The Tradition and the Lexicon

Feb 10th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

About a year and half ago, I came across an internet discussion between a number of Protestants and Catholics talking about what still divided them. I had arrived late to the discussion, and so I read through all the comments with a somewhat different perspective than a participant in the thick of it. The question I was asking myself as I read through the comments was not “Who is right?” Instead I was studying the exchange while asking a different set of questions: “Fundamentally, why are they disagreeing? Why are they unable to resolve their disagreement in this exchange, or make headway toward doing so? What is preventing them from understanding each other, seeing each other’s point of view, and finding the truth together? What is the underlying reason why they are continually talking past each other?” I was looking for the underlying assumptions, reasons, and paradigms, that prevented them from resolving their disagreement.

The Holy Family

If one takes into account … that the sacred Scriptures came from God through a subject which lives continually — the pilgrim people of God — then it becomes clear rationally as well that this subject has something to say about the understanding of this book.”1

— Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

What I noticed as I studied the exchange is what I’ve noticed in many such discussions. Typically in answering the question “What still divides us?” Protestants and Catholics give lists of doctrines about which they disagree. The Protestant, for example, will say that justification is by forensic imputation, while the Catholic responds by saying that justification is by infusion. The Catholic will say that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, while the Protestant responds by saying that they do not. The Catholic will affirm the authority of the Pope, while the Protestant denies this. And the list of theological disagreements goes on. They each defend their position according to the standards and methods intrinsic to their respective paradigms. Very rarely do the discussions focus on the underlying reasons for the first-order disagreements. And so the participants end up talking past each other, in a way, debating at the level of first-order questions while standing in very different paradigms at the second-order level. That makes the debate seem interminable, and inclines Christians to settle for the inevitability of schism, agreeing to disagree, and retreating to separate communities, or when by chance crossing paths, simply making polite conversation about other things. The seemingly interminable nature of the disagreement discourages many Christians from pressing forward toward reconciliation and the reunion that will put to an end this nearly five-hundred year schism.

To understand why the disagreement seems interminable, we have to direct our attention beyond the first-order disagreements, to the second-order disagreements that underlie them. Here in this post, I’ll address only one of the second-order disagreements; it concerns how we determine the meaning and interpretation of Scripture. When Catholics and Protestant approach Scripture, on the face of it we seem to be doing the same thing, in the same way. It is this superficial appearance of methodological common ground that sets us up with a false hope that this common ground is sufficient to resolve our disagreements. The futility of our subsequent respective appeals to Scripture  leaves us perplexed and frustrated. But the truth is that our respective approaches to Scripture are ultimately very different.

In general, Protestants think differently about how to go about interpreting Scripture than do Catholics. When trying to understand the meaning of a passage in Scripture, Catholics have always looked to the Tradition; we seek to determine how the Church has understood and explained the passage over the past two millennia. We look up what the Church Fathers and Church Doctors have said about the passage. By contrast, Protestants typically do not turn first to the Church Fathers when seeking to understand the meaning of a passage or term in Scripture that is unclear. Protestants generally turn to contemporary lexicons and commentaries written by contemporary biblical scholars whom they trust. Only rarely, and perhaps as a final step, do they turn to the Church Fathers. The common form of the Protestant mind is ready to believe that the Fathers often got Scripture wrong, and to use their own interpretation of Scripture to ‘correct’ or critically evaluate the Fathers. That kind of a stance toward the Fathers does not dispose Protestants to be guided by the Fathers in their interpretation of Scripture.2 In short, the Catholic approach sees the Fathers and the councils as the primary guide to interpreting Scripture, while the Protestant approach sees the lexicon and contemporary academic commentaries [that one trusts] as the primary guide to interpreting Scripture, and that by which the Fathers’ theology and interpretation of Scripture are critically evaluated.

What explains this difference between the Catholic and Protestant approaches to Scripture? The explanation of the Catholic approach to Scripture lies in its ecclesiology, its understanding of the Church as a family extending through time back to Christ and the Apostles, and perpetually vivified by the Holy Spirit. And this understanding of the Church as a family spread out through many generations, has methodological implications with respect to interpreting Scripture. Here’s why. If you were to come into my home, you would understand many things said in my family, because you speak the same language that our broader society speaks (i.e. English). But you would not understand some things that we say to each other, because you would not have the inside-the-family point of view. You wouldn’t get the inside jokes, the allusions to past family events you hadn’t experienced. You would not have the internal lived experience of my family as the fuller context of our present communication with one another. To understand fully our intra-family communication, you would have to live with us for quite some time, learn our in-house catch words, the events and habits and stories that form the mutually understood background against which we expect our speech-acts to be understood when we communicate to each other.

The Catholic understanding of the Church as a family stretched out over two-thousand years entails likewise that there is within her an inside point-of-view, a context that is richer and fuller than the social context common to pagans and Christians alike. This fuller context is informed by every period of time in this family’s history, and includes the lived experience and testimony by those within the Church, even those who first spoke and taught the words of the New Testament, before those words were written down. This internal point of view, passed down within this family as a living memory, from those men who spent three years with Jesus, to those bishops, presbyters and laymen to whom these Apostles carefully explained the gospel in many late night discussions and daily teachings, and to each succeeding generation of the Church family, is what we call Tradition. It is the view from the inside, the living memory of the family in which the Scriptures were written, received, and explained. The memories of those who were members of this family when the Scriptures were being received from the Apostles, and in which the Scriptures were explained and understood, did not vanish; they became part of the internal life of this family, and have been continually handed down within this same family for almost two-thousand years.

What is presupposed by approaching Scripture through the lexicon rather than through the Fathers? From the Catholic perspective, interpreting Scripture apart from the view-from-the-inside, would be like trying to understand my family’s internally developed cliches and allusions, by turning to the dictionary. What is linguistically common between my family and the world, is not sufficient to understand what is linguistically unique to my family. The outsider who assumes that he can rightly interpret my family’s speech-acts, simply by way of dictionary, has failed to recognize the unique language community that my family is. He has mistakenly assumed that the most specific language community in this case is simply that set of persons who speak English. He has failed to recognize that the unique and intimately shared life of my family within the broader society, creates a language within a language.

Likewise, approaching Scripture through the lexicon, apart from the Fathers, presupposes that there is no inside-the-family point of view with respect to Scripture; it is an approach from the outside, outside the divine Life that animates the Mystical Body of Christ. It is somewhat like the reductionistic method of studying an animal by cutting it into pieces, and studying its parts. The method is useful, but only when conjoined to what is already known about the animal as a living being. Otherwise, the animal is explanatorily reduced to its parts, as though it is nothing but its parts.

The contemporary lexicon, quite similarly, has been worked out by contemporary academics who do not draw from the continuous lived memory of the Church in her liturgical and pedagogical tradition, but who collect and cite the ancient usage of various terms both by Christians, non-Christian Jews, and pagans living at the time the Scriptures were written. Understanding how these terms were used at that time can be very helpful. It can shed light on what we already know, and reveal various facts about these terms in relation to prior uses in Scripture and to uses in the pagan society. But the methodology by which lexicons are compiled does not include the internal point of view handed down by the Church family. For that reason, the lexical approach to Scripture (apart from the Fathers) methodologically presupposes that there is no Church extending down through the ages, no internal memory and life passed down through her many generations to the present. It is a Church-less approach to Scripture, as though either the Scripture was not given within the Church, to the Church, by the leaders of Church, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, or the lived memory of this family somehow died away and now must be archaeologically rediscovered, from the outside.

For this reason, approaching the Scriptures by means of the lexicon apart from the Fathers, is not ecclesiologically neutral. It presupposes either that there was no Church, or that ecclesial deism is true. In this way, the lexical approach is not a neutral presupposition with respect to the Catholic-Protestant divide; it is a question-begging presupposition, because it presumes the falsity of Catholicism. Thus this lexical approach to resolving interpretive interpretive disagreements between Protestants and Catholics begs the question against the Catholic, by methodologically requiring the Catholic to deny the Church and the Tradition.

Notice how as explained above, ecclesiology predetermines how Scripture is to be approached and interpreted. Given an ‘invisible church’ ecclesiology, or ecclesial deism, one can only turn to lexicographers studying the usages of terms in ancient texts, and concur with the probabilistic opinions they reach. But given that the Church is an unbroken family, indwelled and preserved by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the view from the inside (i.e. Tradition) takes precedence over the view from the outside (i.e. the lexical approach). And to approach Scripture from the inside, one must approach it within the lived Tradition of the family that received it, embodied it, and handed it down faithfully.

The Church has never believed that the way Christians are to discover the meaning of the words of Scripture is simply from their textual context. That’s because the Church has never seen herself as having received a book that must then [i.e. subsequently] be interpreted. The Church has always understood herself as already having received the deposit of faith, from Christ, and from the Apostles themselves (in person), before receiving the deposit of faith in its written form. Christ taught the meaning of the Old Testament to the Apostles, and they subsequently taught it to those whom they ordained to succeed them. They also taught the gospel (the entire deposit of the faith they had received from Christ) to their successors. The role of the Church’s magisterium was to preserve and explain what had already been entrusted to them and explained to them by the Apostles, not to figure out the meaning of a book that, as it were, simply fell from Heaven. For this reason, the [exclusively] lexical method to discovering the meaning of Scripture exemplifies a mindset that is foreign to the Church at every point in her history. It presupposes ecclesial deism insofar as it assumes that this original family understanding of the text as it was received by the Church from its human authors, vanished or decayed over time.

Without that internal, living memory of the eyewitnesses who received these texts, the best the lexical approach can do is look to the usages of terms found in the New Testament by pagans and Jews. But for this reason the lexical approach to Scripture implicitly presupposes that the mind of Christ contained in the Scriptures is determined by matching it to the minds of those pagans contemporary to the writing of Scripture, as they used those same terms. Methodologically implicit in that approach to Scripture is the notion that the supernatural quality of the deposit of faith does not extend to the concepts associated with the terms, such that the concepts are elevated or broadened or nuanced by divine revelation. It allows the deposit of faith to consist only of new combinations of existing concepts. In other words, it allows the deposit of faith to be new only in the sense that pre-existing terms are arranged in new ways, not also in the sense that pre-existing terms are expanded or deepened, unless that expansion or deepening is spelled out explicitly in Scripture.

For example, if pagans used the term ‘dikaiow’ (‘justify’) to refer to a change in legal status not on account of any change internal to the accused, the lexical approach would methodologically assume that this is what this term must mean when St. Paul uses it to refer to what God does to us, when we believe the gospel. But that is not a good assumption. Simply by an assumption implicit in the methodology, it limits what God can do when He justifies to what a human judge can do when he justifies. Why should God’s justification of men be limited in its nature only to what pagans can do in declaring a person legally righteous without actually making that person internally righteous? God is greater than man. Hence, even from this example alone, we can see that the lexical approach carries with it not just anti-ecclesial presuppositions, but potentially even anti-theistic presuppositions.

For Catholics, the interpretation of the deposit of faith belongs to those whom Christ authorized and entrusted with it, i.e. the Apostles and their successors, referred to as the Church’s Magisterium. The meaning of Scripture is not merely a matter for the outsider to determine by lexical analysis, but first and foremost involves coming to Sacred Scripture within the living Tradition of the Church, as unveiled and unfolded to us by those to whom the deposit of faith was entrusted, and to whom interpretive authority was given. The lexical approach is fine when used under the guidance and auspices of the Church’s Magisterium, because then its insights can be interpreted and understood within the context of the Tradition. Understanding the contemporary sense of terms as used by the human authors of Scripture can help us deepen our understanding of Scripture and its meaning. But when the lexical method is used as though there is no  Church, or as though ecclesial deism is true, or as though the concepts of the deposit of faith must be limited to concepts found in pagan speech and culture, or even to concepts found in ancient Hebrew speech and culture, the method implicitly denies that Christ founded a Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail even to the end of the age, and deposited within her a divine revelation that surpassed all previous revelation. In this way, the lexical approach to Scripture fails to apprehend its true context, which is the life and liturgy of the Church.

The context of Scripture is not merely within its pages, but is the living organism which is the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. Since the gospel teaches us that Christ founded a Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, we should expect to approach Scripture through the view-from-within of that Church. Insofar as the lexical approach methodologically denies the Church, the lexical approach implicitly denies the gospel. To find and follow the gospel, we should come to Scripture through the Tradition of the Church. This is why Sacred Scripture can be rightly understood only in the bosom of holy Mother Church. Both Protestants and Catholics need to understand this fundamental difference in their respective approach to Scripture, in order to make progress in resolving their long-standing schism.

In the Church, Sacred Scripture, the understanding of which increases under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of its authentic interpretation that was conferred upon the Apostles, are indissoluably bound. Whenever Sacred Scripture is separated from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to disputes among experts. Of course what they have to tell us is important and invaluable; …. Yet science alone cannot provide us with a definitive and binding interpretation; it is unable to offer us, in its interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and for which we can even die. A greater mandate is necessary for this, which cannot derive from human abilities alone. The voice of the living Church is essential for this, of the Church entrusted until the end of time to Peter and to the College of the Apostles.”3

— Pope Benedict XVI

  1. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Relationship between Magisterium and Exegetes.” Address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission. In L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English. July 23, 2003. As quoted in Covenant and Communion, Scott Hahn (Brazos Press, 2009), p. 46. []
  2. That disposition has shifted significantly among a small but significant minority of Protestants toward a respect for the teachings of the Fathers.  Think of the late Robert Webber’s ancient-future movement. See, for example, this article in Christianity Today. []
  3. Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome (May 7, 2005, in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English (May 11, 2005), as quoted in Covenant and Communion, Scott Hahn (Brazos Press, 2009), p. 21. []
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  1. Bryan:

    I enjoyed your post and agree with it. But only as far as it goes. I don’t think it goes far enough.

    The more sophisticated Protestants can always chime in and deny that their approach to Scripture is just “lexical.” You know their names; we’ve both debated them before. They too appeal to what they understand as “Tradition”– even the tradition of something they would argue is “the Church” spread through time and space–in order to justify their theology. But they will of course understand the two “sources” taken together, Scripture and Tradition, in a way that incompatible with how the Catholic Church understands them and herself. So I don’t think you’ve adequately stated the fundamental difference of paradigm between Catholicism and something called “Protestantism.” What you’ve stated is the difference of paradigm between the Catholic approach and that of certain sort of sola scriptura Protestantism, which pretends that the historico-grammatical method suffices to present an internally perspicuous Scripture.

    This is why I would argue that we need to go to a still deeper level, and characterize the Protestant principle as such. I suggest that, in essence, the Protestant principle is that ultimately up to believers severally to assess the orthodoxy of something called “the Church,” not vice-versa. That is often thought to be accomplished by appeal to Scripture alone. But it needn’t be, and the most challenging versions of Protestantism go beyond that, as they must to be truly credible. Yet they still lead to ecclesial deism because they deny the indefectibility, and hence the infallibility, of any visible church. In the final analysis, what counts as orthodoxy is always a matter of opinion, and so Christ’s promises were not made to any visible church tangibly continuous with that of the Apostles.

    This is why so many educated Protestants, and unfortunately not a few educated Catholics, find the claims of the Catholic Church so offensive. She claims that she is the indefectible, divinely authorized bearer of the complete deposit of faith, in such wise that she is divinely preserved from error when she proposes a doctrine to be believed definitively, by all the faithful, as belonging to said deposit. So if the fundamental issue between Protestantism and Catholicism is to be addressed without “talking past each other,” what must be discussed is whether such a church is necessary for identifying and transmitting divine revelation in a way that can be clearly distinguished from fallible human opinions about the data of Scripture and Tradition. That question cannot be usefully addressed with assumptions characteristic of either paradigm. It has to be addressed philosophically.

    Without trying to undertake that task here, I end with a thought. Just as the central theological controversies of the first millennium were about the sense in which the Word had been made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ himself, so the central theological issue now is about how the Mystical Body of Christ relates to Jesus Christ as both embodied person and primordial Word.

  2. Michael,

    I agree that some Protestants will deny that their approach to Scripture is just “lexical.” I tried to make allowance for that in my post. My point in the post is to contrast the two approaches, and show the underlying presuppositions behind the lexical approach, so that we (Catholics and Protestants) can better avoid talking past each other when appealing to Scripture to resolve our disagreements.

    But, what about those Protestants who appeal to something they might call ‘tradition’? Neal and I touched on this in our “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority” article, when we pointed out why tradition, within Protestantism, has no actual authority, even though it has a de facto influence. That’s because within the sola scriptura mindset (wherein the sacramental basis for magisterial authority by way of apostolic succession is denied), the basis for the ‘authority’ of such things as the Westminster Confession of Faith is only the degree to which they say what Scripture says. But Scripture does not speak by itself; it must be interpreted by persons. And yet, within Protestantism, no person has any more sacramental magisterial authority than another person (even though of course some have more expertise than others). Hence, in Protestantism, the basis for the ‘authority’ of such things as the Westminster Confession of Faith is the degree to which they conform to one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

    PCA pastor Mark Horne (who graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary with me) puts it this way:

    For a pastor, you are supposed to be able to demonstrate how the Bible teaches what the Westminster Standards say, and that such a reading of the Bible is obviously correct against the other offered interpretations. I apologize for putting this too strongly in a previous iteration. The point is that telling people they ought to interpret the Bible according to Westminster documents is a dereliction of duty. Your argument is supposed to come from Scripture, not human authority. (Source)

    He’s exactly right. There is no basis for the WCF being an authoritative guide in one’s interpretation of Scripture. It is ‘authoritative’ only insofar as it conforms to one’s interpretation of Scripture. And that entails, as we pointed out in our Solo article, that it is not authoritative at all. It is, to the degree that it conforms to one’s interpretation of Scripture, simply a representation of one’s own interpretation of Scripture, but not referred to as such, lest its appearance of authority be unmasked. There can be no truly authoritative tradition without a truly authoritative magisterium. That’s been the great secret within Protestantism that is finally becoming more widely understood, as conservative Protestantism decays into non-denomination /emergentism / megachurch / alehouse church, etc.

    With respect to the claim by some Protestants to be following “the Church spread through time and space,” as we pointed out in the “Solo Scriptura” article, within Protestantism what counts as “the Church” is reducible to those persons who agree with one’s own interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the marks of the Church and the degree of conformity one thinks is necessary in order to be counted as belonging to the Church. Given this sort of subjective ecclesial differentiation, wherein for each person ‘the Church’ is differentiated from what is ‘not Church’ not by way of sacramental communion with the successor of the one to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom, but on the basis of agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, it follows that those Protestants who claim to follow “Church tradition” are in fact following the particular tradition of a particular community of persons who share their own interpretation of Scripture. And the basis for the ‘authority’ of such a tradition is, again, merely its degree of conformity with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, for which reason it is not authoritative at all, but only desirable. (2 Tim 4:3-4)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Very good insight. It reminds me of a TAN booklet I read recently noting the disadvantages (to put it mildly) about how many of the new Bible translations bypass St Jerome’s Vulgate (the normative edition for Catholics) and “jump” directly to the “original” manuscripts. The flaw in all this is that it pushes tradition to the back seat in favor of ‘lexical analysis’ and modern Greek scholarship to determine what something meant. This is wrong for it implicitly states the Church’s edition of the Bible for over 1600 years isn’t good enough if not flawed. The more reasonable approach would be to realize the Vulgate as normative (as per Tradition) is a key starting point, that St Jerome was much ‘closer’ to the apostolic age, understood the Hebrew and Greek language better than us 2000 years removed, and likely had more manuscripts available – not to mention he is a Doctor of the Church.

    All that said, I believe the Catholic side can give a far better reading of Scripture than the Protestant can, and there are many such examples for this. For example:

    -Phil 3:9-11 clearly frames justification in terms of an inner transformation, yet Protestants almost never quote verses 10-11 and jump to assume it’s ‘purely forensic’.

    -Protestants state ‘sanctification’ comes after ‘justification’, yet they neglect to mention the only verse where the two appear together, 1 Cor 6:11 (which puts sanctification first).

    -Protestants would insist ‘justify’ (dikaioo) means to judicially declare righteous, yet the term frequently appears outside of legal contexts, nor does Paul frame justification in a legal context, and texts like Romans 4:5 show justify in regards to the ungodly is first and foremost about forgiving sin (v6 “JUST AS David says, “BLESSED is the man who’s sins are FORGIVEN”), which is more than just declaring righteous. (Another example is ‘justified by his blood’ in Rom 5:9 clearly parallels “reconciled to Him by Christ’s death”, again indicating more than just ‘declare righteous’.)

  4. And while I totally agree that lexical analysis cannot be divorced from Tradition, there is actually an elephant in the room that most people miss when speaking on the term “impute” (which is ultracritical for Sola Fide).

    Protestant scholars and apologists almost never do a straight-up lexical analysis of the Greek term Paul uses for impute (logizomai), and I believe that is because the evidence is so far against what they’re trying to prove that they either ignore it or don’t think to double check their own lexicons.

    Anyway, here is an old post I made on this subject, and I believe once this picks up we will see some serious shifts in apologetics:

    ————————————————————————–

    In my study on this topic, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular Protestant Lexicon here is what it is defined as:

    —————-
    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”
    http://tinyurl.com/r92dch
    —————-

    The Protestant Lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:
    ——————-
    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
    ——————-

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such. This is confirmed even more when one compares another similar passage, Hebrews 11:4, where by faith Abel was commended as righteous.

    p.s. Now, when one compares all the other occurrences of logizomai in the New Testament, the term is used in the above way the super-majority of the time. The same is said for how ‘impute’ is used in the OT the majority of the time. Further, never is it used in the sense of ‘transfer’, where Protestants see “faith credited as righteousness” to mean “faith *transfers* righteousness” or “lays hold of” or anything similar, thus that interpretation is purely novel. This also explains why Protestants say faith itself has no inherent value, directly contrary to Hebrews 11:1, 6.

  5. Bryan wrote:

    That’s been the great secret within Protestantism that is finally becoming more widely understood, as conservative Protestantism decays into non-denomination…

    Personally, I feel that your use of the word “decay” is precisely appropriate, Bryan. Interestingly, upon the collapse of a “church plant” in my community, a house churching friend of mine cheered at its dissolution. He was glad to see the “church plant” collapse b/c he sees the “New Testament Church” as most accurately lived out according to the house church model.

    So what we see as decay, others see as progress.

  6. Bryan:

    I completely agree that “the sola scriptura mindset” has the consequences that you and Neal say. But in my observation, not all conservative Protestantism is stuck in that mindset, as your reply to me assumes. Some of them, such as those “traditional” Anglicans who spurn the Pope’s generous offer, really do admit as normative a broader range of sources, ideas, and practices than sola scriptura-ists would, and indeed could, admit. Thus, their criteria of orthodoxy are not reducible, either directly or indirectly, just to their own interpretation of Scripture. So they are not subject to the criticism you’ve just restated.

    The real question is how they determine the range of normative sources, if not by their own interpretation of Scripture. All admit, and some will only admit, as normative those ideas and practices which can be identified by scholarship as explicitly present in the apostolic or the sub-apostolic Church. Thus their admissible sources include, without being limited to: archeology, liturgical records, early catechesis such as the Didache, baptismal formulae such as the Apostles’ Creed, and the writings of such early Fathers as Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Ireneaus of Lyons. These really are taken as authoritative records of “Tradition,” and as such, on their account, must be used to interpret Scripture adequately. To those, other conservative Protestants will add philosophical considerations, e.g. certain Calvinists who believe that such considerations help to reveal the allegedly ineluctable logic of monergism and double predestination present in Scripture. But how can they justify all this, if they reject “sacramental magisterial authority” as binding?

    As I see it, the approach I’ve described presents a more sophisticated, realistic, and defensible instance of the same basic problem that sola scriptura presents. Or: the two are logically quite distinct instances of the same basic attitude, even though sola scriptura is the less defensible, for reasons you’ve given. Thus, whether or not a given Protestant reduces all criteria of orthodoxy to his own interpretation of Scripture, all Protestants as such are bound to say that it is “ultimately up to believers severally to determine the orthodoxy of something called ‘the Church’, not vice-versa.”

    Accordingly, while the non-SS approach I’ve been describing goes well beyond bosom-burning and the historico-grammatical method as means of identifying the canon and interpreting its contents, the sophisticated Protestants I have in mind substitute what is in effect an academic magisterium for the sacramental magisterium of the actual Church founded by the Lord. While the more sophisticated Protestants profess to take the faith of something called “the Church” as normative, they are willing to identify as “the Church” only that collection of people who confine themselves to doctrines taken to be established by the academic magisterium.This is why so many of them believe that the Nicene hermeneutic of Scripture is the only rationally plausible one, and why so many of them don’t believe we need an infallible, sacramental magisterium in order to identify what’s normative in Tradition and the corresponding interpretation of Scripture. Orthodoxy is supposed to appear logically inevitable in light of sound scholarship about all the admissible early sources. And anything beyond that, such as distinctively “Roman” doctrines, is dismissed as unwarranted “addition” to the deposit of faith.

    Although not obvious in the short run, in the long run this more sophisticated approach also ends up in ecclesial deism. For then ‘the Church’, whose faith is allegedly taken to be normative, is identified simply with that body of believers who bow to the rationally inevitable conclusions to be drawn from all the early sources taken collectively. The Church then becomes the body of people who subscribe to all and only to such criteria of orthodoxy. That “church” might or might extend at any given time to a particular visible body. So, when the academic magisterium can be cited with apparent decisiveness against what Catholics take to be “the Church,” then we must conclude that whatever “the Church” is, she is not identifiable as fully subsisting in the Catholic Church.

    Many Protestants of this sort will defend themselves from the charge of ecclesial deism by claiming that the Eastern-Orthodox communion has a much better claim to be “the Church” than the Roman, precisely because it does not present as binding and definitive any doctrine which cannot be rationally established on the basis of the early sources. But this of course brings problems of its own, such as what to say about the Oriental-Orthodox and the Anglican communions. Many of them end up with some version of branch theory. But the underlying problem remains the same: whatever may be thought of as “the Church,” it’s ultimately up to believers severally to determine which visible body is of the Church and in what sense, rather than vice-versa.

  7. Nick, thanks for your comments. That subject deserves its own post. I hope to write a post within the next year that discusses the imputation/infusion question.

    Herbert, that reminds me of this recent statement by Anglican professor of theology Ephraim Radner at the University of Toronto:

    “One of the big issues, and I’m not the only one who raised it, is that a big cultural shift has taken place over the last forty years. There’s been a breakdown of authoritative teaching structures in the Protestant churches. To some degree the same thing has happened in the Catholic church too, not in the structures so much as in the reception. In Protestant churches, it’s the structures themselves.

    Then you have the whole cultural reality on the other side, one part of which is that younger Christians don’t see church diversity and division as problematic. They don’t make the connection between the vocation of Christian unity, as an evangelical vocation from Christ himself, and the way that the churches actually function. They’re used to diversity [i.e. division – BRC]. You saw the Pew Report of a couple of years ago, that something like 45 percent of all Christians in the United States, including a lot of Catholics, started somewhere else. They were in one church, then they go to another and another.

    You put those two things together – the breakdown of structures, which is a little scary even for the Protestant churches, however much they were themselves separated and multiplied – plus this notion of division itself as not so bad, because it means choice. We all get along, so why make this like it’s some big problem? We’re all friends now. We don’t get excommunicated for visiting somebody else’s church. (source)

    The work we have cut out for ourselves is helping contemporary Christians become aware of schism as schism, such that they no longer mistakenly treat division as though it is merely diversity. No one seems to know what schism is anymore. It is as though the concept itself is going extinct, while the fact of schism remains. So we have to help contemporary Christians see schism for what it is.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Nick;

    It reminds me of a TAN booklet I read recently noting the disadvantages (to put it mildly) about how many of the new Bible translations bypass St Jerome’s Vulgate (the normative edition for Catholics) and “jump” directly to the “original” manuscripts.

    I must correct you there. As far as the New Testament goes, Vulgata is probably the ‘normative’ translation for Catholics. But as far as the Old Testament gors, the ‘normative’ translation is the Septuagint. Read Dei Verbum 6,22:

    Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation; of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate.

    So as far as the old testament goes, the Septuagint takes precedence over Vulgata. But this isn’t really important, is it? Is there really such a thing as a ‘normative’ translation for Catholics? To me this looks like protestantism.

  9. Bryan / Dr. Liccione,

    Dr. Liccione said:

    This is why so many educated Protestants, and unfortunately not a few educated Catholics, find the claims of the Catholic Church so offensive. She claims that she is the indefectible, divinely authorized bearer of the complete deposit of faith, in such wise that she is divinely preserved from error when she proposes a doctrine to be believed definitively . . . .

    I entirely agree with the above. However, I would like to suggest that there may, in fact, be a deeper issue; one that is implied in the above quote; namely, the issue of indefectibility itself. I have been read through most of the articles on this site and followed the long and grueling (in a good way) threads that accompany them. There is great value in the thread debates. They typically start with a more or less serious misunderstanding of the Catholic position on the part of the Protestant (sometimes accompanied by an a priori assumption of egregious Catholic doctrinal accretions and moral malpractice). As the debate advances, and the Protestant gains clarity about the actual, rather than the imagined, Catholic position; the a priori negativity toward Catholicisim seems to disappear from the comboxes. Often a lengthy and well argued interchange ranging from scriptural exegesis, to patristics, to philosophic presupposition, to ancient language analysis ensues. The engagement is substantive, and in some cases seems to be drawing the Protestant proponent toward the Catholic position. Yet often, as the logic of the Catholic position begins to hem in the debate, the dialouge ceases or starts going in circles. I begin to wonder if the a priori negativity toward Catholicism evident early in the thread is not still with us despite its absence in the latter comments.

    I think the “elephant in the room” in so many of these threads has to do with a failure to really flesh out the issue of the Catholic Church’s indefectability. It is a common quip by Catholic apologists to point out that infallibility does not equate to impeccability. Certainy this is true; but this one liner is not enough. I think this relatively non-technical infallibility/impeccability issue is the overriding barrier to reunion.

    Here is what I mean. The strongest argument against the existence of God according to St. Thomas is the argument from evil. The reason it is so strong is because of the APPPARENT disjunction between the Christian claim that God (ultimate reality) is TOTALLY good, and the world we experience, which seems frought with evil. As CS Lewis has pointed out the argument from evil would not have nearly the force if God were posited as mostly good or “very” good, but not ABSOLUTELY good.

    A similar thing is going on with the indefectibility issue. The Catholic Church makes a staggering claim; there is no getting around that fact. She is not saying, with regard to doctrine, that she is mostly correct, or worthy of high respect (a position that would be compatible with some Reformed sectors – i.e. Mathison) . She is claiming that she is INFALLIBLE. Yet, just as is the case in the problem of evil, the “reality on the ground” is that she is full of sinners. But more to the point, for a Protestant weened on the direct texts of Calvin’s Institutes, or Luther’s sermons (or worse yet later Protestant propogandists), there is an inherent awareness that members of the Magisterium, themselves, have been GROSSLY corrupt. If one adds to that, the horror of the prist scandles, then one can understand that for many Protestants, NO amount of intellectual persuasion will ever suffice to open their minds to the possibility that the Catholic Church IS Christ’s Church on earth. If one looks carefully at so many of the doctrines arising out of the Reformation (especially the Sola’s); one can see that they are reactions to the immorality of the Catholic clergy. The mentality goes like this: The Magesterium of the Church is verifiably, morally corrupt. God would not use such a vehicle to transmit and maintain His revelation. Therefore, rather than Church AND Scripture, we must posit an alternitive: hence scripture ALONE. Again, the Church is morally corrupt, yet the Church claims that justification depends upon supernatural grace by means of the visible sacraments; sacraments which are in administered by Catholic clergy. God would not make such a corrpupt vehicle the normative means of grace and hence justification. Another basis for justification must be dervived: hence SOLA Fide. I think the elephant in the room for many Protestants is that “a Church like THAT (morally) simply CANNOT possibly be the thing these Catholic apologists are claiming she is – no matter how powerful their intellectual defense.

    I really think at some point it would be terrific to develop an article which tackles this issue head on. An article which presented the historical reality of the Church with “eyes wide open” as well as expresses the glory and uniqueness of the Church. Such an article might go a long way toward showing how the “messiness” that is the Catholic Church can, and has been, nonetheless used by God as the vehicle for an infallible transmission and maintenace of divine revelation through space and time. If that sugestion can make its way into the Protestant mental backdrop; then, it seems to me, the particulars of reasoned doctrinal argumentation have a far better chance of reaching their goal.

    Peace and Good!

    Ray

  10. Ray:

    If Bryan doesn’t mind my saying so: Excellent comment. I think you’re right about the basic motivation behind Protestantism. It’s often what motivates some Catholics today to leave the Church, either for some-or-other version of Protestantism or for whatever else. What they see is a human institution with all the flaws of any human institution. Thus do her claims become incredible to them.

    As you can imagine, I have often dealt with this often before. I’ve had to deal with it in light of my own personal experience of the clergy, and even a few in my own family have not seen fit to deal with it in a way that’s enabled them to remain Catholics. But I have a response that’s worked for me and, I believe, should influence others.

    It begins by pointing to the Apostles themselves. When “crunch time” came, the smartest among them betrayed Jesus and killed himself; the chief of among them denied knowing him and then joined all but one of the rest in running away. Such has it always been with the successors of the Apostles, a.k.a. the bishops. The permutations of episcopal perversity are all there in church history for our eyes to see. Yet when Napoleon boasted to a bishop, whom he had made a prisoner, that he would destroy the Church, the bishop replied: “You cannot succeed where generations of bishops have failed.” That was a confession of the indefectibility of the Church.

    Obviously, that concept does not mean that those who lead the Church will be without sin. They ought to be holier than average, and doubtless some are; but too many are not, and those who are not face a more severe judgment than the ordinary believer. That is why most holy men do not want to be bishops. But does this mean that the Church is defectible?

    Only if one sees the Church as an institution of human devising, no better than the sum of her all-too-human parts. But that is not how Catholics have ever seen the Church. Jesus referred to her as his Bride; Paul referred to her as his Body, in the sense that she is one body with him in a mystical marriage. He won her on the Cross and she cannot be separated from him; he sent his Holy Spirit to found her at Pentecost. But as individuals, her members can only be joined with him if they die to self with him by how they live, not just by virtue of their baptism. What holds for the collectivity, which is greater than the sum of the parts, does not automatically hold for the members as individuals. The “subjective” redemption, by which individuals are conformed to Christ through real conversion, is just as necessary as the “objective” redemption, accomplished once for all on the Cross, which makes the Church and her treasures possible. That holds as much for clergy as for laity. But even when many leaders of the fail to undergo it themselves, that does not affect the indefectibility of the Church. For the “pilgrim Church” on earth is not the collection of all holy people. The Church is the Body that incorporates all those who, by virtue of their baptism, are called to be Christ for the world, even though so many are not.

    It is to that Church as Bride, one Body with him, that Jesus Christ made the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against her. He did not make that promise to any one member or sector of the Church, save perhaps his Mother, who as such is Mother of the Church and punctualizes the Church in her own, uniquely graced human person. Jesus Christ made his promise to the Church as a whole, subsistent in a visible communion, not to individuals. Thus, to be incorporated into Christ is not to study the sources and come to the right conclusions. It is not to have a special bosom-burning experience. It is not to be one of the pure. Those gifts are given to some and are helpful; but to be incorporated into Christ is to be incorporated into his people as a whole, his Body, by baptism, and to remain part of that people is to submit to those whom God has given authority over it, save when they command one to commit what is clearly a sin by the very norms they profess to teach. That Body will never disappear. She will always be vivified by his grace, expressed at a bare minimum in her definitive teaching and the objective value of her sacraments, but never lacking in people who radiate holiness. That is what the doctrine of the “indefectibility” of the Church means. And that remains as unaffected by the sins of the Apostles’ successors it was by the sins of the Apostles themselves.

    I realize that such lofty considerations are not enough not persuade anybody. The sins of the clergy have destroyed the faith of many. My only point is that, just as infallibility does not entail impeccability, so the indefectibility of the Church as a whole does not entail the holiness of any member of the Church in particular, even though it does entail doctrinal infallibility under certain conditions. Once a person understands that, they are not so prone to see the Church as a merely human institution whose credibility stands or falls with the qualities of her leadership.

  11. Michael and Ray,

    Of course I agree with what you say. But I think that the first impulse of any Christian who sees the sins of others should be: well, who am I? I see Protestantism as a false search for purity, exactly where it cannot be found. The more we search for doctrinal, moral, and spiritual purity by applying a hermeneutic of suspicion to the ecclesiological teachings of such diverse and obviously holy people as Saint Francis, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Leo the Great, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and even dear Father Neuhaus (may he rest in peace), the more that purity slips through our fingers. I have not seen the fruits of great purity in Protestantism in general, but rather intermittent scatterings of purity that one can get in the Catholic Church anyway.

    The antidote to this attempt to obtain purity by whittling down the witness of most of the Christians who have been called saints, is humility. When we really see how sinful we ourselves are, then we’re open to seeing the holiness of Catholic teaching and the holiness of Catholic saints. And at that point, the sins of Bishops become irrelevant. It is the holiness of the teaching and the demonstrable evidence of that teaching’s holiness in the lives of those saints who actually have followed it that matters. Only ignorance, a lack of humility — or the lies of anti-Catholic apologists — can keep a person from seeing that. Most of the time it is ignorance that keeps people from seeing it. So we need to tell and retell the stories of the saints, and make sure people know that Saint Francis deeply respected the clergy, and that Saint Leo the Great had a high view of hierarchy, even while both took a realistic view of human frailty. This combination of honesty about the holiness of the saints and honesty about what they really taught about the relationship between human frailty and ecclesiology is essential for moving forward. The only thing more essential is for each of us to become saints ourselves, and so Catholic as saints that no one will confuse our holiness as anything except the gift of Christ, mediated through the Catholic Church.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  12. K Doran:

    I agree that a humble study of the lives of the saints can and should provide “motives of credibility” for the Catholic faith. As you might imagine, I’ve engaged in it myself. The problem is that the very “hermeneutic of suspicion” that causes people to reject Catholicism in general closes their minds to the lessons of Catholic hagiography in particular. At most you will get anti- or ex-Catholics to admit that some very good Christians can be wrong about certain important matters, which we all knew already.

    The reason I chose decades ago to remain Catholic, after a period of deep personal disillusionment with the Church, is that after due study, Catholicism’s doctrine about how Christian orthodoxy is to be identified struck me as the most comprehensive and self-consistent. That does not “prove” Catholicism to be true, any more than hagiography does. But it does show Catholicism’s account of how Christian orthodoxy is to be identified to be more rationally defensible than the alternatives, given the assumption that the deposit of faith is complete, definitive, and fully transmittable to the faithful without dilution over time. The lives of the saints can be used to fortify that approach, even though it’s insufficient by itself.

    BTW, how did you know Fr. Neuhaus? I’ve been staying in his old rooms lately, though that is about to change.

  13. Michael, (re: #6)

    You’re right; I didn’t have ‘traditional’ Anglicans in mind when I wrote this post. I was writing with those from the Reformed and/or Lutheran traditions in mind. But, I agree with you that replacing the sacramental magisterium with an academic magisterium, even one that mines the available historical data to provide a guiding ‘Tradition’, is disastrous, for the reasons you mention. “The faith” is reduced to various collection of mere opinions, which is no faith at all. The academic judgment, even if the academic person making this judgment believes in Christ, is as such an external judgment, i.e. a judgment made from the view-from-the-outside. It is akin to the anthropologist attempting to understand a tribe, by sifting through ancient artifacts and fragments from its past. It is altogether different, by its very nature, from the view-from-the-inside.

    While the more sophisticated Protestants profess to take the faith of something called “the Church” as normative, they are willing to identify as “the Church” only that collection of people who confine themselves to doctrines taken to be established by the academic magisterium.

    Right — even the idea that there is unified “academic magisterium” regarding these things is a mere mental construct. There are Anglican scholars, but there are also scholars from Pentecostal, Mormon, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and Seventh Day Adventist, etc. traditions as well. They all have their own scholars, and they all think their own interpretation, both of Scripture and of history, is better. Is the authoritative interpretation of Scripture ultimately a matter of scholarly authority? If so, must we then count PhDs, and publications of PhDs, and quality of institutions from which these PhDs were obtained, in order to determine the authoritative interpretation of Scripture? And how do we determine the quality of scholarship in a non-question-begging way? This option seems to leave us in the morass of postmodern relativism and interminable fragmentation. That seems to be the ultimate outcome of Renaissance humanism’s influence on the Reformation, in which scholarly authority was placed over sacramental magisterial authority. The Catholic Church ended up fighting the results (i.e. modernism) of that displacement of sacramental ecclesial authority. Scholarly authority cannot handle being the ultimate magisterial authority; apart from sacramental magisterial authority it fragments into postmodern skepticism. Denying that magisterial authority is sacramentally grounded entails individualism and its inevitable fragmentation. Academic expertise and academic authority are simply incapable of preserving the unity of the Church.

    The Church becomes, not the simple “those who share my general interpretation of Scripture”, but “those who share my group of favored academics [who share and support my general interpretation of Scripture and history]”. But, with respect to unity, it amounts to the same, the rule of private judgment, structured indirectly in that more sophisticated form, in the same way sola scriptura is the indirect form of solo scriptura, as Neal and explained in the Solo Scriptura article.

    Although not obvious in the short run, in the long run this more sophisticated approach also ends up in ecclesial deism. For then ‘the Church’, whose faith is allegedly taken to be normative, is identified simply with that body of believers who bow to the rationally inevitable conclusions to be drawn from all the early sources taken collectively. The Church then becomes the body of people who subscribe to all and only to such criteria of orthodoxy. That “church” might or might extend at any given time to a particular visible body. So, when the academic magisterium can be cited with apparent decisiveness against what Catholics take to be “the Church,” then we must conclude that whatever “the Church” is, she is not identifiable as fully subsisting in the Catholic Church.

    Built into the academic magisterium approach, is the assumption that if we don’t see explicit evidence for x in the early Church, then if x is believed, taught, or practiced today [in the Catholic Church], x is must be a novelty, not a development. This approach in this way carries with it two assumptions: (1) that whatever is essential to the deposit of faith was given to the Apostles in its complete form, and (2) that whatever is essential to the deposit of faith that was not recorded in Scripture, was recorded explicitly in the writings of the early Church Fathers, and preserved intact over the last two millennia, such that it can now be independently discovered by historical research. The first assumption implicitly denies that the Church is a living organism, animated with the supernatural Life that is the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church into all truth. The second assumption is a form of rationalism, i.e. “if I can’t verify it for myself, then I’m not going to believe it.” This is, as you know, a denial of the Church as that through which we receive the faith, which, is again an indirect form of denying that it is through Christ, and not our own reason, that we receive that which is to be believed by faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Right again, Bryan. I have only one point to add.

    It seems to me that the Protestant principle, as I described it in my previous replies to you, manifests itself in two main forms: rationalism and “enthusiasm.” Sometimes the two are combined, as when Calvin appealed to the “inward testimony” of the Holy Spirit to verify the canon as such, or when the “perspicuity” of Scripture is said to depend not only on the “lexical” approach but also on the ordinary believer’s being moved by the Spirit to perceive the “plain sense.” But the approach I criticized you for failing to take account of is almost exclusively rationalistic, and fails for the reasons you give.

    Best,
    Mike

  15. Ray, Michael, K.Doran,

    Thanks for your comments. Following up Ray’s comment in #9, and Michal and K.Doran’s replies in #10 and #11, there were three things that were very helpful for me, in grasping the indefectibility of the Church even in light of the scandals. (My decision to seek full communion with the Catholic Church came right on the heels of the sex abuse scandal in the US.)

    First, I thought through the Donatist controversy, and what the Church learned through that controversy, with regard to the nature of the sacraments.

    Second, I came to see the Church’s holiness as that against which these immoral clergy members were seen to be falling short (in much the same way that the problem of evil presupposes some conception of the Good against which evil is recognized as such). Just as unity as a mark of the Church is not diminished by schism, but those in schism are seen to be in schism precisely by their separation from the Church’s unity, so likewise holiness as a mark of the Church is not eliminated or diminished by the sins of her members; rather, their sins are seen to be what they are, and to be the terrible scandal that they are, precisely against the ‘backdrop’ of the holiness of the Church.

    And finally, it became clear to me that in the course of history, no matter how evil the person who happened to be sitting in St. Peter’s chair, the Apostolic See never fell into heresy — it never denied a doctrine it had previously defined. If the Church were defectible, it would be very strange for that defection not to happen for two thousand years, and then start happening. This is a kind of inductive evidence, from the Church’s unblemished doctrinal track record of the past two thousand years.

    The topics of infallibility, indefectibility and the Donatist schism, deserve their own posts/articles. Hopefully we’ll cover those in the future, here at CTC.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Bryan,

    One thing I’ve noticed in the critiques of our position made by academically sophisticated Reformed and Anglican types is that we are consistently accused of “presuppositionalism” and thus of a brand of “fideism.” That, I anticipate, is the sort of charge you can expect this post to face from them, if any of them care to take note of it. The notion that one can adequately interpret the sources only by viewing them from the “inside” perspective of our Church “family” over time, which I believe to be true, almost invites such a criticism.

    That is why I believe the debate has to be taken to the philosophical level. The question is whether, given the nature of the subject matter, any other sort of hermeneutical perspective could be justified. The critics will say that it can and must be; for in order to assess competing claims to hold and teach the faith of something called “the Church” consistently over the centuries, one must willy-nilly adopt a perspective “outside” that of any such claim in particular. One cannot rebut that position simply by pointing out that leaving things at that reduces authority and faith to no authority and faith at all, even though it does. Some “inside” perspective, retaining its internal cohesion as well as an organic connection with the apostolic deposit, must be adopted as the conclusion of such an inquiry. In the end, even our critics will admit that. So the question is simply: which is the best candidate for such an “inside” perspective?

    Although academic inquiry is helpful, even necessary, for some people to consider that question, it is essential to point out that, for the reasons you’ve given, it is insufficient even in principle. The question what counts as the privileged inside perspective cannot be decisively settled by academic inquiry, which is not possible for many people and does not resolve fundamental disagreements even among those for whom it is possible. Yet all are called to accept the “faith of the Church,” whatever that is. The subject matter thereof is the content and meaning of divine revelation, which ex hypothesi cannot be established by reason alone, even on the basis of historical and literary data that all accept as such. So the question becomes: What “inside” perspective is the best candidate for supplying the unum necessarium even to the simple, who are called as much as the learned to faith, and often have more of the faith that pleases God?

    In my opinion, the best way to untie this knot is to focus, as you have, on the idea of God’s “family” or people. In the OT, the question what counted as that family and people was clearly answered; the difficulty is that in the New Covenant, where the Gentiles are all to be incorporated into God’s family, the identity of that family cannot be established by ethnic descent, and fidelity to the Covenant cannot be assessed simply in terms of fidelity to a written Law. But consider NT Wright’s thesis about Paul’s view of justification: one is “justified” by being incorporated through faith and baptism into the Church and thus into God’s family or people, and one is “sanctified” by living accordingly over time through grace, according to the law of love as understood and taught by those who govern the family. The question at hand then narrows down to two others: Which visible body of people, if any, counts as that family, and what is its principle of unity?

    The argument we need to make is that, if the answers to those questions are any other than the Catholic, then the identity of the family cannot be clear from divine revelation as such, but can only be asserted on the basis of academic or “enthusiastic” opinions that have no claim on anybody’s assent of faith.

  17. Hey guys,

    I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’s (one of my favorite protestant writers) inane answer to a young Anglican who was considering becoming Catholic and wanted to hear the Anglican reasons for staying. Lewis wrote: “Suppose I want to find out the correct interpretation of Plato’s teaching. What I am most confident in accepting is that interpretation which is common to all the Platonists down all the centuries: What Aristotle and the Renaissance scholars and Paul Elmer More agree on I take to be true Platonism.”

    But it should be obvious to anyone that Jesus did not come to found another school of thought. He came to found a kingdom and a family. And kingdoms and families aren’t ruled by teams of scholars — they’re ruled by kings and fathers. And a good thing too. It is precisely the Christians who have the least experience of academia (and a handful of successful academics with inflated opinions of their own work) who convince themselves that teams of scholars could successfully lead anything meaningful or permanent that can’t be subjected to physical experiments. Heaven help us if the scholars (using various data sets of ridiculously limited size) determine the canon, the doctrine, or the moral life!

    I didn’t mean to suggest that I knew Father Neuhaus personally when I called him “dear.” I’ve only met him once, when we prayed Lutheran evening prayer together. But he is dear to me for being a mentor and friend to several of my close friends, as well as for his writing and his work on behalf of the unborn. I’m glad to hear his room isn’t going to waste!

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  18. I should add that the young Anglican become Catholic, and founded Catholics United for the Faith.

  19. K Doran:

    Let’s get acquainted. My personal email is mliccione@gmail.com.

    Thanks.

  20. Mike L says this:
    Although academic inquiry is helpful, even necessary, for some people to consider that question, it is essential to point out that, for the reasons you’ve given, it is insufficient even in principle. The question what counts as the privileged inside perspective cannot be decisively settled by academic inquiry, which is not possible for many people and does not resolve fundamental disagreements even among those for whom it is possible.

    And we Protestants agree with this, Mike. It’s impossible, contra modern Catholic and Protestant liberalism, to completely resolve these kinds of debates via academic inquiry alone. But Catholicism gives us one more set of academically derived data to deal with, that of Thomism or Medieval Scholasticism. Thomism places the Church Fathers in a given paradigmatic box, one which we think is rather procrustean. The issue between Catholics and Protestants here does not rest, as Bryan seems to indicate, on our acceptance or non-acceptance of the Church Fathers in general, but rather firstly on the academic box that Thomism tries to squeeze the ECF’s into, and secondly, on the lack of response from Catholics in general as to how we are to interpret the writings of the Church Fathers. Concerning this second matter, we often get decontextualized quotes dumped on us if these writings spoke for themselves. We are often left with the feeling that our Catholic friends think that the writings of the ECF’s speak for themselves without interpretation.

    So we agree with you that academic considerations cannot resolve the difference between us, but we don’t see that the academic resolution that Catholicism poses advances the cause of Rome.

    In my opinion, the best way to untie this knot is to focus, as you have, on the idea of God’s “family” or people

    And I agree with this. It’s the sort of consideration that partially lead to the Reformation. Are God’s people just those who are formally and organically connected with Christians of earlier ages, or is there something more?

  21. Andrew,

    Are God’s people just those who are formally and organically connected with Christians of earlier ages, or is there something more?

    Yes, the Church believes it is more than that per se. I think a good book to read to help grasp the fullness of that “more” is by Scott Hahn called First Comes Love.

  22. Andrew,

    Among the things that divide Protestants from the Catholic Church, one of them is not that Protestants reject the work of ‘Catholic academics.’ Feel free to reject anything that any Catholic academic says as Catholic academic. Such claims have no ecclesial authority, and no one is bound to believe anything that has only academic authority.

    One of the most fundamental causes of the separation of Protestants from the Catholic Church, is that Protestants reject sacramental magisterial authority. This can be seen in the fact of their rejection of every ecumenical council after Chalcedon, or merely picking and choosing from among the others. Rejecting the ecumenical councils is not rejecting academic authority (which would be fine), at least not per se, but is rejecting sacramental authority, i.e. the authority Christ invested in His Church. To reject those whom Christ has authorized to govern and teach His Church, is (whether knowingly or unknowingly) to reject Christ.

    My post is not about proof-texting the Fathers. My post is about the ecclesial presuppositions implicit in the lexical approach to Scripture, in contrast to those presuppositions implicit in the way of approaching Scripture through the Tradition, and within the continuation of that same family in which the Scriptures were written and received.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. Andrew:

    But Catholicism gives us one more set of academically derived data to deal with, that of Thomism or Medieval Scholasticism. Thomism places the Church Fathers in a given paradigmatic box, one which we think is rather procrustean. The issue between Catholics and Protestants here does not rest, as Bryan seems to indicate, on our acceptance or non-acceptance of the Church Fathers in general, but rather firstly on the academic box that Thomism tries to squeeze the ECF’s into, and secondly, on the lack of response from Catholics in general as to how we are to interpret the writings of the Church Fathers.

    I was going to say that is just silly, but it occurred to me that you might not have been exposed to many strains of Catholic theology other than “Thomism or Medieval Scholasticism.” I assume you realize that the Catholic Church existed, and Catholic theologians East and West did theology, for over a millennium before St. Thomas. Patristic theology is not used by contemporary Catholic theologians merely as a mine of proof-texts, but perhaps you don’t read much Catholic theology done by pros, as distinct from Internet apologists who have no interest in the subject. And I’m not sure what you mean by the disjunction ‘Thomism or Medieval Scholasticism’. Surely you don’t think that the two are essentially the same. There were several periods and schools of thought in medieval scholastic theology, and in some cases their disagreements were pretty serious, persisting among religious orders even to this day. In fact, three years after Aquinas’ death, 77 propositions drawn from his writings were condemned by the Bishop of Paris, who shared the concerns of the Franciscan theologians about his thought. That act was confirmed by Rome–which 50 years later proceeded to canonize St. Thomas, and 600 years later made Thomism the preferred framework for seminary education.

    That framework broke down, however, after Vatican II, where the influence of the ressourcement and nouvelle theologie movements gained the upper hand. Such theologians as Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, and yes, Joseph Ratzinger, who all sympathized with those movements, were instrumental in bringing patristic themes and perspectives to the fore in the Council’s documents. Nowadays, Catholic patristic studies is a thriving discipline; to give just one example, a man I know personally, Prof. Robert Louis Wilken, has made extensive and important contributions. And that’s just one person writing in English; in Europe, Catholic patristic study is more prominent than it is here. So your generalization and complaint just don’t hold water.

    Are God’s people just those who are formally and organically connected with Christians of earlier ages, or is there something more?.

    Of course not. The Catholic Church teaches that God’s people includes all who are incorporated into Christ by Trinitarian water baptism. Also, it almost certainly includes some who have never had the Gospel plainly preached to them, but who would seek such baptism if all involuntary obstacles to their knowledge of its necessity were removed. Yet both Catholics and Orthodox, who do stand in formal and organic continuity with the early Church, insist that the Lord has chosen to constitute his people as a hierarchically ordered ecclesia whose leadership inherits the authority of the Apostles, which he delegated to them for certain purposes. That some baptized persons do not recognize that authority means only that they are in imperfect communion with the Church and thus with the rest of God’s people.

  24. Michael,

    I’m not trying to juxtapose Thomism and Medieval Scholasticism. I’m citing Thomas’ system as a subset of Scholasticism and one that is a particular academic expression of historic Catholic theology. And from what I hear from many Catholic academics, Thomas’ system is generally considered to be a good systemization of historic Catholic theology. My point then it is that Thomism is one more academic system for us to consider (and yes, there are the Molinists, Nominalists, etc, etc who had issues with Thomas, but that’s beside my point – I’m just using Thomas’ approach as representative of Catholic theology). You are apparently trying to get outside of the academic approach that you see characterizes Protestant theology, but it seems to me that you are substituting one set of academic paradigms for another. I don’t see where you are making any progress.

    ….both Catholics and Orthodox, who do stand in formal and organic continuity with the early Church, insist that the Lord has chosen to constitute his people as a hierarchically ordered ecclesia whose leadership inherits the authority of the Apostles, which he delegated to them for certain purposes

    Yes, it’s this assumption concerning the necessity of a “hierarchically ordered ecclesia” which is at the center of the divide between us. So when you and Bryan speak of the “family” you are assuming a family that is based on a very centralized and autocratic model. So why should we accept this as the model? Was it because the foundations of the Christian ecclesiology in Scripture demanded it or was this highly centralized model more a reflection of the prevailing philosophical paradigms during the early centuries of the Church. Could it be that the Church was too influenced by the world in this regards and that there needed to be some correction? I think these are appropriate academic sorts of questions.

    My post is not about proof-texting the Fathers. My post is about the ecclesial presuppositions implicit in the lexical approach to Scripture, in contrast to those presuppositions implicit in the way of approaching Scripture through the Tradition, and within the continuation of that same family in which the Scriptures were written and received.

    But Bryan, the question over whether “the Tradition” is the tradition that we ought to place the Church Fathers into is just the point of distinction between us. So what rules are we to use to interpret the Church Fathers? Your assumption seems to be that the descendants of the ECF’s will always correctly understand the ECF’s and interpret them correctly on essential matters of the faith.

  25. Andrew M,

    You are apparently trying to get outside of the academic approach that you see characterizes Protestant theology, but it seems to me that you are substituting one set of academic paradigms for another. I don’t see where you are making any progress.

    Bryan already explained this earlier; the Protestant error is not that they reject the Catholic academy but the Catholic Church – i.e. sacramental authority.

    Yes, it’s this assumption concerning the necessity of a “hierarchically ordered ecclesia” which is at the center of the divide between us. So when you and Bryan speak of the “family” you are assuming a family that is based on a very centralized and autocratic model. So why should we accept this as the model?

    We’ll be arguing for that shortly in articles on Holy Orders and Apostolic Succession.

    So what rules are we to use to interpret the Church Fathers?

    One good rule of thumb is to interpret the early fathers by the later fathers. This is the “hermeneutic of continuity” – that principle which was violently disrupted and tossed aside by the Reformers. I suggest Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine if you’re serious about learning the answer to your question.

  26. Andrew, (re: #24)

    You wrote:

    So when you and Bryan speak of the “family” you are assuming a family that is based on a very centralized and autocratic model. So why should we accept this as the model?

    I’m wondering whether, if you are married, you realize that you are the head of your home (Eph 5:23), or whether you think having one head in the home is too centralized and autocratic. Similarly, do you think having one president of our country (at any single time) is too centralized and autocratic? Do you also think that your congregation having only one head pastor is too centralized and autocratic? Do you think that there being only one CEO of the company you work for is too centralized and autocratic? If your answer to these questions is ‘no,’ then it seems quite strange that when it comes to the Church, you reject the necessity of a single [visible] head. The onus is on you, not us, to explain why you accept its necessity in every other community, but reject it in the family of God.

    Could it be that the Church was too influenced by the world in this regards and that there needed to be some correction?

    If your question were not merely rhetorical, but were a sincere question seeking the truth, I would answer it. But your modus operandi is to try to ‘argue’ by repeatedly asking skeptical rhetorical questions. Any skeptic can do that. Questions do not establish anything about that which is being questioned. For example, I could ask, “Could it be, that you are presently in a sect?” Have I, by asking that question, demonstrated that you are in fact in a sect? No. But, by throwing out the sophistical question, I have implicitly suggested that you might be in a sect, without presenting a shred of evidence for it. This technique, is what the serpent used in the garden: “Did God really say ….”, for the very same reason. It avoids the work of actually demonstrating anything; it is all about planting suggestive seeds of doubt in the mind of the listeners. But philosophers, at least those worth their salt, aren’t fooled by such techniques. We see right through them, and call them what they are: sophistry.

    But Bryan, the question over whether “the Tradition” is the tradition that we ought to place the Church Fathers into is just the point of distinction between us. So what rules are we to use to interpret the Church Fathers? Your assumption seems to be that the descendants of the ECF’s will always correctly understand the ECF’s and interpret them correctly on essential matters of the faith.

    On what point of doctrine do you think the Fathers taught a Protestant position over against the Catholic position? If none, then there is no need to go into ‘rules for interpreting the Church Fathers.’

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. Andrew,

    You wrote:

    Yes, it’s this assumption concerning the necessity of a “hierarchically ordered ecclesia” which is at the center of the divide between us. So when you and Bryan speak of the “family” you are assuming a family that is based on a very centralized and autocratic model. So why should we accept this as the model? Was it because the foundations of the Christian ecclesiology in Scripture demanded it or was this highly centralized model more a reflection of the prevailing philosophical paradigms during the early centuries of the Church. Could it be that the Church was too influenced by the world in this regards and that there needed to be some correction? I think these are appropriate academic sorts of questions.

    I don’t think you’ve quite understood the kind of argument I proposed to Bryan, in #16, as the one Catholics need to make. Allow me to quote myself:

    The question at hand then narrows down to two others: Which visible body of people, if any, counts as that family, and what is its principle of unity? The argument we need to make is that, if the answers to those questions are any other than the Catholic, then the identity of the family cannot be clear from divine revelation as such, but can only be asserted on the basis of academic or “enthusiastic” opinions that have no claim on anybody’s assent of faith.

    That kind of argument will necessarily be philosophical and thus academic. Therefore, by Catholic principles, it will not be enough by itself to induce the assent of faith. But its purpose would be to show that no alternative to a sacramental magisterium, inheriting the authority of the Apostles, could suffice even in principle to distinguish doctrines that are de fide from those which are only opinions. In effect, it would be an academic argument that an academic magisterium is unsuited for the purpose cited, and that only a sacramental magisterium would do.

    Nevertheless, it is quite possible that somebody like you could accept such an argument and still, self-consistently, remain Protestant. That is to say, you might accept the consequence that nothing short of a sacramental magisterium would suffice for the purpose, but then deny that the purpose is one that we can or should attain to an extent sufficient to render the identity of God’s people a clear dogma of faith as distinct from just a defensible opinion. You could then decide for yourself between one of two alternatives. One would be to claim that an essentially academic approach to identifying the content of the deposit of faith is the most we can hope for, so that you would strive to the fullest extent possible to show that your brand of orthodoxy is rationally necessitated by the sources, even though plenty of Christians would disagree. I recall that such was the line you seemed inclined to take in our last series of exchanges several weeks ago. Or, as your previous reply to me in this thread suggests, you could admit that an academic magisterium cannot succeed in showing that your brand of orthodoxy is rationally necessitated by the sources, but then go on to appeal to an authority that is neither sacramental nor academic–presumably, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. At bottom, and as I put it before to Bryan, your alternatives would be “rationalism” and “enthusiasm.”

    But if the argument I proposed to Bryan is essentially correct, then neither of those alternatives are enough to enable us to identify God’s “family,” the people with the needed “inside perspective,” as a matter of divine revelation rather than human opinion. In effect, the alternatives open to you would make the identity of the Church, itself, a matter of personal opinion. And that would not suffice to allow us, even in principle, to identify which “inside perspective” is the privileged one.

    So the fundamental question at issue between us is this: what is necessary for identifying God’s people as a point of divine revelation rather than human opinon, so that its inside perspective thus emerges as the privileged one? That has to be a philosophical question. For it must be addressed without making any question-begging assumptions about the content of Christian orthodoxy in general or the identity of God’s people in particular. A correct answer to such a question would be at most a preambula fidei, not an article of faith itself. But it would give good reason to believe Catholic ecclesiological doctrine, and therefore Catholicism as a whole.

  28. […] Context of Scripture Filed under: Booklist, Church — Thomas @ 1:17 pm From a Called to Communion article: The context of Scripture is not merely within its pages, but is the living organism which is the […]

  29. The Catholic believer acknowledges the Church’s right to judge him whereas the protestant asserts his right to judge the Church.

  30. Bryan, I know you addressed this to Andrew, but I’ll answer from my perspective :-)

    You asked:
    I’m wondering whether, if you are married, you realize that you are the head of your home (Eph 5:23), or whether you think having one head in the home is too centralized and autocratic. Similarly, do you think having one president of our country (at any single time) is too centralized and autocratic? Do you also think that your congregation having only one head pastor is too centralized and autocratic? Do you think that there being only one CEO of the company you work for is too centralized and autocratic?

    My observations:
    1) Yes, one head of the home is too autocratic if that head is a person. There is only one true head of a Christian home: Christ. In this passage from Ephesians, husbands and wives are called to mutual submission. The idea of the husband as head of the family is a reflection of Christ as head of the church — a reflection of the ultimate in servanthood and sacrifice. This is not a model of autocratic authority. The cultural idea of men being “in charge” has led to many disgraceful actions towards women. Here in the U.S., a woman is raped every 6 minutes and abused every 15 seconds; 2 to 3 women are murdered each day by an intimate partner. These acts of violence are a result of the refusal to put Christ at the head of male-female relationships. Christ first — then mutual cooperation working for the good of the family and the church.

    2) Yes, having one person in charge of a country is too autocratic. The president of the U.S. is not “in charge” of the country. He shares power with the legislative and judicial branches. Our founding fathers were well aware of the dangers of having one person in charge. One-person rule leads to tyranny. Ask anyone living under a dictatorship. Governance in the U.S. is a shared responsibility between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

    3) Yes, one pastor is too autocratic. The church may choose a single person to represent the local body of Christ but that person certainly does not bear the burden of the duties of the church alone. Even in the smallest of congregations lay leaders share much of the responsibility. This idea of one pastor shouldering all the responsibilities has led to burn-out and depression among both Catholic and Protestant clergy. Giving one person too much “authority’ also tends to lead to abuses (which we have seen most vividly in this modern era with the sex abuse scandals). Both clergy and laypersons are accountable to each other and to God. In addition, each Christian is called to express his or her gifts to benefit the body of Christ. Again: Christ as head — clergy and laypersons working side-by-side for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.

    4) Yes, one CEO is too autocratic. The CEO of a large company rarely operates as an autocrat. Other high-ranking executives contribute. The CEO serves at the request of the Board of Directors and can be relieved of his or her duties if they don’t like what’s going on. In addition, I think the last two years have indicated that when one or a few persons at the top of a company make decisions that benefit a few at the expense of many then it can do great harm to society as a whole. Even in business, the model of one person in charge tends to lead to bad decisions and corrupt practices.

    All that said, none of it argues against a hierarchical structure in the church. The challenge the apologist for the RC church faces is not defending such a structure, it is explaining how it forms out of *Christ as the head of the church*. And then further demonstrating how this structure, from the Vatican down to the local parish, acts as the living body of Christ — a pattern of mutual submission and sacrificial service. I guess this is what you are getting at when you write “its understanding of the Church as a family extending through time back to Christ and the Apostles, and perpetually vivified by the Holy Spirit.”

    If I’m reading your original post correctly, then we agree that in many instances readers of scripture have divorced scripture from the body of Christ–the Church herself. Bible study has become an individual endeavor instead of a family activity. All Protestants that I know consider the church to be the family of God. They just don’t equate that family with any type of hierarchical structure. So, if you want to change how scripture is read, then one must first convince someone outside the RC church that she is indeed “the holy Mother Church.” If you can clear that (very high) hurdle, I don’t believe much else stands in the way.

  31. Amy,

    So, if you want to change how scripture is read, then one must first convince someone outside the RC church that she is indeed “the holy Mother Church.” If you can clear that (very high) hurdle, I don’t believe much else stands in the way.

    We have already cleared that hurdle; please see our articles on the nature of the Church under our Note to Readers. And we are not attempting to change the way Scripture is traditionally read, only the way Protestants read it.

    I won’t venture to refute everything you said because we are coming from two extremely different positions and we have very little common ground. But you said:

    All that said, none of it argues against a hierarchical structure in the church.

    On the contrary, if what you said above is true, (i.e. that the Sexual Revolution and modern egalitarianism got it right while Christianity has had it wrong for 2000 years) then it most certainly argues against a hierarchical structure in the church. If your argument is sound, then I dare say no more devastating argument against hierarchy could be made than what you just argued. You, contra the Scriptures, argue that the man is not the head of the household as Christ is the Head of the Church. Or if you believe that man is the head of the household as Christ is the Head of the Church, then you believe Christ is the “head” of an entirely mutually submissive relationship where no one is truly the Head. I.e. you only nominally believe that Christ is the Head of the Church.

    For you will not allow even one person to be the head of a single other person in any relationship – demonstrated by your rejection of the biblical principle of male headship of the most primitive social structure – the family. Now no smaller society or structure can be imagined than the family, since a family can exist with only a man and a wife, and if a single head is too autocratic for this unit, then no unit can be imagined where a single ruler of any capacity is not too autocratic. I suspect one error in your thought is that you envision the head as an abusive task master. You bring up examples of abuse to prove that the entire institution is wrong. But if your argument held any water, then we would have to reject the office of teachers since some teachers abuse their students.

    Fortunately, this modern argument you make is false. It is nothing but a regurgitation of Satan’s lie in the garden – that by eating the fruit you will destroy the natural hierarchy and will become like God. Your argument is not only against ecclesial hierarchy but against all hierarchy. That is the religion of secular America, not of Christ.

  32. Amy,

    Thanks for your comments. My questions were directed toward Andrew himself, and I wasn’t intending to open all the issues that you have raised. Let me be clear that I was not advocating any kind of autocracy, on the part of anyone, or any kind of abuse of power, or violence, particularly against women. Nor was I intending to imply any opposition to the principle of subsidiarity, which is at the very heart of Catholic social thought. Hierarchy does not entail a denial of subsidiarity, nor does it in any way justify abuse of those for whom one is responsible. The general principle I was pointing out is that in any natural human society, unity requires one leader. Anarchy is loved only by those who haven’t tried it. Even a [pure] democracy or oligarchy will inevitably have a single functioning leader, even if the person isn’t given any formal title. Nature abhors a leadership vacuum. Pretty much everyone recognizes this, and my comments to Andrew simply assume it. My point to Andrew is that it is ad hoc to accept this need for a single visible head in every other human society, whether large or small, at every level of human society, and yet deny it regarding the universal Church, where Christ cannot be the visible Head, because He (being in Heaven) is not now visible to us, until He returns in glory.

    I agree with what you say in your last paragraph; that paragraph is the most relevant to what I wrote in the body of the post. With regard to that question of finding the Church Christ founded, what I have suggested (see “On Starting Points and Reconciliation“) is this:

    We identify the true Church by going back to Jesus. We know that Jesus founded a Church. Now the key is to keep your finger on that thing that Jesus founded, and move forward through history, century by century, until you reach the present day. Don’t go quickly. Read the writings of the fathers of the first century, then the second century, and then third century, and then the fourth century, and then the fifth century. Now, whenever there is a schism, you have to determine which is the split off (at least in some respect), and which is the continuation of the Church that Christ founded. How did the fathers determine which is the continuation of the Church Christ founded, and which is the schism from that Church? Notice the roles of the Ecumenical Councils. Notice also the role of the Pope in the authority of the Ecumenical Councils.

    And that’s how I recommend answering this question, i.e. whether the Catholic Church (led by the successor of St. Peter) is the Church Christ founded, and which He speaks about it in Matthew 16 (“on this rock I will build My Church”). Eusebius’ History of the Church is a great place to start. I don’t know how much common ground we already have, so I’m going right back to the beginning. I’ve also discussed this indirectly, in my “Branches or Schisms?” post. That might be a helpful way we could come to agreement about this question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. Andrew:

    The issue between Catholics and Protestants here does not rest, as Bryan seems to indicate, on our acceptance or non-acceptance of the Church Fathers in general, but rather firstly on the academic box that Thomism tries to squeeze the ECF’s into, and secondly, on the lack of response from Catholics in general as to how we are to interpret the writings of the Church Fathers.

    I disagree, because this treats the ECFs the same way that protestants treat Scripture. Catholics don’t read the Fathers that way. They are witnesses to the faith, but the faith is the Church’s, not the ECFs’s. So when two ECFs disagree on something we can still know what the Church teaches. Because the ECFs isn’t necessarily the same as the sacramental Magisterium. The Catholic position isn’t ‘Sola Scripture+ECFs.’ (Name dropping ECFs would also be a kind of lexical approach.)

    This is a problem; many protestants believe that Catholics use the same hermeneutics as themselves.

  34. Bryan, thank you for your comments. My desire was not to debate these issues, only to show that one can answer those questions with a “yes” and still understand the nature and role of the church. We all recognize that order reigns when we allow people to do the work that is most suited to them, and for some folks that means positions of leadership, whether we’re talking about family, church, business or government. Problems arise when we allow unchecked power to a single entity or, in the case of spiritual leadership, when God is shoved aside in favor of human control. This, of course, is not how the RC church operates.

    I really don’t think we disagree. But, coming from an Evangelical background, I can say that the case for the RC church as *the* church is a hard sell for most Evangelical Christians. My own studies lead me to that conclusion (and yes Eusebius’ History is an excellent work). But few of my peers, even in seminary, had much exposure to the ECF or the history of the church. Two semesters I think were dedicated to church history from the cross to 20th century – we lost sight of the pope as soon as the Reformation hit. So, although here on this blog I find eloquent and persuasive arguments, the RC church as a whole has not done a very effective job of taking those ideas “mainstream” so to speak. The average Protestant does not understand the arguments and, in some cases, is highly suspicious of RC claims as *the* Church that Christ founded. Which is why the task is a difficult one. The starting point does indeed have to go all the way back to Jesus and come forward.

    And I realize you are mainly talking to those from a Reformed background, so perhaps the arguments might take a different tack for presentation to Evangelicals.

  35. Dr. Liccione / Andrew,

    This issue, the philosophical/epistemological stance one finds oneself in PRIOR to determining the foundation for doctrinal infallibility has long been on my mind. If I may, I would like to add another hew to the color of the discussion so far. Let me begin by quoting Dr. Liccione:

    That has to be a philosophical question. For it must be addressed without making any question-begging assumptions about the content of Christian orthodoxy in general or the identity of God’s people in particular. A correct answer to such a question would be at most a preambula fidei, not an article of faith itself. But it would give good reason to believe Catholic ecclesiological doctrine, and therefore Catholicism as a whole.

    This point of recognizing, what I have called, the “revelational epistemology” question as a “preambula fidei” is absolutely crucial. Over and over again, the arguments regarding Catholic ecclesiology, sola scriptura, Tradition, infallibility, etc., operate within a philosophically confused context because folks do not look down at the philosophical platform upon which they are standing when addressing these issues. To put it another way; we often do not properly “backup” and take in the landscape as it were when addressing these issues:

    To illustrate this point, here is a response I made within the “Catholic-Protestant Divide: Path to unity” thread, to a sincere person putting forward the idea that BOTH Catholics and Protestants approach the doctrinal infallibility issue on an a priori basis. (I realize not all Protestants work from the “enthusiasm” basis; as Dr. Liccione has dubbed it, implied in this persons’ proposition):

    I would simply question why you, or someone else, would hold this premise in the first place. The method by which one concludes whether the Protestant or Catholic view of “revelational epistemology” is “true”, simply is not (or should not be) a priori or axiomatic. Such a determination is based on rational, evidential, probabilistic argumentation. A Catholic is “arguing” (not axiomatically) that the historical, patristic, logical, practical, even Scriptural evidence show the organic Church + Cannon model to be FAR more likely as a means by which God Himself intended to transmit and maintain divine revelation through space and time. This procedure mirrors how ANY Christian argues for the rational, evidential, superiority of theism over atheism, or for Christ’s divinity – which is never a priori, or axiomatic (unless he is a pure fidiest). . . . .
    . . . The Catholic is trying to get the “sola” proponent to leave the axiomatic bubble and come discuss the issue on rational, evidential grounds. He is asking the Protestant to “back-up” and evaluate the wider “revelational landscape” BEFORE moving forward again to embrace “in faith” either the Protestant or Catholic notion of how revelation has been transmitted and maintained. Clearly, once one has evaluated these choices on rational/evidential grounds, and come to a probabilistic conclusion; the force of the arguments will lead him to embrace with natural “faith” the IMPLICATIONS of the epistemic view he has arrived at. But, again, this is no different than when we come to believe that God exists on rational/evidential grounds and then personally embrace in “faith” the IMPLICATIONS of a theistic universe

    I was a hyper-skeptical agnostic for many years. Through a long process, I began to see the potential value of “revealed religion”. Philosophers disagree incessantly, and about the most profound matters. Moreover, even if one were to proceed carefully and perfectly in one’s philosophical enterprise; there are limits to what kind of knowledge can be achieved. For instance, I am largely Thomistic in my approach to philosophy, and Thomism claims access to a VERY wide array of metaphysical truths as compared to other (especially modern) philosophic approaches. Yet even Thomas in Article 1 / Question 1 of the Summa, states that philosophy cannot gain access to everything concerning mankind’s final “end”. In short, the deepest “meaning and purpose information” that mankind most desperately seeks is IN PRINCIPAL beyond the scope of philosophic inquiry – even philosophies with the most robust metaphysical systems. It is this fact that serves as one of the two principal reasons that St. Thomas says God provided for “revelation”. I take it that this deep “meaning and purpose” information is just what theology is all about. (Andrew, I know you may have no sympathy for Thomism, but I only intend here to use Thomas as a means of highlighting the limits of philosophy generally).

    My point in laying all this out is that if we backup and look at the issue, as I did as an agnostic: that is, look at “revelation” in general, PRIOR to dissecting revelation into issues of ecclesiology, magisterium, Tradition, scripture, etc., it helps immensely to clarify our thinking. Resisting the natural tendency to dive into theology, and instead, take the time to “flesh out” the philosophical issues surrounding “revelation” generally, is crucial. To that end . . . . . .

    Here is a basic point that I think all Catholics and Protestants are clear on:

    **In order for a “revelation” from God to be useful to mankind; mankind must be conscious that such a “revelation” has occurred. Thus, God has revealed Himself in historical deeds; the most magnificent of which is the Incarnation. Since God is pure Spirit and we are embodied-spirits, God must “reveal” in ways that take into account our bodily state: thus, historical deeds culminating in the Word-made-FLESH.**

    Now what immediately emerges as problematic about that statement is that deeds require an explanation as to their meaning. God’s deeds occur in human history, and as such they do not contain within themselves a presentation of the “human meaning and purpose” information that God intends to communicate by virtue of His deeds. For instance, the death of a man on a Roman cross in the first century – even his eventual physical resurrection; as pure historical phenomena, do not reveal the “IMPLICATIONS” of these events for mankind’s relationship with God. They do not tell us what “human meaning and purpose information” is attached to these events in the mind of God – the very information God presumably wants to communicate by virtue of the events. God must provide some means of EXPLICATION for His acts. Moreover, if such explication is not to be intermixed with error, the means of explication must, itself, be infallible. To make matters worse; we, living in the year 2010, have the disadvantage of a tremendous historical time gap lying between ourselves and the initial occurrence of God’s revelatory acts in history. Thus, even if God provides a means of explicating the theological MEANING of His acts in history; that meaning must now travel down the corridors of history without mutilation or defect. Hence, God must provide not only a means of infallible explication, but also a means of TRANSMITTING such an infallible explication through space and time.

    Thus, any Christian, as well as non-Christian (I was very cognizant of these issues as an agnostic long before poking my nose into religious debates) can see that any notion of a “revelation from God” must overcome two inherent obstacles if it is to reach its desired target and have its desired communicative effect; that is, if it is to reach and teach US existentially, in the here and now. It must include a God-given means of BOTH EXPLICATION AND TRANSMISSION. Notice that all I have said so far exists (or can exist) on the side of philosophical inquiry – as a “pre-amble” to faith, just as Dr. Liccione has said. We can think about these issues without a single Protestant or Catholic pre-commitment.

    Now the most tempting thing to do right here is to cross the philosophical / theological divide and begin debating as to whether the God given means for the transmission of “revelation” is via a written text only (sola scriptura); or by way of a Tradition composed of both textual and oral communication: this consideration in turn, prompts a debate as to how such transmitted revelation is to be infallibly explicated in the here and now. But to cross the divide at this point is to miss perhaps the most crucial consideration of all. Consider the following:

    Any account of divine revelation will have to account for both the transmission AND explication of said revelation. I think that both the Catholic and Protestant answers to the means of transmission are theoretically plausible, though each has to account for concerns about corruption during transmission; but such considerations become immediately historical or theological. What I want to focus on is the EXPLICATION issue; because it admits of one further and crucial consideration that exists on a purely philosophical level, again belonging to the “pre-amble”.

    Drawing on Dr. Liccione’s and Bryan’s interchanges, there seem only three potential theories of revelational explication:

    1.) Academic explication: any claim to arrive at the infallible meaning of revelation by reliance upon one or more academic sources: scholars, philosophers, theologians, commentaries, language analysis, etc. etc.
    2.) Enthusiastic explication: any claim to arrive at the infallible meaning of revelation by reliance upon “bosom-burning” or any other direct internal experiential cognition: this would include concepts like Calvin’s internal testimony of the Holy Spirit or Luther’s litmus test of “do I find Christ in it” (referring to scripture)
    3.) Sacramental explication: any claim to arrive at the infallible meaning of revelation by means of the authoritative pronouncement of persons believed to possess infallible explicative authority from God Himself.

    Here is what I want to point out on the philosophical level. We, as individuals are the subjects attempting to gain an infallible understanding of God’s revelation. We can look at each of the above options and ask the following question: “will I or some other source be the ultimate ground for my infallible understanding”. Consider each of the three explicative options as a theological door through which one can pass. When you pass through any one of these doors you will be leaving the world of pure philosophy or “natural” theology. As a “pre-amble” to faith, and on purely philosophical grounds, you can ask yourself what happens to YOUR status as a potential determinate of infallibility when you pass through each door.

    Door Number 1:
    If you decide that door number 1 (academic explication) is the means God intends for the explication of “revelation” you MUST take your status as a determinant of infallibility with you THROUGH THE DOOR; because the academic resources lie beyond the door, and it is you who will ultimately decide which academic resources to use and the relative authority of each in coming to any perceived infallible explication of revelational content.

    Door Number 2:
    If you decide that door number 2 (enthusiastic explication) is the means God intends for the explication of “revelation”; again you MUST take your status as a determinant of infallibility with you THROUGH THE DOOR; because the data of revelation (scripture, religious experiences) lie beyond the door, and it is you, directly and experientially, who must come in contact with the data of revelation and come away, in light of your enthusiastic experience, with an infallible interpretation.

    Door number 3:
    If you decide that door number 3 (sacramental explication) is the means God intends for the explication of “revelation”, you must engage in a profound act of humility: YOU MUST RENOUNCE YOUR STATUS AS A DETERMINANT OF INFALLIBILITY BEFORE YOU ENTER THE THROUGH DOOR; because to enter this door is to receive the infallible explication of divine revelation from another. You must cede your rights as a determinant of infallibility BEFORE you enter. When you enter you become a receiver, NOT a truth-sayer.

    I submit that doors number one and two (even in combination) simply CANNOT avoid subjectivism or doctrinal relativism. ONLY door number 3 constitutes a means of revelational explication which allows modern man access to the specific “purpose and meaning” information God intends for us to have, WITHOUT inherently importing, within itself, a self destructive, subjectivist relativism.

    This, I believe, is what Dr. Liccione was getting at when he said:

    That kind of argument will necessarily be philosophical and thus academic. Therefore, by Catholic principles, it will not be enough by itself to induce the assent of faith. But its purpose would be to show that no alternative to a sacramental magisterium, inheriting the authority of the Apostles, could suffice even in principle to distinguish doctrines that are de fide from those which are only opinions. In effect, it would be an academic argument that an academic magisterium is unsuited for the purpose cited, and that only a sacramental magisterium would do.

    IMO, this little pre-theological exercise has ramifications that transcend Catholic/ Protestant debates; for IF it is true that philosophical inquiry cannot yield answers to the deepest questions of human meaning and purpose; and IF a revelation from God has occurred; THEN belief that God has established an authoritative (sacramental) means by which the content of revelation can be explicated in an infallible way becomes the ONLY hope mankind has for obtaining answers to his deepest questions without recourse to the inevitable skeptical dissolution that follows upon subjectivism. I hesitate to say it; but for several years now the phrase “Catholicism or chaos” has been increasingly working its way to the surface in my thinking.

    I would like to say something about how these considerations dovetail with the needs of non-academic Christians as well; but I will wait to see if what I have said here seems off base or not.

    In the Peace of Christ,

    -Ray

  36. Ray, thanks for all that work! Of course I cannot help agreeing with the main thrust of your comment. You can’t be expected to produce all the details and intermediate steps in the overall argument we agree needs to be made, but you’ve done as a good job of outlining it as one can in a combox.

    Rather than urge you to write the book I should be writing, I shall just point out that the Protestants will likely object to the argument by claiming that the Catholic Church’s own course of doctrinal development belies her claims to infallibility. Such a claim can take various forms, of course. But the one I find most interesting is roughly this: the criteria for infallible teaching, whether implicit or explicit, have evolved ex post facto, and will continue to evolve, in order to explain away logical contradictions and cover up the messy facts of history. That’s how it looks from the standpoint of a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” Such a hermeneutic is always immensely plausible to those caught in its grip.

    The main way to combat that sort of thing is to show the alternatives to Catholic ecclesiology end up in either “doctrinal relativism” or a stasis that declines to give authoritative answers to new questions. That would help validate a “hermeneutic of continuity” showing that the Church’s course of doctrinal development is not only logically compatible with, but also helps to illustrate, how her claims to infallibility work to distinguish opinion from de fide doctrine.

    Best,
    Mike

  37. Michael L says: That kind of argument will necessarily be philosophical and thus academic. Therefore, by Catholic principles, it will not be enough by itself to induce the assent of faith. But its purpose would be to show that no alternative to a sacramental magisterium, inheriting the authority of the Apostles, could suffice even in principle to distinguish doctrines that are de fide from those which are only opinions. In effect, it would be an academic argument that an academic magisterium is unsuited for the purpose cited, and that only a sacramental magisterium would do.

    OK Michael, so you are using the sacramental magisterium as an interpretive principle to distinguish philosophically derived arguments. But for those outside of the RCC looking in, it is the magisterium of the RCC itself which owes its existence to prevailing philosophical notions of a Platonic variety originally and then an Aristotelian one later in the Middle Ages. But perhaps you want to argue that the nature of the RCC understanding of the magisterium is not philosophically derived?

    One would be to claim that an essentially academic approach to identifying the content of the deposit of faith is the most we can hope for, so that you would strive to the fullest extent possible to show that your brand of orthodoxy is rationally necessitated by the sources, even though plenty of Christians would disagree. I recall that such was the line you seemed inclined to take in our last series of exchanges several weeks ago.

    In my last post (or maybe the one before) I said that the matter cannot be decided by academic debates alone. I pointed out that this was the error of the liberals of both Catholic and Protestant varieties. There is a Church ordained by God which must be part of the process. For the Protestant the ecclesiological principles are in the Scriptures foundationally and confirmed in the period immediately after the Apostles. The Church of Rome either does or does not square with these principles. To us the highly centralized organization principles of Rome sounds much more like something derived from Neoplatonism than anything biblical. As the EO note, Rome just is not there, at least not in the way Rome later claimed she was and is. So it’s the philosophical principles which underscore your understand of the sacramental magisterium which we question.

    Bryan said: I’m wondering whether, if you are married, you realize that you are the head of your home (Eph 5:23), or whether you think having one head in the home is too centralized and autocratic. Similarly, do you think having one president of our country (at any single time) is too centralized and autocratic?

    Bryan, let me just push your analogy a little further. If I not only claimed authority in my own home but also found a way to extend my rule over many homes then you might say I was being autocratic. So if Rome is extending her authority over all churches when she has no biblical mandate to do so then we could say that her ecclesiological model is too centralized. She has then arrogated power for herself, which is the claim of both the EO and the Protestants in this debate.

  38. Hello Ray,

    It’s rather late and I can’t properly address your very interesting and well thought out post. Let me first say that I do have quite a bit of sympathy for Thomism against many of his Medieval rivals.

    In your ” three potential theories of revelational explication” I don’t agree with #1 and 2, and I obviously cannot opt for #3, so where does that put me? Perhaps we could also have an option #4 where we take out the word “infallible” both times. We Protestants are looking for authoritative but not infallible explication of the infallible Word and works through His Church to do so. That is our understanding of how God works in this world. There seems to be an epistemological assumption from our Catholic friends that God must use an infallible interpreter of the infallible text in order to have a viable theological system. To us this philosophical expectation creates more problems than it solves.

    Cheers for now….

  39. Andrew,

    You wrote:

    Bryan, let me just push your analogy a little further. If I not only claimed authority in my own home but also found a way to extend my rule over many homes then you might say I was being autocratic.

    Before we switch topics from talking about the need for a visible head of the Church, to talking about over-extending authority, let’s first establish that we are agreed that just as the home needs a visible head, and just as the local congregation needs a visible head, and just as the nation needs a visible head, so the universal Church needs a visible head. Are we agreed on this point?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. Andrew,

    The authors of this blog have, over time, produced ample arguments that an “authoritative” but non-infallible “explication” of God’s word is no authority at all. In the final analysis, the kind of thing you want takes the form either of an academic interpretation alleged to be rationally necessitated by the sources, or of bosom-burning. Neither of those alternatives seem acceptable to you, but there is no third alternative to a sacramental magisterium that does not reduce to one of those two.

    That is one way of stating the kind of “philosophical” argument I propose to make, as a preamble to faith, for Catholicism. It does not depend on either “Neoplatonism” or “Aristotelianism.” Merely producing a historical theory as to what sorts of pagan philosophy might have influenced the Church to develop her doctrine of infallibility–or her christology and triadology, for that matter–does nothing either to discredit or to support doctrine. The sole question is what is necessary for enabling us to distinguish de fide doctrine from opinion.

  41. Hi Andrew,

    Perhaps we could also have an option #4 where we take out the word “infallible” both times. We Protestants are looking for authoritative but not infallible explication of the infallible Word and works through His Church to do so. That is our understanding of how God works in this world

    I have to confess that you are the first Protestant I have ever met who clearly admits such a vision as theogically acceptable. I do not mean that in any polemical way – I am just genuinely surprised. What I was attempting to show by my 3 door metaphor, was that options 1 and 2 do, necessarily, reduce to a “fallible” interpretation of the revealed data, even if the data itself – scripture alone in the Protestant view – is understood as inerrant or infallible in some sense. So, yes, my very argument is that doors 1 and 2 lead to just what you describe as door 4. But do you not see the logical implications of such a view.

    In the first place, admitting a “fallible” interpretative situation as you have done via option 4: how can one even “know” that the scriptures themselves are infallible? I mean, short of accepting a God-ordained and guided sacramental authority to determine what counts as “infallible” scriptures, you are left with some form of; or combination of, academic or enthusiastic access to the deliniation of the canon itself. This necessarily places you, the subject, as the determinant of canonicity, because it is you, personally, who retain determinant control over what academic sources and/or personal experiences yield knowledge of what writings should, or should not, be received as canonical. I realize the canon question has been engaged at length in other articles and threads here at CTC; but perhaps it can be seen in a different light in view of the 3 door proposal. I mean if you go with something like Calvin’s “internal testimony of the Spirit” as a determinant of canonicity; you are simply announcing your personal, internal experience as “infallible” with regard to recognition of the bounderies of canonicity – but anyone can claim the exact same experience, yet claim their experience has led to an alternate collection of writings. There would simply be no way to tell who posessed the “real” canon – BECAUSE an outsider seeking the “correct” infallible canon would simply be faced with two competeing subjectivist claims. On the other hand, if you actually are willing to admit that your personal, internal experience might be fallible in this regard, you have zero basis for saying that “scripture is infallible” because the writings YOU take to be scripture, on a fallible experiential basis, might include books that are not, in fact, infallble, due to a mistake on your part – i.e. due to your inherent fallibility. Thus, you would be obliged, when referring to the writings you take to be the canon, to say “this is the word of God” – I THINK.

    The same exact thing happens if you substitue “academic sources” for personal “enthusiastic” expeience. Again, it would be you, who ultimately determine which scholars, theologians, philosophers, commentaries, etc, etc, should be utilized in the cannon determination process (unless you are willing to say that you possess some “infallibile” charism for making such a determination – which I doubt you would do). In such case, you would necessarily end up with something like R.C. Sproul’s notion of a “fallible collection of infallible books”. But, I submit that Sproul’s proposal is simply incoherent. Sproul asks us to accept that the fallibility inherent in the canon determination process is a one-way street only – that is, the potential for error is limited to the possibility that one might fail to include certain books that ARE infallible; so that the writings which remain, though not as complete as they might otherwise be, are themselves, nonethless infallible. But this is a subterfuge. Fallibility, if it is really fallibility, must admit of a two-directional potential for error. Not only might the fallible agent fail to include infallible books; his fallibility might also cause him to include fallible books, thereby corrupting the corpus of the canon. Sproul simply offers no reason for applying fallibility only in one direction. Again, to paraphrase what Dr. Scott Hahn once said to R.C. Sproul Jr. in light of Sproul Sr.’s position: “in all integrity, when preaching from scripture in the pulpit on Sunday morning, you should say – Thus sayeth the Lord – I think”. Finally, since both the academic and the enthusiatic approach to canon determination fail to yield infallible knowledge of the canon contents, any combination of the two will remain plauged by this failure.

    In the second place, even if we grant that we already “know” the contents of the canon in an infallible way, and further admit that said contents are themselves “infallible” (more accurately inerrant); the explication or interpretation problem with regard to the infallible contents of revelation remains. You seem to be asserting that you are perfectly comfortable with the idea that the content of revelation is itself infallible, even though the interpretation thereof always remains fallible – at least this is what I take to be the gist of option 4 as you have proposed it. If so, it means that you admit that access to the theological “meaning” that God attaches to His works and intends to communicate to mankind, can only come through a fallible interpretive agent (whether using the academic and/or enthusiastic methodology). This same assesment applies when the fallible agent is working with the inerrant/infallible written content of revelation contained in scripture. When seeking clarity on any given doctrinal issue, the fallible agent must lift his or her interpretation from the revealed text. Yet the “lifting” process is carried out within the context of the agent’s fallibility. Thus, as you seem to admit, the interpretation that he or she lifts from the text must, itself, be open to the possibility of error (for this is what fallibility means). Thus, one would be basing one’s entire life and approach to God (and presumably teaching others to do the same) on an interpretive understanding of God’s revelation that might, or might not, be in eorror. Unless I grossly misunderstand what you are proposing in option 4, you seem to be consigned to precisely this state of affirs.

    Now such a state means that no methed exists, IN PRINCIPAL, for distinguishing between orthodoxy and hetrodoxy with regard to doctrine (the theological meaning of God’s deeds) since every claim that a given doctrinal interpretation is “orthodox” can always be challenged on that the grounds that the interpretive agent arrived at his/her interpretation by a fallible means. I feel quite confident that I could go through a step by step argument showing how such a state of affairs simply cannot avoid interminable christian division and disagreement, resulting in the eventual dissolution of all confidence in the “knowability” or “certainty” of that knowledge which mankind needs most of all: namely, an understanding of his “purpose and meaning” as revealed by God. But for now, I would just ask in all candor; can you not see, on logical grounds, how such a basis for determining the “meaning and purpose” information signified by God’s revelatory acts, must naturally and progressively lead back to religious agnosticism? At the very least, can you not see, why for someone like myself, having spent the first 30 years of my life within a wide variety of doctrinally opposed Protestant cirlces; I might view the entire train of events flowing from the events of the Reformation as one ever widening, ever deepening, loss of confidence in the possibility of “certain” knowledge concerning God’s revelation, due precisley to the lack of an “infallible” interpretive agent?

    There seems to be an epistemological assumption from our Catholic friends that God must use an infallible interpreter of the infallible text in order to have a viable theological system. To us this philosophical expectation creates more problems than it solves.

    So yes, we most certainly do believe that God must use an infallible interpreter of the infallible text in order to have a viable theological system. My argument simply is that BECAUSE Protestantism admits no such interpreter, all Protestant theological systems, in the long-run, ARE NON-viable. Many Roman Catholics see the last 493 years of Protestant history as exhibit A for what happens when theological systems are built upon a foundation lacking an infallible interpretive authority. I do not mean that in any uncharitable or triumphalistic way; for God knows, we Catholics suffer from the absence of all the zeal and talent that clearly exists among our separated brethren. Nonetheless, the trajectory of the Protestant enterprise, due to these kinds of fundamental concerns, appears to me as headed down a very dangerous road.

    I see the Church’s magisterium as an immense gift from God; designed to prevent the very troubles I have outlined above. Morever, there are a wide range of hisorical, scriptural and other reasons that convince me that Jesus Christ was, in fact, building and launching a visbile Church upon the waters of human history; this “philosophical” argument or concern is just one “practical” reasons for such belief.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  42. Andrew (re: #38)

    You wrote:

    We Protestants are looking for authoritative but not infallible explication of the infallible Word and works through His Church to do so.

    The fundamental problem is revealed in the first five words. “We Protestants are looking for,” as though the Church (and her doctrine) is something made-to-order or fashioned to suit our desires, i.e. “Here’s what we want in a Church.” Ecclesial consumerism is contrary to the self-denial intrinsic to embodied agape, revealed in the self-sacrificial life of Christ, who did not come to do His will but that of the Father (John 6:38). So likewise, the proper stance toward Christ and His Church, is not “Here’s what I want,” but rather “What must I do to be saved?” or at least “What can I do to serve?” It is a stance of humility, submitting to Christ by submitting to His Church and conforming to her, not fashioning a ‘church’ in our own interpretive image because we don’t like the one He himself established.

    Namaan, for example, didn’t like the muddy Jordan. He would have picked a cleaner river back home near Damascus. (2 King 5) But the issue wasn’t ultimately about some virtue of Jordan’s water, but about faith as submission to God, accepting what God had said through His prophet, even though it wasn’t the way Namaan would have ordered it up. I am sure you know all this — but that’s why your statement is all the more perplexing.

    Imagine that the Apostles are preaching in AD 35, and you walk up and say, “Is the message that you all are preaching protected from error?” St. Peter replies, “Yes, the message we are teaching is what was given to us by Christ; His Holy Spirit is guiding us into all truth, and protecting us from teaching falsehood. Would you like to hear more?” “No thanks,” you reply, “my friends and I are looking for a fallible explication of God’s infallible Word.” Similarly, if Jesus had been preaching, and you walked up to Him and said, “Is this message that you are preaching protected from error?” Jesus replies, “Yes, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No falsehood can come from my lips.” You reply, “Thanks but no thanks; we are looking for authoritative teaching of God’s infallible Word, but we’re looking for teaching that is fallible, not infallible.” There is something wrong with an a priori assumption that precludes the possibility of submitting to the teaching of Christ or His Apostles. So likewise, for that same reason, the a priori requirement that eccelesial authority not be in any respect infallible, cuts one off from reality if in fact Christ has given that charism to His Church.

    There seems to be an epistemological assumption from our Catholic friends that God must use an infallible interpreter of the infallible text in order to have a viable theological system.

    No. There is no such assumption. There is a dogma, taught by the Magisterium of the Church, that the Church is protected from error when defining doctrine on faith and morals. (See Vatican I) And there are also good arguments (offered by Michael and Ray above in this thread) showing why apart from the mystical route (which is falsified almost instantly by glancing around) and the academic route (again falsified by a quick tour of academia), the unity of the Church requires sacramental magisterial authority that is protected from error at least under certain conditions.

    Your response (I expect) is that you think that the Catholic Church lost her authority by abandoning the gospel at some point around or prior to the Council of Trent, for which reason you don’t accept the Catholic Church’s dogma regarding her infallibility. The problem with that claim is that it is indistinguishable from the claim of heretics (whom you and I agree to be heretics) who decide that the Church made a wrong turn and therefore no longer has authority. The heretic uses his own interpretation of Scripture to decide that the Church is wrong, when in fact, unbeknownst to himself, his disagreement with the Church’s teaching does not entail that the Church is in error but entails rather that he has fallen into heresy. (Otherwise ‘heresy’ only means ‘contrary to one’s own [and those who agree with oneself] interpretation of Scripture.’)

    So the problem with your “the Church lost her authority when she went against my interpretation of the Bible” claim, is that it is indistinguishable from you being in a state of [material] heresy and not knowing it. In order to adjudicate between the two possibilities (i.e. your interpretation is right and the Church went apostate, OR the Church stayed orthodox and your interpretation is heretical), it is not enough to appeal to your own interpretation of Scripture. You have to rule out the possibility that the Church was right, because heresy and schism are errors too serious to risk on the basis of private judgment or a hermeneutical toss-up between the Church’s doctrine and your interpretation of Scripture.

    If sixteenth century Protestants really wanted “fallible authority,” they would have submitted faithfully to the Catholic bishops whose authority they came under at their baptism (as infants), and conformed their interpretation of Scripture to that of the Church. But their disregarding the authority of their bishops, and forming a schism from the Church by leaving the bishops who had charge over them, suggests that it was not fallible authority that they wanted; they wanted to be their own authority. In other words, they wanted no authority.

    And that should raise red flags. Why do you submit to your present pastor, if not for the reason that you generally agree with his interpretation of Scripture? If your general agreement with his interpretation of Scripture weren’t a necessary condition for your ‘submission’ to him, then the first Protestants would not have been justified in not submitting to the Catholic bishops over them. But if the first Protestants were justified in not submitting to their Catholic bishops, on the grounds that they didn’t generally agree with their bishops’ interpretation of Scripture, then all Protestants (yourself included) need not submit to their Protestant pastor whenever they do not generally agree with their pastor’s interpretation. That’s the dilemma. Either the Protestant rejection of the authority of their Catholic bishops was a rebellion against divinely instituted authority and was therefore wrong, or if it is permissible to disregard one’s ecclesial authority whenever one disagrees with his interpretation, then it is permissible for Protestants to disregard their Protestant pastor’s ‘authority’ whenever they disagree with their pastor’s interpretation of Scripture. In short, either Protestantism is built on a defiance of divinely-established ecclesial authority, or there is no actual Protestant ecclesial authority, and the appearance of such is all a sham contrived to hide that fact, as I pointed out in my post titled “Play church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Before we switch topics from talking about the need for a visible head of the Church, to talking about over-extending authority, let’s first establish that we are agreed that just as the home needs a visible head, and just as the local congregation needs a visible head, and just as the nation needs a visible head, so the universal Church needs a visible head. Are we agreed on this point?

    Bryan, I’m answering Michael’s point about appealing to the “family” in dealing with competing philosophical arguments and I challenged him as to what the nature of this family was and whether this conception of the family itself was derived philosophically. So I’m not switching any topics here unless you think Michael is.

    So you evidentially think that something I have said leads to the natural conclusion that there must be a visible head to the Church that Christ established. But I’m not sure what this is. The history of the Christian Church begins without such a visible head unless of course we are speaking of Christ. There was no defined head of the Church in early ecclesiology and Rome only plays a minor part in developing essential Christian theology as outlined in the early creeds. The EO speak of the Church’s bishops as being autocephalous. Your answer to this as I remember from previous threads is that EO ecclesiology violates a fundamental principle of Christian unity. My answer to this has been to ask you where you derive this idea of unity. The RCC understanding of unity seems to derive from something philosophical and of course we want to know what this is. It makes lots of sense if we assume a platonic sense of unity. Wie just cannot see that it can be defended from any Apostolic or sub-apostolic considerations. Mike wants to say that the Catholic principle of unity does not depend of Neoplatonism, but if we can make a better argument from the connection between RCC and Greek than RCC and biblical sources, what else are we to conclude? Will you at least concede that the derivation of Catholic principles of unity from platonic ones is rational? If not, what else do you base the RCC understanding of unity on?

    I don’t bring up EO sources to muddy the water and I am fully cognizant that the EO would not be happy with me bringing up their ecclesiology to defend a Protestant one. I only do so because I think you are more likely to listen to someone who you are in communion with. And there is definitely some resonance that we have with the EO cyprianic understanding of the formation of Christ’s Church.

    The fundamental problem is revealed in the first five words. “We Protestants are looking for

    You sometimes take issue with the way I phrase things but I would ask you not to focus too much on my semantic choices. I’m really just trying to take the hard edge of my argument. I’m trying to strike a conciliatory note.

    Merely producing a historical theory as to what sorts of pagan philosophy might have influenced the Church to develop her doctrine of infallibility–or her christology and triadology, for that matter–does nothing either to discredit or to support doctrine.

    Michael – Maybe we could say that just because the Church’s ecclesiology sounded pagan does not prove that it was influenced by paganism. And I would agree with that. But, if we cannot find the RCC understanding of her ecclesiology in the history of the Apostolic Church or in the period immediately following, but we can find it in the philosophy of the culture around the Church, then it makes more sense to conclude that Rome’s ecclesiology derived from Athens than Jerusalem so as to speak. Is that so radicial a conclusion?

  44. I have to confess that you are the first Protestant I have ever met who clearly admits such a vision as theogically acceptable. I do not mean that in any polemical way – I am just genuinely surprised.

    Ray – I’m you are aware that this blog is directed to some degree at those from a Reformed standpoint. So how could any Reformed person accept either #1 or 2? And we can’t go with #3 obviously, so why are you surprised?

    What I was attempting to show by my 3 door metaphor, was that options 1 and 2 do, necessarily, reduce to a “fallible” interpretation of the revealed data, even if the data itself – scripture alone in the Protestant view – is understood as inerrant or infallible in some sense. So, yes, my very argument is that doors 1 and 2 lead to just what you describe as door 4. But do you not see the logical implications of such a view.

    Door #1 leads to liberalism or is liberalism in and of itself. It is the epitome of rejecting God as the standard of revelation. #2 says I don’t need any Church, I just need my own rational capabilities. #4 on the other hand says that I need an infallible source (contra #1) and I need the means that God has ordained to administrate that source (contra #2). #3 makes the additional claim to #4 that the means in #4 is not just authoritative but infallible. We would say that #4 is sufficient – God does not need an infallible interpreter to be authoritative.

    In the first place, admitting a “fallible” interpretative situation as you have done via option 4: how can one even “know” that the scriptures themselves are infallible? I mean, short of accepting a God-ordained and guided sacramental authority to determine what counts as “infallible” scriptures, you are left with some form of; or combination of, academic or enthusiastic access to the deliniation of the canon itself.

    Ray – As you say, we have dealt with the canon issue here (and on another [Protestant] loop) and I can’t take the time to repeat it, but I will just briefly say that Protestants generally like you see that the canon has been infallibly determined via God through the agency of the Church. The difference is that we believe that the canon, like the books in the canon, are infallible because God who is infallible worked through a Church that was fallible. God’s infallibility guarantees the canon whether or not the Church was infallible. I don’t take Calvin to mean that we can judge what in the canon was correct, only that the books in the canon do accomplish what God intended. His comments were directed at encouraging the faithful, not engaging in a comprehensive apologetic. And if there was ever an issue that there was no disagreement on even among the farthest reaches of Evangelicalism, it is on the canon. I really like Sproul in general, but his way of explaining canonicity just denies the way that Reformed and Evangelicals approach the issue.

    Concerning what we can and cannot know infallibly, yes we see that positing an infallible interpreter does not solve anything We are still left with the Church and us trying to interpret the Magisterium of the Church. You are critiquing the sola scriptura position and I am critiquing the sola ecclesia position. In both cases we are asking each other how we can know that each other’s authority is infallible. My basis for know that the Scripture is infallible is that it is inspired. But as Michael has said in the past the Church never held that the writings of the Church are inspired. So then how do you know that the official pronouncements of the RCC are infallible? And secondly what if, for sake of argument, the Church is not infallible. Does Christian theology then implode? My case is that the Church could be and can still be authoritative if she was never meant to be infallible. After all, she has an infallible source to draw from.

  45. Andrew:

    Maybe we could say that just because the Church’s ecclesiology sounded pagan does not prove that it was influenced by paganism. And I would agree with that. But, if we cannot find the RCC understanding of her ecclesiology in the history of the Apostolic Church or in the period immediately following, but we can find it in the philosophy of the culture around the Church, then it makes more sense to conclude that Rome’s ecclesiology derived from Athens than Jerusalem so as to speak. Is that so radicial a conclusion?

    I begin to see why you apparently think that some sort of pagan background of Catholic development of doctrine might be relevant. Conceivably, it could help explain why certain people, such as popes Damasus and Leo the Great, came to think in a certain way, and why many believed them. They might have thought to themselves, for example: “Hey, Rome has a pontifex maximus, the emperor; why shouldn’t the Church have a pontifex maximus too?” But such hypothesizing, which cannot be conclusively verified in any case, has little to do with philosophy. Neoplatonic influence was stronger in the Greek East than the Latin West, yet the East never consistently accepted what evolved as the papal claims. The writings of Aristotle were preserved in the East, but most did not penetrate the West until Latin translations from Arabic translations in Spain started being made the Middle Ages, by which time the papal claims had become pretty explicit.

    And in any case, the question is not really what non-Christian factors might have influenced people to think in a certain way. The Fathers, such as Justin Martyr and Augustine in the West and many in the East, were classically educated and familiar with pagan philosophy, and most dialogued with it to some degree. All of that had some effect on how the great theological controversies of the first millennium developed and got resolved. But you surely would not want to say that the christological and triadological developments which crystallized at the first several ecumenical councils should be rejected because the men responsible for them utilized terms, concepts, and forms of argument from pagan philosophy. They did that in order to render more patent what was otherwise latent in the theologically authoritative sources. So the real question you face here is not how much pagan thought was involved in developing the papal claims, which is a purely speculative question, and would not tell you what you want to know even if it had a firm answer. What you really want to know, and want me to talk about, is whether the papal claims, which cannot be formally deduced from the canon of Scripture, the writings of the sub-apostolic generation, and the practice of the first several centuries of Church history (until Leo the Great, where they become explicit), can plausibly be seen all the same as an organic development from what what we do find in those sources.

    Obviously I think they can be, else I wouldn’t be a Catholic. But you’re still missing the point of the argument that Bryan and I have striven to propound to you. The point is that, without a sacramental magisterium that is infallible under certain conditions, no church could interpret and transmit the deposit of faith in such a way as to distinguish with divine authority between de fide doctrine and theological opinion. That claim concerns primarily the infallibility of the Church and the episcopal college as a whole, and only secondarily that of the pope, an issue which only explicitly arose later. Hence, my literary opinion about the extent to which the papal claims might be teased out of the early sources is irrelevant. I have such an opinion, but I don’t find it all that important theologically and am not interested in discussing it here. For discussing it as though it were of great importance would only encourage you to retain the impression I want to dispel: to wit, that the credibility of the claim that the Magisterium is infallible under certain conditions depends on the clarity with which that claim be rationally derived from the sources. Such an exercise would be useful only after more fundamental questions are settled.

    Thus, since you have not so much as acknowledged Brian’s little scenario about questioning the Apostles, I’ll quote it here:

    Imagine that the Apostles are preaching in AD 35, and you walk up and say, “Is the message that you all are preaching protected from error?” St. Peter replies, “Yes, the message we are teaching is what was given to us by Christ; His Holy Spirit is guiding us into all truth, and protecting us from teaching falsehood. Would you like to hear more?” “No thanks,” you reply, “my friends and I are looking for a fallible explication of God’s infallible Word.”

    I don’t yet know what your reply to that would be. Nor have you replied to my argument that there is no tertium quid, between the academic and the enthusiastic, which would do what’s needed while eschewing infallibility. That is the issue I’m interested in discussing with you–not the extent to which non-Christian modes of thought might have influenced Catholic theology.

  46. Andrew,

    You wrote:

    So you evidentially think that something I have said leads to the natural conclusion that there must be a visible head to the Church that Christ established. But I’m not sure what this is. (my emphasis)

    It is the fact that you believe that you are the visible head of your home, that your pastor is the visible head of your congregation, that Obama is the visible head of our country, and that the CEO of your company is the visible head of that company. You seem to agree that every other social unit needs a visible head. So it would be ad hoc to believe that the universal Church does not need a visible head.

    There was no defined head of the Church in early ecclesiology and Rome only plays a minor part in developing essential Christian theology as outlined in the early creeds.

    I do not agree. St. Peter was clearly the leader of the early Church. And his successors understood themselves to be sitting in his chair. The final appeal, in all disputes between bishops (or between bishops and priests) was always to the successor of St. Peter. Read Chapman’s book: Studies on the Early Papacy. But we can’t resolve this with a one-sentence hand-waving generalization. We’d have to go through the Fathers and early history of the Church, and look at all the evidence. But we agree that Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, and that Christ didn’t simply give them to the Apostles in a generic or abstract way. He gave them to a man, Peter. That’s the standard that we find in Scripture: one man is given stewardship of the keys of the Kingdom. Christ Himself, by His decision to give the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, seemed to believe that His Church needed a visible head in His absence.

    The EO speak of the Church’s bishops as being autocephalous. Your answer to this as I remember from previous threads is that EO ecclesiology violates a fundamental principle of Christian unity. My answer to this has been to ask you where you derive this idea of unity.

    We see it in the Creed: unam, sanctum … . The Church is one. This was handed down to us by the Apostles. That unity is three-fold, as I explain below.

    The RCC understanding of unity seems to derive from something philosophical and of course we want to know what this is.

    The Church’s understanding of unity comes primarily from Christ, and from her understanding of Christ’s unity with the Father. The Church is one because God is one. The Church is hierarchical because there is order within the Trinity. Christ is the true Wisdom, and therefore the true philosopher loves Christ. Christ unites all three roles, within Himself: Prophet, Priest, and King. And those three roles remain one in His Church. The unity of the Church therefore requires unity of faith, unity of sacraments, and unity of government. Unity of government is to be understand in relation to the principle of subsidiarity. Two distinct governments means two distinct Churches. And two distinct Churches entails (given that the universal Church is one) that at least one of the two Churches is not the universal Church that Christ founded.

    Protestantism, by contrast, holds an ‘invisible Church’ ecclesiology, and therefore has no conception of schism; every separation is a ‘branch‘. In an invisible Church ecclesiology, it doesn’t matter how many different governments there are, there is still no schism. In invisible Church ecclesiology, as long as there is a shared ‘mere Christianity’, there is no schism. Schism is thereby reduced to someone-else’s-apostasy-from-my-general-conception-of-mere-Christianity.

    Mike wants to say that the Catholic principle of unity does not depend of Neoplatonism, but if we can make a better argument from the connection between RCC and Greek than RCC and biblical sources, what else are we to conclude?

    Feel free to make that “better argument”, and show it to be “better”. Otherwise, you’re grandstanding with the phantom argument fallacy (alluding to an argument, but not actually giving it).

    You sometimes take issue with the way I phrase things but I would ask you not to focus too much on my semantic choices.

    I appreciate your intention to be conciliatory. But, our speech is a reflection of our thought. Our ‘semantic choices’ reveal important things about our theology and philosophy. The language of ecclesial consumerism is not innocuous or neutral; it carries with it a theology. The more we use that language, the more we tacitly adopt its accompanying theology.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. Ray,

    Andrew wrote,

    The difference is that we believe that the canon, like the books in the canon, are infallible because God who is infallible worked through a Church that was fallible. God’s infallibility guarantees the canon whether or not the Church was infallible.

    If you want to see my response to Andrew’s claim, you can find it in comments 175, 187, and 188 of the Time Magazine & The New Calvinism post from April of last year, and in my interchange with Andrew (up to about comment #250) in the comments of the Calvin on Self-Authentication post from June of last year. Finally, since Andrew’s position is basically the same as James White’s, you can see my critique of that in comment #41 of Tom Brown’s recent article titled “The Canon Question.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  48. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your response.

    You said:

    The difference is that we believe that the canon, like the books in the canon, are infallible because God who is infallible worked through a Church that was fallible. God’s infallibility guarantees the canon whether or not the Church was infallible

    Andrew, I have read through several series of threads between yourself and others where this sort of proposition has been put forward; and I realize that is one of the possible reformed positions on canon development and recognition. The reason I went into a little detail on this issue with regard to the 3 door scenario is because it highlights the central subjectivist problem in REFORMED positions on the issue – including yours. It is the subjectivist – “how do you know” – epistemic issue, that you and others have failed to address here and in other threads that is at the root of the problem. It is the point that YOU, as a “knowing” fallible person, must necessarily stand as the DETERMINANT of the infallible canon on some level. This problem manifests itself in at least two ways in relation to your claim.

    First, It is you who msut decide what exactly constitutes the fallible Church. What is “the Church”; which group of persons constitute the Church body which yields the canon? What criteria are you applying to understand what is meant by “the Church”? Your criteria seem, in my mind limited to either academic or enthusiastic sources or some combination thereof. Again, it will be YOU, as a fallible agent who apply these criteria. Thus the means by which God gives us an infallible canon is a fallible Church, yet a fallible Church whose historical constitution is determined by YOU, a fallible agent using academic or enthusiastic criteria. The insertion of you personal fallibllity into this equation undermines the conclusion.

    Secondly, even if one were to ignore the issue of how “the Church” is defined; the fact that “the Church” is fallible presents yet another problem – the most serious of all. If the Church is fallible, then the church is fallible. When you claim that this fallible agent (the Church) was used by God as a means to produce the infallible scriptures, it is you personally, as a fallible agent, deciding which of the Church’s actions in history are God-directed and which are contrary to His will. To claim that “the Church” (however this may be defined) is fallible means that some of her actions/decisions are contra God’s will, and others are true expressions of God’s will. But how do YOU KNOW which is which. It seems like blatant cherry-picking to claim that the fallible Church was used by God “just here” in regards to canon production; but was wrong just there (some other doctrinal stance). It is you, the determining agent, who is applying some academic (theological/philosphical/whatever) or experiential criteria to make such distinctions between the Church’s God-directed versus non-God directed acts and decisions. Again, your personal subjective fallibility must supervene over the entire canon recognition process; thereby undermining your conlusion to an infallible canon. The problem is not your theory as a theory or hypothesis. Nor is the question mere plausability. The problem is a philosophical one, which I have been trying to isolate; namely that to “know” your theory as “true”; you, a fallible agent, must ultimately apply academic or enthusiatic criteria in order to arrive at your conclusion to an infallible canon – and it is precisely your central, fallible, role as a determinant in this process which undermines such a conclusion.

    yes we see that positing an infallible interpreter does not solve anything We are still left with the Church and us trying to interpret the Magisterium of the Church. You are critiquing the sola scriptura position and I am critiquing the sola ecclesia position

    No, it is not just the “Church and us” for Catholics; “the Church” in the here and now, includes the current living, breathing successors to Peter and the apostles – i.e. the living magesterium which can correct OUR interpretation “in the flesh” with Christ’s own authority. Another person presented this same criticism several weeks back and I responded as follows:

    “It is true that Catholics must interpret magisterial pronouncements, which themselves become committed to textual canons, or decrees, or encyclicals, etc. BUT, a Catholic’s personal interpretation of a magisterial pronouncement is always subject to correction by the LIVING magisterium – an actual bishop, or in an exceptional case, the pope. Magisterial definitions actually open up fields of theological freedom wherein speculation can flourish WITHIN THE BOUNDS of infallible pronouncements. If a person (usually a theologian) begins to challenge these bounds, by way of his own personal renderings of magisterial teaching; then a LIVING PERSON (bishop or pope) can step in with Christ’s authority and correct that theologian’s understanding – and if the theologian refuses to recant, he can be excommunicated. This is why the Catholic view is so strong: because it is organic, in that ultimate authority rests in a PERSON not a DOCUMENT. When push comes to shove, we are not left with our selves and our personal interpretations of prior magisterial pronouncements – we can be met face to face by Peter.”

    Peace and Good,

    -Ray

  49. Andrew:

    My apologies. It looks like we were composing our last two comments at the same time, and I posted mine (#45) 12 minutes after yours (#44) without noticing yours. I shall now address the aspect of yours that discusses what I believe to be the primary issue.

    You wrote:

    Concerning what we can and cannot know infallibly, yes we see that positing an infallible interpreter does not solve anything We are still left with the Church and us trying to interpret the Magisterium of the Church. You are critiquing the sola scriptura position and I am critiquing the sola ecclesia position. In both cases we are asking each other how we can know that each other’s authority is infallible. My basis for know that the Scripture is infallible is that it is inspired. But as Michael has said in the past the Church never held that the writings of the Church are inspired. So then how do you know that the official pronouncements of the RCC are infallible? And secondly what if, for sake of argument, the Church is not infallible. Does Christian theology then implode? My case is that the Church could be and can still be authoritative if she was never meant to be infallible. After all, she has an infallible source to draw from.

    Your answer to the trilemma I posed is summarized in the last two sentences of that. Thus the Church can be “authoritative” without being infallible because she has an “infallible source” to draw from. For several reasons, though, that does not escape the trilemma.

    First, you would need an escape from ecclesial deism in order to identify “the Church” even for your own purpose. If something called “the Church” had lost a truth essential to the Gospel between the 5th and the 16th centuries, so that her refusal to acknowledge that truth justified eventual separation from her, then the only recourse is to set up a new church which will have recovered that truth. “The Church” then becomes the collection of people who recognize that truth, along with others deemed to be essential by such people. But that kind of authority is no authority at all. If it’s up to believers severally reading their Bibles to establish the criteria by which the orthodoxy of something called “the Church” is to be judged, then “the Church” is not authoritative. Rather, the Church becomes the creation of people who take their own interpretation of Scripture to be authoritative, and who then define as “the Church” the set of people who agree with them. The Church thus becomes an institutional proxy for what is really the ersatz authority of individuals.

    Second, you say that “my basis for knowing that Scripture is infallible is that it is inspired.” This solves nothing. Like Augustine, I take the Scripture to be inspired because the tradition of the visible Church, the family of God, says it is inspired. And the Church’s say-so is good enough for me because I recognize the Church as infallible under certain conditions. That’s taking the Church as “authoritative” alright, but that’s not a move that seems open to you.

    Third, you ask “How how do you know that the official pronouncements of the RCC are infallible?” If by ‘know’ you mean a state of certitude based on reason alone, then I don’t know. Even positing such a state would be self-defeating for me as a Catholic. For the Catholic Church teaches that her authority is a matter of divine revelation, not of human reasoning that takes various writings of the past as its dataset. But I have “reasons” all the same for accepting the claims of the Catholic Church. The pivotal reason is that, without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the “sources” recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation. To that, Newman said: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what is given.” That authority cannot be me or some collection of people who, lacking sacramental authority, happen to agree with my interpretations of the sources. For in that case I would be submitting not to God but to myself.

    Fourth, you say “…positing an infallible interpreter does not solve anything. We are still left with the Church and us trying to interpret the Magisterium of the Church. You are critiquing the sola scriptura position and I am critiquing the sola ecclesia position.” You’re overlooking the fact that the Magisterium, unlike the canon, is not static. When a question arises about how to interpret Scripture and/or Tradition, the Magisterium sometimes gives a definitive answer that increases clarity. But sometimes that turns out not to suffice; new questions arise on the same or a closely related topic, and those questions call for answers. The Magisterium then definitively answers those new questions, and so on. Given the nature of the subject matter, i.e. divine revelation, that process will never exhaust revelation or put an end to all questions. But it does afford us an increase in clarity and explicitness over time. And that increase preserves and transmits divine revelation, as opposed to just crystallizing particular opinions, only if the Magisterium is protected from error when she teaches a doctrine as one to be definitively held by all the faithful. That is an “authoritative” Church. Yours is not.

    I end with an important side note. The phrase sola ecclesia is a bit of polemic, not a representation of Catholic doctrine that the Church would recognize as the truth. The Church does not claim to decide what the Word of God is, as though she creates it; she claims that the Word of God is already given to her, and that the role of the Magisterium is to settle, authoritatively and “authentically,” disputes about what that Word means. Fundamentally, the Word is the Son himself; his grace and truth are transmitted in various ways to the world through his Mystical Body, the Church; Scripture is simply that collection of writings from the apostolic era that the Church recognizes as “God-breathed” and thus preserved by God from error. She does not claim that her own definitive teachings are God-breathed, because she does not claim that such teachings are actual transcriptions of apostolic teaching. But she does claim that her way of resolving disputes about the meaning of what she has received from the Son through the Apostles are also preserved from error by the same Holy Spirit who authored the Scriptures. And I believe that claim for reasons I’ve amply cited before. That’s what I take to be an “authoritative” Church. Nothing else.

  50. Dr. Liccione,

    My 9:42 am was awaiting moderation when you posted at 12:05p. Now that I read your post, I might have simply asked to have mine left uposted, as you covered the same ground (+ plus some new ground), albiet in a clearer way! I’m not sure I believe in ESP but . . . . . . . :>)

    Cheers!

    -Ray

  51. Andrew;

    I don’t agree with #1 and 2, and I obviously cannot opt for #3, so where does that put me?

    Why can’t you opt for #3? Because it would make you wrong?

    Perhaps we could also have an option #4 where we take out the word “infallible” both times. We Protestants are looking for authoritative but not infallible explication of the infallible Word and works through His Church to do so.

    Can you explain the difference – or what makes the difference matter? Authority is derived from author; it is either author’s right (that an author of a book – say; God as the author of Creation), or the authority to speak on behalf of the author. In both cases, especially if we are dealing with God, we should rightly assume that infallibility is a part of it. If it wasn’t, why believe at all? Do you believe the Scriptures are infallible? If not; why believe in them at all? If yes, why do you believe?

    There seems to be an epistemological assumption from our Catholic friends that God must use an infallible interpreter of the infallible text in order to have a viable theological system. To us this philosophical expectation creates more problems than it solves.

    I’m sorry if this comes across as excessively rude, but this is just the usual sophistry. It’s common to state that an idea “creates more problems than it solves.” But the problems aren’t explained; you haven’t mentioned what ‘problems’ this ‘creates.’ As it stands now, it’s just an empty phrase; a kind of sophistry used to puncture the debate.

    Mike wants to say that the Catholic principle of unity does not depend of Neoplatonism, but if we can make a better argument from the connection between RCC and Greek than RCC and biblical sources, what else are we to conclude?

    I stand behind Bryan’s challenge: “Feel free to make that “better argument”, and show it to be “better”. Otherwise, you’re grandstanding with the phantom argument fallacy (alluding to an argument, but not actually giving it).” Your ‘argument,’ again is just rhetorical ‘fluff’; sophistry. It’s just a tossing out of meaningless, empty phrases. Instead of doing that, can you actually produce the argument you allude too? Or is it that you cannot do it, because it doesn’t exist? Feel free to prove me wrong.

  52. Mike – Sorry, I’ve been on the road for a few days and have not had much time to reply.

    What you really want to know, and want me to talk about, is whether the papal claims, which cannot be formally deduced from the canon of Scripture, the writings of the sub-apostolic generation, and the practice of the first several centuries of Church history (until Leo the Great, where they become explicit), can plausibly be seen all the same as an organic development from what what we do find in those sources.

    The aspect of RCC ecclesiology we are speaking of developed for some reason, either correctly or incorrectly. My point here is that it makes much more sense more sense to see it as a product of pagan thought than Christian. The Apostolic and sub-apostolic church were very decentralized and the development into some highly centralized has no basis in either apostolic or sub-apostolic thought that I can see. It seems to me from asking a number of RCC folks about this is that they assume that RCC ecclesiology must have developed correctly because God would not have allowed otherwise. It is this sort of assumption that we Protestants really struggle to understand. And note that I am not saying that everything in RCC theology derived from Greek thought. When we are speaking of Christ as truly human, to take one example, we can derive it from Scripture and in actuality the early Christians were being cultural rebels by claiming that the Word came in the flesh. This was heresy for the pagans. Or to take a modern example, most theologians would not argue with the statement that materialism has affected Christian congregations. But this does not mean that materialism has affected all aspects of modern Christian thought.

    But you’re still missing the point of the argument that Bryan and I have striven to propound to you. The point is that, without a sacramental Magisterium

    Mike, I really don’t know why you say that I am missing the point. Perhaps you could tell me what you think I don’t understand. I’ve restated your position more than once and then answered you. Did you not think my restatements were accurate? The Church does not need to be infallible in order to by authoritative. Let me ask you again what I have asked you before. If the Church in the early centuries of her existence had not posited anything like infallibility, what would have changed concerning the authority of her pronouncements? In the early centuries there was no claim of infallibility and there is no reason to read infallibility back into their collective writings. You have answered that the ECF’s never used the term “infallibility” but this misses the argument. The problem for the RCC theologian is that the Church in the first few centuries never argued for anything like infallibility and more to the point they did not need it to be authoritative. I don’t know how many times I have asked Catholics about this and they give me quotes from the ECF’s stating that statements from Nicea, etc were undeniably true, but nothing in their arguments could be taken to mean that they as the Church could not possibly have erred by some sort of special charism given to the Church. I wonder sometimes if some of the Catholic apologists understand the difference between innerancy and infallibility. You state the sacramental authority of the RCC must be infallible when it comes to dogma, but this is just a statement with no basis historically and no necessity epistemologically. But tell me how, to take a specific example, the pronouncements of Nicea would have been different had the Church been convinced that she was not infallible.

    I understand you are Catholic so you believe this, but I am trying to point out that your position is not obvious given Scripture and early tradition. When you appeal to sacramental magisterial authority to resolve the issue of competing philosophical constructs you are begging the question. It is precisely this sacramental authority which is under question by those outside of the RCC.

    Again, if you think I have misunderstood something please let me know what it is.

    Bryan/Ray/Kietil – Sorry, I just don’t have any more time tonight….

  53. Andrew,

    You wrote:

    The Church does not need to be infallible in order to be authoritative.

    What is the difference between (1) a Church having no infallible authority, and whose magisterial decisions are accepted by her laity only when and to the degree that they agree with them, and (2) a Church with no authority?

    If there is no difference, then your claim is false.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. Andrew:

    In #49, I answered in detail your argument that the Church can be authoritative without being infallible under any conditions. I also reiterated my main argument as to why we should believe the Church is infallible under certain conditions. But I think our main difficulty in communicating is that we disagree about what the order of inquiry should be.

    You seem to think we should address the issue primarily by examining the texts and history of the early Church, so as to determine whether the Church then actually believed herself to be infallible. If we don’t find the “i-word” there, or anything from which “the Church is infallible” would follow as a matter of deductive logic, then we don’t have reason enough to affirm that the Church then believed herself infallible under certain conditions. Accordingly, we don’t have reason enough to believe that ecclesial infallibility belongs to the deposit of faith; but we would still have reason to believe that “the Church” is authoritative, in the sense that believers should submit to Church authority on questions of doctrine. I, on the other hand, believe that we should address the issue primarily by asking, from a philosophical standpoint, what is necessary for enabling divine revelation to be preserved and transmitted in a way that would enable us to distinguish reliably between divine revelation itself and human opinions about what “the sources” mean. I argue that positing a living magisterium that is infallible under certain conditions is the correct answer to that question. With that in mind, I examine the early sources and argue that, although we don’t find the “i-word” there, the doctrine of infallibility is the best way to explain how the Church understood herself to be exercising doctrinal authority to bind believers as a whole. Hence the full meaning of the phrase from Acts” “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” Accordingly, on my account, the Catholic doctrine of ecclesial infallibility is materially equivalent to how the authorities of the early Church understood themselves to be exercising authority, even though we find nothing formally to that effect in the early sources.

    Both our approaches are theories about what the early sources mean. But for the Christian wanting to know how to distinguish between the deposit of faith and mere opinions, my approach is better. Folr unlike yours, mine also points to a way of distinguishing, quite generally, between what is merely theory about theological matters and what is, in fact, de fide. On my approach, there is good philosophical reason to believe that the Catholic doctrine of ecclesial infallibility is the best way to distinguish between binding dogma and theological opinion, and is therefore best seen as an organic development from how the early Church understood her own authority.

  55. Michael Liccione,

    I did not see your reply #49 in my last post since, as you said, you answered me here after my previous post. So let me critique your #49 here:

    If something called “the Church” had lost a truth essential to the Gospel between the 5th and the 16th centuries, so that her refusal to acknowledge that truth justified eventual separation from her, then the only recourse is to set up a new church which will have recovered that truth.

    Michael, I have never said anything close to this. I don’t believe that “the Church lost the truth” between the 5th or 16th centuries. The point I raised concerned the fact that she was not perfect in her de fide pronouncements. And just to make sure we did not get bogged down in this sort of debate I asked you about examples from the early centuries of the Church before there were any RCC, EO, Prot splits.

    Second, you say that “my basis for knowing that Scripture is infallible is that it is inspired.” This solves nothing. Like Augustine, I take the Scripture to be inspired because the tradition of the visible Church, the family of God, says it is inspired. And the Church’s say-so is good enough for me because I recognize the Church as infallible under certain conditions. That’s taking the Church as “authoritative” alright, but that’s not a move that seems open to you.

    But we don’t disagree with Augustine here. The truth of God’s Word is mediated by the Church, it cannot be otherwise. But then the question is whether it is possible for the Church to be in error and to correct herself on even de fide matters. And as I hope you know, Augustine said that the even the ecumenical councils could be in error and have to be corrected by later councils. So Scripture cannot be corrected because it is the Word of God which should function as the only infallible source of truth for the Church, but even official statements from the Church can (not must) be in error because they don’t have the same authority as God’s words.

    ….without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the “sources” recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation.

    I am not raising the issue of your or my personal interpretations of divine revelation, so I don’t know why you are trying to answer me over points that have nothing to do with my argument. I am speaking of the ground basis for the Church’s distinction between truth and error. You have yet to demonstrate that the Church needs to be infallible concerning her dogmatic statements to be authoritative in her pronouncements. Again I would raise the issue of Nicea which you did not answer. What is the reason for Nicea to be infallible (not just inerrant) in order for her pronouncement to be authoritative and in order for this theology to operate as God intended as a standard for future generations?

    …. the Magisterium, unlike the canon, is not static. When a question arises about how to interpret Scripture and/or Tradition, the Magisterium sometimes gives a definitive answer that increases clarity. But sometimes that turns out not to suffice; new questions arise on the same or a closely related topic, and those questions call for answers. The Magisterium then definitively answers those new questions, and so on. Given the nature of the subject matter, i.e. divine revelation, that process will never exhaust revelation or put an end to all questions. But it does afford us an increase in clarity and explicitness over time…

    And here I agree with you. I don’t believe that the teaching authority of the Church is static, and as you say, sometimes the answer the Church gives does not answer the question and she has to go back and add more clarity. And I would add to this that sometimes she makes error and again must go back and refine and restate. But why should the fact that she have to correct an error invalidate her mission and somehow undermine her authority which it seems that you want to claim. In the OT the Church did fall into error and was brought back to the truth when she rediscovered the Word of God, either by prophet or by direct encounter with the Word. And in the NT there just is no reason to think that the Church cannot fall into the same error. There is no philosophical necessity to think otherwise and there is no good reason to think that the early centuries of the Church operated under a paradigm where her bishops thought they had been collectively granted a special charism of infallibility.

    So now on to your #54:

    You seem to think we should address the issue primarily by examining the texts and history of the early Church, so as to determine whether the Church then actually believed herself to be infallible. If we don’t find the “i-word” there, or anything from which “the Church is infallible” would follow as a matter of deductive logic, then we don’t have reason enough to affirm that the Church then believed herself infallible under certain conditions.

    No, I don’t think we should address these issues primarily by examining texts and history. This is why I spent some time speaking of the philosophical issues of epistemological necessity. But I do think the question of whether or not the Church in the earliest centuries understood herself to be infallible in any sense is relevant to the matter. Could you not concede that such a question is at least relevant?

    And I have already stated several times that I am not directing my attention on the use of the term “infallibility” at all.

    But for the Christian wanting to know how to distinguish between the deposit of faith and mere opinions, my approach is better. Folr unlike yours, mine also points to a way of distinguishing, quite generally, between what is merely theory about theological matters and what is, in fact, de fide.

    But of course ecclesiastical dogmatic infallibility is just a theory and from my perspective your attempted defense of this theory does not hold water either from the standpoint of philosophical necessity or from that of historical analysis.

  56. What is the difference between (1) a Church having no infallible authority, and whose magisterial decisions are accepted by her laity only when and to the degree that they agree with them, and (2) a Church with no authority?

    Bryan,

    No congregation can function properly if the congregants only agree when and if it suits them. Both Protestants and Catholic congregations have this issue of the cafeteria approach. I’m not sure that in general Catholics have any less of a a problem with it than Protestants.

  57. Andrew, (re: #56)

    You didn’t answer my question. Perhaps you forgot to answer it. If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong, just as the Protestants did to their Catholic bishops in the sixteenth century?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  58. Andrew, (re: #55)

    One of the things you said is not true. You wrote:

    And as I hope you know, Augustine said that the even the ecumenical councils could be in error

    St. Augustine never said that ecumenical councils could be in error. What he says (in On Baptism II 3-4) is ipsaque plenaria saepe priora a posterioribus emendari, “even of plenary [councils], the earlier are often corrected [emendari] by those which follow them.” The meaning of the term emendari is not limited to correcting an error, but includes emending, revising or modifying something. In this way, St. Augustine’s statement could be saying that earlier councils can be emended/revised/modified by subsequent councils, not in the sense of correcting the prior councils’ errors, but in more perfectly addressing later heresies. That’s the sort of change we see in the AD 381 formulation of the Creed from the AD 325 formulation of the Creed. It doesn’t mean that there was any error in the 325 Creed, only that later heresies showed that it needed to be formulated more explicitly to address those heresies.

    Sometimes people mistakenly interpret St. Augustine’s statement to mean that he thought that an ecumenical council could err. But it is important to note that for St. Augustine, “plenary council” is not the same thing as ecumenical council; ‘plenary’ always has a ‘with respect to whatness’ that must not be ignored, in order to interpret the term rightly. So, for example, he speaks of a plenary council of Africa. Every ecumenical council is a plenary council, but not every plenary council is an ecumenical council. That’s why he says “often corrected,” even though in his mind there had been only one ecumenical council (i.e. Nicaea, the Council of Constantinople having not yet been recognized as ecumenical.) Since there had only been one recognized ecumenical council, he can’t be referring to (or at least only to) ecumenical councils, when saying that the earlier are “often corrected” by the later. In fact, it suggests strongly that he has only local councils in mind.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  59. Andrew:

    I don’t believe that “the Church lost the truth” between the 5th or 16th centuries. The point I raised concerned the fact that she was not perfect in her de fide pronouncements. And just to make sure we did not get bogged down in this sort of debate I asked you about examples from the early centuries of the Church before there were any RCC, EO, Prot splits.

    If the Church had not lost the truth, then what could have justified setting up a new church not recognized as either apostolic or orthodox by the Church, which is exactly what Zwingli and Calvin did? Is it that Reformed doctrine is so obviously “scriptural” that the Church should be left behind if she doesn’t accept it? “Scriptural” by whose interpretation? Theirs? Who are they? What authority did they have to press, as though it were obvious, an interpretation of Scripture with which the vast majority of Christian bishops and theologians did and do disagree? I don’t recognize their authority or that of your church. And you have offered us no reason to recognize it.

    Of course the real Church is not “perfect” in her de fide pronouncements. If she were, then there would never be any need for further clarification; yet the Magisterium itself, not just theologians, offers such clarifications with some regularity. But the Catholic doctrine of infallibility does not say that de fide pronouncements are “perfect.” It says that, when the Church defines a doctrine as de fide, she is protected by the Holy Spirit from binding the faithful to a proposition that is false. A given formulation might be insufficiently clear or helpful for its purpose, and in that sense imperfect. But that is not the same as saying that it is false. So you haven’t yet engaged what you claim to be criticizing. And until you do, putting examples on the table would only confuse the issue.

    And as I hope you know, Augustine said that the even the ecumenical councils could be in error and have to be corrected by later councils. So Scripture cannot be corrected because it is the Word of God which should function as the only infallible source of truth for the Church, but even official statements from the Church can (not must) be in error because they don’t have the same authority as God’s words.

    Your position does not follow from Augustine’s. Here’s what he said:

    “…even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?” —On Baptism Against the Donatists 2.3

    So Augustine is not saying that “plenary” (which, for our purposes, can be taken to mean ‘ecumenical’) have bound Christians to propositions that are false. To put the above in other words, he said that later councils often correct earlier ones by making patent what the earlier had left latent. That’s the basic pattern of “development of doctrine,” dude. That, e.g., is what the first Council of Constantinople in 381 did with regard to the Council of Nicaea. The expanded creed of 381 made the co-equal divinity of the Holy Spirit clearer than had that of 325. But it did not contradict anything in the earlier creed. Hence neither Augustine’s view nor the ecumenical councils are counterexamples to what the Catholic Church teaches.

    In the NT there just is no reason to think that the Church cannot fall into the same error as the OT Jewish leadership.

    So the verse “He who hears you, hears me, and he who hears me, hears him who sent me” doesn’t mean what the Catholic Church thinks it means. Why should I accept your church’s interpretation rather than that of mine?

    There is no philosophical necessity to think otherwise and there is no good reason to think that the early centuries of the Church operated under a paradigm where her bishops thought they had been collectively granted a special charism of infallibility.

    This is just assertion, not argument. Until I hear an argument, I will leave it aside.

    I do think the question of whether or not the Church in the earliest centuries understood herself to be infallible in any sense is relevant to the matter. Could you not concede that such a question is at least relevant?

    I’ve already implied it’s relevant, by saying that we should interpret the sources in a Catholic way. The question is whether we should interpret them in a Catholic way. That is a hermeneutical and thus a philosophical question.

    But of course ecclesiastical dogmatic infallibility is just a theory and from my perspective your attempted defense of this theory does not hold water either from the standpoint of philosophical necessity or from that of historical analysis.

    In addition to reiterating the previous assertion I have said is not an argument, you have begged a further question. “Ecclesiastical [sic] dogmatic infallibility” is only a theory from your standpoint; from mine as a Catholic, it is a de fide truth. The philosophical argument I have given for it does not mean either that it’s a mere theory or that I believe it’s a mere theory. It means that philosophical reasoning affords us good reason to make an assent of faith to what is an article of faith.

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but I have yet to detect in your posts a single philosophical argument against mine.

  60. If the Church had not lost the truth, then what could have justified setting up a new church not recognized as either apostolic or orthodox by the Church, which is exactly what Zwingli and Calvin did? Is it that Reformed doctrine is so obviously “scriptural” that the Church should be left behind if she doesn’t accept it?….

    Michael – You make it sound like it’s all or nothing when you talk about the Church having “lost the truth.” But obviously there is lots that the Protestants still retain such as what is contained in the early baptismal formulas/creeds that all faithful Christian were supposed to recite before coming into the Church. And we can talk about theological pronouncements on a point by point basis at the time of the Reformation, but as per my previous comments, is it not best to begin at the beginning? The foundational problem between RC and Prot is not a given set of theological pronouncements but rather the question of whether it is possible for the Church to err on de fide matters. If you don’t believe that it is possible for the Church in the Sub-apostolic age and after to err then how can we jump into specific questions of whether she did or did not err in later ages? So this is why I was trying to draw you back long before Reformation times into the formative ecclesiology of the Early Church before there were arguments for a special charism of infallibility given to the Church.

    Of course the real Church is not “perfect” in her de fide pronouncements. If she were, then there would never be any need for further clarification; yet the Magisterium itself, not just theologians, offers such clarifications with some regularity.

    I did not think I needed to spell this out, but yes of course, there is no issue with the fact that Church’s pronouncements at a given point in time are incomplete. So Nicea did not define everything that could be defined, You are just stating the obvious here, who could possibly disagree? So by “perfect” I am meaning “free from error.”

    Your position does not follow from Augustine’s. Here’s what he said:….

    Generally the English definition of “correct” is given as “to remove errors from.” At least that is the major definition. The English translators of Augustine could have used a word with the connotation of “added to” rather than “remove errors from,” but they did not. ” Bryan quotes the Latin and of course the operative word is the form of “emendo” which Bryan and I have discussed before. Admittedly it can be a little confusing because it seems that it would be directly connected to the English cognate “emend,” but if you consult you Latin lexicon, the term is generally translated by the English term “amend” rather than “emend.” In other words, we are most likely talking about a correction of errors rather than adding to something which is incomplete. But I suppose you will argue that we could use an alternate meaning of both the English verb “correct” as well as the Latin verb “emendo,” so I will move to context of the passage:

    If Augustine were just stating that later councils built on earlier councils then he would have been stating the patently obvious. Who could possibly disagree with that? So Chalcedon built on and added to the tradition of Nicea – yea, duh! But, I don’t think that Augustine was stating the obvious, he was making an important point. The Donatists, as they were wont to do, quoted Cyprian to back their position. And Augustine says that in this case Cyprian was wrong. But what of that, Augustine asks? Long before Cyprian had erred, Peter at times was wrong as well. He argues that not only do great theologians err, even councils err and even ecumenical councils can err. If further data is found to show that the earlier council, even an ecumenical one, was in error then the ecumenical council should be corrected to remove this previous error. But, if Augustine is reduced to saying that one council adds to the knowledge of a previous one, his point is rendered meaningless. Augustine cites examples where even the Apostles were in error and needed to be corrected, and then moves on to say even ecumenical councils could be corrected in this same sense.

    Also, Augustine also notes in the passage that the Scripture is “absolutely in a superior position” to any of the writings of the bishops. If you read Augustine from a later RCC standpoint then you again render his words meaningless. If tradition on dogmatically promulgated matters is infallible then the Scriptures cannot be superior in any practical sense since you cannot qualify “infallible.”

    So the verse “He who hears you, hears me, and he who hears me, hears him who sent me” doesn’t mean what the Catholic Church thinks it means.

    So are you trying to say that because the master (Christ) sends the servant (the Church) to speak on his behalf, therefore the Church cannot err? If so, I would say that this is quite a leap!

    Andrew: There is no philosophical necessity to think otherwise and there is no good reason to think that the early centuries of the Church operated under a paradigm where her bishops thought they had been collectively granted a special charism of infallibility.

    Michael: This is just assertion, not argument. Until I hear an argument, I will leave it aside.

    OK Michael, I thought it was me who was answering your argument. Isn’t the burden of proof, particularly given the stated purpose of this loop, on the Catholic to demonstrate that infallibility is necessary? My statement above was a refutation of your argument using the twin prongs of the testimony (or really the lack thereof) for ecclesiastical infallibility from the early centuries of the Church as well the lack of epistemological necessity to establish and maintain an authoritative Church as that authority is given foundationally in the pages of Scripture.

    But are you waiting for me to present an argument to prove the negative? I hope not.

  61. If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says,

    Bryan – I’m sure you are no making a general argument that we will only accept authority when we believe that authority is infallible, right? An authority in general does not need to possess the characteristic of infallibility for us to recognize it as authoritative. But if the authority is recognized as legitimate then it will generally be obeyed. So where is the necessity of infallibility here?

  62. Andrew (re: 61)

    A question is not an argument. In #57, I asked the question: “If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong, just as the Protestants did to their Catholic bishops in the sixteenth century?”

    You have not yet answered that question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  63. Andrew (#60):

    1. You haven’t actually answered the series of questions of mine, from #59, that began: “If the Church had not lost the truth…”. Instead you explain why you think the focus of discussion ought to be on the early Church, rather than on the theological issues that led Zwingli and Calvin to set up a new church. To that move, my response is to reiterate Bryan’s question, first stated in #57 and reiterated in #62. That question retains its force whether we’re talking the 4th century or the 16th century.

    2. As for Augustine, there had been two “plenary” councils by the time he wrote the passage we’re discussing. (Constantinople I [381] was not formally recognized as ecumenical by Rome until much later, but we can leave that aside as irrelevant for now.) Hence the test case for understanding what Augustine meant is the pairing: Nicaea I-Constantinople I. Now obviously, he believed that the creed of 325 is true, and we may safely presume in context that he believed the creed of 381 to be true, or would have believed it if he had a text of it in a language he understood. Hence, he could not have meant that the later council’s correcting the earlier one entailed its contradicting a falsehood in the earlier. So what did he mean by the verb ‘correct’? Clearly, he meant that the later corrects the earlier by bringing to light what the earlier should have brought to light but didn’t. But to say that a council erred by not saying all it should have said is not the same as saying that it erred by asserting what is false. Hence Augustine cannot be cited as a counterexample to the Catholic doctrine of ecclesial infallibility. Nothing you have said shows that it can.

    3. You ask: ” So are you trying to say that because the master (Christ) sends the servant (the Church) to speak on his behalf, therefore the Church cannot err? If so, I would say that this is quite a leap!”

    Are you trying to say that when person A is divine, and person B speaks with A’s authority on a matter of revealed truth, that B can err in the sense of teaching what is false? If so, that would entail that a person can assert with divine authority what is false. Are you prepared to bite that bullet?

    4. As to my philosophical argument for ecclesial infallibility, you claim to have rebutted it “using the twin prongs of the testimony (or really the lack thereof) for ecclesiastical infallibility from the early centuries of the Church as well the lack of epistemological necessity to establish and maintain an authoritative Church as that authority is given foundationally in the pages of Scripture.”

    The reason why that is not a “refutation” is that it does not address my argument. First, I explicitly said that one cannot find an explicit assertion of ecclesial infallibility in the early sources and that one cannot “formally deduce” the same from what one does find there. But I went on to argue that, if there are good independent grounds for believing in ecclesial infallibility, then there is good reason to see that doctrine as an organic development from what we do find in the self-understanding of the early episcopacy. So my argument hinges on the strength of those “independent” grounds, which I have said are philosophical.

    To that, your response would appear to be that there is no philosophical “necessity” for positing infallibility because the Church can be understood as authoritative without that authority itself being understood as infallible under certain conditions. Now for one thing, I never said that my philosophical argument established any “necessity” to believe that what the Catholic Church teaches about her own authority, which is an article of faith. I said it affords “good reason” to believe that article of faith; if there were any rational “necessity” here, then the article of faith in question would not be an article of faith, but an irresistible conclusion of reason, which as a Catholic I would deny. You have not addressed what I said is that reason, for you have rejected something I never said and that the Catholic Church does not say.

    Second, by not answering Bryan’s question, you have not specified any sense of ‘authoritative’ that is short of infallibility. It won’t do to say that the Church is authoritative if we “generally” accept what she teaches. For the question at issue is, precisely, on what grounds we are to accept what she teaches. If we accept what she teaches on the ground that it happens to coincide with our own theological opinions, then the Church is not authoritative; our opinions are. If we accept what she teaches on the grounds that she teaches it infallibly, whether or not it happens to coincide with what we are otherwise inclined to believe, then the Church is authoritative.

  64. Andrew,

    You are wrong on several points. If you are unwilling to answer each completely and without dodging the question, then you are not a gentleman.

    Point 1:
    Augustine is arguing that the Donatists need to accept the authority of the universal Church regarding the doctrinal issues which still separated them. He eventually consented to the use of governmental coercion to bring them into the Catholic fold. This context eviscerates any Protestant use of the passage, for if Augustine believed in sola scriptura, he would never have demanded that the Donatists abandon their peculiar beliefs about rebaptism unless he thought scripture is completely clear on that issue. Do you think it is completely clear? Do you think Augustine thought so? Here is what Chapman has to say in summary of Augustine’s role during the controversy:

    “The arguments used by St. Augustine against Donatism fall under three heads. First we have the historical proofs of the regularity of Caecilian’s consecration, of the innocence of Felix of Aptonga, of the guilt of the founders of the “Pure” [Donatist] Church, also the judgment given by pope, council, and emperor, the true history of Macarius, the barbarous behaviour of the Donatists under Julian, the violence of the Circumcellions, and so forth. Second, there are the doctrinal arguments: the proofs from the Old and New Testaments that the Church is Catholic, diffused throughout the world, and necessarily one and united; appeal is made to the See of Rome, where the succession of bishops is uninterrupted from St. Peter himself; St. Augustine borrows his list of popes from St. Optatus (Ep. li), and in his psalm crystallizes the argument into the famous phrase: “That is the rock against which the proud gates of hell do not prevail.” A further appeal is to the Eastern Church, and especially to the Apostolic Churches to which St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John addressed epistles – they were not in communion with the Donatists. The validity of baptism conferred by heretics, the impiety of rebaptizing, are important points. All these arguments were found in St. Optatus. Peculiar to St. Augustine is the necessity of defending St. Cyprian, and the third category is wholly his own. The third division comprises the argumentum ad hominem drawn from the inconsistency of the Donatists themselves: Secundus had pardoned the traditors; full fellowship was accorded to malefactors like Optatus Gildonianus and the Circumcellions; Tichonius turned against his own party; Maximian had divided from Primatus just as Majorinus from Caecilian; the Maximianists had been readmitted without rebaptism. This last method of argument was found to be of great practical value, and many conversions were now taking place, largely on account of the false position in which the Donatists had placed themselves.”

    It sounds to me like his scriptural proofs were primarily about the Catholicity, unity and authority of the Church, including the authority of the Pope. And thus his scriptural argument would run from scripture to church authority and from there to rejection of rebaptism. What does it sound like to you?

    If the summary above is accurate, then Augustine did not apply sola scriptura to his argument with the Donatists, and in fact if he had introduced the idea of sola scriptura into the argument with the Donatists it would be ammunition for their peculiar position — it would give them yet another justification for rejecting that very Church authority which Augustine’s entire participation in this controversy was intended to support.

    Point 2:
    Augustine elsewhere (even elsewhere in his argument with the Donatists) specifically makes a scriptural case for papal authority, as well as (at least indirectly, I would have to check) the authority of the whole Church built on Peter, speaking as one (the universal consent of the whole church; surely you remember his famous phrase on such consent, though I can’t find it at the moment). These would be the other two forms of infallible teaching: papal infallibility, and the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. Why didn’t Augustine specifically mention these forms of authority in this passage? He certainly listed many other forms of authority. Your whole case in rejecting these other, non-mentioned forms of authority depends on Augustine’s word “all.” If he meant “almost all,” or “99.9%” then you can’t use the passage to reject the other forms of authority. Now, are you willing to admit that sometimes fathers use extreme words such as “all” in a way that can be best interpreted by looking at their other writings? This is a yes or no question, and I want a yes or no from you.

    Point 3:
    If you admit that when a father’s meaning comes down to interpreting a single word (such as “all”, which will determine whether unmentioned forms of authority can be rejected or not) one ought to search his other writings to see if there is a passage that does not depend on a single word but rather on an extended path of logic (each step of which makes his meaning clearer and clearer, until it is unmistakable), if you admit this, I say, then you ought to consider such a passage below. And consider it well, and refer to it as frequently as you irresponsibly refer to the passage we’ve been discussing above:

    “6. Let us see then what Manichæus teaches me; and particularly let us examine that treatise which he calls the Fundamental Epistle, in which almost all that you believe is contained. For in that unhappy time when we read it we were in your opinion enlightened. The epistle begins thus:— “Manichæus, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the providence of God the Father. These are wholesome words from the perennial and living fountain.” Now, if you please, patiently give heed to my inquiry. I do not believe Manichæus to be an apostle of Christ. Do not, I beg of you, be enraged and begin to curse. For you know that it is my rule to believe none of your statements without consideration. Therefore I ask, who is this Manichæus? You will reply, An apostle of Christ. I do not believe it. Now you are at a loss what to say or do; for you promised to give knowledge of the truth, and here you are forcing me to believe what I have no knowledge of. Perhaps you will read the gospel to me, and will attempt to find there a testimony to Manichæus. But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you—If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel;— Again, if you say, You were right in believing the Catholics when they praised the gospel, but wrong in believing their vituperation of Manichæus: do you think me such a fool as to believe or not to believe as you like or dislike, without any reason? It is therefore fairer and safer by far for me, having in one instance put faith in the Catholics, not to go over to you, till, instead of bidding me believe, you make me understand something in the clearest and most open manner. To convince me, then, you must put aside the gospel. If you keep to the gospel, I will keep to those who commanded me to believe the gospel; and, in obedience to them, I will not believe you at all. But if haply you should succeed in finding in the gospel an incontrovertible testimony to the apostleship of Manichæus, you will weaken my regard for the authority of the Catholics who bid me not to believe you; and the effect of that will be, that I shall no longer be able to believe the gospel either, for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me. Wherefore, if no clear proof of the apostleship of Manichæus is found in the gospel, I will believe the Catholics rather than you. But if you read thence some passage clearly in favor of Manichæus, I will believe neither them nor you: not them, for they lied to me about you; nor you, for you quote to me that Scripture which I had believed on the authority of those liars. But far be it that I should not believe the gospel; for believing it, I find no way of believing you too. For the names of the apostles, as there recorded, do not include the name of Manichæus. And who the successor of Christ’s betrayer was we read in the Acts of the Apostles; Acts 1:26 which book I must needs believe if I believe the gospel, since both writings alike Catholic authority commends to me.”

    If anyone wanted to give clearer evidence of a belief that the Church possessed an organ of infallibility, I know not how he would do so.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  65. All:

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Andrew’s reading of Augustine’s position is correct (i.e. ecumenical councils can, in principle, err). Couldn’t the RC just say Augustine was mistkaen? I’m trying to determine what is at stake in exegeting Augustine on this point.

  66. Ryan,

    I agree with you! I don’t think much is at stake. But I am so tired of hearing that one passage from Augustine taken out of context, and never mentioned in conjunction with his statements confirming that Church authority can’t contradict scripture (without bringing the whole system, including scripture, down), that I felt like I had to write. But Augustine wasn’t infallible, and the Church has figured out what its various intuitions about authority (and its relationship to scripture) mean over time. We are still figuring it out, together. At least those of us who have received the grace of being part of the Catholic Church.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  67. In particular, what is at stake is the claim that the writings of the Church Fathers show a damnable silence on infallibility. It is no problem for the Catholic position that some Church Fathers said things about scripture that, if taken out of context, are too broad. What would be a problem would be a suspicious _damnable_ silence about infallibility: i.e., a silence when there is no other excuse for it than that infallibility is not a part of the deposit of faith.

    But there is no damnable silence. Popes during Augustine’s era claimed that their own authority was so great that no one could contradict what they had defined. And Augustine was quite far from excommunicating them for saying this! There is the quote I pasted from Augustine above. The list goes on. There is no damnable silence. There may be ambiguity, but no silence, and that makes Andrew’s claim (Oh, how can I possibly believe something that everyone in antiquity either denied or was damnably silent about) simply absurd. I made this point to him before, but he never explains the evidence for his claim of damnable silence. He just asserts it.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  68. Bryan,

    I’m asking you questions because I am hoping you will explain your question a little more. It’s entirely unclear to me why you would think that we can reject authority if it is not infallible. If my son rejects my God given authority he is rejecting the rule God has placed over him. Now I am certainly not infallible but that is beside the point. And we have clear commands to the people of God to submit to the elders of their congregation. These folks are not infallible but we still cannot reject their authority. Authority in general and authority which we can even ground within the pages of Scripture cannot be rejected because the source of that authority is fallible. The answer to your question seems completely obvious so maybe I’m just missing your point. So again, maybe you could expand on and/or qualify your question.

    And as I said to you before, both Protestants and Catholics have the same problem with cafeteria approach of congregants in their faith. Do you think that this is any less of a problem in Catholicism? From the polls of what Catholics and Protestants actually believe I would say not. So on this issue what does Catholicism’s positing of an infallible magisterial authority do for the RCC in practical terms?

  69. 1. You haven’t actually answered the series of questions of mine, from #59, that began: “If the Church had not lost the truth…”. Instead you explain why you think the focus of discussion ought to be on the early Church, rather than on the theological issues that led Zwingli and Calvin to set up a new church. To that move, my response is to reiterate Bryan’s question, first stated in #57 and reiterated in #62. That question retains its force whether we’re talking the 4th century or the 16th century.

    Michael,

    I was very clear that I don’t think that the Church has “lost the truth….” You then asked me then why it would be necessary to break with the RCC and I responded that the fact that the RCC had retained the basics of the Christian faith (I mentioned the baptismal formulas) did not mean that she was perfect. You misunderstood what I meant by “perfect” and I explained. I then pointed out that that we could not possibly have a reasonable discussion about where the RCC had gone wrong until we had come to some resolution about whether the Church could ever go wrong on de fide matters (as Rome later defined “de fide”). Now you are telling me that Bryan’s question in some way addresses my point but I cannot begin to see how. Maybe you could consider my answer to Bryan above and then tell me how Bryan’s question is an answer to my point.

    As for Augustine, there had been two “plenary” councils….

    I don’t think you have addressed any of the points I made on this matter. But to start with you are assuming that Augustine has some specific councils in mind but this seems to me to be purely conjectural. Augustine never mentions any specific council. He is talking about councils in general with particular reference to their authority with respect to that of Scripture in general. So where from this passage do you get the idea that Augustine was thinking about any particular council?

    Clearly, he meant that the later corrects the earlier by bringing to light what the earlier should have brought to light but didn’t.

    And again Michael, who could possibly disagree with that? Of course earlier councils are incomplete and later councils add to the data of the earlier one. So then what do you think Augustine’s point is by making this stunningly obvious statement and more importantly how is it connected to what was written in this and preceding paragraphs?

    This leads into the next point I made concerning the chain of reasoning that Augustine goes through. He says (to paraphrase him) that Cyprian was wrong (in error) but that this should not be surprising since even the Apostles where in error at points, even Peter. And then even the councils could err, even ecumenical ones. It is only Scripture which stands in a place of superiority and cannot be corrected. And again you did not comment about my point which I really think is relevant. Scriptures, Augustine says, stand in a superior place to even the plenary councils. But then if Rome is correct and the ecumenical councils are also infallible in their official pronouncements then how can the Scriptures be superior in any real sense? Or do you want to try to qualify “infallible” in some sort of way?

    Are you trying to say that when person A is divine, and person B speaks with A’s authority on a matter of revealed truth, that B can err in the sense of teaching what is false? If so, that would entail that a person can assert with divine authority what is false.

    This depends on what we mean by divine authority. If someone is speaking, as the OT prophets were, the very words of God then what they say cannot be false because God cannot lie. But the mere fact that God has given someone authority to do or say something does not mean that this someone is speaking the very words of God. So let’s take an example. In the NT elders are given authority from God to preach, oversee their flocks, etc. They certainly have divine authority since their authority is spelled out in Scriptures. But it does not logically follow that because their authority is of divine origin that what they say is infallible. Maybe you could qualify a little more what you mean by “person B speaking with A’s authority on a matter of revealed truth.” If you mean to describe the situation like the OT prophets, to use my example, then I would agree with you. Perhaps you would try to make the case that the bishops of the RCC would in some sense operate analogously to the prophets who were given words directly from God? That would be interesting to hear you try to make this case, but I don’t think you can make it merely on the fact that the messenger is teaching with divine authorization.

    You have not addressed what I said is that reason, for you have rejected something I never said and that the Catholic Church does not say.

    Well Michael, I think we are going back and forth neither thinking the other is making their case. So you are not trying to make the case for your position from anything written in the early centuries of the Church and you don’t think there is any philosophical necessity for your position. Have I got that right? But that seems to leave me without any way of disproving you. The position of ecclesiastical infallibility makes sense for someone who is Catholic who accepts this position as an element of their faith. But it seems your position has no apologetical force. It’s just something “reasonable” given what your faith teaches. So maybe I should ask you what if anything it would take to disprove your position from someone on the outside looking in. If there is nothing that could dissuade you then what you really mean is not that I have not refuted you, but that no refutation is possible.

  70. Couldn’t the RC just say Augustine was mistkaen? I’m trying to determine what is at stake in exegeting Augustine on this point.

    Ray,

    This would seem to be the obvious resolution which I hoped Michael might come to. I think the importance for the RC theologian who places considerable emphasis on the consensus patrum when looking for guidanace from the ECF’s is that there is no guidance on thise issue of eccesiastical infallibility, let alone papal infallibility. The theologian is then left to rather nebulous sounding philosophical arguments that are highly unlikely to pursuade anyone outside the Church unless perhaps they are already leaning in that direction and they have some familiarity and comfort in dealing with philsophical arguments.

    But now for the first time in the writings of the Fathers that I know of there is an explicit discussion of the councils, plenary councils, and the Scripture with respect to their authority. I think that Augustine’s arguement is that Scripture is superior to all of the other sources of authority. I cannot see that we can have more than one infallible source where one infallible source is superior and others are inferior. This makes no sense.

    From the Protestant standpoint the passage is interesting but does not prove anything. If it did then we would not be listening to Augustine’s advice. Know what I mean?

    Cheers….

  71. Andrew,

    My question in #62 was: “If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong, just as the Protestants did to their Catholic bishops in the sixteenth century?”

    Your answer, in #68 is: “It’s entirely unclear to me why you would think that we can reject authority if it is not infallible.”

    My reply: Because those who founded the Protestant tradition of which you have made yourself a part did that very thing in the 16th century (i.e. rejected their ecclesial authorities whom they thought to be fallible) and your choosing every day to remain Protestant and not return in humble submission to the Catholic authorities against whom the first Protestants rebelled shows your present approval of their doing it. So, on the one hand, by remaining Protestant you declare daily your approval of rebellion against Church authorities, and on the other hand, you say that it is entirely unclear to you why anyone would think that Protestants “can reject authority.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  72. Bryan: Because those who founded the Protestant tradition of which you have made yourself a part did that very thing in the 16th century

    Nick: It’s really bad when one stops to think about what they did: they single-handedly overthrew the authority of every bishop in the world and transferred it to themselves! And they don’t even blink an eye! If the average Protestant only knew what audacity and sheer shameless usurping of power the first protestants acted with – claiming an authority far above any pope.

    People need to check out these quotes from the Lutheran Book of Concord writing called “A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope”:
    http://www.bookofconcord.org/treatise.php
    I went through that document and all its “proof texts” and found that it was misleading unfounded comments with a twist at the end. The end of the document is very interesting:

    QUOTE: 40] …the Pope assumes to himself divine authority in a threefold manner. First, because he takes to himself the right to change the doctrine of Christ and services instituted by God, and wants his own doctrine and his own services to be observed as divine; secondly, because he takes to himself the power not only of binding and loosing in this life, but also the jurisdiction over souls after this life; thirdly, because the Pope does not want to be judged by the Church or by any one, and puts his own authority ahead of the decision of Councils and the entire Church. But to be unwilling to be judged by the Church or by any one is to make oneself God. Lastly, these errors so horrible, and this impiety, he defends with the greatest cruelty, and puts to death those dissenting.

    Now if people would stop and think about this, they would see these same claims that these men attack the CC over are the very things they have done! Classical means of usurping of power! Trash the opponent and smear him first!

    QUOTE: 42] To dissent from the agreement of so many nations and to be called schismatics is a grave matter. But divine authority commands all not to be allies and defenders of impiety and unjust cruelty. On this account our consciences are sufficiently excused; for the errors of the kingdom of the Pope are manifest. And Scripture with its entire voice exclaims that these errors are a teaching of demons and of Antichrist.

    From the horses mouth we see this action taken by these men was illegal, yet they had to “excuse” themselves.

    Another keeper:

    QUOTE: 57] Therefore, even though the bishop of Rome had the primacy by divine right, yet since he defends godless services and doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, obedience is not due him; yea, it is necessary to resist him as Antichrist.

    How much more clear can it be? These men openly admit to usurping of authority!

    Im interested to hear this…

    67] For wherever the Church is, there is the authority [command] to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers. And this authority is a gift which in reality is given to the Church, which no human power can wrest from the Church…

    Here we see the foundation of confusion and chaos, here we see the divine right of ordination given to whomever wants to become a church authority. Either these guys didnt think about what they were saying or else they had evil intentions in mind.
    What exactly are they proving by saying “no human power can wrest from the church” when they are the ones setting up shop?

    QUOTE: 76] Since, therefore, bishops have tyrannically transferred this jurisdiction to themselves alone, and have basely abused it, there is no need, because of this jurisdiction, to obey bishops. But since there are just reasons why we do not obey, it is right also to restore this jurisdiction to godly pastors [to whom, by Christ’s command, it belongs], and to see to it that it is legitimately exercised for the reformation of morals and the glory of God.

    Phase two in destroying the church. Attack the office of Bishop itself. By doing so they dont have to recognize that authority and dont have to apply it to their own selves.

    There is no hiding anymore! These men openly admit over and over again their illegal and shameless usurping of the Church of Christ!

    QUOTE: According to the command of the most illustrious princes and of the orders and states professing the doctrine of the Gospel, we have reread the articles of the Confession presented to the Emperor in the Assembly at Augsburg, and by the favor of God all the preachers who have been present in this Assembly at Smalcald harmoniously declare that they believe and teach in their churches according to the articles of the Confession and Apology. They also declare that they approve the article concerning the primacy of the Pope and his power, and the power and jurisdiction of bishops, which was presented to the princes in this Assembly at Smalcald. Accordingly, they subscribe their names.

    What so they turn to princes and governments who support them yet trash the CC for its supposed governmental ties?

    QUOTE: 1] I, Dr. John Bugenhagen, Pomeranus, subscribe the Articles of the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, and the Article presented to the princes at Smalcald concerning the Papacy. 2] I also, Dr. Urban Rhegius, Superintendent of the churches in the Duchy of Lueneburg, subscribe.

    3] Nicolaus Amsdorf of Magdeburg subscribed.



    31] Frederick Myconius subscribed for himself and Justus Menius.
    32] Ambrose Blaurer.

    Who are these men? How many are bishops? How many are priests? What happened to all the other Christians in the world?

    QUOTE: “I have read, and again and again reread, the Confession and Apology presented at Augsburg by the Most Illustrious Prince, the Elector of Saxony, and by the other princes and estates of the Roman Empire, to his Imperial Majesty. I have also read the Formula of Concord …. And in my humble opinion I judge that all these agree with Holy Scripture, and with the belief of the true and genuine catholic Church. But although in so great a number of most learned men who have now assembled at Smalcald I acknowledge that I am of all the least yet, as I am not permitted to await the end of the assembly, I ask you, most renowned man, Dr. John Bugenhagen, most revered Father in Christ, that your courtesy may add my name, if it be necessary, to all that I have above mentioned. For I testify in this my own handwriting that I thus hold, confess, and constantly will teach, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

    Wow.

  73. Andrew;

    So are you trying to say that because the master (Christ) sends the servant (the Church) to speak on his behalf, therefore the Church cannot err? If so, I would say that this is quite a leap!

    Why? Doesn’t this then assume that Christ, on whose authority the Apostles (and their successors) spoke, could err? Or perhaps that Christ isn’t divine? It seems to me, by normal rules of exegesis, that speaking on behalf here means saying what Christ would have said. Christ didn’t say: “He who hears you, almost hears me.”

    An authority in general does not need to possess the characteristic of infallibility for us to recognize it as authoritative.

    But here the authority speaks on behalf of God himself. And with the promise from the Lord that “he who hears you, hears me.”

    If my son rejects my God given authority he is rejecting the rule God has placed over him. Now I am certainly not infallible but that is beside the point.

    This is just sophistry, and you know it. Because you don’t think you speak on behalf of God when you speak to your son. You don’t think that when your son hears you, he really hears God. But that is precisely what Christ said to the Apostles: “He who hears you, hears me.” Not: “He who hears you almost hears me, but you have to be a little critical about it, because he isn’t infallible, you know.”

    And we have clear commands to the people of God to submit to the elders of their congregation. These folks are not infallible but we still cannot reject their authority.

    But here you beg the question in assuming that the elders (presbyters) aren’t infallible. And it seems to me that you are using the term ‘elder’ as a kind of smoke screen; we are to believe that those were just some older, wise men.

    And as I said to you before, both Protestants and Catholics have the same problem with cafeteria approach of congregants in their faith. Do you think that this is any less of a problem in Catholicism? From the polls of what Catholics and Protestants actually believe I would say not. So on this issue what does Catholicism’s positing of an infallible magisterial authority do for the RCC in practical terms?

    Who much did you pay for that red herring?

    Mike,

    Hence Augustine cannot be cited as a counterexample to the Catholic doctrine of ecclesial infallibility. Nothing you have said shows that it can.

    And to use him in this way would also constitute a kind of ‘church-fatherly proof texting.’ It would mean that one used something a Church Father said as a proof that something the Church said was wrong. But then one begs the question: one assumes that the Church, and not the Church Father, was wrong. This would be like Sola Scriptura with an added layer: Sola Scriptura and the Fathers. This is a hermeneutical approach that in the end reduces to “my interpretation or my opinions are the rule.” This is what I called Andrew on in #33.

  74. Andrew,

    In particular, I would like an explanation of what the quote from Augustine means in my comment #64, which begins “Let us see then what Manichæus teaches me. . .” If this is not evidence that he believed that Church authority and scriptural authority were so inseparable that he couldn’t keep one without the other, then what possibly could be such evidence?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  75. Bryan,

    If I might interject, Protestants can’t reject authority.

    For instance, If my church’s Session tells me I must submit to church teaching about the Resurection or be excommunicated then I must. My soul is at stake. St. Paul says so. St. Paul’s representitives are telling me so. I CANNOT reject that apostolic authority.

    On the other hand lets say a Bishop or my Session says this:

    If anyone says that after the grace of justification has been received the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out for any repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this world or in the other, in purgatory, before access can be opened to the kingdom of heaven, anathema sit [“let him be anathema” or excommunicated].

    Canon 30 from the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification (Sixth Sesssion, 1547)

    If I am told this then I must leave (run don’t walk) to find a church with the marks of true authority, which is the words of the apostles. Such a shame that the keys have been abused in this way by Peter. I don’t think for a second that Christ will bind that anathema in heaven, any more than He will answer my prayer to win the lottery.

  76. David Meyer,

    You have demonstrated the very thing that we’ve been arguing for the past year on Called to Communion. You just said in no uncertain terms that you cant disobey Church authority unless they disagree with your opinion. Which is to say that you don’t actually believe in Church authority at all.

  77. David, (re: #75)

    You wrote:

    For instance, If my church’s Session tells me I must submit to church teaching about the Resurection or be excommunicated then I must. My soul is at stake. St. Paul says so. St. Paul’s representitives are telling me so. I CANNOT reject that apostolic authority.

    Why do you think that your “session leaders” are St. Paul’s representatives? Did St. Paul authorize them to speak for him? Or did you decide that their interpretation of Scripture best matches your own interpretation of Scripture, and therefore decide to ‘submit’ to their [arrogated] ‘authority’? If you were in a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, would you be required to submit to their [Jehovah’s Witness] leaders? No. Even though those leaders might claim to be St. Paul’s representatives, and claim to have authority to which people should submit, they wouldn’t actually have any authority at all. Heresies and schisms from the Church don’t have apostolic authority; no one is required to obey the leaders of heresies and schisms, precisely because such leaders have no authorization from the Church, to speak for Christ. So likewise, your session leaders actually have no authority, because (not having apostolic succession) they do not have the Apostles’ authorization to speak for them, and interpret their words, nor is your denomination (presumably some Reformed denomination) the Church that Christ founded. You may find that offensive, but, tell me, except for the fact that you generally agree with your session’s interpretation of Scripture, and generally don’t agree with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of Scripture, on what basis would your session leaders have any more authority than do the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leaders?

    If anyone says that after the grace of justification has been received the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out for any repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this world or in the other, in purgatory, before access can be opened to the kingdom of heaven, anathema sit [“let him be anathema” or excommunicated].

    Canon 30 from the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification (Sixth Session, 1547)

    If I am told this then I must leave (run don’t walk) to find a church with the marks of true authority, which is the words of the apostles.

    The Church’s ecumenical councils define what is orthodoxy, and what is heresy. Scripture nowhere says that no one who is justified can leave this life with a debt of a temporal punishment. By running from the Church, you would run from orthodoxy to heresy, just as an Arian who ran from the decision of the Council of Nicea, would be running from orthodoxy into heresy, instead of humbly submitting to the divine authority of the Church manifested in the Council of Nicea, and allowing it to form his interpretation of Scripture. You seem to think that you have greater interpretive authority than does the Church, such that instead of allowing the Church to teach you what is the orthodox interpretation of Scripture, you use your own interpretation of Scripture to judge the Church to be heretical. In other words, by rejecting Trent you set yourself up as greater than the entirety of the divinely established authorities of the Church, just as Korah did to Moses.

    If that is not “rejection of authority”, then what would rejection of Church authority look like? It has looked that way each time it has happened in the history of the Church prior to the 16th century. Heretics always rejected the authority of ecumenical councils. Why think that the Protestant rejection of the Council of Trent is somehow special? Why think that 16th century Protestants were excused from the requirement to obey one’s leaders and submit to them? (Heb 13:17) As for the notion that “Protestants can’t reject authority,” apparently, you don’t realize that the existence of Protestantism is itself based on the rejection of Church authority; otherwise, Protestants would all still be Catholic. That’s why the claim “Protestants can’t reject authority” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. If Protestants couldn’t reject authority, not only would there be no such thing as Protestantism; there wouldn’t be thousands upon thousands of separate Protestant denominations/sects/bodies. History straightforwardly refutes the claim that Protestants cannot reject authority. Protestantism was born out of a rejection of Church authority, and as testimony to that origin, Protestants haven’t stopped doing it since.

    When I came to see this [as a lifelong Protestant], it was shocking. I realized that I had not seen myself for what I was, all those years.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  78. I’d like to humbly ask all of our guests to be careful with the language you’re using in the combox. No one has been overly rude or guilty of ad-hominems, i.e. I don’t see any violations of our posting guidelines, but some things could be worded a little better.

    I just want to remind everyone, and I’m usually the one at fault for this, to try and be as charitable as possible. Pretend the person you’re responding to is someone you know personally like your grandmother or a close friend. Would you still respond in the same way? Even when we’re focusing strictly on ideas and not on the person, these ideas are theological in nature and inherently very close to our hearts – so it’s easy to come across the wrong way.

    Thanks everyone for making CTC a ‘safe’ place to dialogue.

  79. Andrew:

    1. Now you are telling me that Bryan’s question in some way addresses my point but I cannot begin to see how. Maybe you could consider my answer to Bryan above and then tell me how Bryan’s question is an answer to my point.

    Bryan’s question is not an answer to your point. It raises an issue you need to consider in order to make your point, which is that the teaching authority of the Church is somehow “authoritative” without ever being protected from error. He asked: “If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says whenever you think he is wrong, just as the Protestants did to their Catholic bishops in the sixteenth century?” The point of that question is this: if you can reject what the authority says whenever you think it’s wrong, then it’s not authoritative. You are. The divinely appointed leadership of the Church may have nominal authority or even presumptive authority, but the ultimate authority lies with you. On the other hand, if the authority is truly authoritative, then it falls to you to submit to what it says, even when you’re inclined to think otherwise. There is no third, middle way.

    You imply that there is such a way by saying that only “Scripture” is infallible and thus calls for the kind of submission. But, as has been pointed out time and again on this blog, in discussions to which you have been party, that only pushes the problem back. For two questions then arise: “How do you determine which writings are inspired, if not by some infallible authority in the Church?” and “Whose interpretation of Scripture is authoritative?” If believers taken severally have the right and duty to assess the orthodoxy of the Church’s teaching authority by reading their Bibles and making their own judgments on that basis, then the Church’s teaching authority is only nominal or presumptive, and therefore cannot settle anything. And if it cannot settle anything, then its authority is ultimately hollow. I do not understand why you won’t acknowledge that such is the consequence of your position. Plenty of Protestants are willing to make that acknowledgement.

    Hence the series of questions I raised beginning with “If the Church had not lost the truth…” Of course I recognize that you recognize that the Church had not lost the truth. That’s exactly why the questions I went on to raise are relevant. But you have declined to answer those questions too.

    2. The question how to interpret Augustine on this score is of secondary importance, for reasons Ray has given. Yet there is nothing in what you’ve quoted from Augustine, nor have you shown there is anything in his position, that is incompatible different from what Vatican II says:

    Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

    But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission; and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

    It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

    What you are chiefly concerned to deny is the statement: “…the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church.” You have offered no argument for that denial, other than to say that there is no reason to believe that said authority is never protected from error. But then arise the questions you won’t answer.

    3. But the mere fact that God has given someone authority to do or say something does not mean that this someone is speaking the very words of God. So let’s take an example. In the NT elders are given authority from God to preach, oversee their flocks, etc. They certainly have divine authority since their authority is spelled out in Scriptures. But it does not logically follow that because their authority is of divine origin that what they say is infallible. Maybe you could qualify a little more what you mean by “person B speaking with A’s authority on a matter of revealed truth.”

    That is mere evasion; for given our history, you know quite well what I mean. I do not mean that divinely appointed authorities as such always speak the truth or are always infallible. As I have said repeatedly, even in this thread, the divinely appointed authorities of the Church are protected from error only when they teach as de fide a doctrine to be believed as such by the whole Church. Either they have that kind of authority or they don’t. If they don’t, then the authority to distinguish between interpretations of the sources that are de fide and interpretations that are only opinions, and to bind believers to the former, lies either with believers taken severally or does not exist at all in the Church. Why is it so difficult for you to come to grips with that?

    4. So you are not trying to make the case for your position from anything written in the early centuries of the Church and you don’t think there is any philosophical necessity for your position. Have I got that right? But that seems to leave me without any way of disproving you. The position of ecclesiastical infallibility makes sense for someone who is Catholic who accepts this position as an element of their faith. But it seems your position has no apologetical force. It’s just something “reasonable” given what your faith teaches. So maybe I should ask you what if anything it would take to disprove your position from someone on the outside looking in. If there is nothing that could dissuade you then what you really mean is not that I have not refuted you, but that no refutation is possible.

    That just doesn’t address the substance of my argument. Of the philosophical argument I explicitly gave, I claimed that it affords “good reason” to believe what the Church teaches about her own authority. Whether it’s a Catholic making that claim or not is irrelevant: either the argument is sound or it isn’t. If it’s sound, then the early written sources are best interpreted as the base from which the subsequent teaching of the Church about her own authority authentically developed. And if that is right, then the teaching of the Church and the early sources are best read as mutually supporting.

    As I said, the key to that case is the philosophical strength of the following argument:

    …without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the “sources” recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation. To that, Newman said: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what is given.” That authority cannot be me or some collection of people who, lacking sacramental authority, happen to agree with my interpretations of the sources. For in that case I would be submitting not to God but to myself.

    Once again, you have offered us absolutely no reason to deny that “without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the sources recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation.” For the reasons I gave in the first section of this comment, invoking the authority of Scripture is not such a reason.

    Until you answer the questions I’ve noted that you haven’t answered, and give a reason for denying what I just quoted from myself, I can only see your responses as evasions.

  80. Tim (#78):

    If my most recent reply to Andrew fails to measure up to your exhortations, my apologies. I have reached the point of utter exasperation. Maybe it’s best if I back off for a while.

    Best,
    Mike

  81. Dr. Liccione – not at all. Yours weren’t among the responses I had in mind, and it would be doing us all a disservice if you were to ‘back off for a while.’ :-) That said, I know how you feel.

  82. Andrew,

    I’ve written too much and I should remain silent now, but just to avoid a possible confusion on your part I will say one more thing. You said to Michael: “Or do you want to try to qualify “infallible” in some sort of way?”

    Look, of course we qualify it. We qualify it up the wazoo. Infallibility just means the statement isn’t completely and irremediably wrong. It doesn’t mean that it’s the best possible choice of words. And there is at least one sense in which scripture is the best possible choice of words: because the holy spirit inspired scripture! So at least in that sense, if not in others, scripture is obviously superior to even infallible church pronouncements. It is imperative that you are clear on this if your discussions with Bryan and the others are to continue.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  83. Nick quotes the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. And I found paragraph 57 highly interesting:

    Therefore, even though the bishop of Rome had the primacy by divine right, yet since he defends godless services and doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, obedience is not due him; yea, it is necessary to resist him as Antichrist. The errors of the Pope are manifest and not trifling.

    This, it seems to me, is logical contradiction in the fullest sense. If the bishop of Rome “had the primacy by divine right” (assuming here that ‘primacy’ denotes ‘authority,’ not (merely) ‘power’) how would one know that what he defended (and taught) was “godless services and doctrine conflicting with the Gospel”? If he spoke for Christ, if — as Christ promised — what he said — by virtue of his office — was Christ’s word, how can one say that he didn’t spoke Christ’s words, but godlessness?

    This, it seems to me, is utterly incoherent. (Coherence doesn’t necessarily imply truth; a mad man may be totally coherent in his madness. But it seems to me that incoherence is a clear indication of falseness.)

    Mike, allow me to build upon your point.

    3. But the mere fact that God has given someone authority to do or say something does not mean that this someone is speaking the very words of God. So let’s take an example. In the NT elders are given authority from God to preach, oversee their flocks, etc. They certainly have divine authority since their authority is spelled out in Scriptures. But it does not logically follow that because their authority is of divine origin that what they say is infallible. Maybe you could qualify a little more what you mean by “person B speaking with A’s authority on a matter of revealed truth.”

    That is mere evasion; for given our history, you know quite well what I mean. I do not mean that divinely appointed authorities as such always speak the truth or are always infallible. As I have said repeatedly, even in this thread, the divinely appointed authorities of the Church are protected from error only when they teach as de fide a doctrine to be believed as such by the whole Church.

    To build on this, I would like to use an analogy. A judge is vested with the authority to judge in civil matters on behalf of the state – or perhaps the judiciary power (given a separation of powers). Does this mean that every one of his ‘personal judgements’ – those he gives ‘on his spare time’ and not in virtue of his office – are to be given juridical force? (I’m Norwegian, so I’m not sure of the exact wording here.) The answer to this rhetorical question is obviously no, and the same – it seems to me – applies to the pope. To use a silly image: If the pope swore when hitting his finger it doesn’t mean that swearing become ok.

    A protestant might challenge my analogy of the judge by pointing out that he isn’t infallible, and that it is possible for him to make a mistake. (Some people have been wrongly accused and imprisoned.) But the reason he isn’t infallible is because those he judges on behalf of aren’t infallible. But the one the Magisterium speaks on behalf of is Jesus Christ, God himself. And I’m pretty sure protestants believe that He is infallible.

  84. Bryan,
    I think your reply in 77 really helped me understand what is going on on this site. Thanks for your clarity.
    As I anticipate this will be my last post on this site I will give an extended comment. apologies to the moderator for any past or present ad-hominem or uncharitable remarks. after all I consider you brothers if you confess the creeds and I would be pleased to partake of His supper shoulder to shoulder with you.
    I don’t have a horse in this race. At least I don’t care who wins. To give background, I am an adult convert who started as a Pentacostal and has (in typical Protestant fashion) been all over the place and ended up Reformed. I dislike that selfishness in Protestantism. I don’t trust myself. I don’t trust my own interpretations of scripture because I have changed my mind so many times. I feel the need for authority over me to guide my faith.
    I want to please God in my worship. If that means becoming Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, or fill-in-the-blank then so be it. You seem to think that Catholicism is just the big obvious choice. Step outside yourself and imagine you are a fresh convert to the basic gospel. Catholicism is not the obvious choice.

    Almost everything you said in your post an Orthodox (as in eastern) believer would say. So who should I believe you or them? You both think each other AND me are a schism. To the Orthodox my church is a schism of a schism! Wow, now that is schism! And double predestination too! oh no! whip out the anathemas! Both RCC and E. Orthodoxy claim succession. My Reformed faith claims Rome gave it up and we picked it up. Each is arrogant about it.

    Point is, whichever way I go, I am making myself the authority because I am choosing. It seems obvious enough that in choosing the RCC a convert such as you is becomming an authority in choosing an authority. I really respect that. As I said: I don’t trust myself or the Westminster Divines to interpret scripture.

    But at this point, since Rome damns me for things I cannot in good conscience stop/start believing, I’ll just have to go with what seems to fit the best with scripture, which is Reformed theology. Sorry but Trent is so “out there” and reactionary compared with the earlier councils and the creeds I don’t think it would be wise to give my children THAT type of schism. Instead I’ll have to go with the schism of Reformed theology that at least will allow me to tell my children that it is not a matter of damnation whether or not they believe in Purgatory. (By the way, not that my opinion matters, but I don’t have a problem with that doctrine, just Trent’s anathema)

    The whole part of your response where you proclaim that my church is not real and basically compare it with cults that deny EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN CREED is very telling. A Jehovahs Witness has literaly nothing in common with creedal Christians. Any sane human would reject the authority of any cultist in the building because they are antichrist.

    If the Session of my church were to excommunicate you for denying the resurrection, you would be bound to recant and submit. The fact that you don’t care what they say does not matter. If they “excommunicate” you for believing in Purgatory you can laugh it off and know they are going outside the bounds of their authority. These core doctrines from the creeds can’t be argued over. The scriptures say they are not negotiable. Likewise to treat doctrines which are not central to the faith with the same level of importance as crucial ones is against scripture.

    Give me a email when the Pope repents of this presuption, repeals those anathemas, and sticks to matters crucial to the faith. I will be the first in line to go with you to Mass when that happens.

    Now on to look into Eastern Orthodoxy. (I like our western music better!)

    Peace bros
    -David

  85. David,

    Slow down a little brother. The pope hasn’t damned you. Anathemas are written for Catholics – i.e. those who have professed that all that the Catholic Church teaches is divinely revealed. If you haven’t done that, then those anathemas don’t apply to you.

    It sounds like we got off on the wrong foot. I hope we can start over.

  86. David:

    Given that Bryan is pressed for time at the moment, I thought I’d respond to one of your points myself. I hope he doesn’t find that presumptuous. But I’ve had this go-round with more Protestants than I can count, so I feel I have something to say.

    You wrote:

    …whichever way I go, I am making myself the authority because I am choosing. It seems obvious enough that in choosing the RCC a convert such as you is becomming an authority in choosing an authority.

    That is a very common misconception–so common, in fact, that it actually does hold of some thoughtful people I know who have nominally converted to Catholicism. But almost all of them have ended up leaving. Why?

    Because it will not do to think: “Hey, I notice that my theological views coincide pretty closely with the teaching of the Catholic Church. So I’ll become a Catholic.” If that’s all one thinks, then one is still treating oneself as the authority: one is Catholic only so long as one’s theological views happen to coincide with the teaching of the Church. When they no longer do, then one repudiates the Catholic Faith. That attitude is incompatible with being Catholic in the first place.

    Becoming Catholic means thinking: “Hey, I can’t settle these matters on my own authority, or that of my preferred scholars, or that of Christians I greatly respect as individuals. I can only distinguish between the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation on the one hand, and my own or others’ theological opinions on the other, if I accept the fact that Jesus Christ founded a visible authority within his Mystical Body to speak definitively in his name. If I hold that they could be wrong when they claim to do so, then I’m still my own authority; for I reserve to myself the right to decide when they’re wrong in such circumstances. So I’ll accept the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to to be protected from error when it binds believers to a doctrine it teaches in Christ’s name as de fide.” When one thinks in that way, then even when the Magisterium definitively teaches something that I am otherwise disinclined to believe, I believe it. That’s what Newman did in the case of the definition of papal infallibility. As Chesterton said, becoming Catholic means submitting to an authority not when we think it’s right, but when we are inclined to believe it’s wrong.

    That means that one exercises one’s power of rational choice to accept an authority whose authority derives from a source above and beyond one’s power of reasoning. And that’s why choosing to become Catholic is not to remain one’s own authority. One can of course retain plenty of theological opinions about matters on which the Church has not taught definitively and thus infallibly. When one is confused about the difference, the Magisterium often helps clarify it; and when it doesn’t, it eventually should. But on many matters, it already has. And being Catholic means accepting the truth so defined, whether past or future, whether one likes it or not.

  87. David,

    I didn’t say that Catholicism is “the obvious choice.” What is obvious to a person depends a great deal on what he knows. My point in my comment to you was that even a cursory understanding of 16th century Church history reveals that Protestants can “reject Church authority.”

    Almost everything you said in your post an Orthodox (as in eastern) believer would say.

    True.

    So who should I believe you or them?

    I’m not going to ask you to believe me or them. Rather, you need to dig into Church history. As we have said a number of times here on CTC, the Catholic-Orthodox question requires a careful study of Church history, to determine the principled basis for the Church’s unity whenever there is a schism, and the Church’s faith whenever there is a heresy. On the early papacy, read Studies on the Early Papacy, by Dom John Chapman, and read The Early Papacy, by Fortescue, and Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96 – 454, by Giles. Two easier works on this subject are Upon This Rock by Stephen Ray, and Jesus, Peter & the Keys by Butler, Dahlgren, and Hess.

    You both think each other AND me are a schism. To the Orthodox my church is a schism of a schism!

    Correct. But just because two people who claim that your position is in error disagree with each other, doesn’t mean that you are right, or that their criticisms of your position can be dismissed, or that their claims for the truth of their respective positions can be dismissed.

    Both RCC and E. Orthodoxy claim succession.

    Correct.

    My Reformed faith claims Rome gave it up and we picked it up. Each is arrogant about it.

    The Reformed do not claim to have “apostolic succession”; they deny that apostolic succession is essential. They claim to be ‘apostolic’ in the sense of teaching the true doctrine of the Apostles.

    Why do you think the Catholic Church is “arrogant” about claiming to have apostolic succession? Was Jesus arrogant when He claimed to be the Son of God? (Answer: No, because he is the Son of God.) It is not arrogant to claim something if you have it. And the Catholic Church has indeed preserved apostolic succession for almost two thousand years. Therefore, there is nothing arrogant about stating the truth about that fact.

    Point is, whichever way I go, I am making myself the authority because I am choosing.

    That’s like saying to Jesus — “Sorry, Jesus, I can’t submit to you, because if I choose to submit to you, then I’m making myself the authority. Catch you later!” To those who would make such an argument, St. Paul would say, “Their condemnation is deserved.” (cf. Rom 3:8)

    It seems obvious enough that in choosing the RCC a convert such as you is becomming an authority in choosing an authority.

    See immediately above. 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 (and especially those having succession from the one to whom Jesus gave the keys of the Kingdom) say is the nature and location of the Church. Once we find the Church that Christ founded, we submit to her living teaching authority as binding. But those who base their decision regarding ‘where to go to church’ on who conforms to their own interpretation of Scripture, cannot thereby find a binding teaching authority; they always retain ultimate interpretive authority, as we showed in “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    I really respect that. As I said: I don’t trust myself or the Westminster Divines to interpret scripture.

    Good, neither do I. The next step is to find those to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom, and submit to their teaching regarding Scripture and the deposit of faith.

    But at this point, since Rome damns me for things I cannot in good conscience stop/start believing,

    First, Rome has not damned you. (I explain that below.) Second, while I agree that you should not go against your conscience, you should consider the possibility that your conscience has not been well-formed with respect to what is orthodox and what is heresy, and how to interpret Scripture rightly. If you have been taught by false teachers and false doctrines, then you should be aware that your conscience is, at this point, malformed. That’s how St. Paul (while he was Saul) was out hunting down, imprisoning, and stoning Christians, all while following his [malformed] conscience. You have to give yourself time, to find the Church that Christ founded, and allow your conscience to be reformed by the Church about what is orthodoxy and what is heresy.

    Sorry but Trent is so “out there” and reactionary compared with the earlier councils and the creeds I don’t think it would be wise to give my children THAT type of schism.

    Don’t apologize to me; apologize to your children, for being like Namaan, and so quickly deciding to run back to your comfort zone, that you would deprive them of being received into the Church that Christ founded, though I have better expectations for you than that. This question is far too important to be treated in such a cursory way.

    Regarding your suggestion that the Catholic Church is in schism, the Church that Christ founded is not in schism from herself, though many are in schism from her. They are in schism, precisely because they are in schism from the one to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom. That’s why and how the Church remains one (“one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”) even throughout the many schisms. A schism is a departure from the Church, not a dividing of the Church. The Church cannot be divided, because she is the Body of Christ, and Christ cannot be divided. (1 Cor 1:13)

    Instead I’ll have to go with the schism of Reformed theology that at least will allow me to tell my children that it is not a matter of damnation whether or not they believe in Purgatory.

    By telling them that, you would be, at the very same time, teaching them that rebelling against Church authority is A-Ok. You would be teaching them they can pick and choose, as they please, from the Church’s councils and dogmas. And that is essentially telling them that the Church has no authority. And that is essentially telling them that Christ has no authority. Something to think about before you pass such notions on to the next generation.

    Just to be clear, the Church does not teach that anyone who does not believe in purgatory is damned. The anathema applies (as such) only to those who know that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and who know the Church, with her full God-given authority, teaches that purgatory is real, and who nevertheless refuse to believe it. To deny even one article of the faith, is to lose faith, as I explained here, because it is to deny the authority by which we know the faith.

    The whole part of your response where you proclaim that my church is not real and basically compare it with cults that deny EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN CREED is very telling. A Jehovahs Witness has literaly nothing in common with creedal Christians. Any sane human would reject the authority of any cultist in the building because they are antichrist.

    Of course I agree that Reformed theology has much more in common doctrinally with the Catholic Church than it does with JW theology. If you read carefully what I wrote, you saw that my point was that there is no principled difference in the authority of the JW leaders and the leaders of your session.

    If the Session of my church were to excommunicate you for denying the resurrection, you would be bound to recant and submit.

    Why? What is the basis for their authority? Why should I (or anyone) submit to them? You can’t answer this question, because the only possible answer is that they hold an interpretation of Scripture that you think is right, which is just another way of saying that I should submit to you.

    These core doctrines from the creeds can’t be argued over. The scriptures say they are not negotiable.

    The decision regarding which doctrines were to be included in the creeds, was an authoritative decision of the Church, at Nicea in AD 325, and then again at Constantinople in AD 381. That same Church never said that only those doctrines, as stated in those lines of the Creed, were the only dogmas of the faith. At the third ecumenical council, in Ephesus in AD 431, the Church had to define that Nestorianism is a heresy. Does that mean that because “Nestorianism is a heresy” is not in the creeds, that therefore Catholics are free to decide for themselves whether Nestorianism is a heresy? No. The Church at the Council of Ephesus has spoken with her full authority on this matter, the very same authority she exercised when defining the Creed in the previous two councils. So, those Catholics who obstinately adhere to Nestorianism, are, on the basis of the Church’s decision at the third ecumenical council, in a state of formal heresy. And the same is true regarding the Council of Trent’s statement about purgatory. You can’t just pick and choose from among the Church’s councils, taking things you like (i.e. the creeds), and tossing out things you don’t (e.g. purgatory). The same authority who decided the one decided the other. To reject that authority in one place is to reject it across the board.

    Give me a email when the Pope repents of this presuption, repeals those anathemas, and sticks to matters crucial to the faith. I will be the first in line to go with you to Mass when that happens.

    By arrogating to yourself the authority to determine which doctrines are ‘crucial’ and which are not, you’ve already given to yourself more authority than the pope has, because the pope has no authority to “repeal” what the Church has already defined with her full authority. Telling me you’ll become Catholic when the Church adjusts to you, is like saying you’ll become a Christian when Christ adjusts to you. It fails to see that the Church was founded by Christ, represents Christ, and speaks for Christ, as Jesus said to the Apostles (and through them to their successors, who received their apostolic authorization by apostolic succession):

    “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.” (St. Luke 10:16)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  88. I don’t get the obsession with the anathemas of Trent. If you don’t believe the Catholic Church is authoritative, then don’t sweat them. But if you do believe its authoritative, go to confession.

    Having said that, you do know David that the term “anathema” in Trent is a term of art in Catholic theology and does not merely mean “damned to hell”? Jimmy Akin at Catholic Answers has a nice essay on this, which you can find here: Here’s an excerpt:

    With this as background, the absurdity of the things said by anti-Catholics about the anathemas pronounced by Trent and other councils is plain. A number of errors are nearly ubiquitous in anti-Catholic writings:

    1. An anathema sentenced a person to hell. This is not the case. Sentencing someone to hell is a power that is God’s alone, and the Church cannot exercise it.

    2. An anathema was a sure sign that a person would go to hell. Again, not true. Anathemas were only warranted by very grave sins, but there was no reason why the offender could not repent, and those who repent aren’t damned.

    3. An anathema was a sure sign that a person was not in a state of grace. This is not true for two reasons: (a) The person may have repented since the time the anathema was issued, and (b) the person may not have been in a state of mortal sin at the time the anathema was issued.

    Anathemas—like penalties imposed under civil law—rest on the judgment of the court, which must make its decision based on the evidence presented. It cannot directly examine the conscience of the individual in question. Thus, while anathemas were imposed on account of gravely sinful behavior, this was not a guarantee that it was mortally sinful. For a grave sin to become mortal, it must be performed with the requisite knowledge and consent, and while an offender might have given every appearance of these conditions, they might not be there in reality—e.g., through a hidden cognitive or volitional impediment.

    4. Anathemas were meant to harm the offender. No. Anathemas were simply a major excommunication performed with a special papal ceremony, and, like all excommunications, their intent was medicinal, not punitive. The goal was to protect the Christian community from the spread of evil doctrines or behaviors and to prompt the individual to recognize the nature of his actions. While being deprived of the fellowship of the Church is not pleasant, this does not change the fact that the fundamental orientation of excommunications and anathemas is medicinal, not punitive.

    5. Anathemas took effect automatically. While the Church does have penalties that take effect automatically (latae sententiae), the penalty of anathema was not one of them.

    This should be obvious from the fact that a special pontifical ceremony had to be performed as part of the anathema. Obviously, the mere fact that someone utters a heresy in some part of the world does not cause the pope to suddenly stop what he is doing and perform a specific ritual concerning this person.

    The anathemas of Trent and other councils were like most penalties of civil law, which only take effect through the judicial process. If the civil law prescribes imprisonment for a particular offense, those who commit it do not suddenly appear in jail. Likewise, when ecclesiastical law prescribed an anathema for a particular offense, those who committed it had to wait until the judicial process was complete before the anathema took effect.

    6. Anathemas applied to all Protestants. The absurdity of this charge is obvious from the fact that anathemas did not take effect automatically. The limited number of hours in the day by itself would guarantee that only a handful of Protestants ever could have been anathematized. In practice the penalty tended to be applied only to notorious Catholic offenders who made a pretense of staying within the Catholic community.

    7. Anathemas are still in place today. This is the single most common falsehood one encounters regarding anathemas in the writings of anti-Catholics. They aren’t in place today. The penalty was employed so infrequently over the course of history that it is doubtful that anyone under an anathema was alive when the new Code of Canon Law came out in 1983, when even the penalty itself was abolished.

    8. The Church cannot retract its anathemas. Anti-Catholics love to repeat this falsehood for rhetorical flourish. But again, it isn’t true. The Church is free to abolish any penalty of ecclesiastical law it wants to, and it did abolish this one.

    Do you know that when Trent–or any other Catholic document–writes of affirming, believing, or denying, it means it in the way St. Thomas Aquinas describes full rational choice to commit a wrong?

  89. Bryan,

    In #71 you say: If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong….

    Sure, you could reject what he says. And then the next natural question is whether it helps if we have an infallible human source. Let’s look at both cases:

    In the case of the Protestant Churches the congregants hear from an infallible source (the Scriptures) mediated by an elder/bishop as per the stipulations in Scripture. But there are three potential problems:
    1) The minister here may reject that infallible authority – This is common among Protestants in general, but it is relatively rare among Evangelicals and generally unheard of among the Reformed.
    2) The congregants hearing the infallible source may reject the source as infallible– Again generally rather rare among the Evangelicals as a whole.
    3) Those hearing the infallible source may reject the minister’s interpretation of the infallible source – this is much more common than #1 or 2 although within Evangelicalism it usually focuses on non-foundational issues.

    Now, in the case of the Catholic Churches the congregants hear from an infallible source (the Scriptures + tradition as elucidated by the Magisterium) mediated by a priest as per the stipulations of the tradition of the RCC. But there are three potential problems:
    1) The priest here may reject that infallible authority – There are no shortage of Catholics who do this and it underscores the conservative/liberal divide within Catholicism
    2) Those hearing the infallible source may reject the source as infallible – No shortage of cafeteria Catholics out there.
    3) Those hearing the infallible source may reject the priest’s interpretation of the infallible source – This happens all the time in Catholicism just as in Protestantism.

    So in brief my answer to you is that Protestants who reject an infallible human authority can decide that their interpretation of a given issue is different than their minister. I think maybe this was the answer you were looking for? So now we switch our attention to the Catholic priest who believes himself to be correctly understanding the infallible magisterium, but we end up with the same problem. This is because, just like the Scriptures needs interpretation, so does the tradition of the Church. So again what have you solved by inserting an infallible human authority into the picture?

  90. In particular, I would like an explanation of what the quote from Augustine means in my comment #64, which begins “Let us see then what Manichæus teaches me. . .” If this is not evidence that he believed that Church authority and scriptural authority were so inseparable that he couldn’t keep one without the other, then what possibly could be such evidence?

    K Doran – But we also believe that biblical and ecclesiastical authority are inseparable. To give you an example Calvin quotes Cyprian twice in The Institutes when Cyprian says that “you cannot have God as your Father unless you have the Church as your mother.” Now of course we cannot use Cyprian to back Protestant ecclesiology, but as the EO are quick to point out, there is considerable difference between the ecclesiology of Rome and that of Cyprian. The point is that ecclesiastical authority mediates the Scriptures. There is then the question as to what ecclesiastical authority the Scriptures mandate, but I don’t think you were asking about that.

  91. Andrew,

    My question in #62 was: “If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong, just as the Protestants did to their Catholic bishops in the sixteenth century?”

    Your answer, in #68 was: “It’s entirely unclear to me why you would think that we can reject authority if it is not infallible.”

    So in #71, I explained why rejection of authority is intrinsic to Protestantism, on account of its origin.

    Now, in #89 you answer my question from #62, saying:

    Sure, you could reject what he says. And then the next natural question is …

    Hold on a second. You’re so eager to criticize the Catholic position, you want to divert attention quickly away from what is entailed by your admission, namely, Protestantism’s structural problem of not having any living ecclesial authority. That is what is entailed by granting that people may at any time reject what their ecclesial authority says, so long as they disagree with him. So long as the leader is fallible, he cannot bind the conscience, and so long as he cannot bind the conscience, people may reject what he says, and may do so without culpability. But since the Church’s Magisterium has the charism of infallibility, and therefore does have the power to bind the conscience, then while persons retain the power to reject what the Magisterium says, they cannot do so without culpability, given that they know that the Magisterium has this charism.

    If we may reject our ecclesial authority whenever we disagree with him, then there is no ecclesial authority. That’s the implication of your concession. Your concession comes after just saying in #68 “we still cannot reject their [Protestant leaders’] authority.” There is a striking contradiction here. On the one hand, you are saying that Protestants “cannot reject their [Protestant leaders’] authority”, and on the other hand you are saying “Sure, you could reject what [any Protestant leader] says.”

    This is the contradiction in which Protestants live, generally not allowing themselves to see it, keeping the contradictory propositions compartmentalized, so that you can pull them out whenever you want, to preserve the charade of being under authority. This is how I lived as a Protestant. Whenever you agree with the pastor, then you take comfort in the “[Protestants] cannot reject their [Protestant leaders’] authority” slogan. But, when you think back on your history, and how Protestantism arose, then you hide away that “cannot reject authority” slogan, and pull out the Sure,-you-could-reject-what-he-says,-if-you-disagree, principle, in order to justify 16th century Protestants rejecting the authority of their Catholic bishops. As long as you don’t think too much about it, you don’t even notice the contradiction, and life is good.

    But at some point, if you allow yourself, you find deep down a nagging intellectual discomfort, especially as you meditate on the truth that “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me,” and then notice that if you were doing just that, i.e. submitting to a person (or set of persons) because you agree with their general interpretation of Scripture, nothing would be different than it is right now. At that point, you realize that the “[Protestants] cannot reject their [Protestant leaders]” line is just a slogan, something you say to hide the unpleasant truth from yourself that underneath it all, you’re just surrounding yourself with persons who generally say what you agree with, and on that basis treating them as though they are ‘authorities.’ But in actuality, it is all a charade; the one in charge is you.

    Your claim, in #89, is that it does no good to have an infallible magisterium, because the priest who has to interpret that magisterium is not infallible. We (at CTC) have addressed this objection a number of times. The claim is false for the following reasons. First, people do not only have mediated access to the Magisterium. We can read the magisterial documents for ourselves, and raise interpretive questions, even at higher levels if necessary. This is going on all the time. Second, parishes and dioceses are not entirely isolated from one another. If a priest is teaching contrary to the Church, word gets around the diocese very quickly. And if a bishop is doing so, word gets to other dioceses, and to the Holy See. The Church is a Body, not an aggregate of isolated cells. There is a continual intercommunion among the faithful about the faith. Third, the Magisterium is not a book; this office is held by persons. And for that reason it can answer questions and clarify what it has said. A book’s intrinsic need for an authorized interpreter does not entail an infinite regress of interpreters (We have explained this in our Solo Scriptura article.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  92. Michael and Bryan:

    Thanks for your time and responses. I feel out of my element, you guys really know your stuff.

    I will reread your statements and I will check out one of those books Bryan.

    Michael, that exact Chesterton quote is what has been burning my brain for over a year. I cannot shake Chesterton. His use of paradox to explain truth is so Trinitarian.

    -David

  93. Andrew (re: #90)

    In reply to K. Doran you wrote:

    But we also believe that biblical and ecclesiastical authority are inseparable. … The point is that ecclesiastical authority mediates the Scriptures.

    Right, but for you, ‘ecclesiastical authority’ refers to ‘those who generally agree with [your] interpretation of Scripture.’ That’s why, for example, you’re at a PCA congregation, and not at a Baptist, or Lutheran, or Methodist or Anglican or Pentecostal or Adventist, or “Church of Christ” congregation. If you agreed more with one of those traditions’ interpretations of Scripture, then you would be ‘under’ their ‘authority.’

    So although you claim that “ecclesiastical authority mediates the Scriptures,” yet because you pick your ‘ecclesiastical authority’ based on their degree of conformity to your own interpretation of Scripture, this so-called mediation of Scripture through ‘ecclesiastical authority’ is just a group of persons you selected on the basis of their sharing (roughly) your interpretation of Scripture, telling you that Scripture means what you already decided that it means, and thereby tickling your ears as St. Paul prophesied would happen. (2 Tim 4:3)

    Imagine someone who shoots an arrow into a blank wall, and then paint a bulls-eye around his arrow, and then says that he shot a bulls-eye. It is no different from a person who interprets the Bible, finds an ‘ecclesial community’ whose doctrine is closest to his own interpretation of Scripture, joins it and ‘submits’ to its ‘authority,’ and then has the audacity to say in public, “For me too, ecclesiastical authority mediates the Scriptures.”

    You use the same language as Catholics, when you say, “ecclesiastical authority mediates the Scriptures,” but because degree of conformity to your own interpretation of Scripture is the basis for what counts as ‘ecclesial authority’ for you, and because sacramental succession from the Apostles (and particular St. Peter) is what counts as ‘ecclesial authority’ for Catholics, there is a night and day difference between the meaning of the words as you use them and those words as Catholics use them. And that is why it is grossly misleading and deceptive, to say, “But we also believe that biblical and ecclesiastical authority are inseparable,” while knowing full well that the basis for ecclesial authority in your case is agreement with your own interpretation of Scripture, while the basis for ecclesial authority in our case is sacramental succession from the Apostles.

    The game has been exposed, the trick unmasked. No one is fooled by it (at least not here at CTC). And the honest thing to do is simply admit it, and not pretend that ‘submitting’ to those who most closely conform to your interpretation of Scripture is equivalent to what Catholics do when we submit to the Magisterial teaching of the successors of the Apostles, or that receiving Scripture as mediated through those hand-selected few who most closely conform to your interpretation of Scripture is what Catholics do when we receive Scripture as explicated to us by the successors of the Apostles.

    The sooner we can be honest about what exactly we believe, and why exactly we believe it, the sooner we [i.e. Protestants and Catholics] can be reconciled.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  94. You’re most welcome, David. I offer prayers for your journey.

  95. Hold on a second. You’re so eager to criticize the Catholic position

    Bryan,

    It’s unfortunate that you are taking my statements as a criticism since they are not. My 1-3 comparison for both Catholic and Protestant is meant to be a statement of fact that we can then analyze. Now if you don’t think I have stated things accurately then tell me where. You want to dismiss my statements perhaps so that you don’t have to analyze whether or not the Catholic position solves the problem that you believe Protestant have. And really Bryan, what point is there to critique Protestantism if Catholicism has no solution to the problem you pose? You are left like Michael was with statements that states the Catholics position but are of no apologetical value.

    Protestantism’s structural problem of not having any living ecclesial authority.

    No, Protestantism does not have ecclesial authority that is consonant with Rome. The question then is whether the RCC’s theory on an infallible magisterial ecclesial authority holds any water. Given Michael’s admission that infallibility has no explicit warrant from the standpoint of the ECF’s and there is no philosophical necessity for infallibility, it would seem that I am raising a good question that you ought to consider. Now if you think I am just trying to draw attention away from the problems of Protestantism all I can say is that’s too bad. From my standpoint it would be best to list the 1) relative positions and 2) potential problems with both positions and then see which one is most in line with historic Christianity. If all you want to do is beat up on the Protestant position with no reference to whether the Catholic one solves anything then I’m not sure what the point is.

    So long as the leader is fallible, he cannot bind the conscience, and so long as he cannot bind the conscience,

    That is a non-sequitur. A minister can bind the conscience of an individual if God has given him the tool to bind the conscience. You are in effect saying that God cannot use the Scripture to bind the conscience through the agency of the Church as the form of that ecclesiastic structure is laid out in Scriptures. So you really want to be in the position of telling God what He can and cannot do. Do you really want to tell God that there is no way that He can use a fallible human to do His work?
    This again gets back to the three pint comparisons that I laid out. If you want to ignore them and just state the Catholic position as standard by which all else gets judged then fine. But note that this has zero apologetic value and you are making no attempt to engage the Protestant position.

    If we may reject our ecclesial authority whenever we disagree with him, then there is no ecclesial authority

    So if the Catholic can disagree with the priest/theologian whenever he wants then there is no ecclesial authority in RCC?

    our concession comes after just saying in #68 “we still cannot reject their [Protestant leaders’] authority.” There is a striking contradiction here. On the one hand, you are saying that Protestants “cannot reject their [Protestant leaders’] authority”, and on the other hand you are saying “Sure, you could reject what [any Protestant leader] says.”

    Bryan, you really need to read more carefully, my point here is obvious. If someone has rightful authority we should not reject it. But it’s always possible to reject someone’s authority. That fact that we can reject it does not mean we should. Surely you understand this.

    If a priest is teaching contrary to the Church, word gets around the diocese very quickly. And if a bishop is doing so, word gets to other dioceses, and to the Holy See.

    Come on Bryan, nobody is ever going to take a word you say seriously if make this kind of claim. Catholic liberals exist out there just like they do with Protestantism. The pope may complain like JPII did with the really hard core Catholic liberation theology just south of where I am, but guess what? The Catholic liberation theology guys are still there and they are still part of the Catholic Church. If error gets systematically removed from the RCC like you say then why do we Protestants meet so few conservatives such as yourself? Evangelical churches are full of converts from Catholicism that converted from liberal, humanistic and pagan RCC congregations.

    Were I ever to become convinced that I had to convert to Catholicism the thing that I think I would struggle most over is the huge diversity over theological and practical matters in the RCC as compared with the Reformed churchesi. I know some conservative Catholic types but even here is the relatively conservative south they are rather rare birds by their own admission.

  96. ….but for you, ‘ecclesiastical authority’ refers to ‘those who generally agree with [your] interpretation of Scripture

    And for you, Bryan, the ecclesiastical authority refers to those who agree with your interpretation of tradition. By posuting a Catholic ecclesiology you have given us one more ecclesial variant to wrestle with. And it is a variant that seems to have little relation to the ecclesiology of the Early Church.

  97. Andrew,

    I was not frank enough. Let me be more frank.

    Augustine was required, by consistency, to abandon both the his Church and the scriptures if he ever found a strict contradiction between them. (see quote in #64)

    K. Doran is required, by consistency, to abandon both the his Church and the scriptures if he ever found a strict contradiction between them.

    Andrew is required, by consistency, to abandon only his Church — not the scriptures — if he ever found a strict contradiction between them.

    One of these things is not like the others. . .

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  98. and I don’t mean that only one of them has no grammatical errors ;)

  99. Andrew is required, by consistency, to abandon only his Church — not the scriptures — if he ever found a strict contradiction between them.

    K. Doran,

    Yes, if you mean that I will leave a particular congregation. I ran into a guy a few days ago who had recently left our church and denomination. But then he did not leave the Church, he is still going to another Evangelical congregation and I don’t think he has necessarily done anything wrong. Sometimes our Catholic friends make to much out of the differences between the Reformed and even Evangelical denominations. There really is a remarkable similarity historically between the various Reformed denominations and most of the differences are not that important.

    But there is no question that you get lots of Evangelicals who thumb their nose at their ecclesiastical authority and leave denomination improperly. But then there are all sorts of Catholics who thumb their nore at their ecclesiastical authority but then stay. From my perspective being a rebel is worse if you stay then you leave. If folks in rebellion are allowed to stay and remain in communion then eventually there is no practical distinction between the church and the world. And this is exacly what happens in liberal and Catholic churches. When someone says to me that they there are Catholic this does not convey much to me since there are so many different interpretations of what “Catholic” means and the RCC does not do too much to enforce its orthodoxy.

  100. K. Doran,

    That’s a nice way of putting it, and I think it goes well with what Bryan said above, namely that the Protestant myth of authority has been exposed.

    There are many non-Catholics who seem to be living in a blessed ignorance of their inconsistency (in some cases arrogant obstinacy but usually just ignorance due to lack of critical reflection), but having seen the face behind the mask, there is no going back for me. That’s one reason why I get impatient reading all the responses on this site that fall back on the “tu quoque.” As I see it, it’s now about Catholicism or agnosticism. If someone were to come on this site with an irrefutable argument against the internal consistency of Catholicism, I wouldn’t go back to Protestantism; I would lament in despair and give up, being forced to give up both the Church and the Scriptures. It’s nice to see that this was already understood by Augustine.

  101. Andrew, (re: #95,96)

    Let me try to clear some things up. I’ll go through your comments one at a time. You wrote:

    You want to dismiss my statements perhaps so that you don’t have to analyze whether or not the Catholic position solves the problem that you believe Protestant have.

    It is not true that I want to dismiss any of your statements. I want us to be reconciled in the faith, and in the Church that Christ founded. But in order for that to happen, I can’t just affirm your true statements; I must also raise criticisms of your false statements and positions. That’s the only way we can come to agreement on the truth.

    And really Bryan, what point is there to critique Protestantism if Catholicism has no solution to the problem you pose?

    Here again you have used the technique of trying to make rhetorical questions do the work of an argument. As I have explained to you before, a question does not prove anything. So, if you want to show that the Catholic Church has no solution to some problem, feel free to do so. But, your question does not show that the Catholic Church has no solution to some problem.

    You are left like Michael was with statements that states the Catholics position but are of no apologetical value.

    I don’t evaluate statements by whether they have “apologetical value”; I evaluate them by whether they are true or false. If we cannot initially determine whether a statement is true or false, then we have to back up, and try to find reasons or evidence for its truth or falsity. Mike has given good reasons for believing that the Church’s doctrine regarding Church authority is what we should expect. If Christ was willing to shed His blood for His Church, surely it would make sense that He would ensure that she was preserved in the truth of the Gospel that He entrusted to His Apostles.

    The question then is whether the RCC’s theory on an infallible magisterial ecclesial authority holds any water.

    Here’s another example of sophistry (unintended, I assume). You frame the question in such a way that the criteria by which the Church’s dogma regarding infallibility is to be judged is whether it, “holds any water.” Since you do not state the necessary and sufficient conditions for whether or not something “holds water”, you leave the question unanswerable, which makes it sophistry, because that’s how sophistry works, by mere suggestion, not by argumentation.

    Given Michael’s admission that infallibility has no explicit warrant from the standpoint of the ECF’s

    Michael never said “explicit warrant.” He said that the term ‘infallibility’ wasn’t used in the early Church Fathers in reference to the Church. But that does not mean that the early Church Fathers believed that some of the ecumenical councils might have possibly taught false doctrine. There are many good reasons for believing that the early Church Fathers believed that the Church is infallible when speaking with her full authority. I won’t mention them here, for the sake of space and time. But the notion of infallibility is implicit in the Church’s concept of her authority to determine definitively (and hence irreversibly) what belongs to orthodoxy and what belongs to heresy. Going through the Fathers and showing this, will have to wait for another post.

    and there is no philosophical necessity for infallibility, it would seem that I am raising a good question that you ought to consider.

    I have considered it. That’s one reason why I became Catholic.

    From my standpoint it would be best to list the 1) relative positions and 2) potential problems with both positions and then see which one is most in line with historic Christianity.

    That sounds quite agreeable to me. But I can only do so much at a time.

    A minister can bind the conscience of an individual if God has given him the tool to bind the conscience.

    And what would that tool be?

    You are in effect saying that God cannot use the Scripture to bind the conscience through the agency of the Church as the form of that ecclesiastic structure is laid out in Scriptures.

    I never said that God couldn’t do something. So your statement misrepresents my position (especially since you know that I, as a Catholic, affirm the Church’s doctrine that God is omnipotent.) A Church that is not infallible, however, cannot bind anyone’s conscience, because the individual knows that everything the Church says could be false, and no one can be bound in conscience to believe what he knows could be false.

    So if the Catholic can disagree with the priest/theologian whenever he wants then there is no ecclesial authority in RCC?

    Theologians have no sacramental ecclesial authority. No one is bound to believe a theologian (qua theologian). The priest is not the Magisterium, but the priest is an extension of the bishop; and the bishops, together with the pope, constitute the Church’s Magisterium, which is infallible.

    My question in #62 was: “If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong, just as the Protestants did to their Catholic bishops in the sixteenth century?”

    Your answer, in #89 was:

    Sure, you could reject what he says.

    So in #91 I pointed out the contradiction in saying that Protestants “cannot reject their [Protestant leaders’] authority” (#68), and saying “Sure, you could reject what [any Protestant leader] says.” [#89].

    And in #95, you replied:

    Bryan, you really need to read more carefully, my point here is obvious. If someone has rightful authority we should not reject it. But it’s always possible to reject someone’s authority. That fact that we can reject it does not mean we should. Surely you understand this.

    I think it is you who needs to read more carefully. It is obvious that in #62 I was not asking whether humans have the power of free choice, but whether Christians may [licitly] rebel against their ecclesial authorities, just as the Protestants of the 16th century [allegedly] did. If your answer in #89 was only to say that humans have the power of free choice, then you did not read my question in #62 carefully.

    If someone has rightful authority we should not reject it.

    Here’s the problem. If “rightful” means, “agrees with my interpretation”, then as soon as someone doesn’t “agree with my interpretation,” that person is no longer my “rightful” authority, and then I may reject what he says. That’s how you think the Protestants of the 16th century were not culpable for rejecting the authority of their Catholic bishops. Those Catholic bishops against whom the first Protestants rebelled were, in your mind, no longer “rightful authority,” because they no longer sufficiently conformed to your interpretation of Scripture. But, then it follows that if someone in your congregation (call him Joe) comes to the conclusion that your pastor no longer sufficiently conforms to Joe’s interpretation of Scripture, then your pastor is ipso facto no longer Joe’s “rightful” authority, and Joe is free to rebel as he wishes.

    I had pointed out that “If a priest is teaching contrary to the Church, word gets around the diocese very quickly. And if a bishop is doing so, word gets to other dioceses, and to the Holy See.” You replied:

    Come on Bryan, nobody is ever going to take a word you say seriously if make this kind of claim.

    Since what I’m saying is true, it should in no way detract from my credibility. When a priest or a bishop starts teaching contrary to the Magisterium, words gets around. I can refer you to sites that keep track of this stuff.

    Catholic liberals exist out there just like they do with Protestantism.

    Of course there are dissenters. If you thought I was denying that there are dissenters, then you weren’t reading carefully.

    The pope may complain like JPII did with the really hard core Catholic liberation theology just south of where I am, but guess what? The Catholic liberation theology guys are still there and they are still part of the Catholic Church.

    It belongs to the judgment of the Church sometimes to allow the tares to remain with the wheat. We have no option of starting another Church; we have only the one Christ founded. If we were to start our own, it would be merely a human institution. We take the Church as she is, and work to build up her members in the faith. Instead of judging the Church for her patient mercy with dissenters, you could focus on whether or not the log in your eye is larger, since, from a Catholic point of view, you are, in addition to being in [material] heresy, in schism, separated from full communion with the Church and from the Holy Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance. Dissenters can be a cause for scandal, but they are never an excuse for schism. Two wrongs don’t make a right. So, as I have explained to you before, pointing to Catholic dissenters is no justification for Protestants being in schism from the Church that Christ founded.

    If error gets systematically removed from the RCC like you say then why do we Protestants meet so few conservatives such as yourself?

    You assume that the systematic removal of error is equivalent to the absolute removal of dissenters. That’s not a safe assumption. If you want to meet more orthodox (not ‘conservative’, that’s a political term) Catholics, it helps to actually be in the Catholic Church. That’s where they tend to be found. One of the reasons why there are not more orthodox Catholics, is that you are not an orthodox Catholic. If you want there to be more orthodox Catholics, then become one yourself. Otherwise, your complaint seems disingenuous.

    Evangelical churches are full of converts from Catholicism that converted from liberal, humanistic and pagan RCC congregations.

    There are orthodox priests/parishes in every diocese. For that reason, anyone who left the Catholic Church because of a liberal parish, had other reasons for leaving.

    Were I ever to become convinced that I had to convert to Catholicism the thing that I think I would struggle most over is the huge diversity over theological and practical matters in the RCC as compared with the Reformed churches.

    There are not two Catholic orthodoxies. There is one faith, and hence one Catholic orthodoxy. Any Catholic who does not affirm that one faith, is a dissenter. That’s the case for anything that must be held with divine and Catholic faith, and religious submission of mind and will. If you have questions about what the Church actually teaches, we can explain that to you. There are other theological questions about which there may be disagreement, because the Church has not defined the matter one way or the other. But there is not ‘diversity’ on what is de fide; anything other than orthodoxy is dissent (not ‘diversity’).

    In #96 you wrote:

    And for you, Bryan, the ecclesiastical authority refers to those who agree with your interpretation of tradition. By positing a Catholic ecclesiology you have given us one more ecclesial variant to wrestle with. And it is a variant that seems to have little relation to the ecclesiology of the Early Church.

    Again, you have misrepresented my position. Ecclesial authority does not refer to “those who agree with my interpretation of tradition.” Rather, ecclesial authority belongs to those to whom that tradition was entrusted, and my interpretation of tradition must conform to their interpretation of Scripture and tradition. The tradition is not a set of persons. Christ entrusted the Tradition to a set of persons. So we find the persons, and through them, we find the authentic interpretation of the Tradition. Protestants, by contrast, pick out who counts as ecclesial authority by seeing whose interpretation of Scripture most closely conforms to their own. That’s a night and day difference.

    Furthermore, Catholic ecclesiology is not “one more ecclesial variant.” It is what the whole world knew for the first millennium of Church history. Only ecclesial deists treat the ecclesiology recognized by the whole Church for its first thousand years of existence, as a mere “variant,” one among many from which we must choose.

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem (b. 315) makes this point writing:

    “And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all.”

    There is a good reason the PCA doesn’t call itself the Catholic Church. For one, it can’t be the Church that Christ founded, because it was founded in 1973. For another, it isn’t catholic (i.e. universal). That is revealed even in its name: Presbyterian Church of America. PCA missionaries in other countries, are working for an American (as in US, baseball, apple-pie) institution. It is an American ecclesial community, having approximately 341,000 members as of last year, most of whom (at least 95%) live in the US. By contrast, the Catholic Church is a worldwide institution gaining almost 20 million members per year worldwide, now numbering 1.166 billion total members, which is 17.4% of the entire population of the planet. Among the US population, there are about 68 million Catholics (up 1.49% from last year), which entails that US Catholics constitute only about 6% of the Catholic Church. This Catholic Church, which Christ founded, is the rock of the Lord that supplanted the Roman kingdom of iron and clay, and has become a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Dan 2:25) Why? Because the Catholic Church goes all the way back in an unbroken succession, to St. Peter himself (the “rock”), to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom (Matt 16:18). St. Peter’s Basilica is literally built right on top of the bones of St. Peter, the rock:

    I have to take break. (I know, I’ve been saying that repeatedly now.) But, isn’t it time that we (Catholics and Protestants) put this almost 500 year old schism to rest, and return to full communion, to the unity in charity that we know Christ wants His disciples to display before the world, as a reflection of His unity in charity with the Father? Let’s get it done. The time is short. And the opportunity for our generation to be the instrument by which this wall is torn down, as was the Berlin wall in 1989, is right before us, right now.

    “he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ” — St Cyprian (On the Unity of the Church)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  102. Andrew (# 95);

    So long as the leader is fallible, he cannot bind the conscience, and so long as he cannot bind the conscience,

    That is a non-sequitur. A minister can bind the conscience of an individual if God has given him the tool to bind the conscience.

    What tool? Infallibility, perhaps?

    You are in effect saying that God cannot use the Scripture to bind the conscience through the agency of the Church as the form of that ecclesiastic structure is laid out in Scriptures.

    But the Scriptures are just writing; they cannot speak for themselves. Everyone with a rudimentary understanding of hermeneutics know that writings must be interpret; and a writing cannot ‘interpret itself.’ Many protestants believe – and teach – that ‘Scripture interprets Scripture.’ If that were true, why does people reach many different conclusions? The answer, of course, is that people use a different hermeneutical approach. To use an analogy I have used before: Scripture is to the Magisterium what a constitution is to those given interpretive authority. A constitution is always interpreted; it cannot ‘speak for itself.’ (If it could, why does one pass new laws?)

    You also claim that there is “laid out in Scriptures” a certain “ecclesiastic structure.” I disagree. I believe we see bits and pieces, but no complete ecclesiology. But that isn’t what Scripture is for. For that one has the Magisterium – and the Canonical Laws.

  103. I do think it might be useful to look at Andrew’s 1-3 and analyze them. He seems to want us to do that. I think he thinks they prove something they don’t.

    In the case of the Protestant Churches the congregants hear from an infallible source (the Scriptures) mediated by an elder/bishop as per the stipulations in Scripture. But there are three potential problems:

    You have made some assumptions already. If you are just talking about arriving at a conclusion that is true then by logic this is right. True premises (the scriptures) plus valid reasoning give true conclusions. But what we need is more than logic. We need shepherding. Most churches recognize that exegetical skills alone don’t make a good pastor. There is more to it.

    1) The minister here may reject that infallible authority – This is common among Protestants in general, but it is relatively rare among Evangelicals and generally unheard of among the Reformed.
    2) The congregants hearing the infallible source may reject the source as infallible– Again generally rather rare among the Evangelicals as a whole.
    3) Those hearing the infallible source may reject the minister’s interpretation of the infallible source – this is much more common than #1 or 2 although within Evangelicalism it usually focuses on non-foundational issues.

    First of all, your list is incomplete. The big danger is the pastor could be led astray by human tradition. You don’t deal with that here. It seems a stunning omission. I know when I moved from church to church a bit I was surprised at how different the traditions were. They all sincerely thought they were following the bible and not tradition but the doctrine they arrived at was predictable only if you knew the tradition they studied in. So the influence is huge and unconscious. If you contemplate that for a while the implications are scary.

    Secondly, you refer to “foundational issues”. There is no reason to assume that foundational issues would be immune from these kinds of errors. Then there is the pesky question of what is foundational anyway. There is no list in the bible.

    Now, in the case of the Catholic Churches the congregants hear from an infallible source (the Scriptures + tradition as elucidated by the Magisterium) mediated by a priest as per the stipulations of the tradition of the RCC. But there are three potential problems:
    1) The priest here may reject that infallible authority – There are no shortage of Catholics who do this and it underscores the conservative/liberal divide within Catholicism.

    I don’t think this problem is anywhere near as serious as you say. There is an issue with theologians and some orders of priests. But most bishops are solid. Liberal priests exist but they tend to avoid public statements of heresy. They know they can get in trouble. This is the point. Everybody knows what orthodoxy is. It is a matter of obedience. Sadly, it does not always happen. But it is infinitely preferable to the situation where nobody really knows what true orthodoxy looks like.

    2) Those hearing the infallible source may reject the source as infallible – No shortage of cafeteria Catholics out there.
    3) Those hearing the infallible source may reject the priest’s interpretation of the infallible source – This happens all the time in Catholicism just as in Protestantism.

    Yes, teaching the truth does not guarantee people believe it. Catholics do disagree with their orthodox priests but in a different way. They do know there is an authority there. It is like a teenager arguing that he should be allowed to stay out all night. At some level they both know father is right.

  104. Andrew (#95):

    In my #79, I said: “Until you answer the questions I’ve noted that you haven’t answered, and give a reason for denying what I just quoted from myself, I can only see your responses as evasions.” In your most recent set of exchanges with Bryan, I do not detect such answers or such a reason. But your contributions to that exchange enable me to see that I was wrong to imply that you’re trying to evade the issues I raised. I now think you simply do not understand the issues. In this comment, I shall explain why I think that, focusing on one point in yet another attempt to clear up the issue for you. I do not expect that clarification to convince you to become Catholic. That would be a choice, not an intellectual compulsion. My aim is simply to get you to understand what you need to consider.

    In #95, you addressed Bryan thus:

    The question then is whether the RCC’s theory on an infallible magisterial ecclesial authority holds any water. Given Michael’s admission that infallibility has no explicit warrant from the standpoint of the ECF’s and there is no philosophical necessity for infallibility, it would seem that I am raising a good question that you ought to consider.

    Of course Bryan replied that he had considered it, and that such consideration is one reason why he became Catholic. Thus, in the paragraph from #101 where he referred to those considerations, he wrote:

    Michael never said “explicit warrant.” He said that the term ‘infallibility’ wasn’t used in the early Church Fathers in reference to the Church. But that does not mean that the early Church Fathers believed that some of the ecumenical councils might have possibly taught false doctrine….[T]he notion of infallibility is implicit in the Church’s concept of her authority to determine definitively (and hence irreversibly) what belongs to orthodoxy and what belongs to heresy.

    The question now arises: Why should we think that the doctrine of ecclesial infallibility is “implicit” in the Fathers? My argument was that there is a “good” philosophical reason to believe the Church has an infallible interpretive authority, so that there is accordingly good reason to believe that the Father’s understanding of the Church’s teaching authority should be understood as Bryan has said above. For convenience, I shall once again quote the philosophical half of my argument:

    …without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, …without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the “sources” recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation. To that, Newman said: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what is given.” That authority cannot be me or some collection of people who, lacking sacramental authority, happen to agree with my interpretations of the sources. For in that case I would be submitting not to God but to myself.. To that, Newman said: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what is given.” That authority cannot be me or some collection of people who, lacking sacramental authority, happen to agree with my interpretations of the sources. For in that case I would be submitting not to God but to myself.

    I said that that argument affords “good reason” to accept the claims of the Catholic Magisterium for itself. But the response of yours in #95, which I quoted above, does not address that reason. In fact, it gives no indication that you have even understood what that reason is. Rather, you assume that because my philosophical argument establishes no rational “necessity” for accepting ecclesial infallibility, you need pay no notice to the reason actually given by the argument.

    Now for one thing, that reflects a philosophical failure to distinguish between reasons that are necessitating and reasons that are non-necessitating but still good. In logical terms, it is a failure to distinguish deductively sound arguments, which necessitate their conclusions, from the sort of inductive argument philosophers call “inference to the best explanation.” In many contexts, there are good arguments of the latter type which do not rise to the level of the former, and indeed could not, given the nature of the subject matter. This is one of those contexts. Why?

    As I’ve said to you before, you could readily accept my philosophical argument without having to conclude that you should affirm ecclesial infallibility. You could admit, in other words, that without such an authority, “divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the sources recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation,” and yet be content with that result. That outcome is in fact what I’ve observed in many Protestants I’ve had these discussions with. In the end, such Protestants willingly concede that religion is just a matter of opinion–that there is no way, even in principle, for us at this stage of history to distinguish between the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation on the one hand, and peoples’ theological opinions on the other. That makes it all a matter of opinion. But for somebody who believes that said content has not only been preserved and transmitted, but can be reliably distinguished from mere opinions about what the sources mean, the attitude of such Protestants will not do. I have been operating on the assumption that you agree with that. If you do, then my argument has given you a reason to affirm ecclesial infallibility. Of course, that reason is a “good” reason only if the argument itself is sound. But even assuming my argument is sound, it is still not be “necessitating.” For there is no rational necessity for you to hold the premise that religion is much more than a matter of opinion.

    I have gone to all this trouble to clarify the issue for you because you have given no indication whatsoever that you understand what I’ve just said. That is why your objections to my argument simply do not address the argument. You should at least do me the courtesy of considering whether my argument does what it purports to do, and not dismiss it for failing to do what it does not purport to do. And to do that courtesy, you must first understand the argument.

  105. Bryan

    Sorry to interrupt the discussion about Infallibility and other topics, but i wanted to ask about a paragraph in the article.

    In general, Protestants think differently about how to go about interpreting Scripture than do Catholics. When trying to understand the meaning of a passage in Scripture, Catholics have always looked to the Tradition; we seek to determine how the Church has understood and explained the passage over the past two millennia. We look up what the Church Fathers and Church Doctors have said about the passage. By contrast, Protestants typically do not turn first to the Church Fathers when seeking to understand the meaning of a passage or term in Scripture that is unclear. Protestants generally turn to contemporary lexicons and commentaries written by contemporary biblical scholars whom they trust. Only rarely, and perhaps as a final step, do they turn to the Church Fathers. The common form of the Protestant mind is ready to believe that the Fathers often got Scripture wrong, and to use their own interpretation of Scripture to ‘correct’ or critically evaluate the Fathers. That kind of a stance toward the Fathers does not dispose Protestants to be guided by the Fathers in their interpretation of Scripture.2 In short, the Catholic approach sees the Fathers and the councils as the primary guide to interpreting Scripture, while the Protestant approach sees the lexicon and contemporary academic commentaries [that one trusts] as the primary guide to interpreting Scripture, and that by which the Fathers’ theology and interpretation of Scripture are critically evaluated.

    the bolded sentence is the one i wanted to ask if we think that this statement about the difference in scripture study is still true?

    With the rise of internet and ease of access. Aren’t people’s habits are changing, that they will now first go to the internet and “google” a topic to find information or an explanation. With the number of sites/blogs and authors that offer variety of opinions about our faith what is to prevent people from getting the wrong or a variety of explanations?

    Basically, with all of the sites/authors that offer variety of opinions how can we prevent us from becoming what we criticize?

    thanks

  106. Hello Norm,

    the bolded sentence is the one i wanted to ask if we think that this statement about the difference in scripture study is still true?

    I wrote that sentence less than two weeks ago, so yes, I think it is still true.

    :-)

    You raise two good questions. First, how will the rise of new technologies change the way people approach the Christian faith, in relation to the Protestant-Catholic divide? And second, how can Christians avoid falling into error, given the explosion of different positions, arguments, opinions, etc. immediately available through the new media.

    Regarding the first question, the rise of the new media has changed everything. It has almost made groups like the National Council of Churches to be superfluous, because that conversation is now taking place on a much larger scale at the grass-roots level. Previously, the tendency was to talk about religion only among those who shared one’s own general theological system, especially given our cultural tendency to keep religion a private matter. But with the rise of the new media, we are now much more exposed to other religious traditions, and much more likely to enter into discussions about other traditions. It creates a kind of forum in which different positions and arguments are encountered and debated, by everyone. So it requires us to investigate these questions more deeply, while at the same time, in some respects, making it easier for us to do so. Prior to the new media, it was easier to carry on without having your beliefs challenged. But the internet especially creates such a challenge, because it connects people across those traditional boundaries, and thus exposes everyone to different ideas. And that creates the challenge to the status quo.

    So this is forcing Catholics and Protestants to talk to each other, and try to understand each other, and even debate each other, as they come together in the public [virtual] forum. And that’s a good thing, in my opinion. But I don’t think that the new media in themselves change how Protestants and Catholics approach Scripture. Access to the internet doesn’t in itself remove the philosophy (i.e. ecclesial deism) underlying the Protestant tendency not to read Scripture through the Church Fathers. Nor can it change the theological principle underlying the Catholic reason for viewing Scripture through the Fathers. But it can help us all see why we approach Scripture differently. (That’s the purpose of my post!) Many people now use Bible and language software that allows them to better understand exegetical points. And, greater access to the Church Fathers through sites like New Advent and CCEL is introducing many people to the Fathers, and allowing them to search through the Fathers. (Most people, I presume, do not read the Fathers online, but perhaps through encountering the Fathers online are prompted to purchase printed works of the Fathers.)

    Regarding your second question, we avoid error in light of the proliferation of heretical ideas all around us, by doing what Catholics have always done, turn to the Church. In fact, the proliferation of various interpretations of Scripture, and competing theological ideas is precisely that by which we see all the greater our need for the Church, as divinely authorized teacher and mother. In this way, the rise of the new media, and the resulting exposure to all these various traditions is in itself an apologetic for the Catholic Church, because it is clear to everyone that this cacaphony of competing voices could not have been intended by the Good Shepherd for His sheep. His sheep hear His voice, in the simple voice of the Magisterium of the Church Christ founded. When persons only ever attended their local Protestant congregation, it was easy to believe that this was Christ’s Church. But the internet shows denominationalism for what it is, diffusing not only the illusion that “x denomination” is the Church that Christ founded, but also the illusion that some set of disagreeing denominations could be the Church Christ founded.

    I think the internet is changing the Catholic Church in the US. It is hard to underestimate the influence of folks like Fr. Z and Thomas Peters, especially on the young. The internet allows Catholics to find and connect to other orthodox Catholics, lay-persons, theologians, priests and bishops. Dissenting Catholics have no real presence on the internet, or only very little. On the internet, dissent can’t stand up to the light of truth; falsehood and heresy flourish only when hidden, not when exposed. And likewise, Protestantism as such survives on the internet only by remaining a closed conversation with other similarly-minded Protestants, in specifically designated Protestant internet ‘burroughs.’ As soon as Protestants and Catholics start mixing it up online, the Protestants start becoming Catholic. And that’s why Protestants who have witnessed this, warn other Protestants not to talk with Catholics, and tell others that talking online with Catholics is dangerous. But, either way, no one can stop what is happening: Catholics and Protestants are talking to each other in record numbers about their beliefs, and about how to resolve what still divides us. My hope and prayer is that this younger generation says “Enough with these divisions,” and pulls together into full communion, so that Christians can stand together as one Body, before a world fragmented by sin, selfishness and despair. Our unity in charity is the sign of hope to the world, that Christ whose name we bear as ‘Christians’, is truly the Savior of the world.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  107. Andrew,

    Let me be more frank still:

    Augustine, in order to be consistent, will abandon both the visible church of which he is a member, and the scriptures themselves, if that visible church visibly teaches definitively something that is contrary to the scriptures (see quote in #64 above).

    K. Doran, in order to be consistent, will abandon both the visible church of which he is a member, and the scriptures themselves, if that visible church visibly teaches definitively something that is contrary to the scriptures.

    Andrew, in order to be consistent, will abandon the visible church of which he is a member, but _retain_ the scriptures themselves, if that visible church visibly teaches definitively something that is contrary to the scriptures. Then he will pick a new visible church, while claiming he remained in the invisible church all along.

    Augustine opened himself up the possibility of being definitively scandalized by the visible teaching of his visible church. He did not hide behind the invisible church definition in order to allow himself to retain faith in the scriptures should his visible church scandalize with incorrect definitive doctrine. But you do allow yourself to hide behind the invisible church definition, so that you can retain faith in the scriptures AND in some kind of invisible church if the visible church of which you are a member contradicts the scriptures.

    And that’s what makes Augustine’s (and my) ecclesiology Catholic, and yours protestant. And I don’t believe that Augustine is alone. There ain’t many church fathers with protestant ecclesiology, Andrew. The next time you comment online, will you take into account what we’ve said here? Or are you just going to repeat Augustine’s comment about the as-of-his-day underdeveloped theology of “plenary” councils, and their relationship with scripture?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  108. Yes, teaching the truth does not guarantee people believe it. Catholics do disagree with their orthodox priests but in a different way. They do know there is an authority there. It is like a teenager arguing that he should be allowed to stay out all night. At some level they both know father is right.

    Randy,

    Thanks for addressing my point. In the interest of time let me just take this last point which is the one I was hoping Bryan would address. He asked me “If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong…?” So this is why I set up the matrix you addressed and I was particularly focusing on the #3 from the Catholic side. Of course the answer to Bryan first of all is that the Bible is infallible and can bind the conscience. But of course the laity may disagree with the interpretation of this infallible source by the elder/bishop. This happens all the time in Protestant churches. But the same thing happens in Catholic churches too which is I think what you are saying above. The laity recognizes that there is an infallible source in the Magisterium of the RCC but they differ with the priest/bishop concerning the interpretation of that infallible source. So the problem that Bryan poses is mirrored in the Catholic situation and his positing an infallible interpreter of the infallible source has not solved the problem he posed. Make sense?

    So how are we to interpret tradition? Since we are the issue of ecclesiology, let me ask you how the EO vs the RCC interpret ecclesiology. They both look at the same body of tradition and yet both come to very different conclusions. So for me from the outside looking in what am I to think? Both traditions claim to be of ancient origin and both claim to be interpreting tradition correctly and infallibly. But of course they cannot both be infallible. So again the question – how do we interpret tradition? It certainly does not interpret itself.

    So my Catholic friends have interpreted tradition in the way that seems right to them. Sometimes this comes out in a way that agrees with the current pope or other popes and sometime it does not. But I’m not going to judge one to be right and the other wrong based on Church tradition. Who can say that for instance Hans Kung is right and Benedict XVI is wrong given Church tradition? If it cannot be decided who is right on the pivotal issues of ecclesiology between Rome and Constantinople, both speaking “infallibly,” then how can we really judge on other doctrines based on the tradition of the Church? From the historic Protestant standpoint and the standpoint of the early centuries of the Church, there was no infallible tradition outside of the Bible. The tradition of the Church was never meant to be a standard in the same ultimate sense that the Scriptures were. We find no record of any theologian in the early centuries of the Church arguing for a charism of infallibility given to the Church. It is Augustine who finally says something explicit about the Scripture vs. tradition noting that the Scriptures are absolutely superior to all other writings of the Church. It’s a pity that Rome did not continue in this tradition!!

  109. Andrew, in order to be consistent, will abandon the visible church of which he is a member, but _retain_ the scriptures themselves, if that visible church visibly teaches definitively something that is contrary to the scriptures. Then he will pick a new visible church, while claiming he remained in the invisible church all along.

    K – It’s just like my friend who left our church and denomination. He did not leave one visible church and go to another. He is still in THE visible church. There is no need to appeal to an invisible church here. And you are making much too much of the distinctions between the denominations. Now of course it is not always crystal clear what is and what is not a true church but I can’t say that’s particularly an issue for us. Now the Catholic congregations don’t have this problem because folks always stay put. So you have the faithful right along with the faithless and everyone, whether they are Ted Kennedy or Hans Kung or Mother Teresa or JPII, are all described as “Catholics.” Catholic unity then becomes not unity in Christ but unity with everyone who calls themselves Catholic. And here is where modern Rome is distinctly different from the Early Church where Christian communion really meant something. To say that Augustine would have recognized the RCC of today as the true church is quite an assumption.

    . There ain’t many church fathers with protestant ecclesiology, Andrew.

    But we can hardly associate the ecclesiology of Rome today with that of the early centuries of the Church. What Rome claims is that all her additions to make the massive bureaucracy she has today are “developments.” But try reading Clement sometime – he does not even make a distinction between elder and bishop let alone speak of any bishop ruling over multiple churches. And you want to say that early church ecclesiology is consonant with Rome today?

  110. Sorry folks – I’m just going to have to bow out. I’m pressed for time this weekend and I just cannot spend the time posting to multiple people.

    I will read your responses but I probably won’t respond.

    Cheers….

  111. Andrew,

    Of course the answer to Bryan first of all is that the Bible is infallible and can bind the conscience. But of course the laity may disagree with the interpretation of this infallible source by the elder/bishop. This happens all the time in Protestant churches. But the same thing happens in Catholic churches too which is I think what you are saying above. The laity recognizes that there is an infallible source in the Magisterium of the RCC but they differ with the priest/bishop concerning the interpretation of that infallible source. So the problem that Bryan poses is mirrored in the Catholic situation and his positing an infallible interpreter of the infallible source has not solved the problem he posed. Make sense?

    It does and it does not make sense. It seems like both times a call is being made to bind the conscience. But in one case it is being done by a book and in the other it is being done by a living authority. But in practice the difference is huge. A living magisterium can directly address heretical ideas. They can name names and be as precise about what they are condemning as they need to be. So you know the church does not approve of liberation theology. Why? Because they have condemned it directly. Can you say the bible condemns it? It does not do so by name. So if you say it does someone who says it does not can just say you are wrong. They can say anybody is wrong. But if they say the church is wrong they raise some serious questions about whether they are truly Catholic.

    So how are we to interpret tradition? Since we are the issue of ecclesiology, let me ask you how the EO vs the RCC interpret ecclesiology. They both look at the same body of tradition and yet both come to very different conclusions.

    Are they really that far apart? I don’t think so. I would prefer to leave EO off the table in this discussion because for the purposes of this post they are essentially Catholic. It is another can of worms.

    So my Catholic friends have interpreted tradition in the way that seems right to them. Sometimes this comes out in a way that agrees with the current pope or other popes and sometime it does not. But I’m not going to judge one to be right and the other wrong based on Church tradition. Who can say that for instance Hans Kung is right and Benedict XVI is wrong given Church tradition?

    I guess I never wonder who is right between Kung and Benedict. It is more a question of knowing why we know Benedict is right. To me it is obvious Kung’s thinking has come off the rails. Not in my opinion but objectively. The question is how can I defend that without being ad hoc?

    From the historic Protestant standpoint and the standpoint of the early centuries of the Church, there was no infallible tradition outside of the Bible. The tradition of the Church was never meant to be a standard in the same ultimate sense that the Scriptures were. We find no record of any theologian in the early centuries of the Church arguing for a charism of infallibility given to the Church. It is Augustine who finally says something explicit about the Scripture vs. tradition noting that the Scriptures are absolutely superior to all other writings of the Church. It’s a pity that Rome did not continue in this tradition!!

    You need to read more history. The word infallible was not used but the concept was there. Especially with respect church councils. They were considered infallible. So you are just uninformed on that point. BTW, the church does teach that the scriptures are absolutely superior to all other writing of the church. So I am not understanding your point there.

  112. Andrew, (re: #108,#109)

    You wrote:

    But of course the laity may disagree with the interpretation of this infallible source by the elder/bishop. This happens all the time in Protestant churches. But the same thing happens in Catholic churches too which is I think what you are saying above. The laity recognizes that there is an infallible source in the Magisterium of the RCC but they differ with the priest/bishop concerning the interpretation of that infallible source. So the problem that Bryan poses is mirrored in the Catholic situation and his positing an infallible interpreter of the infallible source has not solved the problem he posed.

    Although there is no living magisterial authority within Protestantism, on account of the basis of any Protestant pastors’ ‘authority’ being the layman’s general agreement with that pastor’s interpretation of Scripture, that is not the case in the Catholic Church. Catholic laity who disagree with their priest about the teaching of the Magisterium have in principle recourse to resolution by way of appeal to the Magisterium. By contrast, because the basis of any Protestant pastors’ ‘authority’ is the layman’s general agreement with that pastor’s interpretation of Scripture, therefore if a Protestant layperson finds himself in sufficient disagreement with his Protestant pastor, his pastor ipso facto ceases to be his authority. And by the principle that an authority who is authoritative only insofar as one agrees with him is no authority at all, that entails that Protestantism has no living magisterial authority.

    So how are we to interpret tradition?

    If this is a sincere question, and not a merely rhetorical question, then I answered it in comment #101.

    Since we are [discussing] the issue of ecclesiology, let me ask you how the EO vs the RCC interpret ecclesiology. They both look at the same body of tradition and yet both come to very different conclusions. So for me from the outside looking in what am I to think?

    Again, if this is a sincere question, and not merely a rhetorical question, I answered it in comment #87.

    So my Catholic friends have interpreted tradition in the way that seems right to them.

    I’ve already explained what’s mistaken about that claim in comment #101. We don’t pick out who is authoritative by seeing whose positions match our interpretation of tradition. We submit to the interpretation of tradition given by those to whom that tradition was entrusted.

    Sometimes this comes out in a way that agrees with the current pope or other popes and sometime it does not. But I’m not going to judge one to be right and the other wrong based on Church tradition. Who can say that for instance Hans Kung is right and Benedict XVI is wrong given Church tradition?

    If this is a sincere question, and not merely a rhetorical question, then you can find the answer in comment #101.

    If it cannot be decided who is right on the pivotal issues of ecclesiology between Rome and Constantinople, both speaking “infallibly,” then how can we really judge on other doctrines based on the tradition of the Church?

    The protasis of the conditional is false. It can be decided who is right and who is wrong.

    From the historic Protestant standpoint and the standpoint of the early centuries of the Church, there was no infallible tradition outside of the Bible.

    That’s not true, in part because it would entail that between the time of Pentecost and the time the first book of the NT was written, the Church would have had no infallible tradition other than that received from the Jews. And that would imply that only when Matthew sat down to write his gospel, some years later, did the Church finally know for sure what the gospel was.

    The tradition of the Church was never meant to be a standard in the same ultimate sense that the Scriptures were.

    Scripture was (and remains) part of the Tradition of the Church.

    We find no record of any theologian in the early centuries of the Church arguing for a charism of infallibility given to the Church.

    It is typically the case in Church history that a belief is not defended, until it is challenged by some heresy. And often that can take some time to occur, even centuries. But we should not take silence of that sort as evidence that the Church didn’t believe the doctrine that is then defended. (That would be to commit the basic fallacy of the argument from silence.) We’ll discuss the evidence for the Church’s infallibility in a future article. There is good evidence for this doctrine, even if the early Church did not explicitly use this term.

    It is Augustine who finally says something explicit about the Scripture vs. tradition noting that the Scriptures are absolutely superior to all other writings of the Church. It’s a pity that Rome did not continue in this tradition!!

    The greater pity, I think, is that you don’t take the time to try to understand the Catholic position before criticizing straw men. The Catholic Church has never stopped recognizing the distinction in authority between “all other writings of the Church” and Sacred Scripture. Your [mistaken] assumption is that if the Church is infallible in some definition of dogma, then that definition has the same authority as does Sacred Scripture. But as we have explained before, two people having different levels of authority, are not made equal in authority if they both utter a true statement. Likewise, the charism of protection from error when the Church defines a doctrine does not make the Church’s de fide statements equivalent in authority to that of Scripture.

    It’s just like my friend who left our church and denomination. He did not leave one visible church and go to another. He is still in THE visible church. There is no need to appeal to an invisible church here.

    As soon as you deny that the visible Church is one institution, then you are left only with an invisible Church, having as members some visible persons. Tom Brown and I explained why in our articled titled “Christ Founded a Visible Church“. In addition, I explained that argument in particular in more detail in my post titled “Why Protestantism has no Visible Church.”

    And you are making much too much of the distinctions between the denominations.

    If they were actually schisms, what would be different? (That’s not a rhetorical question.) And if they are actually schisms, then it is not K.Doran who is “making too much of the distinction between” them; it is you who are not recognizing schism for what is it.

    Now the Catholic congregations don’t have this problem because folks always stay put. So you have the faithful right along with the faithless and everyone, whether they are Ted Kennedy or Hans Kung or Mother Teresa or JPII, are all described as “Catholics.” Catholic unity then becomes not unity in Christ but unity with everyone who calls themselves Catholic. And here is where modern Rome is distinctly different from the Early Church where Christian communion really meant something. To say that Augustine would have recognized the RCC of today as the true church is quite an assumption.

    I’ve already addressed this point in comment #101. St. Augustine would recognize that to the four marks of the Church given in the Creed, you’ve added (without any authorization, but entirely by arrogated ‘authority’) an additional mark: discipline. This was the same tendency of the Cathars, the Novatians and the Montanists. It is in large part why Tertullian became a heretic; he wanted the pope to be more strict with sinners. It was why the Donatist formed a schism, a schism which St. Augustine spent years trying to heal, by showing that there is no justification for forming a schism or remaining in schism, even if some priests are not as holy or orthodox as they should be. St. Augustine would recognize the position you are defending, as the same error as the Cathars. Discipline is not a mark of the Church. Protestants who had no ecclesial authority simply stipulated that discipline is a mark of the Church, as a justification for forming a schism from the Catholic Church.

    But we can hardly associate the ecclesiology of Rome today with that of the early centuries of the Church. What Rome claims is that all her additions to make the massive bureaucracy she has today are “developments.” But try reading Clement sometime – he does not even make a distinction between elder and bishop let alone speak of any bishop ruling over multiple churches. And you want to say that early church ecclesiology is consonant with Rome today?

    We have read St. Clement, Andrew. Your argument is that because St. Clement does not make an explicit distinction between presbyter and bishop, or speak of the monoepiscopacy, therefore Rome’s present ecclesiology is not a development from her first-century ecclesiology. That’s a non sequitur. In addition, it commits the fallacy of arguing from silence. It assumes that there was a need for him to write about the distinction, such that, if he didn’t write about it, it must not have existed. That’s not a safe assumption. We know from St. Ignatius’ letters, written around the same time, that both the distinction between bishop and priest, and the monoepiscopacy were widely recognized at that time (AD 107). We also see that the bishop-presbyter distinction, as well as the monoepiscpacy, were universally accepted and practiced throughout the whole Church at a very early time, without any protest from Christians decrying these as novelties, or quarrel between different regions regarding these two things (as, for example, there was with the date of Easter). That is evidence that these were there from the beginning

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  113. Andrew (#108),

    [Bryan] asked me “If an authority is not infallible, then why can’t you reject what he says, whenever you think he is wrong…?” So this is why I set up the matrix you addressed and I was particularly focusing on the #3 from the Catholic side. Of course the answer to Bryan first of all is that the Bible is infallible and can bind the conscience. But of course the laity may disagree with the interpretation of this infallible source by the elder/bishop. This happens all the time in Protestant churches. But the same thing happens in Catholic churches too which is I think what you are saying above. The laity recognizes that there is an infallible source in the Magisterium of the RCC but they differ with the priest/bishop concerning the interpretation of that infallible source. So the problem that Bryan poses is mirrored in the Catholic situation and his positing an infallible interpreter of the infallible source has not solved the problem he posed. Make sense?

    No, it doesn’t make sense. It’s pure sophistry. And red herring. Because you don’t address the question at all, you evade it. The question isn’t if all people will believe in any given ecclesiology – but if one can be an authority and speak on behalf of God and not be infallible. If infallibility entailed that everyone would believe automatically – which would be the natural end of your argument – then Christ wasn’t infallible. Not only didn’t everyone believe: they crucified Him.

    Bryan’s point is that if an God given authority is to be truly authoritative it must also be infallible. Because the source of the authority – the one granting people the authority – is Himself infallible. A civil judge isn’t infallible, because the state or the judiciary power isn’t infallible. But in divine matters – if one truly have authority – one must be infallible. Because the source – God – is. Remember that authority basically means ‘author’s rights.’ If I write a story and say afterwards that the major character was born in Liverpool, than it follows that the major character was born in Liverpool. Because I’m the author, and I have the right to ‘decide.’ And if I say that one of my friends, let’s call him Johnny, has the authority to speak on my behalf in regards to the story, than what he says about the story would probably be true. But here the comparison brakes down. Why? Because I’m not infallible. Because I’m not God. And because I cannot give any man a spiritual or supernatural ability. But this doesn’t apply to the Church. Because our Lord is infallible. Because our Lord is God. And because our Lord can give any man a spiritual or supernatural ability.

    As a last comment I must add that you haven’t addressed any question. You have merely evaded them. The question here isn’t ‘why should we infer infallibility of the Magisterium,’ but ‘is it possible to be authoritative in divine matters and still reman fallible?’ Because of the source of said authority my answer must be no. If a person looses authority (in your eyes) when he teaches something you disagree with then (in your eyes) he really didn’t have authority after all. You would merely be ‘submitting’ to those reaffirming your own beliefs.

    So how are we to interpret tradition? Since we are the issue of ecclesiology, let me ask you how the EO vs the RCC interpret ecclesiology. They both look at the same body of tradition and yet both come to very different conclusions.

    Here you ‘act all protestant’ again. The question, as I have called you on above (which you haven’t answer, BTW), is not ‘how do we view these different sources?’ but ‘do that man have authority?’

    So again the question – how do we interpret tradition? It certainly does not interpret itself.

    But Scripture does? Man, you don’t even try to conceal your sophistry, do you?

    Who can say that for instance Hans Kung is right and Benedict XVI is wrong given Church tradition?

    This might be a slip of the keyboard, but you have just asked the very question that must be asked: how do we know that any given thing is right or wrong? The answer, of course, is that one of these – Benedict XVI, or rather John Paul II (as he was pope when Küng was disciplined) – has infallibility in virtue of his office, and the other – Hans Küng – does not.

    If it cannot be decided who is right on the pivotal issues of ecclesiology between Rome and Constantinople, both speaking “infallibly,” then how can we really judge on other doctrines based on the tradition of the Church?

    Again you ask questions as if they were arguments. This is basic sophistry. Your question assumes that Rome and Constantinople both speaks infallibly; that they are equal. But that is a claim. And claims must be supported, not merely asserted. As the old saying goes: “What is asserted without reason may be negated without reason.”

    From the historic Protestant standpoint and the standpoint of the early centuries of the Church, there was no infallible tradition outside of the Bible.

    And what makes this protestant standpoint true?

    The tradition of the Church was never meant to be a standard in the same ultimate sense that the Scriptures were.

    Again: we want argument, not assertions.

    We find no record of any theologian in the early centuries of the Church arguing for a charism of infallibility given to the Church.

    Which is obviously false. The first that springs to mind is St. Matthew, who reports Christ saying this to St. Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16,18-19) The second one is St. Luke, who reports Christ saying this to the Apostles: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10,16) And if you were right in this, so what? The Church, not the Bible, is ‘the pillar and ground of truth.’ What time she says something is irrelevant.

    It is Augustine who finally says something explicit about the Scripture vs. tradition noting that the Scriptures are absolutely superior to all other writings of the Church. It’s a pity that Rome did not continue in this tradition!!

    And yet he tells us that he knows this because he has been told so by the Catholic Church.

  114. Bryan,

    I know that I’m jumping into this discussion quite late, and it’s actually not for debate of any kind with anyone (although I am becoming increasingly convinced that the Church is who and what she claims to be– please pray for me, as my time of reconciliation may be very close at hand!). I just want to make a few observations about the last part of your comment #101. I long greatly for unity for all Christians, as you do, but my time spent in Reformed, extremely anti-Catholic circles has left me not at all convinced that this unity will happen within our lifetimes.

    Even the more broad-minded, “ecumenical,” Reformed-leaning friend with whom I met for coffee and theological discussion today told me that he has considered the claims of the Catholic Church, and in his view and almost his exact words, there will be no true unity among Christians until the Catholic and Orthodox Churches give up their respective claims to being the “One True Church” with apostolic succession (or true churches, really, for the Orthodox). Now, this prerequisite, on his part, for “true unity” actually seems self-refuting to me, but he and millions of other Protestants would agree with it. As long as this conviction remains among Protestants (often accompanied by a dogged *unwillingness* to consider Catholic claims), we will not see Christians united in one body.

    I am not altogether without hope though! Six months ago, I myself was a firmly convinced Reformed Baptist who basically said (with ignorant certitude that now makes me cringe) that the only Catholics who are Christians are “inconsistent Catholics.” Now, I am very close to being a Catholic “revert”– with God, indeed, all things are possible!

  115. Gentlemen:

    Given that Andrew has said he probably won’t respond for a while, and that I’ve already clarified the main point I think he should consider, I’d like to address the Catholic-Orthodox issue. Many Protestants bring that up as a problem, but without really understanding how the East-West schism affects the question of ecclesial infallibility.

    They generally make two assumptions: the first indisputably true, the second not. The first is that the Roman and the Eastern-Orthodox communions each understand themselves to be “the” Church founded by Jesus Christ. The second is that the EO episcopate, as well as the Catholic, understands itself to be infallible under certain conditions. The conjunction of those two assumptions is supposed to present an insoluble problem for those wanting to say that something called “the Church” is infallible: If we can’t even agree on which of the two communions is the Church, then how can it be said that the Church is infallible? That question is very much pertinent to the argument Bryan makes in the post at the head of this thread. If we can’t reach agreement on the question which is the family with the privileged inside perspective on the data of divine revelation, then it does no good to appeal to such a family’s perspective as the tradition out of which irreformable dogma is developed.

    Although that seems to be an insoluble problem at first glance, it isn’t. The problem lies with the second assumption. To be sure, there is broad agreement among EO bishops and theologians that “ecumenical” councils are infallible when they propose to the whole Church a doctrine to be believed as de fide. But there is absolutely no agreement among them about what suffices to make a given council ecumenical; they agree only that “the seven” from Nicaea I (325) to Nicaea II (787) are, in fact, ecumenical, which Rome also agrees with. Like the Catholic episcopate, the EO agrees that a necessary condition for the “ecumenicity” of a council is that such a gathering somehow represent the whole Church. But that in itself solves nothing, for there’s no agreement on what suffices for such representation itself. Some councils that were overturned, such as those of Rimini and Sirmium during the height of the Arian controversy, were empirically more representative of the Church at large than the “orthodox” councils.” And there’s no agreement on what else, beyond breadth of empirical representation, is needed for sufficiency.

    In response, many EO bishops and theologians say that the sufficient condition is the consensus of the “Pentarchy,” the five “patriarchates,” including that of Rome. For that is taken as a sure token of the consensus of the Church as a whole. But that solves nothing. After the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, the patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria respectively went into schism and were never really reconciled. Those churches are now known as the “Oriental Orthodox.” To that, the response of the Byzantines, and later of the Catholics, was simply to set up their own patriarchates in those sees. Whether or not that move was justified, though–a question there’s no need to discuss at the moment–it precludes appeal to the consensus of the Pentarchy as a sufficient condition for the ecumenicity of a council.

    Accordingly, many other EO bishops and theologians will say that a sufficient condition for the ecumenicity of a council is that it be “received” by the whole Church over time. But that solves nothing either. Leaving aside the questions how much reception there needs to be, and how long it may take, the question is precisely who counts as “the Church” whose reception is sufficient. Thus, does she include the OOs and Rome or not? Most Orthodox will say that, since the OOs and then Rome went into schism, their view doesn’t count, for they left “the” Church. That approach would be plausible if there were a clear, consistent, and antecedent criterion for identifying “the” Church. But what is that criterion?

    It can’t be that “the Church” consists, for present purposes, of all and only those “apostolic” sees who are in full communion with each other. During the first millennium, those sees frequently fell out of such communion with each other temporarily, but nobody wants to say that that fact alone excluded any of them from “the Church.” For almost as often, they came back into full communion with each other, save for the OOs. But nobody wants to say that the OOs lack apostolic succession and true sacraments. So in some sense it is admitted by both sides that the OOs remain organically connected with “the” Church as part of her, whether on an EO or a Roman conception of “the” Church.

    And that brings us to the rock-bottom problem with EO ecclesiology, at least as compared with Catholic ecclesiology. The latter has clear, consistent, consensual, and definitively taught criteria for identifying the relationship to “the Church” of those Christian bodies that are not in full communion with “the Church.” EO ecclesiology has no such criteria. EO bishops and theologians do not even agree among themselves about whether the Roman communion is a communion of “real” churches or not, in a sense analogous to how they recognize the OO churches as real churches. Hence, Catholic ecclesiology enjoys a degree of clarity and consistency that is necessary for appealing to something called “the Church” as infallible under certain conditions. EO ecclesiology does not.

    All this is, in fact, why I chose to remain Catholic rather than become Orthodox, during a period in my life when I was deeply disenchanted with the Catholic Church. For reasons Bryan et al have given, I’ve never been able to take Protestantism seriously as an intellectual option. I did take Orthodoxy very seriously indeed; but in the end, I could not avoid believing that the Roman communion has the better claim to being “the” Church than the EO. So I made an assent of faith in the Catholic Church that, although not compelled by reason alone, seemed to be supported by better reasons than the EO communion’s claim.

  116. Christopher,

    Please be assured of my prayers. As one who was Catholic and left and then eventually became a Pastor in the PCA and then came back home to the Church of my youth, I certainly can relate to your circumstances. Indeed, with God all things are possible and, if I dare say, He allows things that are rather ironic.

  117. Christopher,

    Thanks for your comment. Indeed, with God all things are possible. If it depended only on our power, it would be hopeless. But, we must do what is in our power, and trust God to do what only God can do. The disunity seem interminable, and impossible to resolve. But, that’s what many said about the slave trade, yet people like Wilberforce did not give up or lose hope. Similarly, the captain at the gate of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” (2 Kings 7) But the next day, by the power of God, there was more food than they knew what to do with. So likewise, God is able to bring Protestants and Catholics together in a way that is nothing less than miraculous. He can melt hearts and open minds. We must be faithful to do what is in our power, working and praying, that we may be His instruments, if He chooses to grant us that honor, in building up His Kingdom and helping persons find His Church. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. And those who lead the many to righteousness, will shine like the stars forever and ever.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  118. Brothers and Sisters,

    I’ve always wondered about the East/West schism being the elephant in the room when it comes to seeking unity between Protestants and Catholics. I mean, if Catholics and Orthodox can unite (perhaps through a future Ecumenical council deliberated for the purpose of deciding their relative differences), then what is left for Protestantism to battle? I would expect Protestantism to quickly come to nothing. Any thoughts gentlemen?
    (Perhaps a full-on, global Ecumenical council could decide which councils in the past are or are not really and truly ecumenical, and perhaps, consequently, it may render teachings that are presently held as dogmas–dogmas possibly developed through false ecumenical councils–to non-dogmatic status, thus attaining unity on doctirines that are now points of division. Is this even conceivable, or am I way out in left field? How else could full unity happen? In my opinion, this seems to be the only way since one of the most fundamental points of common ground between East and West is infallibility of Ecumenical Councils.)

  119. One more thought. Please evaluate:

    In order to clarify where I’m coming from, is it possible that the present divisions withing Christendom, especially that between the East and West, is testimony from the Holy Spirit indicating that things may not be quite in order on both sides, and that we must continually seek to attain complete unity which we all desire?

    For instance, consider the possibility that, concerning the doctrine of the papacy, both East and West have misconceptions. What if, on the one hand, the East was in error concerning the need for a head bishop of the Church for guidance, while the West, on the other hand, is in error concerning the opperation of that office and/or its limits? In other words, say the East is wrong for not recognizing the peculiar authority, and therefore necessity of a head bishop, while the West is wrong in believing the Pope has authority to deliberate beyond concord with the rest of the bishops. In the event that a great number of prominent bishops oppose the deliberation of a Pope on a certain matter, shouldn’t that be an indication to the Pope not to take such and such an action? I mean, what other way is there for the Holy Spirit to indicate to the head bishop what is and isn’t the mind of Christ, and what is a matter of mere private deliberation? Again, I could be out in left field here, and I recognize that this is somewhat off topic. Any thoughts?

  120. A division scandalizes the world, but a reunion of east and west would have the very opposite effect. I think it may be the case that certain doctrines which were of questionable status as dogma could be clarified by such a council, but what the Catholic Church has defined as dogma cannot be undone. Professing all that the Catholic Church teaches to be divinely revealed is the necessary step for reunion and there is no circumventing this. But that profession of faith needn’t come through western scholasticism, it just needs to come. The Church doesn’t care how you get to the truth, she just cares that you get there.

    Some aspects of papal jurisdiction are disciplinary. It is not an apostolic Tradition, for example, that bishops must be confirmed by the Pope. The recent Catholic-Orthodox statement regarding papal primacy (2008) agreed that the east does not need to accept the papacy beyond its universally recognized role in the first millennium.

    Let us pray during Lent for the reunification of east and west. It would shake the heavenly bodies.

  121. Michael,

    I’d like to address the Catholic-Orthodox issue. Many Protestants bring that up as a problem, but without really understanding how the East-West schism affects the question of ecclesial infallibility.

    I’ve read a number of the disputes between EO and RC on this issue. One of the EO guys who has posted here in the past (name escapes me at the moment) has been quite vocal about just how deep the divide is between EO and RC on this as well as other matters. From the Protestant standpoint it does certainly underscore our belief that the issues cannot be resolved if we are to use Church tradition as an infallible standard. Were I to decide some day that an infallible tradition was needed to interpret the infallible Scriptures, the EO way seems more persuasive. I don’t think I am entirely unbiased as I listen to these debates, but as someone from the outside listening in, I do think that the EO apologists make some significant points which cannot be dismissed. But as the Protestants listens to these debates the obvious conclusion is that the issue cannot be resolved given the assumptions concerning ecclesiastical infallibility. Our answer is to ask our RC and EO friends if they should question this assumption given 1) the intractable divide between the two sides and 2) the lack of clear evidence that Christians of the early centuries of the church held to the same assumption. Anyway, I think you are raising a very important point that has to be resolved by both sides. It’s not the only significant debate between RC and EO (can you say filioque?) but it is the most foundational one as I look at it.

    I’m actually writing about your post #104 yesterday that I meant to comment on but neglected to do so. So I wanted to do this before I signed off. You say:

    Now for one thing, that reflects a philosophical failure to distinguish between reasons that are necessitating and reasons that are non-necessitating but still good. In logical terms, it is a failure to distinguish deductively sound arguments, which necessitate their conclusions, from the sort of inductive argument philosophers call “inference to the best explanation.” In many contexts, there are good arguments of the latter type which do not rise to the level of the former, and indeed could not, given the nature of the subject matter. This is one of those contexts….

    I wanted to applaud you for bringing this up. Not that I’ve been involved in that many discussions here, but it’s the first time that I can remember a Catholic on this loop speaking about inductive vs deductive arguments. I brought it up sometime back but I got almost nowhere. But yes, your attempt at an inductively derived argument is right on target. I think that this is the only way that these discussions can proceed. Of course we cannot ignore formal deductive rules, but as I pointed out on this loop more than once, the way sciences (including theology) progresses is generally in terms of evidence which is inductive and synthetic rather than deductive.

    I understand that you are not utilizing rigorous deductive proofs when you speak of your arguments as being “reasonable” and the like. If they were deductive you certainly would not pose them in such a way. But I’m not sure why you think I misunderstand you. Your statements seemed reasonably straightforward. My immediate thought is that you have not understood my responses. Perhaps there is some of both here….

  122. Andrew:

    1. I’m pleased to see that you’ve taken note of my argument’s logical type. That’s definitely a step forward. I hope you are now ready to proceed to the argument’s actual content, which you haven’t yet addressed.

    It’s unfortunate that my previous comment’s copy-and-paste of the argument got it muddled up. So I shall quote it here in proper form:

    …without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the “sources” recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation. To that, Newman said: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what is given.” That authority cannot be me or some collection of people who, lacking sacramental authority, happen to agree with my interpretations of the sources. For in that case I would be submitting not to God but to myself.

    A key preliminary is in order. In essence, the above is the same argument that Bryan has been trying to pose to you from different angles. I have yet to see you address it; for reasons I thought he and I had repeatedly given, asserting that Scripture is inerrant and appealing to it as such does not address the argument at all. (I say ‘inerrant’ not ‘infallible’ because infallibility is, strictly speaking, a quality of persons, whereas inerrancy is a quality of what persons say or write.) The very first sentence of the above argument should be enough by itself to show why that is the case. Before any appeal to the sources, be they Scripture or otherwise, can even become useful, one must first decide whether that sentence is true or false.

    Since you have made no attempt to attack that sentence yet, I will not develop the argument further here. The best way for me to develop it would be in response to your objections–or at least to your (non-rhetorical) questions–which I haven’t yet seen. All I want to stress is that, even if you accept the argument, that would not “prove” that the Church has infallible interpretive authority. All it shows, I claim, is that, if there is no such authority, then religion is just a matter of opinion. I believe that a conservative Christian such as yourself would be unwilling to pay the price of affirming that consequence. I hope I am not mistaken.

    2. As to the Catholic-Orthodox dispute, you write: But as the Protestants listens to these debates the obvious conclusion is that the issue cannot be resolved given the assumptions concerning ecclesiastical infallibility. There is nothing at all “obvious” about that conclusion. I have given my arguments in #115; their upshot is that the Catholic Church’s claim to infallibility is stronger because she has clear, consensual, and consistent criteria for identifying the concrete subjectum of infallibility, i.e., “the” Church, whereas the Orthodox do not. You have not addressed that argument either.

  123. Dear Andrew,

    I’ve been reading your exchanges with the others without weighing in, but you did say something in your most recent comment that I do wish to respond to. (Maybe it’s my penchant for tidy record-keeping!)

    You remarked that Mike is the first one to acknowledge a distinction between ‘deductive’ and probabilistic arguments, that you’ve tried to raise this distinction before, but that either no one understood you or that no one thought it was specially relevant. But that’s not quite right. Actually, that’s really wrong, if I can say so, and I think it illustrates again the way in which some of us here have had a hard time communicating with you.

    You and I have been around the block a good number of times on the same issues. Sometimes we take a couple of months off, and then, when we return, we often have the same conversation.

    Often the conversation goes like this: I raise a question about the adequacy of the Protestant paradigm with respect to, say, the formation of the canon, for example. You respond by saying something like, “Well, we Protestants have to work really hard to get Catholics — even Catholics who used to hold our position — to understand our position. We think it is logically possible for God to infallibly lead the Church to make the right decisions regarding the canon, but that this does not logically entail that Catholic ecclesiology is correct, or that Church Councils are infallible, or that the Church has ever been infallible about anything else.” To which I respond: “Yes, that’s a possible position in logical space. It surely is possible that that’s how things happened. And I haven’t offered a deductive argument demonstrating that Catholic ecclesiology is entailed by the fact that the canon was infallibly put together. What I’ve argued is that Protestantism’s explanation for how this could be so is ad hoc and unprincipled and unpersuasive, given Protestantism’s ecclesiology, and that the Catholic model doesn’t exemplify any of the similar internal tensions or embarrassments with respect to this particular point under discussion, viz. the canon.”

    And then you say: “Lots of times Catholics don’t understand our Reformed position. We’re saying God can infallibly put together a canon through the Church even though the Church isn’t infallible as per Catholicism. We don’t think there needs to be a general gift of infallibility given to the Church, in order for God to see to it that the canon was infallibly assembled. Catholics think that just isn’t possible, but we don’t see why it’s not at least possible. Now do you understand?”

    To which I reply: “Yeah. Like I said. I get that. I used to say something just like that myself. I’m not offering a deductive argument here, and I see no logical contradiction between the claims that God infallibly led the Church in re the canon, and then made sure He didn’t ever do anything like that again. That’s “possible,” sure. But I didn’t say it wasn’t. Think of my reasoning along the lines of a presuppositionalist sort of argument, in which we’re examing the strength and explanatory power of two distinct ecclesiologies ‘from the inside’, so as to see which is more internally coherent and satisfying. I’m arguing that Catholicism fares better on this score, and that the particular position on the canon you’ve hypothesized is, while logically possible, ad hoc, not independently motivated, and in tension with the rest of your ecclesiology. With respect to this issue, I think Catholicism has a better time of it.”

    To which you reply: “I think you have misunderstood me. Can’t we agree that it’s at least *possible* for the canon to have been infallibly assembled, even though the Church isn’t infallible? I mean, why do we have to say that the Church is infallible? That doesn’t follow, logically, from the fact that we’ve got an infallible canon. Yet you Catholics think it does. But I’m just asking you to try to look at it from a Protestant view for a moment: isn’t it at least possible…”

    And so on it goes. Something similar has been going on in this thread. You think people like me and Mike and K. Doran and Bryan just can’t quite understand the words that you have written. I think, though, that people do not misunderstand you as frequently as you think they do. I think that Mike and Bryan and K. Doran and I (e.g.) have mostly understood you pretty well. I think the problem is that we can’t really get you to engage with what we are saying, for some reason. It might be that you have a kind of pre-established (or “canned”) method of responding to Catholic arguments or challenges about X, and so whenever X is under discussion, you revert to the pre-established responses that you have already thought through and are already comfortable with. That might be what’s going on. But the thing is, lots of times, the responses that you have already ironed out and have saved for occasions in which you’re talking with Catholics about X, do not properly engage with what the particular, real-life Catholics (Mike, Bryan, …) who are talking with you here and now are actually saying.

    (I freely admit this is just a hypothesis about what’s going on; I’m not sure it’s right. At the same time, I also don’t know why we can’t seem to fix the target of the discussion very well when we are speaking with you. So this seems like a possible explanation.)

    At any rate, I just wanted to clear that up. Maybe it’s a pride thing, I don’t know. But the fact is, lots of us folk who are speaking with you have had to study quite a lot of logic and even have to teach it at undergrad and graduate levels sometimes. It would be weird if we didn’t know about the difference between deductive and nondeductive argumentation. And we’d have to be pretty naive to think that only deductive arguments are worthwhile in philosophy and theology. Maybe you’re thinking we think this because you’re thinking you know pretty much how Catholics think and therefore how we think. I saw this funny post the other day which said that Catholics who raise questions about ecclesial and interpretive authority do so only because they’re Cartesians in epistemology, and he went on to give a popularized, rough and ready sketch of “what Descartes thought” and how Catholics have just sort of assumed he’s right about everything. It was a cute little post. Point is: we don’t think like that, honestly, and so we don’t argue like that, and so we ought not be understood in that way. I think it would really move things along considerably if we just tried to listen to what was really being said, without trying to place each other in various categories and then decide that we all must be saying whatever a person in that sort of category is supposed to say according to our own understanding of the category. Or something like that.

    Best,

    Neal

  124. Jared (#119);

    In other words, say the East is wrong for not recognizing the peculiar authority, and therefore necessity of a head bishop, while the West is wrong in believing the Pope has authority to deliberate beyond concord with the rest of the bishops.

    Maybe, but first you have to define what you mean by ‘the peculiar authority’ and how it differs from the ‘roman’ view. If you don’t define it, it will just stand there an empty phrase; a question that cannot be answered before you reveal what you mean by those particular phrases.

    Andrew (#121);

    From the Protestant standpoint it does certainly underscore our belief that the issues cannot be resolved if we are to use Church tradition as an infallible standard.

    It’s as if you haven’t read a thing that has been written here at all. Or that you don’t read for content, but just to find something to twist around. It reminds me of a quote on modern freethinkers by G.K. Chesterton (but it also apply to you if that label doesn’t fit.): “But the new Freethinker does not read a book. He looks through it feverishly for texts to be twisted in favour of a prejudice, like the religious maniac with the Bible.”

    My point is that no one here has said that one can ‘solve the issues’ by using “Church tradition as an infallible standard.” No, that would also be the old lexical approach. (Especially since Scripture herself is part of Tradition.) What has been said is that one needs a sacramental, magisterial teaching authority to not only interpret Tradition (including Scripture), but to define dogma. But you always return to your ‘Tradition vs. Scripture’ nonsense. Which goes to show that you probably doesn’t read what’s written here. Or that you read, but doesn’t learn. Or don’t want to.

    Were I to decide some day that an infallible tradition was needed to interpret the infallible Scriptures, the EO way seems more persuasive.

    Again; Tradition has no authority. Only living persons have authority. A piece of writing may be authoritative, but it cannot have authority.

    Not that I’ve been involved in that many discussions here, but it’s the first time that I can remember a Catholic on this loop speaking about inductive vs deductive arguments.

    And as far as I can see, before you post (#121) you didn’t use this distinction once. While Mike used it many times.

    And I have to say that I find it interesting that you haven’t engaged a single of my questions and arguments.

  125. Kjetil,

    By “peculiar authority” I am referring to an authority and jurisdiction different and beyond that of any other bishop. Of course the Roman understanding of the Pope is exactly this, at the very least. But I think that last part of that sentence of mine which you quoted is telling of what I think could be a reasonable limit to that power, provided it is true that Rome is in error at a point in the doctrine–namely, that of not deliberating dogma beyond concord with the other bishops. To give an analogy, I would compare it to the system of “Checks and Balances” we have in American government. As far as I know, with the limited knowledge I have pertaining to the details of the system, the Executive branch has the power to do anything he sees as fit for the country, but only in so far as the Leguslative branch (i.e. people elected into office in order to represent the populace of different parts of the contry) will allow. So, for instance, the President (Executive) can declare war or issue a new law, but both of those actions can be overturned by an opposition of Congress (Legislative) through a majority vote. In like manner, doesnt it make sense that the head bishope ought not go beyond the opposition of a mojority of prominent bishops? I mean, what other way can there possibly be for the Pope to discern between the mind of Christ and his own private opinions when he is deliberating dogma? How shall he understand an event where a majority of prominent bishops oppose him over an action, other than that the Holy Spirit Himself does not approve? Im not entirely knowledgable of the details of Papal jurisdiction, so I could be wrong as to how I conceive it.

  126. Jared:

    What you’re advocating is precisely what was advocated in many quarters of the Catholic Church during and after the Papal Schism of 1378-1417. That movement became known as “conciliarism,” which has a long history continuing to this day.

    The Council of Constance (1414-1418), which resolved the schism by deposing three papal claimants and electing Pope Martin V, was decidedly conciliarist. In due course it evolved into the almost continuously sitting Council of Basel. But the new pope promptly condemned conciliarism, while accepting the right and duty of Constance to have resolved the schism on its own authority by deciding who was to become the one and only pope. Martin’s successor, Pope Eugene IV, brushed Basel aside and convoked his own council, that of Florence-Ferrara, to restore unity with the East. Conciliarism lost, and never regained the upper hand.

    As a Catholic, I cannot but agree with popes Martin and Eugene. The hermeneuts of suspicion explain their position as a rationalization of their lust for power, which could be true, but which is also theologically irrelevant. The fundamental problem with conciliarism is that it would make the highest authority in the Church into a legislative free-for-all, with truth allegedly determined by majority vote alone. I should think the messy history of many councils (such as the street brawls at the Council of Ephesus), the historic fragmentation of Protestantism, and the centripetal trend of the Anglican Communion today, should be evidence enough of what’s wrong with that.

    That does not mean that the papacy should be, or is, simply unaccountable to the Church. The rules for electing and investing popes have to be clear, consensually accepted, and carefully followed. Even a legitimate pope has no authority to overturn solemnly defined dogmas ratified by previous popes or by himself, or even what has been taught by the episcopal college with diachronic consensus since the beginning. A pope who ruled arbitrarily, with no regard to such considerations as canons, precedent, the views of his brother bishops, or basic morality, would squander his authority and thus lose his credibility. That has happened on occasion. The same would go for a pope who turned out to hold heretical beliefs, which has also happened on occasion.

    So it makes a lot of pastoral and theological sense to hold that the papacy should in general do nothing to bind the Church as a whole without the solid backing of the episcopal college. That’s usually how things have worked, even when popes have defined doctrines unilaterally. Yet there just are going to be times when the college itself is too rent with divisions and/or rivalries to give reliable guidance on controversial matters. In such cases, a canonically elected pope would need to exercise the supreme jurisdiction of his office to act unilaterally for the good of the Church as a whole, whether on doctrine or discipline. Otherwise Rome would begin to look too much like the spiritual equivalent of Mogadishu. And in any case, the hierarchical constitution of the Church is not man-made. We didn’t invent it; we discovered it in the deposit of faith over time. That includes the authority of the office of Peter.

    Best,
    Mike

  127. You remarked that Mike is the first one to acknowledge a distinction between ‘deductive’ and probabilistic arguments, that you’ve tried to raise this distinction before, but that either no one understood you or that no one thought it was specially relevant. But that’s not quite right. Actually, that’s really wrong, if I can say so, and I think it illustrates again the way in which some of us here have had a hard time communicating with you.

    Neil,

    I said that “I got almost nowhere. “ Believe it or not I originally wrote a few sentences qualifying that to say that Neal Judisch was the only one here and that Neal had done a very good job in understanding and reiterating what I had brought up. But then I erased it since I thought it might not sound good to be playing you off against others here. But now that you mention it I will include this qualification of “almost.” The almost I was thinking of was some of our conversations, although as you have said, you have not been posting here that much., so for most part I got nowhere. And Michael’s post was the first time I remember a Catholic trying to use inductive sorts of arguments, at least explicitly so, to make a case. I was cheering Michael for doing this because it speaks to something of the way that the Protestants have approached the history of the Church. And I would add that the discussions we had about the canon was not the primary thing I was thinking about when I thought of inductive synthetic sorts of arguments, but I could see how you could place them in that category.

    On the canon issue, one of the things I told you was that it was rare for Catholics in general to concede what you did. You were wondering why I kept on harping on about the same argument and as I remember, almost comically, another Catholic posted right in the middle of our discussion telling me that I could not possibly have sure knowledge of the canon. And I commented you saying something like, “see Neal, this is what I mean and why I keep repeating myself!” Now as for whether taking the Catholic position was more “satisfying” I cannot argue with that, but I think it reflects something of where you are and how such a belief fits well with your overall theological orientation.

    And there are two other points you did not mention which also came up repeatedly in our discussions. One is that we went back and forth over the issue of the degree of continuity between two aspects of the formation of the Scriptures, the actual penning of them and the collection of them into the canon. My assumption, and I think it is a good one, is that the processes are fundamentally connected in the mind of God so that there was no reason to drive a wedge between writing and collecting. And I think that it was you or Bryan who then wanted to posit a similar sort of continuity between the writing and the interpreting of the Scriptures. Now to me these assumptions reflect different theological commitments and as I listen to the Catholic he is telling me that this second assumption fits with the overall set of theological paradigms that the RC theologian brings to his work. And thus the assumption concerning the work of the Church in this processes fits with his overall system and in this regards is more intellectually consistent which I think is what you are meaning when you speaking of being more “more internally coherent and satisfying.” You are being internally consistent with the RC system overall. If you assume that there is a fundamental continuity between writing and interpretation of that writing then yes, you are being internally consistent when you posit the necessity of an infallible human interpreter to interpret the Scriptures.
    Compare this with Bryan’s response to me above. I told him that the Catholic is free to disagree with the interpretation of their infallible source (Scripture + tradition) to which he says that such a person who disagrees is a “dissenter.” No of course this necessitates that there is some sort of orthodoxy that that the dissenter dissents from. But of course it is the RC “orthodoxy” which is at the center of the dispute. So if we assume the RC position then yes, it makes sense to accept Bryan’s position. His (and Michael’s) position is necessitated if we assume RC orthodoxy to be correct. Now I told Bryan that his point has no apologetic force to which he responded that he does not evaluate statements based on their apologetic force. And Bryan hits the nail right on the head here. He has made no attempt to state anything that has any apologetic force. Do you understand what I am getting at? His and Michael’s point are consistent with an overall Catholic orientation, it is part of the RC package so as to speak.

    The other issue that we got into repeatedly was that of the situation as it actually exists in the Reformed world as well as the Evangelical world in general. I really do think it is unfortunate that this particular example of supposed epistemological problem gets the emphasis it does here and other Catholic apologetic sites. If you want to talk about epistemological problems in Evangelicalism there are no shortage of them, which makes me wonder why so much ink has been spilt trying to convince the Reformed in particular and Evangelicals in general that they have no conceptual basis for being sure of something when they all know that in reality this is not the case. And objectively it is not an issue, and we wonder why the Catholics try SO hard to make a disputation out of this issue when there is no shortage issues that we can both agree truly are a matter of distinction. I’m sure there is some reason why this particular point is of such interest to our Catholic friends. For the life of me I cannot figure out what it is…..

    On Catholics and Protestants not understanding each other, I suppose this is said too much on both sides. Michael was not sure, but he now thinks that I don’t understand him. Not sure what it is I don’t understand but I will try to stay around for a little longer to figure it out.

    So again to your first point I think you do an admirable job at reiterating the arguments not from just me but of the other Protestants here and on other loops (thinking mainly of Jason’s blog). I think you have much to teach some of the others here.

    Cheers….

  128. …without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, divine revelation would be indistinguishable from my own rational or enthusiastic interpretations of whatever I choose to take as the “sources” recording or otherwise transmitting divine revelation.

    A key preliminary is in order. In essence, the above is the same argument that Bryan has been trying to pose to you from different angles. I have yet to see you address it;

    Michael – This is getting rather trying. We have discussed this based on both the testimony (and lack thereof) of the ECF’s as well as the philosophical necessity of your argument. You told me that you were in actuality not making an argument from necessity but rather that there is “good reason” to see ecclesial infallibility as an organic development from the early Church. Your answer here was in response to my critique of the above proposition. Do you remember this? So if you don’t think I have attacked the proposition above, what exactly do you think I was responding to when you answered me?

    So let me try to clarify something with you a little more directly than before. You don’t believe that in general it is necessary to have an infallible interpreter in order to know something with all the certainty God intended, correct? I’m not asking a theological epistemological question, but rather a general epistemological question. God has not created us in general to require that there be an infallible human source in order for us to accept something as true, correct? We can make this case of metaphysical, scientific, legal, poetic, etc forms of knowledge. Agreed? But when we get into the arena of theological matters all of a sudden you want to say that we don’t need just an unchangeable/infallible source, we need an infallible human interpreter to interpret that infallible source. Why is that? Why do you need this extra level of certainty?

    Let me also ask you something that I had asked you two or three times earlier in this thread with no response from you. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the ECF’s at Nicea did not believe that the Church was given a special charism of infallibility and none of the people receiving the pronouncements of Nicea did either. Granting this for the moment, and given that the Council at Nicea was acting as an interpreter of divine revelation and the people recognized the rightful authority of the leaders of their churches to convene this assembly, and the Holy Spirit was working through the congregations of that time, where would the problem have been? Why was it necessary to posit an infallible interpreter here?

  129. Andrew, (re: #128),

    I’m not going to speak for Michael, but I noticed something in your comment that might help put our finger on why we are talking past each other. You wrote:

    So let me try to clarify something with you a little more directly than before. You don’t believe that in general it is necessary to have an infallible interpreter in order to know something with all the certainty God intended, correct? I’m not asking a theological epistemological question, but rather a general epistemological question. God has not created us in general to require that there be an infallible human source in order for us to accept something as true, correct? We can make this case of metaphysical, scientific, legal, poetic, etc forms of knowledge. Agreed? But when we get into the arena of theological matters all of a sudden you want to say that we don’t need just an unchangeable/infallible source, we need an infallible human interpreter to interpret that infallible source. Why is that? Why do you need this extra level of certainty?

    To ask why we [Catholics] need “this extra level of certainty” is to fail to see the difference entailed by revelation being supernatural. Because revelation is supernatural, we cannot naturally access it. Therefore, the way we know supernatural revelation cannot be treated, as you do above, as epistemically equivalent to the way we know what is within reach of our natural epistemic power. Supernatural revelation, because it is supernatural, and not natural, can be known only by way of the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit (who was given to the Church, and operates through the Church). That’s why the need for a magisterium is not a result of any need for an “extra level of certainty”, but the result of revelation being supernatural. Because revelation is supernatural, then if the magisterium lacked the ability to define irrevocably what is orthodoxy and what is heresy, we would know nothing at all about the content of that supernatural revelation, because we would have no way of distinguishing it from what is not supernatural revelation. Academic authority cannot make this distinction, because academic authority is limited to the natural power of reason, which is incapable without supernatural aid of grasping the supernatural as supernatural. The other option, besides an infallible magisterium, is a mysticism in which each person is his own shaman, and (montanistically) receives unmediated supernatural guidance to distinguish supernatural revelation from what is not supernatural revelation. If one rejects an infallible magisterium (wherein the Holy Spirit operates uniquely through a divinely authorized subset of men), and rejects universal mysticism (wherein the Holy Spirit does not operate through a divinely authorized magisterium, but operates immediately in the heart of all men to show each of them individually what is supernatural revelation and what is not), then the only remaining option is to deny supernatural revelation altogether, and thereby reduce religion to something natural, and man-made.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  130. Andrew:

    I now think I understand why we have not been making progress. Your #128 makes clear to me that you believe that you have already addressed my argument, by raising concerns that, as a matter of fact, we discussed in a previous thread. Bryan’s response in #129 is true, and made along the same lines I followed in that thread. But I shall put things a bit differently here in the hope that said point will become clearer for you.

    To boil it down for convenience, my central argument has been that, without an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, we would have no way of distinguishing between what’s objectively de fide and what’s only human opinion about the scope and interpretation of the sources. That distinction is not primarily about how we attain certainty in theology, as you seem to think. The concept of objective “certainty,” as distinct from psychological certitude, is a highly vexed one in philosophy, and our reception of divine revelation cannot depend on some illusory philosophical consensus about the certainty/certitude distinction. Philosophers don’t even agree on how to draw that distinction. Rather, my argument is about how we identify the primary subject matter of theology, i.e. divine revelation itself. Now if the subject matter of theology were primarily a set of texts and practices–make that set as broad or narrow as you please–then theology would be just like other disciplines such as philosophy, history, and sociology. Accordingly, it would not require positing inerrancy or infallibility. We would study the texts and practices, come to reasonable but provisional conclusions about their truth and/or value, and call some of our conclusions our theology. That’s the methodology in departments of “religious studies.” I spent a lot of time in one such department as an undergraduate, and I learned things thereby. But as Christians we know that such a merely human discipline does not suffice for the purpose at hand–which is why you recognize a certain set of texts as inspired and inerrant, as Catholics do, and why Catholics also recognize a living, infallible authority for understanding what those texts are about, and hence for understanding the texts themselves.

    Thus, even though it often utilizes methods of inquiry like those of other disciplines, theology itself is not like other disciplines. What we’re after in theology strictly speaking, as distinct from natural theology, which is a branch of metaphysics, is identifying the content of something we could never know or identify just by human inquiry, i.e. what God has revealed. And we take for granted that God is “infallible,” in the sense that he knows whatever can be known, and can neither deceive nor be deceived. So, we want to know how to identify what God himself has revealed, as distinct from, but not always as opposed to, what mere man has said or done about God. The latter is not protected from error, and hence cannot be relied on for knowledge of what God has revealed. In the nature of the case, knowledge of something as divine revelation can only be attained by recognizing certain sources of information as produced or authorized by God and thus protected by him from error. Our debate is not over that point, but over the scope of those sources.

    Given as much, another way of putting my central argument is this: Without a living body that is divinely authorized to speak with divine and thus infallible authority, we would have no way of distinguishing reliably between theology and religious studies. That’s because we would not even have a way of definitively settling the question what the relevant sources of transmission are, much less what they mean. You might personally choose to regard a certain set of texts, i.e. “Scripture,” as the inerrant “Word of God,” which is what you do; you might regard certain early interpreters of those texts as pretty reliable guides to interpreting them, which you also seem to do; you might even recognize certain oral traditions and concrete practices as relevant sources of information, which you could do consistently with your position. But your grounds for doing so would be human reasoning and opinion alone, not the teaching of any living body whose leadership we recognize as authorized by God to speak definitively in his name. Hence, all your conclusions would remain fallible and provisional. But you don’t seem any more content with that than I am, nor should you be. That is why I’ve said to you before that your only alternatives to such an infallible interpretive authority are “rationalism” or “enthusiasm,” whose concrete correlates would be an academic magisterium or a “universal mysticism” (Bryan’s phrase) respectively.There is no third alternative that does not reduce to one of those two, or to some ramshackle combination thereof, such as Calvin’s idea that the scope and meaning of the biblical canon can be recognized with certainty by a combination of literary/historical analysis and the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.

    Accordingly, even though it is possible–in a bare, logical sense of ‘possible’–that divine infallibility in revelation extends only to Scripture, we would not be able to affirm that as anything more than a human opinion, unless we submitted to a living and divinely authorized body as one which makes that affirmation with God’s authority. That is why I’ve never regarded your appeal to Scriptural inerrancy as a substantive response to my argument. What good is appealing to Scripture, if the question what counts as the means of transmission of divine revelation, and the interpretation thereof, is itself just a matter of opinion? I only consider appeals to Scripture relevant when they are made by somebody who presents the authority and interpretation of Scripture as something more than the opinion of some people who deny they have infallible authority themselves.

    Having gone through all this, I hope you now understand why I still don’t believe you’ve addressed my central argument. I’m still waiting.

  131. Andrew,

    Thanks for responding. I’m going to reply only to a couple of things, because I do not want to speak for or about (anymore!) Bryan and Michael. And I also don’t want to get back into the discussion about whether there is a “dynamic connection in God’s mind” between inspiration and the process of assembling the canon. These are, again, things that we have discussed at length, and I would prefer not to enter into that discussion once more.

    You say:

    as I remember, almost comically, another Catholic posted right in the middle of our discussion telling me that I could not possibly have sure knowledge of the canon. And I commented you saying something like, “see Neal, this is what I mean and why I keep repeating myself!” Now as for whether taking the Catholic position was more “satisfying” I cannot argue with that, but I think it reflects something of where you are and how such a belief fits well with your overall theological orientation.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but we need to distinguish the metaphysics from the epistemology here. What I mean is this: your hypothesis about the canon — that God infallibly led the Church to put it together, but that this does not imply that the Church has been given a general gift of infallibility, and that God hasn’t done this sort of thing at any other time — is a possible position to take. It is a hypothesis I can’t refute. However, it does not follow from this hypothesis that you or anyone else can have “sure knowledge of the canon.” Why? Because: from the hypothesis that God infallibly led the Church to formulate the canon, as you suggest, it does not follow that God infallibly led the Church to formulate the Protestant canon as opposed to the Catholic one. Thus, Augustine could argue just like you do, concerning God’s involvement in the canon process, and then conclude that he’s got “sure knowledge of the [Catholic] canon,” i.e., that he’s got certain knowledge that the DCs belong in the canon. This you will dispute. You will argue that the DCs don’t belong in there. Okay. But notice that this dispute cannot possibly be adjudicated simply by adverting to the hypothesis that God infallibly led the Church to assemble “the” canon. Supposing He did, we’ve still got to figure out which one of the canons He did that with. So I think that the Catholic who made this comical remark to you was probably getting at the same thing I am getting at right now. It is crucial to keep your thinking clear, here, and not to blur distinct categories. I have made this point with you before, and this is probably the last time I am going to say it.

    As to the satisfactoriness of the Catholic position vis a vis the Protestant one. I appreciate your observation that this may simply reflect where I am theologically right now, but I would respectfully demur just a bit. At least I want to qualify this. I believe there is such a thing as honest critique from within. I believe that people who endorse a particular system or theory or point of view, are able, to some extent, to compare their theory or point of view with others, and to notice that different theories may have a better time accounting for certain phenomena than their own theory does. This is compatible with being committed to your own theory, and with believing that, on the whole, your own theory is still superior. So what I’m saying, basically, is that it’s possible to do this kind of comparative analysis in a reasonably rational way, and that it isn’t all based on emotion, and that isn’t necessarily simply an unsurprising expression of one’s prior commitments.

    Last:

    If you want to talk about epistemological problems in Evangelicalism there are no shortage of them, which makes me wonder why so much ink has been spilt trying to convince the Reformed in particular and Evangelicals in general that they have no conceptual basis for being sure of something when they all know that in reality this is not the case. And objectively it is not an issue

    I’m afraid to speak to this as well, because we have also talked about this before and I don’t think I’ve been able to convey to you the problem with this dismissal. The problem is this: the fact — and it surely is a fact — that most evangelicals happily accept whatever canon they’ve been handed by their parents or pastors, and either don’t think about where it came from or don’t worry about whether it’s complete, or infallible, or whatever, does not entail that there is “objectively” no problem for Protestantism when it comes to the question of how the canon was assembled and how they’re justified in believing the Protestant canon to be the correct one (e.g.). This is like saying: millions of Muslims happily accept the Koran without so much as batting an eye, therefore there is no problem about whether the Koran is inspired. They happily deny Christ’s divinity, deny the Trinity, etc., and they don’t feel that there is any problem with this. And so therefore there isn’t. Lots of atheists happily deny God’s existence altogether, and keep right on believing in reason, morality, the intelligibility of the world, etc. So, “objectively,” there is no problem about whether atheists are rationally justified in doing this. Etc.

    I hope you see the problem here. Last time I tried to explain this to you, you got hung up on the examples, and starting talking about atheism and presuppositionalism. Please don’t do that this time. The examples are meant to illustrate a bad inference. The point is this. When you say: “Most Protestants don’t think there is any problem when it comes to the canon. Therefore, objectively there isn’t one” — when you say this, you are making a bad inference. It simply does not follow, from the fact that a group of people do not recognize a problem that needs answering, that therefore there is no problem that needs answering.

    Best,

    Neal

  132. Neal said:

    “But notice that this dispute cannot possibly be adjudicated simply by adverting to the hypothesis that God infallibly led the Church to assemble “the” canon. Supposing He did, we’ve still got to figure out which one of the canons He did that with. So I think that the Catholic who made this comical remark to you was probably getting at the same thing I am getting at right now. It is crucial to keep your thinking clear, here, and not to blur distinct categories. I have made this point with you before, and this is probably the last time I am going to say it.”

    Yes, I have thought this as well about Andrew’s reasoning. I think Andrew should explain his purpose here, because the quality of his reasoning suggests to me that his purpose must not be to convince Catholics. This is not an ad hominem: there comes a time when your interlocutors must summarize the quality of your behavior, and such generalizations, when based on extended experience, are both useful and necessary. If you find this an unjustified critique of your honor, then take the opportunity to demonstrate through your actions that the critique is unjustified. . . you cannot expect all of us to speak with you as if we believe that you are a genuine seeker of knowledge, when your behavior has long convinced some of us otherwise, in spite of our best attempts to think the most charitable thoughts about your intellect and intentions that can still explain the unfortunate data of your outward behavior. Correct us with a critique of your own position that shows you are seeking after truth. Or, accept my generalization and stop posting (and start repenting of your past behavior and learning the difficult virtues of intellectual honesty).

    So, are you trying to convince casual protestant readers to avoid the Church? Given how you respond when people (such as Saint Augustine) rule out your position succinctly and directly (basically, you change the subject), I can’t believe that you are here either to learn or to critically examine your own justification for remaining in your sect; or indeed that you are here to convince protestants who wish to learn and critically examine, as opposed to merely defend at all costs.

    And by the way, I have read some Clement. In fact, you should know this, because you and I already discussed Clement in an early (probably ecclesial deism) thread. You had little to say on the subject after I pointed out that indeed Clement does not write as someone ignorant of any ecclesial authority that goes beyond Protestantism would write: he claims to speak with the authority of the Holy Spirit.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  133. Jared (#125);

    To give an analogy, I would compare it to the system of “Checks and Balances” we have in American government.

    But that analogy refers to a system where the person starting it was fallible. Are you suggesting that God needs a system of “Checks and Balances”? It seems to me that if one were to take this analogy seriously, one would have to say that Christ was fallible. And one would have to start electing the pope by popular votes.

    In like manner, doesnt it make sense that the head bishope ought not go beyond the opposition of a mojority of prominent bishops?

    Why? What if these bishops were wrong? And you forget something; the pope speaks together with his college of bishops. If by ‘bishops’ you mean those EO bishops, how is that relevant? If the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ why would dissenting and schismatic bishops have any say in the matter?

  134. Andrew,

    Were I to decide some day that an infallible tradition was needed to interpret the infallible Scriptures

    and again

    . . . . which makes me wonder why so much ink has been spilt trying to convince the Reformed in particular and Evangelicals in general that they have no conceptual basis for being sure of something when they all know that in reality this is not the case. And objectively it is not an issue, and we wonder why the Catholics try SO hard to make a disputation out of this issue when there is no shortage issues that we can both agree truly are a matter of distinction. I’m sure there is some reason why this particular point is of such interest to our Catholic friends. For the life of me I cannot figure out what it is…..

    and finally, most telling of all you say:

    But when we get into the arena of theological matters all of a sudden you want to say that we don’t need just an unchangeable/infallible source, we need an infallible human interpreter to interpret that infallible source. Why is that? Why do you need this extra level of certainty?

    Apparently you do not see the need for an infallible interpreter of the deposit of faith. As someone who spent a significant portion of his life as a hyper-skeptical agnostic, followed by years of participation in various forms of Protestantism, let me speak directly to your question as to “Why do you need this extra level of certainty?” in regards to theological matters.

    Consider the following:

    1 – To be a Christian is to profess, practice and proclaim the teachings of the Christian faith.

    2 – The totality of the teachings of the Christian faith is known as the “deposit of faith”

    3 – For Protestants, the deposit of faith is located in the 66 books of the protestant cannon

    4 – The 66 books of the cannon are free from error (i.e. inerrant)

    5 – In order for the individual Christian to profess, practice and proclaim the deposit of faith, said deposit must be transferred from the ink and page of the Protestant cannon to the mind of the individual Christian.

    6 – Unless such transfer of the deposit of faith, from cannon to mind, take place in such a way that the individual “knows” the deposit of faith to be free from error once it exists in his or her mind – that is, after the transfer is complete; then the individual can never have certainty that he/she “knows” what the deposit of faith IS.

    7 – If one cannot be certain about what the deposit of faith is; then by definition, one cannot be certain what the teachings of the Christian faith are.

    8 – If one cannot be certain what the teachings of the Christian faith are, one cannot be certain that he/she is professing / practicing / proclaiming the teachings of the Christian faith

    9 – Therefore, one can have no certainty that he/she IS a Christian

    Unless I grossly misunderstand your more recent comments; you seem to have no essential quarrel with the logical sequence I have just developed; but your response is “so what”, what’s the big deal if our individual knowledge of the deposit of faith might be in error on one or more points”?

    IF that is your position, allow me to offer some personal thoughts as to what acquiescence in such an attitude means, in practice.

    Profession of the faith:

    Am I a Christian, am I “saved” – these are first order questions for the individual believer. If I have no recourse to an infallible interpreter of the deposit of faith, I have no way to know whether I am fundamentally in error with regard to any doctrinal issue. If my understanding of the deposit of faith can be errant; then it can be errant. The error might occur at the level of a crucial doctrine, such as the nature and means of justification, as easily as it might occur with regard to a matter considered “peripheral”. Thus, the lack of certitude regarding the deposit of faith, in general, militates against certitude with regard to whether of not I am justified before God –because I might, after all, be in error regarding justification per se. I can attest through personal experience that this problem can lead to an existential crisis regarding one’s relationship with God.

    Practice of Faith:

    I am a father of five children (ages ranging 4 to 19). As such, I am constantly confronted with all sorts of questions arising from my children’s interaction with the wider culture. WHY is practicing homosexuality wrong; why is abortion wrong; why is Christianity better than Buddhism or Hinduism? Why is pre-marital sex wrong; why do we believe the scriptures are inspired? These are first order questions for the Christian parent within the context of family life. I cannot imagine attempting an answer to any one of these questions from a hedged religious position that says: “well son, so far as my personal understanding of the deposit of faith goes, the answer to your question is X – but then I MAY BE WRONG”. Believe me when I tell you that such a hedge would castrate the religious force of my explanation in the minds of my children. My religious instruction would simply become another drop of opinion in the wider ocean of possible views.

    Proclamation of the Faith:

    Go into all the world and preach the Gospel – even though your proclamation may be materially in error! To assert that the deposit of faith is THE truth, and is located in scripture, but that no individual can ever be sure that his or her interpretation thereof is free from error; seems to me an imminently ill-fated basis for propagation of the Christian faith. The most pervasive and destructive intellectual notion in the Western world is agnostic skepticism/relativism. This skeptical relativism takes many forms and manifests itself in “softer” or “harder” incarnations; but I can tell you, as a former agnostic: that to look upon the tens of thousands of competing interpretations of the deposit of faith within Christianity, and then be told that the Christian faith has been “revealed by God” is, at first glance, laughable – I laughed! To affirm that no infallible interpreter for the deposit of faith exists; is to affirm that this divisive situation is both irreparable AND normative. Try this out on the secular culture: “I bring you a greeting – peace on earth and good will towards men – but then again – I MIGHT BE WRONG”. We cannot win the culture war with a vision of Christianity that, in principal, embraces an endless multitude of interpretations concerning the deposit of faith. To make such an attempt would be like trying to slay the beast of cultural relativism with the bristle end of a broom.

    For these and other reasons, I submit that without an infallible interpreter, Christianity, as a religion, is impotent.

    You said:

    . . . . My assumption, and I think it is a good one, is that the processes are fundamentally connected in the mind of God so that there was no reason to drive a wedge between writing and collecting. And I think that it was you or Bryan who then wanted to posit a similar sort of continuity between the writing and the interpreting of the Scriptures. Now to me these assumptions reflect different theological commitments and as I listen to the Catholic he is telling me that this second assumption fits with the overall set of theological paradigms that the RC theologian brings to his work.

    Andrew, you see a fundamental connection “in the mind of God” between the “writing and collecting” of the cannon. Great, so do I; but that only ensures the existence of the deposit of faith in an inerrant book. It in no way addresses how that deposit makes its way from the book to the mind of the Christian without error – it simply ignores the interpretive problem inherent in this transition. THE philosophical reason (there are historical and theological as well), that Catholics posit a similar continuity between the “writing and interpreting” is NOT because such a continuity simply “fits” with an RC theological paradigm; but because a Catholic recognizes the consequences for Christianity, as a religion, if in fact, such a continuity between “writing and interpreting” does NOT exist.

    So I ask you a simple question: do you, or do you not, admit the theoretical and practical necessity that there be some means of infallibly interpreting the deposit of faith?

    Andrew, I am not trying to trap or trick you here. You can answer YES to this question without agreeing that the Catholic Church is, in fact, the infallible means that fulfills this necessity. But until you clearly answer whether such an infallible interpreter is necessary in principal and in practice, all subsequent discussion about what might fulfill the job description of such an interpreter would seem pointless.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray Stamper

  135. K. Doran, i think you’re being entirely too harsh on Andrew, it takes a little poking and prodding to let go of preconcieved notions. Quite frankly i prefer his form of argumentation to, the point scoring methods i’ve been seeing from Ken Temple/iojawh. Y’all need to chill out on the guy.

  136. Ray,

    Not to jump into your interaction with Andrew here, but I did have a brief question about your line of argumentation in your post. You seem to be saying that there is a theoretical and practical need for an infallible interpreter of the infallible deposit of faith, because without an infallible interpreter, we only have our own fallible interpretations of the infallible deposit, and thus we are really resting on fallible opinions–our interpretations. But what exempts the infallible interpreter from also needing interpretation? If the Scriptures, admitted to be the infallible Word of God on all hands in this debate (a blessing of God that should not be overlooked), could so easily be misinterpreted as to need an infallible interpreter, then why don’t the declarations of the Magisterium, believed by you to be infallible, also need some sort of infallible interpretation? There are practicing Catholics like (not to give this a political twist, but I’m just using this example because I know it’s a person you all know about) Nancy Pelosi, who supports abortion in spite of the Catholic Church’s clear teachings against it, and you all know as well as I do that there are many liberal Catholics who reject the Church’s teachings on things like contraception, abortion, etc. You may say (I think rightly) that the Church’s teachings on those matters are quite clear, and the reason some practicing Catholics reject them is just because they pick and choose from the doctrines of the Church. But why can’t the Protestant say the same thing about Scripture? Homosexuals, promoters of women in the ministry, open theists, etc. all exist in Protestantism, and try to defend their positions Scripturally, but what is the difference between them and Catholics who don’t follow the Church’s teachings on everything? Why is it that we cannot trust our minds to understand infallible Scripture, but we can trust them to understand the infallible Magisterium?

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  137. Spencer,

    I think that you answered your own question when you wrote that the about the Church’s clear teaching on the matters you mentioned. The fact that there are Catholics who do not follow the teaching of the Church really should not be surprising, sad, but not surprising. The matters that you discuss do not require an interpretation as they do application of the Church’s teaching. That is to say, what Bishops need is prudence when applying the teaching of the Church in a given situation. For example, the retired Cardinal Egan handled the situation with Mayor Giuliani by privately telling him that he is to refrain from presenting himself for Holy Communion. When Giuliani violated that by presenting himself for Communion when Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S., Cardinal Egan made public his decision concerning Giuliani.

    That being said, the difficulty for the Evangelical, Bible-Believing Christian is (I think of the Evangelical Theological Society) lies in the fact that you have serious and well-meaning people who come at mutually exclusive positions on some very serious matters of doctrine. For example, does Baptism save? If one is a Lutheran then the answer will be different from most others. Should infants be baptized? Again a variety of postions are held. Can a believer lose salvation? Does Justification involve an interior change in the person or is it only a declaration? Many more could be raised but I think that suffices to make the point.

    These are some very differences and they are all held by groups claiming to follow the Bible without the aid of the Christ-given Magisterium.

  138. Ray/Kjetil/Spencer/K. Doran

    I do not know much about how the Magisterium actually works, my understanding is that it is made up of the Bishops and the Pope.

    How often do they make announcements/proclamations and when was the last decision?

    Once they do make a decision or ruling how is the information conveyed to us?

    Thanks

  139. Tom and Bryan,

    Thank you for your respective responses to my comment. I admit that it can be difficult, at times, for me to even imagine that the division between Catholic and Protestant will ever cease to be a reality in this world (before Jesus returns, that is). I would have even less hope of seeing Catholics and Protestants united, if it were not for the work that I have seen God do in my own heart over the last several months. If He can bring this fallen-away, ill-catechized former Catholic convert from agnosticism (and until recently, an anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist!) to look back into the Church, take her claims seriously, and be near-convinced of them (and I think the “near” will be gone soon!), then He can conceivably do the same for any and all Protestants!

    Tom, I thank you for your prayers, brother. I’m actually going to request your prayers for something quite specific. Prior to now, I have been reticent to mention this directly on the blog (though I have written Bryan about it privately), but over time, nothing has changed, unfortunately, and at this point, I might as well be open about it. I am in a tough situation right now, living with two very anti-Catholic Reformed roommates. I was firmly Reformed when I moved into this house, and while my roommates are still in the exact same theological place, I have obviously undergone quite a journey, and I have been irrevocably changed. I especially request your prayers in regard to one roommate who is a former Catholic and not at all open to simply considering that the Catholic Church *might* not be a purveyor of heresy!

    Bryan has given me some very thoughtful (and appreciated) advice on how to deal with this situation, but these men are so steeped in anti-Catholic indoctrination that I fear that no matter what I do or say, they simply are not going to take the news of my “reversion” with anything other than shock and anger. I have tried making comments here and there, but they just do not see this change coming in my life– largely because until recently, I thought almost exactly as they do! I think that they intuit that I have been exploring some different theological “realms” recently, but I’m almost certain they have no idea that I am even *considering* returning the Catholic Church. I don’t think they will literally kick me out on the street, as I simply have nowhere else to go, financially speaking. However, life in this house may become quite “chilly” for me soon. It’s difficult, because as a “reverted” Catholic, I would still view them as, and *treat* them as, brothers in Christ, but they will quite likely consider me apostate.

    With the above said, I am resolved to following the Truth, wherever it leads me, and at this point, that seems to be back to the Church. I will not let the fear of man stop me. I do hope though, at least, that God will soften my Protestant friends’ hearts to the point of considering that I might still be a Christian, even with my “return to Rome!” Ideally, it would be great if He could also lead them to the Church, but I’m not getting my hopes up too much on that point.

  140. Spencer, (re: #136)

    I agree with Tom. I might just add a couple other thoughts. You wrote:

    You may say (I think rightly) that the Church’s teachings on those matters are quite clear, and the reason some practicing Catholics reject them is just because they pick and choose from the doctrines of the Church. But why can’t the Protestant say the same thing about Scripture?

    Protestants can say the same thing about Scripture. Anything can be said. So the question to ask is not whether Protestants can say the same thing about Scripture, but whether Scripture is so clear on all questions of faith and morals that (1) all disagreements about faith and morals are due to dumb-as-a-brick stupidity or God-loathing depravity on the part of some interpreters of Scripture, and (2) in any such disagreement, the identification of the members of the [dumb-as-a-brick or God-loathing] party and the members of the [neither dumb-as-a-brick nor God-loathing] party is so self-evident that there is no need for a magisterium for the preservation of the unity of the Church. But, the conjunction of (1) and (2) seems clearly false.

    So how is the Catholic situation any different? In our Solo Scriptura article, we wrote the following:

    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.

    Even though Scripture is clear enough for a person to come to saving faith by reading it, it is not clear enough to preserve the unity of the Church without an authorized magisterium. Scripture cannot take the functional place of a living magisterium, because of the ontological difference between persons and books, as explained in the quotation just above.

    It is not a matter of trusting one’s reason when hearing the infallible magisterium, and not trusting one’s reason when reading the inerrant Scripture. We trust our cognitive faculty in both cases. But we conceive of Scripture as something inseparably joined to and interpreted by, the Church. So we don’t try to interpret Scripture as if the Church had no role in providing its authentic interpretation. That’s not because we don’t trust our reason, but because we recognize that reason has not been given the authority to provide ourselves with the authentic interpretation of Scripture. We have to read Scripture with the mind of Christ, and so we must read Scripture with the mind of the Church. We might come to the authentic interpretation of some passage of Scripture on our own reading, but nevertheless, it is not our reason that makes that interpretation to be the authentic interpretation. That’s not distrusting reason, just as if Eve had refused to subject the “to eat or not to eat” question to her own reason, that would not have been distrusting her reason — it would have been recognizing God’s authority, and her reason’s limitations in relation to God. Faith is not distrusting reason, though rationalists would have us believe so. Faith involves recognizing reason’s limits, and so requires humility, not skepticism. We must recognize reason’s limitation when reading Scripture and when listening to the Magisterium. But, because of the ontological difference between Scripture and the Magisterium, we can obtain clarification (either about Scripture or about prior Magisterial teachings) from the Magisterium in a way that we cannot from Scripture as a given whole. So for those reasons, there is not parity between interpreting Scripture and interpreting the Magisterium.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  141. Spencer

    As to your question, I think Tom (137) and Bryan (140) have addressed your main concerns. I would simply add that besides the qualitative ontological difference between persons and books, there is also an epistemic difference between the Protestant and Catholic positions. I would argue that, given the Protestant commitment to Sola Scripture (ONLY allowing for the inerrant locus of the deposit of faith in a book), sincere interpretive disagreements among Protestants are justifiable IN PRINCIPAL. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura actually mandates that a person who sincerely believes that his or her understanding of the deposit of faith is correct and substantially contrary to that held within his or her communion, is justified (if not obliged) to break communion. Thus, even those with whom one breaks communion; while disagreeing with the doctrinal reasons for the separation, given the Sola principal, must allow that the separation is morally and theologically justified on the part of the person leaving – so long as their interpretive convictions are sincerely held.

    Within the Catholic Church, a person may dissent, and even leave the Church, but he or she does so contrary to the underlying principals of interpretive authority – it is a rejection of the doctrine of magesterial authority. The separation or dissent is not accepted as valid, given Catholic principals; rather it is a defect of faith. Thus, there is a qualitative epistemic and moral difference between the Protestant and the Catholic when they break communion.

    Pax et Bonum

    Ray

  142. Ray (141)

    you make a pretty key, a crucial, point—seems like. I’ve asked some people recently what it is that can bring Christians together. Answer: Scripture.

    In discussion of that answer, Protestants are often able to recognize that Sola, in principle, divides—”yeah, I guess that happens… but you-know, we’re all at different places on the same journey” (or something like that). What they have been unable to do is, at that point, return to the question of division and offer an alternative solution. It’s like, once Sola has been shown incapable of unifying, the question of unity is allowed to empty of any practical significance. It’s suddenly nonessential, a distraction from the real business of the Gospel.

  143. Tap,

    If I have been too harsh, I sincerely apologize.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  144. Michael said – But your grounds for doing so would be human reasoning and opinion alone, not the teaching of any living body whose leadership we recognize as authorized by God to speak definitively in his name.

    Michael – I really do understand why this makes sense given RC assumption concerning revelation. But I’m sure you recognize that what you are giving me is the RC opinion about revelation. You are telling me a collectively derived human opinion about divine revelation. The Reformed congregations give you their collective opinion on divine revelation (Scriptures). You reply with the collective opinion of the RC understanding of revelation. The problem is that I’m not convinced by the collective RC opinion on matters about revelation. Now if as a matter of faith I accepted the Roman Catholic faith then it would make sense for me to accept the position that divine revelation much be interpreted by an infallible interpreter.

    It’s rather like Bryan’s angle on the same argument where he spoke of the “dissenter” which of course necessitates that there is something orthodox for the dissenter to dissent against. So Bryan proves his point, like you, IF we assume Catholic orthodoxy.

  145. Neal J –

    As I remember when we talked about the Deuteros I tried to make the case that we could fairly split the conversation into 1) whether we could know the Protocanonicals were of divine origin and 2) whether the Deuteros should have been added to the Protos. I know that Judith, Tobit, Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, etc are good topics of discussion for Protestant, Catholic, and EO, but I have always thought that we should be able to have a conversation about #1 and leave #2 as related but still separate topic of discussion.

    The problem is this: the fact — and it surely is a fact — that most evangelicals happily accept whatever canon they’ve been handed by their parents or pastors, and either don’t think about where it came from or don’t worry about whether it’s complete, or infallible, or whatever, does not entail that there is “objectively” no problem for Protestantism….

    OK fair enough. Then perhaps we could talk about those Reformed and Evangelicals who have thought through their understanding of revelation and the canon, and understand their reasons for accepting them (Protocanonicals). Unlike the Muslims and atheists, you would say that the Evangelicals here have accepted something true and I think you would agree that it could even be a matter of the Holy Spirit working through the process. But you then want to say that despite this, they have correctly accepted something as true without the proper epistemological justification for doing so, even though they always come to the same end. Well, unless they are starting to lean towards Catholicism or EO or something else.

  146. Andrew, (re: #144)

    You wrote:

    The Reformed congregations give you their collective opinion on divine revelation (Scriptures). You reply with the collective opinion of the RC understanding of revelation. The problem is that I’m not convinced by the collective RC opinion on matters about revelation.

    You’re still thinking at the first-order level (i.e. Am I more convinced by the Reformed congregations’ ‘opinion’ or the Catholic “opinion” on matters of revelation?). What is more important here is the second-order question: Which group has the authority to provide the definitive determination of orthodoxy and heresy? And for reasons we have explained above, that question is not rightly answered by seeing which side is more in agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But that’s the only possible basis for preferring the Reformed side over the Catholic side.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  147. Andrew,

    Our gospel reading for Mass today (yesterday, at this point) was: ““Stop judging and you will not be judged.
    Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.” I’m sorry for judging you. I wish I had expressed my correction with more charity.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  148. Andrew,

    Sorry to jump in, and I am out of my league here as an underschooled Reformed guy, but something you said to Michael struck me:

    You said:
    “But I’m sure you recognize that what you are giving me is the RC opinion about revelation. You are telling me a collectively derived human opinion about divine revelation. ”

    Yeah, in the end RC and Reformed both have a “collectively derived human opinion about divine revelation” But which opinion is INTERNALLY consistent? I don’t see how we as Reformed christians can any longer say that Sola is internally consistent when in the confines of Sola the individual makes the final determination of what is orthodox or heterodox.

    The RC opinion about devine revelation is at least INTERNALLY consistent because it says that scripture is inerrant and infallible (just as we Reformed affirm) BUT unlike Sola Scriptura it factors in the reality of differing human interpretations by having in place a (supposedly) spirit led interpretation authority. I can’t deny the atractiveness of this.

    Having a internally consistent system does not mean that Catholics, in particular, are correct but I just do not see how we can be correct either if we hold to Sola.

    Thanks for letting me interject,

    David Meyer

  149. Dear Andrew,

    Hey man, good to hear from you. Thanks for responding.

    As to your first question. My basis for accepting the deuterocanonical books is the same as my basis for accepting the protocanonical writings. From my perspective, the main reason there is an interesting question about the status of the Protestant’s belief that the protocanonical books are inspired is that the Protestant rejects as uniquely authoritative the Catholic Church, and has substituted (whether explicitly or implicitly) a different authority for it which does not really possess the same authority. The other reason this question is really interesting (and not easy for me to answer) is more personal or Neal-specific: I’m not exactly settled about some of the epistemological questions that are directly relevant to this particular issue you have raised. (I have grown, over the past couple of years, disenchanted with the general epistemological position I held for a time, and I am agnostic about some relevant things presently.) Having said that, I will tell you that my inclination is to be permissive (but not promiscuous!) and to attribute to people warrant or justification or knowledge where others may be disinclined to do so. And so I suppose I am inclined to say that probably the majority of Protestants do not unjustifiably believe that, for example, the Gospel according to St Matthew is canonical. I believe that probably the majority of Protestants do not unjustifiably believe certain things that they believe only because they have read them in Matthew, and so it seems to me that I should say they don’t unjustifiably believe that Matthew is Scripture.

    There’s more that could be said here. I want to say just a couple things. It seems to me relevant that the canonical status of Matthew is not disputed by anyone (including the Catholic Church). If a Protestant is apprised of the fact that the Catholic Church says that a particular text not included in Protestant Bibles is likewise canonical, then I think that this serves as a defeater for the Protestant’s belief that the Protestant Bible is uniquely correct, and this is relevant to the status of their belief that the Protestant canon is uniquely correct. I know you are wanting to ignore this question for the time being, and that’s fine. My point is just that the claims of the Catholic Church in re the status of a particular writing can still be relevant to the Protestant’s justification for holding that writing to be inspired, even if he does not explicitly believe in the Catholic Church’s authority.

    There are other relevant questions that make this question — don’t Protestants at least know that (e.g.) the NT is inspired? — hard to answer in a general way. I think that a person’s justification for holding some belief can change not only in relation to their changing background knowledge/beliefs, but also in relation to their awareness of potential defeaters or unanswered questions directly relevant to their justification for holding a particular claim to be true. (I think, e.g., that kids raised in a particular epistemic community are not unjustified or irrational in believing what they are told and what everyone else around them believes, even if they haven’t thought through pertinent questions about how they know or why they believe these things. But I think that in many cases, and about many questions, once they do begin to raise these questions and recognize they need answers, they may no longer be not-unjustified if they continue holding them in just the way they did before, without having satisfactorily answered those questions.) This is all I can say about this right now, without going on about a lot of stuff you likely just don’t care about. Also, I freely admit that I’m not completely settled about some pertinent epistemological points right now.

    Okay, after having written all that autobiographical and probably useless material, you can probably guess how I will respond to your second question. I think that the fact that evangelicals “always come to the same end” — that they all agree on what the canon is, unless, as you point out, they decide to stop believing that — has a lot less to do with the hypothesis that all of them have become F.F. Bruces and have done all the research for themselves and have responsibly come to an informed opinion about the subject, and more to do with the fact that they are part of an epistemic community and they accept what this community says to them about things. Nothing wrong with that in the world. That is how we are built. However, it is not clear to me that persons (like you) who are a cut above the rest and really do grapple with these questions are always such that they do not unjustifiably believe that the PCs are inspired and the DCs are not. It is clear that they can give reasons for these beliefs, but unclear whether those reasons justify given the rest of what they now (after starting to think about the issues) know or do not know.

    And again, as above, I’m inclined to think that the question about whether they know the PCs are inspired is different from the question about whether they know the DCs are not inspired. In the first case, they can plausibly (as it were) “borrow” the authority of the Church implicitly, whereas in the second case they cannot.

    I realize that this response to you was cagey and bet-hedging and unclear. It is really because I’m not decided on some key epistemological issues right now, and I cannot help thinking about a lot of different possible scenarios that fall under the general scenarios you have described. What is certain is that I cannot give a general answer of the form: “No, Protestants are never justified in believing p” or “Yes, all Protestants are justified in thinking p” or “All Protestants know p” or “No Protestants know p.” Even when I figure out what I think about the epistemological issues, if I ever do, I will not be able to give general answers like this. Sorry. I wish my response to you were less rambly and more precise. I’m just trying to be honest here.

    Neal

  150. David Meyer,

    You said: “Having a internally consistent system does not mean that Catholics, in particular, are correct but I just do not see how we can be correct either if we hold to Sola.”

    Well said! This is why, as I said in another place on this thread or another one, that Protestantism is no longer feasible to me at all (I’m also Reformed but on my way into the Catholic Church) and if some Reformed person were to try to make me do an about-face by pointing out some internal consistency in Catholicism, the Protestant/Reformed position wouldn’t look any less absurd than you and I have come to see that it is. For someone willing to look at this critically instead of simply trying to defend his position, it’s agnosticism or Catholicism.

  151. Andrew (#144):
    Thank you for addressing my argument. We’re making progress in understanding each other, though I don’t believe you have as yet fully grasped either my position or the consequences of your own.
    In my previous interactions with you, I had assumed that you were striving for some way to distinguish, in principle and practice, between propositions that are de fide on the one hand and propositions that are only opinions on the other. Your latest reply to me (#144) suggests to me that you believe there is no such way. In other words, according to you there’s the “RC opinion,” the “Reformed opinion,” and God knows how many other opinions. In effect, you have conceded my argument and rested content with the result of doing so: to wit, affirming that religion is just a matter of opinion. If that’s the position you’re going to stick to, then our conversation is over, at least for the time being. If there’s no way to distinguish reliably between what really is divine revelation on the one hand, and what’s only human opinion about how to identify and interpret the “sources” on the other, than we have no reliable access to divine revelation. We just have various opinions about what divine revelation is, which is not the same thing at all.
    Nevertheless, I don’t quite believe yet that you’d be happy with that consequence. You’re a Christian who really does believe that we can know divine revelation, that we do not just have various more-or-less plausible opinions about what the locus and content of divine revelation is. So I doubt that the position entailing the aforesaid consequence is the position you really want to stick to. And there is a way out of it, if you could but see it.
    The way out is what Bryan has adumbrated in #146. You seem to be supposing that the choice is as follows: RCs believe doctrines A, B, C, etc.; the Reformed believe doctrines B, C, D. etc.; thus the choice between them is a choice between two sets of opinions, and therefore a matter of opinion. But that is not the fundamental choice. The fundamental choice is primarily between kinds of authorities for believing and holding doctrines as de fide, and only in consequence between the doctrines themselves. Of course we Catholics accept, as a repository of divine revelation, an authority you accept, namely Scripture. But we also accept an authority for adjudicating definitively between conflicting interpretations of Scripture and whatever other “sources” are taken as relevant testimony. To be sure, accepting that “infallible” authority is a choice based on non-necessitating reasons, and those reasons together constitute an opinion. But the epistemic difference between the Catholic paradigm and yours lies in what the choice based on opinion ends up yielding.
    On your paradigm, a choice motivated by opinion remains a choice only among what are seen as opinions; accordingly, the outcome of the choice is always an opinion, inasmuch as the outcome yields only inherently fallible and provisional interpretations of the sources, which cannot therefore be de fide. On the Catholic paradigm, the choice is between a mode of assent that can only yield opinions, and a mode of assent that transcends mere opinion by making an act of faith in a living, divinely authorized, and thus infallible authority–and thus to what is de fide. For the assent of faith is not that of opinion, but a response to a supernatural gift whose attainment is beyond human reasoning; and the proximate object of faith is not any set of opinions, but to divine revelation, which is infallible in itself, and hence is clarified for us over time by a definitive, infallible adjudication among opinions.
    I realize that, to somebody looking at that Catholic paradigm from within a Protestant paradigm of mere opinion, the Catholic can appear only as one opinion among others. But to somebody looking at your paradigm from within the Catholic, the Catholic can only appear as the transcendence of mere opinion, regardless of what the content of those opinions may be. This is why nobody can just be argued into the Catholic paradigm if they don’t already choose to look at these matters “from the inside” of it,” as it were. The perspective of faith, as opposed to that of mere opinion, is more a matter of accepting an invitation into the family of God than of deciding, as a matter of opinion, what the criteria for being in the family are to be. The family of God, and the privileged “inside perspective” it carries, is a given, not an attainment. And that was the main point of Bryan’s post at the head of this thread.

  152. The RC opinion about devine revelation is at least INTERNALLY consistent because it says that scripture is inerrant and infallible (just as we Reformed affirm) BUT unlike Sola Scriptura it factors in the reality of differing human interpretations by having in place a (supposedly) spirit led interpretation authority. I can’t deny the atractiveness of this.

    David M – Yes, I agree that there is an attractiveness. But the Reformed (and the Evangelicals) also hold to a spirit lead interpretive authority, right? But we say that it is possible for the interpretive authority to make mistakes. This would be similar to the situation that we see in the OT. God leads his covenant people and gives them a leadership with a divine mandate to lead and teach. Sometimes this leadership lead in the right way and sometimes it did not. But they always had God’s perfect Word (sometimes written, sometimes via a prophet) that would bring them back. It was always sad when God’s people strayed but it was never fatal. God always lead His people back via the Word through the agency of the faithful leaders. So when we Protestants are saying that the collective wisdom of the Church erred sometimes, we are not speaking of anything that did not happen time and time again in the OT. Now I understand the RCC system does not allow for it, but I would at least like to make the case that positing a fallible Church (as she speaks on de fide matters) is not fatal. It would only be fatal if there was nothing to guide the Church back.

  153. K. Doran said this – Our gospel reading for Mass today (yesterday, at this point) was: ““Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.” I’m sorry for judging you. I wish I had expressed my correction with more charity.

    Well thank you for saying this! I have often felt this way about things I have written and sometimes sort of wished this sight had one of those edit functions that you could change your post up to a certain point in time.

    I know that what I say sometimes attacks an institution that the folks here hold to be precious, and I have spoken to quickly. Nobody is going to bother me by attacking Protestantism because that’s just a movement. But I cannot speak of Catholicism or the Catholic Church in the same vein. So please forgive me where I have given offense….

  154. Neal – As RC and EO and Prot look at each other, they disagree with each other over the nature of the ecclesiastical institution which oversaw the collecting of the books and they also disagree over the status of which if any books ought to be approves beyond the Protocanonicals. But we can all agree that God did use His Church to collect and authorize the PC’s so all I can say is I’m glad of that!

    One of the things that maybe gives us Protestants some comfort is that there were Catholic scholars even as late as Cajetan who took something close to the Protestant position, at least as it stood at the Reformation. I remember quoting the Catholic Encyclopedia here once when it said said there was very little unqualified approval of the Catholic DC’s in the Middle Ages (it was something close to this I believe). So if we are wrong about Trent’s affirmation on the topic I think we are wrong in fairly good company.

    On what Protestants know, I hope I’m not being too glib about their surety of the canon, and actually I’m sure I have been. But with all of the epistemological skepticism that Evangelicals often have on reason and philosophy and logic, etc, I’m just glad that on practical level they really hold to the canon so tenaciously.

    Cheers….

  155. In effect, you have conceded my argument and rested content with the result of doing so: to wit, affirming that religion is just a matter of opinion.

    Michael – I need to get to bed, but I at least wanted to explain that by using “opinion” I was speaking of the way you used it to speak of the collective Reformed “opinion” on a given biblical subject. It’s not that I think that let’s say the WCF’s statements on creation are opinions like I have opinions about things. But the WCF’s pronouncements are not infallible. If that’s what you mean by “collective opinion” then OK, although I would not use this word since I think it brings out connotations we don’t mean. But my point back to you is that when the Catholic Church gives an official pronouncement on something they are giving a “collective opinion” as we see it. Now of course if you are Catholic and so you believe that God guides infallibly, but that’s part of the faith, not something that stands outside the faith as some sort of objective epistemological principle. This is why I say that it makes sense for you as a Catholic to believe it. It’s part of the package so as to speak.

    That;s no a complete answer, maybe tomorrow….

    Cheers….

  156. Andrew, (re: #152),

    You wrote:

    But the Reformed (and the Evangelicals) also hold to a spirit lead interpretive authority, right?

    We’re right back to Play Church.

    When I point out that Scripture must be interpreted, and that without sacramental magisterial authority by way of apostolic succession the only basis for magisterial authority is agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, then the response is to appeal to the Spirit, as you’ve done here. But, when I point out that without sacramental magisterial authority the only basis for determining who is truly being led by the Spirit is agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, then as you see in the Play Church thread, the response is that Reformed persons appeal to Scripture.

    And round and round we go.

    St. Isidore, bishop of Seville (AD 570-636) wrote a twenty-book topical encyclopedia of incredible scope, titled Etymologies. In Books VII and VII, he says the following:

    Haeresis is called in Greek from choice, because each one chooses that which seems to him to be the best … And so heresy is named from the Greek from the meaning of choice, since each [heretic] decides by his own will whatever he wants to teach or believe. But it is not permitted to us [Catholics] to believe anything on the basis of our own will, nor to choose to believe what someone else has believed of his own will. We have the authority of the apostles, who did not choose anything out of their own will to believe, but faithfully transmitted to the nations the teaching they received from Christ. Even if an angel from heaven should teach otherwise, it would be called anathema.

    As difficult as it may be to imagine, if you were in fact presently in [material] heresy, how exactly would you know? How would your present situation be any different from the picking and choosing (haeresis) that you now do, according to your own interpretation of Scripture, to determine which sect you should belong to, and to determine who is being led by the Spirit?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  157. Andrew,

    Let me see if I can express myself with more charity this time.

    What I am hoping for is a yes or no answer to the following question. I am hoping for a yes or no answer because that is what we have given to you, in response to your claim that the the ECF’s never spoke as if they believed in some kind of infallibility. We tried to respond to your claim respectfully by considering the main point in detail (Michael made a philosophical argument, Bryan and I both considered the quote from Augustine that you provided in detail, and I introduced another quote from the same author with the claim that this quote was clearer than the one you provided and pointed in the opposite direction to your opinion of the ECF’s views on scripture and church authority). In short, we gave a detailed “no” to your question of whether we think Augustine’s comparison of “plenary councils” and scripture is a problem for the Catholic position. But your response to our detailed “no” was too quick, and did not engage our points to the same degree that we engaged yours. In fact, you started bringing up Clement, Catholic fidelity to the Magisterium, etc. This is what made me feel very strongly that you needed a correction. Not the fact that you do not believe in the Catholic Church — of course you don’t. It is the fact that you engaged with our counterarguments by bringing up new subjects and making non sequitors. But I say this without any disrespect to your person or to your ecclesial community.

    So let me ask the question again. Do you agree, taking into account the quote from Augustine in my comment #64, your own views, and what you know of my views, with the following:

    Augustine, in order to be consistent, will abandon the Christian faith (because he will abandon the gospels!), and the scriptures themselves, if the visible church of which he is a member visibly teaches definitively something that is contrary to the scriptures (see quote in #64 above).

    K. Doran, in order to be consistent, will abandon the Christian faith (because he will abandon the gospels!), and the scriptures themselves, if the visible church of which he is a member visibly teaches definitively something that is contrary to the scriptures (see quote in #64 above).

    Andrew, in order to be consistent, will abandon the PCA, but NOT the Christian faith (because he will NOT abandon the gospels!), and NOT the scriptures themselves, if the PCA of which he is a member visibly teaches definitively something that is contrary to the scriptures.

    Do you disagree, and if so, why?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  158. K. Doran,

    I agree with your statement on Augustine and I agree with it on me. Now it would be stupid of me to disagree with the statement about you, but I do wonder about it. If you felt the RCC was wrong, wouldn’t you go to an EO communion before you left the Christian faith? Or you could join an Anglican communion or another Reformed denomination. Wouldn’t you do this before becoming an agnostic or something distinctly non-Christian?

    Now in my previous replies I started to anticipate something about the point you were trying to make with this comparison and thus I spoke of other ECF”s, the Magisterium, etc. I thought you were trying to make a connection between your ecclesiology and that of Augustine. But perhaps that was too hasty. So I will let you make the connection.

    Cheers…..

  159. Bryan (and Michael)

    When I point out that Scripture must be interpreted, and that without sacramental magisterial authority by way of apostolic succession the only basis for magisterial authority is agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, then the response is to appeal to the Spirit, as you’ve done here.

    When I speak of the Holy Spirit I am not saying that my sole defense when challenged is an appeal to the Spirit. I am saying that the Church is not without the Holy Spirit and the Spirit does guide the Church. If this were not the case then we would be left with academic debates like the liberals of both Protestant and Catholic stripes. So my point from #152 where you quote is that the Spirit has always guided the Church, but the Church has not always followed. My example came from the OT where God divinely authorizes certain people to lead His Church. Sometimes they lead correctly and sometimes they didn’t. But they always had the Word of God to bring them back. Now take this into the Apostolic age. Let’s say that the divinely ordained authority in the early centuries of the Church gets something wrong of a de fide nature (as the RCC later defined de fide). What of that? Just like in the OT, they had the Word of God and they had the Holy Spirit to lead them back. Do you see the point? We do no violence to Christian ecclesiology to posit a Church which can err on dogmatic matters. The problem only comes if there is no infallible standard in the Word and no guidance through the Spirit to correct the Church.

    Now I understand that as Catholics this is not part of the system of faith as taught in the RCC. I just want to show that positing a Church which can err does not result in any unsolvable theological or philosophical dilemmas.

  160. Andrew, (re: #159)

    Your reply does not solve the problem I raised. You claim that the Church does not always follow the Spirit when the Church teaches with her full authority, and therefore, according to you, some of the Church’s dogmas are in error. (Otherwise, you would be Catholic.) So how do you know that it was the Church that was not following the Spirit when teaching those dogmas, and not you who didn’t follow the Spirit, by not following the Church, and who therefore came to the false conclusion that these dogmas are false, and that the Church “can err on dogmatic matters”?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  161. Andrew,

    I just want to show that positing a Church which can err does not result in any unsolvable theological or philosophical dilemmas.

    On the contrary, it DOES indeed result in unsolvable theological and philosophical dilemmas. For positing a Church which can error, places YOU in the position of:

    a.) determining exactly how the Church is identified

    b.) differentiating between Church teachings or actions that are errant and those which are not

    Therefore, positing a Church which can err; BY NECESSITY, enshrines your fallible determinations as the ultimate means by which the Church is identified AND enshrines your fallible differentiations as the ultimate arbiter between her authentic versus errant teachings. In short, YOUR fallibility NECESSARILY undergirds all of your distinctions between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. But as Bryan, Michael, myself and others have pointed out repeatedly, and in a variety of ways; to rest the distinction between orthodox and hetrodox doctrine upon a fallible source, effectively abolishes the distinction itself.

    THIS is the fundamental theological and philosophical delimma that you have been asked to address time and again. Still . . . . . we await your reply.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray Stamper

  162. Andrew,

    You said: “I would at least like to make the case that positing a fallible Church (as she speaks on de fide matters) is not fatal. It would only be fatal if there was nothing to guide the Church back.”

    Guide the Church back FROM what and bring it TO what? With a fallible Church (as she speaks on de fide matters), I am convinced now that there is no authority to define any of these things in a way that does not just invite the hearer to accept or reject based on the “true” authority which he would define then as his own understanding of Scripture. A real world “boots on the ground” look at how this happens below.

    You said: “But with all of the epistemological skepticism that Evangelicals often have on reason and philosophy and logic, etc, I’m just glad that on practical level they really hold to the canon so tenaciously.”

    For now they do. At least in lip service. Don’t underestimate the influence Dispensational theology is having. It is huge. And it goes way beyond eschatology. I have people close to me that have erred in this way to the point that their denomination no longer accepts the teachings of Christ (and Peter, James, John etc.) as pertaining to them but only for “the Jews”. They accept Paul’s writings only. Now they still view the Gospels as cannonical, but more as we would view ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. I feel shame to share the common “anchor” of Sola Scriptura with this crowd. What “authority” can correct them? It is eclesial antinomianism. In their eyes they can show you all the places (Baptist air-conditioning) where the Bible CLEARLY shows these “obvious truths”. As Reformed people we laugh at this, but other than having superior hermenutics and better teachers, how is our authority substantively different?

    I am truly confused here. I don’t want to accept what these guys are saying because my Reformed world will crumble. I am trying to find everything I can from my favorite Reformed teachers to refute this, but nothing is holding up. Andrew, if they are right then we have been grossly decieved.

    -David

  163. Dear Andrew,

    You said: “Now in my previous replies I started to anticipate something about the point you were trying to make with this comparison and thus I spoke of other ECF’’s, the Magisterium, etc”

    In that case I apologize for viewing your change of topic as a nefarious debating tactic! :) But you will have to avoid skipping steps when talking with me, because I am a plodder.

    You said: “Now it would be stupid of me to disagree with the statement about you, but I do wonder about it. If you felt the RCC was wrong, wouldn’t you go to an EO communion before you left the Christian faith? Or you could join an Anglican communion or another Reformed denomination. Wouldn’t you do this before becoming an agnostic or something distinctly non-Christian?”

    Would I go to another communion before I left the Christian faith? Would I, carrying the scriptures with me in my breast pocket, abandon the Church in which I was baptized, the Church which taught me everything I know of right and wrong, which taught me the scriptures themselves? Would I leave behind me that authoritative voice, which alone brought me back to my senses during my long sojourn as a non-magisterium-loving “Christian” who was living in sin with a malformed conscience– that voice that spoke and still speaks with a simple profound authority that dares not accept the false humility of being called mere opinion? There are many ecclesial bodies that trace their ministers, through the laying on of hands, in a physical succession back to the apostles (Catholic, EO, OO, CO, perhaps even Anglican). And there are many ecclesial bodies that claim to bind men’s consciences and faith with their living voice (the ongoing revelation of the Mormons comes to mind). But only one communion has both the apostolic succession of ministers and the balls to use those ministers even in the _present_ day in the business of speaking _clearly_ with the deepest, fully-binding and infallible authority. “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” The Church has been my friend all these years, and none of her teachings have ever done me any wrong. Shall I now like a thief take with me the scriptures which she has so lovingly taught to me, and leave her and her sacraments and her authority behind me? No, Andrew, save your fingers the burden of typing any more. If any communion had me after I lost my faith in the Catholic Church, I would be a mere broken man, with a faith in some other body in but name only, and with a heart that longed for the sacraments which now uphold me and the authority which still speaks to turn the hearts of men to their God. No, Andrew, Augustine may have not passed this faith in the Church to many of his would-be followers, but believe me when I say he passed it to me. I am a Catholic, as Augustine was before me. This is the faith in which I was born. From this faith I departed for long terrible years. To it I returned by the grace of God. In it I have lived by His grace for more years since. And in it I pray that I may die.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  164. My example came from the OT where God divinely authorizes certain people to lead His Church. Sometimes they lead correctly and sometimes they didn’t. But they always had the Word of God to bring them back. Now take this into the Apostolic age. Let’s say that the divinely ordained authority in the early centuries of the Church gets something wrong of a de fide nature (as the RCC later defined de fide). What of that? Just like in the OT, they had the Word of God and they had the Holy Spirit to lead them back. Do you see the point?

    Andrew,

    First, your thinking here is not disciplined in your juxtaposing the OT covenant community with the NT covenant community. Your juxtaposition fails because you have ignored the fact, which I’m sure the CTC contributors have argued elsewhere, that when Catholics speak of the infallibility of the Magisterium they do not mean the Magisterium possesses a charism of impeccability. There is a night and day difference between the two, and the OT example you provide is indicative of an absence of impeccability in the OT Covenant community, not the absence of infallibility in doctrinal matters. The doctrine of infallibility is based on the representative authority of Christ invested by him into the Church, and the promise he has given the Church to be with her unto the end of the age and to lead her into all truth. This is not a promise of impeccability, but a promise of collective certainty of Truth in matters of doctrine, i.e. infallibility. Moreover, the fullness of truth being revealed in Christ and the New Covenant gives the New Covenant a much higher status and dignity than the Old Covenant, and therefore a lack of a charism in the Old Covenant does not entail the same lack in the New. We must rest on the new revelation of Christ’s promises and not assume full continuity between the covenants despite them. Like the Old Covenant, the New Covenant does not provide the covenant community with impeccability, for we have no promise of such qualities, but unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant provides the covenant community with infallibility because of the promises of Christ and the revelation and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And unless the Holy Spirit acts collectively within the covenant community, in proper order according to the structure given her, then there is no possibility for us to have the benefit of certainty in respect to the truth promised us.

    Second, you mention that the OT covenant community always had the Word of God to lead them back when they strayed from the law, but you implicitly leave out the important fact that they were brought back to communion with God in respect to the covenant, and nothing else. This means that their return to God entailed that they recommitted themselves to the stipulations of the Covenant, which had its proper communal order. If you want to apply this to the NT community, then you must concede that reform involves actual reform, and not division and schism–that is, the NT community must likewise return to proper order according the stipulations of the Covenant, which means turning away from the disorder found in Protestantism, and toward the order found in the Catholic Church, given to her by Christ.

  165. Jared,

    “There is a night and day difference between the two, and the OT example you provide is indicative of an absence of impeccability in the OT Covenant community, not the absence of infallibility in doctrinal matters.”

    As a Catholic, I of course agree with your distinction between impeccability and infallibility. I also agree with your point regarding the qualitative difference in dignity and authority between the Old and New Covenants – both important responses to Andrew’s hypothesis. Indeed, the qualitative difference between covenants is certainly sufficient to explain why it is that the de fide pronouncements of the Catholic magesterium possess the character of infallibility in a way that God’s duly appointed authorities in the Old Covenant might not.

    However, after Andrew put forward the notion that Old Covenant authority figures serve as a some sort of typological example of God-authorized persons who were nonetheless “fallible”; I have been racking my mind for a single Old Covenant instance where such an authority ever TAUGHT error (no doubt there are many examples of impeccability). I don’t want to put too much stock in this supposition as yet; but it occurs to me that since there was only one VISIBLE constitution of God’s Old Covenant people: in fact, whatever God’s appointed leaders taught as true, with regard to faith and morals, simply WAS the faith of God’s covenant people. I mean, I am having trouble thinking of a single TEACHING on the part of a Patricarch, or Moses, or one of the Judges, or one of the Prophets which was later recognized as “error” or heterodox. I am even wondering if such a recognition was, in principal, even possible. The way that the people KNEW the words of the law-giver or the prophets to be true, was precisely because such persons were recognized as posessing God’s authority – i.e. real authority proceeds and produces orthodoxy. Just curious if you or anyone else here at CTC has considered this question? Maybe I am overlooking some glaring instance of formal heterodoxy proclaimed by a God-appointed leader in the Old Covenant – but so far, I cannot think of one.

    Peace and Good,

    -Ray

  166. Gentlemen:

    Apropos of comparing the authority of the leadership in the Old Covenant with that of the leadership of the New, see the long exchange I had with Prof. R.F. White, beginning with comment #733 in the thread Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.

    Anybody who has responses to that exchange should comment here, not there. I think 767 comments was enough over there!

  167. Ray,

    I believe your analysis is correct. It is indeed true that the governing body of the OC people of God did possess his authority, and so grave was that authority that any man who opposed it suffered consequences. That is continued in the NC, but what I believe is one profound difference between the two is that within the OC Law and Prophets, the truth of the mystery of God’s Grace in Christ is hidden in types and shadows, and the teaching was more direct to the people as it pertained to the Law, which was a pretty straight forward, perspicuous code. What we have in the NC is the revelation of what was hidden in the OC, which entails broader parameters of truth and greater complexity of content. Such broadness and complexity is what necessitates Christ’s promise to us, for the sake of unity of faith and the assurance of truth, that he would be with the Church to the end of the age, lead and guide her into all truth, and protect her from the gates of Hell by the authority of God invested in her–all these point to the necessity and reality of an indefectable, infallible covenant body, something implicit in the OC but now explicit in the NC.

  168. Folks,

    I did read your replies, thank you. I am going to do what I said I would do last weekend and end my comments on this thread. Thee fact that you keep us Protestants coming back is a tribute to your ability to raise thought provoking and important topics. I do appreciate the passion you all have for the Church and I hope I have not been too hard-headed or dismissive in my replies (which I know I tend towards!).

    In Christian friendship,

    Andrew

  169. Andrew

    Thanks for the discusssion – God’s blessings upon you and yours!

    -Ray

  170. Dr. Liccione

    I realize that the lion’s share of the argument in this thread (Tradition and Lexicon) has centered around the philosophical dilemma within a Protestant paradigm regarding the distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. In the end (with a substantial amount of additional argumentation), we Catholics believe that an infallible magisterium (in fact, the Catholic Magisterium) answers to this philosophical dilemma.

    Of course, Catholics have many other (one might say more concrete) reasons for our faith in the Magiseterium such as NT biblical exegesis, the patristic witness, etc. Naturally, establishing the relation of an infallible magisterium in the New Covenant (NC) to the authority figures of the Old Covenant (OC), is something we can expect our separated brethren to inquire about. In fact, elucidating this relation is quite helpful when employing meta-historical terms such as “the family of God” or “the people of God” as used in the lead article (Tradition and Lexicon). .

    Thus, as per your suggestion, I read carefully your excellent exchange with professor White within the Solo/Sola thread; discussing the continuities/discontinuities between the OC and NC understanding of authority / infallibility etc. If I may, I would like to highlight a few posts from your exchange with a view toward summarizing a concern derived from the same:

    Dr. Liccione:

    ”To be sure, there were always legitimate, duly recognized authorities in the OC, which is why Jesus preached (Matt 23): “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” That such authorities were not preserved from error, and did not think of themselves as so preserved, when they pronounced on disputed matters of doctrine, was not a flaw of the OC

    Andrew Presslar:

    ”Perhaps you have already discussed this, but allow me to wonder out loud whether the ongoing possibility of further revelation to ancient Israel obviated the need for an infallible Magisterium. That is, if those who had been endowed with the OT magisterium did attempt to bind the people of God in a definitive way to doctrinal error, God could raise up a prophet with new revelation to correct course. This is indeed what happened”

    Professor White:

    ”To this point, I’ve learned that there are continuities and discontinuities between the pre-NC era and the NC era. Among those discontinuities is the absence of an infallible Magisterium from the pre-NC era. To my mind, this yields a hermeneutical situation indistinguishable from the lead article’s description of sola scriptura, and so I sought confirmation of that observation”

    Question summary:
    The fact that the OC authorities may not have understood themselves to possess any infallible charism does not imply that they, in fact, were not protected from error. In fact, one might argue that many of the OC authorities, such as Moses and the Prophets, DID know that their teaching was free from error due to the dramatic and direct way in which God communicated His revelation to them (burning bush / stone tablets / direct visions / etc.). Nonetheless, whether they, subjectively, had such an awareness is beside the point. It appeared to me, as I read through the exchange, that both you and Andrew P. believe that nothing akin to infallibility (or protection from error) actually accompanied the OT authorities. But I am not convinced that this is true based on the contents of the exchange. When we make the careful distinction between infallibility and impeccability (as we do in the case of the NC Magisterium), and then apply this distinction to the authority figures of the OC; it seems to me that something like infallibility remains standing – and even stands out. You stated in the exchange that the Jews could assess when their leaders were failing to live up to the OC law – but this only amounts to a lack of impeccability. Andrew P. states that “God could raise up a prophet with new revelation to correct course. This indeed happened”. Clearly, the prophets corrected the behavior of Israel and its authorities (showcasing their lack of impeccability), but is there a single case where they “corrected” some errant teaching of Moses and the law, or some prior “teaching” of a Patriarch, Judge, or Prophet? Surely, the entire OT is a showcase concerning God’s efforts to call His people back to fidelity to the covenant – but I do not see any of the OC authorities teaching error; that is “teaching” something that subsequently faced correction and revision. I think of how closely God seems to identify the teaching of Moses with His own teaching. At times, it is difficult, when reading through the Pentateuch, to distinguish between Moses’ teaching and God’s – they appear, for all practical purposes, to have been received by the people as equivalent.

    Further, Jesus statement (in the first post above) concerning the chair of Moses looks VERY MUCH like an affirmation of something akin to infallibility – while clearly pointing out the lack of impeccability. The Gospels also give us Caiaphas the high priest (clearly not impeccable) prophesying truly precisely BECAUSE he held the office of high priest. My bottom line is that I still do not see where a single OC authority corrected or revised any prior TEACHING of an OC authority – the correction seems always to rest on the side of praxis. IF, and this is a big if, I am correct in this assessment; we would have strong grounds for showing a powerful CONTUINITY, rather than discontinuity, between authority figures in the OC and NC in relation to teaching authority. Such a continuity, along with all the other proto-catholic continuities, might have significant apologetic value. Thus, I am hesitant to concede that which the data might not lead us to concede: namely the reflexive assumption that God managed the transmission of revelation in the OC through authorities who spoke fallibly with regard to matters of faith and morals. If they did not, then they did not. In such case, Dr. White’s assessment that: “Among those discontinuities is the absence of an infallible Magisterium from the pre-NC era” – would be wrong.

    I am entirely prepared to acknowledge where my thinking is amiss on this issue. I only want to insure that the “fact” of fallibility in the OC is, in fact, a fact.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  171. Dr. Stamper / Dr. Liccione,

    This (Jewish) article throws an interesting wrench into the discussion. Here are the opening lines:

    There is a review in the new issue of First Things of a book by a Protestant scholar on papal infallibility (link – subscription required). To my surprise, mainly due to my ignorance of Catholic history, there are a number of thought-provoking similarities between papal infallibility and Da’as Torah.

    (Emphasis added)

  172. Grace and Peace,

    So this is my first comment here at CTC and as Reformed PCA-er who has been becoming rather restless as of late, the various resources here have indeed brought me some clarification. So thank you. I have had this question and I guess this is the best article on which to ask it.

    Basically, I have understood the conceptual definition of the Church’s Magisterium but have found myself desiring to know what it really is. How does the Church define her Magisterium?

    Secondly, and related to that question, you all have said that the infallibility of the Church does not entail that every theologian/bishop/etc. is necessarily exempt from error. That being said, when do certain doctrines that have been elaborated by the graceful illumination of the Doctors of the Church, fallible in and of themselves, become something other than their own theories by acquiring a place within the Magisterium? In other words, when did the insights of St. Athanasius (a fallible individual) on Christ’s Incarnation become not just the theories of a brilliant scholar, but infallibly a part of the Church’s Living Tradition?

    Thanks,

    Pax Christi,

    Caleb Roberts

  173. Caleb,

    Thanks for visiting CTC and I hope to see you around here more often. I’ve read several of your blog posts – excellent!

    So this magisterium business.

    First let’s just clarify that a statement is either true or false and is not properly called fallible or infallible except by virtue of a reference to the agent from which that statement originated. I could say “Turn the other cheek” is an infallible statement only in reference to its source (Scripture/Christ). If I considered the statement only, I can only say that it’s true (or reject it and say that it’s false). I’m sure you already knew that- just clarifying.

    The question here is: when and how does it go from being a statement (that could be wrong) to a statement that we are required to affirm de fide because it is received from an infallible source? The magisterium is the sacred teaching authority of the Church. It is the voice of the Church as Church . On a fundamental level, this is simpler than we often make it out to be (although there can be legitimate questions of magisterial grades of authority and possibly even infallibility, but I believe that is something far beyond the question at hand).

    So a doctrine becomes “infallible” (in the sense mentioned above) when it is affirmed by the magisterium. What does that look like? It looks like the Church speaking as Church. The biblical model of this is the Jerusalem council of Acts 15. The bishops (apostles) of the universal Church gather in union with St. Peter to definitely bind the conscience of the entire Church – this is the fullness of the magisterial act.

    We say that the magisterium is infallible by virtue of it being the sacred teaching authority of the Church because the Church is infallible. We don’t need to look for a complicated, invisible, nuanced network of persons or offices to find the magisterium; we just need to look at the (visible) Church.

    A PCA pastor says, “Infants shouldn’t be baptized.” Joe takes it that the PCA rejects infant baptism. You say, “Wait Joe, he might be a pastor but he doesn’t speak for the PCA.” You’re correct about this and you know how to find the voice of the PCA. So you have pointed to the ‘magisterium’ of the PCA as the authentic voice of the denomination and there’s relatively little ambiguity there. In the case of the PCA, this is not an affirmation on your part that the doctrine of infant baptism is infallible because you do not believe that the PCA is infallible. But on our part, since we believe the Church herself (as herself) is infallible, it follows that when the Church speaks as herself (i.e. using her magisterial voice) then those statements are infallible.

    St. Athanasius’s doctrines became ‘infallible’ when and insofar as the Church (qua Church) affirmed them. (Of course they had always been true.)

    Does this help clarify our position or does it muddy the water? :-)

  174. Caleb,

    Welcome to CtC. :-) Hope to see you around as we all seek after
    God’s truth. (Well, to be perfectly honest, I’m seeking after God’s truth
    and some lunch right about now too…) ;-)

    Tim,

    Can you help a Protestant out a wee bit? Has a list been made up
    of “Infallible Things the Catholic Church has Said”? I know church
    council and Ex Cathedra pronouncements are infallible, but are there
    any other infallible church proclamations? (Fr’instance, are papal bulls
    infallible too?)

    I guess I’ve got a decent idea behind what infallibility is, its entailments,
    etc…I’m just trying to figure out which pronouncements are infallible, or
    how one tells whether a given pronouncement is infallible. Any
    help would be appreciated, and much thanks :-)

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin =)

  175. Tim,

    Thanks so much for your prompt response. No, that didn’t muddy the waters at all, in fact, it helped out a bunch, thanks.

    You know, I actually realized something new (well, new for me) based on your response and that is the necessity of ecclesial definition. That is, in the case of defining and proclaiming truth, a church as understood as the sum total of an egalitarian laity could not escape this “truth” being based on a mere majority consensus under which they couldn’t submit and follow in the literal senses of the words.

    Hm.

    Well, you all have a great weekend.

    I have finals to study for.

    -Caleb

  176. Benjamin,

    I think your question is quite reasonable from your vantage point. A Catholic, however, doesn’t need to ask such a question (I’ll explain) except in the hair-splitting advanced theological inquiry I mentioned above regarding potential degrees of magisterial authority. But this isn’t the proper place or set of persons for such an inquiry. The question at hand is more fundamental.

    Has a list been made up of “Infallible Things the Catholic Church has Said”?

    I’m sure there have been some such lists. Denzinger has a compendium of Catholic Dogma up through Pope Pius XII, and some more modern compendiums exist. Debate (of the more advanced kind I mean) can and does occur regarding which documents and to what degree are considered infallible. But all of that is aside from our basic concern.

    The question you asked is not a Catholic one because it assumes from the outset a sort of Protestant framework re: the nature of revelation – that revealed truth is a set of propositions that can be put on display in a Church history museum or taken into the theology lab for testing. (Imagery) Ray S. had some insightful things to say along these lines in this post. I highly recommend his comments 19 & 26.

    The living Church faithfully delivers the Word of God to her children. The proper Catholic attitude is one of active faith in Jesus Christ through obedience to the Church and an on-going self sacrifice of the intellect. This is a sacrifice not of man’s right to reason, but of man’s “right” to reason apart from the mind of the Church – i.e. apart from Christ. This sacrifice is what Paul speaks of – “bringing every thought captive to Christ.” We do so by an active submission to the magisterium of the Church.

    Now I’m not saying that you have any faulty intent in your approach; it is quite logical given your theology. But it doesn’t work for Catholics; we can’t give a solid Catholic answer to an inherently Protestant question. To look for a list of all inerrant statements from the magisterium to take and hold in your hand is something like looking for a way to retain sola scriptura and just consider the magisterial voice as a sort of an appendix to scripture.

    In asking this question, it feels to me like we want to take God’s Word, lay it on a table, and conquer it (by making it our own). This is not the Catholic way. Rather, we lay ourselves (heart, mind, body and soul) at the feet of Christ’s altar (which is found in the Church) and submit our judgment to be conquered by God’s Word.

    Does that make sense? I think if you’re really looking for the nuts and bolts – it will require a much more technical answer.

  177. Benjamin:

    What Tim and Ray have said is correct, but I think something needs to be added for precision’s sake. That addition will serve just as well as an answer to Caleb, who spoke of the need for “ecclesial definition.

    There actually is an enumerable set of dogmas solemnly defined by general councils and popes. Those dogmas are “irreformable” not because they admit of no improvement or clarification—many do—but in virtue of having been infallibly propounded with the Church’s full authority as truths which, commanding the assent of all the faithful, may never be gainsaid. Those definitions are exercises of what theologians call the Church’s “extraordinary magisterium” (EM). But not all truths infallibly taught by the Church have defined by the EM. In fact, the Church infallibly held and taught the entire deposit of faith, with varying degrees of clarity and explicitness, before there ever were any dogmatic definitions of the sort I’ve just described. The first were at the Council of Nicaea in 325—well over two centuries after the death of the last apostle. And given the nature of the subject matter, the EM will never manage to frame the entire deposit of faith in the form of a list of technically precise propositions we can run down and check off.

    The purpose of the EM’s dogmatic definitions is to clarify and make more explicit some aspect of the Church’s faith that turns out to be unclear to many people, thus giving rise to potentially church-dividing controversies about what that aspect of the Church’s faith means. Most such definitions are formulated as responses to heresies that force the Church to be clearer about what it is she is committed to affirming (or denying). In the past, most such heresies were about articles of faith as distinct from moral tenets. Nowadays, however, most are about morality, and most of those are about sexual morality. The invention of the Pill, I think, had a great deal to do with bringing about this situation; but that is a matter for sociology, not theology. The theological point is that there is huge controversy in the Church about sexual morality partly because no moral tenet has ever been solemnly defined as a dogma. So if the Church has infallibly taught some such tenets—and Catholics as such must say that she has—that must be be because the “ordinary and universal magisterium” (OUM) of the bishops, with the pope as their heard, has so taught. And the same goes, of course, for truths of faith not so defined.

    Now the criterion for identifying infallibly defined dogmas, and the application of that criterion, are reasonably clear and consensual. There is also a magisterially stated criterion for identifying a doctrine as having been infallibly set forth by the OUM. But the criteria for applying it are not nearly so clear.

    Vatican II said:

    Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.

    There is disagreement among Catholic theologians about precisely how to apply that criterion. Some doctrines clearly satisfy it, such as the doctrine that the death-and-resurrection of Christ won grace “sufficient” for the salvation of each and every human person (whether every person accepts that grace is of course another matter). The Apostles’ Creed is another example of a set of affirmations infallibly held by the Church as a whole and infallibly taught by the OUM. But many are controversial: e.g., that the direct, voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral, or that certain sorts of sexual acts are always gravely immoral. Indeed, the only time that Rome has explicitly applied the stated criterion was to defend the the doctrine that the Church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women, enunciated in that form by John Paul II in 1994. The following year, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, speaking for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asserted that said doctrine had been “infallibly set forth” by the OUM because it was “founded on the written word of God, and constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church.” In saying that, Ratzinger explicitly cited and applied the criterion I’ve quoted from Vatican II above. Needless to say, some theologians demur.

    The main conceptual difficulty making continued controversy possible is that the Church can never fully enunciate how to apply the stated criterion for the infallibility of the OUM. If she could, then the Magisterium would be superfluous: all and only the “infallible” doctrines could be formulated and identified as such by the right software working on the agreed data-set. But the Magisterium is by no means superfluous: its authority is charismatic, not mechanical or academic. And that, as Tim and Ray have pointed out in their own ways, is just as the nature of the subject matter calls for.

    Best,
    Mike

  178. Dr. Liccione, (sorry, forgot to address you formally in the previous replies)

    Here’s the second posting of the same content, originally put on the “I Love the Orthodox too much to be Orthodox” thread.

    Your ecclesiastical “problem of the criteria” seems to resemble some skeptical arguments and skeptical though-experiments. It reminds me of the problem of how to distinguish between different physical objects. We all have a relatively good idea of what the difference is between one object and another; but this isn’t because we have formulated perfectly general criteria for what constitutes one physical object as different from another before we start looking at the world. Instead we start with an awareness of the differences between physical objects. We can immediately identify many particular cases of physical objects. And then we can formulate plausible criteria that capture most of the cases. But criteria have their limits, and there are always some counterexamples, or apparent counterexamples, or potential counterexamples (on this point, and the suggestion that follows, I am partly indebted to the excellent book “Reason in the Absence of Rules”). But we can get past these counterexamples by developing in our own awareness of physical objects. We learn when the criteria apply and when they don’t by developing our intellectual and sensory abilities in an intellectually virtuous way. This also involves interaction with people that are more intellectually virtuous than we are, and imitation of them in an attempt to learn the requisite intellectual skills. As always, a healthy dose of particularism can cure skepticism; methodism is a placebo.

    I think the same thing goes for how we identify institutions and how we identify an institution’s official teachings. The fact that there’s not universal agreement on what precisely the criteria are for identifying the teaching of the Church doesn’t seem to have any effect on whether we can in fact identify the teaching in a way similar to how we identify the teaching of any institution. We start with some particular obvious cases of people in an institution, and then build criteria that seem to roughly capture our idea of how we identified these people as members. Then we increase in our familiarity of that institution so as to know how to apply the rules correctly and catch the exceptions to those rules. Its not hard to figure out some of the basic things that Orthodoxy teaches and who some of its adherents are. And you can go from there and get quite a ways without running into constant ambiguity (even if there are some isolate cases where you’re not 95% sure who’s in and who’s out).

    I don’t think a Roman Catholic is in any better of a situation either, because one must use common sense to identify the fact that the criteria given by the Pope in Vatican I and elsewhere are indeed official teaching. This can be brought out by the question, “Why think that the Pope, instead of some council held in South America, is the formal official teacher of the Roman Church?” Consider someone named Bob who has never met a Roman Catholic before, or heard what Rome’s stance on any issue is. This person meets two Catholic theologians—Hans and Joseph—walking in a park, who begin to tell him about Rome’s teachings. Hans is a bizarre heterodox Catholic, who says that Councils can trump the Pope in a way incompatible with Vatican I’s decree. Joseph is theologically conservative and tells the standard teaching of Vatican I as is. How does Bob figure out if Hans or Joseph is right? It might seem like the answer is “by checking what the Pope says in Vatican I”; but remember that Bob doesn’t know that the Pope is the official teacher of Rome yet. How would Bob get over the conflicting sources of information that tell him divergent things? I think its by the same process of institution-familiarization that I am talking about above. It would be no problem to figure out what’s going on, because he can simply go check what the vast majority of Rome’s previous documents and teachers—especially the ones that present themselves as official and foundational—say about the subject, and who they recognize as the official spokesperson. One will be able to detect a kind of deference to papal authority. And with enough familiarization with the various people that acknowledge papal authority, you can figure out that these guys are not the exception to the rule, but that they correctly perceive the actual teachings of the Roman Church.

    And a similar Bob problem can be made for how to identify the existence of the Roman Church. Suppose Bob meets two people, both claiming to be Roman Catholic priests. But they are not in communion with each other. One claims that his group (which is actually schismatic) is the Roman Church; the other (who is not schismatic) is in the Roman Church. Both present various arguments, and Bob can’t immediately tell the difference between them. Does this mean Bob can’t ultimately figure out what the Roman Church is? No, it just means he needs common sense and experience of the institutions and documents in question to discern real from apparent instances of the Roman Church. He would need to look for a time in history when the Roman Church’s identity was easy to locate, and then trace a continuity of structure and aim to one of several competing claimants among present day hierarchies.

    In terms of having formulated criteria for how you identify the Orthodox Church, one suggestion that seems plausible is that we have an implicit criteria for knowing what the Church is in the ecclesiology of Fathers like Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Hippolytus, etc. when they speak about continuity of doctrine and continuity of the episcopacy via succession. But again, our ability to recognize that there exists such a criteria depends on a kind of common-sense approach to how we identify the official teaching of a visible society. And it depends on our ability to identify the doctrine of a given institituion. With sufficient familiarity, this is no problem usually. And again, we have St. Vincent to thank for criteria for teaching-identification; and the receptivity that later theologians had to his ideas help signify that his is indeed the official view.

    And if I were Bob, researching in a library, coming across competing *apparently representative, official* Roman statements about the relationship between Rome and the East couldn’t I say that Roman theologians don’t agree about whether the East is a group of real churches or not? For aren’t there probably some weird, exceptional, perhaps hyper-traditionalist or pre-Vatican II Catholics that would claim that the official teaching of Rome is that the East is in heresy and schism? I’m not saying such people are right, or likely to be right, or that we should listen to them as though they are actually representative voices. All I’m saying is it takes common sense and experience to figure out that they aren’t to be taken seriously. And similarly, it takes some common sense and experience to figure out what’s official Orthodox teaching. So I think we are at least equal on this point; I don’t think Rome has an advantage.

    Also, would your above argument have been a principled reason for choosing Rome over the East pre Vatican I? And even if I’m wrong about common sense and experience putting us on even playing field, if the Orthodox formulated explicit criteria, couldn’t that change things so that we are evenly-matched?

  179. Darryl Hart, Adjunct Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary California, has written a critical reply to this article; his reply is titled “More Paradigmatic Fun.” There he writes:

    Sorry to sound so ad hominem, but this is just plain silly. Entering the home of Bryan Cross is a very different matter from trying to understand Irenaeus. It sounds soothing and very family friendly. Who wouldn’t want to enter a religious communion where we are all siblings, know family dynamics, have assigned times for going to bed and taking out the garbage, and have parents who never make mistakes. Please, please, please sign me up for that.

    Of course there are differences between an individual family, and the Church family, but those differences do not nullify my point that in the Catholic paradigm, the Church is a family, and shares certain characteristics found in individual families. Differences between the Church family and the individual family do not demonstrate the absence of the points in common between them. Hart sets up a straw man of the idea of the Church as a family, by describing it in terms of assigned bed times, etc. And then he appeals implicitly to his own dislike of his caricature as a basis for rejecting it. All this leaves my argument intact. Then he continues:

    But as family friendly as this form of communication may be, it will not do when trying to understand texts written almost two millenia ago in languages that (or at least versions of them) are in critical condition. If Bryan wants to understand Cyprian, chances are he is going to need to rely on a host of non-family members, people who teach ancient languages, compile lexicons, craft reliable and authoritative editions of texts, and — get this — historians who know something about social conditions in early Christianity. Believe it or not, a lot of these folks are not Roman Catholic and so aren’t members of Bryan’s family. He may want to restrict the study of the fathers to Roman Catholics (the Eastern Orthodox will want some input on this), but if he does he will be able to understand Tertullian about as well as your average high school graduate understands Plato.

    Hart’s claim is that in order to understand biblical or patristic texts, we will have to rely on non-Catholic scholars. In making this claim, Hart precisely begs the question, i.e. presupposes the lexical paradigm. My point is that in the Catholic paradigm, the Church is not essentially dependent on academic scholarship in order to know her own Tradition. Such scholarship is useful and helpful, both to individuals and even to the Magisterium. Such scholarship, however, is not that per se by which the Catholic Church knows her own Tradition, but only per accidens. In the Catholic paradigm, even if all academia collapsed, neither the Tradition nor any part of the Tradition would be lost. So Hart’s criticism here is a question-begging one, by presupposing the lexical paradigm. And so again, it leaves my argument intact.

    Hart goes on:

    And then lo and behold, even one of the church councils, the one held in Vienne in 1311, revealed the need for the lexical and historical investigation that supposedly prevents Protestants from being called to communion. Simply being part of the family would not allow editors of papal enclyclicals on-line to know exactly which parts of the council were constitutional:

    In the third session of the council, which was held on 6 May 1312, certain constitutions were promulgated. We do not know their text or number. In Mueller’s opinion, what happened was this: the constitutions, with the exception of a certain number still to be polished in form and text, were read by the council fathers; Clement V then ordered the constitutions to be corrected and arranged after the pattern of decretal collections. This text, although read in the consistory held in the castle of Monteux near Carpentras on 21 March 1314 was not promulgated, since Clement V died a month later. It was pope John XXII who, after again correcting the constitutions, finally sent them to the universities. It is difficult to decide which constitutions are the work of the council. We adopt Mueller’s opinion that 38 constitutions may be counted as such, but only 20 of these have the words “with the approval of the sacred council”.

    Not a big point, maybe. But if Cross is going to be so presuppositional — I mean, paradigmatic — about the ways that divide western Christians, he might want to check his theories against historical reality every once in a while.

    Here Hart attempts to provide a counterexample to my claim, by quoting from Norman Tanner’s introduction to his account of the Council of Vienne, which was the fifteenth ecumenical council. In the quotation, Tanner notes that we do not know the text and number of certain constitutions promulgated at the third session of this council, both because we do not have that original document and because John XXII made corrections (and perhaps additions) before promulgating the constitutions.

    This, however, is not a counterexample to my argument. Not knowing which of the constitutions came from the council’s third session, or other such details about the council, is not a loss of the Tradition, but ignorance of certain historical details related to the working of the council. The usefulness of historical scholarship for determining the truth concerning such historical details does not constitute an essential reliance by the Church on academia for the determination, preservation, and development of the Tradition, because historical details of this sort are not part of the Tradition proper. Hart’s criticism mistakenly presumes that such historical details are part of the Tradition. So this objection too, like his others discussed above, leaves my argument intact.

  180. Bryan 279:

    Differences between the Church family and the individual family do not demonstrate the absence of the points in common between them.

    In other words, the way you have posited it, there is no way to falsify your statement, because the only way to do so would be to prove a negative. You require Hart to demonstrate “an absence of points in common”. That is very kind of you.

    Hart’s claim is that in order to understand biblical or patristic texts, we will have to rely on non-Catholic scholars.

    You’re misrepresenting what he says. You’ll certainly have to rely on scholars, some of them non-Catholic. But it is a certainty you have to rely on scholars – those textual experts who found and dated texts, assured (reasonably) that they are from Cyprian, understood the ancient languages, provided the textual criticism to assure you have the best text, provided readable translations.

    Yes, you are essentially dependent on academic scholarship to be able to read all of these “church fathers”.

    The “Tradition” of which you speak was essentially lost, and had to be recovered. The very words of the mass and baptismal rites you practice, for example, are recovered from Hippolytus, an early third century anti-pope. You have no other source for it.

    The usefulness of historical scholarship for determining the truth concerning such historical details does not constitute an essential reliance by the Church on academia for the determination, preservation, and development of the Tradition, because historical details of this sort are not part of the Tradition proper. Hart’s criticism mistakenly presumes that such historical details are part of the Tradition.

    How do you know “Tradition” apart from any of these texts?

  181. John, (re: #180)

    You wrote:

    In other words, the way you have posited it, there is no way to falsify your statement, because the only way to do so would be to prove a negative. You require Hart to demonstrate “an absence of points in common”.

    This isn’t something I require; it is what is required by logic. In order to show that the Church is not familial in the ways I described in the article, one would have to show that the Church is not familial in the ways I described in the article. Pointing to differences in other respects does not show that the Church is not familial in the ways I described in the article.

    You’ll certainly have to rely on scholars, some of them non-Catholic. But it is a certainty you have to rely on scholars – those textual experts who found and dated texts, assured (reasonably) that they are from Cyprian, understood the ancient languages, provided the textual criticism to assure you have the best text, provided readable translations. Yes, you are essentially dependent on academic scholarship to be able to read all of these “church fathers”.

    It is true that if I wanted to study the writings of St. Cyprian, I would need to rely on scholars. But that leaves my argument intact, because in the Catholic paradigm, losing the writings of St. Cyprian (or access to them) would not mean that the Church (or myself) would lose the Tradition or part of the Tradition. As I explained in the previous comment, in the Catholic paradigm, even if all books were wiped from the face of the earth tomorrow, the Tradition would not be lost, because the Tradition is preserved essentially in the persons of the Church, both the magisterium and the laity faithful to the magisterium.

    The very words of the mass and baptismal rites you practice, for example, are recovered from Hippolytus, an early third century anti-pope. You have no other source for it.

    The Tradition is contained in the words of the liturgy, but is not reduced to the exact wording of the words of the liturgy. So your criticism, like Hart’s, confuses the Tradition with certain historical facts in which the Tradition was embodied.

    How do you know “Tradition” apart from any of these texts?

    The same way the first Christians knew the apostolic Tradition before any books of the NT were written, namely, from the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  182. Bryan 181:

    This isn’t something I require; it is what is required by logic. In order to show that the Church is not familial in the ways I described in the article, one would have to show that the Church is not familial in the ways I described in the article. Pointing to differences in other respects does not show that the Church is not familial in the ways I described in the article.

    Yes, but the only qualification that needs exist is for “the Church” and “a family” in ways that you described in the article would be to claim “they are composed of multiple people”. You are the one who wrote that initial description. But it’s meaningless, given Hart’s qualifications.

    “The Church” and “Satan’s minions” are “familial” in similar ways. What you’ve got is a meaningless description here. [But then again, maybe not].

    It is true that if I wanted to study the writings of St. Cyprian, I would need to rely on scholars. But that leaves my argument intact, because in the Catholic paradigm, losing the writings of St. Cyprian (or access to them) would not mean that the Church (or myself) would lose the Tradition or part of the Tradition.

    We are not talking about Cyprian only. We are talking about every single church father you cite. You want to say you know “Tradition” from “the Church”, but that is a meaningless comparison, too. How does “the Church” know what “genuine tradition” (in the Eastern Orthodox sense, for example) really is? Rome has got thick medieval participation, with lost councils and all, and this current Magisterium has had to rely on documents like Hippolytus’s work in order to “re-construct” “traditional” elements of “Tradition”. What remains, too, is an amalgamation of various liberal concepts.

    In truth, the Roman Catholic concept of “Tradition” is itself a deformation of genuine “church tradition”. Words mean nothing, until Rome gives them their definition. Or, until Rome vacates the original definition in favor of its own.

    JB: How do you know “Tradition” apart from any of these texts?

    The same way the first Christians knew the apostolic Tradition before any books of the NT were written, namely, from the Church.

    The first Christians knew directly from the Apostles. The Apostles were doing the teaching. Today, that process is far, far removed from what it was like when the Apostles were around.

  183. John (#182):

    You ask:

    How does “the Church” know what “genuine tradition” (in the Eastern Orthodox sense, for example) really is?

    The context of your question indicates that you believe the Church’s reception, apprehension, and preservation of Tradition is primarily a matter of “knowledge” to be acquired by consulting documents and other forms of evidence admissible by historians as such. All that certainly plays a role, with Scripture being the most normative set of documents. But even a perfect knowledge of the words of Scripture or any other documentary evidence is insufficient to ensure that one will understand what God is saying through such means. Such understanding is ultimately a matter of faith, not just of knowledge. All hands would agree, I should think, that the grace and enlightenment of faith given by the Holy Spirit is essential. And so it is with Tradition.

    As the “subject” of Tradition, the medium in which Tradition resides, the Church discerns its essential content, under the guidance of the Spirit, in roughly the way Ratzinger indicates:

    The Church does not have the right to exchange the faith for something else and at the same time to expect the faithful to stay with her. Councils can therefore neither discover ecclesiologies or other doctrines nor can they repudiate them. In the words of Vatican II, the Church is “not higher than the Word of God but serves it and therefore teaches only what is handed on to it.” (5) Our understanding of the depth and breadth of the tradition develops because the Holy Spirit broadens and deepens the memory of the Church in order to guide her “into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). According to the Council, growth in the perception (Wahrnehmung, perceptio) of what is inherent to the tradition occurs in three ways: through the meditation and study of the faithful, through an interior understanding which stems from the spiritual life, and through the proclamation of those “who have received the sure charism of truth by succeeding to the office of the bishop.” (6) The following words basically paraphrase the spiritual position of a council as well as its possibilities and tasks: the council is committed from within to the Word of God and to the tradition. It can only teach what is handed on. As a rule, it must find new language to hand on the tradition in each new context so that—to put it a different way—the tradition remains genuinely the same. If the Second Vatican Council brought the notion of communio to the forefront of our attention, it did not do so in order to create a new ecclesiology or even a new Church. Rather, careful study and the spiritual discernment which comes from the experience of the faithful made it possible at this moment to express more completely and more comprehensively what the tradition states.

    Studying the sort of evidence you want is thus often important, but is never in itself dispositive. That is true of any Christian, or Christian community, that is being “led” by the Spirit “into all truth”–even those that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. That sort of evidence can be studied by unbelieving scholars in “religious studies” departments as carefully as by any believer. But it will never suffice for grasping what God intends to convey through such means.

    Best,
    Mike

  184. John, (re: #182)

    You wrote:

    We are not talking about Cyprian only. We are talking about every single church father you cite. You want to say you know “Tradition” from “the Church”, but that is a meaningless comparison, too. How does “the Church” know what “genuine tradition” (in the Eastern Orthodox sense, for example) really is?

    I agree that we are not talking about St. Cyprian only; we are talking about every single Church Father I cite. The Tradition comes from the Apostles. The Church Fathers do not add to it, so neither can the loss of the writings of the Church Fathers take away from Tradition. How does the Church know her Tradition? In much the way a family knows its tradition. She receives it from living persons who received it from living persons of a prior generation, who received it from living persons of a prior generation, extending all the way back to the Apostles, all while protected and developed by the Holy Spirit, who faithfully guides the Church into all truth.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  185. After Jason Stellman’s announcement (which was shortly thereafter taken down) was posted here at CTC in July, Darryl Hart, Adjunct Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary California, began a series of articles on his site (Old Life) critically responding first to Jason and then to Called To Communion. Those articles are as follows:

    1. Former Saint’s Remorse posted on July 25.
    2. Next Time You’re Tempted to Blame Escondido posted on July 26.
    3. Whither Roman Catholic Social Thought posted on July 31.
    4. Development of Doctrine – Protestant Style, posted on August 1.
    5. Infallibility in Denial posted on August 6.
    6. The Primacy of James (or the Ante-Ante-Nicene Fathers), posted on August 7.
    7. Teachers Without Principals (not without principles) posted on August 8.
    8. Understanding Papal Infallibility, posted on August 9.
    9. Perhaps Jason Stellman Can Feel Our Incredulity, posted on August 13.
    10. Whose Ancient Church? Which Apostolic Succession?, posted on August 14.
    11. Called To Communion Hype and Roman Catholic Reality, posted on August 15.
    12. What I’m (all about ME!) Sayin’, posted on August 16.
    13. Canonical Deism, posted on August 17.
    14. Of Paradigms, Persons, and Popes, posted on August 20.
    15. Does the United States Need a Spanish Inquisition, posted on August 22.
    16. Rome, 2K, and the Limits of W-W, posted on August 28.
    17. More Paradigmatic Fun, posted on August 31.
    18. The Sin Paradigm, posted on September 3.
    19. Paradigms within Paradigms, posted on September 10.

    Initially I offered some comments in the comment boxes at Hart’s site, but after further reflection, I decided no longer to interact with Hart on his site. So I thanked him for the conversation, and withdrew from the conversation there.

    Then in response to his “More Paradigmatic Fun” post of August 31, I responded in comment #179 directly above. Subsequently, in response to his “The Sin Paradigm” article of September 3, I responded in comment #263 of the “Imputations and Paradigms” post here at CTC.

    In his latest article, titled “Paradigms within Paradigms,” (Sept. 10) Hart once again criticizes the CTC contributors. His goal, framed as an ad hominem, is to “help Called to Communion folks shed their own romantic understandings of Rome.” Westminster Seminary California professor R. Scott Clark believes that Hart’s post presents a compelling argument against us, embedding a link to Hart’s article and tweeting, “CTC doesn’t understand its own communion.”

    So let’s consider Hart’s argument. First he quotes from the book titled From Trent to Vatican II: Historical and Theological Investigations, Bulman and Parrella, eds. (OUP, 2006). The chapter from which he quotes is titled “Trent and Vatican II: Two Styles of Church,” and was written by Fr. John O’Malley S.J., who teaches theology at Georgetown University. Hart quotes the following from Fr. O’Malley’s chapter:

    But Trent and Vatican II, when viewed in the large, are emblematic of two fundamental, interrelated, but notably different traditions of the Western Church. Those traditions are the juridical or legislative-judicial and the poetic-rhetorical.

    Hart says a few more things about the difference in styles between the two councils (i.e. Trent and Vatican II), and after quoting Fr. O’Malley again regarding the unique style of the Second Vatican Council in comparison to previous councils, Hart writes:

    If O’Malley is right, and I dare someone to question his historical insights, this puts CTC in a pickle. Those called and calling like the authority of Trent and Vatican I, when Rome assumed an authoritarian posture, the one that supposedly answers the diversity and confusion of Protestantism. At the same time, CTCers often invoke the early church fathers which Rome appropriated through de Lubac’s Ressourcement efforts. But as O’Malley suggests, these two phases of twentieth-century Roman Catholicism two exist uneasily side by side. It is hard to be judicial, laying down the law, and rhetorical, trying to persuade. This may explain why Protestants are unsure of their status. We thought we were condemned, but now were only separated brothers. Either way, the folks at CTC do not seem to acknowledge these different sides of Rome. Maybe Called to Communion should be renamed Called to Confusion.

    Hart seems to think that what Fr. O’Malley says puts us (at CTC) “in a pickle.” Hart’s reasoning involves two arguments. The first argument seems to go like this. We at CTC appeal both to the Church Fathers, and to Trent and Vatican I. But appeal to the Fathers is an aspect of de Lubac’s Ressourcement movement which “exists uneasily” with the judicial, authoritarian aspect of Trent and Vatican I. So, we (at CTC) are in a pickle. Hart’s second argument goes something like this. Trent was judicial and laying down the law, seemingly condemning Protestants with its anathemas, whereas Vatican II was rhetorical and attempting to be persuasive, treating Protestants as “separated brethren.” But we (CTC) do not acknowledge these differences, and so we are in a “pickle.”

    Both of these arguments are not good arguments. One problem with the first argument is that appeal to the Fathers is not exclusively the purview of de Lubac’s Ressourcement movement. The Catholic Church has always drawn extensively from the patrimony of the Fathers. Extensive appeals to the Church Fathers can be found in the Catholic works of every century of the second millennium. Moreover, there is no incompatibility between appeals to the Church Fathers and appeals to Trent or any council. The authority of the Tradition recorded in the Church Fathers is fully compatible with the authority of the Magisterium expressed in the councils. Appealing to the authority of one does not ipso facto negate or nullify the authority of the other. So recognizing the authority both of the Church Fathers and of the councils in no way puts us in a “pickle.”

    Regarding Hart’s second argument, of course there are differences in style between Vatican II and previous councils. We do acknowledge those differences. (Hart never asked us if we acknowledge those differences.) But the differences in style between Vatican II and previous councils are fully compatible with what we have written, and so again, create no “pickle” for us. Regarding the relation between the anathemas of Trent and the “separated brethren” language of Vatican II, see comment #885 in the “Solo Scriptura” article, and the Akin article to which Frank Beckwith links there. These show that there is no contradiction or incompatibility between the anathemas of Trent, and the language of “separated brethren” used by the Second Vatican Council.

    UPDATE: Hart has continued with additional posts on CTC and Catholicism
    20. “The Dog House or Court Room Paradigm,” posted on September 19, 2012.
    21. “More for Called to Communion to Consider before Taking the Call,” posted on October 1, 2012.
    22. “Rematch?,” posted on October 29, 2012.
    23. “Which Theologians Are They Reading?,” posted on October 29, 2012.
    24. “Honor or Venerate?,” posted on November 28, 2012.
    25. “Blame it on the Reformation (Part 2),” posted on November 30, 2012.
    26. “Like Eating Broccoli or Wearing a Scarf?,” posted on December 5, 2012.
    27. “What Protestant Converts May Be Giving Up,” posted on December 11, 2012.
    28.”From Renegades to Virtuosos,” posted on December 18, 2012.
    29. “Whose Virtue, Which Ethicist,” posted on January 16, 2013.
    30. “What a Difference a Council Makes,” posted on January 22, 2013.
    31. “Who is Responsible for Secularization?,” posted on January 24, 2013.
    32. “What You Don’t Hear in the Call to Communion,” posted on January 28, 2013.
    33. “How Discerning the Call!,” posted on January 30, 2013.
    34. “The Irony of Roman Catholic Social Thought,” posted on February 4, 2013.
    35. “Call or Shrug to Communion,” posted on February 9, 2013.
    36. “Called to Call the Mother of God,” posted on February 11, 2013.
    37. “Are Protestants Logocentric (in a humble way)?,” posted on February 12, 2013.
    38. “The Limits of Unlimited Authority,” posted on February 14, 2013.
    39. “Whose Political Party, Which Church Faction,” posted on February 18, 2013.
    40. “Sometimes the “Bar” Eats You,” posted on February 21, 2013.

  186. Darryl Hart has added another post to the list in comment #185. This is one is titled “The Dog House or Court Room Paradigm.” (Sept 19) There, concerning Jason’s Stellman’s post titled “The Walls of a Playground,” Hart writes:

    But again, what is missing from Roman Catholic or would-be Roman Catholic tributes to charity and agape is that nagging sense of sin that sent Luther for another look at the Bible. What if the relationship between the a person and God is not that between a man wooing a woman, nor even a husband in his wife’s dog house for forgetting to bring home the milk that the kids need for breakfast, but a husband who has had an adulterous affair and now facing a divorce attorney?

    The condition of estrangement Hart describes is what in Catholic doctrine is referred to as being in a state of mortal sin. And the remedy for that condition is the grace merited for us by Christ and received through the sacrament of baptism (for persons not yet baptized) and the sacrament of penance (for those already baptized). Through these sacraments we receive both absolution and the infusion of agape by which friendship with God is restored.

    Hart continues:

    That would seem to be the human predicament — one not of finding God’s favor but of facing his wrath and curse for violating his law. Even Rome acknowledges this when it teaches that some people can’t go to heaven without stopping first in purgatory. In fact, it is odd that Rome would seem to teach that it is possible to please God (with the right amount of grace), that all sorts of mechanisms are available to assist believers in this endeavor, not to mention the treasury of merits, and then all of this is not enough to overcome a blight which requires further purging somewhere between heaven and hell.

    Hart’s objection overlooks the Catholic distinction between eternal punishment and temporal punishment and the basis for that distinction. (See section 5 here.) What holds back those in purgatory from the Beatific Vision is not that God needs to get out of His system some additional wrath He failed to pour out on His Son for their sins (see “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement“), but that they owe a debt of temporal punishment. Moreover, the Church does not teach that purgatory is necessary for every person in order to enter heaven, but that it is necessary only for those who, though dying in a state of grace, still have a debt of temporal punishment on account of venial sin.

    Hart concludes:

    So if Chesterton were to think about the relationship between sinners and God as one between spouses estranged by unfaithfulness — a biblical image if Hosea is to be believed — I wonder if he might be more interested in a quid pro quo arrangement. How about one in which a savior takes away sin in such a way that the betrayed wife now regards her unfaithful husband as she did on wedding day?

    That’s what happens in the sacrament of penance. Christ forgives our sins and gives us a share in His own divine Life, by which we are restored to friendship and communion with Him. Chesterton, being an orthodox Catholic, already believed that, and made use of that sacrament.

  187. So if you continue his analogy, in the protestant view the husband continues to be unfaithful and somehow this no longer cause his relationship with his wife to break down? His wife will just continue to regard him as she did on their wedding day no matter what he does? How is that more plausible?

    From a Catholic point of view the wife would have to change the husband’s heart with her grace, give him the ability to be faithful. Wives don’t normally have the power to do that. So seeing God as a wife seems like a weak analogy all round.

  188. Randy (#187

    The analogy is the wrong way around, two ways. First, God is the husband; we are the unfaithful wife; second, human husbands and wives are the copy, God is the original. My husbandhood is analogous to God’s; His is not analogous to mine.

    If my wife is unfaithful, there are many things I can do to try to change her heart – many, but no infininitely many nor infinitely powerful. God, on the other hand, is not so limited.

    jj

  189. Today, in an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Pope Francis said the following:

    As we know, the Holy Scriptures are the testimony in written form of God’s Word, the canonical memorial that attests to the event of Revelation. The Word of God, therefore, precedes and exceeds the Bible. It is for this reason that the center of our faith is not only a book, but a history of salvation and especially a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Precisely because the Word of God embraces and extends beyond Scripture, to understand it properly we need the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who “guides [us] to all truth” (Jn 16:13). It should be inserted within the current of the great Tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “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” (n. 12).

    As the aforementioned conciliar Constitution reminds us, there is an unbreakable unity between Scripture and Tradition, as both come from the same source: “There exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred Tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence” (ibid., 9).

    It follows, therefore, that the exegete must be careful to perceive the Word of God present in the biblical texts by placing them within the faith of the Church. The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church. This norm is essential to specify the correct relationship between exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers, the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and guide the life of charity. Respect for this profound nature of Scripture conditions the very validity and effectiveness of biblical hermeneutics. This results in the insufficiency of any interpretation that is either subjective or simply limited to an analysis incapable of embracing the global meaning that has constituted the Tradition of the entire People of God over the centuries, which “in credendo falli nequit” [cannot be mistaken in belief – ed](Conc. Ecum. Vatican II Dogmatic Cost. Lumen Gentium, 12).

    (source)

    The third paragraph especially communicates what I described in my post above as coming to Scripture through Tradition, in contrast to the lexical/exegetical approach to Scripture. It is not, of course, that exegesis has no place in the Catholic paradigm, but rather that exegesis is a subordinate activity in the task of interpretation, not the conclusion of interpretation by which and against which Tradition is to be judged.

  190. Stanley Hauerwas on the notion that Scripture interprets Scripture, such that the community and tradition and formation within that tradition are unnecessary for understanding it rightly:

  191. Etienne Gilson (A Gilson Reader, essay “Wisdom and Time”)

    Since it refused the authority of the Church, which is Christ Himself, interpreting for us His own word, Protestant theology had to take refuge in philology, as though the teaching of our Savior, having died with Him, was reduced to the meaning of certain words pronounced once upon a time and definable with the aid of grammars and dictionaries. The outcome of this undertaking is well known, and the work of the learned Adolf Harnack is its permanent model: beginning with the Gospels, Christianity is thought of as forming a departure from the teaching of Christ, the whole theology of the Fathers is a contamination of that teaching at the hands of the Hellenic spirit, and the Scholasticism of the middle ages is its final corruption. A strange historical method, surely, whose last word is that the history it is recounting is devoid of meaning and strictly without object! . . . . Certain that the word of the Church is the word of the living God, the Catholic theologian knows very well that the unfolding of the divine deposit of faith of which the Church is the guardian will come to an end only when time does, and even then the infinite richness of this deposit will not be exhausted. But the Catholic theologian likewise knows that this work of developing, which does not belong to any one man of whatever holiness or genius, belongs in fact to the Church, of which Christ is the head and he is a member. The teaching voice of the Church is alone the judge of the understanding of faith.

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