Evangelical Reunion in the Catholic Church

Apr 12th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The following essay is a guest contribution by Jeremy Tate. Jeremy is finishing a graduate degree at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. this Spring. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church in America until he was received into full communion with the Catholic Church this past February.

Few Reformed theologians have spoken as candidly about the tragedy of denominationalism as Reformed Theological Seminary Professor, Dr. John Frame. 1 Throughout Dr. Frame’s prolific writing career he has consistently spoken of the splintering of Protestant churches as a devastating sin that harms nearly every aspect of the Christian life.  In 1991 he devoted an entire book, Evangelical Reunion, to the mission of restoring Christian unity. Rather than treating the subject as merely academic, Dr. Frame writes as a man personally grieved over the crisis of denominationalism, yet also hopeful in God’s sovereign plan. I strongly recommend the book to both Catholics and Protestants alike.

Dr. Frame’s clarity and honesty about the problem of denominationalism also provides common ground for Catholics and Reformed Christians to engage one another.  Both groups believe denominationalism is wrong.  Both groups believe Christ did not intend His Church to be splintered into countless sects.  Both groups believe Christ founded one Church.  Dr. Frame extends the common ground even further as he articulates the belief that Christ not only established one Church, but established one with visible and governmental unity. If we both believe that Christ established one Church and that denominationalism is false, we are left with the task of determining the error which has created denominationalism.

In Evangelical Reunion, and again in his more recent work, The Doctrine of the Christ Life, Dr. Frame puts the onus of guilt for beginning denominationalism on the Catholic Church.  At the same time, however, he articulates the position that neither corruption nor even false teaching justifies leaving a Church and starting a new one.2 This raises an obvious question; how can Dr. Frame possibly justify the Reformers leaving the Catholic Church?  If neither sin nor false teaching is a reason for leaving any church, how can Protestants defend the actions of the men like John Calvin and Martin Luther?  Dr. Frame answers the question directly.  He writes:

The best justifications for starting a new Lutheran church, I think, were these: (1) the Roman Catholic Church was requiring, as a condition of membership in good standing, commission of sin, namely participation in what Luther came to regard as idolatry in the mass. (2) The church required as a qualification for teachers, subscription to a view of salvation which Luther believed was flawed at its very core.3

Based on Dr. Frame’s own teaching in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, his second reason must be dismissed, as he maintains that not even false teaching justifies leaving a Church.  We’re left with his first justification, that to be a member in good standing in the Catholic Church required “commission of sin.”

When I read this, that the Catholic Church required her members to sin, I was unsure of what sin Dr. Frame was referring to.  I emailed him for clarification and he kindly responded.  He wrote, “What was the sinful practice required by the Catholic Church? Violation of the second commandment in worshiping the host. The church had always required its members to attend mass. Luther could not attend in good conscience.”4 Ironically, this practice, normally referred to as Eucharistic adoration, was recently affirmed by the Lutheran Bishops in the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Joint Commission.5 Yet, Dr. Frame maintains that this practice is sin and thus justifies the Reformers in leaving the Church.

In taking this position, Dr. Frame sets himself against the great Doctors of the Faith. For example, in his commentary on the Psalms, St. Augustine writes:

It was in His flesh that Christ walked among us and it is His flesh that He has given us to eat for our salvation; but no one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . . and not only do we not sin in thus adoring it, but we would be sinning if we did not do so.6

More importantly, however, Dr. Frame’s rejection of this practice forces him to reject the most natural reading of the Eucharistic passages in Holy Scripture. In each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus, holding the bread says, “This is my body.”7 In the gospel of John, Jesus commands his disciples to “eat his flesh and drink his blood.”8 Nothing, in any of these passages suggests that Jesus was speaking symbolically.  The Protestant interpretation, though not put this way, begins with the belief that Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant what it sounds like He meant.  In fact, the Protestant rejection of the true presence of Christ (the rationale for Eucharistic Adoration) isn’t exegetical at all; it’s simply rational.  As one of my friends, a PCA Pastor put it, “the Catholic belief that the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Jesus is insane!” True…it’s pretty wild, but it’s true to the text.  More importantly, the body and blood of our Savior are our only hope in life, as St. Augustine said; it would be sin not to worship the sacred Host.

Reformed Christians generally love St. Augustine. They also love John Frame.  Yet, one says we sin if we do not worship the Eucharist, the other says we sin if we do.  Who should be trusted?  The difference between these two beliefs is that one has been affirmed by the Catholic Church and the other has been rejected as heretical. 9 This is the same Catholic Church that rejected Arianism to the glory of Christ’s deity. The same Church that affirmed the reality of Christ’s humanity in the face of heretical docetism. The same Church that rejected the man-centered soteriology of Pelagius for the grace-centered theology of St. Augustine.  This Church maintains and safeguards the Apostolic deposit of faith. This is the goodness of Christ manifested in the world — the offer of being incorporated into His bride, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

  1. In the Preface of Evanglical Reunion, Frame writes, “By ‘denominationalism,’ I mean, sometimes (1) the very fact that the Christian church is split into many denominations, sometimes (2) the sinful attitudes and mentalities that lead to such splits and perpetuate them.” []
  2. He writes, “Remarkably, Scripture itself never says that believers should leave a church organization and form a new one because of false teaching. … But nowhere in the Old Testament, nor in Jesus’ teaching, does God command believers to abandon Israel and to form a new nation, church, or denomination. … As we have seen, there is doctrinal and practical corruption in the New Testament church as well. But again, the apostles do not call on believers to leave their churches and form new ones because of corruption.” (The Doctrine of the Christian Life. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2008. Print. Page, 431.) []
  3. “Evangelical Reunion – Preface.” The Works of John Frame and Vern Poythress. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_books/Evangelical_Reunion/Preface.html. Chapter 2. []
  4. Used with permission. []
  5. “Pro Unione Web Site – Full Text L-RC Eucharist.” Centro Pro Unione, Christian Unity and Ecumenical Research. Web. 08 Apr. 2010. <http://www.pro.urbe.it/dia-int/l-rc/doc/e_l-rc_eucharist.html>. []
  6. St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 98. []
  7. Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19. []
  8. John 6:52. []
  9. Cf. Council of Trent Session XIII.5, Can. 6. []
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  1. Jeremy,

    Great job. I have always been astounded at Calvin’s words in Book IV of the Institutes,
    “But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels, (Matth. 22: 30.) For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify, (Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32.) To their testimony Ezekiel subscribes, when he declares, “They shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel,” (Ezek. 13: 9;) as, on the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true piety are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason it is said in the psalm, “Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance,” (Ps. 106: 4, 6.) By these words the paternal favour of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal.” (IV:4).

    If Calvin believed that abandonment of the Church was always fatal (strong words) on what basis does he leave the Church? To be sure, he would say the Church is the Church that properly preaches the Word and rightly adminsiters the Sacraments. But, properly preaches and administers according to whom?

  2. […] Evangelical Reunion in the Catholic Church | Called to Communion. […]

  3. Tom,

    That’s probably the most ironic thing I’ve ever read.

  4. Is the sin claim not a loophole you could drive a truck through? My childhood reformed church split over women’s ordination. Could both sides not claim that in their view the other side was requiring them to sin? Does that mean John Frame would affirm that split as sinless on both sides?

    I like his question. Where is the error in denominationalism? Is it always true that one side or both sides are in sin? If the result is not God’s will then something must be sinful. If it is not the individuals practicing Sola Scriptura then it must be Sola Scriptura itself.

  5. Thanks Jeremy for this post.

    I’m very glad for the common ground shared by Frame and the Catholic Church, especially his agreement that Christ founded a catholic Church with visible and governmental unity.

    But, Catholics and Frame perceive the present situation differently. He believes that the Church that Christ founded is split into many denominations. By contrast, Catholics hold that the unity mentioned in the Nicene Creed (i.e. “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”) is an essential mark of the Church (i.e. belongs to the essence of the Church), and thus that the Church that Christ founded is still visibly and governmentally united, and will remain so until Christ returns.

    So Frame’s description of the present situation makes the task of reunion one of putting pieces back together again, with no piece having any more authority than any other, and so no piece having any obligation to submit or conform to the [mere] opinions of any other piece, or even having the authority to say definitively which groups are pieces of the Church and which are not. Because no piece has any greater authority than any other, the reunion of all these pieces could involve repentance on the part of individuals and groups for not sufficiently caring about unity, but it couldn’t involve repentance for not submitting to rightful Church authority. That’s why the hoped-for reunion event is, for Frame, nothing short of a miracle dependent upon God alone, because for Frame there is no perceivable path to reunion laid out before us. The path to reunion is entirely murky and obscure and arbitrary — hence we must sit in the darkness of seemingly interminable division, hoping and praying that someday God reaches down and performs an ecumenical miracle of putting the bones of the Church back together again.

    The Catholic description of the present situation, by contrast, sees the task of reunion as one of being reconciled to the Church that Christ founded. As Cardinal Levada recently put it, “Union with the Catholic Church is the goal of ecumenism.” From the Catholic point of view the problem of division is not that the Church herself is divided, but that many Christians are separated from her, either by choice or by being born into a schism, or by insufficient understanding that Christ founded a unified visible catholic Church that continues to exist to this day. So from the Catholic point of view, the path toward the reunion of all Christians is clearly marked out as one in which those who have been separated from the Church, recognize holy Mother Church, and return to full communion with her in humble submission and repentance. This clear path follows from the Church’s authority, which has not been lost but is preserved in the Magisterium of the Church through Apostolic succession.

    Whenever a person appeals to his own interpretation of Scripture to judge that the Church is in error, and thus that he is justified in separating (or remaining separate) from her, it is imperative that he be able to explain how he knows for certain that it is not the case that the Church is (once again) correct and that he, by standing in opposition to her, is ipso facto showing his own position to be heretical. That would be the challenge for Frame.

    It would also be the challenge for Calvin, as Tom points out above. We know that heretics are not only capable of erring with respect to the Trinity and Christology — they can err in ecclesiology as well. This was Calvin’s most ingenious error. He didn’t adopt outright solo scriptura. He ‘avoided’ rebellion against his Catholic bishops by simply redefining ‘Church’ such that the term ‘Church’ now referred to himself and those who generally shared his own interpretation of Scripture, and calling others to submit to ‘the Church.’ This move is both ironic, as David points out, and ingeniously clever. This tactic allows a heretic to convince himself that he is submitting to the Church, and obeying Hebrews 13:17, but it has led so many people astray. As soon as one sees through it, there are only three options: leave the faith in despair and disillusion, adopt outright solo scriptura, or return to the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Hey Randy,

    I think you’re right on; the ultimate error here is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Since Sola Scriptura is an assertion about the nature of Scripture itself, few Protestants ever think to examine whether Scripture teaches this doctrine or not. I have heard it referred to, by a Reformed Seminary Professor, as the great presupposition of Reformed thought. Reformed Theology itself, however, requires that believers examine every doctrine, including Sola Scriptura, in the light of Scripture. Such an examination can only lead to the conclusion that Scripture never even hints at this doctrine.
    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  7. Gentlemen:

    I don’t mean to be flippant, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that sola scriptura is only a slogan that functions as a cipher. This post merely confirms that for me.

    Since Scripture itself does not teach sola scriptura, nobody who gives the matter a moment’s serious thought takes that slogan literally, whatever they may say–anymore than high-church Christians of whatever stripe take the Vincentian Canon literally, whatever they may say. What people really mean by sola scriptura is that some believers (since not all agree) have the right and duty to judge the orthodoxy of any visible body called ‘the Church’ by their own interpretation of Scripture. Once they find this-or-that church–especially the Catholic Church–wanting, they redefine ‘the Church’ to mean themselves and those who agree with them, thus maintaining the fiction of Church unity. I have always seen this, and I have never been able to take it seriously as an intellectual option. I take Protestants seriously as people, of course; I see them as my separated brethren, as the Church and good sense require. But sola scriptura? Objectively, it’s just nonsense.

  8. Jeremy,

    Thanks for the article, I enjoyed reading it. I found it interesting that you said that Dr. Frame does hold that the Church has a visible and governmental unity; does he think that there is still any sort of visible government of the Church as a whole?

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  9. Since Scripture itself does not teach sola scriptura, nobody who gives the matter a moment’s serious thought takes that slogan literally

    Michael,

    And maybe the reason why we don’t get beyond the slogans is that we can never quite get at the foundations of what we mean by sola scriptura. The Catholics always want to get right into what the concept means for modern Christians or groups of Christians. But sola scriptura begins with the foundations of the Church. What was the infallible standard for the Church in the first century? Was there a body of tradition outside of Scripture that was infallible? If not then we are left with Scripture alone as the sole infallible standard for the Church. As we Protestants listen to the Catholic apologist we expect that they will try to demonstrate that there is such an infallible standard outside of Scripture. If they can’t then we are left with Scripture alone. But the ball is in the Catholic court at this point. The last time you and I spoke about this the best you could do was show that an infallible extra-biblical standard was “reasonable.” Now I don’t think it was reasonable, but even before we get into what the standards are for demonstrating reasonableness, I think it’s helpful for us to come to some sort of understanding of where the genesis of the debate over sola scriptura lies. If we can’t do that then we are never going to get anywhere when we start raising issues about the modern Protestant and his conception of sola scriptura.

    And for that matter unless we start at the beginning we are never going to get to the fundamental problem that the Catholic faces when speaking with Protestants. And that is how to justify his particular interpretation of the tradition of the Church. I don’t agree with your interpretation of the tradition of the Church, but I probably won’t get far if I start with what you personally believe about the matter.

  10. As to the non-transubstantiation view being to “reject the most natural reading of the Eucharistic passages in Holy Scripture,” you say, “Nothing, in any of these passages suggests that Jesus was speaking symbolically.” Might this not be an example of Jesus’ practice (in the second half of His ministry) of giving difficult teachings and then only explaining them later (e.g., Mark 4:11)? In other words, might not the Eucharist commands at the last supper be the explanation of His earlier words? If so, then it would actually be exactly a statement that He was speaking symbolically.

    Ex hypothesi: In order, Jesus first says (publicly) that His flesh and blood must be eaten / drunk, and then later He tells his closest disciples (privately) what He meant by those words (viz. “this bread is [what I meant by] my body, and this wine is [what I meant by] my blood.”). The ontological interpretation might be given a much higher level of plausibility were it not for the previous verses. Thus, ironically, the very verses that seem to give the most credence to the Roman Catholic position might be seen to justify the symbolic view.

    There are many examples of people in the Bible confusing the words of Christ or Old Testament references to be physical realities when in fact their main substance was spiritual. On the contrary, I can’t think of any examples (right now) where someone confused a physical truth for a spiritual one. I am not saying that this wins the case, but I do think it mitigates the claim that there is zero suggestion of symbolism.

    And of course Jesus used metaphor to speak of Himself in many places (door / gate / vine / etc.). These are only “obvious” because of their metaphysical absurdity – the same seems to be true of the bread / wine. Again, this might be more difficult to sustain in the face of His “plain” words that seem to identify His physical body/blood with physical bread/wine. But given that these words would almost certainly have reminded the disciples of His earlier words (when other disciples left!), I think it adds credibility to the symbolic view.

    “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63).

  11. Andrew,

    You said:

    Was there a body of tradition outside of Scripture that was infallible?

    Apostolic tradition existed in both oral and written forms during the first century, as is acknowledged by both Protestants and Catholics (see Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen’s “Is Sola Scriptura a Protestant Concoction?” for a Protestant take on the matter), and as may be illustrated by 2 Thess. 2:15:
    “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, whether by word of mouth or by our letter.”

    A Protestant may object here (as Bahnsen does in the above-mentioned lecture) that this apostolic tradition is fully contained in both oral and written modes, and that the death of the last apostle left only the written mode, which, since it was completely the same in content as the oral form, contained in itself all of apostolic tradition in clear teaching. The problem with this is that there is nothing in Scripture itself to indicate that all apostolic tradition was committed to writing. Apostolic tradition was originally entirely oral, before any of the New Testament was written, and there was certainly no attempt by the apostles to write down all of their doctrine in any sort of systematic or complete way for the Church, as can be seen by even a cursory reading of the New Testament. The writings of the New Testament were written for specific purposes and/or to specific churches, and each has different focuses. If all of apostolic tradition was written down in Scripture, it was not something consciously done by them, but something which God in His providence caused (i.e., ordaining it so that each book of the New Testament would contain the necessary teachings on doctrine and practice so that when they were all assembled together as a whole, they would contain all of apostolic tradition): and that is not something taught in Scripture itself.

    You are trying to put the burden of proof on Roman Catholics to show that there is an extra-Biblical body of oral traditions, but the burden of proof really rests on Protestants: it is, as I said above, acknowledged on all hands that the apostles, as spokesmen of Christ (which, incidentally, is what the Greek word literally means), were infallible in their teachings, which were first entirely oral, through their preaching and discipline, and then later committed at least in part to writing. Thus, we know that at the foundation of the Church, apostolic tradition did exist in oral and written form, as Catholics assert. The burden of proof is on the Protestant to show first that this oral form ceased to exist, and second that the written form contains everything taught by the apostles. And with the doctrine of sola scriptura, both of these must be shown from Scripture alone. A failure to do so leaves us with the conclusion that sola scriptura is not true.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  12. Doug,

    Interesting point. Ultimately though, I think what you’re saying further demonsrates the need for the infallible Magistrium of the Catholic Church. Can we always determine from the text alone whether Jesus is speaking symbolically or literally? Sometimes, a convincing argument can be made supporting a literal and symbolic interpretation of the same passages. We need the Church’s help.

    In the Peace of Christ, Jeremy

  13. Jeremy,

    Since the original argument was based on the author’s view of what counted as the “natural reading” of the text, I think my (limited) point stands. The author’s claim that “the Protestant rejection of the true presence of Christ . . . isn’t exegetical at all; it’s simply rational,” would be falsified by my counterexample which is primarily exegetical.

    Further, invoking the Magesterium when the natural / rational reading is “in question” might be seen to beg the question, for the Protestant is simply not going to accept that the Roman view is even in the running.

  14. The problem with this is that there is nothing in Scripture itself to indicate that all apostolic tradition was committed to writing

    Spencer,

    And there is also nothing in the tradition of the Church to indicate that an infallible non-inscripturated oral tradition extended beyond the time of the Apostles. If there is then where is the evidence for this body of knowledge in the post-apostolic fathers? I’m aware Catholics like to posit that there is such an infallible oral tradition that is part of the deposit of the faith, but this seems to us to be purely conjectural.

    You are trying to put the burden of proof on Roman Catholics to show that there is an extra-Biblical body of oral traditions,…

    This is a Catholic apologetics site so if a Catholic is defending a certain proposition then I think it is fair to request that they defend this proposition when asked. In order for sola scriptura to be wrong there must be some other infallible source of data besides Scripture that operates as a standard for the Church. Agreed? OK, then I am just asking 1) what is this data source, and 2) how do you know it’s infallible? If the Catholic cannot provide an answer then we must conclude that Scripture was the only infallible source of data available to the Church and thus sola scriptura stands, at least as the doctrine is classically understood by the Protestants. Now that does not answer other questions concerning how sola scriptura was and is applied in Reformation and modern times, but it’s a start….

  15. Doug, Interesting, well-explained posts! I am curious as to how you go about interpreting the words of St. Paul (below) according to your strictly symbolic view of Communion.

    The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

    Also, based upon my very limited exposure to Patristic writings, it seems that though some Fathers certainly spoke in metaphorical terms at times (concerning the Eucharist), never did they do so in such a way as to deny or argue against the True Presence of Christ in Communion. Any thoughts??? thank you.

  16. Hello Doug,

    If the Fathers had been silent on this question, your exegetical argument might have some pull. But the Fathers were not silent. See here and here. Hence adopting the purely symbolic view would require us to adopt a form of ecclesial deism in which the Church universally fell into heresy on this issue very early. That seems far less likely than the notion that such questions are not to be answered by exegetical arguments alone.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Hey Doug,

    No doubt that exegetical cases are made for Zwinglianism. So I wouldn’t say that rejection of the ontological interpretation of the Words of Institution is simply rational[istic]. But to say that such rejection is primarily rationalistic, as in based upon what is held, a priori, to be impossible, seems to fit pretty well with this statement:

    And of course Jesus used metaphor to speak of Himself in many places (door / gate / vine / etc.). These are only “obvious” because of their metaphysical absurdity – the same seems to be true of the bread / wine.

    The problems with the Zwinglian reading are manifold. But the one thing that jumps out from your reference to instances of metaphorical language in Sacred Scripture is the striking difference between such texts and the Institution narrative. The latter is marked by direct predication with respect to a specific, concrete object (“This is my Body”), together with a peculiar sort of intentionality regarding that thing (“he took, he blessed, he brake, he gave”).

    I realize that the discussion here, in keeping with the reference in Jeremy’s post, has centered upon the exegesis of John 6. That would be interesting to pursue, but we have to keep in mind that the action in the Upper Room is paramount. John 6 is obviously both an allusion to the Eucharist, and a teaching moment. But the Eucharist itself is not primarily a teaching moment. It is a doing moment–an action. The question is, in that context, are the Lord’s words merely a didactic sort of reflection on the essential action, or are they an effective part thereof, along the lines of “And God said …”?

    Anyway, just thought I’d throw in my two cents.

    Andrew

  18. Andrew M,

    The problem with sola scriptura is that it makes every individual superior in interpretive authority to the Magisterium, even if Tradition and the Magisterium were not infallible, because implicit within sola scriptura is the denial of apostolic succession. So the proponent of sola scriptura is not only denying Magisterial infallibility, but is seeking to destroy the Church’s Magisterium and to replace it with people who always and only believe and teach his own interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. I am a dysfunctional Baptist and not Catholic :-)
    Though eucharistic adoration may be a result of the real presence for Catholics I will leave that for now. The first thing that made the real presence convincing for me is first the direct language in 1 Cor 10. The act of eating and drinking brings judgement, for one. The second is the 3rd Councils reasoning for it. “we offer the unbloody worship in the churches…having partaken of the holy flesh and precious blood of Christ….This we receive not as ordinary flesh, heaven forbid….but truly the life-giving flesh of the Word, for being life by nature as God, when he became one with his own flesh, he made it also to be life giving by its own nature….for we must not think that it is the flesh of a man like us etc, etc. Later it says somewhere that it is “because of the union” of his flesh with his divine person, that makes Christs flesh receive properties appropriate for a divine Person. The eucharist is proper Christology on display!

  20. #19: Oops. I meant to refer to 1 Corinthians 10 AND 11, of course.

  21. The Internet Monk Michael Spencer (may God rest his soul) for years asked his fellow Baptist pastors (and anyone else who would listen) for evidence of belief in the symbolic-only Eucharist before Ulrich Zwingli in the 16th century, and he found…nothing. No evidence: it seems to have been an innovation 1500 years after Christ. That for me is the strongest evidence against it.

    Regarding John 6, I recall reading that the Church declared that a figurative reading of it was acceptable to hold (obviously a figurative reading wouldn’t then imply a contradiction of the Real Presence however). So for example Augustine’s exposition on John 6 emphasizes the figurative interpretation but he also believed in the Real Presence as seen in other writings.

  22. Thanks, friends, for your comments and for your zeal to find the truth in these matters. I can’t take time to participate very much here, but I am with you in your desire to seek the unity of the body of Christ. Thanks also to Jeremy for introducing my work to this discussion. Just a few comments:

    Yes, I do think that when membership in a church requires one to commit sin he must leave. Is it not then possible that anyone can claim that remaining in a church is sinful? Sure, but not with justification. There is always room for discussion about such justifications. I happen to think that Luther was justified, but many of you don’t. But I don’t think many of you would object to the general principle that one cannot stay in a body where he must sin to remain a member.

    Bryan, I believe that the four attributes (we don’t call them marks)– one, holy, catholic, apostolic, are all true of the church in some senses, but that these qualities are all injured and weakened by our disobedience. For example, the true universal church is one in its union with Christ. But it is not perfectly one in doctrine (even within the Catholic church) and it is presently not one in organization. It is organizationally one in recognizing Christ as the head. And many individual congregations and groups of congregations are organizationally one. But at the “middle” levels– regionally, nationally, etc., the church’s oneness is broken into many parts.

    A lot of you mention sola Scriptura, and that is probably the most important issue betweent Protestant and Catholic. For better or worse, you can look at my argument in my forthcoming Doctrine of the Word of God, especially here: http://reformedperspectives.org/hof/ST12009/DWG%2032,%20The%20Sufficiency%20of%20Scripture.doc

    A number of you bring up sacramental doctrine in connection with my statement that Luther considered the Mass to be idolatry. That is, of course, a long-term disagreement between Protestants and Catholics, and I can’t really add anything to the voluminous literature. My common-sense approach, which most will find simplistic: When Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and blood in John 6, he was not available for literal partaking, because he was still walking around. And when he said “This is my body,” he was behind the table, not on it.

  23. Herbert, Bryan, Andrew,

    Thanks for continuing dialogue! In response to your challenges:

    First, I never said, nor do I now claim, that a strictly symbolic view is correct. The only thing I was arguing against was the original statement that there are no exegetical grounds for a symbolic view. That’s all. Nothing about sola scriptura, no anti-Magesterium, so Zwinglianism . . . :) Just a response to that single point.

    Second: I was not concerned over what the church fathers taught. Every Christian since the first century may have taught against the symbolic view and it would not change the fact that there is an exegetical possibility for not taking Jesus’ words literally here. I may be the only human being who has ever made this argument – maybe it’s Beaumontian! – but the argument was offered as a counter to a specific claim, not as a reply to Transubstantiation or any other non-symbolic view.

    Third, I’m not saying it’s the best interpretation. I’m not saying it trumps other exegetical considerations. I’m not saying it trumps tradition.

    So all you crazy papists just calm down! >:)>

  24. Professor Frame,

    I just clicked on the site, and was so pleased to find your comment. Your last paragraph raises an obvious objection to the ontological interpretation of the words of Institution. I want to make a few quick observations, which I believe also accord with common sense, that is, common sense coupled with the hypothesis that supernatural, or miraculous, events are possible.

    (1) It seems to me that your “common sense” approach to John 6 tells equally against an ontological interpretation of John 8 and 10.

    The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:57-58)

    I and the Father are one. (John 10:34)

    Obviously, the Father is in heaven, and spirit, while this man Jesus is standing on earth, enfleshed, before our very eyes. Plus, we remember the day he was born. That was, like, 30 years ago. Therefore, he is speaking metaphorically here, unless he is simply lying.

    So says a certain kind of “common sense.”

    (2) The body of Christ is present in the Eucharist, yet not after the manner of a body (which is to be extended in space), but after the manner of substance. Now, that requires some unpacking; plus, what we have here is a huge mystery, that is, a miracle (which is a kind of thing that we hold to be possible), so all our unpacking leaves a great deal “packed,” i.e., not seen but accepted by faith alone (per St. Thomas’s wonderful poem).

    (3) John 6, maybe like John 3, is, from the inner standpoint of the narrative, a reference to the sacrament by way of anticipation. From the standpoint of the original readers of John’s Gospel, it is clearly a eucharistic reference, but the miracle implied by the directness of Our Lord’s words, in Capernaum and in the Upper Room, would not have troubled a community which had embraced, as constitutive of its present life and future hope, the (literal) Resurrection from the dead of this man Jesus, the (literal) Son of God.

    Andrew Preslar

  25. Doug,

    Yeah, I could sort of tell that you were *provisionally* making the case for a non-ontological interpretation. “Non-ontological” sounds sort of clumsy, so I introduced “Zwinglian” since you have to admit that it sounds zippy, plus, I don’t know what else to call that view.

  26. Doug – you know talk about John 6 gets us papists riled up!

    Beaumontian…. It’s unfortunate that none of my own theological speculation can have such a respectable title. Troutmanian doesn’t sound right.

  27. Hey Spencer,

    I think Dr. Frame answered your question in his comment. He stated that there still is organizational unity, but only in the common confession of Christ as head of the Church. However, he also stated that”… at the “middle” levels– regionally, nationally, etc., the church’s oneness is broken into many parts.” So, I think he would have to say that the initial oneness that Christ gave the Church (in Government and Sacrament) has been lost.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  28. The problem with sola scriptura is that it makes every individual superior in interpretive authority to the Magisterium, even if Tradition and the Magisterium were not infallible, because implicit within sola scriptura is the denial of apostolic succession.

    Bryan – You say this kind of thing a lot, but I’m not sure the Protestant going out and doing his own thing with his interpretation of Scripture is any less prevalent than the Catholic doing his own thing with his interpretation or tradition. The real difference here is that with Catholicism the Catholic stays Catholic no matter how far out into left field he goes with his interpretation.

    But as Keith Mathieson tries so hard to emphasuze, historically speaking, for the Protestant the primary debate over sola scriptura is focsued on the Church, not the individual. And hence my point to Michael in #9. It’s always a mystery to me why Catholics won’t engage us at the genesis of the debate rather than immediately trying to jump into perceived individual applications of sola scriptura.

  29. Dr. Frame says: My common-sense approach, which most will find simplistic: When Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and blood in John 6, he was not available for literal partaking, because he was still walking around. And when he said “This is my body,” he was behind the table, not on it.

    One of the Scholastics (Bonadventure I think without looking it up) posed this a a serious theological problem for his colleagues to wrestle with – If we are literally eating the flesh of Christ in the Eucharist then what on earth was Christ feeding his disciples when he physically stood before them? A great question of course, and something for Catholics to consider. Confessional considerations would not allow a 13th century theologian to formulate the doctinre using your common sense approach, so they had to relegate the matter to mystery.

  30. Professor Frame,

    You claimed that even the Catholic Church is not one in doctrine. But this is only true given Protestant ecclesiology (that the “church” is some aggregate or set of all true members).

    Given that ecclesiology, i.e. given Protestant ecclesiology, I agree that the Catholic Church is not one in doctrine. But if the Church per se is something other than the mere set of believers, i.e. if she is a divine visible institution, i.e. given Catholic ecclesiology, then the Catholic Church is indeed one in doctrine because there is only one Catholic Church and only one magisterium. The same goes for organization. Only if we presuppose that “the Church” does not properly subsist in the Catholic Church, i.e. only if we presuppose Protestant ecclesiology and that Baptists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians are all part of the “visible” Church, does it follow the the Church is not one in organization. If we remove those presuppositions, the Catholic Church indeed meets all four marks.

    The same cannot be said for any Protestant denomination. Isolated denominations can claim to be one in doctrine and one organizationally. They can also claim to be holy. But to claim apostolicity requires adopting a nominal doctrine of apostolicity (because they objectively do not have material succession). And for them to claim to be catholic requires the word ‘catholic’ being stripped of all meaning.

  31. Tim,

    Yeah, you might need to cut some of that off, e.g. “Cartesian” instead of “Decartesian.”
    “Troutian” sounds pretty money to me. :)

    Andrew,

    Riling up is one of my spiritual gifts. :)

  32. Prof. Frame,

    I’m really glad you could join the discussion. Where we disagree, it seems, is that you think that in her formally defined doctrines and liturgy, the Church could (and did) require her members to sin. We [Catholics] think, by contrast, that the Church could never possibly do such a thing, because Christ could never possibly do such a thing, and the Church is His Body, of which He is the Head. Individual members of the Body can sin and err, but Christ would never allow His Mystical Body to fall into error, since He was even willing to suffer and die on the cross for her.

    The particular point of disagreement has to do with the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Your claim is that denying the Real Presence is the common-sense reading of the relevant passages; Jesus was behind the table not on it. But this raises the question: Were the Fathers all lacking in common sense (see comment #16 above) and victims of ecclesial deism, or did they know something that the person relying only on common sense would not know, something known by the Apostolic testimony handed down as Tradition? How would you defend the former over the latter? Andrew Preslar raised some good questions (in comment #24) about this ‘common-sense’ exegetical methodology, and the rationalism implicit within it. I’m wondering why you think your common-sense exegetical method of interpreting Scripture is more trustworthy and authoritative than following the Tradition and the Magisterium to whom the promise of being guided into all truth by the Spirit was given?

    We [Catholics] define ‘heresy’ not as going against some individual person’s (or like-minded group of persons’) interpretation of Scripture, but as going against what the Church formally teaches. From the Catholic point of view, what makes it sinful not to adore Christ in the Eucharist (or to commit some sacrilege with the consecrated Host) is that the Church, with the authority of Christ, has taught that Christ is present in the Eucharist, and to be adored in the Eucharist. By contrast, you are using your own interpretation of Scripture to judge the Church’s doctrine to be in error, and obedience to the Church’s teaching to be sinful. The Catholic, however, uses the Church’s interpretation of Scripture to judge how the Scripture is rightly to be interpreted and understood. Why is your interpretation greater in authority than that of the Church?

    When you say that the true universal Church is “one in its union with Christ … [b]ut it is not perfectly one in doctrine” and Catholics say that the Church is both one with Christ (as His Mystical Body) and perfectly one in doctrine, it is clear that we are not talking about the same entity when we use the same term ‘Church’. Your ecclesiology does not recognize hierarchical/institutional unity as an essential mark of the universal Church. At best according to your position (it seems), ‘one’ (as a mark of the Church specified in the Creed) either applied at that time (AD 381) to something that no longer is one, or applies now only to something spiritual and invisible. In addition, it seems to me, your ecclesiology does not even theoretically account for the possibility that someone could be in schism from the Church. Given that you believe that Christ founded a catholic Church with visible and governmental unity, which entails that schism from the Church is possible, when did schism from the Church cease to be even possible?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. Andrew M,

    You wrote

    One of the Scholastics (Bonadventure I think without looking it up) posed this a a serious theological problem for his colleagues to wrestle with – If we are literally eating the flesh of Christ in the Eucharist then what on earth was Christ feeding his disciples when he physically stood before them? A great question of course, and something for Catholics to consider. Confessional considerations would not allow a 13th century theologian to formulate the doctinre using your common sense approach, so they had to relegate the matter to mystery.

    Yep. It might be good for Catholics to consider this question. Ever heard of Lateran IV? Thomas Aquinas? The Council of Trent? In my previous comment (#24), I alluded to a way that Catholics of the 13th century, and many since, have considered this question. You may have missed the comment, but surely you are aware of the theological discussion, and Church teaching, you know, concerning, say, Transubstantiation?

    I can’t help it. Let me cite another little bit from your comments:

    But as Keith Mathieson tries so hard to emphasuze, historically speaking, for the Protestant the primary debate over sola scriptura is focsued on the Church, not the individual. And hence my point to Michael in #9. It’s always a mystery to me why Catholics won’t engage us at the genesis of the debate rather than immediately trying to jump into perceived individual applications of sola scriptura.

    Dude. Bryan, whom you were addressing, and others, right here on this site, have written posts and articles on the nature of the Church, and the Protestant Reformed conception thereof, and that was before jumping into Mathison’s book on sola scriptura. At what crucial point have we refused to engage?

  34. That’s right. Our ecclesiological articles are all public and so are all the comments. Everyone can go back and read them and see that neither Andrew M. nor any other Protestant offered any substantial rebuttal to anything claimed in those articles. I’m not saying they made bad arguments – I’m saying they didn’t make arguments. It is utterly false that we have “refused to engage” on any critical issue – especially ecclesiology. In fact, it is the other way around if anything.

    Comment #16 on this post has a wrap up of most of our ecclesiological posts. Just to give you a quick idea of how false Andrew M’s statement is, our lead article “Christ Founded a visible Church” which was on the main page for almost a month has eight comments on it. EIGHT. All of them are Catholic. — Except for one which is possibly spam. Even the spam bot didn’t challenge the article. :-)

  35. Professor Frame,

    As one who had the privilege to sit in on a class with you at RTS Charlotte in (if memory serves 2003), a hearty welcome to our site and thank you for engaging in the dialogue. That is what we desire most at CtC, a conversation that seeks the truth in the love of Christ.

  36. Ever heard of Lateran IV? Thomas Aquinas? The Council of Trent?

    Andrew P – Trent was post 13th century, but yes, Lateran IV was exactly what I was referring to when I spoke of “confessional considerations.” It was these dogmatic statements of the RCC which would not allow for the Scholastics to formulate matters in the “common-sense” way that Dr. Frame speaks of. Do you see? The obvious way to formulate the dogma in light of the fact that Jesus’ body was standing in front of the disciples was that Jesus was speaking metaphorically of Himself (as He often did on other occassions) when equating the bread/wine as His body/blood. But again confessional considerations would not allow for such an obvious interpretation and the Scholastics were left having to appeal to mystery.

    At what crucial point have we refused to engage?

    I am not making a general critique here. I am only pointing out that, as I did to Michael in #9, in many cases I try to go to the foundation of the difference between us on sola scriptura by appealing to the primary standards of the Church and what I get back is a point about what individual Christians today do. Brian does exactly this in #18 with his answer to my #9 by discussing the “individual.”

  37. A number of you suggest that my ideas will work only if I presuppose a Protestant theology. That is, I think the church is not one in doctrine, but if I recognized the RC church was the true church, I’d have to say that it is in fact one in doctrine (Tim, #30). Bryan (#32) says that the Church could not possibly force members to sin, because after all it is the true church. So if I imagine the contrary, I must be assuming that Protestantism is true.

    Well, you’ve got me there. I do presuppose Protestantism, because I believe it is biblical. And of course, you presuppose Catholicism. So we are all “presuppositionalists.” That’s a term that comes out of protestant discussions of apologetics. I’m known as a presuppositionalist, because I’m frank in admitting what my presuppositions are. You are presuppositionalists too, but with different presuppositions. Now as the critics of presuppositionalism often point out, adopting such presuppositions injects a certain circularity into the discussion. I believe Scripture, because Scripture tells me to. You believe the church, because the church tells you to. Well, of course that’s not the end of the story. We can continue the discussions by careful exegesis, and in some cases by extra-biblical data. But we can never entirely escape the circularity. In the end, I believe what the Bible says (as I understand it). You believe what the Church says (as you understand that).

    It can’t be otherwise. I think God requires me to hold my presuppositions; same with you.

    So what looks obvious to me doesn’t appear obvious to you at all. It is obvious to me (replying to Andrew, #24) that even if John 6 is an “anticipation” of a sacrament Christian culture, it still purports to narrate a saying Jesus uttered during his earthly life. He is telling his contemporaries that they need to eat his body and drink his blood, and that they are wrong for failing to do that. But at the time it was impossible to literally do that without becoming a cannibal. I still think that’s a good common-sense argument, and I believe that the anticipated post-resurrection audience would have read the incident the same way.

    And so I presuppose this interpretation and am unable to accept the trumping of this interpretation by tradition and magisterium.

  38. Andrew M.

    I see. And what “confessional considerations” prompted the Fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council to formulate matters in other than a rationalist, “common sense” manner?

    You see, the problem with your initial statement is that it suggests that Catholics have not considered this matter quite thoroughly. We have. Obviously. Confessional considerations, as in the decrees of a Church Council, come from somewhere. That somewhere is the life of Church, as she ponders and propounds the truth of divine revelation.

  39. Prof. Frame,

    If the situation were as you have just described in #37 (Catholics presuppose Catholicism, and Protestants presuppose Protestantism), then the disagreement between us would be in principle interminable and unresolvable. There would be no way of adjudicating between the two positions and the two communities, because there would be no non-question-begging way of determining who is right and who is wrong.

    But Christ did not leave man in such a situation, that those in error have no way of determining that they are in error, and that those having the truth have no way of knowing that they have the truth. Christ is the Truth, and He has made it possible for us to find the Truth, not only about Himself, but also about His Church. He is the Light of the world, and He wants us to know which beliefs are orthodox and which are heretical. Thus He wants us to know which doctrines are right, those taught by the Catholic Church (and denied by Protestants) or those taught by Protestants (and denied by the Catholic Church).

    The problem with presuppositionalism is that it is a form of fideism, insofar as the presuppositionalist has no reason to pick one set of presuppositions over any other. His presuppositions are therefore arbitrary. (I have explained the problem with fideism here, especially in more detail in the comments there.) Fideism makes it impossible to know who is right and who is wrong; fideism makes all truth relative, which is a rejection of the very notion of truth. But, if you reject fideism, then we [Protestants and Catholics] can reason together in a non-question-begging way about the reasons and evidence by which you chose your Protestant ‘presuppositions’ and the reasons and evidence by which we [Catholics] came to believe that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded. In other words, if you reject fideism, then the prospects for fruitful ecumenical dialogue are not as bleak as implied in the picture you paint in comment #37, and we can get behind the “you have your presuppositions and I have mine” impasse implied in #37. But if you do not reject fideism, then your position faces the problems that accompany fideism, as I describe in the Wilson vs. Hitchens post. Fideism eliminates the prospects for any sort of fruitful ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants.

    So it seems to me that in order to move forward, it would be helpful to know whether you accept fideism, or whether you agree that we can reason together in a non-question-begging way about the reasons and evidence that support or oppose the Catholic and Protestant positions, respectively. If you reject fideism, then we can move beyond the impasse implied in the “you have your presuppositions and I have mine” position you seemed to imply in #37.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. Dear Dr. Frame,

    I hear what you are saying. A dear friend of mine (a seminary student at Westminster-Philli) gave up conversations with me after saying, “how can we debate anything if you believe your Church is infallible?” I mention this because I think you are wise to point out the presuppositional commitments of Catholics and Protestants. However, I think many authors at Called to Communion became Catholic by doing exactly what Reformed theology teaches; subjecting every thought and presupposition to the authority of Scripture. Whether we call it circular or not, the circularity of Catholic presuppositions is profoundly different from Protestantism. Good, sound, “Reformed”, exegesis of Scripture, points to a Church foreign to the Protestant paradigm. You are right in saying we believe the Church because the Church tells us to, but many got here with only Scripture as the guide. Scripture revealed the shape of the missing puzzle piece; the Catholic Church was the only possible fit.

    Thank you again for your willingness to dialogue. Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  41. […] interesting Catholic/Protestant discussion going on over at Called to Communion. Dr. Frame at RTS-Orlando jumps in on the comments. More to follow? […]

  42. Just one more comment, then I’ll have to go. I agree with Bryan (#39) that God has not left us in darkness. He has given us adequate means of judging between competing presuppositions. That means is “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures” as the Westminster Confession puts it. Epistemologically, that gives us a balance between objective (the Scriptures) and subjective (the Spirit) factors, and of course there must be both if we are to know anything. You must have access to the facts (objective) and you must have a mind capable of rightly assessing those facts (subjective).

    If we were to go on to talk about epistemology more generally and the apologetic task (which essentially sets the Christian presuppositions against the non-Christian) I could go on to talk about “transcendental argument” which is not at all fideistic. I don’t consider presuppositionalism, rightly understood, to be fideistic at all (i.e. the result of a blind leap of faith). It is a way of looking at a wide range of facts and evidence. But it doesn’t pretend that anyone looks at those facts and evidences “neutrally.”

    My only reason for bringing this up is that some of you seem to think you can refute my position simply by saying “of course the Catholic church can’t lead us astray because it is the true church.” That is a presuppositional argument if I have ever seen one. And I hope you understand why I don’t find it cogent. I reject your premise that the Catholic Church is the true church. That, in fact, is what we are discussing. So I cannot change my position simply because you state your conclusion as being true.

    I appreciate Jeremy’s comment (#40) that we can resolve these issues by “Good, sound, ‘Reformed’ exegesis of Scripture.” Exactly right. But to me that suggests that in the end sola Scriptura is the test. Perhaps that means, Jeremy, that you are not entirely converted to Catholicism. That conclusion is one I would welcome.

  43. Dr. Frame,

    No, I am completely converted to Catholicism. My point was simply that even if somebody is operating under sola scriptura, they can still come to the conclusion that Scripture clearly speaks of a Church they do not have.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  44. Dr. Frame,

    He has given us adequate means of judging between competing presuppositions. That means is “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures” as the Westminster Confession puts it.

    But history objectively shows us that this is not adequate.

    My only reason for bringing this up is that some of you seem to think you can refute my position simply by saying “of course the Catholic church can’t lead us astray because it is the true church.” That is a presuppositional argument if I have ever seen one. And I hope you understand why I don’t find it cogent.

    This is not an accurate portrayal of why we think Protestantism doesn’t work. If it were, then we wouldn’t be wasting so much time writing articles. This post re-caps our ecclesiological arguments. You’ll find that they do not at all amount to presuppositional arguments.

  45. Prof. Frame, (re: #41)

    Thanks for clarifying that you don’t hold to fideism.

    I agree with Bryan (#39) that God has not left us in darkness. He has given us adequate means of judging between competing presuppositions. That means is “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures” as the Westminster Confession puts it. Epistemologically, that gives us a balance between objective (the Scriptures) and subjective (the Spirit) factors, and of course there must be both if we are to know anything. You must have access to the facts (objective) and you must have a mind capable of rightly assessing those facts (subjective).

    We need to take a step still further back if we wish to avoid begging the question, because your proposed means by which we “judge between competing presuppositions” is itself loaded with two Protestant presuppositions. Your proposal is “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.” That proposal as stated is Protestant because (1) it contains the implicit assumption (see here) that Christ did not establish a Church through which the Spirit operates in illuminating and explicating Scripture, and (2) it presupposes that regarding the matters that divide Protestants and Catholics, Scripture addresses the matters in such a way that all good-faith readers of Scripture will reach the same conclusion. Both of those assumptions are Protestant assumptions, and hence your proposed method begs the question.

    Also, you wrote:

    My only reason for bringing this up is that some of you seem to think you can refute my position simply by saying “of course the Catholic church can’t lead us astray because it is the true church.” That is a presuppositional argument if I have ever seen one. And I hope you understand why I don’t find it cogent. I reject your premise that the Catholic Church is the true church. That, in fact, is what we are discussing. So I cannot change my position simply because you state your conclusion as being true.

    When I said in #32 that

    We [Catholics] think, by contrast, that the Church could never possibly do such a thing, because Christ could never possibly do such a thing, and the Church is His Body, of which He is the Head. Individual members of the Body can sin and err, but Christ would never allow His Mystical Body to fall into error, since He was even willing to suffer and die on the cross for her.

    I wasn’t stating a presupposition, but a conclusion. I was describing one reason why Catholics believe that the universal Church cannot err in matters of doctrine. I wasn’t intending this statement to “refute” your position. Rather, I was trying to describe the two different positions (Protestant and Catholic), and show how they differ with respect to the identity of the Church and the charisms given to the Church. In my opinion, when trying to resolve our differences, the first step is ensuring that we all understand each other’s positions, not just what we have in common, but also what we don’t have in common. In order to come to agreement about where is the Church, we need to go back, so to speak, to the most recent point in Church history where we still agree regarding the identity of the catholic Church Christ founded with “visible and governmental unity.” That’s why I asked you at the end of #32 “Given that you believe that Christ founded a catholic Church with visible and governmental unity, which entails that schism from the Church is possible, when did schism from the Church cease to be even possible?” Once we determine the most recent point in Church history where we agree that the entity to which we are both pointing is the Church that Christ founded, then we can try to determine why we diverge at that point.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  46. […] Frame is talking over at Called to Communion. He is a protestant with an interesting viewpoint on church and Christian unity. He holds that the […]

  47. For disclosure: I am a Protestant (although struggling with the lure of the RCC). Any feedback is welcome, as I am trying to discern Truth.

    Here is(are) my question(s)/thoughts:

    Catholicism appeals to the visible Church. Yet, a few things call into question the unquestioning acceptance of the physical Church as infallible guide.

    First, 1 Tim 1:3 and 2 Pet 2:1 warn against false teachers. That is, those who are physically present in a physical role (ie – teaching). Scripture warns against acceptance of these. But why not accept them? Because they are not in accord with Apostolic tradition/teaching.

    Now we must ask ourselves, “Where do we have Apostolic tradition presently?” The answer: We all agree on this – in the Canon. Thus, a Protestant can depart from the physical presence of the teaching and teachers of the RCC when it becomes apparent that they are in opposition to the Apostles’ teaching as found in Scripture.

    Yet you might ask, “Who has the authority to interpret the Canon?” You suppose it to be the Church, of course due to the fact that Christ gave his Spirit to her. Yet, the best indicator of whether or not the Spirit is interpreting the passage through the physical Church is not whatever the Church decides, but whether or not it is in accord with the Apostles teaching (as is stated in 1 Tim 1:3, 2 Pet 2:1 and Jude 1:3).

    You may reply, “Apostolic succession!” Then may I ask, “Why the formation of the Canon?” How can the Church error, yet still be trusted without a higher authority such as Scripture.

    One may assert, “You know the Scriptures because the Church identified them.” True enough. But not true enough. The Spirit (through the Church), is the only fit witness of his own words, as Calvin stated (which 1 Jn 5:9 seems to state??). To logically conclude that the Church has a certain infallible authority equal to the Canon due to the fact that the Spirit, through her, recognized his own words (the Canon), is like logically concluding that I have a certain infallible authority if I make, by the Spirit, a decision that is in accord with God’s will.

    Let me know your thoughts, corrections, etc. I would think it would help me in my searching of Protestant and RCC questions.

    Grace and Peace.

    Brad

  48. Brad,

    Just a brief comment as someone who converted this past Easter:

    Now we must ask ourselves, “Where do we have Apostolic tradition presently?” The answer: We all agree on this – in the Canon. Thus, a Protestant can depart from the physical presence of the teaching and teachers of the RCC when it becomes apparent that they are in opposition to the Apostles’ teaching as found in Scripture.

    Catholics and Protestants may agree that the Apostolic tradition is present in the Canon, but they do not agree that it is present in the Canon alone.

    Another problem is that Catholics and Protestants don’t have the same Canon. The Catholics of the 16th century, for example, used 2 Maccabees to defend several doctrines that Protestants reject. Luther avoided this issue by denying that the book, which had been considered scripture since the Patristic period, is part of the Canon.

    These two issues are even more foundational than the rest of your post, i.e. who gets to interpret the Canon. Other articles on C2C have argued that Protestants have changed the Canon, thus subtracting from the apostolic tradition. These other articles also argue that Protestants don’t have a coherent explanation not only for establishing interpretive authority (the rest of your post), but also for establishing the Canon. Have you had a chance to check out those articles? I’m sure others will be able to give you good links and comment more thoroughly on your post.

  49. David –

    Thank you for your comments. I have skimmed some of one of the Canon articles. But your mentioning of the articles may prompt me to read that one more thoroughly, as well as others altogether.

    Again, thank you…

  50. Brad,

    Perhaps I could add something to David’s comments. We should of course avoid false teachers. But how do we determine who is a false teacher? Protestants and Catholics answer this question differently. A confessional Protestant (i.e. someone who holds to one of the Protestant confessions) treats as a false teacher anyone who teaches contrary to that Protestant confession. A non-confessional Protestant treats as a false teacher anyone who teaches contrary to his own interpretation of Scripture. A Catholic treats as a false teacher anyone who teaches contrary to what the Church’s Magisterium (ordinary and extraordinary) has taught with its full authority received in succession from the Apostles. As we argued in our article titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority,” the confessional Protestant’s position is ultimately equivalent to the non-confessional Protestant’s position, because the confessional Protestant chooses his confession on the basis of his own interpretation of Scripture. So that implies that fundamentally there are two fundamental ways of answering the “who is a false teacher?” question: “Is this person teaching contrary to the Magisterium?” or “Is this person teaching contrary to my interpretation of Scripture?”

    The Catholic way of answering this question does not come to Scripture apart from the Magisterium, but through the Magisterium and Tradition. Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium are not pitted against each other as though they are competing authorities, but as mutually and inseparably related: Scripture and Tradition informing the Magisterium, and the Magisterium revealing and explaining Scripture and Tradition. There is no assumption in the Catholic point of view that the Magisterium could, with its full authority, teach something contrary to the deposit of faith, and that therefore the teachings of the Magisterium only become authoritative if the individual approves them on the basis of his own interpretation of Scripture. The authority of the Magisterium is not derived from the layman’s approval, but from Christ, by Apostolic succession.

    Of course particular Churches (i.e. the Church at Antioch, or the Church at Alexandria, etc.) can err. But the universal Church, in union with St. Peter and his successors, is not a particular Church, but is rather the Body of Christ, that through which the world finds the Light and Truth of Christ, until His return. This is the Catholic way of identifying false teachers within the Church. Of course someone outside the Church is, by the very fact that he is in schism from the Church, a false teacher in that very important respect, even though he or she may have many good things to say.

    As I said in comment #5 above:

    Whenever a person appeals to his own interpretation of Scripture to judge that the Church is in error, and thus that he is justified in separating (or remaining separate) from her, it is imperative that he be able to explain how he knows for certain that it is not the case that the Church is (once again) correct and that he, by standing in opposition to her, is ipso facto showing his own position to be heretical.

    Throughout the history of the Church, it is always been the case that heretics thought that they were justified in defying the Magisterium. From their point of view they had the right interpretation of Scripture, and the Catholic Church was wrong. But, in actuality they were in error, on account of pride, esteeming themselves more highly than they ought, and placing their own interpretation of Scripture above that of the divinely appointed shepherds of the Church. And their pride blinded them to seeing that the Magisterium’s teaching is the standard of orthodoxy to which they ought to conform, rather than that the Magisterium ought to conform to the their [i.e. the heretics’] interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. There is one last little thing I’ve been wanting to add, but have been too busy to get back till now, when it looks like this part of the discussion (the Real Presence) has already faded away. Oh well. Anyway, concerning John 6, Professor Frame (#37) made the point that,

    [Jesus] is telling his contemporaries that they need to eat his body and drink his blood, and that they are wrong for failing to do that. But at the time it was impossible to literally do that without becoming a cannibal. I still think that’s a good common-sense argument, and I believe that the anticipated post-resurrection audience would have read the incident the same way.

    I think that this is supposed to be an important factor in Prof. Frame’s rejection of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, and, in consequence, a part of his justification for remaining apart from the Catholic Church (as Jeremy points out in the article).

    Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Prof. Frame’s observation concerning John 6 is entirely idle with respect to the question of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.

    If John 6 is some sort of reference to the Eucharist, then, on any view of the sacrament, Jesus’ “contemporaries,” i.e., his immediate audience there in Capernaum, could not “at that time” obey his words in the sense of partaking of the Eucharist, which had not been instituted. Whether transubstantiation, or Zwinglian/Reformed “bread only-ism,” or anything in between is true, the folks in Capernaum that day could not receive the Eucharist. Of course, Our Lord was not guilty of taunting his immediate audience with a command that it was impossible for them to obey. He may have been preparing them, whetting their spiritual appetite, for the sacrament that he would soon institute, or he may have been speaking metaphorically, or both.

    If, on the other hand, Our Lord is not referring to the sacrament at all in John 6, then we would have to find a passage in which he does refer to the sacrament in order to ascertain what is Our Lord teaching concerning the objective reality (or lack thereof) of his presence in the sacrament. This is what I was driving at in comment #17:

    I realize that the discussion here, in keeping with the reference in Jeremy’s post, has centered upon the exegesis of John 6. That would be interesting to pursue, but we have to keep in mind that the action in the Upper Room is paramount. John 6 is obviously both an allusion to the Eucharist, and a teaching moment. But the Eucharist itself is not primarily a teaching moment. It is a doing moment–an action. The question is, in that context, are the Lord’s words merely a didactic sort of reflection on the essential action, or are they an effective part thereof, along the lines of “And God said …”?

    As others in this thread have observed, a Eucharistic reading of John 6 can easily acknowledge that Our Lord’s words in that passage also connote an extra-sacramental, i.e., metaphorical, eating and drinking. Such a connotation, which speaks to Prof. Frame’s concern about original and immediate applicability, is not exclusive of an allusion to the sacrament. To the original readers of John’s Gospel, the sacramental allusion would have been obviously applicable, and the reference all but unmistakable.

  52. Thank you for your comments. I’m afraid I’ve seemed to cause us to go off course. Although, frankly, I’m thankful for its usefulness to my search, I apologize to those interested in the original topic.

    That said, I nonetheless want to add some thoughts:

    First, all the RCC/Protestant talk seems to hinge on authority, so let me ask this: If Apostolic succession is reality, then something seems amiss. The apostles were individual men who taught with the infallible authority of Christ. Although they indeed met (ie – Council of Jerusalem), they also seemed to be able to speak INDIVIDUALLY with no less than an infallibly divine authority. (I would find it hard to believe that every infallible divinely inspired command/exhortation/etc in the NT books was agreed upon by a council.)

    Thus, if such individual divine authority came through the individual apostles, the Apostolic succession should be the same, right? Apostolic succession, if truly apostolic in nature, should entail individually infallible divine authority, not just an infallible universal Church.

    Also, even if one disagrees with me here (and please let me know if you do and why) and asserts the infallible divine authority of the universal Church, let me ask this: Has a Church council, speaking infallibly, ever contradicted another which spoke infallibly? If so, then how can one assent to the infallible trustworthiness of the universal Church’s teaching?

  53. Brad,

    You wrote:

    The apostles were individual men who taught with the infallible authority of Christ. Although they indeed met (ie – Council of Jerusalem), they also seemed to be able to speak INDIVIDUALLY with no less than an infallibly divine authority. (I would find it hard to believe that every infallible divinely inspired command/exhortation/etc in the NT books was agreed upon by a council.)

    The authority given by Christ to the Apostles did not entail that they were infallible in everything they said or did. We see that in Galatians 2, where St. Paul describes rebuking St. Peter for hypocrisy, and saying that the Apostle Barnabas was led astray by it. They authority the Apostles had individually as Apostles, should not be confused with the gift of infallibility. Otherwise every exercise of their apostolic authority would have been infallible. Apostolic authorization is not identical to the charism of infallibility.

    When under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they were writing Sacred Scripture, they were protected from error. After the last book of the New Testament was written, no one writes under the inspiration (technical term) of the Holy Spirit, and hence no one is infallible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    But that’s not the only way the Apostles were infallible. When they, whether geographically together or spread around the world but in communion with each other and with St. Peter, all taught the same thing as something to be held definitively by all the faithful, in a matter of faith or morals, they enjoyed the Holy Spirit’s gift of protection from error. So you are right that they enjoyed infallibility not only when writing Scripture and meeting in ecumenical council. But that does not mean that they were individually infallible, even on matters of faith and morals. Christ gave to St. Peter a special charism of infallibility that He did not give (directly) to the other Apostles. But the other Apostles participated in this charism when, in communion with St. Peter, they concurred in their teaching regarding matters of faith and morals to be held definitively by all the faithful. Christ didn’t give twelve gifts of infallibility to the Twelve. He gave one gift of infallibility to St. Peter, and through St. Peter to the other Apostles, as a gift and benefit to the whole Church. This charism of infallibility was for this reason not possessed individually by each Apostle, but possessed and exercised collectively by the Apostles in communion with the chief Apostle, i.e. St. Peter. But because this gift was given directly to St. Peter, he (and his successors) enjoy it individually in a way that the other Apostles (and their successors) are not.

    Thus, if such individual divine authority came through the individual apostles, the Apostolic succession should be the same, right? Apostolic succession, if truly apostolic in nature, should entail individually infallible divine authority, not just an infallible universal Church.

    Your reasoning is right but the premise is wrong, because apostolic authority is not identical to the charism of infallibility. There is apostolic succession, possessed by all validly ordained bishops around the world. And then there is a succession with respect to the special charism given to St. Peter, and this is something that takes place whenever a new pope is elected. But the two things (apostolic succession, and the charism of infallibility) are not the same thing.

    Also, even if one disagrees with me here (and please let me know if you do and why) and asserts the infallible divine authority of the universal Church, let me ask this: Has a Church council, speaking infallibly, ever contradicted another which spoke infallibly? If so, then how can one assent to the infallible trustworthiness of the universal Church’s teaching?

    No Church council, speaking infallibly, has ever contradicted another Church council, speaking infallibly. That would be impossible, because truth cannot contradict truth. Every infallible teaching is an agreement with, and further clarifies and illumines, what was previously and infallibly taught.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. @Brad Moore

    Greetings, brother! :) Just wanted to present an issue for your consideration as you continue pondering such theological questions.

    Bryan’s explanation is quite correct: no one infallible source can, in principle, contradict another infallible one. And, as both Catholics and Protestants admit, if one infallible source of Roman Catholic dogma (say, a validly-convened ecumenical council) wereto contradict another such source, this would be a Very Bad Thing.

    But Bryan’s claim (and the traditional Catholic claim) is not just philosophical in nature; it is also historical. In other words, Roman Catholicism does not merely claim that, in principle, no one infallible source could contradict another, but further that no one infallible Catholic source has contradicted another.

    As you’re considering this issue, then, do take time to ponder both the philosophical and historical claims made by Roman Catholicism. Protestant sources (of course) abound arguing that the Roman Catholic historical claim is false (ie, that one infallible source has contradicted another), and unsurprisingly there are equally many Roman Catholic replies. At the very least, though, I thought it might be edifying/helpful to point out that there are really two separate claims at play here (philosophical & historical) and the historical side is worth looking into further as you consider the issue.

    ~Benjamin (Well, really, what cool issue ISN’T worth looking into further?) Keil :-)

  55. Andrew M (#9):

    You wrote:

    But sola scriptura begins with the foundations of the Church. What was the infallible standard for the Church in the first century? Was there a body of tradition outside of Scripture that was infallible? If not then we are left with Scripture alone as the sole infallible standard for the Church. As we Protestants listen to the Catholic apologist we expect that they will try to demonstrate that there is such an infallible standard outside of Scripture. If they can’t then we are left with Scripture alone. But the ball is in the Catholic court at this point. The last time you and I spoke about this the best you could do was show that an infallible extra-biblical standard was “reasonable.” Now I don’t think it was reasonable, but even before we get into what the standards are for demonstrating reasonableness, I think it’s helpful for us to come to some sort of understanding of where the genesis of the debate over sola scriptura lies. If we can’t do that then we are never going to get anywhere when we start raising issues about the modern Protestant and his conception of sola scriptura.

    I’m afraid you’ve misconstrued both the “state of the question” between us and the way in which the authors of this blog have addressed the question themselves—a way that I agree with, precisely because it’s the only way our dialogue is going to make any progress.

    You ask whether there was, in the early Church, “a body of tradition outside of Scripture that was infallible.” Of course our answer is yes, which you knew already. As the above paragraph makes clear, however, what you’re really asking for is our evidence that there is, or was, such a body of tradition. Now if what you want is historical evidence, I have some of that. Leaving aside the NT itself, which you and I interpret differently, I can cite the writings of such sub-apostolic luminaries as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and of course the most prolix of them, Irenaeus of Lyons. I have other evidence too: not just other texts written for instructional or disciplinary purposes, such as the Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions, but what we know about how the bishopric of Rome handled the Marcionite heresy in the mid 2nd-century. There’s more, but that’s enough to make the point, which is that the emphasis of such actors was on the authority of the Church and her bishops to distinguish right doctrine from heresy–not as a matter of opinion, as if their opinions might be wrong, but as the sure identification of divine revelation. It was by that same authority that the NT canon was formed, over time, from a variety of writings claiming apostolic origin, and certified as inspired. Now the authority in question could have successfully exercised none of the functions it assumed unless it had possessed a tradition predating the NT canon. That tradition came to the Apostles direct from Christ. He gave to the Apostles the authority to hand on and interpret it. They in turn–as evidenced by the actors I cited–handed the same authority on to their successors, the bishops. That is how a Church that is the Body of Christ, one Body with him in a mystical marriage, shares in his teaching authority as her Head. And that authority, coming from God the Son and sustained by God the Holy Spirit, is infallible.

    But of course you could, and do, contest such a largely historical argument. You can always take the same written data-set I do, and interpret it from within your own ecclesiological paradigm. Of course I find that paradigm woefully impoverished, but that’s not what’s important at the moment. In this comment, I am not interested in discussing the details of how you would make your own counter-argument about the early, non-scriptural sources. What I’m interested in is how to locate the state of the question itself.

    The available historical evidence, which has been sifted and chewed over by greater Catholic and Protestant scholars than either of us, is not going to settle once-for-all the question whether the episcopate of sub-apostolic Church considered itself collectively “infallible.” We have no documentary evidence that such a question, as we now understand the question, even occurred to them. That may in part be because, for an indeterminate time after the Apostles, it wasn’t at all clear to the whole Church who, exactly, spoke for the whole Church with the authority of the whole Church. But that’s only speculation. What’s clear is that the sub-apostolic episcopate took for granted that its teaching authority was instituted by Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. That such an authority is infallible, at least when exercised for and in the name of the whole Church, is an inference only made later. But as I’ve already implied, if that inference is justified, that cannot be because it is formally deducible from a body of written data we have from that period. Some additional premise is needed–one which, granted that it cannot compel faith, at least makes it reasonable to render the assent of faith to the Church’s claims for herself.

    Now in the most recent of our rather lengthy debates, I endeavored to supply just such a premise. I argued that, without an infallible interpretive authority in the Church, the faithful would have no way to reliably distinguish between the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation on the one hand, and a mere set of theological opinions (however hoary) on the other. If that argument is correct, then it is reasonable to infer that the way the authorities of the sub-apostolic Church understood their own authority was such as to be, under certain conditions, what we now mean by ‘infallible’. As I recall, our debate broke off at the point where you began to grasp that such was the thrust of my argument.

    This is not to say that historical considerations are irrelevant. When I look at the history of the early Church, I see no evidence whatsoever that Scripture was taken as the sole “infallible” rule of faith. The kind of authority I see the early episcopate claiming for itself, on the basis of Tradition and apostolic succession, was claimed before the NT canon was even fully formed and recognized as such. Even the ancient claim that the NT canon we now have is divinely inspired is an exercise of that authority; and like Augustine, I would not believe it unless I accepted such an authority. And I chose to accept such an authority because I believe that’s what’s necessary for the whole Church, with the authority of Christ himself, to distinguish reliably between divine revelation and human opinions about the “sources” thereof. That is where to locate the state of the question between us.

    That is also why the early, “ecclesiological” articles on this blog, which you have not adverted to in this thread, are so important. Unless and until we can identify some visible body, historically continuous with the apostolic Church, as “the” Church, which thus speaks with the authority of Christ as her Head, then the kind of authority I believe to be necessary for the purpose I’ve described would not exist. And that is why I find your whole way of approaching the sola scriptura question unhelpful. Even the affirmation that Scripture is an infallible rule of faith, which you and I both make, would be idle without a prior identification of the Church and her authority. For it is by Tradition, as interpreted by the teaching authority of the Church, that Scriptural inerrancy was first affirmed; and it is only by that authority that I feel obliged to believe it. To assume, as you do, that Scriptural inerrancy can be taken for granted before we get to the question whether the Church is also infallible, is to get the matter exactly backwards.

    Best,
    Mike

  56. First, thank you for your comments. This RCC/Protestant debate is real to me, with many potential personal consequences, of which many of you are probably acutely aware.

    Benjamin, thank you for your comments on considering the philosophical vs historical claim on non-contradicting infallible dogmas. I might post some questions re: that in a little bit.

    In response to Bryan’s post (#53):

    In no way do I mean to insinuate that the apostles enjoyed individual infallibility in their daily lives. What I meant by “individually infallible” was this: When each of those who authored NT books did so, they were “individually infallible” in that the words they penned (or dictated) were not just words agreed upon by a council such as that of Jerusalem (although I’m sure some words did find their source there), but rather were words inspired by the Holy Spirit to each individual writer themselves.

    Thus, if this is the case, then apostolic succession logically must include such individual infallibility if it is to be truly apostolic in nature.

    Also, you mentioned St. Peter as having received the gift (“charism”) of infallibility. Please don’t take this the wrong way; but where, whether from Scripture, early Fathers, et al, do you get that? I can understand one arguing from Scripture that Peter has been granted a special position in the Church; but I am not aware of a place in Scripture where a case can be made for a special Pope-like infallibility being gifted to him. Am I missing something? Or is that just a necessary inference of Catholic theology?

    Blessings,

    Brad

  57. Brad,

    Thanks for your comment. From the fact that those who wrote Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were infallible in doing so, it does not follow that they were individually infallible in any other respect, and thus it does not follow that the successors of the Apostles were individually infallible.

    As for your question about St. Peter and infallibility, that’s deserving of its own article, so for now I’ll point you to the section of our library titled “The Papacy”. Read especially the works by Chapman, Fortescue, Giles, and Ray.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  58. Bryan –

    You wrote: “From the fact that those who wrote Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were infallible in doing so, it does not follow that they were individually infallible in any other respect, and thus it does not follow that the successors of the Apostles were individually infallible.”

    We’ll have to disagree here it seems. I don’t see how one can be a successor of an apostle, yet not, like one of those true original apostles who penned NT words, have a certain degree of individual infallibility in regards to the teaching office.

    Or maybe apostolic succession doesn’t mean “just like an original apostle”????

    And thanks for the links. I appreciate it.

    Blessings.

  59. Brad,

    You wrote:

    Or maybe apostolic succession doesn’t mean “just like an original apostle”?

    Ok, that question helps, because it shows that you don’t know exactly what Catholics mean when we talk about “apostolic succession.” Apostolic succession does not mean that those whom the Apostles ordained are also Apostles. With regard to the apostolic office, the Catholic Church makes a distinction. To be an Apostle, one had to have seen the Lord. This gave the Apostles the unique authority that comes from being an eyewitness of the incarnate Christ. But, being an eyewitness was not sufficient to be an Apostle. The Pharisees and Pilate had also seen Christ, but they were not Apostles. To be an Apostle, one also had to be sent by Christ. This conferred a different kind of authority from the authority of an eyewitness. The two kinds of authority do not compete; they are fully compatible, and were both present in the first Apostles. This second kind of authority we call “Holy Orders.” Eyewitness authority could only endure for seventy years or so after the resurrection of Christ, and in that sense the apostolic office came to an end, and with it the possibility of further revelation. But, Holy Orders is not limited to eyewitnesses, because the authorization of commission and stewardship could be handed down by the Apostles, as they, in Christ’s name and with His authorization, entrusted to their successors the authority to teach and guard the deposit of faith, and govern Christ’s Church with the authority of the keys of the Kingdom. This authority endures to this day by a continuous succession from the Apostles. The successors of the Apostles are not Apostles in the eyewitness sense, but possess the apostolic authority the Apostles themselves received from Christ through Holy Orders, i.e. the divine authorization to teach and govern the Church in Christ’s name, as His representatives, binding and loosing with His authority.

    Inspiration is something distinct from Apostolic authority. Not everything the Apostles wrote was inspired (we know that at least one of St. Paul’s letters was not preserved, and thus presumably not inspired), and not everything inspired was written by an Apostle (e.g. Luke, for example, was not an Apostle). Inspiration ceased when the last book of the Bible was written. But apostolic authority (i.e. authorization of commission and stewardship) continues to this day, by way of the succession from the Apostles.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  60. Bryan –

    Thank you for clearing that up for me. It is appreciated.

    I will continue to think on this.

    Blessings.

    Brad

  61. Yes, I was thinking it might be helpful in illustrating the difference between the inspiration given to the authors of scripture and apostolic succession (Holy Orders) to remind Brad that not all of the authors of scripture were apostles (I’d add Mark and perhaps the author of Hebrews to Bryan’s mention of Luke) and most of the apostles did not write scripture. It’s also worth noting that the authorship of some of the OT books is not clear, yet they are all considered to be inspired, so writing something that was “inspired” didn’t equate to being a “prophet” in the technical sense in which Isaiah and Ezekiel were prophets. So when Paul, Matthew, John, etc. wrote scripture, they were acting in a capacity that was the result of divine inspiration yet did not equate to their calling as apostles.

  62. Can I ask another question?

    The question that is put to Protestants, by Catholics, is: Who has the authority to interpret Scripture?

    The Catholic believes the answer to be that the Magisterium have the authority to interpret. But my question to the Catholic is: Why do you believe the Magisterium to have the authority?

  63. Brad:

    The authors of this blog, as well as yours truly on this blog and elsewhere, have spent a great deal of time discussing that very question with Protestants. Perhaps you should peruse some of the other articles and the comboxes thereto. You might start here. But there are plenty of other articles/comboxes where essentially the same question is debated.

    Best,
    Mike

  64. Sorry, I meant your question: “Why do you believe the Magisterium to have the authority?”

  65. Oh, and one more thing, Brad. My most accessible answer to your question is contained in comment #55 of this very thread.

  66. Yeah, that would seem best. Sorry, sometimes it’s just easier to ask. :)

  67. I’m a teen so my view should be considered pure as i think i am open minded to religious dogma. Ok, i don’t study theology formally, though i do read ALOT (hence why i read this) in my spare time and wish to study it in the future.

    Although i am a protestant raised background, i’m non-denominational but view importance in the “one, apostolic, catholic, church” as mentioned in the Nicene Creed. I am glad that Professor Frame acknowledges this important idea as i came up with the same conclusion a number of years ago when i was 13.

    If a church was the set of beliefs, Doesn’t man each have his and follow his own CHURCH?

    Seriously, we all interpret things differently. This is a property of HUMAN NATURE. My “church” is different from the church i go to. I do not accept every single doctrine of my church, but that doesn’t make my membership to it any less valid ( hopefully i think ).

    I doubt that every Catholic follows the view of the pope and even the popes themselves don’t seem to exactly think the same as the other popes. I am not Catholic bashing, this happens with every major religion let alone in each denomination themselves.

    I think people need to view church as a “group” of believers. Most Christians don’t seem to care about what their denomination stands for. It is only a problem to those “intellectual” people or those who delve deep into Church ideas.

    False teaching and Heresy is a big problem but until some radical wacko group like LDS springs up, i am absolutely certain that the ideas are all OK.

    Whether Transubstantiation or not, it doesn’t matter. In the end Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme King and Savior of the whole world and he is coming again. When we see our brothers Catholic,Lutheran,Methodist,Anglican all in heaven then we can all smile and glorify God.

  68. After all, all these theological disputes are for HIS name and for him. It is not for ourselves but in order for HIM to do HIS works. We have nothing else to gain from it but to defend the right doctrines.

  69. I want to also add that the Church is “living”, a “body” which explains ALOT. The church is like Language, new words and new ideas are added all the time. But this doesn’t change the foundation that Christ is head.

    If it is “living” it must mean it can change according to social issues, problems, issues of the era. Paradoxically this supports and refutes sola scriptura:

    Why i think the Catholics are doing a good job, they are showing the church can change. Humanae Vitae a work which describes the view of Contraception shows that it is the church’s job to address “Modern Issues” in faith.

    Sola Scriptura is refuted if the definitions and interpretations are stagnant and inflexible.

    the definitions and interpretations of the bible could be said to change through the WILL OF THE SPIRIT, (Remember the words have power and are living like the church.) This supports Sola Scriptura.

    Ok, so who is to interpret this? Well even if it is exclusive to an elite few, it doesn’t actually matter because it is not like they can force or make followers believe it. Whether through Ignorance, missinformation, lack of information. Is it a followers fault if he doesn’t know the theology??!

    EVERY MAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS OWN SALVATION.

  70. It is human nature to have one’s own opinions. The trouble is when we want something more than our own opinion. When we want to submit to God’s truth. As a protestant that is when I lost interest in theology. When I was not that serious about truly submitting to God I loved the idea that theology could be argued this way or that. When I surrendered my life to God it bugged me to no end. So I dropped theology and started doing ministry to the poor because theologians were not getting me closer to God.

    But what if God has revealed Himself? What if we can know with more certainty what God’s truth really is? That is what the Catholic church claims. Not that all popes agree on everything but that the church has within it the fullness of truth. Popes have a special role to play but the body of Christ is they key. Is is visible? Are its, and therefore His, teachings knowable? Then the heart that wants to submit to God’s truth has a chance of doing that.

    You acknowledge that the LDS is in serious error. How do you know other churches have not committed errors as serious? The truth is is everyone has imperfect ways of ways of arriving at what Jesus taught none of us are likely to be close after this many centuries. We need God’s help or we have no chance to say who is even close.

    Transubstantiation? How could it not matter? Can you read John 6 and honestly say Jesus was talking about something that did not matter? The very presence of God in your body as food. That has to make a difference. We declare things to be unimportant because there is disagreement. That is no logical or biblical. People can deny important doctrines. The resurrection was denied in the time of Jesus. We need to have ways to resolve controversies because central doctrines are not immune.

  71. […] comment at CtC from a 16 year old. I think a lot of young people are thinking like this so I thought I would […]

  72. Ben in #54 had suggested I look into the historical reality of Rome’s teaching that it cannot contradict itself.

    So, here is a question: I have read somewhere that the Council of Trent teaches that salvation is only to be found in submission to the Roman pontiff, yet Vatican II’s teaches that salvation might be had outside of Rome? How do Catholics square that?

    Thanks,

    Brad

  73. i should’ve said Catechism of the Catholic Church instead of Vatican II.

    Also, I’m assuming this is what Trent and the CCCC teach. If I’m wrong, please correct me. I’m pretty certain that I haven’t read firsthand Trent’s teaching on this.

    Brad

  74. Brad:

    The Church has always taught that (1) Outside the Church there is no salvation, and (2) The pope is pastor of the universal Church. From (1) and (2), it follows that (3) Being “subject” to the pope is necessary for salvation. In 1302, (3) was itself defined as a dogma by Pope Boniface VIII, who wrote: “It is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature that they be subject to the Roman pontiff.”

    All the same, that leaves a number of questions unanswered: e.g., what constitutes membership in the Church? Recently baptized infants are members of the Church without knowing it; so how can they make an act of submission to the pope? They can’t, at least not while they’re infants. So we’ve established the premise that some people can be members of the Church without knowing it.

    Now after the discovery of America by Europe, the Church gradually came to reject the idea that people who have had the bad moral luck never to have heard the Gospel won’t all necessarily roast forever. There is such a thing as “invincible ignorance” of the truth (‘invincible’ meaning ‘inculpable’), and God, who is love, is not going to condemn the inculpably ignorant just for failing to assent to what they’ve never heard. Indeed, even though the ordinary means of entering the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, is by baptism and confession of faith, the Church has always recognized extraordinary means: baptism of blood, as with the Holy Innocents, and baptism of desire. A more recent development is the recognition that the latter need not be explicit in adults, as it occasionally is with catechumens who die before obtaining the baptism they truly desire. It can be implicit, as with people who, by virtue of responding positively to whatever grace and truth is available to them, would likely desire baptism if all the involuntary obstacles to their knowledge of its importance were removed. In sum, although we are bound by the sacraments, God is not. One can belong to the Body without knowing it, and the Holy Spirit’s transformative work is not confined to the visible boundaries of the Church. Of course those who’ve never heard the Gospel are in a gravely deficient position compared with those who have; but who are we to say they have no chance of salvation?

    And so, in order to be “subject” to the Roman pontiff, it is not always necessary that a person knowthey are. People who are members of the Church by some extraordinary means typically do not know they are subject to the Roman pontiff, and hence are not in a position to choose that. But they become that by the right choices they do make. Similarly with baptized Christians who are not Catholic. As Vatican II said, most of them cannot be presumed guilty for not being Catholic, for most have been formed in traditions that, while containing some Christian goods, so shape their prejudices, assumptions, and other habits of mind that they don’t understand the other goods they are rejecting. Some may be guilty, but that is for God alone to decide; in the meantime, they must be thought to be in various forms of “imperfect communion” with the Church just by virtue of their baptism. Those Christians who cannot be blamed for declining submission to the pope are thus subject to him without knowing it.

    Best,
    Mike

  75. Mike,

    You wrote: “Recently baptized infants are members of the Church without knowing it; so how can they make an act of submission to the pope? They can’t, at least not while they’re infants. So we’ve established the premise that some people can be members of the Church without knowing it.”

    Yet, reading the immediate context around Pope Boniface’s dogma, he seems to be talking of CONSCIENCE submission:

    “Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

    He doesn’t seem to have the submission of newly baptized infants in mind here.

    Brad

  76. Michael,

    I’ve got a question that’s been bumping around in my head for awhile, and I’m hoping you might
    be able to shed some light on its answer. Trent (well, and other councils
    too) sometimes contain “anathemas”. So anyone who holds those specific beliefs has been anathematized, right? Aren’t anathematized individuals, by definition, completely out of communion with the Roman Catholic church and, hence, completely out of communion with the Pope?

    I guess what I’m asking, then, is does the Roman Catholic church hold that people in violation of such anathemas are not “subject to the Roman Pontiff”, and hence are outside of the faith? Or is there
    some other move that I’m missing? (I guess one could hold that anathematized individuals are still somehow “subject to the Roman Pontiff”, and hence could be saved, but that would seem very odd…)

    I promise – this isn’t some kind of a sneaky trick question. =) Just trying to figure out how being subject to the Pope, salvation, and anathemas work in relation to us crazy Protestants. Any information you (or others) might care to offer would be much appreciated! =)

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin =)

  77. Brad (#75):

    Yes, in the context of his conflict with King Philip “the Fair,” Boniface was condemning the contumacious refusal of an adult Catholic to make due submission to the papacy. That kind of refusal does indeed jeopardize the person’s salvation. My point in bringing up the reality of being unconsciously subject to the pope is to dispel a misimpression that many people have, i.e., that the Catholic Church once taught that everyone had to be a “card-carrying” Catholic to be saved.

    Best,
    Mike

  78. Benjamin (#76):

    The phrase “let him be anathema,” which is part of the traditional formula for dogmatic canons, comes straight from Galatians 1:9. It does not mean that everybody who fails to give assent to a defined dogma is damned to hell forever. It means that, if one is a Catholic who knowingly and contumaciously denies what the dogma affirms, then—as Paul sometimes recommended for Christians who defy the teaching or discipline of the Church—they are to be consigned to Satan for chastisement’s sake. Such a penalty is medicinal and thus, the Church hopes, temporary.

    As for Protestants, the anathemas of Trent were directed mainly against the Protestant leadership, most of whom were Catholic priests who had defied the bishops and started their own churches. As John Paul II pointed out, however, the “anathema” part of Trent’s dogmas should not be understood to apply to most Protestants today. That’s because most Protestants today, unlike the Catholic priests and/or theologians who went into schism to launch the “Reformation,” cannot be presumed guilty of the sins of heresy and schism. They’ve been raised in a tradition that is now centuries old, and their consciences have been shaped accordingly. Some of their views are objectively heretical, of course; they are not in full communion with the Church; indeed, their churches are not churches in the full sense of the term. But that is a reality which the Church, at Vatican II, has come to recognize is best dealt with by dialogue and persuasion—i.e., with love—at this point in history.

    Best,
    Mike

  79. Thanks for the great exchange here, all of you! As always, I am encouraged and enlightened by this kind of discussion. As I looked forward to my own confirmation (Easter 2008), I found Cardinal Dulles’s words here to shed much light on this tough subject.

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/02/001-who-can-be-saved-8

    To a Protestant (as I was at the time of my 1st reading) some of what Cardinal Dulles has to say in this piece struck me as downright wrong! (especially some of what he says at the close of the essay). But as I worked to understand what he’s expressing with the heart of a student, ready to be taught, I came to believe that it was I who had been mistaken, not the good Cardinal…

  80. Hi Jeremy – I’ve been trying to find a way to contact you through Called to Communion, without success. I’m a part-time student at RTS DC (been there since 2006), and have a feeling we’ve probably sat in class together. I’ve been a member of a PCA church in Fairfax for about 3 years, but I’m planning to start RCIA in a couple weeks and would love to talk with you about your experience at RTS and what you’re doing now. I listened to your podcast recently and found it very encouraging and helpful – I actually wondered if you and I had taken Justin Holcomb’s class when I did, given your mention of an Anglican pastor teaching on ecclesiology! Anyway, if you read this, please feel free to contact me: caseychalk ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com.

  81. Hi Casey,

    I just sent you an email. Great to hear you’re in RCIA. I’d love to talk.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  82. An Interview With John Frame on Evangelical Reunion

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