succession broadly defined, nor even an ecumenical council, but papal approval. Do you disagree with that?

  84. Do I believe that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura? I think in principle I could agree to that.

    Let me suggest a few qualifications, however.

    1) Most importantly, I’m not convinced that sola/solo scriptura is unviable.

    2) Even if in principle they are the same, in practice they can be different. Sola scriptura would presumably be drawing on the wisdom and experience of the church in its interpretation, whereas solo scriptura may be completely ignorant and indifferent to the practice of the church. So, even if in principle they are identical, I think the difference in practice could be consequential.

    3) I think there may be aspects of Protestant theological epistemology for which are affirmed but difficult to comprehensively account for. Take the canon of Scripture, for example, a favorite for Roman Catholics in this discussion. People who have read this history of this process know that early church father were appealing to certain aspects of the NT as scripture long before a council or Pope gave any official canonical list. The process by which the church discovered these books is not exactly clear, but involves a lengthy process of deliberation. I think a Protestant could hold to the conclusions that were arrived at on the NT, for example, even though the precise method by which this was decided is unclear.

  85. Matthew –

    1) Most importantly, I’m not convinced that sola/solo scriptura is unviable.

    Solo Scriptura is unviable for the reasons that Mathison gave (see the first part of this article). If you disagree with Mathison then why?

    2) Even if in principle they are the same, in practice they can be different.

    I agree that there is a practical difference between Reformed and many other denominations on the subject of Church authority. The point of this article isn’t to try and paint the Reformed as if there is no difference whatsoever between their approach to ecclesial authority and the ‘me & Jesus’ evangelical. But this article does show that without a principle of distinction between solo and sola, their position amounts to the same thing. As you said above, it might still be a viable position, but we agree with Mathison that it is not.

    3. We’ll talk about the canon in our next major article. Please try to keep the discussion as focused as possible. There are a *lot* of issues to discuss, but right now, we’re talking about whether or not there is a distinction between sola and solo scriptura and if not, whether or not solo scriptura is a viable option for a Christian.

  86. Tim,

    I will be interested to see Mathison’s own reaction to the article. But I do think I disagree that solo/sola scriptura is as *necessarily* bleak as he seems to paint it. For example, it appears that he paints solo/sola scriptura as producing hermeneutical chaos, endless division and schism, etc. The fact that the Protestant tradition is suffering from this, may not mean that it *has* to. It might mean that there has been sinful and ignorant disregard for the unity of the church that needs to be repented of. It might mean that many old shibboleths need to be laid down, and a more simple “catholic” core of Christianity is affirmed. That is the direction I would like to see the Protestant tradition move in. But, my point is that there could be other causes for the divisions in Protestantism than solo/sola scriptura, and there could be fresh solutions to some of these issues as well. That is not a full answer to your question, but it gives you an idea.

    Briefly on the question of whether sola scriptura is historical or ancient, I would argue that there were competing, mixed theological epistemologies in the early church. Anyone who thinks that these men were arguing like modern evangelicals is going to get a shock. But so will anyone who thinks they were arguing like modern Roman Catholic apologists. I think a case can be made from the early church writings that Scripture was functionally the supreme authority in the church.

  87. Matthew, (re: #83)

    Papal authority is based on apostolic succession, in this case from the Apostle Peter, in that See in which he handed down the keys. So there is no way to understand papal authority apart from apostolic succession. The reason why there is no need to go into the details of papal authority in order to make the argument we made in this article, is that the Orthodox could make the very same argument we presented in this article. So if the Orthodox could make the very same argument, then the argument doesn’t depend on papal authority.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  88. Matthew A.,

    In #86 you allege that there is a case to be made that the ECF’s regarded Scripture as the supreme authority in the Church.

    You could certainly find quite a number of quotes from the ECF’s that speak in glowing terms, and rightfully so. But I’d refer you to my article on Hermeneutics and the Authority of Scripture.

    In that article, I compare several of those quotes from the ECF’s with quotes using equally high language to express faith in doctrines that are not explicitly taught in Sacred Scripture.

    Whatever the view of the ECF’s was on the authority of Scripture, it was certainly not the Westminster Confession of Faith’s view that Christian doctrine must be taught explicitly or follow from good and necessary consequence from Sacred Scriptures.

    Good job, by the way, keeping up with such a multitude of interlocutors ;)

  89. Bryan,
    Thank you for this article – you are informative and challenging as always!

    Here is a small question, for either you or Tim, which I ask out of genuine curiosity. Tim wrote in #64,
    “And if one is an atheist, he will reject Christ’s authority because his world view does not allow for divine authority at all (much less in a man). So the atheist has to adopt a Christian world view before he can accept Christ’s authority. A Protestant must accept a Catholic ecclesiology before he can submit to the Church. It’s just the nature of the game.”

    …You know that no Reformed person would award “bragging rights” to the converted atheist over his atheist friends who have not embraced Christ’s authority, because we’d understand that his conversion means that the Holy Spirit has overcome the noetic effects of sin, an epistemic change that the former atheist had no control over. On the other hand, a Protestant might be tempted to boast when she moves from a non-denominational church into the PCA, because she has done the reasoning and weighing and has decided that Presbyterians have the right stuff. There’d be no assumption of a divine overcoming of the noetic effects of evangelicalism there.

    What’s the Catholic p.o.v. re. entering the Catholic fold from the Protestant camp? Is it truly considered a matter of reasoned choice? Or is it more akin to conversion – does the Spirit need to overcome the noetic effects of Protestantism? Just following the above discussion, this almost seems like what needs to happen.

    Thanks!
    pb

  90. Paige, An act of faith in the Church (submission) is an act of faith in Christ. In that regard, I’d affirm that grace from the Holy Spirit is necessary to become Catholic.

    But I really don’t like the term “bragging rights” in any capacity within this discussion. No Catholic should ever think for a second that he has earned any right to brag about personal achievements. Coming into the Church, for some, is a largely intellectual journey where they have weighed and wrestled with various propositions. Yet for others that I meet, it is something far less intellectual. Some of the people I know who have become Catholic are dumb as bricks to be honest with you. It isn’t about intelligence as if all the smart people become Catholic and all the dumb ones stay Protestant. But even if that were the case, it wouldn’t grant us bragging rights.

  91. Tim,

    I will cop to introducing the term “bragging rights,” for which I apologize if you take it as my misconstruing you or your attitude. The reason I used it was that the underlying position of the featured article seems to be that Protestants are individualists while Catholics are not. My point in saying that I am denying you bragging rights is simply that we both, at the most critical point in our respective investigations, use the exact same private judgment to come to our conclusions. But I never intended to imply that you guys are bragging. Hope that clears things up a bit.

    Cheers….

  92. I’m looking forward to reading this article.

  93. Jason, no worries. I hadn’t mentioned the phrase before now because I got where you were coming from. It keeps getting re-used and I just wanted to make sure no one was getting the wrong idea.

    Also, to reiterate, the problem with the Protestant position isn’t that they use reason. We readily admit to using reason also. I’ve tried to show a few examples demonstrating that two positions, both using reason, can be an uneven epistemic ground. I.e. one is more objective and can be known more certainly than the other because it is based on something more objective. I haven’t seen any response to my analogies or arguments. I think I have rubbed Donato the wrong way and maybe you too.

    Let me just explain that I’m not comparing Protestants to witch doctors, I’m just showing that it is conceivable that two positions, both relying on reason, could have varying levels of subjectivity involved. The mere fact that both positions start with a man’s reason does not automatically put the two positions in the same epistemic boat which is what you’re claiming in response to this article.

    So if you grant that it is possible for any two positions to differ in regards to objectivity, then we would turn our focus to the question of whether the Catholic position (identifying the Church based on private judgment of historical material apostolic succession) is more objective than the Protestant position (identifying the Church based on private judgment of Scripture).

  94. Dear Keith,

    Having read the article I find it making points that I have seen but been unable to articulate clearly for a few months now. May I ask that in your response you interact with Bryan’s point regarding who decides whether the Church’s reading of the text is correct rather than simply dealing with the epistemic argument he articulates to deal with potential objections? The reason I ask is that my solution to the problem of “Whose interpretation is authoritative?” has been to move in a more liberal Protestant direction rather than a Catholic one. It strikes me that, asuming Bryan has articulated your position correctly, your position argues that I should submit to the teaching of a Church that may make mistakes in how it interprets the biblical text and that I really have no way of determining which Church is the correct one because as soon as I test what each Church teaches against Scripture I am interpreting Scripture instead of accepting the Church’s interpretation of it and still I am not sure which Church’s interpretation I should be accepting (Presbyterian, Reformed, Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic…). There may well be problems with Bryan’s proposed solution but pointing those problems out doesn’t demonstrate the validity of your position and I think this is one of the issues we face today – if Bryan’s statement of the problem is correct then to my mind either we accept the Catholic solution or we slide into a radical skepticism about a real meaning in the text.

    I hope that makes sense. :-)

  95. Dear Richard,

    You said: “if Bryan’s statement of the problem is correct then to my mind either we accept the Catholic solution or we slide into a radical skepticism about a real meaning in the text. I hope that makes sense.”

    It made sense to John Henry Newman :-) It makes sense to me too.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  96. Bryan,

    In a typical Roman Catholic fashion you fall back on apostolic succession in the comment sections of this post. I would be interested in knowing who the apostolic successor of Peter from the time of his death until Gregory? Even your own ecclesiatical community cannot answer that question, leaving a five century hole in your system. Furthermore, where was the center of Rome and who was the Pope during the Avignon period? Did the Pope have the authority, as the apostolic successor of Peter, or did the counsel that chose which of the three Popes would be Pope? Furthermore, have you read what Ireneaus meant by “apostolic succession?” Seems to me that this would be important since your entire argument hinges on the veracity of it. Did Irenaues mention the church of Rome in his exposition? The absence of support for Roman Catholic adaptation of such dogma actually makes Rome look like a usurper. How could you believe that you have unity in dogma in Rome when transubstantiation was not even formulated or articulated until Radbertus Paschasius in the 9th Century. It was not official Roman Catholic dogma until the Fourth Lateran Counsel. In fact, prior to this counsel variations of explanation of the significance of the Eucharist were held and tolerated in the church of Rome. What about Limbo. It is dogma for so many centuries and then all of a sudden the Pope waves his magic wand and it disappears. Explain that one to your readers. How could Jesus say, “Not one jot or tittle will pass away,” but the Pope can add or remove them at will?

    How can you be so arrogant as to attack Protestantism when you system is a fraudulent version of ecclesiastical unity. It is, in reality, a deceitful institution of equivocation and human authority. The Reformers understood the abuses and have marked them sufficiently in their writings, but, as is true for so many in this world, it is far easier to adhere to human religion than to Christ.

  97. It seems that much of this conversation has been focused upon that which precedes one’s submission to the Church. As the article reasons, once a person recognizes/discovers the Authority of the Magisterium, she is then subsequently bound to allow the Church to play a definitive role in the binding of her conscience.

    I am seeing a problem, though. It seems that in this case, continual “rediscovery” of the Magisterium’s authority is necessary in the faith life of the believer in order for this argument to stand. The believer, even after submitting to the Magisterium, can always dissociate himself from the Catholic Church- and believe herself to be thoroughly justified in doing so. In that case, rather than her “discovery” having opened her eyes to Catholic authority, the opposite takes place. She “discovers” as Luther did, that she isn’t bound after all…

  98. Nicholas,

    Welcome to CTC. You ask a lot of questions, many of which seem to be rhetorical questions, though perhaps you are asking them sincerely. Although I would be glad to answer your questions, this combox is for discussion of the article above; it is not a Catholic-Protestant free-for-all. Also, let me suggest that you first read the “Posting Guidelines” under the ‘About’ tab above. If you’re not familiar with CTC, we believe strongly that ecumenical dialogue cannot be productive unless conducted very carefully and charitably, and in a focused way. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink at each other, is not productive; it wouldn’t persuade anyone or get us one step closer to agreement. So, we have to discipline ourselves, restrain ourselves, and just roll up our sleeves and consider together the points that separate us, one at a time. And this combox is devoted exclusively to the argument we raised in the article above. So, feel free to raise objections here to the article, but in this combox we’re not going into the subjects of “transubstantiation”, Limbo, etc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  99. Dear Herbert,

    A Catholic does not spend each moment or each day trying to determine if she still believes that the Catholic Church has authority, any more than a Protestant would spend time trying to determine if he still believes that the Bible has authority. Why do you believe that a process of “continual ‘rediscovery’” must be occurring?

    The Catholic can always dissociate herself from the Catholic Church, but she would only believe she were justified in doing so if she concluded that the Catholic Church has no authority over her (as she had once believed). She cannot believe both that the Catholic Church has authority over her in matters of faith and morals, and that the Catholic Church is wrong in a matter of faith or morals. So she cannot rationally leave over, say, a dispute on the Trinity or indulgences, but only over a dispute regarding the Church’s own authority claims.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  100. Herbert,

    At the end of Matt’s comment #43, he wrote:

    A way to sum this up might be to look at the reason C.S. Lewis eventually gave for not becoming Catholic before he got to Heaven ;) That was, not that he didn’t believe anything the Catholic Church taught now, but that he couldn’t commit himself to believing what the Catholic Church might teach tomorrow.

    Lewis understood what it would mean. Once the Apostles discovered Christ’s authority, they did not need to “rediscover” Christ’s authority; they simply needed to remember it. Likewise, once a person discovers that the successors of the Apostles have authority from Christ to govern the Church and preach and teach in His Name (i.e. as His authorized representatives), then so long as one remembers this, one cannot “dissociate” from them without violating one’s conscience.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  101. Thanks, Tim, for your reply in #90.
    For the record, I used “bragging rights” in a tongue-in-cheek way (as I think Jason does, too), so as to distinguish the monergistic work of the Holy Spirit from either the synergistic work of our cooperation, or the monergistic work of our solitary action. (If I said all that, see, I’d sound like an egghead. :)

  102. Bryan and Tom- Thanks to both of you for your replies. And though Bryan may recall me… Tom, for the record, I joined the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil 2008. So I speak as a Catholic in full communion. So, though I am bound by Church teaching, and can’t imagine this changing, I am curious about this idea of “discovery” of the Magisterium. I certainly experienced such a discovery. I can still remember when my sponsor suggested that Christ actually founded the Roman Catholic Church. For me this was a “discovery” indeed. However, I know that people don’t make decisions based solely upon principle. So what I’m trying to get at is this:

    1. It seems to me that just as a “born-again evangelical” may commit apostasy on any day of the week, and NOT feel as though he’s violated his conscience in doing so (depending on the change that’s taken place in his perspective, i.e. he’s become agnostic, he’s become Mormon, etc.), similarly, why might a Catholic not come to believe that his having understood the Catholic Church as retaining Divine Authority was based upon flawed thinking?

    2. And I don’t quite understand Lewis’s argument. Why wouldn’t this same reasoning apply to his identification with the C of E? Was he implying that when it came to submission to church authority, he could just “take it or leave it”? Like so many others who SEEM to hold the Church in high regard, did his thinking boil down to solo Scriptura, as well?

    thanks.

  103. Bryan,

    I certainly should have read the guidelines. Sorry about that!

    Since you say at the outset of the post, “a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead,” would it be fair for me to ask the first series of related questions concerning the nature and origin of the doctrine of apostolic succession? If so, can you answer the first? Who were the apostolic successors of Peter from Peter until Gregory?

  104. I’d love for one of you guys to read Erik Wait’s Presuppositional Defense of Sola Scriptura, which is a direct response to “Not By Scripture Alone” by Sungenis. Perhaps, you could even do a review on the website, refuting it as necessary. Here’s the link: http://www.erikwait.com/index.cgi?location_id=2&subject_id=6.
    Blessings!

  105. Nicholas, Irenaeus lists the successors of Peter from Peter until his day (the second century). Church historian Eusebius continues tracking them until the fourth century. If you want a complete list check out the Liber Pontificalis (or any Catholic Bible will have them).

  106. I asked earlier if it would be okay to respond to this article in the comment box. I’m not sure now that this will work. I think that what I will try to do is write a single response, post it somewhere (perhaps at Ligonier’s website), send you the link, and let you respond in whatever way you deem best. If you post a new article in response, then I can jump in the comments to carry on the discussion if necessary. Sound okay?

    I’ve made it up to Section IV.B of the paper, so I’m making progress. I do want to ask one more follow up question, which may be answered in the section of the paper I haven’t reached yet. But I want to make sure I have this clear, so that in my response, I don’t end up shadow boxing.

    If I follow what has been said in response to the concerns of several folks here, you grant that you as well as we use our private judgment and reason to determine which communion we should submit to through the study of Scripture, church history, the Fathers, etc. Correct, so far?

    The epistemic difference, then, according to you, would be that since you’ve discovered apostolic succession, you are submitting to a church with final interpretive authority, but we are only submitting to a church with derivative authority, which then means that we retain the right to disagree with (or leave) that church if it teaches or does something contrary to our individual interpretation of Scripture – which itself is practically solo scriptura? Am I understanding you correctly?

    There are two phases, then, in your understanding: the determination phase and the submission phase. Is that right?

    It seems to me that the issue of infallibility is an important factor in the discussion (in addition to the obvious importance of clarifying what we mean by “church”). If Communion A claims some type of infallibility and Communion B does not, then one will be placed in a different condition depending on which communion he or she submits to. If someone submits to Communion A and truly believes the claims of Communion A, then that will make some type of difference. Correct?

    A major question, then becomes how to adjudicate between the claims of Communion A and B (not to mention C,D, and F and so forth), and does the way we do this imply solo scriptura? What I found, and still find a bit confusing, Bryan, is your comment in post 13, where you said: “the person becoming Catholic bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church.”

    In order to base your determination on “what those having the succession from the Apostles” say, you have to know who “those having succession from the Apostles” are. How do you already know this in the determination phase – prior to submission? This is where the argument appears circular to me.

    Perhaps, I can illustrate it in this way:

    You based your determination of the nature and location of the church on what those having the succession from the Apostles say, and submitted to Rome.

    Frank Schaeffer based his determination of the nature and location of the church on what those having the succession from the Apostles say, and submitted to the Orthodox Church.

    Which one of you submitted to the one true church Christ established, and what criteria do you use to determine the answer to that question?

    I’m hoping your answer to this will help me get a clearer understanding of exactly what you see as the epistemic difference submission to Rome makes.

    Thanks again.

    Keith

    P.S. Richard, I did see post #94 and will attempt to answer the question in my response.

  107. Bryan Cross,
    I was skimming through your exchange with user “JJS”, and I admit I understand where he is coming from. I have a question based on something you said. if you’ve already answered it, forgive me. I might have missed a few posts.

    If the difference with a Roman using private judgment prior to converting is that he judged where the Church was, and then faithfully submitted to her teaching, how did he judge which Church was the true church? He cannot use Scripture, because according to your view, apart from the Magisterium we cannot know which books are inspired. At this point, the Christian scriptures may or may not be reliable, so he cannot appeal to them to find the true church. If he cannot appeal to the Scriptures, then how does he know there is such a thing as a “church”, let alone a “true” one? If he has to search, study, etc to determine the Magisterium is the ultimate authority, then whatever he appeals to will be the ultimate authority, not the Magisterium. How exactly does one judge the Magisterium to be the one true church, without running into a self-defeating, circular mess?
    Thanks, be blessed!

  108. I notice that Bryan & Neal’s article, as well as much of this discussion, seems to be considering only two interpretive options: 1) the infallible and authorized interpretation of the Magisterium, and 2) the absolute interpretive uncertainty presented by solo/sola Scriptura (i.e., it’s all individualized, so there is no ultimate interpretive authority to appeal to).

    I don’t know from what perspective Keith Mathison is writing, so I don’t know if he addresses this idea, but there is a third option that Reformed people work with – the idea that we may know sufficiently, but not exhaustively, the meaning of the biblical texts, especially through study & discussions with others. This still leaves unanswered the claims about apostolic succession, and it will not satisfy those who hope for absolute interpretive certainty. But it is for many of us a livable epistemic condition. Was this not mentioned because Mathison’s own premise is that “sola Scriptura” is a means of interpretive certainty?

  109. Retro – I get where you’re coming from and where JJS is coming from. The tu quoque argument is reasonable and demands a good answer. I feel like I’ve given a good answer for it (as has Bryan) above but I haven’t had any response to what I’ve written. The issue is not the use of private judgment (reason) but whether or not the individual’s reason is used correctly and whether it is based on something objective. As I’ve shown in examples above, two people may both use private reason and yet not be in the same epistemic boat. If we deny that, then it seems to me that we are left with skepticism.

    Paige – I’m not sure I’m getting your precise objection. Can you be more specific about what argument you disagree with from the article? It seems like you’re dismissing the conclusions of the article wholesale but without a specified reason. Maybe I’m missing it. Can you be more specific?

  110. Tom Brown:

    … the Protestant decides [via private judgment] which authority governs him [choosing text over magisterium], and then decides [via private judgment] which beliefs of faith and morals are true, and then decides [via private judgment] which denomination is most in line with his own conclusions.

    Which is exactly what a Protestant does when he goes church shopping. But the market that the Protestant shops in contains thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations that teach anything and everything because of sola scriptura / solo scriptura.

    Is there any real submission to a higher temporal authority if I believe that I can church shop until I find a church that agrees with me? The main article argues that doing that is really a subtle form of delusion:

    The indirect way of making oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority is more complicated and subtle. In this case the individual, based upon his own interpretation of Scripture, either establishes or chooses an ecclesial community that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important. Then, he ’submits’ to this institution so long as it continues to speak and act in accordance with his own interpretation of Scripture. … Accumulating for themselves this body of persons to whom they ’submit’ allows them to remain under a delusion that they are submitting to the Church.

    As long as one believes he has the right to church shop, he will always be making himself the ultimate arbiter of scriptural truth.

    Either ecclesial authority has its basis in agreement or approval as determined by the individual’s own interpretation of Scripture, or ecclesial authority has its basis in Christ’s authorization and appointment.

    Nathan: And as far as I know, Rome teaches that one’s conscience should not be violated.

    The Catholic Church does indeed teach that one must follow one’s conscience. But the Catholic Church does not teach a doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience – that is the foundational Protestant doctrine that makes the individual the ultimate arbiter of scriptural truths.

    From a Catholic point of view, since the Catholic Church cannot teach error in matters of faith or morals, the person that states that his conscience disagrees with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church is merely making a statement that his conscience in need of formation. See Catechism of the Catholic Church §1776 – 1802 .

    Matthew Anderson: You’ve framed the discussion primarily as if it is between apostolic succession and sola scriptura, and I guess I’m not convinced that is an adequate representation of the Roman Catholic position. It feels to me that this particular formulation obfuscates what is actually the central claim of Roman Catholic theological epistemology, the papacy.

    When it comes to the question of the ultimate temporal authority, the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine of the Primacy of Peter, and not a doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience. When the Eastern Orthodox speak about the ultimate temporal authority in matters of dogma, they claim that the dogmas promulgated by valid Ecumenical Councils speak as the ultimate temporal authority for the Church … BUT … the dogmas promulgated by an Ecumenical Councils are not valid unless they are “approved” by the “whole church”. The EO, with their novel “whole church approval” doctrine, are actually claiming an implicit doctrine of the Primacy of the Laity, since the laity are supposedly the final and ultimate temporal authority that “approves” the dogmas solemnly defined and promulgated by the Bishops at an Ecumenical Council.

    I don’t think that anyone here is trying to obfuscate the doctrine of Petrine Primacy. Since both Catholics and Orthodox recognize that there have been Ecumenical Councils that are not recognized as valid, there must be some way of making that determination. The different ways that Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics determine the validity of Ecumenical Councils is a topic for another thread, which would, of course, would involve the doctrine of the Petrine Primacy.

    One issue that this article addresses is whether the dogmas defined at an Ecumenical Council are binding on Christians, or are they merely opinions of men that I can ignore, because I am the ultimate temporal authority in determining matters of faith and morals.

    Mathew, how do you respond to the members of Protestant sects that deny the dogmas of the Trinity defined by the Ecumenical Councils? The Unitarians, Oneness Pentecostals, Church of God Abrahamic Faith, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. all believe they are being “scriptural” when they deny the Trinity.

  111. Keith,

    If you post a new article in response, then I can jump in the comments to carry on the discussion if necessary. Sound okay?

    That’s fine with me.

    If I follow what has been said in response to the concerns of several folks here, you grant that you as well as we use our private judgment and reason to determine which communion we should submit to through the study of Scripture, church history, the Fathers, etc. Correct, so far?

    Yes.

    The epistemic difference, then, according to you, would be that since you’ve discovered apostolic succession, you are submitting to a church with final interpretive authority, but we are only submitting to a church with derivative authority, which then means that we retain the right to disagree with (or leave) that church if it teaches or does something contrary to our individual interpretation of Scripture – which itself is practically solo scriptura? Am I understanding you correctly?

    Yes.

    There are two phases, then, in your understanding: the determination phase and the submission phase. Is that right?

    There is a searching phase, a discovery, and then submission (or resistance).

    If Communion A claims some type of infallibility and Communion B does not, then one will be placed in a different condition depending on which communion he or she submits to. If someone submits to Communion A and truly believes the claims of Communion A, then that will make some type of difference. Correct?

    Correct.

    A major question, then becomes how to adjudicate between the claims of Communion A and B (not to mention C,D, and F and so forth), and does the way we do this imply solo scriptura? What I found, and still find a bit confusing, Bryan, is your comment in post 13, where you said: “the person becoming Catholic bases his determination of the nature and location of the Church fundamentally on what those having the succession from the Apostles say is the nature and location of the Church.”

    In order to base your determination on “what those having the succession from the Apostles” say, you have to know who “those having succession from the Apostles” are. How do you already know this in the determination phase – prior to submission? This is where the argument appears circular to me.

    One can find who those having the succession are, without already being in submission. We can do this by reading St. Clement, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, and Eusebius. In other words, you don’t need to start the inquiry phase by determining *immediately* who presently holds authority from the Apostles. Rather, we can start this by going back to the Apostles, and then moving forward through the timeline, continually tracing the passing on of Church authority through St. Clement and through the other bishops down to the Council of Nicea and so on. Every time there is a schism, we have to determine which is the Church, and which is the “schism from” the Church, and then we keep tracing forward this handing on of authority, until we reach the present day.

    You based your determination of the nature and location of the church on what those having the succession from the Apostles say, and submitted to Rome.

    Frank Schaeffer based his determination of the nature and location of the church on what those having the succession from the Apostles say, and submitted to the Orthodox Church.

    Which one of you submitted to the one true church Christ established, and what criteria do you use to determine the answer to that question?

    Frank submitted to a bishop who has apostolic succession, but is presently in schism from the Church Christ founded. The criterion we use is the principle of unity of the first thousand years of the Church, before the Greek schism. (I briefly discussed here the notion of schism.) We find in the Fathers that the successor of St. Peter holds this role, as the one to whom Christ gave the keys, and made to be the rock upon which He would build the Church. I could write a couple articles just on that subject alone, so it won’t fit into a combox. If you’re interested, read Studies on the Early Papacy, by Chapman, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96 – 454, by Giles, and The Early Papacy: To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, by Fortescue. We will be covering this subject in the future, Lord willing. Our purpose in the present article, is much more focused, simply to show that without apostolic succession, there is no principled difference between sola and solo.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  112. Troutman (and Bryan, too),
    thanks for the response. I completely agree that we can both use private reason (what else could we use? – whether it is logically sound or not), and not be in the same epistemic boat. But the reason we’re not in the same boat is because our fundamental presupposition is different. I presuppose scripture, you presuppose the Magisterium. My question is, how does a non-catholic go about changing his presupposition to the Magisterium w/o first having to presuppose Scripture? I presuppose the claims of Scripture because of Scripture, I believe Jesus is Lord because of Scripture. But where can the non-catholic start to find the true Church?

    According to Rome, our epistemology is faulty and unreasonable outside of her walls, because we’re not trusting in the true church. So, any appeal I make to Scripture, to history, to Christ, to anything, is ultimately uncertain, since I’m using my own private criteria rather than Rome’s. Therefore, how can any conclusion I make (i.e. “Rome is true Church”, or “apostolic succession is real,”) be certain? If I start with a false premise, the conclusions will also be false, inconsistent, or uncertain. It sounds like you’re saying: “The protestant presupposes Scripture by his own private judgment and concludes that Scripture is the ultimate source for truth. The Roman presupposes scripture by his own private judgment and concludes that the Magisterium is the ultimate source for truth, thus proving his presupposition of scripture to be false.” But if the latter is true, then the Roman had no real reason to presuppose Scripture, therefore not giving him any certainty that his conclusions FROM Scripture are true. This is where the RC logic gets confusing. It would make more sense if you were being circular: “I presuppose the Magisterium because of the Magisterium.” But I haven’t heard you guys affirm this. You presuppose the Magisterium, by appealing to Scripture and supposed “facts” of history. Scripture or history then become the ultimate authorities, not the Magisterium. But by what standard can I even trust history? When I read RC, EO, or Reformed literature I get 3 different views of history. I wasn’t there. How can I possibly know exactly what happened and what went down for certain? Whose history do I trust and by what criteria?

    When it comes to epistemological ultimate authority, you have to have ONE final authority, not multiple. It seems to me the only choices are Sola Scriptura, Sola Ecclesia or Sola Historia. You deny the first two, so I’m just trying to figure out how this works out. Thanks for your time!
    Grace and Peace!

  113. Hey, Tim (re. #109),
    Thanks for trying to understand. I am not casting judgment on the arguments in the article at all. I was merely pointing out that there seem to be two interpretive options under discussion, leaving the impression that there are only two interpretive options or expectations among Christians:

    a) the Catholic view, in which the Magisterium provides infallible authoritative interpretation;
    and b) the Protestant view as described by Mathison, which devolves into a nonsensical mess because there is no infallible earthly authority to appeal to for interpretation.

    The first, if it is true, would be livable. The second would be unlivable, and Richard’s post (#94) characterizes how crazy-making it would be never to be able to adjudicate between competing interpretations, because there is no ultimate infallible interpretive authority to appeal to.

    In light of this observation, I have an informational question. I have not read Mathison’s book, so I am curious to find out this: Does he present his positive argument for “sola Scriptura” as a way for people to achieve certainty about interpretations, as the Magisterium offers Catholic believers interpretive certainty? In other words, does Mathison lead one to EXPECT interpretive certainty, as the Magisterium’s claims lead one to EXPECT interpretive certainty?

    Or does he speak more reticently about what Protestants may expect with regards to certainty? The “third interpretive option” that I did not see mentioned in the article is the understanding that Reformed folks work with, that we may expect to know “sufficiently but not exhaustively,” which is a phrase from the Westminster Confession. This is not the absolute knowledge of Magisterial certainty, but it is also not the quicksand of absolute uncertainty. (I won’t try to unpack what is more or less “certain” in this view — I’m just mentioning that it exists.)

    The reason I bring this up is simply that it has been found by many thoughtful people to be a livable perspective, and is a real third option to Magisterial certainty and crazy-making Protestant uncertainty about interpretations. Whether it is RIGHT or not is not my point — I am just wondering whether Mathison goes here, and it was overlooked — or whether he really does make claims about expecting interpretive certainty that leave one groping for an authority behind them; in which case my “third option” would be extraneous to a response to his book.

    Does this make sense? I’m just trying to find out something I don’t know yet, not dismissing anybody’s arguments.

    pax!
    pb

  114. Bryan,

    With reference to your responses to Keith Mathison, you seem to suggest that the crucial issue is not even Apostolic succession per se, but the Universal Fatherhood of the Bishop of Rome. Right? In other words, without affirming not simply primacy of honor but primacy of rule by the Roman Pontiff, the Orthodox Churches cannot be anything but in schism with the one true Church? Right? Have you read Meyerndorff’s work on Roman Primacy?

    David

  115. Retro:

    You said:

    I presuppose scripture, you presuppose the Magisterium.

    But this rests on another presupposition, namely that all viewpoints start with a presupposition (i.e. presuppositionalism). I don’t believe that, but that is a long discussion and we can’t do that here. The short of it is that I do not presuppose the magisterium.

    So, any appeal I make to Scripture, to history, to Christ, to anything, is ultimately uncertain, since I’m using my own private criteria rather than Rome’s.

    Rome doesn’t think of you that way regardless of what you may have heard from some apologists.

    When I read RC, EO, or Reformed literature I get 3 different views of history. I wasn’t there. How can I possibly know exactly what happened and what went down for certain? Whose history do I trust and by what criteria?

    This is a difficulty not unique to Christianity. Talk to a southerner and to a yankee and you’ll get a different view of the Civil War. We have to approach history as objectively as we can; it’s not always easy to sort through the mess and psychology of conflicts of interest among historians.

    As for Church history, if there is a visible Church, the best one to ask about her history would be herself. She knows it better than anyone else. There’s a multiplicity of ways to approach the question(s) facing the Christian. What is the history of the Church? Ask the visible Church. Is there a visible Church? History tells us that there is. :-) Sometimes it’s just easier to wear a WWJD bracelet and listen to contemporary music on the radio. I know its messy but we Christians dont have anyone but ourselves to blame for it!

    When it comes to epistemological ultimate authority, you have to have ONE final authority, not multiple. It seems to me the only choices are Sola Scriptura, Sola Ecclesia or Sola Historia. You deny the first two, so I’m just trying to figure out how this works out. Thanks for your time!

    I can see where you’re coming from. There is definitely a sense in which all things terminate (or begin) somewhere. A thing cannot ultimately spring from multiple sources. But taking this truth to an extreme would be like taking “act precedes potency” to the extreme. Act ultimately does precede potency – but practically, as we interact with the world we see that a thing must be potential before it can be actualized. Enough with the philosophy – most of which I barely understand. So here’s the deal… before my wife kills me for taking too long on this blog. If it is true that we must have one and absolutely one source for epistemological certainty, then if we choose sola scriptura, that excludes God Himself from being our source of certainty. So do we trust the Scripture as the final authority even above God? Of course that doesn’t make sense. Eck.. gotta go. Wanted to write more but wife is impatient. Hope you can follow out my train of thought. Otherwise I’ll be back tomorrow to help clean it up.

  116. Tim (115), I think it would be fair to characterize what you’re saying about ultimate causes in terms of incarnation. If Christ himself is the first apostle (Hebrews 3:1), and his message was spread by his chosen apostles before any authoritative New Testament writings existed, authority must be rooted in incarnation and apostleship, and only secondarily in scripture, which always points to the source, namely the incarnate Word. At any rate, this is the direction my thinking is being pushed of late.

  117. David,

    It is not so much primacy of honor or universal jurisdiction that is crucial to see, but the charism of truth and the principle of unity — that See with which one must be in full communion in order not to be in schism from Christ’s Church. I’d be glad to discuss Meyendorff’s book, but that would take us away from the argument in our article. We’re going to address the primacy of Peter in a future article. Our argument in this present article does not depend on universal papal jurisdiction. Our argument is only that without apostolic succession there is no principled difference between sola and solo, because without apostolic succession each individual retains ultimate interpretive authority.

    If you asked anyone in the first eight hundred years of the Church, “Where is the Catholic Church?” everyone knew the answer. It wasn’t a difficult question. It has become a difficult question today because we’ve forgotten to ask the question, and forgotten the criteria by which those in the first millennium knew the answer to the question: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Only the Catholic Church today bears all four marks. The Orthodox Churches are not hierarchically one. Nor are they catholic; they are each national and ethnic. When they separate from each other, that is not a schism from the universal Church that Christ founded, because none of them is the principle of unity of the Church. None of them is by divine establishment the necessary continuation of the Church whenever there is schism. That is why when one of them separates from the others, there is no principled answer to the question: “Which one is the continuation of the Church?” That principled basis for measuring schism can be found only in the unique authority and unitive role of St. Peter, on account of the keys of the Kingdom, which Christ give particularly to him.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  118. One can find who those having the succession are, without already being in submission. We can do this by reading St. Clement, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, and Eusebius. In other words, you don’t need to start the inquiry phase by determining *immediately* who presently holds authority from the Apostles. Rather, we can start this by going back to the Apostles, and then moving forward through the timeline, continually tracing the passing on of Church authority through St. Clement and through the other bishops down to the Council of Nicea and so on.

    OK Bryan, so you are saying that all we have to do is look to the material succession of the current bishops and this will tell us where the true Church is. Correct? So there should be no debate about whether the bishops of the Renaissance/Reformation or during the present era were and are faithful to the teachings of Clement, Ignatius, etc. Any such discussion is of no value because formal succession has already decided the matter. Is that correct?

  119. Tim,
    I understand you weren’t able to continue your post, I’m married as well. :) But I hope you can return and help me out a little bit more. Of course, I don’t want to stray too much from the topic at hand, but I’d love for you to briefly explain how/why you deny presuppositionalism. My mind starts jumping to conclusions as to what you believe about our epistemological foundations (blank slate?) but I’d rather wait to hear your explanation before making an assumption. Also, does Rome have an official position on this?

    If Rome doesn’t think my appeal to Scripture apart from her authority is arbitrary and uncertain, then why do so many apologists and lay-persons harp on us for not having a standard to decide what the Canon should be? We just like to cherry-pick which books line up with our private interpretations, remember? :) All joking aside, if Rome is indeed the True Church, and her claims of infallibly interpreting the deposit of faith is true, how is it NOT an arbitrary/uncertain position for protestants to put faith in ANY piece of scripture?

    I know the issue of history is not unique to church history, but you may have missed my point. Certainty of historical data is limited, apart from divine revelation (whether in Scripture or any other form of revelation). A good historian will try to report all accounts of an event, all viewpoints, and be as objective as possible, but we know that there is always room for error. Two people can see/experience the same event and walk away with two totally different accounts of it. What if a historian reports his interpretation of an event rather than the “cold hard facts”? There are always very limited amounts of certainty when reading the books of history. So, telling a non-Catholic to find the true church by studying history doesn’t help him much. I could easily see someone getting overwhelmed by the amount of data he must process and weigh against each other that he simply becomes skeptical about the whole thing, or just jumps into one he prefers most, having blind faith that his pick is right!

    It should be stressed that we all presuppose the existence of the Triune God. We all believe that whatever source(s) of revelation we adhere to come from him, as the F has given the S ALL authority, even scriptural authority and papal authority. That’s a given, so it shouldn’t even be an issue. What we mean when we’re talking about Sola Scriptura vs. Magisterium is what source of revelation is the ultimate authority for our objective use on earth in this current stage of redemptive history.

  120. Nathan – thanks for helping tie that together!

    Retro – so a follow up with a little help from Nathan. If we can demand a singular source for epistemic certainty by posing a dilemma between Scripture and the Church, then why not between the Scripture and Jesus? Which is your ultimate source, the Bible or Jesus? Clearly that’s a false dichotomy. It is possible that the dichotomy between the Bible and Tradition is also false.

    Suppose for a minute that the two actually agree. Sometimes it is hard to convince someone that they do because there are apparent contradictions. But it is hard to convince an atheist that the Scriptures do not contradict themselves. I say all this to establish the possibility that Tradition and Scriptures are, together, the Word of God and both infallible. That is certainly a logical possibility.

    How do we determine whether it’s true? Well, one way of making decisions like this is to eliminate alternatives. This article demonstrates why the most convincing alternative (sola scriptura) is reducible to solo scriptura and per Mathison’s own arguments above, it is not a viable option for Christians.

  121. One more follow-up. In the original paper you wrote:

    “So for the person becoming Catholic, when he recognizes the authority of the Magisterium, he recognizes that his beliefs and interpretation of Scripture must conform to the authoritative teachings of the Church’s Magisterium. “When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement that a teaching is found in Revelation,” he assents to it by an act of faith, believing this pronouncement to be the teaching of Christ, on account of the divine authority given to the Magisterium through apostolic succession to teach in Christ’s name and with His authority.74 In this way, his faith in Christ is expressed as an act of faith in the infallible pronouncement of the Church’s Magisterium. In those teachings which are not infallible, he also, as an act of faith in Christ, gives religious submission of intellect and will, even while recognizing the fallibility of those teaching.”

    I want to make sure I clearly understand the final sentence. From your Roman Catholic perspective:

    1. Does the insertion of the category “teachings which are not infallible” under the purview of a Magisterium whose pronouncements are, in your words, “the teaching of Christ” have any effects on the question at hand regarding the epistemological advantage provided by Roman Catholicism?

    2. From your perspective, why is it that you are able to submit truly to “teachings which are not infallible” but Protestants are not able to submit truly to teachings which are not infallible?

    3. Does the Magisterium teach you infallibly or fallibly which of her teachings are infallible and which are not infallible?

    Thanks,

    Keith

  122. Paige – #113

    I think that the tu quoque objection has thrown this conversation off course a bit. The issue is not about absolute certainty as if the Catholic position claims that it puts us in a sort of absolute certainty about all things faith related whereas Protestants are just fumbling around hopelessly in the dark because of their dependence on private interpretation. That’s not what we mean at all.

    In fact, what we see in some Protestant branches, such as the Reformed, is an incredible fidelity to the gospel of Christ especially where moral teachings are concerned. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of certainty on what the Scripture teaches.

    But what we’re concerned with is whether or not there is a principled difference between sola and solo scriptura. As the article shows, if Mathison is right, and all appeals to scripture are really appeals to one’s private interpretation, and if Calvin and the WCF are right that the Church is defined by those who rightly preach the Scriptures, then an appeal to Church authority is an appeal Scripture and thus to one’s private interpretation thereof and thus to solo scriptura. There is no principled difference between sola and solo scriptura. But if Church is not defined by one’s private interpretation of Scripture, but instead is defined by those whom Christ authorized as Church and their successors by material apostolic succession, then we have an objective touch point that does not rely on private interpretation. This position is not reducible to solo scriptura.

    Now again this does not mean that Catholics are absolutely certain about faith whereas Protestants are in the dark. Does this make sense?

  123. Keith,

    1. Does the insertion of the category “teachings which are not infallible” under the purview of a Magisterium whose pronouncements are, in your words, “the teaching of Christ” have any effects on the question at hand regarding the epistemological advantage provided by Roman Catholicism?

    No it does not. Notice the three-fold categorization in the Profession of Faith:

    With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

    I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

    Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

    That third category of Magisterial teachings are not taught infallibly. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they are false. It means that they are not guaranteed to be protected from error by the Holy Spirit. But they could all be true. These [in this third category] we [Catholics] are required to adhere to with “religious submission of mind and intellect” on account of the authority by which they are given. The ground of their authority is not “agreement with my own interpretation of Scripture”; rather, the ground of their authority is apostolic succession, had by those in communion with the one to whom Christ gave the keys, and upon whom He promised to build His Church.

    2. From your perspective, why is it that you are able to submit truly to “teachings which are not infallible” but Protestants are not able to submit truly to teachings which are not infallible?

    Because of the difference in the ground of the authority. The ground of Protestant ecclesial authority is not apostolic succession, but is ultimately agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, as we explained in the article. This is why no Protestant pastor has the authority to bind the conscience. The ground of Catholic ecclesial authority, by contrast, is apostolic succession; and this authority can bind the conscience.

    3. Does the Magisterium teach you infallibly or fallibly which of her teachings are infallible and which are not infallible?

    The criteria by which to distinguish fallible from infallible Magisterial teaching, were given infallibly in the first Vatican Council (Session 4, Chapter 4).

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  124. Retro:

    I’d love for you to briefly explain how/why you deny presuppositionalism. My mind starts jumping to conclusions as to what you believe about our epistemological foundations (blank slate?) but I’d rather wait to hear your explanation before making an assumption. Also, does Rome have an official position on this?

    As far as I know, Rome does not have an official position on this, but I could be wrong. I’m going to email you a reply about this one so we don’t get off on a rabbit trail.. This one could be long!

    If Rome doesn’t think my appeal to Scripture apart from her authority is arbitrary and uncertain, then why do so many apologists and lay-persons harp on us for not having a standard to decide what the Canon should be?

    Our next lead article will be out in a few weeks and will be on the issue of the canon. I think it will be helpful to get into this more deeply at that point. Briefly, the problem is with a lack of consistency in epistemology. It is inconsistent to trust the Scriptures with absolutely certainty but only trust the Church, who gave us those scriptures, conditionally (upon our interpretation of the Scriptures she gave us.) If the Church is incapable of acting infallibly, then the canon cannot be infallible. I can think of a lot of objections to all this, but can only say for now that we will address those when we address the canon and then a few articles later with Church infallibility.

    So, telling a non-Catholic to find the true church by studying history doesn’t help him much.

    I gotcha. It’s not always black and white. Depending on the historical source, you get a different understanding of what really happened. I can appreciate that. It’s a process for us all.

  125. Tim,

    Sorry for vanishing for a couple days, I’ve traveled to Annapolis.

    Also, to reiterate, the problem with the Protestant position isn’t that they use reason. We readily admit to using reason also. I’ve tried to show a few examples demonstrating that two positions, both using reason, can be an uneven epistemic ground. I.e. one is more objective and can be known more certainly than the other because it is based on something more objective. I haven’t seen any response to my analogies or arguments. I think I have rubbed Donato the wrong way and maybe you too.

    OK, I understand that your position is that, reason aside, the basis for your view is more objective than the basis for mine. Let’s take this a step further, then: As you may remember from when you were a PCA guy, the insistence that there has been an unbroken succession of bishops from the apostles to the college of bishops today (and from Peter to BXVI) sounds to non-Catholics like a fairy tale. If I wanted to “objectively” investigate such a claim, I wouldn’t even know where to start. A Catholic author will insist on it while a Protestant one will deny it.

    So how is apostolic succession more sure footing than rolling up my sleeves and studying Scripture? Now if I granted it, I would agree it’s way more objective, but I’m asking how I can objectively know if it’s even true in the first place.

  126. Tim Troutman from #93:

    So if you grant that it is possible for any two positions to differ in regards to objectivity, then we would turn our focus to the question of whether the Catholic position (identifying the Church based on private judgment of historical material apostolic succession) is more objective than the Protestant position (identifying the Church based on private judgment of Scripture).

    Tim,

    It seems to me that “historical material apostolic succession” is absolutely objective and something that we Protestants can’t possibly argue with. Yes, the current RCC bishops can trace their line to those bishops of the 1st century. But how does “private judgment” play a part here? You are not judging anything, are you? You are just noting that current bishops can trace their lines to previous generations of bishops. Is it maybe more accurate to say that Church tradition is what you are assessing and that and your private interpretation of Church tradition is that material succession is the all abiding principle by which the validity of the Church should be identified?

    Protestants and Catholics recognize/discover material succession, but it seems that the Catholic makes more of this discovery than does the Protestant. Perhaps to the Catholic mind there is a necessary logical connection between material succession and faithful material succession? For some reason that is unclear to us, it is inconceivable to the Catholic mind that there could be un-faithful material succession.

  127. Jason,

    As you may remember from when you were a PCA guy, the insistence that there has been an unbroken succession of bishops from the apostles to the college of bishops today (and from Peter to BXVI) sounds to non-Catholics like a fairy tale.

    Yes I distinctly remember the first time I heard of Apostolic Succession, especially regarding the See of St. Peter. I thought it was, in a word, retarded. But it’s hard for me to identify with you exactly and that’s because I didn’t so much reject AS on account of me believing that there was a break somewhere, but because I just didn’t think it mattered if there was or wasn’t.

    You bring up a completely legitimate question though; it was one that I had not considered because I hadn’t arrived a place theologically where I thought it mattered. It seems to me, from this reply, that you do think it matters whether or not the Catholic bishops are literally in succession from the apostles. Granted, when I came to believe that they were, and that it mattered, for me it was something like a fairy tale – a fairy tale come true. Maybe this doesn’t help my case with you. :-) At any rate, I don’t want it to seem like I’m dismissing this legitimate question, but we, or specifically I ,will be addressing this topic in detail in the lead article after next on Holy Orders and Apostolic Succession.

    So here’s where I think we are now. You agree that given material apostolic succession, the Catholic position would be more objective and not reducible to solo scriptura in the same way that the Protestant position is, but this is entirely dependent upon AS actually being knowable.

    So even if a Catholic could claim that he knows AS to be true with a reasonable but not absolute certainty, the Protestant could say “Well I can know my interpretation of Scripture to be accurate with the same degree of certainty. No, I don’t have absolute certainty without the possibility of error, but I do have certainty beyond reasonable doubt that I understand the fundamentals of the gospel.” Therefore, the Catholic position really isn’t better than the Protestant position. Is that an accurate representation of what you’re getting at?

  128. Could someone with more knowledge about these things than me, Protestant or Catholic, comment on Mathison’s interpretation of 1 Tim 3:15: his assertion that “[I]f I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” means that, in Mathison’s words “she [the church] is the proclaimer and defender of Scripture.” Is that a common interpretation of that passage? And, if so, how does the interpretation follow from the verse?

  129. Re # 106 – Thanks Keith, I’ll look forward to it.

  130. Andrew (126) -

    Let me make sure I’m understanding you. I think you are agreeing that there is no principled distinction between sola and solo scriptura but that the Catholic position is no better not on account of its lack of objective criteria (material apostolic succession) but on account of its criteria being subjectively judged to be the correct way of determining Church authority. Put another way, yes AS can be affirmed objectively, but one must judge subjectively that it is the correct method of determining the true Church much in the same way that one must subjectively judge that the Church is rightfully determined by one’s private interpretation of Scripture. Is this an accurate representation of your argument?

  131. Matthew (re: #84),

    Even if in principle they [sola and solo] are the same, in practice they can be different. Sola scriptura would presumably be drawing on the wisdom and experience of the church in its interpretation, whereas solo scriptura may be completely ignorant and indifferent to the practice of the church. So, even if in principle they are identical, I think the difference in practice could be consequential.

    See section IV of the article. That’s where we respond to the claim that sola scriptura allows one to appeal to “the church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  132. Retro (re: #107)

    If he cannot appeal to the Scriptures, then how does he know there is such a thing as a “church”, let alone a “true” one?

    His faith could come by hearing, more specifically, by hearing the preaching of someone speaking for the Church, or by hearing the witness of someone belonging to the Church.

    If he has to search, study, etc to determine the Magisterium is the ultimate authority, then whatever he appeals to will be the ultimate authority, not the Magisterium.

    That conclusion does not follow, because a lesser authority can testify to a higher authority. We explain this in more detail in section IV.B. of our article, in the paragraph beginning “The pronouncements of the teaching and interpretative authority ….”

    How exactly does one judge the Magisterium to be the one true church, without running into a self-defeating, circular mess?

    I don’t think I claimed that the Magisterium is the one true Church. The Catholic understanding is that the Magisterium is the teaching office of the one Church that Christ founded. As I said in #111, we can locate the Church by tracing the Church forward through time, from Christ the Head, through the Apostles, to their successors, and so on, to the Ecumenical Councils. In the Creed we find the four marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. None of the sects dared call themselves the Catholic Church. As St. Augustine tells us in his Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental:

    For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom… there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house.”

    The alternative is to determine for oneself (by some inward self-attestation one could justify by attributing Mormon-style to the inward work of the Holy Spirit) what is the canon of Scripture, and then by one’s own interpretation of the books within that canon of Scripture (either on one’s own or as guided by expositors that one deems to be trustworthy by unspecified criteria, or again by brute Montanist appeal to the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit) determine what are the marks of the Church, and then by means of those marks locate in the world those persons (and/or institutions) bearing those marks, and enter into communion with them. The result is as many institutions/denominations/sects as we see today.

    As I said in #72, either we can locate the Church by figuring out the gospel from Scripture, and then finding those who hold this gospel, or we can locate the gospel by finding the Church coming down from Christ through history, and then listening to what she says is the gospel. Those are two fundamentally different ways, and the difference between those two ways plays a large part in the present division between Protestants on the one hand, and Catholics and Orthodox on the other hand.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  133. Amen to Bryan’s comment #132.

  134. Andrew M, (re: #118)

    so you are saying that all we have to do is look to the material succession of the current bishops and this will tell us where the true Church is. Correct? So there should be no debate about whether the bishops of the Renaissance/Reformation or during the present era were and are faithful to the teachings of Clement, Ignatius, etc. Any such discussion is of no value because formal succession has already decided the matter. Is that correct?

    So far as I know, nothing about Catholic doctrine, apostolic succession or the Catholic Church entails that “there should be no debate about” x. The charism of infallibility applies to the bishops as a whole, not to individual bishops, the successor of St. Peter excepted. This is why throughout the history of the Church, the Church has had to deal with heretical bishops. But the Church as a whole has never taught a heresy, nor has she ever reversed a dogma, nor does she have the authority to do so. What the Fathers believed and taught (again, not what was unique to a few, but what was taught by the consensus of the Fathers), this the Church has always continued to believe and teach, and still believes and teaches to this day, with the benefit of further development of understanding according to the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide the Church into all truth. This development is due to the Church being a living organism, because living organisms grow not only in size but organically. This growth takes place also in the Church’s understanding of the faith. For that reason, in the beliefs of the heretical bishops we find sprinkled throughout the history of the Church we may surely find departure from the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church by the Apostles. But in the teaching of the Church in her ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium, there is no departure from the faith of the Fathers; there is rather a continual unfolding of that faith in its deeper fullness, as the living Body of Christ that is the Church continues to develop in her understanding of the deposit of faith once entrusted to the saints.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  135. Bryan,
    Lesser authorities can testify to higher authorities, but the question is what validates the lesser authorities? The higher authority does. You can’t get away from the circularity, which is why I don’t understand how you guys can deny presuppositionalism. You say we find the Church by following history from Christ through the apostles, but this only begs the question more because the Magisterium is the one that tells me who Christ is, what he taught, which church he founded, and which version of history is true. If the Magisterium is the determining and interpreting guide to all of God’s revelation, both written and oral, then it has to be the highest authority (with the exception of the Godhead, of course). How else do you not subject yourself to an infinite regress of appeals? I’ll anxiously await Tim’s email on presuppositionalism before I continue more on that subject. But for future reference, I’d love for you to read this presuppositional refutation of Sungenis’ Not By Scripture Alone, perhaps even reviewing it on your site: http://www.erikwait.com/index.cgi?location_id=2&subject_id=6.
    Be blessed!
    p.s. I understand the Magisterium is only one part of the Church in RCC, my apologies for misspeaking. My intended point still stands: How does one judge the Magisterium to be the final source of doctrine and faith w/o running into a circular mess? I believe you are presupposing the Magisterium, the inconsistency is that you deny it.

  136. Retro,

    Allow me to intersperse my comments.

    Lesser authorities can testify to higher authorities, but the question is what validates the lesser authorities? The higher authority does.

    If by ‘validates’ you mean “gives authority to”, then I do not disagree. But if by “validates” you mean “shows us directly the authority had by the lesser authorities,” then you have not shown that higher authorities must ‘validate’ lesser authorities in that sense. Keep in mind the distinction between the order of authority (the hierarchy of authority in the ontological sense) and the order of knowing (in this case the order through which we come to know the higher authority). The two orders (ontological and epistemological) are not necessarily the same; generally they are the inverse of each other.

    You can’t get away from the circularity, which is why I don’t understand how you guys can deny presuppositionalism.

    You have merely asserted (but not demonstrated) that we “can’t get away from circularity”. If you wish to see the post I wrote arguing against presuppositionalism, you can go here. I hope you understand that this present thread is not intended for the discussion of presuppositionalism. But, feel free to discuss presuppositionalism on that thread.

    You say we find the Church by following history from Christ through the apostles, but this only begs the question more because the Magisterium is the one that tells me who Christ is, what he taught, which church he founded, and which version of history is true.

    How, exactly, does it beg the question to locate the Church by tracing it forward from its beginning?

    If the Magisterium is the determining and interpreting guide to all of God’s revelation, both written and oral, then it has to be the highest authority (with the exception of the Godhead, of course).

    It does not have to be the highest authority per se; but it has to be the highest interpretive authority. Just because the Apostles had the authority from Christ to preach and teach in His Name, this does not entail that they were as high or higher in authority than Christ. They had the highest interpretive authority of anyone on earth, but of course Christ had a higher absolute authority than did the Apostles.

    How else do you not subject yourself to an infinite regress of appeals?

    You have not shown that the Catholic position is subject to an infinite regress. In our article we do have a section on how we avoid the infinite regress. If you haven’t read the article, that might answer your question.

    I’ll anxiously await Tim’s email on presuppositionalism before I continue more on that subject. But for future reference, I’d love for you to read this presuppositional refutation of Sungenis’ Not By Scripture Alone, perhaps even reviewing it on your site:

    See my link cited above for my post explaining what’s wrong with presuppositionalism.

    My intended point still stands: How does one judge the Magisterium to be the final source of doctrine and faith w/o running into a circular mess?

    By starting with the evidence from history, and locating the Church at its inception, and then tracing it forward and determining (from the record of history) where its authority was located.

    I believe you are presupposing the Magisterium, the inconsistency is that you deny it.

    How am I presupposing the Magisterium?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  137. Tim — #122
    Thanks for taking time to respond to my thoughts. I do realize that individual Catholics are not “absolutely certain about faith whereas Protestants are in the dark,” as you put it. But I also see that Catholics have what Protestants do not – an earthly infallible authority to go to for interpretation. Many Protestants do behave and speak as if we have access to the same sort of absolute interpretive certainty apart from a Magisterium; and it seems to me that whether they are operating under “solo” or “sola” Scriptura, those who mistakenly believe that this is their epistemic situation are indeed headed for “hermeneutical chaos & anarchy.”

    On the other hand, thoughtful Protestants who are aware that they are operating without an earthly Magisterium may be quite certain of their beliefs, as you note – but their certainty is SUFFICIENT and RELIABLE, not absolute; and they realize that, for this reason, their sources of certainty, including their interpretations of Scripture, must be subject to checks and balances (e.g., the text of Scripture, the fruitful labor of past scholars and councils, and one another). In the best cases, there’s humility as well as conviction, and careful weighing, evaluating, and discussion with others past and present. This is a picture that is missing from the article above, leaving the impression that all is either submission to the Magisterium, or epistemic and hermeneutical chaos. I just thought to ask whether an evaluation of Mathison’s presentation had noted and taken into account any claims he might have made regarding the degree of certainty that he was describing. I understand that the main question is about Apostolic Succession and the authority to which we are submitted, but I regretted that a fuller picture of the way Protestants deal with the epistemic situation they’ve accepted didn’t emerge in the article.

  138. Let me make sure I’m understanding you. I think you are agreeing that there is no principled distinction between sola and solo scriptura….

    Tim,

    In Section IV of the article Bryan/Sean speak of sola scriptura from the standpoint of the individual. And I agree that if we are only looking at the individual there is no difference between the person who makes a theological judgment based on his own private interpretation of Scripture and the person who comes to the same decision but filters it through his choice of a church that agrees with his interpretation of Scripture. And while we see both of these phenomena in even Reformed churches I think I’m being fair in saying that most of the folks who join the Reformed Churches are not doing either of these things. I’ve done a fair amount of interviewing of people coming into our church and I really do think it’s accurate to say that they are trusting in the ecclesiastical community to determine statements of faith that they should submit to. And we try to educate them that this community is not just comprised of our congregation but also the extended system of congregations in the Presbytery, and further the whole PCA including our sister denominations, and further all the Reformed Churches today and extending back to the Reformation, and further all of the Church of Christ extending back to the Apostles and Prophets. Of course I know you will take issue with the last sentence but the idea here is that we look to the extended ecclesiastical community to make judgments concerning the faith. And sure, there are plenty of theological cowboys even in Reformed communities doing their own thing but that’s not in line with a Reformed understanding of sola scriptura. And I would agree that it’s much more likely that someone in a Reformed than a Catholic congregation would run around trying to find a congregation that fits into their understanding of Scripture. But this is not the norm for us.

    So, my point here is that it is this ecclesiastical community to which sola scriptura applies. I believe that Keith Mathieson says something like this in his book. And that’s why I think it is difficult to compare Jones’ concept of 1) solo scriptura which is properly applied to the individual with 2) sola scriptura which is primarily applied to the ecclesiastical community existing today and in history. This does not mean that there are no implications of sola scriptura for the individual but this is another topic I think. Fundamentally sola scriptura applies to the ecclesiastical community. It is the principle that stipulates that as the Church dwells upon the truths passed down from the Prophets and Apostles that her final rule of authority for determining what they said is (or should be) the Scriptures.

    ….but that the Catholic position is no better not on account of its lack of objective criteria (material apostolic succession) but on account of its criteria being subjectively judged to be the correct way of determining Church authority. Put another way, yes AS can be affirmed objectively, but one must judge subjectively that it is the correct method of determining the true Church much in the same way that one must subjectively judge that the Church is rightfully determined by one’s private interpretation of Scripture….

    I’m glad to hear you saying that it is not just enough to claim material succession as proof of the fidelity of the RCC. If I understand you correctly you are also saying that there is a subjective evaluation that this is THE correct method of determining the fidelity of the RCC. And there is also a subjectively as we Reformed judge our ecclesiastical communities. Where I think our differences lie in general is not that Protestants are judging by our own interpretation of Scripture while Catholics are judging the correct method for determining the Church. To me it seems we are both making the same sort of subjective judgments and these focus on our respective ecclesial communities. But we have different expectations of how our respective communities will make their judgments. You assume that your ecclesiastical community will judge using tradition (which of course includes Scripture) as it’s final bar of authority while we expect that our ecclesiastical community will judge using the Scripture as it’s final bar of authority. To me this where the difference over sola scriptura lies.

  139. Bryan, you said (in post #100) that CS Lewis understood what submission to the Magisterium would entail based upon the alleged quote cited by Matt. However, I have a hard time believing that CS Lewis really said that. The statement is illogical, is it not? A Catholic doesn’t submit to the Church with the fear that one day She will go astray. A Catholic submits to the Church precisely because he believes that She WON’T go astray. Lewis, then, would be unjustified in his fear of being taught incorrectly had he really understood the essence of what it means to become Catholic. How could one fear being led astray by the very Church Christ founded and to which He granted indefectibility?

    And I’m still curious, how does the presentation of the argument in this article NOT demand some sort of perpetual “rediscovery” of Magisterial authority? Doesn’t the possibility exist of a person legitimately discovering the Magisterium and then subsequently determining that his previous ascription of divine authority to the Church was ill-founded?

    Let me provide a brief hypothetical: A man discovers the Magisterium and becomes Catholic. His wife’s doctors then announce that any future pregnancy would be life-threatening. He’s not comfortable with NFP or any non-surgical means of BC. He then determines that despite Church teaching, he’s getting a vasectomy. He realizes that, though he thought he was truly Catholic, he’s not really Catholic afterall- because when push came to shove, he placed his determination above that of the Church.

    It seems like this is a legitimate challenge to the reasoning presented in the article. But if I’m just confused and am detracting from this thread, maybe somebody wouldn’t mind emailing me privately at wrongford@gmail.com

  140. Bryan,
    Thanks for the response! I understand this thread is not about presuppositionalism, and I want to respect your wishes to not stray away from the topic. It confuses me when you speak of finding the Church by “starting with the evidence from history” as if there are objective history books that accurately interpret the events that took place. As I tried to express earlier, there are as many different “histories” as there are historians! Which one do I trust? If you say, “the Bible is an objective history book that accurately interprets the events” then I’d certainly agree. But then you’d be presupposing the authority of Scripture as a first principle in order to begin your search for your perception of what/where the Church should be, which puts you back on the same epistemic plane as the protestant, yadda yadda yadda. Ha! I’ll read your link and perhaps continue the discussion over there. Until next time, grace and peace!

  141. Andrew:

    I think I’m being fair in saying that most of the folks who join the Reformed Churches are not doing either of these things.

    The question is how they came to join the Reformed church in the first place. Your answer “they trusted the church” (basically) is self referential and doesn’t solve the problem. How do we know that the Reformed churches are truly the Church or part of it?

    If I understand you correctly you are also saying that there is a subjective evaluation that this is THE correct method of determining the fidelity of the RCC.

    I was asking if that was your argument. Somewhere along the line in every decision we make, something is subjective. But that doesn’t make the decision as a whole subjective.

  142. Tim,

    So here’s where I think we are now. You agree that given material apostolic succession, the Catholic position would be more objective and not reducible to solo scriptura in the same way that the Protestant position is, but this is entirely dependent upon AS actually being knowable.

    I think that given the weight that the Catholic places on AS (which is much more than that placed on it by the Protestant who may grant that AS is historically factual), yes, his position hinges on something more objective than one’s private interpretation of Scripture.

    So even if a Catholic could claim that he knows AS to be true with a reasonable but not absolute certainty, the Protestant could say “Well I can know my interpretation of Scripture to be accurate with the same degree of certainty. No, I don’t have absolute certainty without the possibility of error, but I do have certainty beyond reasonable doubt that I understand the fundamentals of the gospel.” Therefore, the Catholic position really isn’t better than the Protestant position. Is that an accurate representation of what you’re getting at?

    There are two issues involved here (and this is where Andrew’s and my comments sort of dovetail). The first issue is, “Is apostolic succession actually true?” Andrew seems to grant it, I am not so sure. But either way, there is also the second question: “If apostolic succession is true, what does this mean as far as church authority is concerned?” I mean, if Caiaphas could trace his succession back to Aaron, did that mean he was infallible? Of course not. So is it possible that something like apostolic succession was appealed to initially as a kind of historical convenience (since the early fathers lives not too long after the apostles), but was never intended to become what it has now become?

    Another way of asking this is, Why did so many bishops at Vatican I (historians no less) argue against papal infallibility? If the early fathers made the leap from apostolic succession to the absolute interpretive authority of the Magisterium and pope, then why the need to urge the Church to NOT proclaim papal infallibility as a dogma at Vatican I? It seems like those who argued against it did so precisely because they did NOT place the same weight on the historical fact of apostolic succession as you are placing on it.

  143. Herbert,

    A Catholic doesn’t submit to the Church with the fear that one day She will go astray. A Catholic submits to the Church precisely because he believes that She WON’T go astray. Lewis, then, would be unjustified in his fear of being taught incorrectly had he really understood the essence of what it means to become Catholic. How could one fear being led astray by the very Church Christ founded and to which He granted indefectibility?

    Of course. The point is that Lewis grasped the stakes. He didn’t fear “being led astray by the true Church”. His a priori concern was the potential negative consequences of wrongly identifying the Catholic Church as the Church Christ founded. There is a unique relinquishing of the reigns, when becomes Catholic. Those are reigns that one retains as a Protestant. That’s the point of our article.

    how does the presentation of the argument in this article NOT demand some sort of perpetual “rediscovery” of Magisterial authority? Doesn’t the possibility exist of a person legitimately discovering the Magisterium and then subsequently determining that his previous ascription of divine authority to the Church was ill-founded?

    As I pointed out earlier, once you know something to be true, you don’t need to relearn it, unless you forget it. For example, once a person knows that Christ is the Son of God, then apart from amnesia of some sort, one can come to disbelieve that only by culpably suppressing what one already knows to be true. And the same is true regarding discovering that the Apostles handed on authority to their successors, as a perpetual means of handing down ecclesial authority to each succeeding generation.

    Let me provide a brief hypothetical: A man discovers the Magisterium and becomes Catholic. His wife’s doctors then announce that any future pregnancy would be life-threatening. He’s not comfortable with NFP or any non-surgical means of BC. He then determines that despite Church teaching, he’s getting a vasectomy. He realizes that, though he thought he was truly Catholic, he’s not really Catholic afterall- because when push came to shove, he placed his determination above that of the Church

    The same kind of example could be constructed by replacing the word “Magisterium” with “Apostles” or even with “Christ”. In all three cases, the man either has not yet understood what divine authority means or that he is dealing with divine authority, or he is culpably suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, by knowingly rejecting divine authority. “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  144. Retro,

    It confuses me when you speak of finding the Church by “starting with the evidence from history” as if there are objective history books that accurately interpret the events that took place. As I tried to express earlier, there are as many different “histories” as there are historians! Which one do I trust? If you say, “the Bible is an objective history book that accurately interprets the events” then I’d certainly agree. But then you’d be presupposing the authority of Scripture as a first principle in order to begin your search for your perception of what/where the Church should be, which puts you back on the same epistemic plane as the protestant

    The unjustified assumption is that if a judgment involves a subject (and in that sense is subjective), then that judgment cannot also be objective, or we cannot know whether the claim made in that judgment is objectively true. Of course history books are written from a certain point of view. But that does not mean that we cannot determine what objectively happened in history. The subjective should not be construed as obscuring or hiding the objective, but as that by which we attain the objective, whether it be our own observations or the observations of others, eyewitnesses and those who hand on their accounts.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  145. Jason,

    “If apostolic succession is true, what does this mean as far as church authority is concerned?” I mean, if Caiaphas could trace his succession back to Aaron, did that mean he was infallible? Of course not.

    I agree both that succession is not, in itself, a guarantee of a successor’s infallibility in regard to the mission or vocation of the person from which he is in succession, and that consequently Caiaphas was not infallible. This is not an accurate model of how we view Church infallibility, as you know, but I assume you were simplifying it for the sake of brevity and your point still stands – a valid succession of the leaders of Israel as a whole, would not, de facto, make them infallible. But it would (and it did) make them the rightful leaders of Israel. Jesus commanded the people to do what they taught precisely because they sat in the seat of Moses.

    So I think we need to separate the two issues (rightful authority / infallible authority ) in some way. Ultimately, to prove our rebuttal, we need to show infallible authority but there is some distinction of these (albeit) related issues. The thing that makes the Catholic Church the rightful authority of a Christian is not the same thing, per se, that makes her infallible although they have the same source (Christ). Apostolic Succession, if true, makes the CC the rightful authority. As for infallibility, there is a long argument to make here, and it would exceed the scope of this combox. We have an upcoming paper on Church Infallibility but it will be some time before that. We will also show, in the paper on A.S. that even without infallibility, the Church – specifically the Catholic Church, as per above, is the rightful authority over a Christian. The point here is to separate the two. An authority can be rightful without being infallible. I know you agree with this because this is what you believe regarding your church. But the point of this article is that you (generally speaking) have decided your church is ‘rightful’ based on a private interpretation of Scripture (solo scriptura) whereas the Catholics have decided their church is correct based on the more objective criteria of A.S. arguing that only the specific visible Church that Christ founded is rightfully authoritative and not, for example, the one founded by J. Gresham Machen even if the one Machen founded more closely resembles our private interpretation of Scripture.

    So the Church is Visible per our earlier article. Denying God’s providential guidance of the Church is Ecclesial Deism per the following article. The Catholic Hermeneutical approach avoids pitfalls caused by solo scriptura per Matt’s article before this one. There is no distinction between sola/solo scriptura per this article. In the future we will demonstrate the critical nature of the canon, followed by a demonstration that A.S. is not only historically provable, but is the theologically sound method for determining the Church. Later we will demonstrate that Church infallibility is a divine gift given by Christ to His Church.

    I realize I’m leaving several of these key points unproven in this comment. Of course, these are complex issues. I hope you’ll be able to step back, and humor the absurd idea for a moment, that all of the things in our subsequent articles mentioned above can actually be reasonably demonstrated. (I assume you have no major objections to the prior articles, particularly the first two mentioned, or else I would expect you to raise the objection there. The argument here is built on premises laid out in those articles. )

    So with all this craziness in mind, and I realize I’m asking a lot of you, let us return to the issue at hand. Sola scriptura is no different, in principle, to solo scriptura. When I submit so long as I agree…

    Now whether my unproven claims above are correct or not, the only objection that anyone has raised to this article is the ‘tu quoque’ argument. But tu quoque is being used fallaciously. That is, even if it’s true that Catholics are in the same epistemic boat, sola scriptura remains solo scriptura unless there is a valid objection that hasn’t been raised yet. Right now, the objections are merely pointing the finger back, but haven’t shown why it’s not true to begin with. Now one Protestant guest above is convinced by the argument and grants that there is no principled distinction albeit a practical difference in how some Protestants approach Church authority (with which everyone at CTC would agree). But he doesn’t see this as a problem. I think you, on the other hand, would see the non distinction between sola and solo as a serious problem if it’s true.

    But if our defenses of the tu quoque argument are correct, which again will take some time to demonstrate, then not only does it show sola scriptura to be the same as solo scriptura (which has already been demonstrated without refutation) but will show that the Catholic position is not subject to the same criticism and is therefore objectively more likely to be the true Church.

    So is it possible that something like apostolic succession was appealed to initially as a kind of historical convenience (since the early fathers lives not too long after the apostles), but was never intended to become what it has now become?

    This is a complicated question. Prima facie, absolutely it is possible. I think that you will agree with me that the American government has become something the fathers didn’t intend. It’s possible that something like that happened with the Church. It’s also possible, prima facie, that God intended the Church to become exactly what she has become. This is an important possibility to wrestle with, and to be honest, I don’t think Protestants entertain that question very seriously. I know I didn’t. But what if God wanted His Church to be exactly like the Catholic Church is now? What sorts of things in history would we expect to see leading up to it? Well… exactly the sorts of things that we did see.

    But again to return to the crux of this post; the Protestant ecclesiological method reasons from Scripture that, based on the biblical evidence, God would want the Church to look like x and then either joins a church that looks like x or starts one. But the Catholic ecclesiological method reasons that God, while He walked among us, started a Church, here it is and so this is apparently what He wants it to look like and I will conform. It’s not what I would have designed as far as a Church goes… but then again, I don’t think I would have made mosquitos, and I think if I ordered the solar system, like C.S. Lewis, I’d put the planets in ascending order of size.

    Another way of asking this is, Why did so many bishops at Vatican I (historians no less) argue against papal infallibility?

    The issue of papal infallibility is stretching this already complicated thread but a quick correction. Only two bishops out of 435 voted against papal infallibility in the final vote. I think Madrid’s book “Pope Fiction” deals with some common misconceptions and historical embellishments and I think his book includes Vatican I issues.

  146. Bryan and Tim,

    Do you think any Christian tradition outside of the Roman Catholic Church has a viable ecclesiology in relationship to these questions of authority and interpretation? For example, would you say that the Eastern Orthodox tradition, or even the Anglo-Catholic tradition, or any of the more “catholic” traditions (Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, etc.) have a viable ecclesiology? If so, what are the necessary ingredients in your mind to a tradition having a viable ecclesiology with the ability to bind a person’s conscience? Is it really just apostolic succession?

    Matthew Anderson

  147. Matthew,

    We aren’t asking (or arguing) anything about “viability,” which, strictly speaking, means capable of living. If you mean ‘capable of surviving,’ then quite possibly there are ‘ecclesiologies’ that could characterize sects or institutions capable of surviving for many years. The ‘Church’ that the heretic Marcion started in the second century (with its own bishops, priests, and deacons) lasted hundreds of years, until the early middle ages. We [here at CTC] are talking about the Church that Christ founded, i.e. the original Church founded by Christ, to which He refers in Matthew 16 and Matthew 18. If an organization or institution has the ability to survive for some length of time, this does not mean that it has any authority, of that it can bind the conscience. The only institution having the divine authority to bind the conscience is the one Church that Christ founded (since He founded only one Church, the one mentioned in Matthew 16, and 18). And the four marks of that Church are: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Only the Catholic Church can claim all four marks, for the reasons I explained in #117.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  148. Matthew,

    (Bryan correct me if you disagree) – What Bryan is saying is not that no other community has any authority at all except the Catholic Church but that the final binding authority for a Christian is the Catholic Church in communion with the See of Peter. The Orthodox Churches, and all Churches that retain valid Holy Orders, have apostolic authority (although not the fullness of apostolic authority since they lack the authority of the office of St. Peter). They, as apostolic heirs, have the authority to “bind and loose.”

    Other ecclesial communities do also have some authority over their members, but not apostolic authority. For example, I can’t imagine that a PCA member, bound to his presbytery, whose conscience does not know otherwise, is free to disobey his church elders without fault. Suppose he wanted to open a brewery but first decided to ask the elders of his church. They decide no, this is not in keeping with our standards and it would give occasion for scandal. I think he would be in sin for disobeying them.

    But if that same man, having come to the conviction that the Catholic Church is the true Church, has bound his conscience to the fullness of the apostolic Church carrying with her the mediated authority of Christ, then he is no longer subject to the authority of his ecclesial community which he now leaves in favor of submitting to the Roman Pontiff. Many people are ‘excommunicated’ by their former communions when they become Catholic, but these excommunications would carry no weight since a non-apostolic community does not have the authority to excommunicate any one from the Catholic Church.

  149. Tim & Matthew,

    The state is a natural society; the Church is a supernatural society. Authority in the natural order is divinely established, as the New Testament teaches. For this reason, kings, princes, presidents and mayors are to be obeyed, unless they command us to violate the natural law, or to violate the divine law revealed in the supernatural society, i.e. the Church. Voluntary civic societies also can have internal laws, and hence dutifully appointed leaders. Anyone who wishes to participate in such societies must be subject to these leaders and laws. This is true of sporting leagues, philanthropic organizations, educational organizations, etc. But the authority had by the leaders and laws of voluntary civic societies is still natural authority, i.e. on the natural order. It is divine only in the providential sense, not in the supernatural sense. It remains at the level of nature, in the ‘grace vs. nature’ sense of nature. Hierarchy and authority are natural to human society, whether that society be the immediate society into which we are born (i.e. the family), the larger society into which we are born (e.g. USA), or voluntary societies which we form or enter (e.g. Rotary Club).

    The Church is a supernatural society because it was founded by God directly, not merely providentially, but through the miracle of the hypostatic union, God becoming man. The authority of the Church is Christ’s own authority, given to the Apostles, and passed on to their successors to this present day. This is a supernatural authority, not a natural authority. This is not a bottom-up authority of the natural order, from mere men to mere men. This is from-heaven-to-earth authority, from God to men, and for this reason this authority is supernatural. This supernatural authority, once one knows it to be such, binds the conscience in an unqualified sense, just as once one knows who Christ is, then His words bind our conscience in an unqualified way.

    This divine authority is found only in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded, i.e. this supernatural society. Those persons having apostolic succession, but in schism, retain the sacramental capacity to consecrate the Eucharist, remit sins, and ordain bishops and priests. But they have no divine teaching authority, i.e. no supernatural authority to bind the conscience of anyone in an unqualified way. Otherwise, their disagreement with the Church [from which they are in schism] would entail that God is contradicting Himself, because men with divine authority would be contradicting other men with divine authority. But God can never contradict Himself. Therefore, no one in schism has supernatural teaching authority.

    However, sects in schism from the Church (whether or not they retain apostolic succession) can maintain natural authority, just as the leaders and laws of voluntary civic societies have natural authority over those who wish to be members of such societies. This sort of authority, however, can never bind the conscience in an unqualified way, but it can bind the conscience regarding what one must do if one wishes to participate in that sect or civic society. Persons who do not know of the supernatural authority Christ has established, or believe this sect to be possessing it, are bound by their misinformed conscience.

    Whenever supernatural authority is in conflict with natural authority, we must always give way to supernatural authority. “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) So if, for example, one is a Mormon, and one discovers that Christ’s authority has been handed down through apostolic succession to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, then one need not get permission from one’s Mormon authority to leave the Mormons. The Mormon authority is a merely natural authority, not a supernatural authority. And Christ calls all men to enter His Church and submit to the supernatural authority He has established there. Hence no natural society, whether family or state or voluntary civic society or religious sect, can bind the conscience of any man to prevent him from seeking to enter the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  150. Hey, Jason —
    I think I am the “Protestant guest” that Tim is referring to in his note to you (#145), so if you think I have gone off the deep end email me and we’ll make sure we’re on the same page with the sola scriptura stuff.

    Tim –
    um, you guessed wrong — I’m a female “Paige”! :) (No offense taken — I think it’s funny. ;)

  151. Tim,

    I think we have to decide whether the Reformed churches are part of the Church Christ established the same way we would decide whether the RCC is part of the Church that Christ established. At a minimum I hope that we would want to determine if the four historical marks of the Church are present. And if they are not, do we still decide that yes, the ecclesiastical entity under consideration is part of the Church based solely on material succession? This is not a hypothetical question either at the point of the Reformation or today. But I think I am asking you something that strikes at the heart of the Catholic way of thinking. For the RC there is no such thing as un-faithful material succession. There cannot be. The simple fact of material succession guarantees fidelity, correct? But this is something that we Protestants cannot get our minds around.

    Jason – When I “grant” apostolic succession I am granting that there is evidence that the current bishops of the RCC can trace their lineage to the 1st century. I would also grant that the Jewish high priest Ananias and his fellow priests could trace their lineage back to Aaron. But as you point out, the real question is what do we make of these facts?

  152. Tim — Oops, I am an idiot, now I think you were referring to Andrew. never mind!! :)

  153. Andrew>

    I think we have to decide whether the Reformed churches are part of the Church Christ established the same way we would decide whether the RCC is part of the Church that Christ established.

    I agree that we need to use the same criteria for both.

    For the RC there is no such thing as un-faithful material succession. There cannot be. The simple fact of material succession guarantees fidelity, correct? But this is something that we Protestants cannot get our minds around.

    If you could wrap your mind around that, something would be wrong with your mind! We don’t believe that every bishop or priest with valid orders is faithful to Christ. Not even every pope is faithful in all respects.

  154. Tim and Bryan,

    I gave Patrick (Madrid) the link to this great article and the conversation that follows. I had wondered if Pat had read Dr. Matthison’s book since he (Matthison) quotes him in several places throughout his book, “The Shape of Sola Scriptura”. He (Pat) gave me a comment that I could post here:

    Of all the recent Protestant books on SS, Matthison’s is by far the most substantial and well-reasoned.
    I still think he gets the issue wrong, but I do respect his scholarship on this subject.

    I just think this gives a lot of credibility to the conversation here at Called To Communion.
    To dialogue on this book in particular is crucial to understanding what still divides us.

    Keep up the excellent work. It’s not an easy task to discuss a volatile subject with charity. But those who represent the Body of Christ can do no less than he would if they are truly part of His Body.

    In the peace of Christ,
    Teri

  155. Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch: how would you describe the principled differences between the outworking of Mathison’s sola scripture position and the formation of consensus at an ecumenical council?

  156. We don’t believe that every bishop or priest with valid orders is faithful to Christ

    Tim – In #151, I was referring to the whole Church and thus all the bishops, not just one or some. It seems that the Catholic wants to draw a logical connection between material succession of the bishops collectively and the fidelity of all of the bishops collectively. We see the formal connection between current bishops to the early centuries of the Church, but we don’t see there is anything necessarily to be drawn from this in terms of fidelity of the bishops as a whole. Now I understand that after one becomes a Catholic he accepts the indefectability of the RCC as part of the larger corpus of Catholic teaching, but I don’t see how one comes to such a conclusion as he looks at the Church from the outside.

  157. Andrew, Church infallibility is hard issue. I’ve got a very dear friend, the most well-read Presbyterian I know. He was on the verge of converting to the Catholic Church, just a day away from entering RCIA, and he told me that this was his main issue. He did not enter RCIA for reasons unknown to me but anyway, I appreciate the difficulty of the issue for non-Catholics.

    It seems that the Catholic wants to draw a logical connection between material succession of the bishops collectively and the fidelity of all of the bishops collectively.

    Jason implied the same thing above. In 145, I explained why that is not the case. Although the issues are related and the final source is the same, we do well to draw some distinction between what, per se, makes the Catholic Church infallible, and what, per se, makes her authoritative. I said it about as well as I can in the comment above. Much remains to be demonstrated, specifically the infallibility of the Church, but suffice it to say that I agree with you and Jason that material succession does not logically necessitate infallibility.

  158. I hate to keep sounding like a brown-noser here but this article was very profound, clear and well worth the three days it took to get through it; and this apostolate is simply amazing.

    Apostolic succession is the key to everything that has been passed on to us as Christians. If the Holy Spirit is not being passed on by “the laying on of hands”, as properly understood in ordination with reference to the Magisterium, then we are truly just following the precepts and doctrines of men. The Bible itself would have no real meaning if the Church that declared the books inspired, were not inspired herself.

    We should encourage our Protestant brothers and sisters to read this book by Keith Mathison; I have the feeling this might start many of them down the path towards Rome. The distinction he attempts to make, as presented in this article, between Sola and Solo Scriptura will not satisfy the intellect for too long. And his clear exposition of how Solo Scriptura is wrecking Christianity would make the profound point that their own personal interpretation of Scripture is not infallible; most people tend to think it is and never consider the alternative.

  159. Hey CTCers,

    While we’re mentioning infallibility/irreformability:

    What would be a good resource that would explain the interplay throughout the Church’s history between various claims of irreformability made by Popes, councils, etc. and queries in favor of reformability by exponents of various heresies (usually within the Church, at least marginally)? What I’m imagining would be a book that explains why very short and very early statements of divine authority (“Let each obey the Bishop as Jesus Christ obeyed the Father” 107 A.D.) were gradually insufficient over time, such that later statements asserted explicitly that no one can change such-and-such a decision ever again. Since much of this development seems to me to have occurred in the first millennium, even in the first 350 years, it would be good to have a resource or resources that start then and continue through Vatican I and beyond. Does anyone know of some? In particular, I am hoping that the book or books would connect this development with the stresses the Church experienced in responding to violent and persistent heresies — or instead show that this connection was not relevant (as I am guessing it was).

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  160. rfwhite,

    how would you describe the principled differences between the outworking of Mathison’s sola scripture position and the formation of consensus at an ecumenical council?

    The outworking of the sola scriptura position, as we explain in the article, is that there are as many (or more) different ecclesial institutions as there are general interpretations of Scripture. That is because given sola scriptura, what counts as the Church and its marks rests ultimately on the individual’s interpretation of Scripture. One accepts the teaching / interpretation / discipline only of those persons who generally share one’s own interpretation of Scripture, particularly regarding what one considers to be essential or important regarding the Christian faith. If one believes that one’s denomination has not sufficiently preserved what one (based on one’s own interpretation) believes to be essential or important, then one leaves and joins or forms a new denomination. In that respect, under sola scriptura the highest authority of one’s denomination cannot bind one’s conscience, nor is the decision of the highest authority [e.g. the general assembly] of one’s denomination authoritative for all Christians. No excommunication is excommunication from the Church, only from a branch of the Church.

    On the other hand, the outworking of the consensus forming process that takes place among the bishops in an ecumenical council is a decision of some sort. If this decision has to do with faith and morals, and this decision is definitive, then it is binding on the whole Church, whether recognized as such by individual Christians or not. If one knows that these bishops are the successors of the Apostles and in communion with the successor of St. Peter, and thus that they are the rightful leaders of the Church, then one cannot justifiably reject their decisions in ecumenical council. To do so is formal heresy. One cannot (in good conscience) appeal to one’s own interpretation; one’s conscience is bound, because their decision is the authoritative standard for one’s interpretation. If one is excommunicated by the successors of the Apostles, one is excommunicated not from a branch of the Church, but from the Church simpliciter. To separate from them is to be in schism from the Church.

    I do not know whether that answers your question or not, but perhaps it helps clarify the difference between the two positions.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  161. In scanning the footnotes I came upon n.55, in which the authors quote Kevin Vanhoozer. He observes three possible Protestant responses (and he proposes a fourth) to the problem we face re. interpretation, since “God’s word is infallible, [but] human interpretations are not.” The four responses are:

    1) hermeneutical relativism (which Bryan and Neal identify as solo scriptura);
    2) Head to Rome, for safety in numbers;
    3) determine a “right reading” according to a local interpretive community (which Bryan and Neal identify as sola scriptura);
    4) careful study with attention to others past and present, praying for the Spirit’s illumination and humility (which is what I was suggesting above, re. a “thoughtful” Protestant expectation of sufficient & reliable, though not infallible, interpretation).

    So my impression that the article failed to mention the approach of thoughtful Protestants was incorrect – although I see that Bryan and Neal would like to think that Protestants who take the fourth path will inevitably end up on the road to Rome. (How close is Vanhoozer?)

  162. Much remains to be demonstrated, specifically the infallibility of the Church, but suffice it to say that I agree with you and Jason that material succession does not logically necessitate infallibility.

    Tim,

    You did state this very nicely to Jason and I missed it so sorry to make you repeat it. But I’m glad to hear you say this. I will be interested to see how you demonstrate infallibility without reference to material succession.

    And I’m still hoping that Dr. Mathieson will pop in again. This would be interesting to get the perspective of the author of the article that was under investigation here.

    Cheers for now….

  163. Paige Britton : … the authors quote Kevin Vanhoozer. He observes three possible Protestant responses (and he proposes a fourth) to the problem we face re. interpretation, since “God’s word is infallible, [but] human interpretations are not.”

    1)
    2)
    3)
    4) careful study with attention to others past and present, praying for the Spirit’s illumination and humility (which is what I was suggesting above, re. a “thoughtful” Protestant expectation of sufficient & reliable, though not infallible, interpretation).

    Re: option 4. Among the thousands upon thousands of Protestants sects that now exist on the face of the earth, wouldn’t the active members of most of these sects think that they meet the criteria of option 4? Where are the sincere Protestants that don’t think that they are guided by the “Spirit’s illumination”?

    In spite of the sincerity with which Protestants accept the doctrines taught by the innumerable sects, it is also an undeniable fact that there is “widespread ‘hermeneutical chaos and anarchy’ caused by the existence of conflicting interpretations of Scripture.”

    My question is this, why would Jesus found a Church and then leave us with no way of knowing with certainty what he actually taught?

    Paige, how would you answer Terri’s post # 56?

  164. Paige, do you believe that there is a true meaning in the text and if so how do I know which it is?

  165. The conclusion that apostolic succession itself guarantees correct interpretation of Scripture is refuted by the experience of the fourth century church, in which Jerome’s famous quotation bears witness to the vast number of priests and bishops throughout the empire who embraced the Arian heresy. Apostolic succession by itself does not avert false teaching according to the irrefutable evidence of Church history.

    Since most people seem to be ignorant of how the Council of Nicea resolved the problem, the following quotes, preserved in Theodoret’s Church History, should be instructive:

    From Constantine’s opening address to the Council: “For the gospels, the writings, and the oracles of the ancient prophets, clearly teach us what we ought to believe concerning the divine nature. Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue.” (Church History 1.6).

    “The bishops, having detected their deceitfulness in this matter [the Arian heresy], collected from Scripture those passages which say of Christ that He is the glory, the fountain, the stream, and the express image of the person … likewise, ‘ I and the Father are one.’ They then, with still greater clearness, briefly declared that the Son is of one substance with the Father; for this, indeed, is the signification of the passages which have been quoted.” (Church History 1.7)

    And … “And since no passage of the inspired Scripture uses the terms ‘out of the non-existent,’ or that ‘there was a time when He was not,’ nor indeed any of the other phrases of the same class, it did not appear reasonable to assert or to teach such things.” (ibid. 1.11)

    The solution to heresy is not an infallible interpretive Church office, but rather, in the Apostle Peter’s words, interpreters who do not distort Scripture because they untaught and unstable. It is really as simple as “it is written, it is not written” – does it agree with Scripture or does it not? All truly stable and trained Christians should have no issues with the regula fidei declared by the Council of Nicea.

    Blessings.

  166. lojahw,

    The conclusion that apostolic succession itself guarantees correct interpretation of Scripture

    The Catholic position is not that apostolic succession, simpliciter, guarantees correct interpretation of Scripture. Individual bishops, though having Holy Orders in succession from the Apostles, may fall into heresy, as history shows. So the fact that many fourth-century bishops were Arians is fully compatible with the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession. But the successor of St. Peter, who retains the keys of the Kingdom, necessarily remains the rock upon which the Church rests, and bears Christ’s infallible prayer that his faith would fail not, and bears Christ’s infallible promise that the gates of hell will not prevail over it while resting on that rock which is Peter. So long as the bishops are in full communion with the successor of St. Peter, they (as a group with the pope) are protected from error in any definitive teaching on faith and morals. What does St. Jerome say to that?

    “Simon Peter, son of John, of the province of Galilee, of the village of Bethsaida, brother of Andrew the apostle, and himself chief of the apostles, ….”

    “Christ is not alone in being the Rock, for He granted to the Apostle Peter that he should be called ‘Rock’.”

    “For what has Paul to do with Aristotle? Or Peter to do with Plato? For as the latter (Plato) was prince of philosophers, so was the former (Peter) prince of Apostles: on him the Lord’s Church was firmly founded, and neither rushing flood nor storm can shake it.”

    “Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord…. I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for “the pearl of great price”… Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord.”

    “The church [here, i.e. Syria] is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. …. I meantime keep crying: “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me… Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord’s cross and passion, ….. to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria.”

    “The Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.”

    St. Jerome clearly did not think that merely looking at Scripture was sufficient to resolve interpretive disputes. He himself looked to the authority held by the successor of St. Peter.

    The solution to heresy is not an infallible interpretive Church office, but rather, in the Apostle Peter’s words, interpreters who do not distort Scripture because they untaught and unstable. It is really as simple as “it is written, it is not written” – does it agree with Scripture or does it not?

    Where is it written in Scripture that the solution to heresy is not an infallible interpretive office, or that the deposit of faith is limited to what is written? The fact is, it isn’t. So your prescription fails its own test. If you want to appeal to the method of the ecumenical council as binding on us, then it seems that you need also to accept the definitive decisions of the ecumenical councils [on matters of faith and morals] as binding. In the Catholic understanding, the definitive decisions of ecumenical councils on matters of faith and morals are definitive and irreversible. Otherwise, an ecumenical council would merely be a survey of the present mood in the Church, and couldn’t be the means by which the Holy Spirit resolved once and for all a doctrinal dispute. (cf. Acts 15:28 “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”) If the Holy Spirit was not operative in the council’s decisions, then the particular debate in question could simply be raised again at the next ecumenical council, perpetually. But if the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church into all truth, then the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church when she in ecumenical council makes a definitive determination of a doctrine of faith or morals for the whole Church. And then such decisions cannot be reversed, because they are of God, who is Truth, and who does not change. Infallibility is what preserves doctrine. The Catholic Church has no authority to reverse or nullify any of her dogmas. But I wouldn’t bet a dime on any particular Protestant denomination retaining its doctrines two hundred years from now. Without infallibility, every single doctrine always remains up for abrogation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  167. Paige, re #163. It seems to me that there’s plenty of disagreement among Catholics, too. It’s just that we disagree with each other and work things out WHILE IN COMMUNION with one another because we value unity more than we value what our current understanding of a doctrine may be…

    There will always be a certain degree of disagreement/misunderstanding. There’s a natural tension there through which the Holy Spirit may work. Becoming Catholic doesn’t make that go away, as you well know. However, the unity to which we’re called allows us to put aside our differences and come to the Altar of God, hopefully awaiting the completion of the work the Son is doing through His Church. just 2 cents.

  168. Bryan, Thank you for your kind reply. A couple of observations and questions:

    1. The Council of Nicea unquestionably demonstrated the use of the practice now called Sola Scriptura.

    2. The successor of St. Peter was not present nor did he contribute to the findings of the council.

    Questions:

    1. Was the process followed by the Council of Nicea an exemplar or an anomaly for the Church on the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”? Please explain.

    2. How do you respond to Augustine’s teaching on the infallibility of Scripture and the fallibility of *all* bishops and ecumenical councils?

    “But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted … either by the discourse of someone who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 2.3.4)*

    *To preclude the obvious question about Augustine’s inclusion of the deuteros in the canon, please note that he did not exclude himself from refutation and correction. The deuteros fail to meet his own criteria: “we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true.” Yet the book of Judith identifies Nebuchadnezzar as the king of the Assyrians, ruling from Nineveh. And who does not question Sirach’s assertion: “better is a man’s wickedness than a woman’s goodness” (42:14)? Indeed, Augustine and the Council of Trent erred. By Jesus’ definition, “Thy Word is Truth” – there is no place for error in God’s Word.

    Blessings,
    Lover of Jesus and His Word (lojahw)

  169. Answer Bryan Cross’ comments at #166, Pastor King has responded (Link to Pastor King’s Response)

  170. I live in an area of the country where there are many sincere and godly people living their faith out with the principle of Sola Scriptura, but it is no different than Solo Scriptura. Yesterday, in a large chain bookstore, I counted more than six long rows of book and Bibles for “Christians” only.

    From Joel Osteen’s latest bestseller to “Bishop” T.D. Jakes and Joyce Myers…everyone and his brother has a book or a study to help you understand what God’s word wants you to know. This doesn’t include the dizzying array of “Bibles” to help you understand God’s word according to the author of the commentary.

    Which would be considered Sola Scriptura and not Solo Scriptura? Is the Lutheran Study Bible (ESV edition) the Sola Scriptura since Martin Luther had first claim on it? What about the ESV Bible with commentary by the best Reformed scholars today? Is that Sola Scriptura?
    Is Solo Scriptura more when it’s has one man’s name on it such as the Macarthur, Charles Stanley, Scofield, or Ryrie?
    What about the The Spirit Filled Bible for Charismatics?

    Does anyone think that the Bible, that is supposed to be clear to understand by even the most simple man, has built a huge industry around the fact that it is NOT clear – speaks to this issue of Sola Scriptura?

    If you ask most of the people in the area in which I live their opinion, they will tell you without hesitation that the ONLY Bible that is Sola Scriptura is The King James Bible…and it was authorized by God. Those people think Luther found it hidden by the “evil” Catholics and he took it and had it printed by permission of the wonderful King James and as Forest Gump would say: That’s all I have to say about that.

    I truly believe that the truth was spoken by St. Peter to Our Lord when he stated, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God”. This was in John 6.
    As Taylor Marshall states in The Crucified Rabbi, “Despite the subsequent failures of Peter and the Popes after him, the papacy has successfully protected this misunderstood doctrine for two thousand years.”

    In the peace of Christ,
    Teri

  171. lojahw,

    Sola scriptura is a theological position denying that the Magisterium has the highest interpretive authority. (Our article argues that there is no principled difference between solo and sola, because according to sola scriptura the individual retains the highest interpretive authority.) So the Council of Nicea shows us their use of Scripture, but it does not demonstrate that they held sola scriptura; their very action, in definitively resolving the Arian dispute for the whole Church, by establishing what is the orthodox interpretation of Scripture viz-a-viz the deity of Christ, is incompatible with sola scriptura.

    The successor of St. Peter was not present nor did he contribute to the findings of the council.

    His legates were present, and he ratified it. That is true for all the first seven ecumenical councils.

    Was the process followed by the Council of Nicea an exemplar or an anomaly for the Church on the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”?

    In order to answer that question adequately, I would need to know what all you have packed into the word ‘process’. But, speaking generally, while some things pertaining to the council were accidental (i.e. not essential), the process of the council was not an anomaly, but an exemplar.

    Regarding the quotation of St. Augustine, we affirm it. We only understand that by ‘correct’ St. Augustine meant not ‘contradict’ or ‘refute’ but ‘develop’ i.e. ‘perfect’, just as Constantinople in 381 perfected the Creed that had been determined at Nicea in 325.

    The deuteros fail to meet his own criteria: “we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true.” Yet the book of Judith identifies Nebuchadnezzar as the king of the Assyrians, ruling from Nineveh. And who does not question Sirach’s assertion: “better is a man’s wickedness than a woman’s goodness” (42:14)? Indeed, Augustine and the Council of Trent erred. By Jesus’ definition, “Thy Word is Truth” – there is no place for error in God’s Word.

    St. Augustine’s statement “we can hold no matter of doubt …” is not a description but a prescription. He is not stating that everything in the Bible is self-evident, or verifiable by human reason. That would be rationalism. If you think St. Augustine is talking about description [there cannot be any verse in the Bible that people doubt or cannot verify to be true], then the problem is that there are many verses in the Protestant Bible that many people doubt and do not find self-evident or verifiable. So the criterion would leave the Protestant Bible torn to shreds, and hence it obviously cannot be descriptive. So he is making a prescriptive statement. As for defending the Apocrypha, that would take us off-topic, so let’s save that discussion for a post on the Apocrypha.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  172. TurretinFan,

    You cited Pastor King’s response to Bryan’s claims about Jerome.

    Ah yes, the protestant approach to Jerome’s papal views. It goes, roughly: “I can’t believe that Jerome was a (gasp) papist, but I can believe that this saintly man was sectarian and uncatholic. I’ll believe the latter about a saint so that I can avoid having to confront the former.”

    I recommend Chapman’s work on Jerome. Jerome was not a protestant, and I think only God knows when this tired Protestant error will finally die:

    http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/num53.htm

    Chapman goes through all the usual objections. You’ve been subjected to lies, TurretinFan. Even at the end of his life, when he was (I believe) living far from Rome in the holy land, Jerome stayed true to Rome’s authority, wiriting to Demetrias at nearly age 70:

    “I had nearly left out what is most important. When you were a child, and Bishop Anastasius of holy memory ruled the Roman Church, a fierce storm of (Origenist) heretics from the East tried to sully and destroy the simplicity of faith which was praised by the mouth of the Apostle. But that man of richest poverty and Apostolic solicitude straightway smote the noxious head and stopped the mouth of the hissing hydra. And because I am afraid, nay, I have heard the rumor, that these poisonous shoots are still alive and vigorous in some, I feel that I ought with the deepest affection to give you this advice, to hold the faith of holy Innocent, who is the successor and son of that man, and of the Apostolic See, and not to receive any foreign doctrine, however prudent and clever you may think yourself to be.” (Ep 130 [al 8], 992[1120])

    He stayed loyal in spite of regular Roman claims to doctrinal supremacy over the whole Church. Either he agreed with these claims or he was a coward, a kiss-up, and a liar. You decide. I believe he was a Saint. A bad tempered one, sometimes. . . but not a coward, a kiss-up, and a liar. Check out the Chapman link.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  173. K. Doran,

    Your rough paraphrase isn’t remotely close to the approach outlined in the article from Pastor King that I linked. I wonder whether you didn’t read it, or whether you read it and then decided not to represent it accurately?

    You note “Jerome was not a protestant, and I think only God knows when this tired Protestant error will finally die,” but Pastor King doesn’t claim Jerome was a Protestant. Your remarks sound like stock replies that are given out in anticipation of what you imagine are the usual objections. Perhaps you should either read or more carefully read Pastor King’s article.

    You assert, “You’ve been subjected to lies, ” which may well be true, but not lies from Pastor King.

    -TurretinFan

  174. I’ll quote him exactly then:
    “With a true sectarian spirit, Jerome writes off all three of these rival bishops as being of “Antichrist.” Jerome makes the same youthful mistake of judgment that any of us are liable to make.”

    In any event, I recommend that you apply the principle of maximum likelihood to your analysis of Jerome’s views. Here’s how it works.

    First, you write down two models:

    Model A: Jerome was a papist in fourth century garb. He viewed Rome as the center of communion, and managed his own choice of who to be in communion with based on what the Bishop of Rome declared. His belief in this bishop’s authority was based on the chair that this bishop occupied, not merely on the personal relationship that he had with a particular occupant of that chair. This was a mature belief that he maintained throughout his life.

    Model B: Jerome really liked his old pastor from Rome, even when he lived far away. But he in no way believed that it was necessary to be in communion with the occupants of that chair, or that he who “does not gather with you scatters” in general. He just trusted his good ol’ pastor. This trust was partially based on his youth — he grew up later!

    The second step is to look at the data. Why don’t you read the Chapman link, which contains much more data, and much better context, then the link that you offered?

    The third step is to see which model would be more likely to produce the data that is actually there. The fact is, a person who believes Model A is simply much more likely to say: “As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord” than a person who believes model B.

    The rest of the evidence from his life is even more damning to Model B. Why did he continue to preach the same doctrine to Demetrias (see my post #172 above) at the end of his life if his earlier letters were a result of youth? Why did he continue to preach the same doctrine when a new Bishop was the Pope of Rome (again, see the letter in post #172 above), if the only reason he preached it before was because the old Bishop of Rome was his friend and mentor?

    Do you see how to apply the principle of Maximum Likelihood to your data? It simplifies things tremendously. Model A is more likely to produce the data that we actually see. Model B would have rather produced the following data: when Jerome was young, he would say: “Dear Damasus: I need advice about where to receive the Eucharist. I know that I need to find a new pastor now, but I just wanted to ask you some advice, in case you know anything about the situation over here.” When Jerome was old, he would say: “What’s the new Bishop of Rome to me? I’m in the holy land, I don’t know what’s going on over there — Demetrias, just listen to my advice, and you’ll be fine. The old Bishop was a good man and I knew him personally, but the new one certainly doesn’t have a special protection against error just because the old one was a good man!”

    In general, the model that is more likely to produce the data that we do see, is itself more likely to be the truth. This is true in science and statistics, and its true in patristics too.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  175. TurretinFan,

    I read Pastor King’s blog entry. I wonder why Pastor King starts off by calling another man arrogant and/or ignorant? Does Pastor King know Bryan? Such talk does nothing to serve his argument nor does it help the conversation.

    At any rate, I do not follow the point of Pastor King’s argument. Is he arguing that Jerome was a Presbyterian or something? Is Pastor King out of communion with the successor to Peter because he thinks that Jerome was out of communion with the successor to Peter and thus he is justified in being out of communion with the Pope? Pastor King does not see the Catholic Church in the writings of Jerome even though Jerome expressly writes about being in communion with Peter’s successor. Fair enough, but I cannot see what other church Pastor King sees in the writings of Jerome. The PCA? The RCA? The PCUSA maybe? Or maybe the CREC?

    “And to Timothy he says: ‘Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.’… For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter? Jerome, To Evangelus, Epistle 146:1 (ante A.D. 420).

    What bishop ordained Pastor King?

    Pastor King ends by saying that Catholic claims cannot be taken seriously from a historical or theological perspective. His statement is unfortunate because genuine dialog would entail that all sides take the positions of others seriously.

  176. BTW – you say that you affirm Augustine’s statement that *all” bishops and councils are liable to be refuted and corrected? He did not exempt the bishop of Rome.

    Blessings.

  177. K. Doran,

    You wrote: “The fact is, a person who believes Model A is simply much more likely to say: “As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord” than a person who believes model B.”

    I don’t see how you conclude that, which is not surprising since you don’t present much by way of reasons for this conclusion. Let’s consider:

    1) Communicating exclusively with the bishop of Rome isn’t something that papists (adherents to the papacy, no indignity intended by the term) generally do. In fact, if communicating primarily or exclusively with the bishop of Rome is a good indicator of someone being a papist, then even if one gains Jerome as a papist, one may have to be prepared to lose most of the other church fathers.

    2) Flattering one’s mentor by gilding the lily is something that’s fairly normal, particularly for a rhetorically skilled man like Jerome (check out the content of his letters here: link – example from Letter 7: “Those whom mutual affection has joined together, a written page ought not to sunder. I must not, therefore, distribute my words some to one and some to another. For so strong is the love that binds you together that affection unites all three of you in a bond no less close than that which naturally connects two of your number. Indeed, if the conditions of writing would only admit of it, I should amalgamate your names and express them under a single symbol. “).

    I think that model B actually works better than A to explain that data, because the letter better shows a protege speaking good things about his mentor than “Joe Papist” identifying his rule of interpretive authority.

    You claim “The rest of the evidence from his life is even more damning to Model B.” Well, the “model B” is an explanation for what Jerome says as a relatively young man to his mentor. We expect Jerome to change and his audience to change over time, and we would consequently expect to have to use something of a different model later in life as he continues correspondence with the city that he still seems to view as home despite his Palestinian residence.

    But frankly, even if we were left choosing between the flat model you give as option B and the model A being that Jerome was a papist, I think we find Jerome speaking rather unexpectedly. He writes (toward the end of his life, in the last quotation from Jerome that Chapman gives: “I had nearly left out what is most important. When you were a child, and Bishop Anastasius of holy memory ruled the Roman Church … ” did you read that? He says not “the Catholic Church” but “the Roman Church.” Doesn’t that strike you as just the least bit odd for someone who viewed the bishop of Rome as the head of the universal church?

    While Jerome may have been kind to the bishops of Rome that he personally knew, he was not quite so fond at least one other, in a portion of less convenient evidence that Chapman appears to have omitted:

    Jerome (347-420): Liberius was ordained the 34th bishop of the Roman church, and when he was driven into exile for the faith, all the clergy took an oath that they would not recognize any other bishop. But when Felix was put in his place by the Arians, a great many foreswore themselves; but at the end of the year they were banished, and Felix too; for Liberius, giving in to the irksomeness of exile and subscribing to the heretical and false doctrine, made a triumphal entry into Rome. E. Giles, ed., Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: A.D. 96-454 (Westport: Hyperion Press, reprinted 1982), p. 151.

    Latin text: LIBERIUS XXXIV Romanae Ecclesiae ordinatur episcopus, quo in exsilium ob fidem truso, omnes clerici juraverunt, ut nullum alium susciperent. Verum cum Felix ab Arianis fuisset in sacerdotium substitutus, plurimi pejeraverunt, et post annum cum Felice ejecti sunt: quia Liberius taedio victus exsilii, et in haereticam pravitatem subscribens, Romam quasi victor intraverat. S. Hieronymi Chronicon, Ad Ann. 352, PL 27:684-685.

    (thanks to Pastor King for providing this quotation)

    Notice as well the “Roman Church” distinction provided even in this example. That’s how he thought about the Roman church, as a part (and perhaps a very important part) of the Catholic church, but not as the Catholic church itself. Its clerics, even its bishop, could err on matters of doctrine and did in the instance of Liberius.

    With all due respect, Jerome was not a papist.

    -TurretinFan

  178. lojahw,

    St. Augustine does not state any exception here, but we need to be careful to avoid the argument from silence. His ‘all’ may not have been intended to include the successor of St. Peter.

    That being said, let’s keep the discussion on-topic, particularly, on the article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  179. Bryan,

    This is an attempt to boil down the whole matter, so please correct me if I am wrong in my assessment of the issue at hand.
    It seems that Rome claims to have “infallible interpretive authority” of Scripture based upon Rome’s understanding of Apostolic Succession and as a result, all interpretations outside of the Magesterium are therefore “illegitimate” and therefore not binding on anyone. Reformed councils claim authority via true succession of “Apostolic teaching” and also claim that all churches and councils are subject to error and have erred, and therefore they are only binding upon individuals who consensually submit to Reformed dogmas.
    I think that the issue is not epistemic at all, but rather dealing with the scope of authority. If Rome is right, her councils are binding on everyone both inside and outside of the Church. If the Reformed position is correct, then Reformed dogmas and confessions are only binding on those who are members in Reformed churches.
    The issue then, is which is correct. Since this is an epistemic debate, at this point, I must point out that every individual must examine the evidence and the truth claims of both camps and make a conscientious individual choice of which to follow. One cannot have infallible knowledge that either position is true without presupposing that it is so. So it seems that on the epistemic level, both positions are equally reliant upon the SOLO position which you have attempted to pin on protestants. But your reasoning seems to place you in the same camp. How can you know that Rome possesses the authority which she claims to possess without making an individual decision based upon your own private interpretation of Scripture (& Church history, etc.)?

    Sincerely,
    Keith WT

  180. Sean Patrick:

    As for the charges of ignorance and arrogance, my understanding is that they were not intended specifically for Mr. Cross.

    “Is he arguing that Jerome was a Presbyterian or something?” No. That’s not his argument.

    “Is Pastor King out of communion with the successor to Peter because he thinks that Jerome was out of communion with the successor to Peter and thus he is justified in being out of communion with the Pope?” No. Pastor King is not attempting to justify behavior based on Jerome, he’s criticizing inaccurate historical depictions of Jerome. As with Jerome, with Pastor King, “There is no argument that is so forcible, as a passage from the Holy Scriptures.” (Jerome, Commentary on the Prophet Zacharias)

    “Pastor King does not see the Catholic Church in the writings of Jerome even though Jerome expressly writes about being in communion with Peter’s successor.” Pastor King doesn’t read modern Roman Catholic views into Jerome from Jerome saying nice things about his contemporaries who were bishops at Rome.

    “Fair enough, but I cannot see what other church Pastor King sees in the writings of Jerome. The PCA? The RCA? The PCUSA maybe? Or maybe the CREC?” Uh … that would be just a different anachronism.

    “What bishop ordained Pastor King?” Presbyterian ecclesiology differs somewhat from that of Jerome’s church: Roman ecclesiology today differs too. There was no “college of cardinals” to select the bishops of Rome in Jerome’s day.

    “Pastor King ends by saying that Catholic claims cannot be taken seriously from a historical or theological perspective. His statement is unfortunate because genuine dialog would entail that all sides take the positions of others seriously.” I don’t think Pastor King meant we should just laugh, but rather that there isn’t much merit in the anachronistic claims he’s debunked.

    - TurretinFan

  181. TFan.

    This thread is not about Jerome and whether or not he was a Catholic. The article is about Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura and interpretive authority.

    Maybe one day we’ll have an article about Jerome’s eccliesiology. In the meantime, the link that K Doran posted actually includes much related to the argument Pastor King is making (and similar ones). I must say that for all the ink spilled by Reformed bloggers about how Jerome was not a Catholic there is very little written by Reformed bloggers in regards to which church Jerome actually belonged.

    Further, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the actual article we have presented.

  182. Sean Patrick wrote: “This thread is not about Jerome and whether or not he was a Catholic.” Understood. While one imagines that Jerome’s testimony on the papacy might seem to be relevant to a discussion of interpretive authority, where some folks are setting forth a scheme centering around the papacy, if that is ruled out of bounds by the folks running the show here, I’ll certainly play by the rules you’ve set.

    Much of the article, as such, is directed at arguments that are presented as though specific to Mr. Mathison and his presentation. I understand Mr. Matthison plans a response. Some of the arguments attributed to Mr. Matthison (I don’t render a judgment as to whether or not such attribution is accurate) are arguments I’d never use to defend the Scriptural doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

    Obviously, Matthison is correct to note that some “Protestants” act as though the church does not have a role in the interpretation of Scripture, and such a view is mistaken. That said, private judgment is simply an inescapable reality of human existence. To suggest that the church is the “ultimate” interpreter of Scripture seems to be somewhat askew – though perhaps that’s not quite what Matthison meant.

    -TurretinFan

  183. Well, TeurretinFan, I encourage you to try a little harder to apply the principle of maximum likelihood to your analysis of a writer’s motivations. No one can do this thinking for you. Not me, not the CTCers, not your pastor. Try the principle out on passages written by your friends for which you can clarify the writer’s meaning with a question that you ask later. You will find that it works well. Then think about how likely various early Christians would have been to offer — not general praise — but specific statements of rights and duties to the bishop of Rome. Think about how likely they were to demand specific requirements for the succession of bishops, and to demand of all Christians that they must meet under the auspices of such a bishop, with no exception. Think about it with the principle of maximum likelihood in mind. . . compare the model of (1) obedience to bishops, apostolic succession necessary for a bishop, and the center of communion as the roman bishop, with (2) the model of none of these things being necessary. Then think about what would be more likely to produce the data that you see. Don’t think about what could merely “explain” the data. This kind of thought will always produce a dozen different “explanations,” relying on assumptions, conjectures, hidden variables, naivete, youth, ignorance, etc. Rather, think about what best explains the data — what would most likely produce the data that you see. Your pastor’s explanation of Jerome’s youth is falsified by his continuance in the same doctrine at the end of his life, when he was in the Holy land, permanently far from Rome. This is the kind of thinking you need to do to see past the lies that centuries of anti-Catholic hatred have produced. Your pastor is not a liar. Neither are you. But some people lied in the past, and the lies have been passed down the generations. You need to have a sound analytical method to see through them. I recommend maximum likelihood.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

    p.s. I also recommend reading what the Popes of the fourth and fifth centuries said about their duties; then read about who was in communion with them in spite of their making these claims. . . then think about how people like Saint Jerome responded when someone claimed a doctrine that was false. . . far from passively accepting it, he was always ready to call a spade something worse . . . as were other great saints of that era in communion with the bishops of Rome!
    p.p.s. I will say no more, in deference to the topic of the thread.

  184. Nor will I respond, in deference to the topic of the thread, however tempting it may be.

  185. Hello Keith T,

    Welcome to CTC. Interpretations that are contrary to what has already been definitively declared by the Magisterium are ‘illegitimate’ and are not binding on anyone. But that does not mean that we may not hold differing interpretations on matters regarding which the Tradition or Magisterium have remained silent.

    Reformed councils claim authority via true succession of “Apostolic teaching” and also claim that all churches and councils are subject to error and have erred, and therefore they are only binding upon individuals who consensually submit to Reformed dogmas.

    In other words, it is only ‘binding’ on you if you agree with it. As we pointed out in the article, whatever is only binding if you agree with it, is not a genuine authority.

    One cannot have infallible knowledge that either position is true without presupposing that it is so.

    Infallibility is rightly predicated of things capable of operation, e.g. persons capable of avoiding error in some operation. Knowledge is not capable of operation, so it is not rightly described as infallible. So the properly formed claim would be:

    One cannot know that either position is true without presupposing that it is so.

    But that claim is not true. We can come to know that Christ is the Son of God without presupposing that Christ is the Son of God. Christ’s being the Son of God is the best explanation of all the evidence, even though it is something no one can come to see without the operation of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift of God, but that doesn’t make fideism true. Faith is not irrational; it is supra-rational. That’s why everything falls into place rationally when one acquires faith. Faith perfects reason. So likewise, one cannot come to know the truth of the other items of the Creed [excepting God's having created the world, and our facing final judgment] without the aid of the Holy Spirit. But that doesn’t mean that one must presuppose the other contents of the Creed in order to know them. When we see their truth, we see how it perfectly explains all the data. Faith here too perfects reason. Grace builds on nature. Presupposing a truth would not perfect reason; it would be merely hypothetical reasoning. But reason is aimed at the truth about reality; reason is not content with merely hypothetical truths. So presupposing x as a foundation would not allow us to know the truth of anything we would build on the presupposition of x. Everything epistemically built on a mere hypothetical remains merely hypothetical. But faith is not hypothetical. We believe the faith to be true, on the authority of God who cannot lie, who speaks to us through His Word as explicated to us by His duly-appointed shepherds.

    We do not have to be infallible in order to come to know that Christ is infallible. We can know by reason alone that God exists and is infallible. So, if by the help of the Spirit we are granted to know that Jesus is the Son of God, we can know by deduction that Jesus is infallible. This shows that we can come to know that something is infallible, even though we are ourselves are not infallible. So likewise, we do not have to be infallible in order to come to know that that the Church is infallible under specified conditions. By external and historical evidence we can come to identity the Church. From this Church we learn who Jesus is, what He taught, which books are sacred and inspired, which interpretations are authentic, and how we are to be saved.

    We understand that just as those who lived in the time after Jesus believed in Him through trusting the preaching and teaching of the Apostles, so those who came after the Apostles rightly understand their [i.e. the Apostles'] teaching and preaching through those whom the Apostles appointed to succeed them. In this way, faith in Christ includes faith in the Church as His appointed means through which we truly come to know Him. Jesus speaks of this in John 17:20, when He speaks of those who will come to believe in Him through the Apostles’ word. This is why no one can have God as His Father who does not have the Church as his mother. Through this same Church through which we learn of Christ, we learn the nature of the Church. The same one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that authoritatively declared the deity of Christ at Nicea in 325 also later declared the Church to be divinely protected from error under certain conditions. We don’t need to be infallible to know that, but we do need faith to trust Christ through trusting His Church, the same Church by which we know all that we know by faith about Christ.

    So it seems that on the epistemic level, both positions are equally reliant upon the SOLO position which you have attempted to pin on protestants. But your reasoning seems to place you in the same camp. How can you know that Rome possesses the authority which she claims to possess without making an individual decision based upon your own private interpretation of Scripture (& Church history, etc.)?

    Solo scriptura is the notion that each person has and retains ultimate interpretive authority. But, as explained earlier in the comments, the Catholic position is not the solo scriptura position, because when a person discovers the Church and her Magisterium, he recognizes that he no longer retains ultimate interpretive authority. The initial necessity of the use of one’s own reason and judgment in the discovery of a higher interpretive authority than oneself, does not entail that one must therefore always retain highest interpretive authority. That was true during the time of the Apostles (after Christ’s ascension) and it remains true to this day.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  186. Hi, T-fan.

    Mathison does mean to say that the Church is the ultimate interpretive authority, though he takes pains to distinguish this claim from the idea that “the Church” possesses an authority that is equal to Scripture on the one hand, or that, on the other, “the Church’s” authority derives by some means other than or additional to interpretive fidelity (approximating truth on the essentials) to Scripture. (He also provides an escape clause, citing Turretin, which specifies that Christians whose consciences disallow them to agree with whatever “the Church” might say on some particular theological topic are able licitly to detract from “the Church” and to remove themselves from it.)

    We appreciate the fact that not all (Reformed) Protestants will agree with everything Mathison says, straight down the line. At the same time, we find that Mathison’s work is very frequently cited by Protestants (like you) who wish to distance themselves from solo-scriptura-private-judgment-individualism. And, for my part (and I believe I can speak for Bryan here as well), I think that Mathison probably offers the most sophisticated and nuanced version of sola scriptura currently on the market. Putting to one side its eloquence and intrinsic interest, that’s pretty much why we decided it would be best to focus on Mathison’s development and defense of sola scriptura.

    From your remarks, it sounds as though you haven’t read through Mathison’s book just yet. I encourage you to do so. It’s a good and lucid read. In the meantime, if you’d like to register your own (or any other similarly developed) view of sola scriptura, here or elsewhere, we’d be very interested to have a listen.

    All best,

    Neal

    PS: Your remarks about the inescapability of ‘private judgment’ are important and apposite, but I don’t think they appropriately engage with Mathison’s thesis or with our particular disagreement with Mathison’s version of sola scriptura. You’re definitely right to note that we all have to excercise ‘private judgment’ at some level; but I think you’re failing to distinguish as between first-order judgments (concerning specific theological doctrines) and second-order judgments (concerning the question who does or might have authority to answer definitively first-order doctrinal questions). Mathison sees the distinction, and argues that we ought not lodge final interpretive authority in ourselves, but that we should look instead to ‘the Church’/regula fidei/true bishops, etc. We quite agree with this; that is the starting point for our discussion with Mathison. Hope that helps to clarify things a bit, at least with respect to our aims in this particular article and thread.

  187. This thread has really gotten off course. I want to make a quick observation. After 184 comments, no one has refuted, or attempted to refute, the arguments laid out in this article. Saying “yea but you too,” even if valid, is not a refutation.

  188. “yea, but you too.”

    I notice, as well, that no one has taken up the “suggestive analogy” I offered above, concerning what a presuppositionalist might say to some critic who alleges that C.V.T. is quite as autonomous a thinker as Bertrand Russell, since they’ve both got to use their brains to figure out whether they should accept Christianity in the first place. I note, too, with some disappointment, that no one has engaged or questioned or discussed the conditions on authority (content independence and preemption) that I previously suggested really ought to be discussed if we want to get a clearer grasp on the notions of epistemic authority and autonomy — “philosophical” topics, to be sure, but “philosophical topics” that in fact guide, influence, and even determine “theological stances” on the topic at issue in this thread. These conditions seem to me pretty plausible, plausibly satisfiable on Catholicism, and plausibly not satisfiable on Reformed Protestantism.

    So it seems to me. I’m open to correction. There’s a paucity of developed work on epistemic authority and epistemic autonomy. But I think that’s where this debate has really got to focus. I’d love it if someone would pipe up and say something about this.

    Neal

  189. Well, Tim, it is problematic when, as Keith observed, there is an epistemic gulf between the positions represented. If, as Bryan, claims, that Rome’s interpretation is the only correct one, then all arguments for opposing interpretations are dismissed – a priori – simply because they do not agree with Rome. What can be said?

    Augustine wrote that Scripture is in an absolutely superior position to the writings of *all* bishops and church councils. I agree with him, but Bryan says that I have no way of knowing that “all” really means all. And why does he say that? Because he’s already made up his mind that it cannot mean all because he “infallibly knows” that the office of Peter’s successor is a granted a supernatural and perpetual exception. Wow! And which words of Jesus definitively teach that?

    If, on the other hand, Scripture is in such an absolutely superior position to all other authorities as Augustine said, the implication is that no human can say it better than God already has. And if the human interpreter introduces ideas that *demand* more than a customary reading of the text supports – he’s distorting it. Jesus never promised that none of Peter’s successors’ faith would fail. That’s demanding more than the text reasonably supports. The truth is that God doesn’t need an infallible interpreter, he just needs a competent interpreter, like the Bereans in Acts 17. Wow! What a concept!

    The problem that I have with both Bryan’s and Gary’s positions is that they imagine that competent interpreters cannot rightly understand what Scripture says. Why? because they pay too much attention to the many ways the untaught and unstable distort it. On the other hand, they posit the necessity of infallibly interpreting even the ambiguities God left in His Word to keep us humble. It is the height of arrogance to claim anyone can infallibly interpret what God has made ambiguous. If you don’t think so, just ask Job!

    Blessings.

  190. lojahw,

    I agree that there is an epistemic gulf, and what we need to do to resolve it is find common ground. Let me address a few of your concerns. You wrote:

    If, as Bryan, claims, that Rome’s interpretation is the only correct one, then all arguments for opposing interpretations are dismissed – a priori – simply because they do not agree with Rome. What can be said?

    Other interpretations are not dismissed a priori. Rather, the difference between us is not fundamentally and primarily at the level of interpretation (i.e. who has the correct interpretation?) but at the level of interpretive authority. So because that is the fundamental point of disagreement, that is where we need to determine whether Christ established teaching/interpretive authority in His Church, and how we determine who holds it.

    Then you wrote:

    Augustine wrote that Scripture is in an absolutely superior position to the writings of *all* bishops and church councils. I agree with him, but Bryan says that I have no way of knowing that “all” really means all. And why does he say that? Because he’s already made up his mind that it cannot mean all because he “infallibly knows” that the office of Peter’s successor is a granted a supernatural and perpetual exception. Wow! And which words of Jesus definitively teach that?

    That misrepresents my words and my position. In #176 you wrote:

    you say that you affirm Augustine’s statement that *all” bishops and councils are liable to be refuted and corrected? He did not exempt the bishop of Rome.

    In #178 I replied:

    St. Augustine does not state any exception here, but we need to be careful to avoid the argument from silence. His ‘all’ may not have been intended to include the successor of St. Peter.

    Now in #189 you claim that I said that we have no way of knowing whether for St. Augustine Scripture is in an absolutely superior position to the writings of *all* bishops and church councils. Of course I never said anything of that sort. The question you asked me was not about the superiority of Scripture, but about whether all bishops are liable to be corrected. Do you see how you took my answer to your question and twisted it to make it say something I did not at all say?

    Then you proceed to try to read my mind:

    And why does he say that? Because he’s already made up his mind that it cannot mean all because he “infallibly knows” that the office of Peter’s successor is a granted a supernatural and perpetual exception.

    That’s not true. We need to be careful when interpreting the ‘all’ in “that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon” first because it does not say “all bishops”, but “all the letters of bishops”, and second because there is much other evidence in the Fathers indicating that the office of St. Peter is given the charism of truth and divinely protected from error. Even St. Augustine himself says:

    You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not.”

    Therefore, in our interpretation of St. Augustine we should not force him to be saying something contrary to the position of the other Fathers, or to himself. That is the principle of hermeneutical charity.

    Then you wrote:

    If, on the other hand, Scripture is in such an absolutely superior position to all other authorities as Augustine said, the implication is that no human can say it better than God already has.

    That would imply that the Bible should never have been translated into any other language, and that every sermon should consist only of the reading of Scripture in its original language. Is that what takes place in your Sunday morning services?

    And if the human interpreter introduces ideas that *demand* more than a customary reading of the text supports – he’s distorting it.

    Who made you the Magisterium to set the rules for what counts as properly interpreting Scripture and what counts as distorting it? By setting the rules for what counts as properly interpreting Scripture, you are arrogating to yourself Magisterial authority, and begging the question about who has it. (In my opinion you have no Magisterial authority, because you do not have Holy Orders.)

    The truth is that God doesn’t need an infallible interpreter, he just needs a competent interpreter, like the Bereans in Acts 17.

    The question is not what God needs. The question is what Christ did when He established His Church. That’s because if Christ established an interpretive authority in His Church, then He believes that the Church needs it. And His belief about what His Church needs is what matters.

    Of course God doesn’t need an infallible interpreter; God needs nothing at all. But God knew that His Church would need to be protected from error when she made definitive decisions pertaining to the various doctrinal challenges that have arisen during the history of the Church; otherwise each man would be left to do what is ‘right in his own eyes’, according to his own interpretation of Scripture, according to his own determination of the canon of Scripture.

    The problem that I have with both Bryan’s and Gary’s positions is that they imagine that competent interpreters cannot rightly understand what Scripture says. Why? because they pay too much attention to the many ways the untaught and unstable distort it.

    Would you set yourself up to be the determiner for the whole Church of the necessary and sufficient conditions for competence in the interpretation of Scripture? If so, that raises a dilemma. What would you do when those you have deemed to be competent in the interpretation of Scripture disagree with each other, or with you? Would you then deselect from the class of competent interpreters all those who disagree with your interpretation? If so, at that point how have you not just pulled the pope out of his papal chair and taken his seat? But if you would submit to them, even when you disagree with them, then why not submit to the divinely appointed successors of the Apostles?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  191. Lojahw, even if what you said is true, the article still stands. As I mentioned, no one has attempted to show why sola and solo are distinct in principle. When a truth seeker’s position is refuted, he will either defend it or change his position. No one here has done either of them. The separate question of whether the Catholic position is, in fact, any better has already been dealt with at length in this thread and no one has challenged any of our defenses. Instead, since (apparently) no one knows how to deal with the arguments presented here, they bring up other issues like what Augustine believed or what Jerome believed.

  192. Bryan,

    I could interact with much more of your response, but I will attempt to keep things boiled down and simple:

    You wrote (#185):
    Solo scriptura is the notion that each person has and retains ultimate interpretive authority. But, as explained earlier in the comments, the Catholic position is not the solo scriptura position, because when a person discovers the Church and her Magisterium, he recognizes that he no longer retains ultimate interpretive authority. The initial necessity of the use of one’s own reason and judgment in the discovery of a higher interpretive authority than oneself, does not entail that one must therefore always retain highest interpretive authority. That was true during the time of the Apostles (after Christ’s ascension) and it remains true to this day.
    My Response:
    Solo scriptura is the notion that each person has and retains ultimate interpretive authority. But, … the REFORMED POSITION is not the solo scriptura position, because when a person discovers the REFORMED CHURCH & CONFESSIONS, he recognizes that he no longer retains ultimate interpretive authority. The initial necessity of the use of one’s own reason and judgment in the discovery of a higher interpretive authority than oneself, does not entail that one must therefore always retain highest interpretive authority. That was true during the time of the Apostles (after Christ’s ascension) and it remains true to this day.
    What am I missing?
    If using one’s autonomous and non-authoritative reason (perfected by faith) to interpret Scripture in order to “arrive at Rome” is somehow NOT the SOLO position your are sticking on us; why then, when Reformed believers use autonomous and non-authoritative reason (perfected by faith) to interpret Scripture in order to “arrive at Geneva,” this suddenly IS the SOLO position?

    This seems to me to be way too simple for all of the Catholics in here to be getting tripped up on, so I am assuming that I am missing something key… Please, what is the difference?

    Confused,
    Keith WT
    p.s. – How do I upload a cool little picture like you have? ;)

  193. Neal:

    You mention, seemingly as an aside: “(He also provides an escape clause, citing Turretin, which specifies that Christians whose consciences disallow them to agree with whatever “the Church” might say on some particular theological topic are able licitly to detract from “the Church” and to remove themselves from it.)”

    But the article cites Matthison repeatedly saying things like: “The adherents of solo scriptura dismiss all of this claiming that the reason and conscience of the individual believer is the supreme interpreter.” and “When each individual’s conscience becomes the final authority for that individual, differences of opinion will occur. When men feel strongly enough about their individual interpretations, they separate from those they believe to be in error. In the world today, we have millions of believers and churches convinced of thousands of mutually contradictory doctrines, and all of them claim to base their beliefs on the authority of Scripture alone.” and “Solo scriptura results in the autonomy of the individual believer who becomes a law unto himself. Scripture is interpreted according to the conscience and reason of the individual. Everything is evaluated according to the final standard of the individual’s opinion of what is and is not scriptural. The individual, not Scripture, is the real final authority according to solo scriptura. This is rebellious autonomy, and it is a usurpation of the prerogatives of God.”

    But then there is the part that you mentioned, where Matthison acknowledges: As Turretin explains, although the corporate doctrinal judgment of the Church is not infallible and does not have an authority equal to that of Scripture, it does have true authority over those who are members of the visible communion of the Church. What then is the relationship between private judgment and this corporate judgment? What is an individual Christian to do if he believes the corporate judgment found in the creeds and confessions to be in error? Turretin explains,

    “Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the word of God (which alone has the power to bind the conscience).”

    I don’t see how that doesn’t undo the previous critical comments that Matthison made.

    The problem (from where I stand) with Solo Scriptura is that it leaves no role for the church, not that it permits the exercise of conscience.

    Another, lesser, issue that I would have with Matthison’s approach is with his comment: “It renders the universal and objective truth of Scripture virtually useless because instead of the Church proclaiming with one voice to the world what the Scripture teaches, every individual interprets Scripture as seems right in his own eyes.” That kind of comment doesn’t seem to be consistent with a Reformed view of Sola Scriptura whether or not it could be made consistent with Matthison’s own private (ha!) view of the subject.

    -TurretinFan

  194. T Fan,

    Thanks for your thoughts on Matthison. We all agree that not every Reformed person agrees with Matthison but appreciate you outlining how you disagree with him. Hopefully he does come back and offer a response to the article.

    You said,

    “It renders the universal and objective truth of Scripture virtually useless because instead of the Church proclaiming with one voice to the world what the Scripture teaches, every individual interprets Scripture as seems right in his own eyes.” That kind of comment doesn’t seem to be consistent with a Reformed view of Sola Scriptura whether or not it could be made consistent with Matthison’s own private (ha!) view of the subject.

    I would say that Matthison’s comment here is just an observation and not an attempt to say what the Reformed view of Sola Scriptura would say. The fact is that there is an infinite number of voices about what scripture proclaims is simply an observation of a truth. Matthison argues that to avoid this and to have Christians speak with one voice to the world we must let the church interpret the scriptures and not each and every individual in a ‘me, my bible and Jesus’ way. The problem, as Bryan outlines, is that Matthison’s definition of ‘church’ makes his distinction a non-distinction.

  195. Keith T,

    You wrote:

    the REFORMED POSITION is not the solo scriptura position, because when a person discovers the REFORMED CHURCH & CONFESSIONS, he recognizes that he no longer retains ultimate interpretive authority…. If using one’s autonomous and non-authoritative reason (perfected by faith) to interpret Scripture in order to “arrive at Rome” is somehow NOT the SOLO position your are sticking on us; why then, when Reformed believers use autonomous and non-authoritative reason (perfected by faith) to interpret Scripture in order to “arrive at Geneva,” this suddenly IS the SOLO position? … What am I missing?

    (I slightly re-ordered your objection, to improve it.) That’s exactly the right question and objection. In other words, you are asking for the principled difference between the Catholic position, and sola scriptura. That’s the other way of posing the tu quoque objection we addressed in section V.A. in the article. And we also addressed this objection earlier in the comments (which, given their current length, is understandable if you didn’t read them).

    The principled difference is that the reason why someone would claim that “the Reformed Church” (if such an entity is more than a mental construct) is the Church Christ founded, is ultimately on the ground that Reformed doctrine agrees with his own interpretation of Scripture, according to his own determination of the canon of Scripture. There is no other reason to pick “the Reformed Church” as the true Church, over “the Lutheran Church” or “the Baptist Church” or “the Anglican Church” or “the Methodist Church” or “the Pentecostal Church” or the “Seventh Day Adventist Church”, or the “Catholic Church.” It is a decision ultimately based on form, i.e. doctrine, as determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture, according to one’s own determination of which books belong to the canon.

    By contrast, the reason why Catholics claim that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, is not fundamentally on the ground of agreement of form (i.e. not based on one’s interpretation of Scripture, or agreement with one’s interpretation of Scripture), but based on tracing magisterial authority from the Apostles, through the bishops whom they ordained to succeed them, and through the bishops whom those bishops ordained to succeed them, and so on, down to the present day, noting along the way what these bishops said about the basis for ecclesial authority, what they said about the essential marks of the Church (i.e. one, holy, catholic and apostolic), what they said and did in identifying where the true Church continued in the event of schism. We do then (subsequently) find perfect agreement of form (between the teaching of Scripture as informed by the Church, and the doctrine of the Church), but our basis or ground for picking out the Catholic Church as the true Church is not agreement between our interpretation of Scripture and the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but on possession of magisterial authority from Christ, through the Apostles whom He authorized, and their authorized successors, down to the present day.

    And that is why the Catholic who discovers the Magisterium as the divinely authorized authority cannot remain the ultimate interpretive authority of Scripture or the ultimate determiner of the canon of Scripture. He has encountered living persons having divine authority that he does not have. The Reformed person (or any Protestant), by contrast, necessarily remains the ultimate interpretive authority because the basis or ground by which this group of persons (i.e. various communities of persons sharing Reformed beliefs) counts as the true Church for him is not apostolic succession, but precisely the agreement between the doctrine believed and taught by these persons and his interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  196. Troutman wrote: “Instead, since (apparently) no one knows how to deal with the arguments presented here, they bring up other issues like what Augustine believed or what Jerome believed.”

    a) Isn’t Matthison preparing a response?

    b) Is the historical practice of Christianity irrelevant to the question of interpretive authority?

    -TurretinFan

  197. Hi again, T-fan.

    Thanks for the response. You say: “I don’t see how that [the Turretin quote and the position it represents] doesn’t undo the previous critical comments that Matthison made.” I agree with you that there is a tension in his position here. Mathison would want to agree with you that there must be *a* role (an eliminable interpretive role) for the Church, and so far as I can tell he tries to work out how that role should be understood in a way that (a) clearly avoids the problems with solo scriptura and (b) upholds the (best of the) Reformed tradition. It sounds like you’ll disagree with Mathison on some of the details, and perhaps also disagree that Mathison is accurately representing the Reformed tradition. (Actually, I don’t think the Reformed tradition is monolithic on this point. So disagreement’s to be expected.)

    Perhaps your own view will have an easier time accommodating the point that an individual’s conscience can’t be bound by anything other than the Word of God, but in the absence of an articulated proposal it’s a little hard to say. At most, I can say that I agree with you that Mathison doesn’t obviously dispel the apparent tension, but I also sympathize with Mathison’s motivations for trying to hold all of these things together.

    Best,

    Neal

  198. b) Is the historical practice of Christianity irrelevant to the question of interpretive authority?

    Of course not. Church history is relevant in this discussion. But there is a proper way to do church history. Hopefully we’ll have time down the road to really open up a broad sweeping study of church fathers on this issue. I can attest that as a Reformed Presbyterian who started reading the Church Fathers I wasn’t drawn closer to Geneva.

    On the very question of interpretive authority both fathers we have discussed in this thread, Jerome and Augustine, never divorced interpretation from the church.

    “My resolution is, to read the ancients, to try everything, to hold fast what is good, and not to recede from the faith of the Catholic Church.”
    Jerome, To Minervius & Alexander, Epistle 119 (A.D. 406).

    “But those reasons which I have here given, I have either gathered from the authority of the church, according to the tradition of our forefathers, or from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, or from the nature itself of numbers and of similitudes. No sober person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceable person against the Church.”
    Augustine, On the Trinity, 4,6:10 (A.D. 416).

    One thing I have noticed is that often patristic quotes supporting the material sufficiency of scripture are propped up in support of sola scriptura. However material sufficiency of scripture is not sola scriptura. This article is helpful in describing in what sense we do affirm the material sufficiency of scripture but reject, as did Augustine and Jerome, SOLA (or O) Scriptura.

  199. Bryan responding to 195),

    Ok, I think I got it (finally). If I understand you correctly, Reformed believers rely on their own private interpretation of the infallible Word of God (and their fundamental belief in the perspicuity of Scripture) to guide them to a “true church,” which you are calling Solo Scriptura. Roman Catholics rely on their own private interpretation of fallible human history of the visible church to guide them to a “true church,” which has not been yet been given a pejorative name on par with Solo Scriptura, how about “Solo Church Historia…” (I don’t know Latin, so feel free to tinker with that name.)

    So we both rely on private interpretation to lead us to an authority outside and above our individual self, and the difference is in what we are interpreting. If that is the gist of it, then I totally agree with you on that point. I am guilty as charged with THIS brand of Solo Scriptura, but I still do not see how that is somehow contrary to Sola Scriptura, and I still have qualms about whether or not this “necessarily” means that I somehow remain the ultimate interpretive authority of Scripture, especially since I confess the opposite… but I suppose that we can take that up at a different time.

    I much prefer Solo Scriptura to Solo Church Historia, and it is strange to me that you don’t.

    In Him,
    Keith W.T.

  200. I was also thinking about the source of authority. It seems that the source of church authority for Reformed believers is that Scripture gives rightful authority to ordained elders. It also seems that the source of authority for Rome is a claim of an inherited authority from the Apostles. I think it strange that since the Apostles themselves were not infallible except when writing Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the elders (presbuteros) who succeeded them somehow have a greater authority… unless it can be somehow substantiated that the Holy Spirit inspires Rome (in certain circumstances) to issue certain infallible dogmas. (Which if this is the case, why does not Rome canonize the creeds and confessions?) I’m sure my understanding of Roman practice in this area is woefully uninformed, but who better to ask for information than an informed Catholic? ;)
    I’m enjoying this thread, and learning a lot.

    In Him,
    Keith WT

  201. Thank you, Bryan, for your thoughtful responses.

    As stated elsewhere, what Augustine or Jerome or any other early church father said about the interpretive authority in the Church doesn’t prove anything. I was just agreeing with two points Augustine made: 1) the superiority of Scripture to all other authorities; and 2) the observation that the writings of *all* later bishops are liable to refutation and the decisions of all church councils are liable to correction. The point is that the assumptions underlying Sola Scriptura were voiced more than 1000 years before the Reformation. Likewise, the quotations I gave from the Council of Nicea demonstrate that the practice of careful reliance on the authority of Scripture both to affirm doctrine as well as to deny heresy doctrine has excellent historical precedence.

    Your claim is that the successor of Peter has the charism of infallibility is refuted by empirical evidence. Peter’s successors have been inconsistent. Truth is not inconsistent with itself.

    The Fourth Ecumenical Council praised Pope Leo I thus: “Peter has spoken thus through Leo.” This same Pope taught:

    “For the entire human race there was but one remedy … that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further, because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed… is it not Thou who art alone?’” (Sermon 28.3)

    But Pope Pius IX contradicted Pope Leo I by declaring that Jesus was not “alone” born free and innocent of original transgression – that his mother, Mary, was likewise sinless from conception. Either Pope Leo I handed down an incorrect interpretation that wasn’t corrected for 1500 years, or Pope Pius IX taught error. Which is it? Jesus cannot “alone” be sinless if Mary also was “free and innocent of original transgression.”

    Likewise, self-governance of each locality (and later, each province) was clearly taught by the Apostle Paul, by Clement of Rome, by Ignatius of Antioch (to Polycarp of Smyrna, whose bishop is Christ!), by the Didache [Teaching of the Twelve Apostles], by the Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus, and by the first four Ecumenical Councils. The decisions and canons of all four Ecumenical Councils were accepted by the current bishop of Rome in their times. Yet, almost 1000 years after the First Ecumenical Council declared the territorial limits of bishops within their respective provinces, Pope Boniface VIII, wrote:

    “We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam).

    The Roman Pontiff cannot both be limited to a province and demand the subjection of every human creature. Which interpretation is correct? And which Scripture was Pope Boniface infallibly interpreting?

    Actually, the truth is that RC’s don’t even agree among themselves how many and which “infallible” teachings the Popes have made. But if God set up such an office: 1) why has it been inconsistent; 2) why has it been used so infrequently; 3) and which Scriptures did these “infallible interpretations” cover?

    If this office is so important, why after 2000 years has it been exercised only a few times? RC’s make a big issue about how Protestants know what the canon of Scripture is, but they cannot even tell us which Scriptures have the benefit of infallible interpretations! Furthermore, with such a miniscule portion of Scripture covered, it would seem that either a) the office is irrelevant to the life of the Church; or b) the office has severely neglected its duty.

    Your proposal, Solo Papa, doesn’t make sense. It, like the abuses of Sola Scriptura, boils down to Solo Sua (God’s Word is secondary, self is primary).

    Blessings.

  202. Keith T,

    You wrote:

    I much prefer Solo Scriptura to Solo Church Historia, and it is strange to me that you don’t.

    Your last line is quite telling, especially the word ‘prefer’. For the Catholic, personal preference has nothing to do with determining the identity and nature of the Church. The question is an historical investigation, and our preferences had better stay out of the investigation, lest we simply ‘find’ what we want to find. That’s not the way a truth-seeker seeks. He wants the truth, even if it is contrary to his ‘preferences’. But when personal preference is the fundamental driving principle, we find the source of today’s ecclesial consumerism and the massive quest for the itching of one’s ears.

    So we both rely on private interpretation to lead us to an authority outside and above our individual self, and the difference is in what we are interpreting.

    That is not an accurate redescription of what I said. The principled difference is not that the Protestant is interpreting one book, and the Catholic is interpreting another. The Protestant approach starts from [Protestant] Scripture, determines what seems to oneself to be the gospel, and then designates as ‘Church’ those who believe and teach according to one’s interpretation of Scripture. The Catholic approach is to locate an entity (i.e. the Church) in the first century, then trace that entity forward to the present day, and then listening to what she says is the gospel. Both involve the initial use of private judgment, but one picks out persons as leaders of the Church on the ground of agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, while the other picks out persons as leaders of the Church by tracing the handing down of authority from the Apostles to the present day, and from these authorized persons learning the gospel. That difference entails that the Protestant (as Protestant) retains ultimate interpretive authority, and explains why the Catholic (as Catholic) does not retain ultimate interpretive authority.

    I am guilty as charged with THIS brand of Solo Scriptura, but I still do not see how that is somehow contrary to Sola Scriptura

    Then read the first two sections of our article, in which we present Keith Mathison’s arguments against solo scriptura.

    It seems that the source of church authority for Reformed believers is that Scripture gives rightful authority to ordained elders. It also seems that the source of authority for Rome is a claim of an inherited authority from the Apostles.

    There is a difference between the authority that comes from knowing a subject well (e.g. the authority of an expert) and the authority that comes from being authorized to represent someone and speak on his behalf. Books can give the former type of authority, but they can’t give the latter type of authority. Without apostolic succession then, Protestantism is left only with the kind of authority had by an expert, and this is why Protestantism cannot bind the conscience regarding the deposit of faith. But because the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has its authority by way of apostolic succession, it is not limited to academic-type authority, but holds the authority to speak and teach on Christ’s behalf, as His authorized representatives. Even heretics could claim to have academic-type authority or expertise, but only the Church has the authority of the keys, the authority to open and close the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven to any man, and to declare definitively as Christ’s authorized representative what is the truth concerning Christ and His gospel.

    I think it strange that since the Apostles themselves were not infallible except when writing Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the elders (presbuteros) who succeeded them somehow have a greater authority

    That would be strange. But that’s not what Catholics believe. We believe that the Apostles when speaking all together with one voice, were protected from error by the Holy Spirit. We see this in Acts 15 “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” This proto-ecumenical council indicates the Apostles’ belief that the Holy Spirit was guiding them in their decisions on behalf of the whole Church. And the bishops in ecumenical council later on retained that same belief about the operation of the Holy Spirit in protecting the bishops from error when in ecumenical council and teaching definitively on matters of faith or morals, for the whole Church.

    (Which if this is the case, why does not Rome canonize the creeds and confessions?)

    There is a difference between being divinely inspired, and being inerrant. The Scriptures are divinely inspired and inerrant. The dogmas declared in ecumenical council are inerrant, but not divinely inspired. Hence, the dogmas cannot be ‘canonized’ because they are not Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  203. Keith T.,

    The Nicene Creed (and the canons of the Ecumenical Councils) are canonized, that is they are a part of canon law. I think this is why Bryan distinguishes between inspiration and infalliblity, because scriptures and councils are all together canons of the Church and unalterable, yet there is a distinction between them.

  204. lojahw,

    As I pointed out earlier, the use of Scripture by the Council of Nicea is perfectly consistent with the Catholic understanding of the interdependence and interrelation of Scripture and the Magisterium. Nothing about the Council’s use of Scripture indicates either that the individual retains ultimate interpretive authority or that the definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium are not protected from error by the Holy Spirit. The “assumptions” underlying sola scriptura were voiced by heretics, but not by the Church Fathers. That is because the Church Fathers never believed that the individual retained ultimate interpretive authority, or that the individual armed with his own personal Bible could stand in judgment upon the definitive decision of an ecumenical council regarding matters of faith or morals.

    You wrote:

    Your claim is that the successor of Peter has the charism of infallibility is refuted by empirical evidence. Peter’s successors have been inconsistent. Truth is not inconsistent with itself.

    The Fourth Ecumenical Council praised Pope Leo I thus: “Peter has spoken thus through Leo.” This same Pope taught:

    “For the entire human race there was but one remedy … that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further, because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed… is it not Thou who art alone?’” (Sermon 28.3)

    But Pope Pius IX contradicted Pope Leo I by declaring that Jesus was not “alone” born free and innocent of original transgression – that his mother, Mary, was likewise sinless from conception. Either Pope Leo I handed down an incorrect interpretation that wasn’t corrected for 1500 years, or Pope Pius IX taught error. Which is it? Jesus cannot “alone” be sinless if Mary also was “free and innocent of original transgression.”

    You’ve created a contradiction where there is none. And this shows why you need the Magisterium in order properly to understand both Scripture and the teachings of the Church. Mary is not one of the “sons of Adam.” So what Pope Leo says does not pertain to her. Pope Leo was surely not unaware of what earlier Church Fathers had written:

    He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from defilement and corruption. (Hyppolytus, A.D. 235)

    You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is neither blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these? (Ephraim the Syrian, A. D. 361)

    Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin. (St. Ambrose of Milan, A.D. 387)

    He was conceived by the virgin, who had been first purified by the Spirit in soul and body; for, as it was fitting that childbearing should receive its share of honor, so it was necessary that virginity should receive even greater honor. (St. Gregory Nazianzen, A.D. 390)

    We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin. (St. Augustine, A.D. 415)

    These help us be careful not to read into Pope Leo’s statement what he does not say.

    You then wrote:

    Likewise, self-governance of each locality (and later, each province) was clearly taught by the Apostle Paul, by Clement of Rome, by Ignatius of Antioch (to Polycarp of Smyrna, whose bishop is Christ!), by the Didache [Teaching of the Twelve Apostles], by the Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus, and by the first four Ecumenical Councils. The decisions and canons of all four Ecumenical Councils were accepted by the current bishop of Rome in their times. Yet, almost 1000 years after the First Ecumenical Council declared the territorial limits of bishops within their respective provinces, Pope Boniface VIII, wrote:

    “We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam).

    The Roman Pontiff cannot both be limited to a province and demand the subjection of every human creature. Which interpretation is correct?

    Your mistaken assumption here is that the authority of the Apostolic See was always and only limited to the diocese of Rome. Self-governance of each diocese is fully compatible with subordination to the authority of the successor of St. Peter holding the keys of the Kingdom, on the long-standing Catholic principle of subsidiarity. This is indicated even in St. Clement’s rebuke of the Church at Corinth — as explained very well in this lecture: “St. Clement of Rome: First Known Exercise of Papal Primacy.”

    You then wrote:

    Actually, the truth is that RC’s don’t even agree among themselves how many and which “infallible” teachings the Popes have made.

    I agree that some Catholics don’t fully understand Catholic theology. But the ignorance of some Catholics about Catholic theology does not falsify Catholic theology or demonstrate that the Catholic Church and/or her Magisterium does not know which doctrines are de fide. There are set, objective criteria for distinguishing the dogmas taught infallibly from those matters that are not infallibly taught.

    But if God set up such an office: 1) why has it been inconsistent; 2) why has it been used so infrequently; 3) and which Scriptures did these “infallible interpretations” cover?

    It has not been inconsistent; it has been consistent over 2000 years. It has been in use since the first century. As for your third question, see below.

    If this office is so important, why after 2000 years has it been exercised only a few times?

    It has been exercised many, many times. Your notion that it has only been exercised a few times is incorrect.

    RC’s make a big issue about how Protestants know what the canon of Scripture is, but they cannot even tell us which Scriptures have the benefit of infallible interpretations!

    The Magisterium’s infallible teachings generally do not explicitly specify a particular interpretation of Scripture; they provide the doctrinal framework within which Scripture may be properly interpreted (e.g. the deity of Christ, the Three Persons of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, etc.)

    Furthermore, with such a miniscule portion of Scripture covered, it would seem that either a) the office is irrelevant to the life of the Church; or b) the office has severely neglected its duty.

    See above. You’ve misunderstand the manner in which the Magisterium infallibly guides the Church’s interpretation and understanding of Scripture. It does not do so, generally, by pointing to a particular verse and stipulating explicitly how that verse must be interpreted.

    Your proposal, Solo Papa, doesn’t make sense. It, like the abuses of Sola Scriptura, boils down to Solo Sua (God’s Word is secondary, self is primary).

    Given your gross misunderstanding of it, no wonder you think it doesn’t make sense. If I thought it was what you think it is, I would say the same as you. Before you criticize something (especially with such vehemence and confidence) it would be prudent first to seek to understand it.

    All these things are things you can learn on your own by reading the Catechism or other basic books explaining the teaching and theology of the Catholic Church. The purpose of CTC is not to discuss such things; we’re not Catholic Answers, and we have no intention of being such. The purpose of this combox is to discuss our article. So, let’s keep the discussion on-topic. If you have questions about other things pertaining to Catholicism, there are many other online resources and books explaining the answers to such questions.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  205. Bryan, Re: your ECF quotes about Mary, as everyone on this thread has agreed: they don’t prove anything because none of them had the charism of infallibility.

    Re: Leo I’s teaching on Mary:
    For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is re-born, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing. (Sermon 24.3)

    Here Leo explains that the curse of “the earth of human flesh” was overthrown through “that sacred conception.” Mary, like the rest of humanity, was not cleansed of original sin apart from Christ’s sacred conception.

    I maintain the inconsistency.

    You wrote: “Self-governance of each diocese is fully compatible with subordination to the authority of the successor of St. Peter holding the keys of the Kingdom, on the long-standing Catholic principle of subsidiarity.”

    The canons of the first Four Ecumenical Councils beg to differ. There is no “subordination to the authority of the successor of St. Peter” in the following:

    Council of Nicea, Canon 6: Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like
    is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other
    provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be
    universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent
    of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not
    to be a bishop.

    The “like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also” indicates provincial authority. It is the Metropolitan in each See that has subsidiary authority, not Rome. There is not one hint of subsidiary authority to Rome of the provinces listed. [Your explanation seems to stem from Rome’s one-time confusion of the canons from Sardica, which was in Rome’s jurisdiction, with those of Nicea. History tells us that Rome’s mix-up of their records was resolved when an authentic copy of the canons of Nicea was produced.]

    Similarly, the Second Ecumenical Council decreed: “If the letter of the canon about dioceses is kept, it is clear that the provincial synod will manage affairs in each province, as was decreed at Nicaea” (Canon 2).

    I’ve noticed that RCs like to “read into” texts lots of things that the rest of us don’t see there, particularly when it supports their partisan interpretations.

    Blessings.

  206. I note, too, with some disappointment, that no one has engaged or questioned or discussed the conditions on authority (content independence and preemption) that I previously suggested really ought to be discussed if we want to get a clearer grasp on the notions of epistemic authority and autonomy….

    Neal – I assume you are speaking of statements that you make in post #61 such as:

    We find that a good number of the arguments aimed at distinguishing solo from sola, and which aim at justifying the conclusion that Catholicism amounts to its own version of solo scriptura (‘sola ecclesia’), either do not work or contain suppressed premises that, after some consideration, we find ourselves unable to discover. We notice that a number of these tensions disappear if we drop sola scriptura in either of its permutations and adopt a position that would justifiably allow us to treat external interpretive authority as de facto irreformable and infallible,….

    From what I can see in your and Bryan’s article you are attempting to determine whether or not sola and solo scriptura can be collapsed together as effectively coming down to the same sort of authoritative decision. And as I said to Tim, yes they certainly can given the assumption that we are focusing on the epistemic questions of judgments of the individual. And your whole article from what I see speaks from this standpoint. But now here you are raising a different issue when you direct your epistemic sights on the object of authority rather than the subjective assessment made by the individual on that authority. And it is just this question that I brought up earlier but nobody commented back to me as if they understood my point. So I am glad to see you bringing this up particularly since historically the focus of the concept of sola scriptura is this matter of the epistemological authority of the ecclesiastical entity under investigation rather than the question of our subjective judgment of this entity.

    But since you have brought it up I think I can feel comfortable asking obvious question: What tensions appear (and/or disappear) if we assume the external internal authority to be potentially fallible? And then as a matter of practical historical application, what if after a study of (for example) the Sub-apostolics we conclude that at this point in time there was no conception of an infallible interpretive tradition outside of the Scriptures. If we were to come to this conclusion would we be forced philosophically to bring into question their ability to judge the ecclesiastical matters that we find recorded in their writings?

    I have not really wrapped my mind around your presuppositional analogy. I can go back if you think I should and think about it a little more.

  207. Hi, Andrew.

    Thanks for responding. Actually, the thing I was talking about, when I mentioned that nobody has “engaged” a particular point I made, was the conditions on authority I borrowed from Joseph Raz and suggested should be applied or at least could be applied, so as to tighten up the discussion. I wasn’t referencing the summary of the argument or line of thought that you subsequently quote from me.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I understand what you mean when you say that “here I am, raising a different issue” or changing the subject by talking about the nature of epistemic authority, and arguing that the magisterium/Church constitutes an epistemic authority in a way that the Church does not on Reformed Protestantism. It seemed to me that that was precisely the issue people were most interested in raising in the thread, or at least was intrinsically connected to it. As to your follow up questions, I’m not sure what you mean by an “external internal authority.” I think the tensions that appear under the fallibilist assumption (if I understand you here) are quite close to or are identical with the problems we discuss with reference to Mathison; and as for the historical questions you raise, if you’re wanting to get into a sophisticated debate on the patristics, you’ll have to find a different discussion partner than me.

    Last, the presuppositionalist analogy I thought was totally straightforward: the idea is just that both of those guys are using their own autonomous reason along the way, but the presuppositionalist would not thereby infer that presuppositionalists are therefore all autonomous thinkers, just as much as any atheist. Mutatis mutandis in the Catholic/Protestant case. The analogy was directed at the first set of recurrent criticisms: “you Catholics use private judgment/are solo scriptura individualists just as much as we are,” etc.

    Best,

    Neal

  208. Hello again Neal,

    Whoops – “external internal authority” should have been “external interpretive authority,” which was phrase that you used.

    There are two possible discussions we could be having when we speak of sola scriptura. We could be talking about A) the standard that the individual uses to judge theological matters, or we could be speaking of B) the standard by which ecclesiastic entities use when they render judgments. It seems to me that in your article that you are speaking of A, but not B. Take for example IV.A. of your article where you discuss the lack of principled difference between sola and solo. In the second paragraph you say:

    But there are two ways to make oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. One is a direct way and the other is an indirect way. The direct way is to subject all theological questions directly to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. That is the solo scriptura position. Because it is direct, the nature of the position is quite transparent; we can see clearly in such a case that the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive authority.

    The discussion goes on in this vein. You are talking about two different possibilities but they are both within the context of A. From what I can see you do not specifically address B in the article. But then in #61 you (rightfully and properly) raise the issue of the “external interpretive authority” which is at least the start of discussion B in my scheme. That’s great, it’s just what I wanted to discuss! The question is then obviously whether this “external interpretive authority” is using an infallible standard which is confined to Scripture alone or whether the infallible standard extends to something beyond (but of course including) Scripture. This is the B question and the one that Protestants are generally speaking to when we speak of sola scriptura. Too often our Catholic friends are speaking to A when we are speaking to B, so the conversation does not travel too far.

    And no, I did not want to get into a detailed discussion of patristic epistemology. I just wanted to make the simple point that if there was no evident infallible standard beyond Scripture during the early few centuries of the Church, then the ECF’s at this point were acting with proper authority but without any infallible tools beyond the Scriptures. Now maybe an infallible tradition later developed (very problematic to my mind but conceptually possible), but I think it’s fair to note that before this time, assuming there was no such extra-biblical infallible standard we can point to, there should be no reason to posit such an infallible standard as a philosophical necessity.

    On your presuppositionalist analogy, you are utilizing an example that is meant to further demonstrate that sola and solo collapse together. So maybe this is not having any resonance with me because I already agree with you. But I would qualify my agreement by saying that you were utilizing this example in an A rather than a B context.

  209. Richard (#164) & Mateo (#163) asked me some questions a while back, and I haven’t been around to answer them. These came up because I quoted Bryan and Neal’s footnote (n.55) re. Kevin Vanhoozer (who was describing different interpretive approaches that Protestants take since we believe we have an infallible Word but fallible interpreters). I’ll try to respond briefly here. (I’m answering out of courtesy, but I apologize for taking the space, as I know you guys want to move on to more challenging things.)

    Mateo (#163) wrote: “My question is this, why would Jesus found a Church and then leave us with no way of knowing with certainty what he actually taught?” – which is the big question behind your other questions. I would respond by observing that those in a “thoughtful” Protestant category, whom I believe Vanhoozer was describing in his approach #4 (see my post #161), have accepted that this is close to the case, whether or not they can answer WHY. (Though I should qualify this a little – in this position, it is ABSOLUTE certainty of interpretation that is beyond us. But on this view, SUFFICIENT certainty is already enough to die for, and live for.)

    If such Protestants are right, and there is no Magisterium with infallibility and authority in interpretation, then they are correct to aim for / expect interpretation that is “sufficient and reliable,” not infallible. Having accepted a certain epistemic situation as God’s will, they make use of what they have been given – biblical texts, intellect, past and present thinkers, and dependence on the Holy Spirit (which may be the key to the humility they need to avoid getting stuck in intellectual pride). I am not here arguing that all this is RIGHT – only pointing out that some Protestants have found this a livable approach in the absence of a Magisterium, and all is not epistemic chaos.

    Certainly plenty of sincere Protestants think they are guided by the Spirit’s illumination. Where I see a difference, and where I think Vanhoozer sees a difference, is between Protestants who insist they have THE right answers across the board (via Spirit or study or whatever) and Protestants whose convictions are strong and hard-won, but who don’t make the mistake of insisting they have a “magisterium” of any shape or size that precludes their ever being wrong.

    And I agree with you, Mateo, that there is widespread hermeneutical chaos and anarchy in Protestantism. But I think a lot of it has to do with the mistake of thinking we can know infallibly. I also think it is possible for Protestants to have differences of opinion about certain matters of praxis and exegesis while still sharing communion at a basic level.

    Mateo also asks how I would respond to Terry’s post (#56): (to paraphrase:)“Would the Bridegroom leave his “bride” w/o a protector to guide her into all truth?” I would gently say that if the Lord did not leave a Magisterium arrangement, then his perfect and loving will is that we expect sufficient, not infallible, understanding. I only mean to point out that some Protestants seem to get this idea, and others seem to miss it. (And the ones who “get it” seemed not to have appeared in the article above, till I noticed them in that footnote.)

    Richard — you ask whether I think there is A true meaning in the text and how to find it. Yes, I believe God intended to communicate to his Church, and used human words to do so. The meaning of the text is HIS meaning. Did he leave us with a Magisterium to help us infallibly know the correct interpretation, or not? If so, then listen to it. If not, then this is his loving will for us: expect to be able to know sufficiently, enough to live for him, and don’t get hung up aiming for infallibility of interpretation. Work hard to understand, stay humble, keep learning.

  210. BTW, Bryan,

    You misinterpreted the quote from Pope Leo I’s Sermon 28.3: “born free and innocent of original transgression. … because this was not permitted by natural generation … is it not Thou alone?” means that a human being conceived by “natural generation” could NOT be “born free and innocent of original transgression.” Only Christ qualified because He was the only human born without natural generation – without a human father. This explanation of Christ’s sinlessness has often been used throughout Church history.

    Regarding salvation:
    Consider Pope Damasus’ teaching on salvation (following a series of anathemas for those who disagreed with his points):

    “This is the salvation of the Christians, that believing in the Trinity, that is in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and being baptized into the same one Godhead and power and divinity and substance, in Him we may trust.”

    And, in contrast, Boniface VIII: “We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Bull Unam Sanctam).

    Even without appealing to the obvious disconnect between Boniface’s “infallible declaration” on salvation and what Scripture teaches about it, I submit that the above two statements are inconsistent, especially from a RC viewpoint since “This is … ” carries such literal weight in your interpretations!

    Your speculative beliefs about your infallible teaching office are refuted by the inconsistencies of their teaching. Your arguments are really no more than special pleading.

    You have failed to prove your assertion that the successors of Peter are infallible.

    Blessings.

  211. Paige said:

    “you ask whether I think there is A true meaning in the text and how to find it. Yes, I believe God intended to communicate to his Church, and used human words to do so. The meaning of the text is HIS meaning. Did he leave us with a Magisterium to help us infallibly know the correct interpretation, or not? … If not, then this is his loving will for us: expect to be able to know sufficiently, enough to live for him, and don’t get hung up aiming for infallibility of interpretation. Work hard to understand, stay humble, keep learning.”

    [Note: I excised the "If so..." answer because I believe it has been empirically refuted.]

    A hearty AMEN!

  212. lojahw,

    Here Leo explains that the curse of “the earth of human flesh” was overthrown through “that sacred conception.” Mary, like the rest of humanity, was not cleansed of original sin apart from Christ’s sacred conception

    Correct. That’s fully consistent with the Catholic understanding of the Immaculate Conception.

    I maintain the inconsistency.

    You are free to maintain any inconsistency you want. But you have not demonstrated any inconsistency. You seem to want to try to find an inconsistency, just as certain atheists seem to want to try find reasons not to believe in God, and certain critics want to find contradictions in Scripture. You don’t seem to be a charitable interpreter of the Church’s history and documents.

    The sixth canon of Nicea does not deny the universal authority of the Apostolic See. It is not addressing that question. It is addressing local ecclesial government by province. If you understand subsidiarity, you understand that there is no either/or with respect to local and universal government. The canons of the Council of Nicea became authoritative over the whole Church only at the moment they were approved by the Apostolic See. In that way the authority of the canons presupposes the universal authority of the Apostolic See.

    I’ve noticed that RCs like to “read into” texts lots of things that the rest of us don’t see there, particularly when it supports their partisan interpretations.

    Without the fuller context, I’m sure it appears that way. But when we bring in the fuller context, the apparent discrepancy dissolves.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  213. lojahw,

    You misinterpreted the quote from Pope Leo I’s Sermon 28.3: “born free and innocent of original transgression. … because this was not permitted by natural generation … is it not Thou alone?” means that a human being conceived by “natural generation” could NOT be “born free and innocent of original transgression.” Only Christ qualified because He was the only human born without natural generation – without a human father. This explanation of Christ’s sinlessness has often been used throughout Church history.

    The “not permitted by natural generation” does not mean that it is impossible with God, but that it was the default in the fallen condition. Pope Leo isn’t saying that it is impossible for God to bring a sin-free human being into the world through natural generation between a fallen man and a fallen woman. He is speaking of the natural condition of man in his fallen state, how procreation in the fallen condition does not allow the passing on of sanctifying grace to the offspring. But that ordinary limitation does not preclude God from bestowing sanctifying grace on a naturally conceived human being at the moment of conception. He is not speaking about Mary’s conception (or ruling out her immaculate conception); he is speaking about the ordinary condition of natural generation in the fallen condition, a condition that is not beyond the power of God to overcome.

    Regarding salvation:
    Consider Pope Damasus’ teaching on salvation (following a series of anathemas for those who disagreed with his points):

    “This is the salvation of the Christians, that believing in the Trinity, that is in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and being baptized into the same one Godhead and power and divinity and substance, in Him we may trust.”

    And, in contrast, Boniface VIII: “We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Bull Unam Sanctam).

    Even without appealing to the obvious disconnect between Boniface’s “infallible declaration” on salvation and what Scripture teaches about it, I submit that the above two statements are inconsistent, especially from a RC viewpoint since “This is … ” carries such literal weight in your interpretations!

    The two statements are fully compatible. Pope Damasus isn’t denying the necessity of the other parts of the Creed. He is not saying that believing in the Church, and resurrection of the body, etc. is all now optional. So you are misunderstanding Pope Damasus’s statement, by [falsely] assuming that he means that this statement is the exhaustive extent of the articles of faith. But if he had meant it that way, he would have been a heretic for denying the necessity of the other parts of the Creed. So, again the principle of charity demands that we do not unnecessarily make someone out to be an idiot or a heretic. The necessity of belief in the Church, as specified in the Creed, is more fully specified by Pope Boniface. By more fully explaining the doctrine of the Church, Pope Boniface is not contradicting the more concise earlier statements about the Church in the Creed, nor is he contradicting the statement by Pope Damasus.

    Your speculative beliefs about your infallible teaching office are refuted by the inconsistencies of their teaching. Your arguments are really no more than special pleading.

    You have not yet shown one teaching to be inconsistent, or one of our arguments to commit the fallacy of special pleading. If you disagree, please show the inconsistency, or point out the special pleading.

    You have failed to prove your assertion that the successors of Peter are infallible.

    Before accusing someone of failing to do something, it is best first to confirm that he or she is trying to do it. Our purpose in writing this article and responding to your comments in this combox discussion has not been to prove that the successors of Peter are infallible, notwithstanding your obvious attempts to turn the discussion into a debate about such subjects.

    I hope at this point we can turn our attention back to the article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  214. Bryan,

    This thread has been focused on pathologies of Sola Scriptura, asserting that the abuses seen among Protestants leads one to conclude that there is no principled difference between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura, where the individual is the de facto final interpreter of truth.

    What this thread has not explored is how the individual functions under Sola Papa, i.e., under the Roman Catholic infallible teaching office. I submit that there is no principled difference between people regardless of whether they are RC or Protestant: each individual is the de facto final interpreter of whatever source of truth they encounter. Each person filters what they read or hear into his or her own understanding. The main difference between RCs and those who actually practice Sola Scriptura (I’ll grant that many do not), is that RCs put an additional unique filter between themselves and God’s Word. Both Protestants and RCs are taught by pastors trained in God’s Word, but RCs also add an “infallible interpreter” between the individual and God’s Word. However, ultimately, the individual RC functions as the de facto final interpreter of the interpreter of truth.

    The manifestations of Protestant abuses and misunderstandings of Scripture are quite visible, as all recognize in the splintered condition of Protestant Churches. However, just because RCs stick together organizationally does not mean that they do not function interpretively the same way that Protestants do. Each RC must still decide for themselves what the teaching of the Pope means.

    As you and any honest RC acknowledge, RCs are all over the map in their understanding of the Magisterium and what it has taught or not taught, infallibly or otherwise (cf. CCC 892). I submit that RC’s, with respect to the teaching of the Magisterium, must each decide: 1) what does it mean? and 2) what am I going to do about it? In conversations I’ve had with RCs, Pope Boniface’s Unam Sanctam is interpreted in many different ways. Secondly, RCs respond in different ways to Boniface’s declaration: e.g., 1) they argue that it was not an “ex cathedra” teaching and therefore can be ignored; 2) they argue that it was superceded by Vatican II which affirms the salvation of Christians not in communion with the RCC [Unitatis Redintegratio 1: “it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body”]; 3) they believe that it is an “ex cathedra” teaching and therefore anyone who is not a member of the visible RCC is damned to hell; 4) they believe that as a good RC they must accept it but they live as if it weren’t true; 5) they express verbal dissent in the RCC and live with the tension between their conscience and what they’ve been told; 6) they cannot reconcile Boniface’s teaching with God’s Word and they leave the RCC. There are of course other responses and the pattern. The same can be said for the papal teaching on contraception and any number of other subjects.

    One should not mistake organizational unity for spiritual unity. RCs have as widely diverse beliefs as Protestants – they just don’t show it as visibly as Protestants do. Protestants value visible unity at a local assembly level, understanding that the members of the body are many and diverse, but are all connected to the same head (Christ). The branches of the vine are distinct, yet all are connected to and nourished by the true vine.

    So the real question is whether or not the Magisterium of the RCC is infallible – and that is a question that each person must ultimately decide for themselves. For me, the cognitive dissonance between the teaching of the Magisterium and the clear teaching of Scripture is too great.

    Peace.

  215. Bryan,

    Re: special pleading – you appeal to the ECFs to support your viewpoint but you dismiss all references to the ECFs that do not support your viewpoint.

    Re: inconsistencies – IN THIS OFFSPRING of the Blessed Virgin ONLY produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. The referent of “only” is “this offspring of the Blessed Virgin.” Only in this offspring (Christ) was there a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. The referent of “stock” is Mary. Mary indeed was NOT blessed and free from fault; it was her faulty stock referred to which produced the “only seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock.”

    Peace.

  216. This thread has been most helpful, thank you.

    As a theologically trained (modestly) Protestant whose certainly considering the claims of the Catholic Church, and admittedly come to seen those very marks of the Creed in her, I would like to offer an affirmation. My subjective experience definitely attests, to my satisfaction at least, the distinction between asking the question “where is that church that teaches what I already know to be true from the scriptures?” to “where is the Church which would trump my pre-conceived doctrinal conclusions?” It is the same question which Joseph Smith asked—though I couldn’t tolerate the answer being “there is none. Christianity is forsaken.” When either question is the subject of one’s prayers for an extended period, the felt difference is remarkable.

    I remember, as a bible-college student, picking up those very readable “5 views on. . .” The type of text which would present an issue, such as Eschatology or Baptism ect., and hear arguments from the leading schools of thought. This, of course, is all fine and good. Yet, I would pick them up so casually, wondering “which am I?” I never lost sight of the fact that I was ultimately my own theological authority.

    My current dilemma is so difficult precisely because of the recognition that I would be surrendering a right to interpretive authority (aside from ecclesial authority). In this way catholics, it seems, are married to the Church. One’s membership is not really revocable, only corruptible (as the married man has no power to nullify his marriage). I could not rightfully, at a point in the future, for whatever doctrinal outrage, leave and set up shop down the block. This is, for me, another way to frame the difference contra the repeated allegation that I am reading.

    Cheers,

  217. Bryan,

    In our continuing dialogue:
    KEITH: I much prefer Solo Scriptura to Solo Church Historia…
    BRYAN: Your last line is quite telling, especially the word ‘prefer’. For the Catholic, personal preference has nothing to do with determining the identity and nature of the Church.

    I guess that I didn’t make it clear that I was using the word “prefer” quite intentionally. I have been trying to point out that you are EQUALLY as guilty of beginning your epistemological search for salvation with an individualistic “preference” as we protestants are. (..along with every other human being from every other religion on the face of the earth.) So, for you to identify the point in our epistemology where “private judgment” is used and then say that every epistemic conclusion based upon that is somehow tainted is calling the kettle black. (Also, the doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture addresses this supposed “Protestant problem” at length. I would recommend reading that section in Herman Bavink or Louis Berkhof for a reasonable defense of it.)

    I suppose I am utterly confused how you can say that for Catholics, “…personal preference has nothing to do with determining the identity and nature of the Church,” while in the next breath you state, “The Catholic approach is to locate an entity (i.e. the Church) in the first century, then trace that entity forward to the present day, and then listening to what she says is the gospel. Both involve the initial use of private judgment…” ??? Is “personal preference” and “private judgment” somehow different? Are you somehow able to use “private judgment” in a way that does not rely on “personal preference?” Are you saying that Catholics have the ability to read human history without any preexisting bias? Are you implying that Roman Catholic historians were free from personal bias when they wrote the history of the church?

    Epistemologically, you and I are in the same boat, (floating down different rivers) but again, I prefer to start with the Word of God, which has the power of God to give life than to start with fallible human history written by fallible men which does not have the power to give life, but most certainly has the power to both lie and deceive. I prefer Solo Scriptura to Solo Church Historia. I prefer my boat and I prefer my river.

    As to whether or not Apostolic Succession is the exclusive means by which true ecclesiastical authority has been given is a different matter. That is not the thesis of your paper above so I have not gone there yet, but it seems that the thread is rapidly degenerating into a discussion of the validity of Rome’s brand of successionism. This is the same problem that we faced in the previous thread in which I conversed with you, and I think that it is the heart of the matter. One of the inherent weaknesses I see in your article, is that it does not sufficiently address this issue which is THE issue between Reformed catholics and Roman Catholics in desperate need of reformation. (Hey, I never claimed to be unbiased!) It seems to me that you presuppose that true succession necessitates true teaching. This was never the case in the OT & I don’t see why I should believe that it is the case now.

    Throughout biblical history, God’s truth was constantly being perverted by his “authorized” priesthood, but God always retained a remnant of true prophets who called for reform in the land. Why should we think that God decided to grant an “infallible button” to the Roman Catholic Church when He never did this in the visible church of the Old Testament? It seems inconsistent. The “TRUE” church in the OT was the remnant faithful to the TEACHING irrespective of their Levitical “true authority based on succession.” Why does legitimate succession of office in the New Covenant somehow change the fact that mankind (including Popes and bishops) is depraved and susceptible to error and the perversion of the truth?

    Hoping to learn,
    Keith WT

  218. Shawn,

    The way you put the questions about finding the Church was excellent. Be assured of my prayers as you navigate the waters.

    Keith,

    When you say that, contra, Catholics, you prefer to start with the Word of God, you assume so much in that statement. For starters, how do you know what the Word of God is? Is it possible to know the Word of God apart from the community to which and through which it was given (e.g. Israel and the Church)?

    That being said, I am genuinely surprised that many of the rebuttals to the Catholic position have been “you use personal judgment, therefore, you are no different than the Protestant” etc… Why is it surprising that Catholics use personal judgment? Part 3 Articles 3, 4, and 6 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church make it very clear about the personal responsibility that we have to make a morally informed choice.

  219. One sentence from the Louis Bouyer quote:

    If it was possible for the first to come from the second, it must somehow have been contained therein.

    “somehow” SolO was “contained therein” (in SolA) is a massive assumption. The assumption is that the first (SolO Scritpura) came from the second (SolA Scriptura) as a necessary consequence or causal relationship. We could say the same thing, that somehow SolA came from the RCC. The RCC caused SolA Scriptura in a reactionary way from:
    1. the failure to preach the gospel and teach the Scriptures properly
    2. the harsh treatment of heretics and schismatics (Nestorians, Monophysites, Wycliff, Lollards, Jan Huss) all through history, from the principle of the marriage of the church and state of Emperor Theodosius in 380 AD to Justinian in 530s-550s AD to the Crusades and Inquisitions to the Reformation. Without the political freedoms of separation of church and state of the Germans (Fredrick the Wise) and the German Princes agreed to the Augsburg confession, the RCC would have burned Luther at the stake. The proliferation of SolO type churches was made possible more by the political freedoms of separation of church and state ( Magna Carta – US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, etc.) .

  220. Keith T,

    have you read section V of this article? have you read the Liccione recommendation from comment 4? i’m not trying to be combative, just genuinely curious.

  221. lojahw,

    You wrote:

    I submit that there is no principled difference between people regardless of whether they are RC or Protestant: each individual is the de facto final interpreter of whatever source of truth they encounter. Each person filters what they read or hear into his or her own understanding. The main difference between RCs and those who actually practice Sola Scriptura (I’ll grant that many do not), is that RCs put an additional unique filter between themselves and God’s Word. Both Protestants and RCs are taught by pastors trained in God’s Word, but RCs also add an “infallible interpreter” between the individual and God’s Word. However, ultimately, the individual RC functions as the de facto final interpreter of the interpreter of truth.

    We addressed this objection in section V.A. in our article, in which we pointed out the distinction (that you are here glossing) between the two senses of final. See the paragraph that begins “This objection can also take the following form.”

    RCs are all over the map in their understanding of the Magisterium

    There is undoubtedly a deficiency among many Catholic lay-persons in understanding the Catholic faith. That is the result of poor catechesis. But that does not entail that in Catholicism the individual retains ultimate interpretive authority. The Catholic who is relatively ignorant of the Catholic faith does not thereby become his own ultimate interpretive authority. So the point that “many Catholics do not understand the Catholic faith” does nor refute our argument or show that the Catholic position is equivalent to solo scriptura.

    RCs have as widely diverse beliefs as Protestants – they just don’t show it as visibly as Protestants do.

    The principled difference is that there is in the Catholic Church one definite faith, defined by the Magisterium. Any Catholic who deviates from it is ipso facto heterodox. But in Protestantism, there is no Magisterium to set the standard for what is orthodox and what is heterodox. So the “diversity” of theological doctrines among Protestants is not deviation from an established and defined orthoxody, whereas the “diversity” of doctrinal beliefs among Catholics is deviation from an established and defined orthodoxy, excepting those beliefs concerning which there has been no teaching given by the Magisterium, in which matters we have freedom. The reason Catholics can affirm the saying, “In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity” is because in virtue of the Magisterium we have a principled distinction between essentials and non-essentials. But in Protestantism there is no principled distinction or ground for a principled distinction between essentials and non-essentials.

    Re: special pleading – you appeal to the ECFs to support your viewpoint but you dismiss all references to the ECFs that do not support your viewpoint.

    I have not dismissed any quotation from the ECFs. I have explained how a Catholic understands the ECF quotations to which you have have referred.

    Re: inconsistencies – IN THIS OFFSPRING of the Blessed Virgin ONLY produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. The referent of “only” is “this offspring of the Blessed Virgin.” Only in this offspring (Christ) was there a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. The referent of “stock” is Mary. Mary indeed was NOT blessed and free from fault; it was her faulty stock referred to which produced the “only seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock.”

    Here again is the quotation from Pope St. Leo I:

    In this nativity also, Isaiah’s saying is fulfilled, “let the earth produce and bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together (Isaiah 45:8) .” For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. (Sermon 24.3)

    The word ‘only’ there is an adverb modifying the word ‘produced’. It doesn’t mean that only Christ was sinless. Pope St. Leo is saying that in Christ’s conception, the earth composing human flesh only produced a blessed seed, i.e. did not also produce a corrupt seed. So there is no inconsistency between what Pope St. Leo I says here, and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  222. Paige Britton: Mateo (#163) wrote: “My question is this, why would Jesus found a Church and then leave us with no way of knowing with certainty what he actually taught?” – which is the big question behind your other questions. I would respond by observing that those in a “thoughtful” Protestant category, whom I believe Vanhoozer was describing in his approach #4 (see my post #161), have accepted that this is close to the case, whether or not they can answer WHY. … If such Protestants are right, and there is no Magisterium with infallibility and authority in interpretation, then they are correct to aim for / expect interpretation that is “sufficient and reliable,” not infallible.

    If one cannot know with certainty what Jesus actually taught, one can never know with certainty that their beliefs are either “sufficient” or “reliable”!

    I once encountered a Baptist man that argued along the lines that you are advancing. Basically he said this: We are saved by faith alone, but no one can know with certainty what we are supposed to believe. To be saved, we need to have sincere faith in things that may or may not be true.

  223. Keith T,

    You wrote:

    Is “personal preference” and “private judgment” somehow different?

    And here, perhaps, we’re starting to get to the heart of the divide. Yes, personal preference and private judgment are not the same thing. Personal preference is what people use when they are standing at the ice cream counter at Baskin Robbins, trying to make a decision about which flavor to order. Are they also using private judgment? Yes. They are using both. Contrast that with the accident reconstruction project of Flight 1549. That task is also accomplished by private judgment, but not governed by personal preference. It is not that we can go about reconstructing an accident any way we might happen to feel or prefer. There is a way to go about it that leads to the truth about what happened, and that way is what it is, regardless of our preferences for other ways.

    Are you saying that Catholics have the ability to read human history without any preexisting bias?

    Humans are able to discover the truth about what happened in the past. We can trace the Church through history, from the time of the Apostles to the present.

    I prefer to start with the Word of God, which has the power of God to give life than to start with fallible human history written by fallible men which does not have the power to give life, but most certainly has the power to both lie and deceive.

    How do you know that [it, i.e. the Protestant Bible] is “the Word of God”? You are implicitly relying on the Church, in order even to know that there is a Word of God written, and which books belong to it. Otherwise, your starting point would be entirely arbitrary and fideistic. Preference should not even be in our discussion, if truth is what we are trying to find. If we are after the truth, and not seeking our own preferences, then the question is: Which method leads us to the Church Christ founded, and how did the early Christians understand how the Church was to be discovered. The one method in question here is picking up a Protestant Bible, coming up with one’s own interpretation of what it says about ‘the gospel’, finding those persons who believe and teach that gospel, and designating them as “the Church”. The other method is locating that entity bearing the name Church (or ‘Catholic Church’ according to St. Ignatius of Antioch) in the first century, and then tracing it forward through history to the present day.

    One of the inherent weaknesses I see in your article, is that it does not sufficiently address this issue which is THE issue between Reformed catholics and Roman Catholics in desperate need of reformation. (Hey, I never claimed to be unbiased!) It seems to me that you presuppose that true succession necessitates true teaching. This was never the case in the OT & I don’t see why I should believe that it is the case now.

    I think the reason you “don’t see why” you should believe divine protection accompanies apostolic succession is because you ‘start’ with [Protestant] Scripture, and hence try to understand what qualities and properties the Church has (and even who or what the Church is) from your interpretation of [Protestant] Scripture, instead of from the Church herself. If you located the Church first, and then sought to understand from her what is the truth about Christ, the truth about the canon of Scripture, the truth about the nature of the Church, etc., then you would understand why divine protection accompanies apostolic succession. The assumption you are starting with is that Scripture can properly be understand and interpreted entirely apart from the covenant people to whom it was written and in which it was written. What if that assumption is false?

    Why should we think that God decided to grant an “infallible button” to the Roman Catholic Church when He never did this in the visible church of the Old Testament? It seems inconsistent.

    That would make every significant difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant into an “inconsistency.” There was no “visible Church” in the Old Testament; the Church was born on Pentecost. That’s why Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. He was inaugurating the Kingdom, something not present in the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is far better than the Old Covenant. Baptism now saves, as Peter tells us, but circumcision did not. The passover lamb of the Old Covenant did not give eternal life. But the Eucharist under the New Covenant gives eternal life (John 6:54-58) In every way the promises of the New Covenant are better. So you shouldn’t be surprised that what Christ inaugurated, and to which He gave the keys to Peter, would be far greater and indefectible compared to what we find in the Old Covenant. With a mere sola scriptura approach that’s much more difficult to know, because you don’t have the benefit of what the Church herself has definitively taught about herself through the ages.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  224. Wilkins,

    I appreciate your gentle manner of asking your question. Yes, I have read section V. of the above article. (I just finished rereading it to be sure I didn’t forget something.)

    The problem I still have, is that the contrast being stated throughout the article is a good comparison between mainline evangelicalism and Roman Catholic church authority. However, this contrast is not by any means a faithful engagement of Reformed churches. My church and most other Reformed churches hold to a high view of church authority and submission to the teaching of that authority. In many cases, when the above authors criticize “protestants” for their lack of any church authority, I stand up and applaud… but then I find that they are criticizing Reformed churches and I sit down and scratch my head. Their critiques are similar to my own critiques of most protestant churches. I myself have preached sermons on numerous occasions strongly criticizing the lack of submission to rightful church authority in matters of doctrine, faith, and life which is prevalent in mainline evangelicalism (i.e. the Billy Graham movement).

    I suppose that ultimately, the above authors, in my humble opinion, have no idea what Reformed churches teach concerning church authority, and they lump us into the “protestant” chunk of churches without really thinking about the difference between a Reformed church and a non-reformed church.

    Point in case: In section V. above, the author(s) state, “The Protestant, by contrast, in joining a Protestant community does not find the Magisterium. That is because he does not find something that can bind his conscience regarding the canon of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, and the identity of orthodoxy and heresy. This is why in his Protestant community he perpetually retains final interpretive authority, because no decision of that community has the authority to bind his conscience.”

    I will take it line by line to illustrate my point:

    1. The Protestant, by contrast, in joining a Protestant community does not find the Magisterium.

    This is true. In a Reformed church, a believer does not find “the Magisterium,” but that does not imply a vacuum of all authority. Our structure of authority simply goes by a different name. In an evangelical church, they find nothing resembling authoritative teaching whatsoever.

    2. That is because he does not find something that can bind his conscience regarding the canon of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, and the identity of orthodoxy and heresy.

    This is true of mainline evangelical churches, but completely false of Reformed churches. Our confessions are authoritatively binding upon the conscience in regards to each and every one of these matters, and I have witnessed numerous examples of certain individuals who have come under church discipline for failing to submit to rightful church authority in these areas.

    3. This is why in his Protestant community he perpetually retains final interpretive authority, because no decision of that community has the authority to bind his conscience.”

    This is pragmatically true of mainline evangelicalism again, but not so with Reformed churches. The individual does not possess final interpretive authority. I can understand why a Catholic would say that a Reformed session, or synod, or elder board etc. does not “have” the authority to bind the conscience of believers, but obviously we disagree. Authority comes from God himself and to state this is to presuppose that God himself instituted the mechanism of Apostolic Succession as the means by which every elder (bishop) of the church would be ordained. But this presupposes the conclusion rather than arguing for it.

    I suppose that ultimately, I would like to see the moderators interact with actual Reformed positions on church authority rather than simply building argument after argument aimed at mainline evangelicals and then inserting the word “protestant” (which includes Reformed churches) in front of the target.

    Hopefully this explains some of my angst.

    In Him,
    Keith WT

  225. lojahw,

    seriously, when i read your explanations of what Catholicism is and what it teaches and what its texts mean, and so on, i’m reminded of Valentine Cunningham’s criticism of postmodernist literary critics who push and shove and force their way through Western literature determined to make their arguments and cut certain people (and ideas) down to size even if it means reading poorly and arguing without tact.

    i look back at Mathison’s interaction here, for example, and compare his careful comments with some of the other comments here, and really the difference in approach is remarkable. Mathison’s comments exhibit a lot of what Cunningham calls ‘tact’: Mathison does not present himself as an expert on Catholicism—does not attempt to dismiss specific Catholic positions by a general appeal to “clear teachings of Scripture.” Where he is confused about something, Mathison assumes he has either misunderstood or needs additional information. He says so, then asks for additional information. His confusion isn’t used as an opportunity to attack people or ideas, nor does he use his confusion as a platform for lecturing Catholics about what Catholicism teaches.

    You may not intend this, but your interaction comes off as hostile. For example, your explanation for why Bryan is ‘special pleading’ reads like an additional accusation and not an explanation: i haven’t seen Bryan dismiss any ECF or ECF reference. i don’t recall Bryan dismissing anything, in fact. When he points out an error, he also provides a very clear reason for the error (eg, “…by [falsely] assuming that statement is the exhaustive extent…”). Your response doesn’t address Bryan’s very clear evaluation of your interpretation but foists on us, instead, another accusation.

    …which only keeps us all distracted from the article that we’re supposed to be charitably discussing together. About that article, section V addresses your comment 214, paragraph 4. Have you read section V of this article? How has it failed to answer your objection?

    sincerely,
    wilkins

  226. Andrew,

    Thanks. I have to be brief here, and in fact won’t be very active in the combox this week. But just briefly: I see the distinction between the A question and the B question, and would just note that we were discussing both of them in the article because Mathison was discussing both of them in his book and, in our article, we’re discussing the position in Mathison’s book. I don’t think these issues are being confused, exactly, and I don’t think it’s very hard to tell who is talking about what when. Sorry if I gave the impression of confusion; in any case, it seems to me that we (collectively) have been discussing both of these issues at various points throughout this thread, and that it’s reasonably clear in context which of the two topics are being treated.

    As to the presuppositionalist analogy: maybe it’s best to just forget it. It was supposed to be illuminating or suggestive, but I think I must have just been unclear about it. It was not at all supposed to argue once more, or in another way, that sola collapses to solo. It was supposed to respond to the allegation, made by some Protestants, that because Catholic converts have to use their own judgment when they decide to be Catholics, therefore, after they become Catholics, they are quite as reliant on private judgment as they were when they were Protestants. That’s the charge I was responding to. It’s not an attempt to show that sola reduces to solo; it was an attempt to respond to some of the concrete ‘tu quoque’ remarks that some of our Protestant friends were offering in the early days of this thread. Again, if you’re not seeing how it connects or how it provides a parallel (and similarly deficient) argument to the one that some of our Protestant friends were giving, then we should probably just drop it.

    Now: got to take my mischievous middle daughter to ballet.

  227. Keith T,

    You wrote:

    My church and most other Reformed churches hold to a high view of church authority and submission to the teaching of that authority.

    In section IV.A. of the article, we argue that there is no principled distinction between this “high view of church authority” (sola scriptura in the Reformed sense) and the evangelical position, because the former is merely an indirect form of the latter. If you find our argument (in that section of our article) faulty, where, exactly, do you think it goes wrong?

    This is true of mainline evangelical churches, but completely false of Reformed churches. Our confessions are authoritatively binding upon the conscience in regards to each and every one of these matters,

    On this point you seem to be in disagreement with Mathison, who claims that only the Word of God can bind the conscience. On what grounds or basis is a Reformed confession “binding upon the conscience” of anyone? Why are Protestants bound in conscience to Protestant confessions when Protestantism itself presupposes that Luther was not bound in conscience to the teaching of the Catholic Church?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  228. Keith, 224.

    i have to read this stuff many times for the same reason, except that i always find i’ve forgotten something, lol. i write ‘lol’ but what i mean to say is something like, ‘dangit’. anyway, that’s a very good explanation, helps me very much understand where you’re coming from. tied up at just this moment – hope i can catch up with you more later tonight.

    peace,
    w

  229. Tom,

    You wrote,

    When you say that, contra, Catholics, you prefer to start with the Word of God, you assume so much in that statement. For starters, how do you know what the Word of God is? Is it possible to know the Word of God apart from the community to which and through which it was given (e.g. Israel and the Church)?

    Yes Tom, that is exactly what I am saying.

    “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

    We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, (which is to give all glory to God) , the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.”
    ~Westminster Confession of Faith 1.4; 1.5.

    Why is it surprising that Catholics use personal judgment?

    It is not surprising at all. We’ve known it all along.

    The reason we responding this way is because you (collectively) seem to be criticizing us for exercising personal judgment. We see you doing the same thing, so we are confused as to your semantics here. If it is not a bad thing when you do it, why is it so bad when we do? Bryan recently posted a reply to me stating that there is a difference between “personal preference” and “private judgment.” I see his point, and realize that I need to work harder to overcome the semantic difficulties. Largely, both sides have been talking past each other because we both fail to fully understand the other side’s point.

    In Him,
    Keith WT

  230. Keith, I would beg to differ on the question of the beliefs and practices of mainline evangelical churches. The ones I’m familiar with are typically elder ruled [Baptists call them deacons, but their function is the same as elders] and members are required to sign doctrinal statements. Also, the doctrinal statements I’ve seen from Baptists, EV Free, Bible Churches, Reformed, Anglican, etc. all are in agreement on the essentials as defined by the Council of Nicea. The differences usually relate to things like the significance and mode of baptism, which was not mentioned in the original creed, and continues to be debated. Having said that, I’ve never seen a Protestant church that did not practice baptism – it was, after all, commanded by Christ.

    Peace.

  231. Keith,

    Not to “gang up,” on you, but just to reiterate Bryan’s second remark, it does seem that you are in conflict with Mathison and the other Reformed folks here. Note, too, that Mathison’s work (as I’m sure you know) is very often referenced by smart and respected Reformed thinkers, as providing a great touchstone for what historical Reformed theology says about sola scriptura. (As I mentioned above, I don’t think the Reformed tradition is monolithic here, but I think Mathison can make the case that he is faithfully representing Reformed thought as well as any other, perhaps better than some.) Finally, it is noteworthy that Mathison, and Mathison’s many Reformed supporters, have complained about precisely the same thing that you do: namely, that critics of Reformed theology misfire, since they assume what’s believed and taught is solo scriptura as opposed to sola scriptura. He then presents himself as providing the corrective, and giving critics and reformed Protestants alike the historic Reformed view, with all its nuances. So we engage Mathison, since we want to deal with the best stuff here. And when we engage with Mathison’s presentation, we are then accused (by you) of engaging with mainline evangelicalism as opposed to “really real” Reformed theology! (On the other hand, just to add another possibility to the mix, Turretin fan accuses Mathison of failing to represent “really real” Reformed theology for precisely the opposite reason from yours: he’s putting *too* much authority in the hands of men, and not securing *enough* room for liberty of conscience, according to T-Fan.)

    I think that Reformed theology is perhaps a bit of a moving target, and that this is to be expected given that it isn’t a monolithic movement. So that’s not a criticism of Reformed theology. But here’s what I’ll ask you. Given the amount of disagreement among you, Turretin fan, and Keith Mathison — all of whom are claiming to represent really real Reformed theology, and who are suggesting that their Catholic critics aren’t “getting” Reformed theology but are criticizing evangelicalism instead — I might ask you to consider the possibility that we’re at least *trying* to engage with real Reformed theology, but that, since Reformed Christians differ so much about what Reformed theology really is, it will inevitably appear to some of them that we’re talking about some other view instead. So when we try to respect Mathison by engaging “real Reformed theology” as understood by him, it isn’t necessarily the case that we’re ignoring Reformed theology and thinking about something else, even if you’re right that Mathison’s just wrong about what Reformed theology is.

    At the same time, to lay my cards on the table from what I’ve read, I don’t think your claim — that it is merely ‘evangelical’ but not ‘Reformed’ to hold that presbyters and confessions do not have power to bind the conscience, but that only God’s Word itself has such power — will find much historical support, or contemporary support from Reformed folks either. What you can find support for is the claim that the local session and the presbytery, etc., do possess genuine authority regarding disciplinary matters and so forth; but there is a distinction between allowing that, and claiming that such persons have a divinely bestowed authority directly to bind the consciences of the Christian Faithful. (Only *my* Church gets to do *that*. :-)) I’d encourage you to take a look at Mathison’s book, or the references in which we discuss the distinction as he lays it out.

    Best,

    Neal

  232. Keith,
    I have sensed a difference in these discussions — and in experience — between the authority that is claimed by the Magisterium, and the authority that is claimed by, for example, the elders of my (PCA) church. If we drew a Venn diagram of the two, there would be some overlap, but when it comes down to specific interpretations of Scripture, it seems that the Magisterium trumps everything from our Session to the GA. This is not to say that the PCA doesn’t have standards of orthodoxy, but that there is much less control over the people in the pew in terms of biblical interpretation in our system. As a member, I am conscience-bound to submit to my elders because of the vow I have taken; as a sometimes-teacher, I am also conscience-bound to convey to others only what is in keeping with our doctrinal standards. But unlike the elders, I may harbor private reservations about something like infant baptism; and other laypeople may enjoy membership without knowing or accepting anything more theological than the Apostle’s Creed. The binding of the conscience in this area only goes so far in the Reformed system, whatever its permutation; it goes very, very deep in the Catholic.

    p.s. — I liked your metaphor about the epistemological boat, but how can two people be in the same boat going down two different rivers? Is that like, “you can’t step in the same river twice?” :)

  233. Mateo,
    Well, you’re right, that would be unlivable, wouldn’t it! And what a woefully silly impression you received about Protestant epistemology. But look, all I’m saying is that IF there were no Magisterium to lean on, God would still be good, and what he would give us as far as certainty goes would be reasonable enough to live on. Don’t you think this is a reasonable expectation? (I’m even downplaying it a bit, because I actually think it’s QUITE livable, not just some mediocre existence.) I don’t know with 100% certainty that I can trust my husband in all things, but the certainty I have is quite enough to make for an excellent marriage. Human language, especially translated and received at a distance of several thousand years, isn’t going to communicate to me today 100% effectively. There are things I can do, though, to increase its communicative effectiveness, and some things will come across more clearly than others. It’s not like we’re shut up to only two options, a Magisterium on the one hand or dizzying doubt about meaning on the other. (But of course, I did say IF; so I could be completely wrong…) :)

  234. You mean to tell me lojahw and Ken Temple aren’t the same guy?

  235. Keith,

    And there lies the difference. At the end of the day you do not sense this indebtedness to the Church for Scripture and Scripture’s organic relationship to the Church. A Catholic, however, recognizes, with our brothers and sisters of antiquity, that Scripture comes forth from the heart of the Church and the Church is the guardian of the Sacred text.

  236. and would just note that we were discussing both of them in the article because Mathison was discussing both of them in his book and, in our article, we’re discussing the position in Mathison’s book.

    Yes, Mathison does hit the B issue hard. But I don’t see it in your article. At least, it does not seem to be mentioned in the discussion in IV.A when you are looking at individual interpretive authority in in its sola and solo scriptura manifestations. Perhaps when and if you have some time you could point it out in this or another thread.

    Yes, ballet, that’s good for girls. I have all boys so no ballet for us (I am quite sure they will never ask to be involved in ballet which is just fine with me).

    Cheers….

  237. Hey, Andrew,

    Sorry you don’t quite see it. You mention above that when “external interpretive authorities” are brought in, then we’re discussing B (means by which ecclesial authorities determine interpretive questions) as opposed to A (how individuals do the same). I don’t think there is any real reason to use the language this way, since of course the ‘ecclesial authorities’ in question might not be relying upon any ‘external interpretive authorities’ at all, and the individual may of course rely upon a collective of people he considers to have expert status, etc. So it might be that you’re seeing the phrase “external interpretive authority” as a flag for some important shift in specific topic or something, whereas I don’t think it’s intended that way.

    Anyway, thanks for your remarks. I’m not sure I’ve understood precisely what your criticism of our main argument (sola reduces to solo) is, but I appreciate the interaction.

    Neal

    PS: I’ll definitely be non-comboxy today: got to teach ancient/medieval in the morning, then have advising hours, then will be teaching my grad seminar in the evening. After that, I intend to do nothing but go home, build a fire, eat yummy food, and watch the Office.

  238. I noted this:

    On the other hand, just to add another possibility to the mix, Turretin fan accuses Mathison of failing to represent “really real” Reformed theology for precisely the opposite reason from yours: he’s putting *too* much authority in the hands of men, and not securing *enough* room for liberty of conscience, according to T-Fan.

    My basis for thinking that Matthison is presenting something different from the Reformed position was especially Matthison’s comment:

    It renders the universal and objective truth of Scripture virtually useless because instead of the Church proclaiming with one voice to the world what the Scripture teaches, every individual interprets Scripture as seems right in his own eyes.

    This is more or less the Roman Catholic (and majority contemporary Eastern Orthodox) criticism, not the Reformed view. It is telling that Matthison states of this section of his own book:

    In one sense this section has already been covered by virtually every published Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox critique of what they term sola scriptura. These published critiques tend to focus only upon Tradition 0 or solo scriptura.

    (footnote 21, p. 244)
    One reason that this section of Matthison’s work is devoid of citation to Reformed authors is that he’s presenting what amounts to a Roman Catholic critique rather than presenting the Reformed position. Instead, his one citation in the section is to Bruce Metzger’s work on the recognition of the canon (which Matthison characterizes as “the canonization of the New Testament”).

    Yes, Mathison got a nice dust jacket blurb from R.C. Sproul, and that is to his credit. But at least in the section from pages 244-53, Matthison has gone rogue, representing essentially the Roman Catholic position, as he essentially has conceded.

    It is also telling that Matthison explicitly targets Reformed systematician Robert Reymond at page 241 of the book. Ironically, Matthison essentially accuses Reymond of being a Trinitarian heretic, despite the fact that “the church” (at least as it is viewed in Reformed circles, something I’m not sure Matthison accepts) has not found Reymond to be heretical.

    Matthison has accepted too many of the false accusations of Roman Catholic critics (indulge me in simply stating this for the moment, rather than trying to prove it). As a result, the position he presents is not the classical Reformed position, which is why he is unable to cite Reformed authors that agree with him.

    That doesn’t mean Matthison’s book is worthless, of course. Much of Matthison’s book may present the necessary and important criticisms of positions other than sola scriptura. After all, sola scriptura is a negative doctrine that rejects other ultimate authorities than Scripture.

    But that may not persuade you that Matthison’s Chapter 8 is off the Reformed reservation.

    Consider this:

    The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
    We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

    (WCF1:4-5)
    Matthison’s view of the canon, expressed in Chapter 8 of his book, appears to be at odds with these sections of the Westminster Standards.

    Furthemore:

    The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

    (WCF1:10)
    Matthison’s view of councils and the Early Church Fathers appears to be at odds with this section of the Westminster Standards.

    Of course, the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession say essentially the same thing. I could, if required, show the same or similar expressions from the other Reformed confessions and creeds, such as the 39 Articles and the like.

    -TurretinFan

    P.S. I would take issue with the claim “I think that Reformed theology is perhaps a bit of a moving target, and that this is to be expected given that it isn’t a monolithic movement.” The vast bulk of what would be viewed as the “Reformed Community” in the English speaking world holds to the 39 articles, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the London Baptist Confession of Faith, or the Three Forms of Unity. All of those express essentially the same view of sola scriptura, though they don’t say what Matthison says in chapter 8 of his book.

  239. Hey, T-Fan.

    Cool. We should’ve got you to write an addendum to the article! (I.e., I think that removing what Mathison says and calling it nonReformed really does make the position [sola scriptura] more vulnerable to attack — indulge me just to register that conviction for the moment.)

    I know that Sproul Sr. endorses the book, and it isn’t surprising that he should do so. But I hope you don’t think I’m equating Sproul Sr.’s judgments (still less his dustjacket blurbs) with “what Reformed theology says.” I know better ‘an dat. But I don’t at all think that the warm reception Mathison’s book has received is limited to a brief sentence from R.C. Sproul. And, what you regard as “telling” (viz., Mathison’s point that a number of the Catholics’ criticisms he agrees with are “really directed” at solo evangelicalism as opposed to sola Reformed theology, under the mistaken impression that the latter just is the former), is sort of what I was trying to point out. Very frequently, in my experience, one of the first impulses of the Protestant we’re critiquing is to say, “You have not understood real Reformed theology, but are mistaking some strawman for it.” What is curious, and what makes discussion a little hard, is that when two or more Reformed guys are in the discussion at the same time, they will both register the “you don’t understand Reformed theology” charge, not only toward us, but toward each other. (This doesn’t, of course, mean there’s no such thing as Reformed theology, but it does mean it’s pretty hard to host a discussion with a plurality of Reformed folks all at once!)

    For my part, I’d be really very interested to see what Mathison (or other Protestant readers) have to say about your assessment of this aspect of his thesis, that it is not really Reformed, and that this can be demonstrated succinctly by recourse to the forms of unity/confessions you’ve cited. One thing I’d say on his behalf is this: I think you’re misreading his footnote, the one that notes that Catholic apologists have presented arguments quite similar to the ones he lays out in the section of interest. He is not “in effect conceding” that he’s gone Roman Catholic (or Reformed ‘rogue’) here. He’s in fact alleging that Roman Catholic critics of sola scriptura aren’t understanding what sola scriptura “really says,” are not really understanding “the Reformed position.” They’re attacking solo scriptura, an unbiblical ahistorical evangelical view instead, and mistakingly thinking that Reformed people hold that view. So, when Mathison endorses their criticisms, he is just finding a common enemy with them: he’s saying they’re right about evangelicals, but wrong to saddle Reformed folks with the evangelical (solo) view. In your view, on the other hand, Mathison is wrong about this and has in fact gone Catholic: he’s wrong about sola scriptura, and the Catholics are right — at least about its content, if not its truth value. But this is, again, what I was talking about, when I mentioned that it is hard for Catholics not to be charged with “failing to understand real Reformed theology.” If I understand real Reformed theology a la T-fan, Mathison will saddle me (has saddled Catholics) with the “you don’t get Reformed theology” charge. If I understand it a la Mathison, on the other hand, T-fan will saddle me with that charge. That’s the thing I was mentioning to K. above.

    All best,

    Neal

  240. Neal wrote:

    What is curious, and what makes discussion a little hard, is that when two or more Reformed guys are in the discussion at the same time, they will both register the “you don’t understand Reformed theology” charge, not only toward us, but toward each other.

    We know the feeling – we get it when Roman Catholics argue with each other over whether the RC position is that Scriptural is materially sufficient or not.

    I note your comment: “I think that removing what Mathison says and calling it nonReformed really does make the position [sola scriptura] more vulnerable to attack” and without debating that (simply to avoid that tangent, not because I agree with you), I want to clarify that viewing Matthison’s analysis as non-Reformed does not mean the following:

    1) It does not mean saying that the church has no authority in doctrinal matters.

    2) It does not mean saying that truth is subjective.

    3) It does not mean buying into relativism.

    4) It does not mean viewing things like the Westminster Confession of Faith as essentiallythe same as any one of my blog posts.

    5) In short, it does not mean buying into the solo scriptura that is so widespread in “Protestant” circles.

    To his credit, Matthison has correctly identified that the Roman Catholic criticisms he outlines are not proper criticisms of the Reformed position, but he has not correctly identified the reasons. One might say it is as though he has attacked the minor premise of the RC argument rather than the major premise.

  241. Tap wrote:

    You mean to tell me lojahw and Ken Temple aren’t the same guy?

    No, we are not the same person.

  242. Bryan,

    You wrote in IV. A.:

    The Protestant, by contrast, in joining a Protestant community does not find the Magisterium. That is because he does not find something that can bind his conscience regarding the canon of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, and the identity of orthodoxy and heresy. This is why in his Protestant community he perpetually retains final interpretive authority, because no decision of that community has the authority to bind his conscience.

    I disagree with this line of reasoning. First, I grant that he does not find “the Magisterium,” which presides over Scripture. However, he does find a wealth of rich teaching about Scripture which is itself authoritative. Our confessions are binding upon their conscience in so far as they proclaim the truth contained in God’s Word. If a person came in to a Reformed community the confession of faith to which that church subscribes is authoritatively binding upon him (or her) “….regarding the canon of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, and the identity of orthodoxy and heresy.”

    To say that “no decision of that community has the authority to bind his conscience” is not accurate. If, for example, someone came to our church and became a member and then started teaching that he or she believed that Jesus was fully man, but not God incarnate, based upon his or her private interpretation of Scripture, we would point to the confession which authoritatively teaches that this is false and he or she would be bound to submit to the authoritative teaching “of Scripture” which is taught in the confession.

    So, to answer your point that I was disagreeing with Mattheson when he states that “the individual conscience cannot be bound by anything other than the Word of God,” I would say that I should have qualified my statement in that I agree with Mattheson here. When I say that the confessions are binding, I am assuming that the confessions themselves are working within the framework of Sola Scriptura and that they are not creating doctrines which are not found in Scripture. I would reference the Westminster Confession 1.6 at this point:

    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.

    You go on in section IV. A:

    And since, for Mathison, “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture,”77 it follows that the individual conscience cannot be bound by anything other than his own interpretation of Scripture.

    This again is false. The interpretation of Scripture which has been set forth in the confessions and also the interpretations of ordained elders are more binding than the interpretation of each and every individual in the congregation. This is why elders in Reformed churches exercise such caution so as to NOT bind the conscience of individuals in the congregation on points of interpretation which are inconsequential or, in some cases, weaker brother issues. It is a great responsibility to be ordained and to be given the charge to interpret and disseminate of the Word of God without adding to it.
    There are some cases where I think that one church or another goes too far in this respect. For example, some churches practice exclusive Psalmnidy because the elders are convinced that the songs, hymns, and spiritual songs contained in Holy Scripture are fully sufficient and more perfect than any hymn written apart from direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Now, I like singing the Psalms, but I also like singing Amazing Grace. I do not think that singing uninspired hymns in the context of corporate worship are sinful, but if I were a member of a church that taught this, I would have to submit to the authority of the elders on this matter. Further, if I taught contrary to the elders according to my interpretation of Scripture, I would be teaching against the authorized and ordained officers of the church, and doing so, EVEN IF MY INTERPRETATION IS CORRECT, would be sinful, as I am failing to submit myself to their rightful authority over me.

    By contrast, the person who becomes Protestant, finds nothing outside himself that binds his conscience viz-a-viz the canon of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture.

    Further, regarding the canon, the confessions give a list of canonical books. (e.g. WCF 1.2) If I were to assert that the book of Tobit ought to be included in the canon or if I asserted that James ought not to be included (shame on Luther!) I would be asserting my personal private judgment over and above the established orthodox teaching of the Reformed church, and would be in sin.

    Speaking of Luther, you quoted the famous phrase which may or may not have been uttered by him at Worms:

    Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God.

    Unfortunately, a great many protestants have adopted this line themselves in order to assert their autonomy over and against the church in matters such as the legality of divorce, for example. They use it to assert Solo Scriptura. However, Luther’s situation was different in that the places where his interpretation of Scripture differed from the Magesterium (of that time period) were of fundamental and primary importance to the essence of the gospel itself. If you recall, Luther DID recant a portion of his writings and confess that he wrote them in sin and insubordination to the Church. But he could not recant Sola Fide because he saw it so clearly taught in Scripture that he was forced to submit to either Scripture or to the church, but he cold not submit to both.
    Now, I know this situation is still riddled with problems. I think that Luther was sinning when he refused to recant because he was refusing to submit to the authority of the church. But unfortunately, he was placed in a situation where he had to sin against the Church or sin against the inspired Word of God… he had to make a choice, and he utterly agonized over that decision.
    I know you see that situation differently for a number of reasons, one of which is that Luther’s interpretation of Scripture is opposed to your personal private interpretation of Scripture ;-), but I suppose what it comes down to is whether or not the Church’s declaration that she has true divine authority from God based upon Apostolic Succession is actually true. If it is, then Luther and all subsequent protestants remain outside the fold of the True Church of Christ. If it is not, and if Rome overstepped her charge by Christ when she proclaimed that she never errors (in some circumstance) and if Rome oversteps her charge when asserting doctrines which are “added to” Scripture and not contained within Scripture, then the truth of the matter could very well be, as I believe it to be, that the Roman church wrongly assigned herself the authority which belongs to Christ alone and has done great damage to Christ’s True Church as a result.

    As to whether or not we have a high view of church authority, I would offer you this quote:

    “[L]et us learn from her (the visible church) single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels (Matth. Xxii. 30). …Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify (Isa. Xxxvii. 32; Joel ii. 32). …[B]y these words the paternal favor of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his spiritual people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal.”
    ~Calvin, Institutes 4.1.4.

    Obviously, there is much more contained in section IV. A that I could interact with, but I think that this is a god starting point. Much of what follows in your argument remains dependent upon what I am trying to show you is a false representation of our view of church authority. I look forward to your reply.

    In Him,
    Keith WT

  243. Please accept my apologies for jumping into CTC like a bull in a china shop. In hindsight, I realize that I neglected to address an area of the article that might be more useful than the one I latched onto (the question of whether apostolic succession actually solves the problem posed by the authors). Specifically, I think that my fairly broad Protestant experience might offer a perspective that is missing in both the article and in the posts here on the relationship between Sola Scriptura and the fragmentation of Protestants in general and the mobility of Protestants between Churches.

    By way of background, I grew up in the Episcopal Church (which practices apostolic succession). It was my vow at confirmation to “follow Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” that led me to leave that Church in the early 70’s because of the widespread apostasy I encountered in every Episcopal church I attended. Although the Episcopal Church formally ascribed to the orthodox 39 Articles of Religion crafted in the 16th century, its priests and bishops were increasingly ignoring them – a trend that continued to deepen until the present situation in which whole parishes and dioceses have left the Episcopal Church and organized a new province within Anglicanism, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The ACNA, in a nutshell, is committed to the Scripture as the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice, the historic sacramental heritage of the Church, and the celebration of the power of God’s Spirit at work in the Church and in the world. It is this Church which has drawn me back to Anglicanism after many years in other Protestant settings. I might add that I my perspective on evangelicalism is largely shaped by such Anglicans as John Scott and J. I. Packer and my experience over the years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

    After I left the Episcopal Church, I visited MANY different churches, including Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ, and even the Unitarian and the Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints. Over the years I also spent significant time in a Disciples of Christ church, some independent Bible Churches, a “charismatic-light” Bible Church, and the Evangelical Free Church.

    With that background, let me say that my observation of the fragmentation of Protestants is mostly driven by social and cultural issues, rather than doctrinal. As I indicated previously, the doctrinal statements of the various Protestant Churches are substantially identical. My observation of Protestants who switch churches is that it is seldom for doctrinal reasons (except in cases like mine). Some churches adopt particular social agendas which make some of their members uncomfortable (like the gay agenda). By and large, any doctrinal issues are due to the same failing observed in the RCC: poor catechesis (of both pastors and members). The fault is not with Sola Scriptura, but with faulty people.

    Sola Scriptura simply declares the Bible itself to be the regula fidei. All doctrines and practice must be consistent with God’s Word, recognized as such by the Church from the beginning. The proposed alternative, apostolic succession, assumes that the Bible is inadequate as the regula fidei and must be supplemented with a specific body of interpretation that took centuries to develop and guarded solely by the successors of St. Peter. It just seems to me that the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” as recorded in the Bible, from which the Council of Nicea directly derived its Creed, was sufficient before the body of interpretation by the Magisterium (which I call Sola Papa) was amassed over the centuries.

    In practical terms, both Sola Scriptura and Sola Papa acknowledge the authority of ordained presbyteroi / episcopoi who have been trained to interpret God’s Word. From my perspective, the article would be more valuable if it had done more to comparatively evaluate the different models of interpretive authority: local vs. hierarchical and/or synodal, and fallibility vs. infallibility. As one who subscribes to Sola Scriptura, I believe the Bible is God’s infallible Word and all interpretations are, as Augustine said, liable to refutation and/or correction.

    Blessings.

  244. Just so you know that this is not just what TurretinFan is saying.

    Paul E. G. Cook provided the following comments (among others) on Mathison’s book:

    To deny the individual Christian the right to read and interpret Scripture for himself, and to bring the judgments of ‘the church’ to that bar, is to elevate the teachers of the church into a theological elite whose conclusions are not to be questioned by the ordinary church member. The individual believer can read and understand Scripture for himself because the Scriptures are perspicuous as far as the main body of truth is concerned; and the Spirit within a believer bears witness to that truth ― the testimonium internum. The Scriptures encourage him to honour preachers and teachers within the Church who are called and gifted of God, but not to give them so much honour that their teaching cannot be questioned by the individual Christian in the light of Scripture.

    This reviewer regards the analysis of Oberman, developed by McGrath, and popularly presented by Mathison, as a subtle departure from the historic doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Its subtlety makes it all the more dangerous. A better title for this book would be ‘A Reshaping of Sola Scriptura

    As printed in, The Banner of Truth, Issue 490, July 2004, p. 26.

  245. Keith T (re; #242),

    You wrote:

    However, he does find a wealth of rich teaching about Scripture which is itself authoritative. Our confessions are binding upon their conscience in so far as they proclaim the truth contained in God’s Word.

    As someone who went through seminary training in the PCA, took a class devoted entirely to the WCF, and prepared for ordination, I can tell you that candidates for ordination in the PCA all are required to present their list of exceptions they take to the WCF. But if you were correct that all of us are bound in conscience to believe all that is in the Reformed confessions, then no one could take an exception to the WCF, without violating his conscience. But then a very large percentage of candidates for ordination in the PCA would be violating their conscience by taking exceptions to the WCF. So if PCA pastors can take exceptions to the WCF without violating their conscience, why can’t laypeople do so?

    You seem to be saying that the Reformed confessions are binding on the conscience because they are true. But a truth is not binding on one’s conscience until it is, in some way, known to be true by that person. A proposition that, for all I know may be true or may be false, is not binding on my conscience. By knowing the proposition without knowing its truth-value, I’m not thereby bound to believe it to be true, or to believe it to be false. So, if a person does not believe some of the statements in the Reformed confessions to be true, and his not believing that they are true is not the result of culpable doubt or rejection of what he knows to be true, but rather is the result of study in which he concludes that those who composed the Reformed confessions misinterpreted Scripture, he is not bound nevertheless to believe these statements in the Reformed confessions to be true. In other words, he is not bound by any part of the confessions unless he believes that part to be true.

    If, for example, someone came to our church and became a member and then started teaching that he or she believed that Jesus was fully man, but not God incarnate, based upon his or her private interpretation of Scripture, we would point to the confession which authoritatively teaches that this is false and he or she would be bound to submit to the authoritative teaching “of Scripture” which is taught in the confession.

    The person would only be conditionally bound. That is, he or she would be bound to submit to your denomination’s doctrine if he wished to remain in your denomination. He would not be bound to remain in your denomination or to submit to its leaders. Your denomination does not claim to be the Church Christ founded as necessary for salvation for all men, having the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and capable of forgiving men’s sins and retaining men’s sins. To leave your denomination is not ipso facto to leave the Church. But to leave the Catholic Church is to leave the one and only Church Christ founded. There is no other Church. Excommunication from the Catholic Church is excommunication from the Church, period, not from one denomination or a branch of the Church.

    Neal and I wrote: And since, for Mathison, “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture,” it follows that the individual conscience cannot be bound by anything other than his own interpretation of Scripture.

    You replied: This again is false. The interpretation of Scripture which has been set forth in the confessions and also the interpretations of ordained elders are more binding than the interpretation of each and every individual in the congregation.

    Why? If the first Protestants could reject the decision of all the bishops in ecumenical council (i.e. the Council of Trent), then why can’t a Protestant reject a decision of all the “ordained Protestant elders” if he decides that they are contrary to his interpretation of Scripture?

    This is why elders in Reformed churches exercise such caution so as to NOT bind the conscience of individuals in the congregation on points of interpretation which are inconsequential or, in some cases, weaker brother issues. It is a great responsibility to be ordained and to be given the charge to interpret and disseminate of the Word of God without adding to it.

    So the individual reserves the right to determine whether the elders’ interpretation contained in a Reformed confession “adds” to or detracts from the Word of God? If so, then if he judges that their interpretation adds to or detracts from the true interpretation of Scripture, he is free to reject their interpretation.

    Further, if I taught contrary to the elders according to my interpretation of Scripture, I would be teaching against the authorized and ordained officers of the church, and doing so, EVEN IF MY INTERPRETATION IS CORRECT, would be sinful, as I am failing to submit myself to their rightful authority over me.

    What is it that makes their authority “rightful” and the authority of the Council of Trent wrongful if not that you agree with the former’s interpretation of Scripture and reject the latter’s interpretation of Scripture?

    Further, regarding the canon, the confessions give a list of canonical books. (e.g. WCF 1.2) If I were to assert that the book of Tobit ought to be included in the canon or if I asserted that James ought not to be included (shame on Luther!) I would be asserting my personal private judgment over and above the established orthodox teaching of the Reformed church, and would be in sin.

    Again, what makes the “Reformed church” “orthodox” and the Catholic Church “unorthodox” except that you agree with the interpretation of the former and reject the interpretation of the latter?

    However, Luther’s situation was different in that the places where his interpretation of Scripture differed from the Magesterium (of that time period) were of fundamental and primary importance to the essence of the gospel itself. If you recall, Luther DID recant a portion of his writings and confess that he wrote them in sin and insubordination to the Church. But he could not recant Sola Fide because he saw it so clearly taught in Scripture that he was forced to submit to either Scripture or to the church, but he cold not submit to both.

    So here’s the great but ‘fatal’ exception. All your Reformed confessions are binding, unless anyone’s own individual interpretation of Scripture deems them to be inaccurate in matters of fundamental and primary importance pertaining to the gospel itself. (Where you get this exception clause, and what is its basis, you do not say.) Fair enough. That’s pretty much the point of our article. You are bound to submit, unless you think the authority is wrong in its interpretation of Scripture in matters that you deem to be of fundamental importance, and pertain to the gospel. But if you sufficiently agree with your denomination’s interpretation of Scripture regarding ‘the gospel’, then you are bound to submit to your denomination. In short, when you agree on what you deem to be the important stuff, then you bound to submit on what you deem to be the unimportant stuff. And when you disagree on what you deem to be the important stuff, then you aren’t bound to submit at all. But that suffers from the maxim: When I submit (only when I agree), the one to whom I submit it me.

    But unfortunately, he [Luther] was placed in a situation where he had to sin against the Church or sin against the inspired Word of God… he had to make a choice, and he utterly agonized over that decision.

    You cast it as though he’s either sinning against the Church, or sinning against Scripture. You leave out the possibility that he was interpreting Scripture, and hence misinterpreting Scripture. That’s a very significant omission. That he agonized over his decision is nice, but the question is whether what he did was right or wrong.

    I know you see that situation differently for a number of reasons, one of which is that Luther’s interpretation of Scripture is opposed to your personal private interpretation of Scripture ;-), but I suppose what it comes down to is whether or not the Church’s declaration that she has true divine authority from God based upon Apostolic Succession is actually true.

    Agreed.

    If it is, then Luther and all subsequent protestants remain outside the fold of the True Church of Christ. If it is not, and if Rome overstepped her charge by Christ when she proclaimed that she never errors (in some circumstance) and if Rome oversteps her charge when asserting doctrines which are “added to” Scripture and not contained within Scripture, then the truth of the matter could very well be, as I believe it to be, that the Roman church wrongly assigned herself the authority which belongs to Christ alone and has done great damage to Christ’s True Church as a result.

    Agreed.

    “[L]et us learn from her (the visible church) single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels (Matth. Xxii. 30). …Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify (Isa. Xxxvii. 32; Joel ii. 32). …[B]y these words the paternal favor of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his spiritual people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal.” ~Calvin, Institutes 4.1.4.

    It is a great quotation. The problem is that in this quotation ‘visible church’ just means ‘those who agree with my interpretation of Scripture regarding what is important and fundamentally pertains to the gospel.’ Once again, “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.” As I wrote elsewhere:

    “Unity is achieved not when we all make ‘Church’ in our own image (i.e. in the image of our own interpretation), but when we all conform to her image. Unity as one of the four marks of the Church (“one, holy, catholic and apostolic”) and as the most intimate expression of the desire of our Savior’s sacred heart revealed in St. John 17, requires being incorporated into something greater than a structure made in our own image, or the image of our own interpretation.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  246. Lojah – I love the bull in the china shop analogy. Great imagery. It doesn’t work here though because it implies that something was left broken.

    Is there a reason why you disagree with the major premise of the article? Particularly, why do you think there is a principled difference between solo and sola scriptura and what is it? (Your answer shouldn’t refer to the Catholic Church… )

  247. Bryan wrote: “Your denomination does not claim to be the Church Christ founded as necessary for salvation for all men, having the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and capable of forgiving men’s sins and retaining men’s sins.”

    Bryan, the above claim as taught by your Church has never been accepted by the whole Body of Christ, starting with the East long before the Protestant Reformation.

    In the words of Ignatius of Antioch: “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (Smyrnans, 8; and quoted by your catechism: CCC 830).

    Jesus said, “For where two or three have gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20)

    Vatican II recognizes all baptized Christians as members of Christ’s Body (UR 1).

    Ergo, the Church of Jesus Christ, which He heads, is comprised of all members of His Body, and every branch that is connected to Him, the true vine. Can any member of the Body be lacking what is essential as long as it is connected to the Head?

    Even if you do not recognize those who have not retained a formal apostolic succession, don’t forget the EO and the Anglican Communion have. There is no command of Christ that requires a specific form of ordination for His words in John 20:23 to be effective. Certainly, Paul expected the rights and privileges of presbyteroi / episcopoi to be passed on according to his instructions: “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

    Blessings.

  248. Tim: peace, on the china shop – I certainly didn’t intend to break anything!

    What I am saying is that there is no principled difference between a hierarchical interpretive authority and the interpretive authority of legitimate ordained clergy in Protestant churches. Individuals respond to both types of interpretive authority in the same ways.

    What is your point?

    Blessings.

  249. Sorry you don’t quite see it. You mention above that when “external interpretive authorities” are brought in, then we’re discussing B (means by which ecclesial authorities determine interpretive questions) as opposed to A (how individuals do the same). I don’t think there is any real reason to use the language this way, since of course the ‘ecclesial authorities’ in question might not be relying upon any ‘external interpretive authorities’ at all, and the individual may of course rely upon a collective of people he considers to have expert status, etc.

    Neal – Well sure they could, but that does not speak to my point. When I brought up my case study of what the ECF’s of the 1st/2nd century used as their infallible standard, I did so because this is a question which touches at the center of the Reformed understanding of sola scriptura. Either the ECF’s used 1) only Scripture or 2) Scripture + tradition as an infallible standard. This is the heart of the matter. Now In your article you speak of how the individual Protestant judges theological matters. But on what basis I or you make theological judgments is a different discussion than what the Church used (or should use) as the basis for her official pronouncements. Do you see the difference? We can talk about the infallible standard of the ECF’s without ever touching on the question of the subjective evaluations that an individual makes. And so you could be entirely correct in your assessments of sola vs. sola as you state them in IV.A but be entirely incorrect about what judgments the Church used (or should use) to make her judgments. And it’s the later here that the Reformers were speaking of when they used the term sola scriptura.

    I hope you don’t think I am beating this poor tired old mare to death with my persistency here. I just don’t think you are yet on the same wavelength with those who coined the term sola scriptura.

    I hope you can unplug tonight – have a glass or two of red wine. I’m no doctor but that’s my prescription if you want to relax.

  250. lojahw, (re: #247)

    You wrote:

    Bryan wrote: “Your denomination does not claim to be the Church Christ founded as necessary for salvation for all men, having the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and capable of forgiving men’s sins and retaining men’s sins.”

    Bryan, the above claim as taught by your Church has never been accepted by the whole Body of Christ, starting with the East long before the Protestant Reformation.

    On the contrary, it has always been recognized by the whole Body of Christ. The whole Body of Christ is and has always been the Catholic Church, i.e. those in communion with St. Peter and his successors. That does not mean that it has always been recognized by every individual member of the Body of Christ. But it was well known in the first millennium of the Catholic Church, and remains the doctrine of the Church to this day. The role of the Pope, however, is not the subject of this article. So bringing it up would take us off-topic.

    In the words of Ignatius of Antioch: “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (Smyrnans, 8; and quoted by your catechism: CCC 830).

    Of course. But that does not mean that all those present where Jesus is are in full communion with the Catholic Church.

    Jesus said, “For where two or three have gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20)

    Christ’s being present when two or three Catholics have gathered together in His name is fully compatible with what I said above. Christ isn’t in this verse promising to be present even when schismatics or heretics “gather in His name”. Those who do so in invincible ignorance are in a different situation. But cases of invincible ignorance do not set the visible bounds of the Church Christ founded, or the extent of membership in His Church. Membership is visible, because the Church is visible.

    Vatican II recognizes all baptized Christians as members of Christ’s Body (UR 1).

    No it didn’t. That’s a very common misunderstanding, because it fails to recognize the other conditions necessary for membership. To be a member in Christ’s Church, you need to meet three conditions:

    Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. (Mystici Corporis Christi, 22)

    The Protestant, even though having a valid baptism, by his denial of the true faith, and by his separation from the unity of the Body, is not a member of the Church. Vatican II did not change that twenty years later after Pope Piux XII wrote it. Rather, Vatican II affirmed in addition that the Spirit of God can and does work even outside the Church, through the Church’s sacrament of baptism and her Sacred Scriptures, bringing grace and gifts to non-Catholic Christians, thereby bringing them into an imperfect communion with the Catholic Church, a communion which impels toward full communion, and toward membership in His Body. But the possibility of salvation as a Protestant has to be understood in view of what the Church teaches about invincible ignorance regarding the identity and necessity of the Catholic Church. The Catechism teaches:

    Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. (CCC 846)

    You wrote:

    Even if you do not recognize those who have not retained a formal apostolic succession, don’t forget the EO and the Anglican Communion have. There is no command of Christ that requires a specific form of ordination for His words in John 20:23 to be effective.

    According to the Catholic Church, Anglican orders are invalid, and the reason is explained by Pope Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae. We agree that the Orthodox have all seven sacraments, including the sacrament of penance. But they are in schism from the Church, as were the Donatists of the fourth century.

    All of this, though important, is quite entirely off the topic of our article, and we have addressed it elsewhere in other articles and posts here on CTC. Let’s keep the discussion on-topic.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  251. Lojah – I gotcha on the china shop example.

    Previously I asked:

    Particularly, why do you think there is a principled difference between solo and sola scriptura and what is it?

    Since you did not offer a principled reason between the two, I’m assuming that you agree that there is none. If so, then I agree with you so far. You go on to say that the Catholic position is not any better, so we can discuss that, but my main point was that the article’s major premise is still unchallenged (hence the tongue-in-cheek objection to the china shop.. “well by George….if a bull’s been in this china shop, he must have been a very well behaved bull because the china is still in tact… heck it’s not even dirty.”)

  252. Tim: I think you misunderstand me on the distinction between Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura recognizes the authority of Scripture which itself clearly states: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

    Whoever does not follow this clear teaching of Scripture is not following Sola Scriptura. As Augustine said,

    “But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted … either by the discourse of someone who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 2.3.4)

    One’s interpretation of Scripture is always subject to testing within the Body of Christ by those who are competent to do so.

    Blessings.

  253. Lojah, I’m not misunderstanding you; you’re not answering the question. What is the principled distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura?

  254. “What is the principled distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura?”

    According to the article’s definition the “solo” position rejects “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei.” The is distinguishable from a position that accepts the “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei.”

    Is the question simply a request to identify this distinction?

  255. TurretinFan’s observation is correct. In Solo Scriptura the Body of Christ has no interpretive authority over the individual’s interpretation, but as I explained in my previous posts, Sola Scriptura requires individuals to yield their person interpretations of Scripture to those in the Body of Christ who are more competent to interpret the Scripture (pastors, teachers, etc.) . Insisting on one’s own interpretation is contradictory to both 2 Peter 1:20-21 and the definition of Sola Scriptura given in the article.

    As I stated, Sola Scriptura is simply incompatible with Solo Scriptura because the latter denies the authority of 2 Peter 1:20-21. I don’t know how to state the difference more clearly.

    Blessings.

  256. Lojah & TurretinFan – you’ve both merely restated the definition as explained by Mathison. I thought it would be abundantly clear that I wasn’t asking you to restate Mathison’s position.

    The article demonstrates why Mathison’s position (i.e. that there is a principled distinction between solo and sola) is false. If you disagree with the article, then you should refute it. What you have been doing, instead, is trying to refute the Catholic position which is in no way related to the question of whether sola scriptura is reducible to solo scriptura.

    If you’re unconvinced by the arguments in the article, that’s one thing. But let’s be clear that we’re not actually interacting on the issue when after 250+ comments, you’re just repeating the very thing in question.

    As TurretinFan mentioned, Mathison is preparing a rebuttal. I’m looking forward to reading it; I’m just pointing out that no one has attempted to refute the article’s major premise.

  257. Troutman:

    The argument for a lack of principled distinction (which could either be an argument that the distinction is not principled or that there is no distinction) is explained in the article thus:

    However, as we shall argue below, there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the locus of “ultimate interpretive authority:” sola scriptura, no less than solo scriptura, entails that the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture.

    But that doesn’t actually address the definition of Solo Scriptura.

    Recall that the definition was that the “solo” position rejects “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei.”

    Saying that (in some sense) the individual is the “ultimate arbiter” does not on its face appear to be a rejection of “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei.” Furthermore, the article appears to simply assume that if there is any sense in which the individual is the “ultimate arbiter” then the challenge of demonstrating that the distinction is unprincipled (or that there is no distinction) has been met.

    Finally, as has been pointed out a few times, there is no alternative system (whether in “Protestantism” or within Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism) in which it is not the case that the individual is the “ultimate arbiter” in some sense. The article itself doesn’t provide a principled distinction between the sense in which the sola scriptura advocate makes the individual the ultimate arbiter and the sense in which the {insert your description of the proffered alternative to sola scriptura here} advocate makes the individual the ultimate arbiter.

    Thus, even if we leave aside the portions of the discussion where Mathison seems to be off-base, it doesn’t seem that the article is able to accomplish the mission it sets for itself. The best it can do is show that there is some sense in which the individual in sola scriptura is an ultimate arbiter, but this is not enough to demonstrate that the individual in sola scriptura rejects “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei.”

    -TurretinFan

    N.B. Incidentally, identifying the regula fidei as something other than the inspired Scriptures is plainly contrary to WCF1:2, which states of the canonical books: “All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” In the discussion above, I’m glossing over that issue, which otherwise creates more of the “you’re not addressing the classical Reformed position” problem, which we are trying to minimize for the sake of interacting with this article and the Mathisonian position it is critiquing.

  258. You may moderate this appropriately, but I think the fact that the Reformed responses don’t agree with Matthison, who I thought was Reformed, is telling in and of itself.

    They can’t agree on what the Reformed position should be regarding Sola Scriptura. I’m honestly not trying to be argumentative – but this was one of the things that made me, as a Protestant, start looking at what the early church looked like. If the “Gospel” is the “faith handed down once for all the saints”, why does everyone disagree on how it looks in reality using Sola Scriptura?

    Sola Scriptura doesn’t even speak to how a worship service should be conducted actually. We have St. Paul trying to correct abuses at Corinth, but was the service centered around the preaching of the gospel? Did they have singing or chanting? No music or some music. Sounds silly but, it’s caused Church splits.

    The Reformed position would appear much more admirable if they could agree among themselves on what it “is”.

    PAX,
    Teri

  259. Tim: apparently you don’t think the following has been addressed:

    In this case the individual, based upon his own interpretation of Scripture, either establishes or chooses an ecclesial community that conforms to his own interpretation in matters he considers to be essential or important. Then, he ’submits’ to this institution so long as it continues to speak and act in accordance with his own interpretation of Scripture.

    You assume a lot in the above statement. You assume that the reason people change churches is because they disagree with the doctrine of the church where they attend. I previously said that is not the case, but … your idea doesn’t match reality, because to be a member they must sign a doctrinal statement indicating that they affirm the doctrine that church teaches.

    OK, so maybe they change their minds about a major Scriptural interpretation while attending. What are they to do? According to Sola Scriptura: “Obey your leaders, and submit to them for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17). If they have an honest disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture, they are to go to their pastor and/or elders and explain their position. Most likely they will be shown the error in their understanding because their leaders are: “holding fast the faithful word which is in accord with sound doctrine and [able] to refute those who contradict” (Tit. 1:9). If they leave the church anyway at this point, they are not following Sola Scriptura.

    OK, so what if the leaders of the church change their interpretation of Scripture that contradicts their doctrinal statement? Same procedure: those who disagree are to go to their leaders and follow the same procedure above. If the leaders are truly in heresy as demonstrated by reasoning from the Scriptures by the member (cf. Acts 17:2, 11), the members have to choose to: 1) leave the church (as I did); or 2) stay and pray for the leaders to return to orthodoxy. In actual practice, however, most members are not trained to refute error themselves, so they may need some help from others who are well-trained in the Scriptures.

    However, there are also many minor areas of difference between Protestant Churches that apply to any of the above scenarios. In those cases the following dictum applies: “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.” Because Protestants have a more inclusive view of the Church, moving to another church for social or minor interpretation differences (such as modes of baptism) is not a reason to break communion (yes, most Protestant Churches practice open communion).

    But all of the above are rare in practice (other than growing heresy in some of the mainline churches). Far more common, as I’ve said in previous posts, are social reasons: e.g., marriage to someone from a different tradition, or a move to another city and trying to find a church that one fits into socially, or, sadly, a falling out with people in their church. In the latter case, I always counsel people to follow Matt. 18 to be reconciled, rather than leave. If they leave without trying to be reconciled, they are simply disobeying Sola Scriptura.

    As far as establishing a new church for the sake of a particular emphasis, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the core doctrines are orthodox. If every member of the body were an eye, where would the body be? However, if one starts a church, like Joseph Smith did (LDS), that is heretical – that’s a cult.
    I don’t doubt the above will raise more questions, because one can’t cover the gamut in one combox post!

    Blessings.

  260. Perhaps off-topic, feel free to moderate:

    lojahw wrote “In Solo Scriptura the Body of Christ has no interpretive authority over the individual’s interpretation, but as I explained in my previous posts, Sola Scriptura requires individuals to yield their person interpretations of Scripture to those in the Body of Christ who are more competent to interpret the Scripture (pastors, teachers, etc.) . Insisting on one’s own interpretation is contradictory to both 2 Peter 1:20-21 and the definition of Sola Scriptura given in the article.”

    Who are those persons in the Body of Christ who are more competent than I to interpret the Scriptures?

    Luther certainly thought that he was more competent than others, eventually coming to disdain others interpreting the Scriptures (for example, peasants and the Radical Reformers and even Zwingli). He wrote his catechisms to provide his own interpretive guidelines for how Christians should interpret the Bible. Calvin did the same thing in his Institutes. Zwingli was another educated man who believed strongly in his interpretations, yet all three of these magisterial Reformers differed in their interpretations of the Bible, sometimes in significant ways on essential matters (the Eucharist, for example, sola fide and baptism, etc.)

    So should I be listening to Luther’s descendants, Calvin’s, Zwingli’s, or someone else? Who are the competent (Protestant) teachers to look to when the founders of Protestantism disagreed from the very beginning of the Reformation?

    Why should I follow sola Scriptura and accept another person’s interpretation of Scripture over my own when these pastors and teachers have never agreed on what the Scriptures teach? This fact seems like another reason why sola Scriptura boils down to solo Scriptura.

  261. Devon, As Bryan explained to me the Magisterium does not interpret specific passages of Scripture as Luther, Calvin, et al. did. So I guess there is no infallible interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture?

    I’ve quoted Augustine many times on this subject: all bishops and church councils are liable to refutation and correction. We can only do the best we can with what we have. “Thy Word is Truth” is the best place to start…

    On the other hand, the Symbol of Nicea, hammered out from the Scriptures in AD 325 has stood the test of time. “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essential, liberty; in all things charity.” I would suggest that the AD 325 Nicene Creed covers the essentials. The rest we can keep debating…

    Blessings.

  262. Teri wrote: “You may moderate this appropriately, but I think the fact that the Reformed responses don’t agree with Matthison, who I thought was Reformed, is telling in and of itself.”

    Teri, please understand that the Reformed position is just one viewpoint within Protestantism. I do not consider myself to be Reformed, so my answers may not entirely agree with Mathison. Nevertheless, we both agree to the principle of Sola Scriptura, and that the church is a subordinate authority to Scripture. The differences in terminology, emphasis, and practice are inconsequential.

    In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

    Blessings.

  263. lojahw,

    You wrote:

    As far as establishing a new church for the sake of a particular emphasis, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the core doctrines are orthodox.

    Here you’ve touched on, I think, one of the central differences between Catholic and Protestant ecclesiology. For Catholics, it’s nonsense to speak of “establishing a new church” for the sake of anything. The Church was established once by the self-giving charity of Christ in His paschal mystery. His sacred side was opened once and His Bride was formed once of the blood and water flowing from His side. Individual Christians are born from Mother Church. The Church is the logically prior reality. We in the West are so formed in our modern political theory that we’ve imported it into our ecclesiology, so that Christianity is seen as fundamentally an individual phenomenon, and we think the church is “established” by the mutual agreement of individuals whose “core doctrines are orthodox.” “We the people who have individual relationships with God through Christ, in order to form a more perfect union…”

    You can claim, of course, that you still see the Church as the fundamental, logically prior reality, but that that reality is not embodied in any particular, identifiable, concrete, institutional reality. But that’s ecclesiological docetism, and thus a failure in incarnational Christology. It suggests that the Body of Christ is really no “body” at all, but a disembodied set of doctrines that can be bodied forth by any group of individuals who chooses so to do. This is precisely related to other heresies throughout Christian history. In the early middle ages, iconoclasts and those who denied the Real Presence in the Eucharist regularly claimed that Christ had given up His humanity at the Ascension. So He was no longer incarnationally circumscribable and could not be depicted in an icon. And of course His body and blood could not be present in the Eucharist, because He no longer had a body or blood. But we, of course, deny that the Word has ceased to be hypostatically united to His human nature, and so His “body” is not and cannot be an indeterminate, disembodied set of truths waiting to be incarnated by a group of individuals based on their own will. The Holy Spirit has made Christ incarnate in the flesh He took from Mary and in His Body the Church. That’s his job, not ours.

    On the other hand, the Symbol of Nicea, hammered out from the Scriptures in AD 325 has stood the test of time. “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essential, liberty; in all things charity.” I would suggest that the AD 325 Nicene Creed covers the essentials. The rest we can keep debating…

    The Nicene Creed did not define the status of the Holy Spirit (the Creed you’re probably thinking of is properly called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and it’s from 381, not 325). It did not rule out Nestorianism or Monophysitism. It did not inform us whether we may use sacred images in Christian worship, or whether we may believe that the Eucharist is merely symbolic. These were covered later. Do you really think these are non-essential matters? And on what basis would you argue that these are non-essential matters while those matters covered at Nicaea are essential? I’m having trouble seeing a principled difference between you and an Arian who might say, “Look, guys, we all agree that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the world through His cross and resurrection. He’s the Son of God, the perfect image of the Father, indeed he is God – just not in the same way the Father is, you know, not consubstantial. You’re all obsessing about non-essentials when you insist on this silly homoousios language. It’s not biblical – we Arians stick with biblical language – and I’m not going to let these bishops try to tell me that their reading of Scripture is guided by the Holy Spirit.” What’s the difference, lojahw? Why draw the line in the fourth century? Why pick on all those poor Bible-reading Arians but give a free pass to the Bible-reading reformers of the 16th century?

    One more thing: the 16th century schism took place primarily over a soteriological issue: justification by faith alone. Where is that in Nicene Creed? If it’s not there, then your claim that the reformation was justified is in conflict with your claim that all the essentials were established in the 4th century.

    in Christ,

    TC

  264. lojahw,

    A couple more things.

    I think you’ve misunderstood what Bryan’s saying with respect to the Magisterium as interpreter of Scripture. It’s true that the Magisterium rarely pronounces that verse X means Y, full stop. When the Magisterium does say something like that, it never presumes to exhaust the meaning of the inspired text, which precisely as inspired always carries an overplus of meaning. But sometimes the Magisterium does assert that verse X means at least Y. More often the Magisterium defines that verse X does not mean Z. The Magisterium’s job is not to provide the Church with a comprehensive, authoritative commentary on Sacred Scripture, but to set boundaries, a framework for orthodox interpretation of Scripture. Thus, the Council of Nicaea prevents Christians who would be orthodox from interpreting Prov 8:22, Col 1:15, or John 14:28 as the Arians did. This does not slam the door on Christian interpretation of these texts, claiming to have definitively exhausted the meaning of these inspired texts. Instead, it provides an authoritative guideline for reading them in an orthodox fashion.

    With respect to your oft-repeated quote from St Augustine, I have two comments. First, it’s highly ironic that you’re quoting from de baptismo, a work Augustine wrote against the Donatists. Donatism was more nearly a schism than a heresy. The Donatists were Nicenes with, basically, orthodox theology. But they were in schism from the Catholic Church. On your principles, Augustine had no business bothering them at all, much less writing long treatises like de baptismo against them, not to mention refraining from communion with them. Second, you’re not accounting for the difference between inspiration and infallibility. The inspiration of Scripture guarantees that the words of Scripture are not subject to revision of any sort. The words of Scripture are the words the Holy Spirit intended. The infallibility of the Councils and Popes, on the other hand, is a negative authority: it’s infallibility. That is, Councils and Popes are guarded from error, but there is no guarantee that they will express themselves clearly or completely at any given moment. Thus, for example, the Council of Nicaea actually proscribes talk about God subsisting in three hypostases, because the Nicene Fathers took “hypostasis” to be a technical equivalent of “ousia.” Of course, the philosophical language employed by Christians in exploring the mysteries of our faith developed in the following decades, and so nobody claims that orthodox language about three hypostases is in violation of the faith of Nicaea. In this respect even the findings of an ecumenical council are subject to “reform.” But the Council of Nicaea is still infallible.

    in Christ,

    TC

  265. lojahw

    What are the essentials? Protestantism’s disunity has come from the fact that many of these denominations cannot agree, using only the Scriptures, what exactly is an essential belief. First with regards to faith (Baptism, the Eucharist, Justification, Once saved always saved..or not, etc). Then with morals (Birth Control, Divorce, Abortion in all cases, etc). And each denomination attempts to justify their position using the scriptures. Are we really left to discover the Truth by relying on one’s intellect? Of course I believe you would even say no to that question. I imagine you would say we should rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I would agree. Now the question would be whether or not the Spirit has reserved an institution, as a sort of avenue of certainty, to specifically guide the Church into the truth of the essentials, one that has authority to obligate us to confess a certain point as true regardless of what we previously held as our private belief on the point. This is what the reformed protestant churches do not posses. They cannot obligate us, by their authority, to believe a point that is contrary to our own private opinion. So we are really the judge of the point. This is why no matter how one formulates sola/solo scriptura they are still left with a church that really has no dogmatic authority that obligates (meaning it would be a sin to refuse their command) us to believe what they say is the truth.

    But the Scriptures say the Church is the pillar and ground of Truth. If they are then we have to submit to what the leaders proclaim as the truth. Now how are we to know who are these leaders? Well their authority would have to be from Christ and would have a recognizable feature. Christ gave authority to the apostles. The apostles gave authority to their successors. This is evident in both the scriptures and in history. So the feature would have to be an apostolic succession. This is what the creed means by the apostolicity of the church. This succession is critical to unity because it links who we are to follow on something that is recognizable and traceable. Anything outside this chain would be an anomaly and should be avoided. This is what the reformation was, introducing ideas that were never taught universally within the borders of the apostolic church.

    I am not Catholic, by the way. I was raised protestant but this issue of sola scriptura has me believing that I cannot continue to be protestant much longer.

    Andy

  266. mateo: I once encountered a Baptist man that argued along the lines that you are advancing. Basically he said this: We are saved by faith alone, but no one can know with certainty what we are supposed to believe. To be saved, we need to have sincere faith in things that may or may not be true.

    Paige Britton: Well, you’re right, that would be unlivable, wouldn’t it! And what a woefully silly impression you received about Protestant epistemology.

    Protestant epistemology has lead to the creation of thousands upon thousands of divided Protestant sects that cannot come together and agree on a single point of doctrine. What is the source of that Protestant doctrinal chaos if it is not the doctrine of sola scriptura? Does the Baptist man I mentioned really believe anything different than the tens of millions of Protestants that also claim to believe that the Protestant Bible is the ONLY source of infallible authority for a Christian? Protestant pastors, elders, deacons, presbyters, educated theologians – whatever man or woman that that a Protestant may recognize as having some sort of authority in religious matters – those religious authorities can never teach infallibly according to the doctrine of sola scriptura. That makes it impossible for anyone who believes in sola scriptura to claim that they know with certainty what they must believe to be an orthodox Christian.

    Paige Britton: As a member, I am conscience-bound to submit to my elders because of the vow I have taken; as a sometimes-teacher, I am also conscience-bound to convey to others only what is in keeping with our doctrinal standards. But unlike the elders, I may harbor private reservations about something like infant baptism …

    You believe that you have the freedom to “harbor private reservations about something like infant baptism”? What you believe on this point of doctrine will either make you either heterodox or orthodox. If you believe that the Protestant Bible is your only source of infallible authority, you can never know with certainty whether infant baptism is something that you should accept or reject by appealing to the Bible alone. Whatever you believe on this point of doctrine, you are just like the Baptist man I mentioned – you might think that your faith is orthodox, but you can never know that it is.

    Paige Britton: … look, all I’m saying is that IF there were no Magisterium to lean on, God would still be good, and what he would give us as far as certainty goes would be reasonable enough to live on. Don’t you think this is a reasonable expectation?

    Well no, I do not think what you are saying is reasonable. I reject the doctrine of sola scriptura because it is an extremely unreasonable doctrine. Sola scriptura doctrine implicitly claims that it is itself an infallible doctrine while at the same time it explicitly claims that the Protestant Bible is the ONLY source of infallible doctrine. Sola scriptura is self-refuting because there are no scriptures in a Protestant Bible that teach that the Protestant Bible is the ONLY infallible source of authority. It is wholly unreasonable for me to believe in sola scriptura since it is full of self-refuting contradictions. Even God with His omnipotence and omniscience cannot believe in things that are full of internal contradictions. God cannot expect me to do what He is incapable of doing!

    If Christ expects me join the Church that he established and to believe what is true about matters of faith and morals (which He does), then it is wholly reasonable for me to believe that Christ would have people in the Church that He founded that are vested with the authority to teach infallibly about matters of faith and morals. That there exists a living magisterium in the Church founded by Jesus is an extremely reasonable thing for me to believe, and that is why I don’t struggle with the idea. If all Christ left me with is a book that no one can know with certainty what it actually teaches, then it is most unreasonable for God to expect me to have a faith that is “reliable”. How can I possibly know if my faith is reliable if I can’t know with certainty that any doctrine taught by His Church is actually true?

    Paige Britton: It’s not like we’re shut up to only two options, a Magisterium on the one hand or dizzying doubt about meaning on the other.

    With sola scriptura there is only one option – doubt about all things religious, because the scriptures have to be interpreted to be understood.

    When I was a kid, I had a Magic 8-Ball toy – I could ask Magic 8-Ball a yes or no question, and then turn it over to see an answer to my question float up to a window. If a Protestant Bible is my ONLY source of infallible authority, it needs a feature like the Magic 8-Ball toy if the Bible is going to interpret itself infallibly. As a minimum, I need to be able to ask my Bible a question about whether a particular interpretation is correct and then have my Bible respond back with a yes or no answer. But since Bibles don’t have that feature, if sola scriptura is true, I can’t ever have infallible knowledge that a particular interpretation is correct, and neither can anyone else.

    Many Protestants claim that interpretation isn’t a problem because scriptures are perspicuous, but if that is true, how does one explain the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations that are bitterly divided over doctrinal matters?

    Paige Britton: I don’t know with 100% certainty that I can trust my husband in all things, but the certainty I have is quite enough to make for an excellent marriage.

    I think that I understand your analogy – just as you can have a good marriage without believing that your husband is an infallible authority, you can have a good relationship with the authorities in your Protestant church without believing that they are infallible authorities. I don’t doubt that at all. But I think that your marriage analogy is faulty since the relationship that the members of the Church have with Jesus is like that of a bride and bridegroom. Jesus doesn’t want a good marriage; He wants a perfect marriage.

    A woman spoke in our church recently to promote a program called Marriage Encounter, and without intending to, she said something that I thought also applied to the Church as the Bride of Christ. Speaking about the benefits of Marriage Encounter, she said that there was a time when she felt that she personally had no need for Marriage Encounter because she already had a good marriage. It was true that she had a good marriage, and she was comfortable with that. What struck me was her statement: “a good marriage can be the enemy of the best marriage”.

    For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matt 16:25

  267. TC, thank you for your comments. I would quibble a little on Augustine’s statement that the word “refuted” is not limited to further elaboration, but includes potential denial of what was taught. Also, as I read Augustine, he sided with Cyprian in favor of communion with the Donatists:

    “To this is added the testimony of Cyprian, showing clearly that he remained in communion with them, when he says, “Judging no man, nor removing any from the right of communion if he entertain a different opinion.” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 7.2.3).

    The above suggests to me that Augustine considered certain beliefs and practices to be “non-essential,” and thus not barriers to communion.

    The Church was established once by the self-giving charity of Christ in His paschal mystery.

    No argument. When I said “establish a new church” I was speaking of a new member of the One Body of Christ, not of a new Body of Christ; or a new branch on the true vine. The Church visible cannot all meet in one place this side of heaven, so physical divisions are necessary. And according to the analogy of the Body, not all members are an eye. For there to be different members, there is distinction between them. The eye is not physically connected to the hand, but each are connected to the head. For there to be many branches, each grows from the true vine from a separate and distinct connection with the true vine. These are not Docetic pictures of the Church, but those given by Christ and His Apostles.

    Do you really think these are non-essential matters?

    I agree with you that the Symbol of Nicea (and yes, I really did mean the AD 325 version) was not exhaustive, but since Sola Scriptura teaches that the Bible IS the regula fidei, any contradiction of Scripture is considered heresy (cf. John 10:35). Some heresies are more serious than others. Heresy about God and His nature is always serious.

    I’m having trouble seeing a principled difference between you and an Arian

    How so? If one is committed to Sola Scriptura, one confirms or refutes his beliefs according to the Scriptures, just like the bishops at Nicea refuted Arius and confirmed their faith:

    “The bishops, having detected their deceitfulness in this matter [the Arian heresy], collected from Scripture those passages which say of Christ that He is the glory, the fountain, the stream, and the express image of the person … likewise, ‘ I and the Father are one.’ They then, with still greater clearness, briefly declared that the Son is of one substance with the Father; for this, indeed, is the signification of the passages which have been quoted.” (Theodoret, Church History 1.7)

    And … “And since no passage of the inspired Scripture uses the terms ‘out of the non-existent,’ or that ‘there was a time when He was not,’ nor indeed any of the other phrases of the same class, it did not appear reasonable to assert or to teach such things.” (ibid. 1.11)

    The point is that according to Sola Scriptura, the Scriptures cannot be broken. According to Sola Scriptura, the church, as it was at Nicea, is a subordinate authority to Scripture.

    It is interesting that you bring up later theological debates, since Pope Honorius fell into the Monotheolite heresy and was condemned for it by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. Again, Scripture provides the corrective: “Not My will but Thy will be done.”

    Re: the Reformation, you gloss over the historical context: was it necessary to buy indulgences for forgiveness, for justification, before God? Luther and others argued that this contradicted the teaching of, e.g., Romans 4:1-6 (“… For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” … But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”). If the Scriptures cannot be broken, then it cannot both be true that one must buy an indulgence for justification and that one can be justified by faith without works.

    Blessings.

  268. Andy,

    Within the framework of Sola Scriptura one identifies the essentials by beginning with what Jesus taught as recorded in Scripture:

    1) “Only one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). What is that? To be His disciple, as was Mary, the sister of Martha. Jesus defined this in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” One becomes Jesus’ disciple as St. John taught: “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…” (John 1:12; cf. John 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:29, 40, 47; 7:38; 11:25-26; 20:31). St. Paul affirmed this truth: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31).

    2) Jesus taught His disciples to “observe all that I have commanded you,” and to make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to do the same. What did Jesus command? In brief: Love God and love your neighbor (upon which all the Laws and the Prophets depend, Matt. ); believe in Him (John 3:18; 10:26) love one another (a new commandment; John 13:34-35); seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33); be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; “Do this in remembrance of Me” (share the bread and cup of the Lord’s table until He comes again); and do not contradict the Scriptures (cf. John 10:35). This last teaching eliminates all heresy. You might identify other commands, but these seem obvious to me.

    3) Paul wrote this about essentials: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also receive, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Those who say that everything is equally important contradict the Scriptures.

    The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 is also instructive on essential practices: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials.” In keeping with the Apostle’s decision in Acts 15, we should expect a short list of essential practices for future generations of Christians (e.g., from the above list).

    Back to the article, Sola Scriptura does NOT boil down to Solo Scriptura. The Scriptures are the unchanging, sufficient and infallible regula fidei of the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” It did not take centuries for Christians to develop a guide for what was always necessary for salvation. The institutional model you suggest requires one to say that what was true and sufficient for the first generation of Christians is no longer true and sufficient, because the institution was slow to figure it all out. That contradicts Scripture (e.g., Jude 1:3).

    According to Sola Scriptura, the Church is a subordinate (and fallible) authority under Scripture. The Holy Spirit did guide Jesus’ Apostles into all the truth, and they passed it down for all posterity. That doesn’t mean that God made everything clear; but I believe He made the essentials clear in His Word.

    In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

    Blessings.

  269. lojahw,

    Thank you for your reply, but if I am trying to be a sola Scriptura Protestant, I still don’t know who to obey:

    I originally asked: “So should I be listening to Luther’s descendants, Calvin’s, Zwingli’s, or someone else? Who are the competent (Protestant) teachers to look to when the founders of Protestantism disagreed from the very beginning of the Reformation?” I don’t have an answer, so I cannot yield my interpretation to anyone yet. What is the basis for knowing to whom I should yield my interpretation?

    Should I listen to (some particular subset of) pastors from the PCA, PCUSA, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, ACNA, AMiA, Anglican Communion, TEC, Lutheran Missouri Synod, ELCA, or some other set of pastors and teachers that are part of the Body of Christ and identify themselves in continuation with three of the original Protestant movements (Reformed, Anglican, and Lutheran)?

  270. Devon,

    Who’s interpretation of the Trinity are you referring to that contradicts another?
    Who contradicts another on the necessity of faith for salvation?
    Or the necessity of baptism and celebrating the Eucharist?

    The question is: in which doctrine essential to salvation do you see a conflict? (my post on the essentials to Andy is in queue)

    The assumption of Sola Scriptura is that what Jesus didn’t say or what He and His Apostles left ambiguous is not essential to our salvation.

    My short answer is: go to the founding fathers of the faith, the ones who gave us the Scriptures. If they don’t explain it clearly, don’t make a dogma out of any particular interpretation.

    Blessings.

  271. lojahw,

    You seem to be blithely unconcerned with a key point Matthison makes when he says, “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture.” For this reason, scripture itself cannot be the regula fidei, because it must be interpreted. You seem to be assuming that scripture is self-interpreting and forms a wholly self-contained context (i.e. independent of the church): both of those assumptions are utterly false.

    Moreover, saying, “If they don’t explain it clearly, don’t make a dogma out of any particular interpretation” simply allows you claim that something is not clear and therefore should not be dogmatic. By that standard, Arianism should be perfectly valid, because the Arians would have said the exact same thing. Again, that view cannot escape subjectivism, because what is clear to one person is not to another.

  272. lojahw,

    Based on your response, which seems to be implying that sola Scriptura Protestants all believe substantially the same thing on “the essentials” like the Trinity, faith, baptism, and the Eucharist, I would turn it around on you and ask that if they all substantially agree on the important matters, why are they all fractured apart from one another? Shouldn’t they all leave aside their small differences on those non-essentials and worship in communion with each other?

    But since they do not, to follow sola Scriptura, I have to choose a set of Protestant pastors and teachers to yield my personal interpretations to. But they are all divided from one another, so I don’t know whom to choose.

    Finally, Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin each differed from one another on the Eucharist.

    Luther and Calvin had subtle but very significant differences in what they believed and taught about sola fide and its relationship to baptism and both of those to salvation. (Search for Philip Cary Luther and read Dr. Cary’s two papers on Luther and Calvin on this matter (he is an Anglican professor).)

    So even on those essentials, the founding fathers of Protestantism differed substantially. Which of them is right? And who are their descendants which I should follow?

  273. lojahw

    I do not believe you sufficiently answered what I presented as a problem with sola scriptura. In fact it seems that you proved my point by picking out from scriptures what you believe to be the essentials. The point I am making is that even the scriptures you quote beg the issue I brought up. What does it mean to love God and neighbor and how does one do it? What did Paul mean by saved and did he mean by believing alone or are works necessary for justification as James states? And can one lose this salvation? When should one be baptized and does this baptism really remit sins as Peter exclaims in Acts? What was all that Jesus commanded? Did everything he command get written down in the Scriptures or were there more things that Jesus did as John (traditionally understood as the last the gospel writer) states in his gospel? Do you believe that the only moral essentials are abstaining from meat that was sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality? Is this what they are teaching or is what they say supposed to be placed within the context of the dispute that called the council together, namely should gentile converts be circumcised which reflects a practice of the works of the old law. And what is sexual immorality? Does it include divorce, remarriage, polygamy, the use of birth control? All these points and more are central to the many divisions within protestantism and they all accept the your fundamental starting point of authority. Where in the bible does it teach that the scriptures were the only sufficient and infallible reguala fide? Do you really believe that such an essential belief, namely the framework of sola scriptura as the rule of faith, was not necessary to be included in those scriptures which you say are the only sufficient infallible rule of faith?

    The early church fathers did have all that was necessary to know the essentials for their salvation. Read those fathers, they appeal to the church as the way they knew these things and they based their authority on receiving it from the apostles. They did not have an possession a canon of scriptures from the beginning and what were the inspired books was one of the disputes. I encourage you to really study the anti-nicene fathers. As a protestant I was in a foreign land.

    The Catholic Church is subordinate to the divinely revealed truths. They are its servants and they claim it comes from both the Scriptures and also from Tradition. But according to them we are subordinate to both these modes of communication of divinely revealed truth and to their interpretation. And this is the only case where we would no longer be the judge of what is true. For if I was a Catholic no matter what I believed about Mary privately, I would be obligated by their authority to submit to what they proclaim as truths, from the the modes of communication of divine revelation, about Mary. Protestant churches do not possess this obligatory right. Therefore they do not possess dogmatic authority. Therefore knowing the truths of God would come down ultimately to our own private opinions, trying to discern where the Spirit is leading us. Now if all that we have is the Scriptures and the Spirit to guide us, then based on the historical fact of denominationalism, is the Spirit guiding us in different directions and into contradictions with one another? This can’t e be the case, but this is whats happening using sola scriptura as the only infallible and sufficient rule of faith.

  274. Any of you here in contact with Mathison, know if he’s response will come soon.? No one so far has been able to answer that Sola Scriptura always reduces to Solo Scriptura.

  275. Tap, I explained why Sola Scriptura does NOT default to Solo Scriptura in posts # 258 & 265.

    Nathan,

    So what’s different about interpreting Scripture and interpreting the writings of your Magisterium? The difference is that God chose the words in the first and your Pope chose the words in the second. Is your pope a better word-smith than God? And how many interpretations are there of your infallible interpreter?

    “We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam).

    I’ve personally heard RC’s give at least 6 different interpretations.

    And how many interpretations are there of Acts 4:10-12 which begins: “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene” … and ends: “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

    Devin,

    Please go back and read post #249. Most Protestant churches ARE in communion with each other. There are many reasons for different churches, just as Paul says that the Body of Christ is made of many members: if all were an eye, where would the body be? The main differences are cultural, ethnic, styles of worship, styles of leadership (Baptists call their lay leaders deacons; Presbyterians call theirs elders; etc.) different ministry focuses (some church plants are focused on particular demographics, like youth at universities or the poor, etc.). Many Protestant churches were split by the Civil War: hence, the Southern Baptists vs. Northern Baptists. However, this does not mean that they are not now in communion with one another. Many splinters recently are over liberal vs. conservative, in which case the liberals have abandoned the historic faith and have abandoned Sola Scriptura (the RCC also is not immune to theological liberals).

    Mateo,

    You really don’t know what you are talking about. Just because you talked to one Baptist man doesn’t mean he knew what his Church teaches (just as most RC’s I’ve talked to don’t know what your Church teaches). Go on the web and look up the doctrinal statements below before you make any more rash statements about how none of them can agree on even one point:

    The Evangelical Free Church, http://www.efca.org/about-efca/statement-faith
    The Southern Baptists, http://sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp
    The Presbyterian Church in America, http://www.pcanet.org/general/beliefs.htm
    United Church of Christ, http://www.ucc.org/beliefs/statement-of-faith.html
    The Methodist Church http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1648
    The Reformed Church, http://www.crcna.org/pages/beliefs.cfm
    The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=112
    The Anglican Church in North America, http://www.anglicanchurch-na.org/about/theology.html

    Note: I have filtered out the liberal branches of the above traditions that no longer subscribe to Sola Scriptura and have openly become practitioners of Solo Scriptura (really Solo Sua).

    Peace.

  276. Andy, You and I see things differently. I sincerely believe that #1 encapsulates the plan of salvation – that each person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ has eternal life. How one practices being a disciple involves being taught and “observing all that I have commanded.”

    I have read the ECFs extensively, from Clement and Ignatius of Antioch, forward and I simply don’t see any claims that Christ commanded things that are not found in the Scriptures. Have you found any? Indeed, Irenaeus in the second century wrote:

    “We have known the method of our salvation by no other means than those by whom the gospel came to us; which gospel they truly preached; but afterward, by the will of God, they delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:1)

    If you want to appeal to liturgical traditions, such as multiyear catechesis prior to baptism with triple immersion in the nude (Hippolytus), I make three observations: 1) detailed liturgical practices were not described nor etched in stone from the Apostles; 2) such practices, changed over time like all traditions; and 3) the Apostolic Constitutions and a few other ECF writings that imply learning the faith before baptism appear to be consistent with Matt. 28:19, which says to make disciples … baptizing them. The referent for “them” is “disciples.” It is disciples that Jesus commanded to be baptized, not those who have yet to come to faith in Him. [BTW – Acts 16:31 in the Greek is clearly: “(You, plural) believe in Jesus Christ, and (you, plural) will be saved, you (singular) and your (singular) household.” So Paul is consistent with Jesus, disciples, or those who believe in Him, are to be baptized.]

    As regards all that Jesus did and said not being written down, the Apostle John concludes: “But these HAVE BEEN WRITTEN that you MAY BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, you may have life in His name.” In other words, what has been written is sufficient for one to gain life, and in the context, it is clear that John is talking about eternal life (cf. John 3:36, and the many other references in his Gospel).

    Does being baptized remit sins? Acts 2:38 says forgiveness comes not from baptism alone, but from its combination with repentance. It would be absurd to require infants to repent, so why baptize them? I trust God with infants as well as those who never had the opportunity to respond to the Gospel. God is not unjust, and I trust in His love for the world.

    What does it mean to love God and our neighbor and how does one do it? The Bible gives many examples for our instruction of what love is and how it behaves. Love cannot be taught in a formula, so don’t look for one.

    What Paul means by saved: the same thing Jesus meant in John 3:15-17 – have eternal life (fully realized in a changed body in the resurrection. Read 1 Cor. 15 to see Paul’s description.)

    Is there a contradiction between Paul and James? No, Paul says one may boast of his works, but not before God (Rom. 4:2). James is describing works as the expected fruit of faith: if one says he has faith, but his actions don’t show it, then his boast of faith before men is worthless. Paul says that one may boast of his works before men, so he’s in agreement with James.

    As for the security of the believer, how do you interpret John 10:27-29? “No one can snatch them from My Father’s hand.” Would any human claim himself more powerful than God (do you think if God is holding onto you that you can really pull free?) I don’t pretend to understand God’s sovereign election that Paul teaches in Romans, or the perseverance of the saints, but both are taught by Jesus and the Apostles.

    Re: The Acts 15 “essentials” – I did not claim to believe those were the only moral requirements, but rather that the judgment illustrates the principle that Jesus’ yoke is easy, His burden is light – unlike the heavy burden of the Pharisaic traditions built up over centuries.

    What is sexual immorality? The Greek word, porneia, is where we get the word pornography. Its usage in the Bible seems to relate broadly to sexual sin, which includes both extramarital and homosexual liaisons, as well as bestiality (all worthy of the death penalty in the OT). The Bible teaching related to remarriage is too complex for this post, and I have not found clear teaching on birth control (other than infanticide).

    I am willing to submit my interpretations above to the church’s judgment, with the stipulation that all discussion must be consistent with Scripture and follow accepted rules of hermeneutics (including reference to linguistic, literary, cultural, and historical information relevant to the original writers).

    So you claim these points divide Protestantism and therefore Sola Scriptura is discredited? I’d say these points divide people in every faith tradition, including Roman Catholicism. So does that discredit every faith tradition? Let’s keep a level playing field here. Sinful and fallible people are sufficient to explain what divides us within the One faith. But on the positive side: we all do call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, right? We all agree to the Triune God described in the Nicene Creed, right? Let’s appreciate what is good.

    My issue with certain RC traditions is that they are not found (and even explicitly opposed) by the ECFs, e.g., veneration of images (another topic). Lacking continuity from the Apostles, I cannot recognize them as handed down by the Apostles, and therefore cannot legitimately claim to be part of the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

    Blessings.

  277. lojahw

    I still don’t believe you have addressed the point of my posts. For each of your explanations of scripture there are many protestants that would have serious disagreements about them. And this is what is expected in the case of sola scriptura, each person or groups of persons using their intellect claiming to be guided by the Spirit, choose to emphasize one passage of scriptures to interpret another passages of scriptures. For instances if one believes that when Paul says you are justified by faith apart from works of the law, he may interpret that to mean justification by faith alone. Now with that belief established he then will attempt to interpret James as meaning something different by justification then Paul, in order to make the statement” one is justified by his works and not by faith alone” harmonize with his already established belief. Whereas another will state that Paul and James mean something different by works. Who is to say who is right? I am not trying to get in a discussion on these passages as that would stray from the article. I am just pointing out that the differences in opinions are great within protestantism and this should not be surprising given the absent of a living, vocal authority to correct us on these essentials. The protestant churches cannot be this authority because again we are not obligated to submit to what they say is true, based on their authority. We would only submit to what they believe, if we believe it, which really is not what is meant by submission. For submission requires that you give something you possessed or believed you knew to a higher authority for their correction. This is what I believe the Catholic does when he gives up what he previously held privately on a certain issue up to the higher authority in order for them to correct once they universally declare something to be true.

    How do you know what is the correct hermeneutical process? Do the scriptures declare it? Are we expected to believe the correct interpretive process based on what is most accepted by a majority? What if they are wrong? Again the protestant will only submit to an authority based on some stipulations that he can judge this authority on privately, therefore leaving no authority but his own private beliefs. This is a hard thing to really see because even I who would have a much easier life as a protestant, cannot help but see this problem. What makes it hard to see, even for me for awhile, is that protestants claim scripture is their only infallible authority but this authority would be contingent on our own interpretations of the Scriptures, if there is not an institution guided by
    the Holy Spirit to constantly correct our errors in a way that is visible and vocal.

    thanks for the responses
    andy

    By the way, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe when St. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred his bones were collected by early Christians and were venerated by them.

  278. The problem with this dilemma is that it ignores the qualitative ontological distinction between persons and books, and so it falsely assumes that if a book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to function as an ecclesial authority, so must a living person. A book contains a monologue with respect to the reader. An author can often anticipate the thoughts and questions that might arise in the mind of the reader. But a book cannot hear the reader’s questions here and now, and answer them. A living person, however, can do so. A living person can engage in genuine dialogue with the reader, whereas a book cannot. Fr. Kimel talks about that here when he quotes Chesterton as saying that though we can put a living person in the dock, we cannot put a book in the dock. In this respect, a person can do what a book cannot; a person can correct global misunderstandings and answer comprehensive interpretive questions. A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. This unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end. A book cannot speak more about itself than it does at the moment at which it is completed. A person, by contrast, remains perpetually capable of clarifying further any of his previous speech-acts. (Section V, Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority)

    ——————————————

    I think, the counter argument does not answer the problem posed by the “infinite regress” argument pointed out by Protestants. The heart of the Protestant argument is that “communication”, in any form (written, oral, visual, etc.), is subject to the fallible interpretation of the receiver. Thus, there is no real advantage of having an infallible interpreter because the infallible interpretation is still subject to the fallible interpretation of the receiver.
    Granted, that persons can self-clarify what he means by his “message”, the clarification still is liable to fallible interpretation. The potency of self-clarification in the communication process does not remove the possibility of erroneous interpretation. Plus, self-clarification can only be useful if the person clarifying is at the same time clear in his process of communication through the medium that he uses to convey his clarifications. Thus, there is no qualitative ontological difference between books and persons that will remove the possibility of “infinite regress” if RCs demands that an infallible interpretation is needed for to gain understanding of divine revelation. A person to person communication can either increase or decrease the possibility of erroneous interpretation depending on how the communication process was carried out by the sender and receiver of the message. Thus, it seems overly simplistic when the argument speaks of the advantage of “unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification” that “ensures that hermeneutical spiral may reach its end”.
    Secondly, the scenario being forwarded in this argument is not in sync with the real situation of Roman Catholicism. Majority of individual Roman Catholics are not in direct contact with the Pope (who as far as I understand Catholic Theology is the only person granted with infallibility in the hierarchy). At most, the Roman Catholics are in direct contact with priests or bishops who are also fallible in their understanding and interpretation of dogmatic statements from the Magisterium. The clarifications of these priests or bishops of their speech-acts may consist of clarifications from an already erroneous interpretation of a certain dogma. Thus, it seems to me that, the portrayal of the Catholic advantage of having a “fallible person-to-infallible person” dialogue where the infallible person clarifies each time the fallible person gets it wrong or asks a query, is an illusion.

  279. lojahw,

    Thanks for your response. Out of respect for the topic of the thread, after this comment I’m going to try to discipline myself to only respond to things that have at least some bearing on the issues pertinent to the article. Feel free to respond to what I say here about side-topics – I’m not trying to make a grab at getting the last word – but I won’t be responding to these issues again myself. We need to save fuller discussion of the papacy, indulgences, etc., for more appropriate threads.

    You wrote:

    I would quibble a little on Augustine’s statement that the word “refuted” is not limited to further elaboration, but includes potential denial of what was taught.

    In de baptismo 2.3.4, regarding the writings of bishops, Augustine uses reprehendi. I agree that the writings of an individual bishop are subject to refutation. So do all Catholics. Regarding “plenary” councils, Augustine uses the softer emendari. We’ve never claimed that there is any particular bishop (including popes) in Church history all of whose writings are infallible. Ecumenical councils and popes speaking under very particular conditions are infallible. And, if you continue reading from where your quote leaves off, the condition for “emending” or “improving” the findings of an ecumenical council is cum aliquo experimento rerum aperitur quod clausum erat et cognoscitur quod latebat, not a countervailing biblical prooftext that had somehow been previously overlooked. I would submit that this precisely matches what happened with respect to the term “hypostasis” between 325 and the later fourth century. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Augustine had this very example in mind. We know from de trinitate and elsewhere that he kept up on Trinitarian lexical issues. So how is Augustine’s statement in tension with the distinction I proposed to you between Scripture’s positive authority (inspiration) and councils’ and popes’ negative authority (infallibility)?

    Also, as I read Augustine, he sided with Cyprian in favor of communion with the Donatists: “To this is added the testimony of Cyprian, showing clearly that he remained in communion with them, when he says, “Judging no man, nor removing any from the right of communion if he entertain a different opinion.” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 7.2.3).

    You’ve taken this quote out of context. The “different opinion” had to do with how to deal with penitent traditores in the wake of a persecution. The Donatists took a rigorist approach, and so they were the ones who opposed Cyprian’s dictum here and became schismatic. For the conditions of returning to communion with the Catholic Church, see the previous chapter (de baptismo 7.1.1): “heretics or schismatics, who have received baptism already in the body from which they came, should be admitted with it into the communion of the Catholic Church, being corrected in their error and rooted and grounded in the faith.” This teaching is upheld, incidentally, at the Council of Trent (Seventh Session, Canon 4 on Baptism).

    The above suggests to me that Augustine considered certain beliefs and practices to be “non-essential,” and thus not barriers to communion.

    Agreed. And as a Catholic, Augustine had a principled way to discern what was essential and what was non-essential. Where, exactly, do you get your list of essential doctrines? How would you respond to, say, a (real) friend of mine who accepts the authority of Scripture, believes in Jesus, but rejects the Trinity? He doesn’t condemn those who believe in the Trinity, but he doesn’t think it’s an “essential” doctrine. He thinks the Gnostics and the Arians should have remained in communion. Why should he listen to the Church in the fourth century when she tells him that the Trinity is an essential doctrine but not listen to the Church in subsequent centuries? NB: I’m not asking you how you would scripturally “demonstrate” the doctrine of the Trinity. I’m asking how you would convince him that this particular doctrine is essential, and why he should believe you. You say later in your post that “Heresy about God and His nature is always serious.” Well, why? I mean, does that apply all the way down the line? Intra-Trinitarian relations? Divine simplicity? Predestination? Mode of hypostatic union? These all pertain precisely to God’s nature as well. Any list of essentials you come up with is going to be non-binding and totally non-authoritative as long as it’s coming out of your own personal interpretation of Scripture. I won’t say it’s arbitrary, because you clearly have developed some of your own criteria for determining what’s essential and what’s not. And it’s an intelligent set of criteria, reflecting the deep thought you’ve obviously devoted to this question. But I don’t see why anyone would be bound to agree with you.

    When I said “establish a new church” I was speaking of a new member of the One Body of Christ, not of a new Body of Christ; or a new branch on the true vine. The Church visible cannot all meet in one place this side of heaven, so physical divisions are necessary. And according to the analogy of the Body, not all members are an eye. For there to be different members, there is distinction between them. The eye is not physically connected to the hand, but each are connected to the head. For there to be many branches, each grows from the true vine from a separate and distinct connection with the true vine. These are not Docetic pictures of the Church, but those given by Christ and His Apostles.

    Okay, I’m going to grant for the sake of argument the application of “members” of the Body to particular churches or parishes rather than to individual Christians (which is, I think, clearly the primary scriptural referent). But I’ll grant it, because it’s true that different parishes, dioceses, and particular churches bring different gifts to the Catholic Church. But to maintain the coherence of the somatic imagery, you have to have some way of demonstrating the organic (and not simply doctrinal) connection between the various “members” who, according to Rom 12:5, “are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” The only connection you’ve established between, say, AMiA, the OPC, and the church that maybe I’ll start in my living room next week is agreement on “essential” doctrines (with you as the arbiter of what counts as “essential”). This is precisely why I’m claiming it’s a docetic ecclesiology. It’s an ecclesiology that thinks that particular churches are constituted by a group of individuals who enter into a moral agreement regarding the truth of a set of “essential” disembodied doctrines. Any group who adopts the right set of doctrines then says, “We’re the church, or at least a branch of it. We’re a member of the body.” This is not the picture of the Church I see in the Gospels, nor in Paul, nor in the catholic epistles. Nor is it the picture of the Church I see in Clement, Ignatius, or Irenaeus. What kind of organic mutual responsibility obtains among AMiA, the OPC, and the church I’m starting in my living room? Do you see why I find this conception docetic?

    With respect to your reading of the Arian controversy, a few comments. First, if the Bible is sufficient for a clear explication of Christian doctrine, why did the bishops deem it necessary to introduce the non-biblical term homoousios? St Athanasius tells us why: because the Arians “wrest the whole of the divine oracles into accordance with” their Christology (Discourse I against the Arians 12.52). And so an extra-biblical formal principle is needed to prevent the “whole of the divine oracles” from being misinterpreted. This does not mean that the Nicene Fathers have introduced another material principium fidei into the conversation, but it does mean that they recognized the need for a Spirit-guided, authoritative framework of interpretation. If Scripture were perspicuous on the consubstantiality of the Son, why would they need the term homoousios? We have to get past a naïve, triumphalistic reading of the Arian heresy. The Arians did read their Bibles, thoroughly and carefully. They were not idiots, and they were not exceptionally depraved persons. But they were heretics. Why? Because their interpretation of Scripture fell outside that established at the Council of Nicaea, which was divinely guarded from error, and many of them persisted in resistance of the Church’s teaching authority (translation: Magisterium). On your understanding, all the orthodox bishops should have needed to do was give the Arians a few well-chosen prooftexts. Problem was, the Arians already knew them all, and believed them all, only according to their own interpretation. The Council provided parameters of orthodox meaning for the Scriptures. In the case of the debates at Nicaea, Scripture was materially sufficient, but it was not formally sufficient.

    In a way, and I don’t mean to be provocative or belligerent here, your refusal to admit that the ecumenical councils have actually given us infallible parameters for reading Scripture that we wouldn’t have without their findings strikes me as a kind of ingratitude. Do you genuinely think (I don’t know, maybe you do) that you, armed only with a Bible and a community of friends who also accept the Bible, would come up with orthodox Christology and Trinitarian theology without the benefit of the ecumenical councils? Because if you couldn’t or wouldn’t (and I don’t think I could or would), but you do in fact accept classical orthodox Christology and Trinitarian theology, then you’ve admitted that these provide you with a formal principle not found in Scripture alone.

    I have no idea how the Sixth Ecumenical Council pertains to our current discussion, unless you introduced it simply to take a shot at the papacy (thinking maybe that the Vatican I Fathers didn’t know about the famous case of Pope Honorius? They did.). But for what does pertain to this thread, I’ll just point out again that you, living in the 21st century, have the benefit of the findings of the Sixth Ecumenical Council when you so casually quote “Not My will but Thy will be done” as a “prooftext” that Monothelitism is a heresy. I agree that your interpretation of that verse is correct, but that’s because we both accept the Sixth Ecumenical Council. Do you really think that all the Monothelites either (a) had not read that verse, (b) intentionally resisted the “obvious” meaning of that verse, or (c) were just stupid? This prooftexting method of yours can be easily turned around. As I mentioned in the last post, an Arian could quote Prov 8:22, John 14:28, or Col 1:15, just as casually and blithely as you quote verses, and think he’d settled the whole matter. How do you know that we should interpret John 14:28 in light of John 10:30, and not vice-versa? Because Nicaea gives you an authoritative interpretive framework that requires you to.

    Re: the Reformation, you gloss over the historical context: was it necessary to buy indulgences for forgiveness, for justification, before God? Luther and others argued that this contradicted the teaching of, e.g., Romans 4:1-6 (“… For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” … But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”). If the Scriptures cannot be broken, then it cannot both be true that one must buy an indulgence for justification and that one can be justified by faith without works.

    Indulgences can’t be bought. But abusus non tollit usum. There’s nothing about the proper use of indulgences that contradicts St Paul, or anything else in Scripture. With respect to their abuse: nobody denies that the Church needed reformation in the 16th century. And a reformation she got: the Catholic Reformation. Unfortunately, she got an enormous and perduring schism as well.

    As I said above, please feel free to respond to any or all of the points I’ve just made, but from now on I’m only going to interact with comments that pertain to Bryan and Neal’s article.

    in Christ,

    TC
    1 Cor 16:14

  280. lojahw,

    It has been my experience that telling that they really don’t know what they are talking about is unproductive in a conversation the goal of which should be the mutual pursuit of truth. It also lacks charity, and important element (especially over this fairly impersonal medium).

    I thought this comment of yours was interesting:

    I have filtered out the liberal branches of the above traditions that no longer subscribe to Sola Scriptura and have openly become practitioners of Solo Scriptura

    What was the source of these two criteria you applied in making this culling?

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  281. Tap wrote: “Any of you here in contact with Mathison, know if he’s response will come soon.? No one so far has been able to answer that Sola Scriptura always reduces to Solo Scriptura.”

    Actually, I answered that at #257 above.

  282. Re. #266, Hi, Mateo,

    I think you have not caught on that I am not arguing the relative merits of Protestant epistemology vs. Catholicism. I am just trying to be descriptive of an aspect of Protestantism, and I am using a hypothetical situation to try to communicate my description to you. I agree that having an infallible interpreter handy would be preferable to not having one. You, as a Catholic, believe the Magisterium meets this requirement. We, as Protestants, do not, and ought to be living out the implications of that assessment, if we are going to be consistent. But what are the implications, really? Total chaos? Not necessarily! If you could bend your mind around to imagine a world that does NOT have access to infallible interpretation, but where God is still good and still intends to communicate to us, and where responsible interpretation aims for what is sufficient and reliable, then you are glimpsing what I am trying to describe of a “thoughtful Protestant” perspective. Not all Protestants have this perspective in the absence of a Magisterium, and they don’t read the texts carefully and so end up with shallow theologies that range all across the board. The “thoughtful Protestant” assumption is that since (as they believe) there is no infallible and authoritative Magisterium, they should be very, very careful how they interpret the biblical texts, making use of checks and balances as they go. Differences will still turn up, but not at the core. Maybe (as you would say) such people are self-deceived and wrong at a basic level, because they are not recognizing the Catholic Church (or the true texts) – but it would be empirically wrong to say that they are operating at such a level of uncertainty that they can’t agree with each other on a single point of doctrine (to say the least!). (In fact we agree with YOU on more than a single point of doctrine!)

    I used the analogy of marriage not to speak of my relationship with leaders in my church, but to illustrate that a lack of 100% certainty across the board does not preclude excellent understanding, even on a basic human-to-human level.

    You write, “If Christ expects me join the Church that he established and to believe what is true about matters of faith and morals (which He does), then it is wholly reasonable for me to believe that Christ would have people in the Church that He founded that are vested with the authority to teach infallibly about matters of faith and morals. That there exists a living magisterium in the Church founded by Jesus is an extremely reasonable thing for me to believe, and that is why I don’t struggle with the idea.”

    I think that the criteria you express here (for accepting the Magisterium) are way too simplistic for me – even if your conclusions are ultimately right, your criteria for that infallible interpreter seem to rest in your idea of what is reasonable or preferable, rather than in any authoritative source. (I think even Bryan noted above that personal preference should NOT guide our conclusions about the True Church, and I would think this should apply in both directions!)

    From where you are standing, it seems incomprehensible and dangerous to mess with the idea of interpreting the Bible in the absence of a Magisterium. But what if God really had set it up differently? What might we expect? That’s all I’m trying to communicate.

  283. lojahw,

    I just drove by the enormous (Southern) Baptist church that my dad attends and couldn’t help but notice the enormous church of Christ literally right next to it along the road. They do not worship together, do not receive communion together; some churches of Christ would even say that the Southern Baptists “aren’t saved” and vice-versa (a relative of mine talks about how Christ “saved his wife out of the church of Christ”).

    Protestant Communities were fractured from the very beginning, not over semantics or trivialities but rather essentials of the Faith like baptism, the Eucharist, church authority, and so on. You have so far ignored my arguments along these lines as well as my evidence that Luther and Calvin themselves had substantial differences over what sola Fide meant with regard to baptism (and hence salvation).

    Protestant Communities have continued fracturing, not over whether they should have a piano or organ in the church, though that does happen sometimes, but over substantive differences in what they consider essentials of the Faith.

    Leaving all of that aside and assuming your statements that all (traditional as defined by your interpretation of Scripture) Protestant churches are in communion with each other and teach the same thing on the essentials, I would then infer that you answer my original question by saying that I should follow sola Scriptura by yielding my own interpretation of Scripture to any of the pastors of these Protestant Communities (whether some traditional strain of Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Evangelical Free, and so on). Since you have not answered my question directly, is my inference here a fair assumption of what your answer would be?

  284. There are a number of problems with this essay, some of which are also endemic to the Mathison quotes as well.

    1. Who says that this big grab bag of “sects” all have to be owned by a Protestant as Protestants? How about if I divide the world between Presbyterians and Datholics, the latter being the “false church” consisting of Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, and other such sectarians? To use “fellowship with the pope” as the genus definer is question-begging.

    2. If apostolic succession is the key, then what about the Church of England, where succession is claimed and is also recognized (so far as it goes) by many Catholics. Yet they are Protestant. Now if someone denies they are Protestant, than see (1), but on the other hand, the 39 Articles assert justification by faith alone (XI), denies works of supererogation (XIV) and denies Transubstantiation (XXVIII), among other things.

    3. It appears to me at least that there is as much variation of belief within Catholicism, albeit claiming a single umbrella, as there is amongst the different settlements of the magisterial Reformation (e.g. Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican). Probably more in fact. For example, can someone please tell me which single millennial view all Catholics must subscribe to? or is latitude here allowed? How about the death penalty? It is my “private interpretation” that the Magisterium has condemned capital punishment, but I also hear on my talk radio that there are plenty of Catholics who are publicly for capital punishment, yet are not disciplined for it. How about Predestination? Has that doctrine been completely stamped out, and if so, would Augustine and Aquinas still be allowed to teach in the Catholic Church today? On other issues, such as abortion, the RC has been solid in rhetoric, yet that position is moot since Catholic politicians not only support abortion rights, but by their votes bring it about causally that abortions occur that otherwise would not. Yet they are rarely if ever excommunicated. So in any practical way, even something as life-and-death important as abortion has really not been settled. The umbrella accepts the whole range of beliefs and practices here.

    4. Mathison says, and the author of this post approves, “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture.”

    Perhaps, but then all appeals to the pope are appeals to interpretations of the pope.

    Do you not need someone to interpret the decrees of the pope or Councils?

    Ultimately, it is an infinite regress.

    If language is so difficult that God cannot communicate directly to individuals using sentences, then neither can any pope or Council.

    Unless it comes down to bare and irrational exertion of force.

    The logical conclusion of the Catholic theory is, that one simply does, says, and believes whatever one wants, until and unless the force of the pope/church comes down on his head. Even then, one would not even know that it was the true pope or true church, for that would require interpretation. One would only know that force had been exerted.

  285. lojahw: Mateo,
    You really don’t know what you are talking about. Just because you talked to one Baptist man doesn’t mean he knew what his Church teaches … Go on the web and look up the doctrinal statements below before you make any more rash statements about how none of them can agree on even one point:

    The Evangelical Free Church, The Southern Baptists, The Presbyterian Church in America, United Church of Christ, The Methodist Church,
    The Reformed Church, The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, The Anglican Church in North America …

    Note: I have filtered out the liberal branches of the above traditions that no longer subscribe to Sola Scriptura and have openly become practitioners of Solo Scriptura (really Solo Sua).

    My total experience with Baptists is not just one conversation with one man. When I lived in the South, I used to go to with my Southern Baptists friends to listen to their preachers at their church services and revivals.

    Do Southern Baptists agree with every point of doctrine with those in the Reformed Church? Not by any means – there are deep divisions between Southern Baptists and most Calvinists, e.g. The Lordship salvation vs. Non-Lordship salvation controversy .

    I will grant you that among the select list of Protestant denominations that you gave that there are a few points of doctrine upon which they all agree. But my point was not that. I said this: “Protestant epistemology has lead to the creation of thousands upon thousands of divided Protestant sects that cannot come together and agree on a single point of doctrine.”

    Instead of your select list, include instead ALL Protestant denominations, i.e include, the United Pentecostal Church, Unitarian Universalist Church, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of God Abrahamic Faith, World Wide Church of God, Iglesia ni Cristo, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Church of Christ Scientist, Swedenborgians, The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, Children of God, Igreja Internacional da Graça de Deus, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the home grown Chinese Bible Churches in mainland China … include all the thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that have sprung up because of the private interpretation of the Bible.

    If one includes every Protestant denomination that exists and not just a cherry picked list of Protestant denominations, one will find exactly what I said – that the “thousands upon thousands of divided Protestant sects that cannot come together and agree on a single point of doctrine.”

    If sola scriptura doctrine and the concomitant private interpretation of the Bible is not the source of Protestant doctrinal chaos, what is the source of the doctrinal chaos within Protestantism?

  286. Bryan and Neal,

    Your article clearly presents that “solo” and “sola” are virtually the same position.

    However, I see problems in Mathison’s statement, “All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture,” which leads to, “when I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.”

    First, the claim the 3 of you are making is that no individual can make an ultimate, correct “solo” interpretation of Scripture. But, in fact, in making this claim, this is exactly what you have done (this fallacy is often called a Universal Negative). It is self-refuting because you are claiming authoritatively that there is at least one ultimate correct interpretation that you as individuals are making: that is, you have arrived at an ultimate interpretation that no individual can arrive at an ultimate interpretation of Scripture. You have just done what you claim that nobody can do. You have refuted yourselves.

    For an example of a Universal Negative, consider what people often say today, “You should not impose your morality on others.” The statement is self-refuting. People who say this are imposing their “morality” upon others.

    Therefore, it is not true that individual ultimate interpretations or conclusions of Scripture cannot be made. Any correct interpretation is an ultimate interpretation. The issue then is what is a correct interpretation not that no individual can arrive at a correct interpretation. To accomplish this, proper rules of reasoning must be followed. If someone were to object, for example, to the Resurrection, verses could be shown proving the Resurrection to be true. If someone were to object to the trinity, verses could be shown with proper reasoning to prove the trinity.

    Therefore, a supernatural authoritative interpreter is not needed. A Divine Authority is needed to reveal objective consistent truth and proper interpretation is achieved by drawing valid inferences (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit).

    Since the premise for your article (no individual can make ultimate “solo” interpretations) which you use to substantiate the need for a magisterium is false, there is no need for a magisterium upon this basis or based upon an absence of a supernatural authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

    Second, the premise is also a composition fallacy because the magisterium of the Catholic Church is made up individuals. At least one individual has to arrive at a conclusion or “interpretation” before the group can arrive at a conclusion or “interpretation.” If no single individual has arrived at a conclusion, then there is no interpretation or conclusion.

    Third, since when does an appeal to an authoritative book always mean an appeal to an interpretation of the book? An appeal to an interpretation can be an appeal to Scripture if the truth of the interpretation is the truth of Scripture. I can say “Christ has risen” and if someone wants to call this an interpretation of Scripture, they may, but certainly it is as much an appeal to Scripture as it is an appeal to an interpretation. It would properly be called an “accurate” or “correct” interpretation. Now if I affirm, for example, the trinity, someone may say that this is my “subjective interpretation.” But, again, if I have followed the rules of proper reasoning, my so-called interpretation is not subjective, it is a valid inference. And the inference is just as true as the Scripture. This is an extremely important distinction to make because when a valid “interpretation” is made, then the conclusion is true. And reasoned truth is just as authoritative as Scripture because truth is truth. The hypostatic union, for example, is a valid and true “interpretation” and just as authoritative as a quote of the 10 commandments.

    Fourth, submission to an “interpretation” is not necessarily a submission to myself. If the interpretation is a valid conclusion, I am not submitting to myself, I am submitting to the truth of the valid conclusion. If I do not submit to truth, I am not insubordinate to myself, but to truth.

    Finally, there are very serious flaws in reasoning that Roman Catholics have “discovered” the Church which Christ established without making an individual presupposition or “solo” interpretation. How do we know that “the Church” even exists? Or that even Christ established such an organization? We learn this from Scripture either directly or indirectly. We presuppose the truth of Scripture even before beginning the investigation for a Church. We make an accurate “solo interpretation” of the Scripture even to “discover” that there was such a man named Peter who was given keys to a kingdom. If we hear of this truth from others or through history books and believe it, then we have presupposed it to be true. And if we are looking for an authoritative revelation to prove that it is true, we will find that this truth came from the authoritative revelation of the Word of God.

    Unless we have authoritative revelation from God, I cannot trust extra-Biblical historical writings as being authoritative revelation from God. How can I or anyone? There is no authoritative basis. So, as I study to discover a succession of prophetic leaders, who can I trust? Why should I believe one author over another? Therefore, since succession is not Special Revelation, I am bound to reject it.

    Furthermore, I find the reasoning based upon Scripture that there exists a succession to be invalid. But I understand that that is not the focus of the discussion here.

    These are some of my initial thoughts. Thank you for the dialogue. I have certainly enjoyed it.

    David

  287. Mateo (#285),
    Sure, if you are going to list all of the non-Catholic “churches” in the phone book, you can make the case that “Protestants” don’t agree on any single aspect of doctrine. But what about the reality that many deceivers will come and teach in Jesus’ name? Of course, these groups are ALL apostate from the Catholic p.o.v. – but even Catholics have been able to identify those that are less apostate/more orthodox than others (if such a category exists!). I’m not up on all of the joint declarations made by Catholics and others, but surely there had to be some evaluation of doctrine involved before these could occur. (And isn’t it amazing that there WOULD be agreement, since the Protestants in question didn’t have a Magisterium to guide them? How could this be? Do you think it just might be possible to find out true stuff from the Bible without infallible interpretive help? Hmmmm.)

  288. TuretinFan-

    1. You said:

    Saying that (in some sense) the individual is the “ultimate arbiter” does not on its face appear to be a rejection of “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei.”

    If Mathison’s claim that all appeals to Scripture are appeals to private interpretation, then to say that an authority is subordinate to Scripture is to say that the authority is subordinate to one’s private interpretation of Scripture. Thus to say that the individual is the “ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation” logically leads to the non-principled distinction of one who says “the Church is subordinate to my private interpretation of Scripture” (i.e. the rejection of “true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei” / solo scriptura position) and the one who says, without qualification, “the church is subordinate to the Scriptures” because, again, his appeal to “scriptures” is merely an appeal to his private interpretation. So if you have a disagreement with Mathison that all appeals to Scripture are appeals to Private interpretation thereof, then you need to show why that is false. It has not been shown that the article is incorrect to note the lack of principled distinction between solo scriptura and sola scriptura.

    As to the second part of your reply, even if it were true that no other Christian system offered a better alternative, the article would still be true (that there was no principled distinction between sola and solo scriptura). You said that “it has been pointed out a few times,” and you are right that it has, that the individual is always the “ultimate arbiter in some sense.” This objection has been adequately shown to be fallacious both here (above, in the article itself, and see the early comments exposing the weakness of the tu quoque fallacy) and here by Dr. Liccione.

  289. Andy: Briefly, our dialog does not seem to be going anywhere, so I think it would be best to let it go.

    Re: hermeneutics, I agree with the rules described in Dei Verbum 3.12 from Vatican II. What I object to is stopping all interpretation of Scripture with the argument: “the Magisterium has spoken.” This is an appeal to the genetic fallacy: assuming the interpretation must be true because of a speculative claim of origin tied to the Apostle Peter.

    I recommend that you and others still arguing against Sola Scriptura seriously consider David Thrall’s post.

    Peace.

  290. TC:

    Thank you for your clarifying comments on emendation of councils vs. refutation of bishops. Re:

    We’ve never claimed that there is any particular bishop (including popes) in Church history all of whose writings are infallible.

    In response to my quoting Augustine, Bryan seems to have claimed what you deny:

    Bryan wrote: “We need to be careful when interpreting the ‘all’ in “that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon” first because it does not say “all bishops”, but “all the letters of bishops”, and second because there is much other evidence in the Fathers indicating that the office of St. Peter is given the charism of truth and divinely protected from error.”

    Bryan’s subsequent communication implies that he takes the latter as literally true in all cases of papal teaching. Re: Cyprian, I accept your interpretation. However the following makes no sense:

    How would you respond to, say, a (real) friend of mine who accepts the authority of Scripture, believes in Jesus, but rejects the Trinity?

    How can one accept the authority of Scripture and deny the Trinity?

    Isa. 48:12-16, I am the first and the last. . . . The LORD Yahweh has sent Me, and His Spirit. (cf. Rev. 1:17-18)

    Matt. 28:19 . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (one name, three persons)

    Eph. 2:17-18 . . . for through Him [Jesus] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

    Why is this essential? Because one cannot deny God’s revelation about Himself AND obey the first and great commandment: to love God with all your heart, and your soul, and all your mind.

    I do not follow your docetic arguments. You seem to imply that if members of Christ’s body organize a particular assembly, somehow they become severed from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? The new church plants I’ve seen remain in communion with their mother churches (except in cases of outright heresy). I would quickly add that such new churches are not thereby free to abandon Sola Scriptura, including what they have been taught. According to 2 Tim. 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Whoever departs from this teaching, departs from Sola Scriptura.

    Re: the use of homoousios to describe the combination of attributes of Christ which the bishops of Nicea listed from Scripture is a valid description of His divine nature, just as using the term Trinity is a valid description of the Godhead as taught in Scripture. Sola Scriptura, as David Thrall so eloquently wrote, is totally consistent with valid inferences from Scripture. To imply that Scripture is not perspicuous because the bishops summarized all the attributes with that word is an invalid conclusion. You say that the Arians knew and “believed” all of the relevant passages Scriptures and yet declared that there was a time when Christ was not? Come again? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and “All things came into being through Him.” Was this not sufficient to get the point across that there never was a time when Christ was not? The Arians were simply enamored with their misinterpretation of Proverbs 8, thinking it somehow overrode passages such as John 1:1-3.

    your refusal to admit that the ecumenical councils have actually given us infallible parameters for reading Scripture … strikes me as a kind of ingratitude.

    TC, an adequate response is beyond the scope of this thread. However, I would note that in the context of the Messianic prophecy of Micah 5, we read, “So that you will no longer bown down to the work of your hands.” Since the CF’s for centuries interpreted this and the rest of Scripture to prohibit what the Seventh Ecumenical Council ORDERED and the Council of Trent defended, it would appear that these Councils were not faithful to the teaching handed down by the Apostles.

    Re: indulgences, do you deny that priests and bishops of Rome were granting them in exchange for money? You avoid the term “buy,” yet it accurately describes the practice that catalyzed the Reformation teaching of justification by faith.

    Blessings.

  291. Mateo, You are falling for the genetic fallacy. You are concluding that because the founders of the churches you list may have had some association with a Sola Scriptura Church, that their churches and teachings are based on Sola Scriptura. Wrong! You cannot use churches that do not follow Sola Scriptura (as I explained previously) to discredit Sola Scriptura.

    “The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.”

    Further, your claim that Baptists and Calvinists disagree on the fundamentals of the faith is refuted by the websites I referenced. [BTW – you appear not to realize that many Baptists are staunch Calvinists!] The Calvinists explicitly claim to teach the same faith, yet with an “accent” on God’s sovereignty. This in no way keeps Baptists and Reformed Churches from being in communion with each other.

    Re: Protestant churches that are not in communion with each other, all I can say is that it is sad. There are many Hatfields and McCoys.

    Peace.

  292. lojahw,

    You wrote:

    Bryan’s subsequent communication implies that he takes the latter as literally true in all cases of papal teaching.

    No, it doesn’t. You seem to be having a hard time avoiding misrepresenting my position. For that reason, let me suggest that in the future, before claiming what you think I believe, please ask me first.

    I”d love to be participating more in this thread, but I’m tied down grading papers. I hope we can summarize what has been determined so far (in these comments), especially what are the best objections to our article, objections that have not been answered either in the article or in the comments.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  293. lojahw,

    Thanks again for your response. I know you’ve been bombarded with comments addressed to you, and so I appreciate your patience and persistence in pursuing constructive conversation.

    As I mentioned in my last comment, I’m going to impose strict limits on what I respond to this time around. So I’m going to have to pass over your comments about ecclesiology, sacred images, justification and indulgences…their time will come :-)

    Regarding my friend who accepts the authority of Scripture and denies the Trinity, I’m not defending his position. That’s why I asked you not to bother doing what you did – to show how you’d demonstrate the doctrine from Scripture (and you did an admirable, concise job!). I don’t think it would get my friend too far though. He has trouble mostly, I think, with the full, co-equal, personal divinity of the Holy Spirit as distinct from Father and Son. He’s not the first Bible reader with this problem, either, which is why, for example, St Basil of Caesarea has to appeal to Tradition in On the Holy Spirit. His opponents, incidentally, were also adherents of the Council of Nicaea. And my friend is not alone these days, either. Check out some of the literature from Oneness Pentecostals. They’re openly modalist, and many of these guys live and breathe Scripture. Without a formal principle extrinsic to Scripture, you and I (who, I repeat, wholeheartedly agree on these Trinitarian matters) are going to have an awful lot of trouble swaying their reading of Scripture. All you’ve demonstrated with your Trinitarian prooftexts is the material sufficiency of Scripture with respect to this doctrine. The fact that Scripture is not formally sufficient is demonstrated by my morally upright and intelligent, Bible-believing, non-Trinitarian friend; by our Oneness Pentecostal modalist friends; by Basil’s appeal to Sacred Tradition; and by Athanasius’s complaint, not that the Arians had outright ignored some passages of Scripture that would have set them right straightaway, but that they had attempted to “wrest the whole of the divine oracles” to their interpretation.

    I don’t want to play heretic’s advocate. I agree with the Nicene interpretation of John 1:1-3, which you share. But, again, the Arians had read this passage and any other you care to name. How do you know, for example, that “in the beginning” actually means “from eternity without beginning”? Why could that not possibly mean what the Arians thought it meant? They were very careful not to say “There was a time when he was not” but “There was when he was not” (ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν). They knew they were pushing the boundaries of language, but they wanted to find a way to say that the Word both pre-exists temporal creation and yet is himself on the creaturely side of the ontological gap (cf. Col 1:15, for example).

    Of course, I don’t buy the Arian arguments (so please, please don’t bother trying to convince me of something we already agree about!). But this is why I said that your posture vis-à-vis the councils seemed ungrateful to me. I don’t think you’re intending to be ungrateful (which is why I probably shouldn’t have said it at all – I genuinely didn’t intend it as an aspersion on your character, but as an objective analysis of your position). It seems to me that you’re claiming the orthodox interpretation of the verses you quote as your own accomplishment: I read them, I understood them thus, and that settles it. Try reading the Gospels as though you knew nothing about traditional orthodoxy. (I actually have tried this.) Read St Paul once through the same way. Or even try reading them as an Arian. Make an honest effort. (Man, I hate acting as heretic’s advocate! Please, nobody become an Arian!) Maybe you’ll see that orthodox Christology and Trinitarian doctrine are not so easily read right off the page. Maybe you’ll see that indeed there is an Arian way of reading John 1:1-3. They were not idiots. They were not outstandingly morally evil. But they were heretics, because they resisted the boundaries set by the Church, guided by the Spirit, for reading Scripture. When I read John 1:1-3 and know that I cannot interpret “in the beginning” as the Arians did, I say “thank you” to the Holy Spirit for His guidance of the Church. I do not say, “Ah, yes, what an obvious text.”

    Thanks for the stimulating conversation, lojahw. I look forward to more.

    in Christ,

    TC
    1 Cor 16:14

  294. lojahhw

    I appreciate the discussion. I am not arguing for the Catholic position, as I am not a Catholic. I have been trying to express my concern with this very big problem within protestantism, namely sola scriptura. There is no difference between sola and solo scriptura. I believe this article makes that clear. I have been familiar with Mathison’s book for awhile now and knew how he was trying to distinguish between the two types of Scripture alone theory. I think he failed to make a distinction. This article demonstrates that very clearly. And I also believe this article gives very good reasons why apostolic succession is the only case where there can be a real dogmatic authority, one that has authority to obligate us to confess what they claim as truth. Because it is an authority that would have its origin in Christ first of all who gave authority to the apostles who then gave authority to their successors. This is ordered and recognizable and testified unanimously in the earliest fathers. Its the only option that does not have us chasing ecclesial anomalies. Not a single protestant has given any adequate reason why these points are not the case. Its hard for us moderns, who are skeptical of hierarchy, to put faith in what another group of people tells us to believe without us first having a point by point or chapter and verse explanation that will satisfy our intellects, because we feel all human beings are epistemically equal. This does not surprise me given our cultures egalitarian nature. Personally this is another reason that the Catholic position is compelling to me. Their ecclesiastical setup seems to reflect the hierarchical structure of both the created material world and the angelic reality. The bottom line is if the Catholic Church has infallible authority then it receives that gift from God, so we would have to fashion our opinions to what they claim is true. If they don’t then we are left with ourselves as our own interpretive authorities of dogma which I cannot help but see this option as a big problem. I personally am still on a journey and hope to arrive in the truth.

    Good talking to you
    Andy

  295. lojahw,

    Your use of 2 Tim 2:2 is very confusing if you are trying to assert Sola Scriptura. You write

    “According to 2 Tim. 2:2, ‘The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.’ Whoever departs from this teaching, departs from Sola Scriptura.”

    From that passage it would seem that the Apostles orally conveyed infallible information outside of things written in the Bible. Obviously, the Bible could not contain all their oral teaching, and therefore that is why the Church relies on both the Oral Tradition and Written Tradition. The Oral Tradition came first of course, as the apostles preached first before they set up churches. Otherwise, there would have been no churches and no Christians to write letters to. It was only when there were problems in the churches did they write letters, the letters that make up the bulk of the New Testament. Clearly, sola scripture was not an idea that existed back then if only for the fact that it would have been logically impossible as there was no “scriptura” as we know it with which they could “sola.” Even in the jewish tradition from which Christianity came, the emphasis was and still is on the oral tradition, for without the oral tradition there could be no written. There are many things for example that the Jews believe about the revelation of God’s Law at Mt. Sinai that is not found in the Bible.

  296. Thank you, Bryan, for your correction.

    Some observations about the article:

    1) The basic premise that there is no principled distinction between Sola Scriptura (Scripture is paramount) and Solo Scriptura (my own interpretation of Scripture is paramount) is self-refuting:

    a) because the practice of Sola Scriptura cannot contradict God’s Word, and Solo Scriptura contradicts 2 Peter 1:20-21 (no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation), as well as the teaching of Scripture about the role of the Church in interpretation (e.g. Heb. 13:17; 2 Tim. 2:1-2).

    b) Because, as David Thrall so eloquently explained, the argument itself is based on a universal negative (you as individuals have declared an ultimate interpretation that individuals cannot arrive at an ultimate interpretation), which is self-refuting, and relied on a fallacy of composition (that the Magisterium is exempt from the argument even though its interpretations necessarily derive from an individual’s interpretation).

    2. The argument against Sola Scriptura relies on the genetic fallacy by assuming that all derivatives from Protestant churches are true representatives of Sola Scriptura. One cannot assume the fidelity of the derivative to its origin. Each case must be tested.

    Mateo blithely lists a bunch of cults and churches which deny the teachings of Scripture which all orthodox Christians agree are non-negotiable. Anyone who denies what God has revealed about Himself disobeys what Scripture affirms as the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 22:27-39). Further, anyone who denies the atoning death and the bodily resurrection of Christ denies what Paul says is of first importance. Anyone who denies Scripture’s teaching on these things has abandoned Sola Scriptura.

    Further, as I explained on a number of posts it is wrong to assume that the diversity of (orthodox) Protestant Churches proves that they all interpret Scripture differently. Diversity is the result of many factors having nothing to do with interpretation, e.g., the Civil war, ethnic and cultural differences (e.g., the Chinese Baptist Church), social factors, geographical isolation, etc. Likewise, differences of practice (how and who one church baptizes vs. another, styles of worship, structures of church leadership) do not impinge on the fundamentals of the faith. Further, differences of emphasis, such as the Reformed emphasis on the sovereignty of God, do not imply disagreements about the fundamentals of the faith.

    3. The article also relies on the genetic fallacy regarding apostolic succession. It implicitly claims that because the papal office is derived from Christ’s commission of Peter, that all of Peter’s successors must be true representatives of the Apostles’ teaching.

    The moderators have requested that I not challenge the fidelity of the papacy on this thread. I will, however, ask what is the principled difference between the Pharisees who said, “it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet,” and the pope who said the feast of Mary’s conception is a holy day of obligation (cf. Ineffibilis Deus)? Both claim divine authority, the former derived from Moses (although his Law had no such rule) and the latter derived from Peter (although Peter declared no such obligation).

    4. The authors seem to imply that communion with the pope is the ultimate test of fidelity to the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. I would caution that the social obligation of communion in itself is not fool-proof. In other words, it is not legitimate for communion to require one to “invalidate the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (cf. Matt. 15:6).

    Peace.

  297. Irene,

    For2 Tim 2:2 to contradict Sola Scriptura, one would have to identify what Paul was exhorting Timothy to pass on that was not inscripturated. It is a matter of context: when Paul said it, the New Testament was not complete (although most scholars believe that 2 Timothy was the last letter written by Paul). Yes, the Gospel was originally transmitted orally, and it continues to be so transmitted by every preacher and missionary of the Gospel, but in today’s context we have the Scriptures as the full and sufficient revelation of God’s plan of salvation. This was certainly Irenaeus’ understanding in the second century:

    “We have known the method of our salvation by no other means than those by whom the gospel came to us; which gospel they truly preached; but afterward, by the will of God, they delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:1)

    There is no contradiction, therefore, in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, and Sola Scriptura. The point in 2 Timothy 2 is that we need “faithful men” to pass on what the Apostles taught, and not add to, modify, or delete any of their teaching.

    Peace.

  298. TC: Please don’t misunderstand me regarding the church fathers. I do appreciate them, and have learned much from them. They have much to teach the Church today. The point of disagreement is that the pope is an infallible discerner of which interpretations from all of them represent ultimate truth.

    It is also true that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor. 2:15). The best thing for your friend is to pray for him and continue to try to “explain the way of God more accurately” to him (cf. Acts 18:26). The untaught and the unstable are always prone to distorting the Word of God.

    Peace.

  299. lojahw,

    You seem to be arguing only to score points, your whole post #297 is an attempt at sophistry. You claim

    one would have to identify what Paul was exhorting Timothy to pass on that was not inscripturated.”

    But without answering the actual problem you posed, you immediately jump to a conclusion, that does not even follow while claiming “today’s context”:

    Yes, the Gospel was originally transmitted orally, and it continues to be so transmitted by every preacher and missionary of the Gospel, but in today’s context we have the Scriptures as the full and sufficient revelation of God’s plan of salvation

    Thats the reason i’ve been wondering whether or not you’re Ken Temple, because this is the type of arguments he likes making, quite frankly surprised that this stuff is getting through.

  300. lojahw,

    You wrote:

    The point of disagreement is that the pope is an infallible discerner of which interpretations from all of them [the Church Fathers] represent ultimate truth.

    Oh. I thought we were talking about whether or not ecumenical councils provide a formal principle of orthodoxy extrinsic from Scripture. It’s true that, from my point of view, papal approval is a condition for the authentic ecumenicity of a council, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with our discussion. If what you said above is the case, then do we actually agree about the infallibility of ecumenical councils? I don’t think we do. The Orthodox agree with us in receiving the Seventh Ecumenical Council, though the Orthodox disagree with us about the precise shape and extension of papal primacy. You disagree with both us and the Orthodox about the Seventh Ecumenical Council because its horos does not cohere with your interpretation of Scripture. So I don’t think the papacy is actually the only point of disagreement. This also illustrates Bryan and Neal’s argument that sola Scriptura and solo Scriptura boil down to the same thing. You accept the First Council of Nicaea because it agrees with your interpretation of Scripture. You reject the Second Council of Nicaea because it does not agree with your interpretation of Scripture.

    I agree that I should continue to pray for my friend. But on your principles, your application of 1 Cor 2:15 to him begs the question. You think my friend is distorting the Word of God because his interpretation of Scripture does not agree with your interpretation of Scripture. I think my friend is distorting the Word of God because his interpretation of Scripture does not fall within the orthodox parameters established by the ecumenical councils under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If not because of the infallible statements of ecumenical councils, how do you know that my friend is wrong and you’re right? You’ve appealed before to “valid inferences” as, I suppose, an extrinsic formal principle. But who decides which inferences are valid and which aren’t? Logicians? Lexicographers? Cultural historians? It would be nice to appeal to a vague “common sense,” but the fact is that you and I could probably each name, on the spot, at least a dozen issues on which you and I will disagree about what “valid inferences” can be drawn from Scripture. My friend disagrees with us both about what valid inferences can be drawn from Scripture about the Holy Spirit. You’ll have to take my word for it, but my friend has received orthodox teaching, reads the Bible often and devoutly, and is an extremely well educated person who is capable of thinking logically about “valid inferences.” So again, without an extrinsic formal principle, how do you know that he’s not the one who’s reading the Bible with the Spirit’s aid and you’re not the one who’s deceived?

    In the case of Nicene Christology and Trinitarian theology, you and I agree that Scripture is materially sufficient. You still haven’t refuted my argument, however, that Scripture is not formally sufficient in this case. I’d really appreciate it if you would revisit my previous comments and show me where I’m wrong on this score.

    You’ve characterized Catholicism before as exhibiting a “solo Papa” principle. I want to suggest an alternative to you, based on Vatican II’s Dei Verbum: Catholicism does not adhere to sola Scriptura but to solo Verbo. Jesus Christ Himself is the perfect revelation of God (Heb 1:1-3). Christ is, in the first place, the living and active Word of God (Heb 4:12). Scripture is only the Word of God insofar as, through the Holy Spirit, we encounter the Word Himself in its words, above all in the sacramental context of the liturgy. The fundamental theological problem with sola Scriptura is that it proposes the Bible as an independent, fixed quantity. If the Bible is separated from the other modes of the Word’s presence in His Body the Church—in the Eucharist, in the poor, and, yes, I believe in the sacerdotal hierarchy, etc.—it runs the risk of becoming a mere book, a dead letter.

    Happy Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.

    TC

  301. Tim et al.,
    I wonder if you think these ideas make sense: I am thinking that the concept of “Private Judgment” might bear more than one meaning for readers, which could add some confusion to this discussion. I’ve noticed three ways that autonomy, or private judgment, has cropped up in these comments:

    1. Autonomy of intellect = exercising our human faculties of reason and intellect
    2. Autonomy of participation = the reality that we are active agents when we mentally assent to what is taught to us
    3. Autonomy of conscience = reserving the right to judge or evaluate what we are told by those in religious authority

    I am sure someone else could state these ideas more carefully. But it seems to me that in the Catholic system, #1 and #2 are operative and #3 is relinquished; while in a Protestant system all three are in place. If we think in terms of these distinctions, then TF is right to say that we ALL exercise “Private Judgment” (with reference to #1&2) and Bryan and Neal are also correct in saying that Protestants exercise Private Judgment in a way that Catholics do (or ought) not (as per #3). (Protestants might feel the authors were not exactly delicate in their expression of this aspect of Protestantism, but I think we could agree on the basic definition of #3.)

    Do you think I’ve got the right idea?

  302. CTC, as always I trust you to moderate appropriately to the discussion.

    For Mr. Lojahw:

    I don’t know who you really are, but I pray you are not a member of the group of anti-Catholic bloggers, etc. You don’t seem that way in your response to me. I pray now that you receive this in the manner that I write it – with no malice or desire to exalt myself as being smarter or better. But with true humility to explain what I have found to be Truth.

    “Essentials of the faith” for Our Lord was that you be as one, as He and The Father are One. St. Paul echoed Our Lord when He said “let there be NO divisions among you”. Christ’s Body cannot be divided and that is not only essential, it is a statement of fact.
    If, as Protestant denominations, you cannot partake of the of the cup and the bread together as “one body”, how can you all join with one another at the wedding supper of The Lamb through all of eternity sharing in the consumate table fellowship?

    Understanding the “Oneness” of God in trinity is to understand the mystery of the” Oneness” we have with Christ as our Bridegroom and with “one another” as part of this mystical Body of Christ.

    As St. Paul was inspired of The Holy Spirit to write in his letter to the Corinthian Church:

    “I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.
    The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
    For we, though many, are one bread and one body;
    for we all partake of that one bread.

    The inspiration of the Holy Spirit shows clearly that everyone can see to be able to “judge for themselves” what this sacred writing is saying. They already knew it was the Eucharist – The Real Presence. They were celebrating this BEFORE they received this letter from St. Paul admonishing them for their sin of divisions, as well as other sins. That is ESSENTIAL to the faith.

    For Andy:

    If I can help you in anyway to understand the beauty of knowing the fullness of Truth in The Church, please feel free to e-mail me. I’ve gotten anti-Catholic hate-mail recently, but I want to give you my e-mail address anyway – shraders2 ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com.
    I love Our Lord too much to feel anxiety and not share this with someone who may have questions. I won’t be coming in to the Church until Easter Vigil, but I thank Him everyday for opening my eyes. Maybe I can pray for you or help you in some way in your journey.

    May the peace of Our Lord be with you all during this Blessed Season,
    Teri

  303. TC,

    That was a beautfiul description of the Church’s understanding concerning the Word as per Dei Verbum. Christianity is NOT a religion of the book, but one of the Word of God, namely Jesus Himself, as our Lord Himself says in John 5, “You search the Scriptures thinking that in them you have life, but these testify of Me.” Scripture, like the Church, directs our hearts and minds to Christ and to contemplate Him.

    Lojahw, you speak of these fundamentals that all Christians agree on and then list those things in which it is permissable, according to your criteria, in which to disagree, and included in that you list the style of worship, as though how we worship God is up for grabs. Nadab and Abihu learned quickly that how we approach God in worship is not a thing indifferent. Nadab and Abihu were attempting to worship God but how they did it meant all the difference.

    With TC, may all have a blessed Feast of Christ the King. I just read recently in our diocese back in the 30′s and 40′s about 25,000 would process the streets of Mobile to bear witness to Christ the King. I was delighted to see this past Friday over 20,000 Catholics, mostly youth, processed the streets of Kansas City, Mo in Eucharistic Procession.

  304. Joey (re: #278),

    Thanks for your comments. Here’s the original dilemma raised by our imaginary Protestant as an objection to our argument:

    The follow-up objection to our argument takes the form of a dilemma. The dilemma runs like this. Either the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, or not. If the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, then he will need the guidance of another interpretive authority when interpreting the first interpretive authority. And he will need the guidance of third interpretive authority when interpreting the second interpretive authority. That would lead to an infinite regress. But there cannot be an infinite regress, hence the individual does not need the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture. (From Part V of our article)

    The objection is an argument that takes the form of a dilemma in which (it is claimed) we must choose between (1) an infinite hermeneutical regress and (2) no need for an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture.

    Our response to this objection is to show that it is a false dilemma. We do not have to choose between an infinite hermeneutical regress, and not needing an interpretive authority. It can be true that we need a living interpretive authority in order for Scripture to fulfill its function as the authoritative Word of God, without it being true that we are stuck in an infinite hermeneutical regress.

    One reason why there is no necessary infinite hermeneutical regress is that with a living Magisterium we can continue to ask clarifying questions, even to the point of saying, “I’m understanding you to be saying [x]. Is [x] what you are saying? Yes or no?” And the Magisterium can respond by saying “yes” or “no”. And at that point, there is no need for an interpretive authority, so long as a person understands the English language and has adequate hearing. Interpreting “yes” and “no” is quite different from interpreting, say, the book of Romans. We do not need an interpretive authority to explain the meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. But we may very well need an interpretive authority to explain the meaning of the book of Romans, or at least to help us avoid misinterpreting it.

    Your point, namely, that the individual human interpreter is always fallible, is true, but it doesn’t affect our argument, because our argument does not depend upon the individual being an infallible interpreter.

    However, I will take issue your following claim:

    Thus, there is no real advantage of having an infallible interpreter because the infallible interpretation is still subject to the fallible interpretation of the receiver.

    That’s a non sequitur. That’s like saying that there is no advantage of the Bible being infallible over it being full of errors, since the individual interpreter is fallible. The fallibility of the individual interpreter does not mean that there is no advantage (with respect to arriving at truth) in having an infallible book. Likewise, the fallibility of the individual interpreter does not mean that there is no advantage (with respect to arriving at truth) in having not only an infallible book but also an infallible interpreter of that book.

    Then you wrote:

    Thus, there is no qualitative ontological difference between books and persons that will remove the possibility of “infinite regress” if RCs demands that an in