Getting Back to the Basics

Apr 14th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In response to a recent comment by a regular guest here at Called to Communion, I’d like to take a brief moment to re-visit the basic vision behind this site. I’ve remarked several times in combox discussion that certain interlocutors don’t seem to grasp what we’re trying to accomplish.  This recent comment confirms my suspicion.

We intentionally began our series of “lead articles” by attempting to gain common ground. (See our Note above for a chronological list of the lead articles so far). We proceeded to build a foundation for our argument by identifying “the Church” with a series of ecclesiological arguments. This was a crucial step before discussing the current question of authority.

Our arguments, however, went almost entirely unchallenged. It was frustrating at that time because we all knew that the foundation built on those ecclesiological arguments would be ignored in subsequent arguments on authority by our interlocutors. Not surprising in the least, our suspicions turned out to be true.

So I will recap, in brief, the points we have made which thus far remain virtually unchallenged.

It began with the post – Christ Founded a Visible Church. You will notice, in that article, that there were only eight comments and that none of them challenged the argument. Bryan Cross subsequently argued that Protestants do not Have a Visible Church. There was more activity on this post, but anyone can read the comments and see that none of the premises of the argument were shown to be false.

To deny that the Holy Spirit continues to guide that visible Church is to adopt the theological position: Ecclesial Deism.    This flawed view of ecclesiology has no way to distinguish between branches and schisms.

Just as for the early Christians, it is important that we profess faith in the true Church. The ecclesiology of the early creeds confirms the Catholic position. Kingdom Church and Communion is a summary of the ecclesiological arguments and their implications.

Until someone makes an argument for why the Church is invisible, or that Protestants actually have a visible Church, or that to believe that the visible Church fell into many errors is not Ecclesial Deism, or that such a system has a way to distinguish between branches and schisms, or that the early creeds spoke of an invisible Church, then these arguments will remain unrefuted.  The authors of Called to Communion have plenty of flaws, but refusal to engage Protestants on the basics is not among them.

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  1. Tim,

    I notice that your purpose in writing the lead articles is to engage in discussion and even be challenged on the ideas you present.

    The length of the lead articles is likely hampering that discussion. The lead articles have multiple sections containing multiple sub-sections. Discussion is hard to promote when there are so many ideas presented at once. Where does one start?

    Also, when an article does generate comments, like The Canon Question, the discussion becomes difficult to follow for a couple of reason. The first goes back to the amount of information in the article. Multiple comments become confusing because a comment regarding section III might be followed by a comment on section II.B.

    Second, the WP comment system is a single thread. This makes it difficult to follow a discussion because replies to one comment may come 5 comments later or more.

    A couple of suggestions would be to break up a lead article into sections. A WP plugin like http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/hackadelic-series/ or http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/series/ would help tie the posts in a series together so readers could easily follow it.

    Second suggestion is to use a different commenting system such as Intense Debate or Disqus that allows for threaded comments. Threaded comments allow discussions that can be followed more easily.

    – Jason

  2. Jason, this post, i suspect, is in reponse to this post by Andrew Mccallum (LINK)

    I too thought it was strange statement by Andrew, given that he’s been posting here for a while and must have seen all the previous articles, along with the ‘order’ of thing in the “Note to our readers” section.

  3. Jason,

    You make a valid point that the lead articles are lengthy. However, given the nature of the kind of thoughtful conversation we wish to have they must be lengthy, for the simple fact that these topics require precision, development of ideas and most importantly, the writers want to be fair in presenting the best of non-Catholic arguments and not knocking down strawmen. We have podcasts at CtC in which we interview the writers of the lead articles and they answer questions about the article. Those podcasts run about 30 minutes. I recommend the one on Ecclesial Deism. When discussing these matters, I am reminded of the soon to be Beatified Cardinal Newman, who was asked at a dinner party why he came into the Catholic Church. He responded, “It is not the kind of thing one easily explains between the appetizer and the entree.” We will always keep in mind our audience and do appreciate the words you write as a helpful guide as we continue to embark on this great privilege we have to engage the truth in love.

  4. I too thought it was strange statement by Andrew, given that he’s been posting here for a while and must have seen all the previous articles, along with the ‘order’ of thing in the “Note to our readers” section.

    Tap – Assuming this was directed to your referenced post then I would just repeat what I said to Andrew P in the previous post that I was not making a general statement about Catholics engagement in general, but rather a very specific observation about the particular issue of sola scriptura. When the issue comes up the Catholics usually want to speak of it in terms of the individual Christian and they often never get to the foundational matter of the Church in the early centuries and its understanding of authority.

    Now one exception to this is a discussion I had with Michael where he really did take on the challenge of of addressing SS by attempting to defend an infallible authority beyond Scripture in the early centuries of the Church. He stated that the belief in such an infallible authority was not a matter of theological or philosophical necessity. His defense ended up being a rather convoluted epistemological one that appealed to what was “reasonable” given the facts of history of the Church. But it was an attempt at a defense, and a necessary one from my perspective. If the Catholic has no such defense then SS stands, historically speaking of course.

    Now this is not to say that I don’t want to speak to the issue of SS as it is employed by Protestants in modern times. Actually the issue that Jeremy raised about Dispensationalism in the previous thread is a great case study to see just how SS operates. The classical Dispensationalism of Darby and Scofield is just about dead even in the churches. The more moderate version has even been dying in the seminaries as evidenced by the retreat of Dispensationalism at DTS, which you may know was the mecca of Dispensationalism for many years. The shift in theology is a tribute to just how well SS can work in the Church at large. I’m happy to go into more detail if anyone is interested….

  5. Andrew M,

    Now this is not to say that I don’t want to speak to the issue of SS as it is employed by Protestants in modern times.

    Bryan and Neal have argued in this post that there is no principled difference in ‘solo scriptura’ and ‘sola scriptura’ which is what I assume you mean by this statement. If you think they’re wrong, why don’t you explain why in the combox there.

  6. Tim,

    I think that it’s too much even to grant the premise that the article on sola/solo scriptura means to rebut. It is not the case that “solo scriptura” is the product of a 19th century degeneration of a monolithic Reformed ecclesiology and doctrine of scripture. Reformed Christians who claim that “solo scriptura” is a modern novelty know this. They are aware that the Anabaptists existed and that they were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. So given that solo scriptura is not a novelty of our own or recent times, why should any accept that the novelties of “magisterial” Lutheranism or Calvinism are any more “historical” or “true to the spirit of the Reformation” than the Anabaptist novelties? Solo scriptura, the logical result of sola scriptura, emerged side-by-side with what your interlocutors consider to be original, and it has always existed side-by-side with those other strains.

  7. Bryan and Neal have argued in this post that there is no principled difference in ’solo scriptura’ and ’sola scriptura’ which is what I assume you mean by this statement. If you think they’re wrong, why don’t you explain why in the combox there.

    Tim,

    I was one of the first ones in the post you reference (#8) to show where Bryan had erred and I brought him back to the foundations of the issue. Bryan so missed my point that he thought I had not read any of his article!

    Bryan’s main problem with his article was that it centered on the response of the individual Protestant and sidestepped the issue of the Church. If Catholicism cannot come up with a rationalization for something besides Scripture being an infallible standard then their arguments again sola scriptura melt away before we ever get into the application of sola scriptura to the modern context. So has there been a good argument to prove that there is such an infallible standard outside of Scripture? If so I have not seen it.

    And on the particular application issue with Bryan spent his time on, I tried to demonstrate to him that he has not solved the issue of the individual Protestant interpreting Scripture by positing the a Roman Catholic system where the individual Catholic interprets tradition. Now whether I could get Bryan to listen to what I had to say is another issue. But you can read his response to my #8 and judge for yourself.

  8. Andrew M,

    Yes everyone can go and read for themselves. I don’t think we can accomplish much by arguing whether or not you showed their argument to be false. I just wanted to point that out in case new readers saw this and didn’t realize that we’ve already been through this loop a few times.

  9. Andrew McCallum,

    Of what value is a “truth” that can’t be grasped or shared with others (after all of this effort)? I am certain that Tim and Bryan (and many other readers/writers here) are doing all they can to understand your position(s). We’re all ears. Yet it seems we’re still not covering any ground…

    Personally, I wonder how it makes sense to you that, for example, Bryan Cross, an otherwise extremely intelligent, extremely well-read, extremely well-trained individual, with an amazing command of language and a breadth and depth of knowledge concerning Protestant theology that would put many Protestants to shame (not to mention an untiring dedication to the cause of Christian unity that almost seems superhuman), can be utterly unable to grasp even the most introductory elements of your the Biblical truths you claim to uphold? thanks, peace.

  10. Herbert,

    As has been pointed out to me by folks here, I have often missed points that the Catholics here made. No doubt they are correct. I can be dense at times as can we all. I agree with what you say about Bryan in general and I think most other Protestant who have listened to him would agree. But he is susceptible to overlooking something as we all are.

    My point was that Catholics want to speak to the problem of Protestant interpretation in terms of individual interpretation of Scripture. Catholic critique of sola scriptura tends to be focused on the individual Protestant or perhaps a group of Protestants. And by taking the debate out of this context and placing it in the context of the Early Church I am doing something that is outside of the typical way that the Catholic apologist thinks about it. So maybe I have made a pest of myself in trying to reconsider the problem in very different paradigm, but I think this is important and really does shed light on the matter. And what better place to begin with interpretive paradigms that at the beginning? Or so it seems to me.

    Cheers…..

  11. Tom,

    There is another problem I didn’t get to, but you bring up. That is, participants will ignore evidence that does not support their position. All the organizational presentation changes in the world won’t fix that problem.

  12. Andrew M.,

    It looks like you want a reason (the word you used was “rationalization,” but of course I’m not interested in giving rationalizations) for ecclesial infallibility. The reasons are found in the way that Our Lord and the Apostles describe the Church, and in the promises made to the Church.

    This matter was discussed in the article, “Christ Founded a Visible Church” Section VI.B., under the sub-heading, “The Promises to the Church are to the Visible Church.” The Visible Church includes the Early Church, so this section speaks to that aspect of your concern. Compare also the section, “Indefectibility of the Mystical Body” in the “Ecclesial Deism” article, in which multiple early Church Fathers are cited to the effect that the Church, due to her intimate union with Christ, cannot err on matters of faith and morals. So there you have it: an argument for “something besides Scripture being an infallible standard,” demonstrating that your assertion that this issue has not been addressed is, in fact, incorrect.

    Furthermore, the section of that article to which I refer has a link to this post by Bryan, whom, I think, you are singling out for “sidestepping the issue of the Church.” Wrong again.

    Finally, this particular criticism of CTC, or of Bryan in particular, is not only misplaced, as in factually incorrect, it is misguided, as in not logical. Addressing the relationship between the individual and biblical interpretation is not a matter of “side-stepping the issue of the Church,” where it is the case that a certain conception of the Church (the Protestant-Reformed conception) defaults, at a critical hermeneutical point (final interpretive authority), to the primacy of individual interpretation.

    Finally finally, this bit

    I tried to demonstrate to him that he has not solved the issue of the individual Protestant interpreting Scripture by positing the a Roman Catholic system where the individual Catholic interprets tradition. Now whether I could get Bryan to listen to what I had to say is another issue.

    is trifling and tiresome. I don’t really have anything to say about it other that to point it out, and to express my wish that you could get on without that kind of thing.

  13. Andrew M,

    I’m not suggesting you’ve made a pest of yourself at all. I wish more people from across the spectrum of theological perspectives would spend time here at C2C as you do. If this website were to devolve into some sort of all-catholic cheerleading squad, its value would be lost entirely.

    I realize you claim to be approaching this issue from an entirely different paradigm. However, if you can’t explain clearly how others, too, can consider these issues from your perspective, it’s your alleged insight that is eventually doubted, not the intelligence of those with whom you’re engaged in discussion.

    What Bryan wrote recently to Professor Frame, comes to mind. We must be able to identify the point at which we theologically/historically/emotionally or otherwise part ways with one another and seek reconciliation from that point moving forward. Can you identify that point for Bryan, Andrew?

  14. I realize you claim to be approaching this issue from an entirely different paradigm. However, if you can’t explain clearly how others, too, can consider these issues from your perspective, it’s your alleged insight that is eventually doubted, not the intelligence of those with whom you’re engaged in discussion.

    Herbert,

    I rally don’t think what I was saying about SS in terms to the Early Church was that complex. In a recent thread Michael Liccione understood what I was saying, and responded appropriately. And in older threads I remember having some conversations with Neal Judisch along these lines. But as I was saying to Tim, typically the Catholic apologist today is very welded to understanding the concept of SS in terms of the interpretative paradigm of the individual Protestant.

    What Bryan wrote recently to Professor Frame, comes to mind. We must be able to identify the point at which we theologically/historically/emotionally or otherwise part ways with one another and seek reconciliation from that point moving forward. Can you identify that point for Bryan, Andrew?

    As I asked before, what better place to begin than in the beginning? It seems to me that the touch point between us is not really the Scriptures, but rather the Church. What did the Church of the first few centuries teach and is in compatible with the teaching of the Church during the late Medieval and Reformation era (where Roman and Reformed parted ways)? This is why I thought it was better to treat SS from the standpoint of the interpretive paradigms of the Early Church rather than trying to jump right into the modern context.

  15. Andrew M,

    You are right, the touch point really is the Church. If Christ willed to us a Church and we believe He did, which Church is it and how would we be able to identify this Church?

  16. Andrew:

    In #4, you referenced

    …a discussion I had with Michael where he really did take on the challenge of of addressing SS by attempting to defend an infallible authority beyond Scripture in the early centuries of the Church. He stated that the belief in such an infallible authority was not a matter of theological or philosophical necessity. His defense ended up being a rather convoluted epistemological one that appealed to what was “reasonable” given the facts of history of the Church. But it was an attempt at a defense, and a necessary one from my perspective. If the Catholic has no such defense then SS stands, historically speaking of course.

    I don’t know what, precisely, caused you to find my “epistemological” argument “convoluted.” I suspect that your choice of the latter adjective is really just a way of saying you didn’t understand the argument. Nor, I believe, have you properly understood the state of the question to which my “defense” contributed. I shall address the latter issue first, the better to explain the state of the question in general and how my argument addressed it.

    For purposes of this debate, you’re assuming that sola scriptura, in the sense that Scripture is the “sole infallible rule of faith,” is the default position, so that our affirming ecclesial infallibility as well requires a defense. Prima facie, that seems reasonable enough. Both parties agree that Scripture, being in some sense inerrant, is an infallible rule of faith, so that the only question seems to be whether something else is also an infallible rule of faith. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that the matter is not so simple. For you’re overlooking the different reasons the respective parties have for affirming Scripture as an infallible rule of faith.

    I won’t presume to tell you exactly what your own reasons are; all I’m sure of is that they are different from mine. With the authors of this blog, I believe that Scripture is an infallible rule of faith primarily because Tradition and the Magisterium say so. That’s because I believe, as a matter of history as well as of doctrine, what Vatican II says: “Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church are so linked and joined together that none can stand without the others” (Dei Verbum §10). Thus, and on the one hand, without the supporting context of Tradition and the Magisterium, the question whether Scripture is anything more than a set of early thoughts, each of which the Christian may interpret or even modify at will, would have no authoritative answer; on the other hand, without Scripture there would be no authoritative written record of the apostolic Tradition which the Magisterium is said to be faithfully interpreting. Thus the three means of transmission of divine revelation are, as a matter of historical fact as well as of dogma, mutually supporting. But I could not hold such a position if I could not identify, as the Body of Christ sharing in his authority as her Head, a visible body called “the Church” which is historically continuous with the apostolic church as the subject of Tradition, the human co-author of the New Testament, and the bearer of the Magisterium. Hence, the question whether there is such a Church, and if so how she is to be identified, is prior to the question which rules of faith are infallible—Scripture alone, or something more besides.

    That is why the order of inquiry to which Tim’s article was meant to return us, and to which you object, is in fact the correct one. That is why I concluded my previous response to you by saying that you’re getting the whole matter “exactly backwards.” And that is why Tim Riello’s question to you in #15 of this thread is also quite apt: “If Christ willed to us a Church and we believe He did, which Church is it and how would we be able to identify this Church?” That’s the question you need to consider first. It is not a question that can be settled by appeal to Scripture alone. If it could be, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    Now ultimately, it is for the purpose of identifying that Church that I offered my “convoluted” epistemological argument. 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 on the other. But that argument would be idle if no such church could be clearly identified as the bearer of said interpretive authority. For if we could not clearly identify such a church, then the question who bears the Magisterium, and thus bears infallible interpretive authority, would itself be simply a matter of opinion. That in turn would reduce every theological question to one of opinion, which would preclude our being able to reliably identify the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation as distinct from opinion. Accordingly, Tim’s article is correct: the question with which we must begin is: “Which church is the Church?”

    In my study and observation of Protestantism over the decades—Reformed, Lutheran, and free-church—I have never found a credible answer to that question. To me, the only candidates are the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman communions. And I’ve already explained elsewhere why I made my choice for the latter.

    Best,
    Mike

  17. Michael L said: I don’t know what, precisely, caused you to find my “epistemological” argument “convoluted.” I suspect that your choice of the latter adjective is really just a way of saying you didn’t understand the argument. Nor, I believe, have you properly understood the state of the question to which my “defense” contributed.

    Goodness Mike, you are forever saying this, and I’m really not sure why.

    For purposes of this debate, you’re assuming that sola scriptura, in the sense that Scripture is the “sole infallible rule of faith,” is the default position, so that our affirming ecclesial infallibility as well requires a defense. Prima facie, that seems reasonable enough. Both parties agree that Scripture, being in some sense inerrant, is an infallible rule of faith, so that the only question seems to be whether something else is also an infallible rule of faith.

    I appreciate you stating this so clearly

    But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that the matter is not so simple. For you’re overlooking the different reasons the respective parties have for affirming Scripture as an infallible rule of faith. I won’t presume to tell you exactly what your own reasons are; all I’m sure of is that they are different from mine. With the authors of this blog, I believe that Scripture is an infallible rule of faith primarily because Tradition and the Magisterium say so.

    But if we dig a little deeper here we also find that matter as you state it is also not so simple. And in fact in your longish defense of the infallibility of dogmatic tradition in previous threads you tacitly concede this. But to get to the heart of the matter, when we say that a given text of Scripture, say the book of John, is infallible we know this with complete certainty because God is infallible. Now we could talk about how we know that the book of John is in fact Scripture (which I have done quite exhaustively I think), but that’s not the topic at hand. We both agree that John is part of Scripture and since God is perfect this book is infallible. We are grounding infallibility in the person and character of God. BUT, when we begin to consider the defense of the infallibility of the dogmatic teachings of the Church, we cannot say that they are inspired. The Catholic Church has never taught that tradition is inspired, even tradition that touches on de fide matters, agreed? So the RCC needs to come up with a different rationalization for appealing to the infallibility of RCC dogma than that used to appeal to the infallibility of the Bible. And here is where you came in with your philosophical defense of the infallibility of Church tradition as being “reasonable.” If God has spoken something then it must be infallible. But if a collection of men has spoken something, it is not nearly so clear that it is or even could be infallible. So the argument for the infallibility of Church tradition is a whole heck of a lot more complex than the argument that the Word of God is infallible as you evidenced in your lengthy attempt to try to defend the later. This is what I meant by your argument being “convoluted.” Do you understand what I’m getting at? “Convoluted” could be used with negative connotation, but I’m not trying to use the term this way. I just mean that your defense took a great deal more theological and philosophical sophistication to make. And then in the end you came up with something that you found reasonable although not necessitating. I’m not sure exactly what standards ought to be used to judge something reasonable or not, but I would hope that any standard that is to be put on a de facto par with Scripture would be justified with greater certainty than what is typically conveyed with the term “reasonable.”

    without the supporting context of Tradition and the Magisterium, the question whether Scripture is anything more than a set of early thoughts, each of which the Christian may interpret or even modify at will,

    The difference between us is not that Catholics believe in an authoritative Church while the Protestants do not. Yes, of course there has to be a Church which interprets. The difference is that the Protestants see no justification for raising some of the decisions of the Church to the status of infallibility. There is just no justification for this either in Scripture itself or in the centuries immediately following the apostolic age.

    And that is why Tim Riello’s question to you in #15 of this thread is also quite apt: “If Christ willed to us a Church and we believe He did, which Church is it and how would we be able to identify this Church?”

    Tom made that statement in response to my statement that I felt that the touch stone between Catholics and Protestant is the Church rather than the Bible. What I’m basically asking Catholics to do is to tell me by what principle they interpret the tradition of the Church. Just as there is sometimes in Protestant circles an idea that the Scriptures interpret themselves, so in Catholic circles there is this seeming understanding that the tradition of the Church interprets itself. So when we get to the very evolved understanding of the Church in the High Middle Ages and see that there are distinct differences between it and the understanding of the Church in the Apostolic and Sub-apostolic ages, we have to ask how we can say that the former is a proper development of the later. And to do this we have to ask what principle of interpretation is to be brought to bear to interpret tradition. I think this is getting to the question that Tom is asking, no? I will finally add that one of the assumptions that seems to be part of this question is that the Church has one administrative center. But it’s anything but obvious that this is true from the foundational ecclesiological documents in the Scriptures.

  18. Andrew (#17):

    My reason for “forever saying” that you don’t understand my argument is only confirmed for me by your comment. Although you do understand some of what I say, you don’t fully grasp why I say it. So, you don’t appreciate the importance of why I say it and, in turn, don’t get why my full argument is worth making. Instead, you focus on what you think is important, which is not so germane to my argument and inhibits your following my argument. Allow me to explain.

    For convenience, I’ll start by quoting at length what you call “the heart of the matter”:

    …when we say that a given text of Scripture, say the book of John, is infallible we know this with complete certainty because God is infallible. Now we could talk about how we know that the book of John is in fact Scripture (which I have done quite exhaustively I think), but that’s not the topic at hand. We both agree that John is part of Scripture and since God is perfect this book is infallible. We are grounding infallibility in the person and character of God. BUT, when we begin to consider the defense of the infallibility of the dogmatic teachings of the Church, we cannot say that they are inspired. The Catholic Church has never taught that tradition is inspired, even tradition that touches on de fide matters, agreed? So the RCC needs to come up with a different rationalization for appealing to the infallibility of RCC dogma than that used to appeal to the infallibility of the Bible. And here is where you came in with your philosophical defense of the infallibility of Church tradition as being “reasonable.” If God has spoken something then it must be infallible. But if a collection of men has spoken something, it is not nearly so clear that it is or even could be infallible. So the argument for the infallibility of Church tradition is a whole heck of a lot more complex than the argument that the Word of God is infallible as you evidenced in your lengthy attempt to try to defend the later. This is what I meant by your argument being “convoluted.”

    The problem there is that you continue to misconceive the nature of the issue between us.

    First, and contrary to what you say, the question “how we know” that a given book is Scripture is very much a part of the “topic at hand.” Your basic mistake is to start with the assumption that, since we both agree Scripture is God-breathed, the differences between our respective reasons for believing that don’t really matter. Yet, for the reasons I gave in my previous comment, they matter very much indeed. I suspect that your failure to recognize that is why you don’t even allude to your own reasons. But I shall leave that issue for another occasion.

    Admittedly, you point out that the Catholic Church has never said that Tradition and the Magisterium are inspired. That causes you to think that there must be some other “rationalization” (a term whose connotations I reject) for the Church’s claims for herself. And you are right to note that my favored argument is at least relevant for that purpose. Where you go wrong, however, is about the history of Catholic doctrine itself.

    The way you talk, it’s as if the Church proceeded as follows: “We know that Scripture is God-breathed, and thus speaks to us with divine authority. And of course, whatever is spoken with divine authority is infallible. So Scripture is infallible. Now we can move on to the question whether anything else within or received by the Church is infallible. What arguments can we come up with for that?” But historically speaking, that’s not quite how things went. As I argued in my previous comment, it was by the authority of Tradition and the Magisterium itself that the Church came to understand a certain set of writings, and only those writings, as inspired and therefore infallible. Now it would simply make no sense to say that we know a set of writings to be infallible because they were certified as such by non-infallible sources. So, either we know that set of writings to be infallible by means other than its certification by Tradition and the Magisterium, or we know that set of writings to be infallible because they were infallibly certified as such by Tradition and the Magisterium. After due reflection, the Catholic Church reached the latter conclusion. You appear to have reached the former.

    That’s a difference you’ve discussed before with other people on this blog more than with me. I wasn’t satisfied with your arguments directed at those people any more than I was satisfied with those directed to me. And you’re not going to understand the utility of my favored argument for ecclesial infallibility until you recognize that you need to understand and revisit our respective reasons for accepting the NT canon as words from God.

    Three more issues. You write:

    The difference between us is not that Catholics believe in an authoritative Church while the Protestants do not. Yes, of course there has to be a Church which interprets. The difference is that the Protestants see no justification for raising some of the decisions of the Church to the status of infallibility. There is just no justification for this either in Scripture itself or in the centuries immediately following the apostolic age.

    That just reasserts your position. Bryan and I have debated it with you before. We exhaustively argued that a church which is “authoritative” but never infallible has no real authority at all; its only authority is what its members choose to accept on the basis of their own interpretation of Scripture. To sum those up: “When I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.” I have seen nothing even remotely persuasive in your replies to those arguments. Often, they aren’t even germane.

    What I’m basically asking Catholics to do is to tell me by what principle they interpret the tradition of the Church. Just as there is sometimes in Protestant circles an idea that the Scriptures interpret themselves, so in Catholic circles there is this seeming understanding that the tradition of the Church interprets itself. So when we get to the very evolved understanding of the Church in the High Middle Ages and see that there are distinct differences between it and the understanding of the Church in the Apostolic and Sub-apostolic ages, we have to ask how we can say that the former is a proper development of the later. And to do this we have to ask what principle of interpretation is to be brought to bear to interpret tradition. I think this is getting to the question that Tom is asking, no?

    First of all, according to the Catholic understanding, Tradition does not “interpret itself” any more than Scripture interprets itself. Scripture and Tradition help interpret each other, and we know which interpretations are “authentic” when the Magisterium accepts them as such. Moreover, the Magisterium often clarifies and developments its own interpretations over time. The whole interpretive setup is a gradually unfolding, cumulative process. If you’re going to ask Catholics to make a case for their position, please at least get the position itself right.

    Second, what you’re really asking is how Catholic ecclesiology developed from the early sources, given that it cannot be formally deduced from those sources. For the longer term, what you need to do is study what Catholic theologians and historians have said about that. The list kindly given here by the authors of this blog would be a good place to start, with a focus on the books about Tradition and the papacy. For now, I shall just point once again to the epistemological and historical arguments I’ve already made.

  19. First, and contrary to what you say, the question “how we know” that a given book is Scripture is very much a part of the “topic at hand.” Your basic mistake is to start with the assumption that, since we both agree Scripture is God-breathed, the differences between our respective reasons for believing that don’t really matter. Yet, for the reasons I gave in my previous comment, they matter very much indeed.

    Mike I never said or assumed any such thing. In fact I have written many pages here and elsewhere on how important these differences are. I’m only trying to simplify the argument by not going through this same proof again. Do you really want me to go back over it again? I can if you like, but it does not change my argument which is that, if we grant that the Scriptures are the Word of God, we can be assured of their infallibility. The proof for infallibility here is simple and straightforward (if of course we grant what all Christians grant). So it’s not that I misconstrue and difference, it’s that you have assumed something about my position that I most vehemently eschew.

    Now it would simply make no sense to say that we know a set of writings to be infallible because they were certified as such by non-infallible sources.

    As I have demonstrated to you before, this is just a bold assertion with nothing to back it up. You are telling me what the Catholic position is without any sort of real argument. There is no epistemological reason to assert that we need infallible interpreters for an infallible book, because we are not trying to speak infallibly outside of speaking the very text of Scriptures. Of course you are trying to say something infallible when you speak through the Church, but all you are doing here is stating the Roman Catholic position. You are assuming Catholicism, not proving it, and I am of course questioning your assumption.

    And as I pointed out to Tim in this thread (#7) I challenged Bryan and others on the sola/solo thread to look at the promulgations of Nicea (to pick one example) and tell me how they would not be authoritative if the hearers of these formulation did not understand them to be infallible. The simple answer is that the Church of the early centuries did not explicitly or implicitly rely on their formulations being infallible to be authoritative. You say that there must be an infallible interpreter, but all this rally says is that Rome teaches that there must be an infallible interpreter. Now I understand why you do this but you should understand that your statements here have no apologetic force.

    To sum those up: “When I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.”

    And as I have pointed out, when you posit the Catholic system, you are not solving anything in regards to your statement above. Catholicism has just the same problem as Protestantism on this front. Catholic theologians and lay people decide what they want and don’t want and reject their tradition or they interpret it the way they like. I’m not trying to argue that what you say does not happen in Protestant churches, but I really don’t see that there is any better situation in Catholic congregations. As an aside, the curious thing that happens with Catholics, unlike the Protestant, is that they stay in the Catholic Church rather than going elsewhere. So the Catholic Church becomes a collection of people with very different beliefs but all sharing the same name. Is this a better situation than the Protestant one?

    First of all, according to the Catholic understanding, Tradition does not “interpret itself” any more than Scripture interprets itself. Scripture and Tradition help interpret each other, and we know which interpretations are “authentic” when the Magisterium accepts them as such. Moreover, the Magisterium often clarifies and developments its own interpretations over time.

    You are not following me here. Yes, of course Scripture does not interpret itself, but sometimes Protestants act that way. And yes tradition does not interpret itself, but sometimes Catholics act as if it does. My question as to how to interpret tradition often throws Catholics for a loop. Where Catholics and Protestants disagree on the matter of tradition is how to interpret tradition. For the Catholic this often seems quite obvious, but tradition is a very tricky thing to interpret and the Medieval RCC understanding of tradition is hardly obvious given the data from the first few centuries of the Church.
    Second,

    what you’re really asking is how Catholic ecclesiology developed from the early sources,

    In a sense, and also hoping that Catholics will perhaps suspend at least for sake of argument the Catholic interpretive paradigm of the tradition of the Church.

  20. Andrew,

    Mike I never said or assumed any such thing. In fact I have written many pages here and elsewhere on how important these differences are.

    Can you point to an example of where you have stated as much? Like Dr. L, I have taken you, not just in this discussion but repeatedly, to be saying the very opposite (that is, to be saying what Dr. L said you were).

    if we grant that the Scriptures are the Word of God, we can be assured of their infallibility.

    The proof for infallibility here is simple and straightforward (if of course we grant what all Christians grant).

    Statements like these are reasons why you keep getting accused of misunderstanding the issue(s).

    Dr. L says “Now it would simply make no sense to say that we know a set of writings to be infallible because they were certified as such by non-infallible sources.”

    You reply:

    As I have demonstrated to you before, this is just a bold assertion with nothing to back it up.

    This is not a bold assertion, this is plain common sense. A house cannot be stronger than its foundation; a chain is not stronger than its weakest link. You cannot base infallible certainty on fallible guesswork. If you disagree – show me how infallibility can be built on fallibility. I’m going to hold you to that – don’t tell me I’ve missed the point. I haven’t.

    The simple answer is that the Church of the early centuries did not explicitly or implicitly rely on their formulations being infallible to be authoritative.

    So they held that Arius might have been right after all?

    And as I have pointed out, when you posit the Catholic system, you are not solving anything in regards to your statement above. Catholicism has just the same problem as Protestantism on this front.

    You and some others have used the tu quoque fallacy as an argument before yes, and you have been soundly refuted. You can’t just keep repeating false things and hope that newcomers haven’t read the many refutations (see comments in sola/solo for example).

    Where Catholics and Protestants disagree on the matter of tradition is how to interpret tradition.

    This is not where we disagree. We believe Tradition is infallible and therefore our reading of Scripture must conform to it. You believe that Tradition is fallible and therefore must conform to your reading of Scripture.

  21. Andrew (#19):

    What Tim said. Our long dialogue has once again started to exasperate me. I used to think we were looking at the same thing from opposite directions. I now wonder whether we are even inhabiting the same planet!

    …if we grant that the Scriptures are the Word of God, we can be assured of their infallibility…The proof for infallibility here is simple and straightforward (if of course we grant what all Christians grant).

    I’ll say it yet again: What’s in question is not whether the Scriptures are the Word of God and therefore infallible, but rather why we should believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God in the first place, as opposed to containing just the fallible perspectives of their human authors. For reasons I cannot fathom, you don’t seem to see why that question is important.

    I had written that “…it would simply make no sense to say that we know a set of writings to be infallible because they were certified as such by non-infallible sources.” For the reasons Tim gave, your whole reply to that is astonishingly inapt. But here’s the part that actually interests me:

    There is no epistemological reason to assert that we need infallible interpreters for an infallible book, because we are not trying to speak infallibly outside of speaking the very text of Scriptures.

    For one thing, that statement does not address the assertion of mine that it purports to address. I was not saying that we need an infallible “interpreter.” We do, but that’s another argument I’ve made at length in other contexts. In the assertion you’re criticizing above, I was saying that we need an infallible certifier in order to know that such-and-such a set of writings is the Word of God in the first place. The question whether some interpreters of the writings thus certified are infallible is a different question, though of course not entirely unrelated. You’re just not paying enough attention to what’s going on here. Perhaps you’re getting tired of all this. Believe me, I would understand if you are. I am too.

    The other problem with your statement is your blithely pointing out that “we” (by which I take you to mean you and your church) “are not trying to speak infallibly outside of speaking the very text of Scriptures.” We all know that, but what does it have to do with our dispute? What’s at issue, which in general you see quite well, is whether some church has the divine authority to do what your church doesn’t even claim such authority to do. To assert that no such authority is needed, because you and your church see no need for it and thus don’t claim it, is not only idle in itself but simply ignores what you know quite well is the real issue between us.

    …as I pointed out to Tim in this thread (#7) I challenged Bryan and others on the sola/solo thread to look at the promulgations of Nicea (to pick one example) and tell me how they would not be authoritative if the hearers of these formulation did not understand them to be infallible. The simple answer is that the Church of the early centuries did not explicitly or implicitly rely on their formulations being infallible to be authoritative. You say that there must be an infallible interpreter, but all this rally says is that Rome teaches that there must be an infallible interpreter. Now I understand why you do this but you should understand that your statements here have no apologetic force.

    I find it hard to believe you wrote that with a straight face. We have more than once pointed out to you in the past that you’re using the term ‘authoritative’ ambiguously and trading on that ambiguity. In one sense of the term, any statement is “authoritative” if promulgated by some authority—especially, as in the case of Nicaea I, if that authority is backed by force. So what? That’s not the sense of ‘authoritative’ being debated. The real question is whether the authorities of the Church who composed the Nicene Creed had divine authority to bind Christians to it as a matter of faith, as opposed to having the kind of authority everybody already knew they had: the mere de facto authority which human beings—such as the emperor, the electors of bishops, and the faithful at large—chose to grant them for reasons of their own.

    If, as you insist, the composers of the Nicene Creed were fallible in composing it, then that creed might be wrong. If it might be wrong, then it’s not a sure expression of divine revelation; it’s a human opinion that Christians are not bound before God to believe. And if Christians are not bound before God to believe it, then it’s not authoritative in the only relevant sense of the term.

    That’s one way to put our argument for ecclesial infalliblity. We do not assert ecclesial infallibility, in this or any other case, because Rome teaches it. We chose to accept Rome’s claims as a matter of faith, because we see no other way for the Church to have divine teaching authority, which identifies divine revelation, as opposed to merely human teaching authority, which yields only opinions about how to certify the sources as such and interpret them.

    As a way of summarizing in a sound-bite what we think of your conception of ecclesial authority, I restated: “When I submit when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.” To that, you replied:

    And as I have pointed out, when you posit the Catholic system, you are not solving anything in regards to your statement above. Catholicism has just the same problem as Protestantism on this front. Catholic theologians and lay people decide what they want and don’t want and reject their tradition or they interpret it the way they like. I’m not trying to argue that what you say does not happen in Protestant churches, but I really don’t see that there is any better situation in Catholic congregations. As an aside, the curious thing that happens with Catholics, unlike the Protestant, is that they stay in the Catholic Church rather than going elsewhere. So the Catholic Church becomes a collection of people with very different beliefs but all sharing the same name. Is this a better situation than the Protestant one?

    That involves the same sort of fallacy you commit about the word ‘authoritative’ when we’re discussing the Nicene Creed. Yes, there are many doctrinal pickers-and-choosers in the Catholic Church, and yes, the bishops do not usually discipline them. But that only means that the authorities of the Church, for good or bad reasons, don’t always choose to exercise their authority by excommunicating heretics. It doesn’t mean that said authorities lack the kind of teaching authority they claim to begin with. To put it more technically: from the empirical fact that the Catholic Church harbors many heretics, it does not follow that her bishops lack the normative authority to distinguish, infallibly, between heresy and orthodoxy. All that follows is that some people who ought to recognize said authority, given their formal membership in the Church, refuse to do so and happen to get away with it. That is not an argument that the Church lacks the kind of teaching authority she claims. At most, it’s an argument that bishops should be nastier to heretics. Once again, you’re trading on an ambiguity to make an argument you don’t really have.

    In my previous comment, I wrote that “what you’re really asking is how Catholic ecclesiology developed from the early sources.” To that, you replied:

    In a sense, and also hoping that Catholics will perhaps suspend at least for sake of argument the Catholic interpretive paradigm of the tradition of the Church.

    What you seem to want is a theologically neutral examination of early Christian sources. That’s fine; go ahead and conduct such a study if you can, which I very much doubt. If you’d rather just enjoy the fruits of others’ labor, lots of religious studies departments have people who do that sort of thing. Some are believers, some are not, and the believers often disagree among themselves about what they ought to believe. I can assure you that no such study will resolve our disagreement. The question at issue is not what the early sources actually say—which is quite possible to learn, if you’re willing to do the work—but by what principles we are to distinguish what is de fide in those sources from what is only human opinion. The kind of methodology you’re talking about is not even germane to answering that question.

    Perhaps one way to sum up my entire case is this: without first identifying some visible body as “the” Church, the Body of Christ sharing in his infallible authority as her Head, there is no way to distinguish divine revelation from human opinions about how to interpret the sources—those being Scripture, Tradition, the Fathers, or whatever else you care to include. Rarely have you engaged the substance of that argument. You certainly have not done so in your previous comment.

    At this point, it’s become very hard for me to let charity prevail and conclude that you just don’t get it. I’m beginning to think you don’t want to get it.

    Best,
    Mike

  22. What Mike said about what Tim said and what Mike said.

    Except for one thing. I’m still not ready to conclude that Andrew just does not want to get it, but I too share the exasperation and astonishment at points. “‘Scripture’ is the Word of God, and the Word of God has got to be infallible, so of course we know that ‘Scripture’ is infallible.” But we’ve been over this like 4,786 times. Augustine could say the same, and would end up with the conclusion that the Catholic canon is right and that yours is incomplete. You could (and do) say the same, and end up concluding that your canon is right and that Augustine’s includes more than it should. (Your ‘Scriptures’ aren’t *all* the Word of God; Not *all* his ‘Scriptures’ are the Word of God.) And obviously this dispute between Andrew and Augustine cannot be resolved simply by noting that the term ‘Scripture’ denotes divinely inspired writings (and everything this implicates). I think the last time I said this I said it would be the last time I’d say it. Well, promises are made for breaking I guess. But look, it *is* puzzling why this seemingly easy to grasp point, which we’ve been over so very many times, does not stop you from repeating the very same things over and again — often enough, frustratingly, in a context within which you are complaining about our failure to understand and engage with very basic Protestant points. If this is among the basic points, then it’s not right to say that we haven’t engaged with or understood it. And it is frankly exasperating that it keeps being repeated — not just because we have indeed engaged with it, but also because it is easily shown to be a silly thing to think. (Sorry about ‘silly’, but it is silly.)

    Neal

  23. I’ll say it yet again: What’s in question is not whether the Scriptures are the Word of God and therefore infallible, but rather why we should believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God in the first place, as opposed to containing just the fallible perspectives of their human authors. For reasons I cannot fathom, you don’t seem to see why that question is important.

    Michael,

    OK, I said I agreed with you entirely that the question of why we should believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God in the first place is very important. I told you that I had written quite a bit on this matter here and elsewhere because I agree with you that it is important. Neal Judisch and I had discussed the matter on the sola/solo thread and elsewhere. It started off with one of the writers here quoting R.C Sproul and me pointing out that Sproul was not at all typical of Reformed thought on this point. I pointed out that in general we agree with the Catholic that the canon of the Scriptures are infallible. Where we disagreed is whether we should ground this infallibility in a special charism given to the Church or in the perfect infallible work of God working through a fallible Church. I demonstrated that whether it was the former or the later it would still result in an infallible canon. In other words we do not need to posit and infallible Church to have an infallible canon if God who is infallible works through the process just as He did with inspiration. Neal dissected this argument over pages and pages and I answered Him. If you and Tim would like to question Neal about it I’m sure he will remember.

    But the bottom line for you, Mike, is that I agree that the why question it is important. So what don’t you understand when I say that the question is indeed important? I agree with you, OK? But the why question does not touch upon the argument I am making. And the reason that I am point out the simplicity of the argument for Scriptural infallibility where there is absolute theological necessity is to juxtapose this with your attempt at defending the infallibility of dogmatic tradition where there is neither philosophical or theological necessity.

    I was saying that we need an infallible certifier in order to know that such-and-such a set of writings is the Word of God in the first place.

    And when you say that you need an infallible certifier you are assuming the Catholic position. No, we don’t need an infallible certifier, unless we just want to assume the RCC position. Again there is no reason for this as your attempt to try to provide it shows. In the Protestant position we take the infallible Word of God and interpret this standard infallible. In the Catholic situation you take the infallible dogmatic tradition of the Church and interpret this. At some point both sides make fallible interpretations of infallible standards. But the curious thing is that the Catholics think that they have solved something by inserting the infallible dogmatic tradition in the middle. But they still have the same problem – How do you interpret the infallible tradition? I think your frustration may be coming from trying to prove a Catholic assumption that can only be accepted as a matter of faith in the RCC.

    The real question is whether the authorities of the Church who composed the Nicene Creed had divine authority to bind Christians to it as a matter of faith, as opposed to having the kind of authority everybody already knew they had: the mere de facto authority which human beings—such as the emperor, the electors of bishops, and the faithful at large—chose to grant them for reasons of their own.

    Mike, I have explained in detail what proper biblical authority is. We have examples all over the Bible of people bowing to proper and divine biblical authority even though the commander of this authority was not given an charism of infallibility when pronouncing rules. But now when we come to the Church all of a sudden you want to say that the Church must have infallible authority to bind people’s conscience. But you have no reason for this. Your central problem here as I have explained many times before is that divine authority does not equate to infallible divine authority. You are just assuming the Catholic position and trying to impose it back on the Early Church.

    And you are being evasive when you call say my concept of authority “ambigious.” We all know that Nicea did have authority to guide the congregations as outlined in the promulgations of Nicea. This authority claimed is what I speak of, OK? So the question still stands – Would this claimed authority have been destroyed if Nicea had not been infallible? The obvious answer to my question is that it would have made no theoretical or practical difference.

    If, as you insist, the composers of the Nicene Creed were fallible in composing it, then that creed might be wrong.

    I think you are confusing something being evidentially true with being incapable of error. If I say that I am sure of the formulations of the laws of gravity I am not saying that such formulations are infallible. People can say things in the natural or supernatural realm which are beyond question, but we don’t grant them infallibility. There is just no reason to ascribe infallibility to the specific formulations of Nicea.

    To put it more technically: from theempirical fact that the Catholic Church harbors many heretics, it does not follow that her bishops lack the normative authority to distinguish, infallibly, between heresy and orthodoxy. All that follows is that some people who ought to recognize said authority, given their formal membership in the Church, refuse to do so and happen to get away with it

    OK, but one of your “heretic” who questions, for example, papal infallibility is able to use the same tradition that you do to prove the opposite. Now you say that the Roman Catholic position is the orthodox one. Well very nice for you, but how does this provide an apologetic for the RCC system? I’m NOT saying that the fact that there are heretics in the Catholic congregations proves that there is no normative authority in the RCC. I AM saying that the heretics in the Catholic congregations use the dogmatic tradition of the Church just like the heretics in the Protestant congregations use the Bible. Again, tradition has to be interpreted just as Scripture does and you have not gained anything by positing an infallible tradition.

    I am not frustrated and I have no problem with continuing to try to explain these things to you. I’m sorry you are….

  24. And obviously this dispute between Andrew and Augustine

    Hello Neal,

    I would much rather Jerome be used to defend the other side than me. And as I’m sure you know the debate within even the RCC continued until Trent summarily ended it. Even the eminent scholar Cajetan (writing after Constance!) takes Jerome’s position. So yes, there are differences between Catholic and Protestant, but also between Catholic and Catholic, and between Catholic and Orthodox on the matter. Which is why I have encouraged some here to think in terms of what we can agree on concerning the content of Scripture and let Augustine and Jerome and others duke it out over the details of these secondary books.

    So we can both agree that the Protocanonicals are infallible, right? The infallibility of the Protocanonicals flows of necessity from their divine authorship. But the claimed infallibility of the dogmatic traditions of Rome do not flow of necessity from anything as Mike concedes. And as Mike’s attempt to show it demonstrates, it is a difficult case even to show the reasonableness of dogmatic infallibility. At some point the Church has to move from infallible standard to fallible interpretation of that standard. So tell me how it helps to have this infallible dogmatic standard inserted between the Scriptures and fallible application of the standards?

  25. Andrew,

    You’re doing a lot of table pounding. No arguments, just re-stating your position. I’m not sure why you think this is accomplishing something, but you should know that if you don’t make arguments, it’s better (for you) that you simply don’t say anything. If you keep repeating statements without addressing arguments, then Reformed readers who are on the fence will realize that you don’t have arguments for your position. This was one of the things that gave me confidence to convert, seeing that the Reformed simply do not have a rebuttal for Catholic arguments. (If they had stayed silent, it would have hindered my conversion. I’d think that maybe there WERE good arguments out there, I just didn’t know about them. Then I’d keep searching for them instead of going to the Catholic Church.)

    And when you say that you need an infallible certifier you are assuming the Catholic position.

    We’ve made arguments for this; we haven’t just assumed the Catholic position. If the arguments are wrong then you need to explain why. This involves showing why the conclusions do not follow from the premises, not just saying “you’re assuming the Catholic position.”

    Again there is no reason for this as your attempt to try to provide it shows.

    Well if that’s how you want to play it – then here: you have no reasons for being Protestant as your attempts to provide it show. Do you see how this is not a valid argument? Do you see how it is uncharitable?

    So the question still stands – Would this claimed authority have been destroyed if Nicea had not been infallible? The obvious answer to my question is that it would have made no theoretical or practical difference.

    This is an amazingly backwards way of looking at it. Start with the assumption that it’s fallible, and then ask the question – would it matter if it was infallible? Your answer to the question is not the obvious answer. In fact, it’s obviously wrong. You think that Trent was fallible. Would it make any practical difference if it was infallible? Yes it would. The same applies to Nicaea – just ask Arius.

    I think you are confusing something being evidentially true with being incapable of error. If I say that I am sure of the formulations of the laws of gravity I am not saying that such formulations are infallible. People can say things in the natural or supernatural realm which are beyond question, but we don’t grant them infallibility. There is just no reason to ascribe infallibility to the specific formulations of Nicea.

    1. By assuming that Dr. L is confused about this issue (especially when your response shows that you are the one confused about it) is condescending and lacks humility.
    2. Comparing divine revelation to empirical science is not valid. For starters, we can test and confirm the law of gravity. We cannot test and confirm whether or not ‘homoousios’ is the correct philosophical category to describe the Trinity; neither is it obviously true. Likewise, the doctrine of justification at Trent is not empirically testable nor is it obviously true from Scripture. It, emphatically, makes all the difference in the world whether or not these formulations were infallible. These two examples show the utter incompetence of your comparison and show that you are the one confused, not the philosophy professors (go figure).
    3. There are reasons; Dr. L has given plenty of them, and you have not refuted them. You simply accuse him of being confused, misunderstanding the issue, missing the point, etc. engage in some more table pounding, and then continue to evade the issues. Brother, for your own sake, you should clean up your act. It makes the Reformed position look extremely weak. The Reformed position is wrong, but it can be defended better.

    But now when we come to the Church all of a sudden you want to say that the Church must have infallible authority to bind people’s conscience. But you have no reason for this.

    This is disingenuous. He has given plenty of reasons and you have ignored them and responded by table pounding and sophistry.

    I am not frustrated and I have no problem with continuing to try to explain these things to you. I’m sorry you are….

    This statement is again condescending and shows lack of humility. You’re not explaining anything to Dr. L or to anyone else. You’re table pounding.

  26. I pointed out that in general we agree with the Catholic that the canon of the Scriptures are infallible. Where we disagreed is whether we should ground this infallibility in a special charism given to the Church or in the perfect infallible work of God working through a fallible Church. I demonstrated that whether it was the former or the later it would still result in an infallible canon. In other words we do not need to posit and infallible Church to have an infallible canon if God who is infallible works through the process just as He did with inspiration.

    Andrew, this doesn’t help the Reformed position a bit. This seems to be a word game. When the Catholic says that the Church has been given a special charism of infallibility, it means that it holds divine authority, and when deliberating on dogma, because the valid divine authority it holds, it is assured that the infallible power of God will work in the Church through that authority to such an extent that their conclusions and final decisions will be without error, in order that the faithful may rest their faith on the truth of God without wavering because it has been made known through the mouth’s of his shepherds.

    When you state your position that the perfect infallible work of God working through a fallible Church affords us assurance in what is the infallible word of God, you are essentially stating the Catholic position, albeit using more ambiguous words. This is so because in as much as an infallible God works through a fallible Church, that fallible Church will be infallible during that time. When an infallible God is not working through a fallible Church, then that fallible Church will remain fallible. But, since we know who has valid authority from God, and since we know that whenever those valid authorities come together to deliberate on dogma the Holy Spirit is at work, then it follows that whenever valid authority comes together to deliberate on dogma, they will possess the charism of infallibility. Thus, we can have the assurance of faith that their final dicisions are inerrant because their decision was the decision of Christ, and not mere human opinion. Otherwise, you have no assurance in the decision of a fallible church as teaching the truth. Therefore you have no assurance in the Protestant canon because you have no assurance that an infallible God was working in it’s creation.

  27. I’m going to jump in here because this conversation is, to my mind, degenerating. I offer one point for consideration and follow it with an apology – the apology is offered both in recognition that “love covers the multitude of sins” and, as Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) noted in one of my all-time favorite movies, “We seem to be a little short on brotherly love round here…”

    Consideration: So far as I can tell, Protestants make no claim to infallibility. I think one of the most delightful ironies is in the Westminster Confession (31.4) where it explicitly notes that “All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred.” The irony, of course, is that the Westminster Confession was written by…a church council. :-p So yeah, the Westminster Confession itself may err (Heck, I think it did err with that whole “Pope is the antichrist” bit, but that’s another rant for another time.)

    At best, then, my Protestantism is fallible with all that entails. It does imply, it seems to me, that we Protestants don’t (infallibly) know the Scriptural Canon, and that we don’t (infallibly) know that Arius was wrong, etc. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I can’t give you good arguments for our Canon or against Arius (and I don’t believe our position entails that Christ has abandoned his church either,) but you’ll never get (or at least should never get) infallible arguments from Protestants. That’s my take, but it leads to my apology…

    Apology: For resting on explicitly fallible views, we Protestants are a frightfully arrogant lot. Heck, I’ll make it personal (since I ought not apologize on another’s behalf): I am arrogant. I’m an arrogant Protestant who thinks that I’ve got it right and y’all have got it wrong, and in my heart I’ve acted like I’m infallibly certain of that. What’s worse is that I’m not only sinning by being arrogant, but the attitude I’ve got in my heart even contradicts the fallibility inherent in my own Protestant view. For that I’m real sorry and, for what it’s worth, I’ll try harder not to be so theologically arrogant in the future.

    There you have it. We Protestants are fallible, and we should act like we are. Moreover, at some point my Protestantism has to recognize that most of the brilliant people I know of disagree with me (not just folks like Tim or Bryan, but Benedict/Ratzinger, Thomas More, and Robert George too…) The issue then becomes how to disagree without coming off as arrogant or, worse still, actually being arrogant. As we Protestants continue to discuss these questions here, I’d ask all to pray that we (or, at least, I) not fall into the trap of being theologically arrogant with our Roman Catholic brethren.

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  28. Tim to Andrew:

    If you keep repeating statements without addressing arguments, then Reformed readers who are on the fence will realize that you don’t have arguments for your position.

    I resemble this statement. After reading 800 comments in the solo/sola thread and most other comments in the major threads of this site, some of which are comments by such Reformed notables as Keith Mathison, R.F. White, R. Scott Clark, and John Frame, I am still waiting for some solid arguments from my Reformed “team”. Doug Wilson reccommended Dr. Mathison’s book to me and said he found it’s arguments solid, but after reading it I found it to be merely “damage control” for the solid Catholic case against Protestant “authority”.

    Sitting on this fence is really hurting my butt.

    -David Meyer

  29. Jared,

    Thanks; this point and the basic distinction/disambiguation behind it has also been repeatedly advanced, clarified, discussed, by me and by others, but to no obvious effect. It’s still useful to repeat it though, perhaps for newcomers to the discussion who did not see the previous ones.

    Neal

  30. Mine hurts too, David.

  31. There you have it. We Protestants are fallible, and we should act like we are.

    What would that acting look like? Pope Benedict once said one cannot live life with a question mark in the center. So how does a person who believes his central doctrines are fallible proceed? You can become a functional atheist and refuse to reorder your life arounf the truth of the gospel. That would be the liberal response. The conservative response is to live as if your Christian tradition is infallibly known to be basically right. Sort of a denial of fallibility while still thinking Catholics are off base for beleiving in any sort of infallibility.

    So what does that look like? When somebody has a doctrine that he feels is pseudo-infallible and he interacts with somebody who interprets the bible differently. He is liable to come across as very arrogant. He is is so so sure he has the bible right. But the other guy might be a pretty impressive biblical thinker.

    I guess my comment is that protestants do act like they are fallible. Arrogance is the expected behaviour. I know I was pretty arroagant when I was a protestant. Not that I am immune that I am Catholic but I think the graciousness you see in many Catholics flows from the fact that they don’t need to be smarter than the guy they are interacting with. Their philosphical foundation is stronger than that.

  32. Benjamin, thanks for the comment. It’s that sort of humility that we all need. We all have to deal with the trap of arrogance; not just Protestants of course. We Catholics claim that the Church is infallible, but not that we are. We say that the Church has made infallible declaration X, but that in no way entails that I as an individual have correctly interpreted it or believe it. This does not put us in the same boat re: infallibility though (one side says the Church goofed at Trent and the other says that’s not possible).

    At any rate, I know I personally come off as arrogant and cold in these com boxes – I’ve been told as much several times by several people. Well… those people are idiots and not worth my time. (KIDDING!)

    I have a tendency, as I think we all do to some degree, to let these divisions get the better of me and my coldness is really a defense mechanism to disassociate the person from the argument. So by focusing solely on the argument, or trying to, I don’t come across as well as I’d like. So where I offend – I’m also sorry.

  33. Benjamin,

    Bravo for such a gracious comment. What great hope is there for reunion, if we clothe ourselves in such humility.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  34. Andrew (#23):

    I’m aware of the earlier discussions you reference in your own defense. I read them in toto and participated in most of them myself. I stand by what I said in my previous comment: you just don’t get it. You don’t get it because you don’t understand why what I say is a problem is a problem. That’s why you don’t even see my central argument as worth making. Whether you can’t or you won’t see the problem is irrelevant to its content, so I won’t speculate about that question anymore. For the benefit of other readers, I shall describe the problem and what’s wrong with your failure to see it as such. I’m past expecting to get anywhere with you myself.

    The same problem keeps cropping up regardless of the particular question being discussed: you see no “need” for infallibility. So, to you my argument for it is basically idle: possibly of academic interest, but certainly of no practical consequence for believers. For instance, when the question is how we know that Scripture is the Word of God and therefore infallible, as opposed to containing just the fallible perspective of their human authors, you simply point out that we all agree that it is—so what’s the problem? When the question is how we know the Nicene Creed is a binding expression of divine revelation, as opposed to just the opinion of a bunch of bishops whose heads Constantine knocked together, your answer is that they were, after all, authoritative—so what’s the problem? When the question is what counts as “the” Church, the Body of Christ sharing in his divine authority as her Head, you dismiss the question as of no consequence, because of course the Old Testament shows that divine authority need not entail infallibility. I could list other issues, but I’ve said enough to make clear to readers what the problem is. One would think that having three analytically-trained PhD philosophers keep telling you there’s a problem with your view might cause you to reconsider; but as I said, I’m past expecting you to reach that conclusion. Instead I shall explain once again, for others’ benefit, why there’s a problem with your view.

    It’s best to begin by quoting a statement of yours, addressed to me, that I think exposes your most basic epistemological error:

    I think you are confusing something being evidentially true with being incapable of error. If I say that I am sure of the formulations of the laws of gravity I am not saying that such formulations are infallible. People can say things in the natural or supernatural realm which are beyond question, but we don’t grant them infallibility. There is just no reason to ascribe infallibility to the specific formulations of Nicea.

    I’m afraid the confusion is yours, not mine: your failure to distinguish methodology that’s appropriate at the levels of ordinary experience and natural science, for which unaided human reason suffices, from methodology that’s appropriate at the level of revealed theology, for which unaided human reason by no means suffices. All you’ve shown by the above is that people are justifiably certain about some things in Nature without claiming infallibility. You have not shown that they are justifiably certain about some things in Revelation without claiming infallibility.

    Thus, the “laws of gravity” are known, with a degree of certainty appropriate to the subject matter, by everybody willing and able to investigate the matter for themselves. A falling apple bopped Newton on the head, and the train of theorizing that event prompted him to undertake led him to formulate “laws” which, though only approximately true at the cosmic and sub-atomic levels, have been verifed as “true enough” for the ordinary macro level by experiment. Nobody questions the relevant methodology, which yields a level of certainty that is also enjoyed consensually. And so there’s no need to postulate infallibility here. We recognize that the hypotheses and theories of natural science are always open to revision, but nobody doubts that we have so far achieved knowledge of a degree of certainty that suffices for all practical purposes. The proof is all around us every day.
    But theology is not like that. Of course people agree, or would agree if they took the trouble to learn enough, about what the dataset is. We have various religions of varying age and plausibility—not just Christianity. WIthin Christianity, we have Scripture and other, corroborating documents; practices of varying age preserved, in substance, to this day; various doctrines derived from both such sources; the institutional and cultural memories of various religious bodies as evidence of all that’s been “handed down” from ancient times; and of course people’s private religious experience. But there is no consensus whatsoever on the question what God is revealing to us by means of all that data. Not everybody immersed in all that data is, or remains, sure there even is a personal God to reveal anything. And when people disagree about religion, as they usually do, many do not even agree on what it would take to resolve their disagreements! In theology as an academic discipline, there is no agreed-upon methodology, as there is in natural science, for testing hypotheses about what God has revealed, or even about whether there is a Revealer. To an extent, albeit to a more limited extent than in natural science, there are agreed-on methodologies for determining, as a historical matter, what various people did, said, and thought. But that is not at all the same thing as identifying the content of divine revelation. For that, one needs authorities.

    Even before we discuss the question “Which authorities?,” we need to ask: “What kind of authority?” It can’t be the authority of human reason, because we’ve already seen that divine revelation cannot be attained and reliably identified by unaided human reason. Hence, the needed kind of authority can’t be that of human reason working on a dataset, even if we happen to agree on what the relevant dataset is.

    That is why it just won’t do, for purposes of the comparison you’ve made with science, to say something like: “Well, you see, we have this collection of writings from the early Church and earlier still, and we know they acclaimed these writings as divinely inspired, and a lot of people agree with me—including some who often disagree with me about what it all actually means. So, I’m justified in believing that it’s the Word of God, and therefore infallible. Because we all agree God is infallible, right?” That won’t do at all, Andrew. People believe the laws of gravity because they are verified as such by ordinary experience and natural science. Every sane person does. But by no means do all sane people believe that the Bible is the Word of God. By no means do all sane people agree on what it would take to convince them that the Bible is the Word of God. Some sane people think it’s all rot; some take it quite seriously, but just as a set of human ideas developed over time within a certain cultural matrix. And even among those who do believe the Bible is the Word of God, there is vast disagreement about what God is actually telling us by that means. So, why should anybody accept the Bible as an infallible authority? Even the view that it is the Word of God and thus infallible can be seen as just one opinion among many others. So, from whence do you derive the sort of certainty about the Bible that we all enjoy about the laws of gravity? You, personally, might be certain it’s the Word of God; the people you worship with might be equally certain; but how does that constitute any sort of authority, either of reason or of faith, save your own? And why should anybody accept yours?

    The same goes, only more so, for the Nicene Creed. In face of an empire-wide uproar caused by one Arius and his supporters, the emperor told the bishops to stop quarreling and come up with a statement of faith they could agree on. So a bunch of them got together and did, under his watchful and impatient eye. Does that mean we should believe it? Of course not. It’s political authority, of course; and defying such authority got people into trouble. But that’s not necessarily the authority of the Holy Spirit. How do we know that the Fathers of Nicaea I (though not, in your view, the Fathers of Nicaea II) spoke with the authority of the Holy Spirit?
    As I recall, your argument for thinking so is that the Nicene hermeneutic of Scripture is the the best way to interpret the Bible. But of course, that has only the force of a politically imposed opinion; unless some additional grounds can be cited, the only reason to accept such an opinion would be to stay out of trouble. Accordingly, and for purposes of your comparison with science, you’d have to say that the Nicene hermeutic is the only rationally plausible way to interpret the Bible. At one time you were willing to go that far, but you aren’t anymore, and your change of mind was wise. Not everybody calling themselves Christian before, during, and after the fourth century accepts the Nicene hermeneutic, and they aren’t all too stupid or ill-willed to see that only one hermeneutic of the Bible is rationally plausible. To reply that of course the “real” Christians did and do is simply to beg the question; for that just defines as the real Christians the ones who agree with you, and we haven’t yet determined what kind of authority you and those who agree with you actually have, so that we don’t know if you have the authority to make such definitions.

    Which brings us to the question of the Church. The reason that Bryan, Neal, Tim, and I keep asking which church you think is “the” Church is that, absent an answer to that question, you have no plausible appeal to the authority of something called the Church as a way to identify the content of divine revelation. You can’t appeal just to the authority of reason, because that’s not appropriate to the subject matter. You can’t appeal just to the authority of the Bible, because you have not as yet provided any authoritative grounds for taking the Bible to be the Word of God, and even if you did, you would not have provided any authoritative grounds for settling disputes about what God is thereby telling us–not, at least, with the degree of certainty we enjoy about the laws of gravity. That is why—assuming, for argument’s sake, that Jesus Christ is God and instituted a church—it’s vitally important to know which church that is. There are lots of churches. All of them have a degree of de facto authority, i.e., the authority that their members choose to acknowledge in their leaders. But they all disagree with each other to some extent; sometimes the extent is small, sometimes it’s quite large. If we’re going to just leave things at that, then there is no reason to take any church’s doctrines as anything more than a set of opinions, over against those of other churches and those of no church at all. If the authority of the Church is that of the Holy Spirit, at least in matters of doctrine meant to bind the whole Church, there has to be a way to identify some visible body as the Church Christ founded, and as sharing in his teaching authority as her Head. You have specified no such way, because you have no such way. How, then, can you even begin to invoke the authority of something called “the Church” to distinguish mere opinions from a knowledge of divine revelation that enjoys the kind of certainty we have about the laws of gravity? We can get something that if we render, by a reasonable assent of faith, submission to “the” Church Christ founded. But we can’t render that kind of submission if we think she could always be wrong. In that case, we reserve to ourselves the right to decide when she’s wrong—which is no authority at all.

    I could go on, but this is already too long. I shall close simply by saying that your failure to see the problem is, precisely, the problem. I hope our other Protestant readers can benefit from the way I’ve endeavored to show that.

    Best,
    Mike

  35. Benjamin,

    What Bryan said!

    Can I ask you to comment on how such an acknowledgement works in practice though? Here is a response I made to Andrew in a different thread at CTC a month or so ago when I thought he was admitting to inescapable fallibility on Protestant principals. The response directly relates to my personal concerns about living with theological principals which make any infallible distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy impossible:

    IF that is your position(inescapable falliblity), allow me to offer some personal thoughts as to what acquiescence in such an attitude means, in practice.

    Profession of the faith:

    Am I a Christian, am I “saved” – these are first order questions for the individual believer. If I have no recourse to an infallible interpreter of the deposit of faith, I have no way to know whether I am fundamentally in error with regard to any doctrinal issue. If my understanding of the deposit of faith can be errant; then it can be errant. The error might occur at the level of a crucial doctrine, such as the nature and means of justification, as easily as it might occur with regard to a matter considered “peripheral”. Thus, the lack of certitude regarding the deposit of faith, in general, militates against certitude with regard to whether of not I am justified before God –because I might, after all, be in error regarding justification per se. I can attest through personal experience that this problem can lead to an existential crisis regarding one’s relationship with God.

    Practice of Faith:

    I am a father of five children (ages ranging 4 to 19). As such, I am constantly confronted with all sorts of questions arising from my children’s interaction with the wider culture. WHY is practicing homosexuality wrong; why is abortion wrong; why is Christianity better than Buddhism or Hinduism? Why is pre-marital sex wrong; why do we believe the scriptures are inspired? These are first order questions for the Christian parent within the context of family life. I cannot imagine attempting an answer to any one of these questions from a hedged religious position that says: “well son, so far as my personal understanding of the deposit of faith goes, the answer to your question is X – but then I MAY BE WRONG”. Believe me when I tell you that such a hedge would castrate the religious force of my explanation in the minds of my children. My religious instruction would simply become another drop of opinion in the wider ocean of possible views.

    Proclamation of the Faith:

    Go into all the world and preach the Gospel – even though your proclamation may be materially in error! To assert that the deposit of faith is THE truth, and is located in scripture, but that no individual can ever be sure that his or her interpretation thereof is free from error; seems to me an imminently ill-fated basis for propagation of the Christian faith. The most pervasive and destructive intellectual notion in the Western world is agnostic skepticism/relativism. This skeptical relativism takes many forms and manifests itself in “softer” or “harder” incarnations; but I can tell you, as a former agnostic: that to look upon the tens of thousands of competing interpretations of the deposit of faith within Christianity, and then be told that the Christian faith has been “revealed by God” is, at first glance, laughable – I laughed! To affirm that no infallible interpreter for the deposit of faith exists; is to affirm that this divisive situation is both irreparable AND normative. Try this out on the secular culture: “I bring you a greeting – peace on earth and good will towards men – but then again – I MIGHT BE WRONG”. We cannot win the culture war with a vision of Christianity that, in principal, embraces an endless multitude of interpretations concerning the deposit of faith. To make such an attempt would be like trying to slay the beast of cultural relativism with the bristle end of a broom.

    For these and other reasons, I submit that without an infallible interpreter, Christianity, as a religion, is impotent.

    Maybe what I said above is too strong – but I was speaking from the heart. I, like others on CTC, am a convert to Catholicism and such considerations played a part in my conversion. It just seem to me that if God has provided no means by which the content of the deposit of faith can be communicated without error to men and women in 2010; then the there is no way to prevent the eventual corrosion of “orthodox” or “conservative” Christianity into theological liberalism and eventually into agnoisticism or atheism. The old addage “logic beats a path down the corridors of history” comes to mind. Does it not already seem to be the case that where any “strong” view of determining orthodoxy has been abandoned, substantial heteordoxy has grown up in its place (of course this assumes we admit a way of distinguishing the two). I mean, if I hold that truths/doctrines X,Y,Z are importnat to me, but that they might, in fact, be false; is there any realistic expectation that such a theological foundation will still be honored or emulated 3-4-5-6 generations down the road by posterity? I truly am not trying to be polemical. I would really be interested in your thoughts about such issues.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  36. Benjamin (#27):

    In this case as in so many others, but especially in this case, there’s a humble way to be humble and a prideful way to be humble. That’s quite relevant to theology. Let me explain.

    The humble way to be humble is to say: “You know, we Protestants all believe we might be wrong. Therefore, we might be wrong in saying that the Catholic Church is wrong to say she sometimes can’t be wrong. So perhaps we’d better take the claims of her Magisterium seriously and evaluate them in their own terms.” Now if that’s what you’re willing to do, I’m all for it. No amount of reasoning suffices to induce an assent to faith, of course; but it is the path of humility to admit the possibility that reason could lead one to make an assent of faith in the Catholic Church, whose claims for herself are incompatible with saying that religion is just a matter of opinion.

    The prideful way to be humble is to say: “You know, reason can’t settle any of these interminable religious disputes. We’d better just admit, humbly, that religion is all just a matter of opinion. Once we do, we see that the Catholic Church shows insufferable arrogance in claiming that, when she teaches with her full authority, she can’t be asserting anything false. We’re humble enough to admit that it’s all just a matter of opinion; why can’t Rome be? It’s all just will-to-power.”

    I know plenty of Protestants who take the latter view. They are called “liberal” Protestants. By that definition, many nominal Catholic are liberal Protestants. Please don’t end up like them.

    Best,
    Mike

  37. Benjamin,

    If I can recommend a book: Louis Bouyer’s Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. What you articulate about “we Protestants not being infallible” is so profoundly pointed about by Bouyer as leading to Protestantism to engage in what he calls, “Subjective Authoritarianism.”

  38. Andrew,

    I just noticed this — Neal dissected this argument over pages and pages and I answered Him. If you and Tim would like to question Neal about it I’m sure he will remember. — in your previous comment. I deny this, if by ‘answer’ you mean “understood the problems with this claim and satisfactorily dealt with the objections to it.” I testify that you did not do either of these things. At first I thought you just were not satisfactorily answering the (many) objections I made to the various lines you were pressing back then, all of which revolved loosely around the sort of position described in the material preceeding the remark I quoted from you. But then, after a few weeks (or so) of going in circles, I came to the conclusion that you did not understand the problems with what you were saying and/or did not grasp the things I was saying in reply.

    In other words: the trajectory of our exchange back then resembles to the point of identification the trajectory of the exchange you have recently been having with people like Michael, K. Doran, and others. So I do not think it would be prudent to reference that previous exchange as something that others should look at as an example of the way in which you have understood, grappled with, and finally “answered” all the problems and objections and criticisms that have been lodged against your claims. I do remember dissecting your proposals, but I don’t remember their having been answered in any way. At all. I just remember giving up after a while. I think the present situation is simply a reincarnation of what happened then, with a different principal player.

    I’m really hoping that this does not sound harsh or yucky, because you seem like a nice person to me. But I guess I feel the need to (i) clear the record — you did not “answer” my “dissections;” I do not think you followed them very clearly — and (ii) just tell you what seems to me to be the truth — that again it does not seem like you are really grasping what people are saying. This is not in itself exasperating, really, but the frustrating and puzzling thing is that you continue to say the very same things over and over, no matter how bullet-ridden they have become through time. To some people, this looks disingenous. It evokes suspicions that there is foulplay involved. To others, it is just puzzling. I count myself among the puzzled. Still, puzzled or no, well-wisher or no, you simply cannot come on here and tell people that you have answered objections and arguments when you haven’t done these things, and when you seem not to have really tracked the discussion or thought through it at crucial points.

    I’m not going to engage in any more arguments about these issues with you directly, but I hope you will understand why I wanted to respond and set things straight.

    Thanks,

    Neal

  39. Ray,

    Greetings and peace! I’ve been thinking a lot about your question. I’d be more than happy to offer my thoughts, but let me parenthetically note what kinds of things I’ll be saying first. I’m getting my PhD in philosophy (specializing in ethics) and the more time I spend around CtC, the more I realize why I’m not getting a degree in theology. :-p I’m really not suited for this sort of stuff. If you give me some secular ethicist, I’ll slice and dice ‘em *cough* Erm…I mean I’ll offer logical arguments to demonstrate the insufficiency of their secular ethical paradigms. ;-) But when it comes to Catholic vs. Protestant-type debates (ie, debates among the brethren), I’m really not that astute and rather out of my depth. All of which is to say that I’m glad to offer my current thoughts, but if Bryan or anyone else wants to poke holes in my position…well, there’s holes a’plenty there, I’m sure. :-)

    For what they’re worth then, my ramblings. I’m inclined to think that while the marvelously complex aspects of Christianity are well worth understanding, its simpler side can also be edifying. Especially if you put the Gospel in story form. Something like “I (and everyone else) have broken God’s law. Somebody’s got to pay for that. There’s a fellow named Jesus Christ who, if we repent, has offered to pay for all our sins. Pretty nifty, huh?” :-) It’s not theologically complicated, and such a story is missing a lot of details, but…at the same time, some things don’t have to be quite as complicated as we make them. That’s the basic story, and that’s how I know I’m a Christian.

    But, of course, there’s much more to Christianity than that, right? After all, there’s homosexuality, the Eucharist, abortion, primacy of the Pope…all kinds of hard questions. Even if everybody gets behind the story I put in the last paragraph, you need infallibility most when you get to tough questions like the Eucharist! And, of course, it’s just when you get to the tough stuff where (for Protestants) infallibility disappears and it seems like we have to start sticking “…in my opinion” on the end of everything we say! To be perfectly honest, if that’s why one goes with Roman Catholicism, I really don’t blame ‘ya (I’m pretty sure Luther understood just how troubling & problematic Protestant epistemology is…I’m pretty sure everyone else, including Calvin, doesn’t.)

    For what it’s worth, this issue is becoming more real because my wife is pregnant. So pretty soon there’ll be a little one running around and, like you, it feels disingenuous to teach your children something as if it were the truth when, in fact, you might be wrong. Which is to say that…well, I’m feeling the same kind of pull you did, brother. :-/

    Do I have a great answer for that? Not really, to be perfectly honest. The Protestant view doesn’t seem to entail that we need to stick “…but I might be wrong” on the back end of everything that we say, especially when the “littleuns” are growing in maturity. :-) So if my six-year old son or daughter breaks a vase and lies about it, I think I can truthfully say “What you did was wrong” without needing to stick “…but I might be wrong” on the end of it. Mostly because…well, I don’t think Scripture is utterly opaque, and I’m confident enough in the rightness of the claim “lying is wrong” to leave the clause off at the end. This doesn’t seem like “functional infallibility” rearing its ugly head again (especially when limited to such a simple/basic moral claim), but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps because “easy” moral cases like this one are solvable through natural revelation too, hence the tricky questions of Scriptural interpretation really don’t come into play. Not sure – I’ll ponder that thought a bit more myself. :-)

    Even if we Protestants don’t need to stick “…but I might be wrong” on the back of every claim, then, we surely need to use it more often than we do. How does that work in a family? Not a clue (ask me again in 20 years) :-) but here’s my first stab at it. Let’s imagine I’m not dealing with a 6-year old who lied about breaking a vase. I’ve now got a 16-year old who asks about Communion. I pray I’ll reply well, but my response to even thinking about this question is “Eek! What will I say?!?” :-p

    When the time comes, though, I’ve thought about saying something like “Well, your mother and I believe XYZ. Experts disagree, though, so if you want to we can look at what they have to say on it.” If our child wants to go deeper, then our family will look at Calvin, Luther/Melanchthon, Thomas More/Trent 13.4, John Chrysostom, etc together. But if our child really just wanted to know what our family/church thinks about it, then that’ll be the end of that. :-) I don’t know if such will ever actually take place, but that’s at least how I’ve thought about handling it (My wife and I will be homeschooling, so I hope such opportunities will be plentiful!)

    As for outside of the family, both you and I wonder how we can stave off “liberalism” (however defined) without infallible doctrinal dogma. I guess my (likely unsatisfactory) answer is that, from my view, there really never was an infallible source anyways. (More precisely, no infallible source of the sort that Catholics & Protestants disagree on.) And yet we’ve done alright against liberalism (There are any number of conservative Lutheran, Reformed, etc, churches out there…and when liberal Evangelicalism collapses, as it will, those institutions will still march on, same as always…)

    Anyway, I’ve rambled on for far too long…but you asked a good question, and I thought I’d (try to) offer a good answer. It’s probably not all that theologically strong, but I promised ramblings, and (if nothing else) you did get that. ;-)

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin =)

  40. Tom, (#37)

    Thanks so much! I’m always looking for good books to read. Sadly I’ll have to put it off
    until after finals are done, but I have added it to my summer reading list and will
    read it once I’m reading something aside from term paper books. :-p Thanks again, mi amigo!

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  41. Benjamin,

    Congratulations to you and your wife on your new child and the manifold blessings of immanent parenthood! The wonder and joys of fatherhood are . . well, just deeper and more profound than I can possibly express in words. Thanks also for the honest and thoughtful comments. I would like to say a few things in reply, however, I am not looking to poke holes in your responses (after all you weren’t presenting them as developed theological positions), nor am I really interested in starting some new stream of debate (I am happy with honest conversation). I suppose I would just like to offer some alternative considerations – nothing that will serve as a wiz-bang argument for the Catholic Church – but perhaps some food for thought.

    BTW, my academic situation is ironically the reverse of yours in some ways. I was about to apply to 2 different PhD programs in philosophy within my region last Fall; when deeper reflection upon the composition of the two departments in relation to my own philosophic interests (combined with some helpful advice from others), caused me to seek instead, acceptance into a Masters program in theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. I hope to receive a letter of acceptance (or rejection ) any time now. I am not sure which I enjoy more, theology or philosophy, but both are integrally related and I am weaker on the philosophical front (especially the analytical front – I envy the common language in symbolic logic that you, Bryan and others share – I am having to acquire those skills on my own) – nonetheless, I am pursuing theology and I have to confess I am happy about it – I kinda do feel “suited for this stuff”.

    Okay – so some thoughts.

    You said:

    Mostly because…well, I don’t think Scripture is utterly opaque, and I’m confident enough in the rightness of the claim “lying is wrong” to leave the clause off at the end. This doesn’t seem like “functional infallibility” rearing its ugly head again (especially when limited to such a simple/basic moral claim), but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps because “easy” moral cases like this one are solvable through natural revelation too, hence the tricky questions of Scriptural interpretation really don’t come into play

    I do agree that scripture is not utterly opaque. Many, moral prescriptions such as lying, murder, adultery seem quite clear, though even this is not always the case (take for instance those who use the “changing cultural norms” argument to say biblical prohibitions against sodomy are no longer binding just like women wearing head coverings is no longer binding). I suspect though, that it is natural revelation / natural law which will serve best to secure the “truth” or “persuasiveness” of such moral prohibitions, if only because anything held to be true on the grounds of biblical authority – even moral claims – presuppose that the scripture IS an authoritative source. But why would the prescriptions of this particular book (scripture) have any binding force on the conscience unless its authority derives from God? If not from God, then from man. But if from man, how does its binding force differ in kind from any moral treatise ever written? But if from God, how do we explain that this particular codex collection of diverse writings form different authors and different ages is of Divine origin? Might there be some other writing that is of divine origin that was left out? More problematic still, how can one be sure that some writing that IS within the codex might not be of divine origin – thereby corrupting the otherwise divine corpus? This strikes me as deep problem, because without positing an infallible means by which the codex was selected and compiled, one simply must admit that one or more non-divine writings might have slipped in. Why? Because if the means of selection and compilation are merely fallible, then I can see no reason to posit that such fallibility can be restricted to one direction – erring by leaving divine writings out. Fallibility (meaning the capacity to err) when applied to the cannon issue, seems equally capable of erring by admitting a non-divine book into the scriptural corpus. To say fallibility can err in one direction and not the other just seems ad hoc. If one admits that such a non-divine writing might have snuck into the corpus, then how can one ever know whether the particular scriptural passage from which he is deriving moral or doctrinal truths is not just such a stinker? Positing fallibility n the canonical selection and compilation process seems to me, on a practical level, to cast a haze of doubt over the entire bible. Under such circumstances, when one finishes reading or teaching from scripture, one should in all honesty confess “thus saith the Lord – I think”.

    What’s left then? All I can see that is left (if the desire is to preserve the notion of Divine authorship and authorization of scripture) is to affirm that the canonical selection and compilation process WAS carried out by some infallible means. But this process was carried out by councils and bishops in the muck and mire of history. Thus, one ends up saying that God the Holy Spirit worked through these fallible earthen vessels in such a way as to prevent them from erring during this all-important selection and compilation process, so that mankind would gain the great gift of an inerrant, God-breathed book. But then how does one, on anything other than an ad hoc basis, assert that the Holy Spirit preserved a council of bishops from error just there (cannon selection), but then go on to say that the Same Holy Spirit did preserve such bishops from error at some other point – say council X? The gravity and force of “the cannon problem” became for me THE breaking point in my transition from Protestantism to Catholicism. Now I am not saying that you would make any of the arguments for biblical authority that I just laid out. Given your comments about admitting fallibility within Protestantism, perhaps you are content to simply embrace the idea that the cannon was put together by a fallible process and we can therefore never be sure that any passage we read implies the binding authority of God. If that is your position though, I think you WOULD have to say that any moral claims, even simple ones, must derive from natural revelation. In addition, I think you would have to recognize that you embrace a position entirely foreign to any form of conservative (over against liberal) Protestantism. In short, I suppose I would say that the fallibility / infallibility problem actually underlies any and all moral and doctrinal claims derived from the pages of scripture, because of the more foundational “cannon problem” upon which solution the entire nature of biblical authority rests.

    You also said:

    Especially if you put the Gospel in story form. Something like “I (and everyone else) have broken God’s law. Somebody’s got to pay for that. There’s a fellow named Jesus Christ who, if we repent, has offered to pay for all our sins. Pretty nifty, huh?” :-) It’s not theologically complicated, and such a story is missing a lot of details, but…at the same time, some things don’t have to be quite as complicated as we make them. That’s the basic story, and that’s how I know I’m a Christian.

    I can identify with (and think it is crucial to affirm) the notion that there is something like “the basic story” of Christianity which is accessible without the necessity of proficiency in all the branches and minutia of theological discourse. But it seems to me that even the short story form – and especially the part about “if we repent, [Jesus] has offered to pay for all our sins” – presupposes the authority of the scriptures (or at least I am not sure from what other source you would derive that proposition). And as I have just explained, the authority of scripture is, in my opinion, “the elephant in the room”, given a Protestant outlook. Hence, in my mind, until that question is resolved, even the “short story” approach seems somewhat – well . . shaky. So, I agree that theology, especially the “big picture”, does not always have to be complicated; but I would say that this “authority”, fallibility/infallibility thing is simply one of those “big picture” items that precedes all the other “theology stuff”, and simply must be dealt with as a person, and especially as a parent.

    This is why, for me, the question of whether Jesus Christ has, or has not, established a Church – a covenant family – that has a crucial visible dimension invested with His own authority; is so important. Are we a people with a unique book, or do we have a unique book because we are a unique covenant family? The key difference between you and I at this point is that your “short story” seems to lack a visible covenant family dimension, or maybe I should say that it seems to me to be a story that can get along without such a dimension – “if we repent, [Jesus] has offered to pay for our sins”. If I were to construct a similar short story, it simply could not get by without the visible covenant community because I acknowledge the existence of a visible covenant people founded and established by God himself and invested with his own Spirit and authority which yields a resolution (by God’s design) to the orthodoxy/heterodoxy problem. The claims of the Catholic Church are staggering; yet for me the upshot of her historical development and doctrinal continuity, as well as the shear fact of her worldwide presence in 2010 serve (along with many, many other things) as a sort of reverse apologetic for her claims, despite the fact of sinners and scoundrels along the way.

    Anyway, for what its worth, those would be some of my concerns with what seems to be your general theological stance. May God bless you and your in every way!

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  42. Oh – I also meant to remark on your ending where you said:

    As for outside of the family, both you and I wonder how we can stave off “liberalism” (however defined) without infallible doctrinal dogma. I guess my (likely unsatisfactory) answer is that, from my view, there really never was an infallible source anyways. (More precisely, no infallible source of the sort that Catholics & Protestants disagree on.) And yet we’ve done alright against liberalism (There are any number of conservative Lutheran, Reformed, etc, churches out there…and when liberal Evangelicalism collapses, as it will, those institutions will still march on, same as always…)

    Two points and a comment:

    1.) But could not one see the very development of liberal protestantism in the first place as an inevitable consequence of the fallibility problem at work in traditional forms of Protestantism? I mean there was not “liberal” Protestantism at one point, and now there is. Why?

    2.) I suspect that the reason there IS liberal Protestantism is just because we now have sectors of Protestantism which have recognized the fallibility problem in one way or another – i.e. they have become modern or post-modern in outlook because of the relativism – doctrinal reletavism – subjectivism problems inherent in any admission that Protestants only have recourse to fallible interpretations (dare I say opinions) when it comes to question of the content of divine revelation.

    I would ask you to consider whether the continuation of “conservative” forms of Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc isn’t very much due to the fact that nearly all of these groups would actually reject the conclusion you have come to about fallibility within Protestantism. It is just the fact that these groups have not given up on the “infallible doctrines” idea that prevents their slide into liberalism. As interactions on this site have demonstrated ad nauseum, most conservative Lutheran and Reformed brothers and sisters work VERY hard to insist that they are NOT left with mere fallibility with regard to doctrinal questions. They attempt to locate the infallible / inerrant basis for their doctrinal stances within Scripture itself with (we Catholics believe) insufficient attention to the more fundamental cannon and interpretation problems which I touched upon above. In other words, the only reason that conservative Lutheranism and Calvinism are currently avoiding the liberal slide is because they enjoy the benefits of believing that they DO have some means of infallibly sorting out which doctrines are orthodox and which are heterodox – its just that this belief does not follow from their principals (we at CTC would say). I doubt hardly any would make the admission you did above. I fear very much, that the degree to which such groups become aware of the inherent problem of fallibility within their system, they will become tempted towards liberalism – unless they are willing to consider the Catholic claims. So I suppose I cannot really share your optimism that liberal evengelicalism will die out and that the conservative strains of Lutheranism and Calvinism will simply carry on indefinitely. I think – eventually – the logical problems within even conservative expressions of Protestantism may fall prey to the prevailing climate of skepticism – but I truly hope you are right and I am wrong about that!

    -Ray

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