Is Scripture Sufficient?

Oct 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

There are some Protestant apologists who are making the claim that the early church fathers taught that scripture was sufficient. Some of them are careful to admit that the sufficiency taught by the fathers is a material sufficiency but some of them are asserting that the fathers taught that scripture is formally sufficient.

What does a Catholic say to that? A Catholic can affirm that scripture is materially sufficient but cannot affirm that scripture is formally sufficient.

So what is the difference between material and formal sufficiency? For scripture to be materially sufficient, it would have to contain (explicitly or implicitly) all that is needed for salvation. Many Catholic theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict 16th) and Blessed John Henry Newman agree that scripture is materially sufficient.

On the other hand, for scripture to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all that is needed for salvation, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it (e.g. the church is not needed to interpret scripture.)

When one encounters a Protestant apologist asserting that a father taught the formal sufficiency of scripture it is very important to remember what that father taught about the relation of the church to scripture. It is simply a fact that if we are talking about the sufficiency of scripture for any given church father, not taking into account that father’s teaching on the church is a fatal error because what formal sufficiency claims is that there is no need for the church to interpret scripture.

The following is a brief survey of several fathers speaking explicitly about the relation of the church to scripture. Note: These are some of the same fathers who are being quoted by some Protestant apologists in an effort to prove that they taught the formal sufficiency of scripture:

Athanasius

“Let us note that the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian.” – Letter to Serapion of Thmuis, 359 A.D..

Hilary of Poitiers

“They who are placed without the Church, cannot attain to any understanding of the divine word. For the ship exhibits a type of Church, the word of life placed and preached within which, they who are without, and lie near like barren and useless sands, cannot understand.” – On Matthew, Homily 13:1 (A.D. 355)

Vincent of Lerins

“Here perhaps, someone may ask: Since the canon of the Scripture is complete and more than sufficient in itself, why is it necessary to add to it the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation? As a matter of fact, we must answer Holy Scripture, because of its depth, is not universally accepted in one and the same sense. The same text is interpreted different by different people, so that one may almost gain the impression that it can yield as many different meanings as there are men. Novatian, for example, expounds a passage in one way; Sabellius, in another; Donatus, in another. Arius, and Eunomius, and Macedonius read it differently; so do Photinus, Apollinaris, and Priscillian; in another way, Jovian, Pelagius, and Caelestius; finally still another way, Nestorius. Thus, because of the great distortions caused by various errors, it is, indeed, necessary that the trend of the interpretation of the prophetic and apostolic writings be directed in accordance with the rule of the ecclesiastical and Catholic meaning.” – Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith 2 (A.D. 434).

For a more detailed account of the Catholic Church and Her relation to Holy Scripture please read our article Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority.

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  1. Vincent of Lerins: The same text is interpreted different by different people, so that one may almost gain the impression that it can yield as many different meanings as there are men.

    Which exactly describes Protestantism – thousands upon thousands of bickering and divided sects each interpreting the same text in ways that are irreconcilable.

    Sean Patrick: On the other hand, for scripture to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all that is needed for salvation, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it (e.g. the church is not needed to interpret scripture.)

    To me, there is an obvious question to ask the Protestant that is asserting that the scriptures are formally sufficient for every foundational article of the Christian faith: Where are the scriptures that teach Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura? This is a question that no Protestant can answer because there are no scriptures that are formally sufficient to support the weight of Luther’s sola scriptura novelty.

    Some Protestants are at least honest enough to admit that the scriptures do not explicitly teach sola scriptura. For example:

    Greg Koukl – Sola Scriptura

    [00.47 – 1:17] “ … sola scriptura does not teach that the Bible is the only source of truth – it teaches that the Bible is the only source of inerrant authority. So when I affirm sola scriptura, that the scriptures are the only source of inerrant authority, that claim itself is not meant to be an inerrant claim, that claim is meant to be a claim based on reflection of the nature of the bible and other competing authorities.”

    I would ask Greg Koukl this: If Luther’s novel doctrine of sola scriptura “is not meant to be an inerrant claim”, then why should I take a doctrinal novelty that may actually be false and make it the foundation of my faith? If I can’t ever know with certainty that Luther’s novel doctrine of sola scriptura is true, then why should I accept it in the first place?

    At least Greg Koukl admits that sola scriptura doctrine is NOT a doctrine about the inerrancy of scriptures – he admits that sola scriptura is a doctrine that denies that there is any living teaching authority that can interpret scriptures without error. Which is exactly why there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, and exactly why no sola scriptura confessing Protestant can ever know with certainty what constitutes the articles of the Christian faith.

  2. Awsome Sean, thanks. I spent some time just last night researching material/formal sufficiency, so this post was timely. The Vincent of Lerins quote is great. I love the understatement:

    “someone may ask: Since the canon of the Scripture is complete and more than sufficient in itself, why is it necessary to add to it the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation?”

    If only he could be here to reply to the “someones” asking this question today. I wonder how this quote is explained by those who preach formal sufficiency?

    P.S. Correct me if i’m wrong, I think Cardinal Newman is *just* Blessed, not a full fledged Saint yet. He needs one more miracle.

  3. David. You are right. I changed it to Blessed…

    That is a good post for another day – the Beatification/Canonization process.

    Sean

  4. Gentlemen:

    It is almost self-evident that the Fathers did not believe in the formal sufficiency of Scripture. How could they, since Scripture itself states no such doctrine? But since Catholics can self-consistently affirm the material sufficiency of Scripture, Protestants are trending toward formal sufficiency (FS) as a way of distinguishing themselves from Catholics.

    The most plausible argument for FS that I’ve heard goes something like this:

    (1) In general, a text is “inherently intelligible” just in case it records something that is itself inherently intelligible and the text suffices for expressing what it records;
    (2) Scripture is sufficient for recording that divine revelation which is necessary for our salvation, which revelation is itself inherently intelligible;
    (3) Therefore, Scripture is inherently intelligible. [1,2]
    (4) A text is formally sufficient for expressing what it records just in case it is inherently intelligible.
    (5) Therefore, Scripture is formally sufficient for expressing divine revelation. [3,4]

    That’s basically the argument made against me in my debate a few years ago with Prof. William Witt. I rejected (4) as a merely stipulative redefinition of formal sufficiency that is much weaker than what’s traditionally meant by ‘formal sufficiency’.

    Best,
    Mike

  5. Mateo said:
    [blockquote]Which exactly describes Protestantism – thousands upon thousands of bickering and divided sects each interpreting the same text in ways that are irreconcilable.[/blockquote]

    Mateo, there seems to be rarely a thread that you don’t make this claim and it’s a bit tiresome to me. Firstly you phrase in a way that is favorable to your cause, as if Catholicism is above all this but one could just as easily say:

    [blockquote]Which exactly describes Christianity – thousands upon thousands of bickering and divided sects each interpreting the same text in ways that are irreconcilable.[/blockquote]

    Reads a little differently now, doesn’t it :)

    Secondly, it’s not accurate. I don’t bicker with other Protestants. I enjoy visiting and worshiping with them. I’ve worshiped in Baptist churches, Lutheran churches, Episcopal churches, Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, Pentecostal churches, non-denominational “Bible” churches, and I have taken the Lord’s Supper in all of them. I’ve never NOT felt welcome among my Protestant brothers. We don’t sit around fighting about believer’s baptism vs. infant baptism, or the merits of congregational authority vs. episcopal authority, or immersion or sprinkling. We just worship Jesus. I realize that may not be good enough for you but it seems to work for us.

    I’m sorry but this get under my skin every time you make that comment.

  6. Hello Sean,

    I wanted to first address your quotes from the Fathers on tradition. You are bringing them up as if we would have problems with what they are saying, but we don’t. The issue between us is not that Protestant don’t believe in the relevance of tradition outside of what is contained in Scripture, but rather that these traditions should not function as infallible tradition in the sense that Scripture does. You seemed to have the same misunderstanding concerning our conception of tradition when you opened up the comments in the Greenbaggins discussion of oral tradition. So let me just state plainly that we Reformed do believe that God has spoken through the tradition of the Church outside of Scripture and we thus fully agree and appreciate with the Fathers that you have quoted on the matter. We don’t believe that Scriptures could have possibly functioned outside of the interpretive authority of the Church. But this is a different question from what the ultimate authority was for the Church which your quotes don’t address.

    Secondly, the question of the formal sufficiency of Scriptures is relatively recent technical distinction coined by academic Protestants. My feeling in that this particular distinction has not helped to define the historical understanding of the use of Scriptures by the early theologians of the Church. This is because formal statements over the belief in the operation of Scripture in relation to that of tradition in the ECF’s are few. However, what we can discuss much more readily is what the practice of the Fathers was with respect their utilization of Scripture and tradition. This is why I have often questioned Catholics concerning the practice of the Fathers of the early centuries of the Church with respect to tradition (outside of Scripture) and Scripture itself. We certainly see that the RCC later during Medieval times utilizing certain traditions as infallible (as qualified by the RCC) but this seems to be out of accord with the practice of the Early Church.

    Now maybe the modern understanding of certain traditions of the Church (again as qualified by the RCC) is correct and the Medieval RCC theologians were wiser than the ECF’s on this matter, but it would seem to me that traditions which hold that certain traditions are infallible are fraught with internal difficulties. But more to the point of your thread, trying to determine what the formal beliefs of the Fathers were when they did not state their formal beliefs is challenging. I think it better to discuss what their practices where with respect to Scripture, and then secondarily whether such practices were more faithfully upheld by Catholics or Protestants at the time of the Reformation.

  7. All, I am going to have a very busy weekend but wanted to offer a quick response.

    Steve G – I get what you are saying. The ‘constant bickering’ probably isn’t the best description of the way things are now. However, the fact remains that within 10 square miles of my home there are dozens upon dozens of different churches filled with people who are not worshiping together for a reason.

    Andrew M – I think we’ve covered how our conceptions of the church are different already especially in the Sola/Solo thread.

    We don’t believe that Scriptures could have possibly functioned outside of the interpretive authority of the Church.

    Maybe that is your position but it is not David T King’s position and the default position of anybody who claims that scripture is formally sufficient. They very definition of formal sufficiency denies the Church her interpretive authority. Formal sufficiency and interpretive authority of the Church are mutually exclusive.

    We certainly see that the RCC later during Medieval times utilizing certain traditions as infallible (as qualified by the RCC) but this seems to be out of accord with the practice of the Early Church.

    What do you base this conclusion upon? I find the exact opposite.

  8. Andrew,

    ….let me just state plainly that we Reformed do believe that God has spoken through the tradition of the Church outside of Scripture…

    Could you please provide some examples of God speaking through the tradition of the Church outside of Scripture? I’ve never encountered such a claim within the Reformed system.

    Blessings,
    Jason

  9. Andrew,
    The Reformed claim is often that the fathers believed in Sola Scriptura in the sense that scripture is the only infallible authority. But this is not what the ancient church believed as evidenced especially in her Ecumenical Councils to which adherance was not optional. It is implied in most Councils and explicitly stated in the 6th Ecumenical Council of the undivided church that the definitions are divinely revealed and infallible. It is one thing for the Reformed to say “we don’t agree with the ancient church’s claim to infallibility”, but it is another to dishonestly assert they made no such claim. If they did make such a claim to infallibility in certain circumstances, then they did not believe scripture was the only infallible authority and were not adherants of any form of SS.

    All,

    I could be wrong about it, but I discussed the St. Vincent passage with TurretinFan on his blog recently in the following manner.

    Vincent says:
    “Here perhaps, someone may ask: Since the canon of the Scripture is complete and more than sufficient in itself, why is it necessary to add to it the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation?”

    Vincent presents the hypothetical argument of “someone” who states scripture is sufficient “IN ITSELF”. Then he proceeds to rebut that idea by demanding the interpretive authority of the church alongside scripture. Do we need to assume Vincent agrees with his hypothetical interlocutor’s view of scripture being “more than sufficient”? The hypothetical “someone” holds that scripture is more than sufficient OF ITSELF, then Vincent seems to rebut the idea rather than agree with it. I don’t think Vincent actually agrees that scripture is “more than sufficient of itself”.

    VINCENT’S HYPOTHETICAL “SOMEONE”:
    Scripture is more than sufficient of itself. (False premise)
    Why is it necessary to add ecclesial interpretive authority? (Incorrect conclusion)
    ST. VINCENT HIMSELF:
    Ecclesiastical interpretive authority IS NECESSARY to discover the correct meaning because of scripture ‘s depth. (He rebuts the person’s incorrect conclusion which was based on a false premise).

    Now Vincent does not SAY that scripture is not “more than sufficient of itself” but he SHOWS it by placing authoritative interpretation alongside scripture. Anyway, TurretinFan diagreed and demanded that Vincent was agreeing with the hypothetical “someone” that scripture is sufficient of itself. Any thoughts?

  10. Canadian:

    I interpret St. Vincent to mean that Scripture is materially but not formally sufficient for expressing the deposit of faith. That means that, while Scripture contains all truths necessary for salvation, it does not state them in such a way that the complete list of credenda can be formally deduced just from the words thereof. Proper interpretation is required. And, since no interpretation can command the assent of faith, as distinct from opinion, unless proposed by the Church as binding on the faithful, even interpretations that happen to be valid have only the force of opinion unless endorsed as de fide by the teaching authority of the Church.

    If my interpretation of St. Vincent is correct, then both he and his hypothetical “someone” are correct. The latter is correct inasmuch as Scripture is materially sufficient; the former is correct inasmuch as Scripture is not formally sufficient.

    As for Constantinople III’s use of the “i-word,” I direct you to what I said about that here.

    Best,
    Mike

  11. Could you please provide some examples of God speaking through the tradition of the Church outside of Scripture? I’ve never encountered such a claim within the Reformed system.

    Jason Stewart – OK, let’s take the example of the Council of Nicea. This is surely an example where both Catholic and Protestant believe that God worked through the tradition of the Church . Protestants speak of God acting in history or even acting in the life of the individual Christian so I don’t think my statement about God speaking through the tradition of the Church should raise any concern with Reformed folks or even generic Evangelicals for that matter. Where Catholics and Protestants disagree is over the status of statements such as we find coming from Nicea. The RCC would say that such statements are protected from error, but we see no good theological, historical, or philosophical reason for ascribing infallibility to the specific formulations of Nicea. Sometimes the Catholic will answer that if we don’t say that the specific formulation is infallible then it is up in the air and open for revision. But as I’ve shown here, this is not the case. But I won’t repeat what I’ve already demonstrated on that front unless you would like me to.

    I think we’ve covered how our conceptions of the church are different already especially in the Sola/Solo thread.

    Sean – I posted one of the first comments (#8) in the sola/solo thread. My point there was to go back to a point in time before there were RCC/EO and RCC/Protestant splits. We can both agree that the Church was being faithful at Nicea (to use my example from the sola/sola thread). In my post I was speaking about the nature of tradition before there was any ecclesiological splits. Unfortunately Bryan Cross’ response was that he thought I had not read his article! This was unfortunate since my comment then was just as apropos then as it is now. In the context of the early centuries of the Church we can talk about the nature of tradition without having to get into ecclesiological differences because there were no ecclesiological differences.

    Formal sufficiency and interpretive authority of the Church are mutually exclusive.

    I’m not sure why you are saying this and I don’t know what specifically in David King you are referring to so I cannot comment. But you are again referring to formal sufficiency and I’m encouraging you to let the Fathers speak for themselves rather than bringing in a technical distinction that only found its way into theological discourse in recent centuries. There was no debate on formal/material sufficiency in the Early Church so why try to read the debate back into time? Again, let the Fathers speak for themselves. What was their practice with respect to tradition and then secondly, how does that measure up to the RCC’s understanding of tradition today? If there is no historical basis for claiming that the theologians of the Early Church understood tradition to be infallible in any way then we can say that the RCC in later centuries held to something that the Early Church did not. Now that does not mean that the Medieval Church was wrong, only that the RCC apologist needs to explain how this development took place and why the Medieval RCC had an improved understanding of the matter over that of the theologians of the Early Church.

    Canadian – Generally we would not consider the sixth ecumenical council to be part of the era of the Early Church. One common demarcation between Early and Medieval churches is the death of Augustine. Perhaps we could this reference point unless you have a strong objection.

    But it interests me that you are looking to the sixth council for your proof which I take to mean that there was no clear proof before this time. I don’t know why you would think that the concept of infallibility is implied in earlier councils. There certainly is evidence that they believed that their teaching was true, but not that it was incapable of being in error. There is no question that the Medieval Church came to assume that their work in the councils was infallible in some sense. But the obvious question for us is whether such reasoning was correct or not. As I’ve demonstrated here, there is no reason why the Church has to be infallible in her conciliar pronouncements in order for her to do the work which is set out for her in Scripture.

  12. Andrew.

    But you are again referring to formal sufficiency and I’m encouraging you to let the Fathers speak for themselves rather than bringing in a technical distinction

    This is exactly what I am advocating – letting the fathers speak for themselves. It is the Protestant apologists like David T King that go about divorcing the fathers teaching on scripture from their teaching on the church.

    If there is no historical basis for claiming that the theologians of the Early Church understood tradition to be infallible in any way then we can say that the RCC in later centuries held to something that the Early Church did not.

    There is plenty of historical basis of the Early Church understanding sacred tradition to be infallible. The fathers treated Nicea as the very word of God.

    “Are they not then committing a crime, in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council? Are they not in transgression, when they dare to confront that good definition against Arianism, acknowledged, as it is, by those who had in the first instance taught them irreligion? ” Athanasius, Defence of the Nicene Definition, 2 (A.D. 351).

    “This gave occasion for an Ecumenical Council, that the feast might be everywhere celebrated on one day, and that the heresy which was springing up might be anathematized. It took place then; and the Syrians submitted, and the Fathers pronounced the Arian heresy to be the forerunner of Antichrist, and drew up a suitable formula against it. And yet in this, many as they are, they ventured on nothing like the proceedings of these three or four men. Without pre-fixing Consulate, month, and day, they wrote concerning Easter, ‘It seemed good as follows,’ for it did then seem good that there should be a general compliance; but about the faith they wrote not, ‘It seemed good,’ but, ‘Thus believes the Catholic Church;’ and thereupon they confessed how they believed, in order to shew that their own sentiments were not novel, but Apostolical; and what they wrote down was no discovery of theirs, but is the same as was taught by the Apostles.” Athanasius, Councils of Ariminum & Seleucia, 5( A.D. 362).

    “But the word of the Lord which came through the ecumenical Synod at Nicaea, abides for ever.” Athanasius, To the Bishops of Africa, 2 (A.D. 372).

    “[T]hat you should confess the faith put forth by our Fathers once assembled at Nicaea, that you should not omit any one of its propositions, but bear in mind that the three hundred and eighteen who met together without strife did not speak without the operation of the Holy Ghost, and not to add to that creed the statement that the Holy Ghost is a creature, nor hold communion with those who so say, to the end that the Church of God may be pure and without any evil admixture of any tare.” Basil, To Cyriacus, Epistle 114 (A.D. 372).

    “Synods create security on the point that falls under notice from time to time.” Epiphanius, Panarion, 74 (A.D. 377).

    “And therefore, first in the holy Synod of Nicaea, the gathering of the three hundred and eighteen chosen men, united by the Holy Ghost, as far as in him lay, he [St. Athanasius] stayed the disease. Though not yet ranked among the Bishops, he held the first rank among the members of the Council, for preference was given to virtue just as much as to office.” Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 21:14 (A.D. 379).

    “The Faith of the Three Hundred and Eighteen Fathers assembled at Nice in Bithynia shall not be set aside, but shall remain firm. And every heresy shall be anathematized, particularly that of the Eunomians or [Anomoeans, the Arians or] Eudoxians, and that of the Semi-Arians or Pneumatomachi, and that of the Sabellians, and that of the Marcellians, and that of the Photinians, and that of the Apollinarians.” Ecumenical Council of Constantinople I, Canon 1 (A.D. 381).

    “This was decreed at the Synod of Ariminum, and rightly do I detest that council, following the rule of the Nicene Council, from which neither death nor the sword can detach me, which faith the father of your Clemency also.” Ambrose, To the Emperor Valentinian, Epistle 21:14 (A.D. 386).

    “Some of the brethren whose heart is as our heart told us of the slanders that were being propagated to our detriment by those who hate peace, and privily backbite their neighbour; and have no fear of the great and terrible judgment-seat of Him Who has declared that account will be required even of idle words in that trial of our life which we must all look for: they say that the charges which are being circulated against us are such as these; that we entertain opinions opposed to those who at Nicea set forth the right and sound faith.” Gregory of Nyssa, To Sebasteia, Epistle 2 (ante A.D. 394).

    “As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established.” Augustine, To Januarius, Epistle 54:1 (A.D. 400).

    “[H]e, I say, abundantly shows that he was most willing to correct his own opinion, if any one should prove to him that it is as certain that the baptism of Christ can be given by those who have strayed from the fold, as that it could not he lost when they strayed; on which subject we have already said much. Nor should we ourselves venture to assert anything of the kind, were we not supported by the unanimous authority of the whole Church, to which he himself would unquestionably have yielded, if at that time the truth of this question had been placed beyond dispute by the investigation and decree of a plenary Council. For if he quotes Peter as an example for his allowing himself quietly and peacefully to be corrected by one junior colleague, how much more readily would he himself, with the Council of his province, have yielded to the authority of the whole world, when the truth had been thus brought to light?” Augustine, On Baptism against the Donatist, 2:5 (A.D. 401).

    “What the custom of the Church has always held, what this argument has failed to prove false, and what a plenary Council has confirmed, this we follow!” Augustine, On Baptism against the Donatist, 4:10 (A.D. 401).

    “And in no wise do we suffer to be shaken by any one, the faith defined, or the symbol of faith settled, by our fathers, who assembled, in their day, at Nicea. Neither do we allow ourselves, or any other to alter a word there set down, or even to omit a single syllable, mindful of that saying: ‘Remove not the ancient land-marks which thy fathers have set.’ ” Cyril of Alexandria, To John of Antioch, 5 (A.D. 433).

    “[C]leave to the holy synod which assembled at Nicea, nothing added (thereto), nothing diminishing; for that synod being divinely inspired, taught the true doctrine.” Isidore of Pelusium, Epistle 99:4 (ante A.D. 435).

    Source

    You just said that God spoke through the Church at Nicea. Do you believe that Nicea was infallible? If not, than how can you claim that God spoke through Nicea because God does not lie.

  13. Andrew (#11):

    I see that you’re back, after a considerable absence, with some of the same arguments that Bryan and I have tirelessly rebutted before. Let’s take it from the top.

    Where Catholics and Protestants disagree is over the status of statements such as we find coming from Nicea. The RCC would say that such statements are protected from error, but we see no good theological, historical, or philosophical reason for ascribing infallibility to the specific formulations of Nicea. Sometimes the Catholic will answer that if we don’t say that the specific formulation is infallible then it is up in the air and open for revision. But as I’ve shown here, this is not the case. But I won’t repeat what I’ve already demonstrated on that front unless you would like me to.

    By claiming that Nicene dogma is not “open to revision,” you’re saying that it is what Catholic theologians would call “irreformable.” But you also say it’s fallible. So, you’re positing a category of statements that are irreformable but not infallible. The question you need to confront is how such a category can even be possible. For if a given statement S is not protected from error, we would need some other compelling reason to hold that S is irreformable all the same.

    Needless to say, I don’t believe there is any such reason. The only candidate for such a reason that I’ve seen you adduce is that the Nicene hermeneutic of Scripture is the only rationally defensible one. At least you have asserted as much before. But there’s no good reason to believe that assertion. Bryan showed why, in considerable detail, here. Specifically, he showed that the only way to make Nicene dogma logically deducible from Scripture, and thus to make Nicene dogma the only rationally defensible interpretation thereof, is to adopt a hermeneutic of Scripture that is derived from aspects of Tradition. That hermeneutic enables us to interpret certain key terms and phrases in specific ways, and then interpret ambiguous and/or apparently contradictory passages in light of such an interpretation of terms and phrases. But if Tradition does not enjoy infallibility at any point, then the Athanasian/Cappadocian hermeneutical use of it can’t be infallible either. Like its competitors, it is not protected from error. And if the ecclesial authority which propounded Nicene dogma wasn’t infallible either, then we are left with no reason to believe that Nicene dogma is irreformable. For it is not the only rationally defensible interpretation of Scripture: it’s one that you may find rationally compelling, but you and your church don’t even claim infallibility. Your view is only an opinion with no binding authority. So on your account, Nicene dogma cannot be dogma as the Catholic and Orthodox churches have always understood that term. On our usage, there can be no irreformable dogma whose formulators are not protected from error in propounding it. Your category of irreformable-but-not-infallible is an innovation made by a particular branch of Protestantism. And it is far from rationally compelling.

    In the context of the early centuries of the Church we can talk about the nature of tradition without having to get into ecclesiological differences because there were no ecclesiological differences.

    As a matter of historical fact, that statement is false, at least if made without qualification. The Gnostics, the Novatians, the Montanists, and a slew of others were committed to an ecclesiology incompatible with that held and taught by the Great Church. Almost all of those people were baptized Christians. What you seem to mean is that there were no ecclesiological differences between the Eastern and Western halves of the Great Church. Yet even if that claim is true, which I doubt, it doesn’t help you. The patriarchal sees were usually in full communion with each other, to be sure; but your position is that there was no consensus entailing that “the Church” as a whole is preserved from error by God when teaching with her full authority. Hence, even granting that there was consensus about what “Tradition” entailed, on ecclesiology or any other branch of theology, your view afford us no guarantee that said consensus was correct, and therefore no reason to believe that, to the extent it existed, it was irreformable.

    This is why the following from Sean is pertinent:

    You just said that God spoke through the Church at Nicea. Do you believe that Nicea was infallible? If not, than how can you claim that God spoke through Nicea because God does not lie.

    If God spoke through Nicaea I, then that council spoke infallibly. If it did not speak infallibly, then the belief that God spoke through it is just an opinion that binds nobody.

    If there is no historical basis for claiming that the theologians of the Early Church understood tradition to be infallible in any way then we can say that the RCC in later centuries held to something that the Early Church did not. Now that does not mean that the Medieval Church was wrong, only that the RCC apologist needs to explain how this development took place and why the Medieval RCC had an improved understanding of the matter over that of the theologians of the Early Church.

    That begs the question. You’re assuming that the notion of ecclesial infallibility is just a medieval Western development not present beforehand in the East. But that’s precisely what’s at issue.

    Best,
    Mike

  14. Andrew, (re: #11)

    Others have already replied to you, but I would like to add a couple points. You wrote:

    OK, let’s take the example of the Council of Nicea. This is surely an example where both Catholic and Protestant believe that God worked through the tradition of the Church. Protestants speak of God acting in history or even acting in the life of the individual Christian so I don’t think my statement about God speaking through the tradition of the Church should raise any concern with Reformed folks or even generic Evangelicals for that matter. Where Catholics and Protestants disagree is over the status of statements such as we find coming from Nicea. The RCC would say that such statements are protected from error, but we see no good theological, historical, or philosophical reason for ascribing infallibility to the specific formulations of Nicea.

    You think that at Nicea (AD 325) God was “speaking through the tradition of the Church,” but you apparently think that at Nicea (AD 787) in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, God wasn’t speaking, because you don’t accept the teaching of that council. So, if a council teaches according to your interpretation of Scripture, then you claim that God is speaking through it, but if a council teaches contrary to your interpretation of Scripture, you deny that God is speaking through it. Why not just come out and bite the solo scriptura bullet? It seems much more intellectually honest than appropriating only those events in which the Church said things that fit your interpretation of Scripture, and ascribing them to God speaking, while denying that of those Church teachings that do not conform to your interpretation of Scripture. Likewise, in #6 you wrote:

    We don’t believe that Scriptures could have possibly functioned outside of the interpretive authority of the Church.

    The problem is that what you mean by ‘Church’ is “those who generally agree with your interpretation of Scripture regarding what is essential.” So, your statement amounts to the claim that Scripture can only function within the “interpretive authority” of those who generally agree with your interpretation of Scripture regarding what is essential. But in our Solo Scriptura article, Neal and I show why the principle “when I submit (only when I agree), the one to whom I submit, is me” shows the incoherence of talking about “interpretive authority” based on agreement with oneself or one’s own interpretation.

    I posted one of the first comments (#8) in the sola/solo thread. My point there was to go back to a point in time before there were RCC/EO and RCC/Protestant splits. We can both agree that the Church was being faithful at Nicea (to use my example from the sola/sola thread). In my post I was speaking about the nature of tradition before there was any ecclesiological splits. Unfortunately Bryan Cross’ response was that he thought I had not read his article!

    It was quite clear from your comment that you had not read the article, and you admitted to me in an email later that day that you had not yet read the article but only an initial section of it, so my judgment was both correct and appropriate. The general principle of common courtesy is to withhold criticism of an article until one has read the article. And we wanted to limit the comments only to those who had read the article, so that the discussion about the article could be an informed discussion.

    There was no debate on formal/material sufficiency in the Early Church so why try to read the debate back into time?

    Because the absence of a debate about x in the early Church does not mean that x was unimportant, irrelevant or absent in the early Church. The distinction between formal and material sufficiency is not the same thing as a debate about that distinction. So the absence of a debate about the distinction is not evidence that there was no distinction, or that the early Church Fathers had no position on the question. If they believed that in order to be interpreted rightly Scripture needed to be interpreted in the light of the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, and by those having interpretive authority in succession from the Apostles, then they had a position on this question, even if the terms “material sufficiency and formal sufficiency” were not used.

    If there is no historical basis for claiming that the theologians of the Early Church understood tradition to be infallible in any way then we can say that the RCC in later centuries held to something that the Early Church did not.

    First, I should point out that the conclusion of that conditional does not follow from the antecedent. The missing premise is one that contains a form of rationalism. The missing premise would be something like this: “The early Church held to only those things for which there is presently an historical basis.” Only if we can put our hands in His side, and our fingers in His hands, may we believe that the Church believed then something that she presently teaches. (See my explanation of rationalism in comment #893 of the Solo article.)

    But second, infallibility is an inability to err, not the absence of error itself. The Tradition is something handed down from the Apostles. And so the right predicate for Tradition is true [or false], not infallible [or fallible]. No one believed that what was handed down from the Apostles was false. Strictly speaking, however, we do not claim that the Tradition is infallible, but that the Church, under certain specified conditions, is infallible, faithfully handing down the Tradition that was entrusted to her.

    There is no question that the Medieval Church came to assume that their work in the councils was infallible in some sense. But the obvious question for us is whether such reasoning was correct or not.

    That’s not the fundamental question; it is a question that the Episcopal ghost in Lewis’s The Great Divorce would ask. The fundamental question is whether you will submit to the interpretive authority Christ established, or whether you will make your own reason the highest interpretive authority.

    As I’ve demonstrated here, there is no reason why the Church has to be infallible in her conciliar pronouncements in order for her to do the work which is set out for her in Scripture.

    I have seen no such demonstration; I see only an assertion. If anything, your continual questioning of the Church’s “interpretive authority” demonstrates precisely why that authority has to be infallible, namely, because if it were not infallible, everyone could perpetually question whether its decisions were true, withhold their consent, and pick and choose from its teachings. But as St. Thomas explains,

    [H]e who adheres to the teachings of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teachings of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves [even] one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things (but if he is not obstinate, he is not a heretic but only erring). Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  15. Beautiful article.

    It also appears St Irenaeus taught that the Church possessed the authority to properly interpret scripture. He points out that Church gives a “lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with scripture”. As we can see, this Church is described as both visible and hierarchical, and with apostolic succession. This Church is also described as having a primacy of love, just as St Ignatius described the successors of Peter in Rome less than a generation before.

    “True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].”
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4,33:8

    St Irenaeus holds that we should cling to the Church, and be taught the scripture. As a Catholic, I read it as saying that the Church and her traditions are the lights by which I can come to understand scripture correctly.

    “…and those who imagine that they have hit upon something more beyond the truth, so that by following those things already mentioned, proceeding on their way variously, in harmoniously, and foolishly, not keeping always to the same opinions with regard to the same things, as blind men are led by the blind, they shall deservedly fall into the ditch of ignorance lying in their path, ever seeking and never finding out the truth. It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures.”
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5,20:2

  16. Michael,

    I’ve been through this so many times with you and every time we get into the moderators cut off my arguments half way through and that’s the end of it. I’ve demonstrated to you where your errors are, some of it has gotten posted and some of that has not. But I’m no planning to go through it again with you.

    Andrew

  17. Sean,

    If you are going to let the Fathers speak for themselves then why are insisting that we frame the argument in the context of this material/formal sufficiency debate? Are you saying that the Protestant apologists in general are attempting to use material/formal paradigms to refute the arguments of Catholics?

    And which of the quotes from the Fathers do you think I should not agree with? Let’s take one of the really strong ones, that from Athanasius. He said that Nicea will abide forever. Well I agree with that, why would I not? Do you see that there is a difference between saying that 1) a pronouncement is assuredly true and that we can use it to demarcate truth from error, and 2) the folks who stated this pronouncement were incapable of making an error when making the pronouncement? The modern RCC is not just affirming #1, it is also affirming #2. But in the quotes from the Fathers you are just telling me that they believed #1.

    And I still don’t know what in David King you are referring to so I still cannot comment.

  18. You think that at Nicea (AD 325) God was “speaking through the tradition of the Church,” but you apparently think that at Nicea (AD 787) in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, God wasn’t speaking, because you don’t accept the teaching of that council. So, if a council teaches according to your interpretation of Scripture, then you claim that God is speaking through it, but if a council teaches contrary to your interpretation of Scripture, you deny that God is speaking through it.

    Bryan – As we have talked about before, this is not primarily about me and what I think. It’s about the Church at the time of the Reformation and their judgment. The RCC only represented part of the Church and their judgment was that the tradition of the seventh council’s decisions should stand. The other part determined that there was no basis in firstly the Scriptures nor in the early history of the Church to sustain the decisions of a council. But without getting into the specific reasons why the RCC and Protestants gave for accepting or rejecting the veneration of icons, the point here is that the words of man were never meant to be taken on par with the words of God. As Sean is in effect demonstrating, the belief that council cannot err was not part of the belief system of the Early Church.

    The problem is that what you mean by ‘Church’ is “those who generally agree with your interpretation of Scripture….

    Those of come into the RCC have to affirm that the relatively small group of conservatives in the RCC have the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church. There are lots of possible interpretations of the tradition of the Church, many rationally defensible given the data of the history of the Church, and the belief system of your group of conservatives represents one of those options. But you think that this is a better option than Protestants who have associated with a given group within Protestantism because their interpretation of Scriptures fits with that group. But by making the shift to the conservative wing of the RCC, all you have done is traded a group which agrees with your interpretation of Scripture to one that agrees with your interpretation of tradition. You can say that the Church you joined is that which is in line with that of the early centuries of the Church, but that is just what the Protestants are asking you to prove, not just to assume. The connection of the Early Church or lack thereof to the part of the RCC that you belong to is just what is under consideration here.

  19. Andrew # 17.

    The distinction is important because statements from X father about the inherency and usefulness of sacred scripture does not prove what apologists like David T King are trying to prove.

    An apologist like that might as well quote highlighted sections from Dei Verbum or the chapters on scripture from the catechism of the Catholic Church and say, ‘Well, look everybody! Obviously these Catholics believed that scripture was sufficient!”

    In a nutshell, the use of the fathers by these apologists make the distinction necessary.

    And, I am careful to use the word ‘apologist’ and not ‘scholar’ because as far as I know the only ‘scholarship’ out there that claims that the fathers taught the ‘formal sufficiency’ of scripture is David T King and William Webster’s self published ‘Pillar and Foundation” books.

    In fact, even Protestant scholarship admits this distinction:

    Several publications by evangelicals have argued that the doctrine of sola scriptura was practiced, though implicitly, in the hermeneutical thinking of the early church. Such an argument is using a very specific agenda for the reappropriation of the early church: reading the ancient Fathers through the lens of post-Reformational Protestantis…Scripture can never stand completely independent of the ancient consensus of the church’s teaching without serious hermeneutical difficulties…”
    D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism

  20. @Andrew:

    Those of come into the RCC have to affirm that the relatively small group of conservatives in the RCC have the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church.

    This can’t be right, Andrew. It would require me to determine who a ‘conservative’ is – in other words, it’s private interpretation all over again. A ‘conservative’ would have to be one who agrees with me.

    I do need to use private interpretation to discover that the Catholic Church is Christ’s Body, that the Pope is His vicar on earth, and that I must obey him if I wish to be a Catholic.

    I remember in 1995, when I had concluded the truth of the above, hearing that a statement about the ordination of women was about to be issued. I recall thinking – with some anxiety – that, since I did indeed believe the Pope would be protected from teaching error to the whole body of the faithful, that if he taught women’s ordination, I must be wrong in my deep conviction that it was wrong. I also remember my emotions when he affirmed what I believed – on private grounds – to be the reality.

    I think your statement about ‘conservatives’ applies to the SSPX. They have, indeed, determined for themselves what the tradition is – and when the Pope disagrees with them, they separate from the Pope. Quite a different matter. Not Catholic!

    jj

  21. I think your statement about ‘conservatives’ applies to the SSPX. They have, indeed, determined for themselves what the tradition is – and when the Pope disagrees with them, they separate from the Pope. Quite a different matter. Not Catholic!

    John,

    The SSPX represents one extreme, but there are a multitude of belief systems within the RCC from the very liberal to the ultra-conservative. Now some of these may not care about tradition at all, but for those that do, they all claim to be interpreting the tradition of the Church correctly. It’s the analogous situation to the Protestants who all claim to be interpreting the Scriptures correctly. The conservatives, of which I assume you are one, believe that they have Peter as their Father so as to speak. But there are a host of other competing Catholic belief systems, from the ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative, who also believe that they have correctly interpreted the tradition of the Church. This may not be an issue for you, but think of it from the standpoint of someone from outside of the RCC looking in (the perspective that this loop is targeting). How are we supposed to say that conservatives such as you are correct on, for example, the doctrines of papal infallibility while other belief systems within the RCC are not correct? So why should we assume that the understanding of conservatives like the current pope are correct and all other competing belief systems are incorrect? You can say that the pope has Peter as his Father, and even if we overlook the murky history of the 1st century bishops of Rome and assume this to be correct, why should this be any more convincing to us than the claims of the Pharisees who said to Jesus that they had Abraham as their Father (we cannot deny that the Pharisees were indeed the descendants of Abraham)?

    From the Protestant standpoint, the problem for the Catholics is not resolvable within their system since the history of the Church is a mush of different competing belief systems and you can derive just about whatever you like given the history of the Church. The conservatives like you (I don’t know you but I will assume for the present that you are a conservative such as those on this loop) have landed on one particular interpretation of this tradition but many others are possible and there is no way to resolve one over another unless you simply assume that the current conservative wing of the RCC is correct. You cannot persuade someone that the group you associate with in the RCC has any more claim to be the rightful heirs of the tradition of the Apostolic and the Early Church than any other competing belief system in or outside the RCC. From the Protestant standpoint the answer is for the Catholics to affirm the Scriptures as the final bar of authority for the Church since the Scriptures were written by God and thus there is only one rationally derivable system of doctrine derivable from Scripture – that which is in the mind of God . Or to put in Augustinian terms, the Scriptures are infinitely superior to any of the writings of the bishops, even those arising from the councils, and even those arising from the ecumenical councils.

  22. Andrew, (re: #18)

    You wrote:

    The RCC only represented part of the Church and their judgment was that the tradition of the seventh council’s decisions should stand. The other part determined that there was no basis in firstly the Scriptures nor in the early history of the Church to sustain the decisions of a council.

    The Catholic Church does not “represent part of the Church.” The Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded. Any person not in full communion with the successor of the one holding the keys of the Kingdom, is not in full communion with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded. When the Protestants separated from the bishop of Rome and thus from all the bishops throughout the world in union with him, they ipso facto separated themselves from the Catholic Church, i.e. from the one universal visible Church Christ founded. (See “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”) Any heresy or schism throughout the history of the Church could have claimed to be part of the universal Church, and some did. The Arians could have done so. So could the Nestorians or the Donatists or the Marcionites or the Monophysites. But, in each case, it would have been a false claim, because by their rejection of the Church’s decision concerning their specific heresy (or in the Donatist case by their visible separation from communion with the Catholic Church) they were no longer in communion with the successor of St. Peter. The standard of orthodoxy and unity was not their own interpretation of Scripture, but was instead the faith of and fellowship with the one holding the keys of the Kingdom. By rejecting the successor of St. Peter and all the bishops in union with him, the early Protestants separated themselves from the one visible universal Church Christ founded.

    The reason you don’t agree with this, is because you define ‘Church’ as anyone who sufficiently agrees with your general interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the essentials. Since by your definition of ‘Church,’ the early Protestants’ doctrines sufficiently agree with your general interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the essentials, therefore, you deem those [sixteenth century] Protestants to have been part of the [invisible] Church Christ founded. But, your definition of ‘Church’ has no authority, because you have no ecclesial authority. (Yes, it is about you.) Otherwise, any heretic could define ‘Church’ such that he and his own heresy or schism is still included within the Church. And that would essentially eliminate the possibility of excommunication from the Church Christ founded, because the excommunicated person or persons could simply redefine ‘Church’ such that it included themselves and their own beliefs. Hello universalism.

    But without getting into the specific reasons why the RCC and Protestants gave for accepting or rejecting the veneration of icons, the point here is that the words of man were never meant to be taken on par with the words of God. As Sean is in effect demonstrating, the belief that council cannot err was not part of the belief system of the Early Church.

    No one here claimed that that which was merely the words of men should be treated as the words of God. No one here claims that the teachings of the ecumenical councils are divinely inspired. Rather, as said above, the ratified teachings of the ecumenical councils are divinely protected from error. You are asserting that “the belief that council cannot err was not part of the belief system of the Early Church,” but you have offered no evidence or argumentation in support of this mere assertion.

    Those of come into the RCC have to affirm that the relatively small group of conservatives in the RCC have the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church. There are lots of possible interpretations of the tradition of the Church, many rationally defensible given the data of the history of the Church, and the belief system of your group of conservatives represents one of those options. But you think that this is a better option than Protestants who have associated with a given group within Protestantism because their interpretation of Scriptures fits with that group. But by making the shift to the conservative wing of the RCC, all you have done is traded a group which agrees with your interpretation of Scripture to one that agrees with your interpretation of tradition. You can say that the Church you joined is that which is in line with that of the early centuries of the Church, but that is just what the Protestants are asking you to prove, not just to assume. The connection of the Early Church or lack thereof to the part of the RCC that you belong to is just what is under consideration here.

    That’s not true. Unless you are talking about politics, there is no such thing as “conservative” Catholics (as I have pointed out to you a number of times before, but which you continue to repeat). There are orthodox Catholics (i.e. those who believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God), and there are heterodox Catholics, i.e. those who, knowingly or unknowingly, deny one or more of the dogmas of the Catholic faith. What you are doing is characterizing Catholics who reject de fide doctrines of the Catholic Church as persons who simply hold another possible rationally defensible interpretation of the tradition of the Church. In other words, you are claiming that heresy is another rationally defensible form of orthodoxy. But that is false. A person can always produce a rationalization for heresy, but that can never make heresy into a defensible form of orthodoxy. There are theological matters that the Church has yet to decide or define, and we are free to hold any of the orthodox options in such matters. But denying any de fide doctrine is heretical, either material heresy or formal heresy.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. “Where Catholics and Protestants disagree is over the status of statements such as we find coming from Nicea. The RCC would say that such statements are protected from error, but we see no good theological, historical, or philosophical reason for ascribing infallibility to the specific formulations of Nicea.”

    This notion of ecclesial infallibility is not peculiar to only the RCC. It is shared by the whole CC. It is also shared by most Eastern Orthodox Churches (at least those party to the original taxis). For me personally, the idea of infallibility is implicitly present in scripture. For instance, I see the scene of Peter’s confession as an analog to the first council of Jersusalem. Here we have a synodical approach to a doctrinal question. All of the disciples are gathered together to decide who Christ really was. God the Father revealed the correct answer through Peter. In the first apostolic council of jerusalem, we have another doctrinal question being decided synodically. Once again the Truth was revealed (by the Spirit which came down on the Gentiles) despite the weakness of men. In fact, the Church only makes claims of infallibility on what has already been received. This is promised to us in a number of ways scripturally (Isa. 35:8,Matt16:17-19,Jn 14:16,16:13). But if we go back to the confession of Peter; when Christ says the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, I see this as meaning the church will remain indefectable as well as free from error. If its integrity fails in either case, which is normally assured when being led by fallible men, then hell prevails. But it has not, and it won’t, for God cannot lie.

    “And a path and a way shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way: the unclean shall not pass over it, and this shall be unto you a straight way, so that fools shall not err therein.”
    Isaiah 35:8

    “And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever. ”
    John 14:16

    “But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you.”
    John 16:13

    “But [it has, on the other hand, been shown], that the preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the prophets, the apostles, and all the disciples…For in the Church,” it is said, “God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,’ and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behaviour. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth.”
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:24.

  24. All the churches of Christ greet you. I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. Romans 16:16-17

    Sean Patrick: There are some Protestant apologists who are making the claim that the early church fathers taught that scripture was sufficient. Some of them are careful to admit that the sufficiency taught by the fathers is a material sufficiency but some of them are asserting that the fathers taught that scripture is formally sufficient.

    “There are some Protestant apologists who are making the claim that the early church fathers taught that scripture was sufficient.”

    The scriptures are sufficient for what? The question about the sufficiency of scriptures is a question about Church doctrine – i.e. is every doctrine of Christianity explicitly taught in the scriptures such that no interpretation of scriptures is necessary for a catechumen to know what constitutes the doctrines of the Christian faith? If the answer to that question is yes, then scriptures are formally sufficient to define every doctrine of the Faith. The scriptures can be said to be materially sufficient if all the doctrines of the Christian faith are at least implicitly taught in scriptures and that these doctrines can be known by a catechumen through an authoritative interpretation of scriptures.

    Now the scriptures explicitly teach that every Christian must accept all the doctrines of Christianity. The scriptures also teach that Christians are to avoid the false teachers who create dissention within the church by spreading false doctrine. But the scriptures don’t spell out explicitly what constitutes the doctrines of Christianity – it just states that Christians are to believe all of them. Thus the question of whether the scriptures are formally sufficient is of supreme importance for any Protestant that has built his faith on the foundation of Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine.

    It is an unpleasant reality that Protestantism consists of thousands upon thousands of divided sects that teach contradictory and irreconcilable doctrine. It is possible that a particular Protestant sect might be teaching some of the doctrines of Christianity in an uncorrupted form; but it is plainly impossible that every Protestant sect teaches every doctrine of Christianity without error. That is impossible because the various Protestant sects have irreconcilable differences in the doctrine that they teach, hence it is an inescapable fact that at least some doctrines that the various Protestant sects teach are heretical.

    What would motivate the sola scriptura confessing Protestant to claim that the early Church Fathers believed that the scriptures are formally sufficient to define every doctrine of the Christian faith? I can see at least two reasons for that. One, the Protestant that has built his faith upon the foundation of Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine has a need to deny a particular claim of the Catholics and the Orthodox. Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine is claim that the Protestant bible is the ONLY source of inerrant authority to which a Christian has access. The Catholics and Orthodox agree that the scriptures are a source of inerrant authority, but they disagree that it is the only source of inerrant authority. Christians also have the gift of the teaching office within the church founded by Christ. The teaching office of Christ’s church can, under certain conditions, promulgate doctrine that is without error. The sola scriptura confessing Protestant cannot accept a doctrine of the teaching authority of Christ’s church without abandoning the doctrine of sola scriptura.

    There is a second reason that I can see for why a sola scriptura confessing Protestant would want to assert the scriptures are formally sufficient to define every doctrine of the Christian faith. And that motivation is driven by the fact that the Protestant knows that there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that teach doctrine that is irreconcilable with what he or she believes to be true. No one wants to believe that his or her Protestant sect is teaching heresy, thus it is psychologically important to believe that your particular Protestant sect is the one that teaches the uncorrupted Gospel. When the members of your particular Protestant sect affirm what you personally believe through your own private interpretation of scripture, you can take comfort in that affirmation. But every on of the thousands upon thousands of Protestant sect believes that the doctrines that they preach are “scriptural”, which makes it impossible for the sola scriptura confessing Protestant to ever know what the doctrines of Christianity actually are. It is only when one is willing to let go of Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura that it becomes possible to move beyond one’s private interpretation of the scriptures.

  25. Andrew # 21 – Sorry I missed this comment previously. I was looking for it in the wrong place and didn’t see it in my email.

    I think Bryan addresses your comments fairly well in # 22.

  26. Bryan (#22):

    There are orthodox Catholics (i.e. those who believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God), and there are heterodox Catholics, i.e. those who, knowingly or unknowingly, deny one or more of the dogmas of the Catholic faith. What you are doing is characterizing Catholics who reject de fide doctrines of the Catholic Church as persons who simply hold another possible rationally defensible interpretation of the tradition of the Church. In other words, you are claiming that heresy is another rationally defensible form of orthodoxy. But that is false. A person can always produce a rationalization for heresy, but that can never make heresy into a defensible form of orthodoxy. There are theological matters that the Church has yet to decide or define, and we are free to hold any of the orthodox options in such matters. But denying any de fide doctrine is heretical,

    That is obviously true. But it’s very easy for many Protestants, not just Andrew, to just not see it. For within the Protestant HP, there is no way to resolve serious theological disputes other than to join or start another church that, in turn, can no more claim to be “the” Church than the church left behind. If that’s one default way of looking at orthodox and heresy, then one is likely to infer, from the fact that many Catholics hold theological ideas incompatible with those held by many other Catholics, that the Catholic Faith itself is no more coherent than Protestantism. That’s why Andrew can say, and apparently believe, that “[f]rom the Protestant standpoint, the problem for the Catholics is not resolvable within their system since the history of the Church is a mush of different competing belief systems and you can derive just about whatever you like given the history of the Church.”

    It is of course true that a variety of theological viewpoints has always obtained in the Church. Not all of them are compatible with each other, and many are tolerated. But the fact remains that there is a way to resolve, definitively, the question what’s orthodox and what’s heretical. When a general council ratified by a pope, or a pope himself, defines a doctrine as de fide, then accepting that doctrine is necessary for professing the Catholic Faith. Affirming any proposition logically incompatible with that doctrine is heretical, and thus incompatible with the Catholic Faith. That’s the main principle by which theological controversies, when they need to be resolved, are “resolvable.” And it’s a perfectly clear principle. Catholics who reject it are materially Protestant and only nominally Catholic–whether those Catholics appear to be “conservatives” or “liberals.”

    Best,
    Mike

  27. ….there is no such thing as “conservative” Catholics….

    Bryan,

    This is an odd claim since so many Catholics refer to themselves as “conservative” speaking theologically rather than politically. And you are also speaking of the Catholic world as if it is a homogeneous thing. But all of us Protestants know Catholics of every stripe and color, from extremely liberal to ultra-conservative. So let’s take an example with some of the extremes in Roman Catholicism Let’s say you and me and Marcel Lefebvre and Hans Kung are in the same room debating the tradition of the RCC and its application. The three of you will have different opinions on a number of important issues. All three of you are Catholic and you all believe that your position is in line with the historic tradition of the Church. Now I’m sure you will have good reasons why your position is the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church but of course your liberal and ultra-conservative Catholic friends believe the same thing. So why should I believe that your position is the correct one? Of course I’m taking a few extremes here for purposes of illustration (and of course Lefebvre is no longer of this world), but the reality is that there are many different belief systems in the RCC and many believe that they are in accord with the tradition of the historic Christian Church. Of course you could just appeal to the fact that you hold to the same faith as the current pope, but even as the EO point out, the authority of the pope that evolved into that which we find in the Medieval era is highly suspect and is not in accord with either apostolic or sub-apostolic tradition.

    Again Bryan, I don’t need you to tell me that you can explain why other factions in the RCC like Lefebvre and are wrong and you hold to the correct position. I need you to see that for someone outside the RCC looking in (i.e. me) there is no way to decide who is correct. Those Catholics with differing interpretations of tradition are going to be every bit as convincing as you and in some cases I will likely find them to be considerably more convincing. So again, why should we Protestants believe the you and the Catholics you associate have the correct view while those elsewhere on the liberal/conservative spectrum are incorrect? I don’t think it’s very helpful to say things like there are no conservatives. All that says to me is that you believe that your interpretation of tradition is correct and no other interpretation is possible.

    You have I assume a similar sort of interpretation of tradition to the pope and you believe that the Pope has Peter as his father from a succession standpoint. And again I will ignore the highly uncertain role of the leaders of the Roman Church before Clement, but I still don’t know what I am to make of this succession claim any more than what I can make of the claim of the Pharisees that they had Abraham as their Father. In the final analysis for the Catholic the current RCC must be correct because she is the successor of the bishops of the Church from earlier ages. This fact alone guarantees fidelity, and for all intent and purposes, nothing else matters. And there is no question that that the ECF’s believed that the succession of bishops was important to guarantee faithfulness of the next generation of bishops. But succession is a two edged sword. It can and did guarantee fidelity of the bishops to their original marching orders in Scripture, but it can and did also guarantee just the opposite and that the worst of bishops would come to power as we see in the Renaissance era. Would the bishops of the early centuries of the Church have recognized that the Renaissance popes were rightful heirs? Assumedly the answer for the modern Catholic is yes but that’s a highly doubtful assumption in my mind.

    So at this point the Protestant could just become Catholic and accept the succession argument as part of the Catholic system – problem solved. But if succession has already been shown to be an elusive argument, what else is there that would attract the Protestant into Catholicism in the first place?

    And I would finally add that I don’t really think that the problem between you and others within Catholicism of more and less conservative stripes are irresolvable. But it is irresolvable given the standard which you have effectively chosen to use for the Church to determine matters of faith and practice. And as I have tried to demonstrate before, you have chosen a standard which has no clear precedence from the standpoint of the beliefs of the early Church which you claim to defend.

    Sean – Thanks. #21 was for John Jensen so hopefully he sees it.

  28. Just to piggyback on Andrews point above.

    There are a huge number of theological issues and practical issues that separate various Catholics. Take geocentrism and young earth creationism, for example. Catholic answers will tell you that these are not official teachings of the Church, but there are many Catholics who are quite convinced that these things are the official teaching of the Church. Quite frankly, they often have longer and more detailed arguments from Church tradition than those who say otherwise! Most people handwave away the whole geocentrism thing because they know it’s scientifically bogus, but they often fail to answer the arguments of the geocentrists (based on tradition).

    Or take modern biblical scholarship (since we discussed inerrancy). You know quite well that there is some confusion as to what is allowed or not allowed in Catholic biblical scholarship. Some consider moderates like Joseph Fitzmeyer and Raymond Brown to be solid exegetes. Other Catholics will, based on their understanding of Catholic tradition, call them heretics.

    I think the area where this is most clear and pointed, however, is in confession and mortal sin. Some Catholics think people commit mortal sins pretty much every day. Others think at least once a week. Others think that you can be fine just going to confession four times a year (or even less!). We have guidelines on what mortal sin is, of course, but the application of these guidelines to our lives in the confessional is based on our interpretation of Catholic teaching! And there are some instances where Catholics cannot even agree on what counts as material mortal sin.

    Even in the confessional, you and the priest have to make alot of judgment calls about how much you need to confess and whether your sins were serious or not. And this isn’t on some sideline issue, this is on your salvation and status before God! For some, people are falling in and out of God’s grace pretty much every week, while others think that it is very difficult to commit a mortal sin.

    Most Catholics I talk to simply dismiss those with a different interpretation of tradition. But this, of course, is simply their opinion. Others, once they understand the problem, most take a very vague and mushy “well, as long as you’re trying your best to follow God, God will honor it”.

    It seems the main thing you could say in response is, “Well, we have a living authority that can clarify these matters in principle.” That’s fine, but there is a major problem with that. The Church does not, in the real world, actually clarify these issues. When it tries to clarify, but does not use infallible methods (like ex cathedra statements or ecumenical councils), then people can dismiss it if they believe that have sufficient evidence that Catholic tradition and teaching goes against them. Thus, we have Catholics who are still arguing about Raymond Brown, evolution, and geocentrism, despite the fact that recent popes have been friendly with Brown, evolution, and modern cosmology.

  29. Sorry, I meant to say above that the Church does not clarify these issues in the real world SOMETIMES. I realize that it has clarified many issues in the past.

  30. A key reason that Andrew doesn’t believe that “there is no way to decide who is correct,” is because of his foundational belief that “the authority of the pope that evolved into that which we find in the Medieval era is highly suspect and is not in accord with either apostolic or sub-apostolic tradition.”

    Another reason, that he doesn’t state, is that he doesn’t believe that the authority of Church councils is sufficient to decide doctrine authoritatively. That is the whole shebang. If he believed in Church councils, he would be much more than half way there. And if he believed in the authority of the Roman particular Church and its Bishop, then he’d be the rest of the way there.

    Hans Kung doesn’t really believe in the authority of either councils or popes as far as I can tell. Lefebvre didn’t believe that the current Pope was Pope, as far as I remember. It’s not rocket science. If you believe that a current guy is pope, and then you listen to him and the council of bishops who are in communion with him, you are an orthodox Catholic. If you don’t believe that there is a current pope, or you believe that there is, but you don’t believe in his authority or the other bishops’ authority, then you’re not orthodox. This isn’t a difficult standard to understand.

    The only bone anyone has with this standard is that its not “apostolic” or “sub-apostolic.” But that’s BS, because there is insufficient early evidence to disprove this standard’s apostolicity, and as soon as the evidence gets rich around the late 300s this standard appears to be in full force. That is amply demonstrated by the history of the condemnation of pelagianism, recounted, here:

    http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/num16.htm

    and here:

    http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/num17.htm

    A few key quotes. Pope Innocent I writes:

    “”In making inquiry with respect to those things that should be treated with all solicitude by bishops, and especially by a true and just and Catholic Council, by preserving, as you have done, the example of ancient tradition, and by being mindful of ecclesiastical discipline, you have truly strengthened the vigour of our Faith, no less now in consulting us than before in passing sentence. For you decided that it was proper to refer to our judgement, knowing what is due to the Apostolic See, since all we who are set in this place, desire to follow the Apostle (Peter) from whom the very episcopate and whole authority of this name is derived. Following in his steps, we know how to condemn the evil and to approve the good. So also, you have by your sacerdotal office preserved the customs of the Fathers, and have not spurned that which they decreed by a divine and not human sentence, that whatsoever is done, even though it be in distant provinces, should not be ended without being brought to the knowledge of this See, [39] that by its authority the whole just pronouncement should be strengthened, and that from it all other Churches (like waters flowing from their natal source and flowing through the different regions of the world, the pure streams of one incorrupt head), should receive what they ought to enjoin, whom they ought to wash, and whom that water, worthy of pure bodies, should avoid as defiled with uncleansable filth. I congratulate you, therefore, dearest brethren, that you have directed letters to us by our brother and fellow-bishop Julius, and that, while caring for the Churches which you rule, you also show your solicitude for the well-being of all, and that you ask for a decree that shall profit all the Churches of the world at once; [40] so that the Church being established in her rules and confirmed by this decree of just pronouncement against such errors, may be unable to fear those men, etc.”

    and, again, he writes:

    “Among the cares of the Roman Church and the occupations of the Apostolic See in which we treat with faithful and medicinal [42] discussion the consultations of divers, our brother and fellow-bishop Julius has brought me unexpectedly the letters of your charity which you sent from the Council of Milevis in your earnest care for the Faith, adding the writing of a similiar complaint from the Council of Carthage. [He praises their zeal and continues:] It is therefore with due care and propriety that you consult the secrets of the Apostolic office (apostolici consulitis honoris [al. oneris] arcana) that office, I mean, to which belongs, besides the things which are without, the care of all the Churches, as to what opinion you should hold in this anxious question, following thus the ancient rule which you know has been observed with me by the whole world. [43] But this subject I dismiss, for I do not think it is unknown to your prudence; for else, why did you confirm it with your action, if you were not aware that responses ever flow from the Apostolic fountain to all provinces for those who ask them? Especially as often as a question of faith is discussed, I think that all our brothers and fellow-bishops should refer to none other than to Peter, the author of their name and office, even as now your charity has referred to us a thing which may be useful throughout the world to all the Churches in common. For all must of necessity become more cautious when they see that the inventors of evil, at the relation of two synods, have been cut off by our sentence from ecclesiastical communion. Your charity will therefore do a double good. For you will obtain the grace of having preserved the canons, and the whole world will share your benefit.”

    And again:

    “We judge by the authority of Apostolic power (apostolici uigoris auctoritate) that Pelagius and Celestius be deprived of ecclesiastical communion, until they return to the faith out of the snares of the devil….”

    Was the Pope the only one who believed that he had this worldwide doctrinal authority? No, apparently Saint Augustine agreed with what the pope wrote in his letters, since he explicitly writes:

    “After letters had come to us from the East, discussing the case in the clearest manner, we were bound not to fail in assisting the Church’s need with such episcopal authority as we possess (nullo modo jam qualicumque episcopali auctoritate deesse Ecclesiae debueramus). In consequence, relations as to this matter were sent from two Councils — those of Carthage and of Milevis — to the Apostolic See, before the ecclesiastical acts by which Pelagius is said to have been acquitted had come into our hands or into Africa at all. We also wrote to Pope Innocent, of blessed memory a private letter, besides the relations of the Councils, wherein we described the case at greater length, TO ALL OF THESE HE ANSWERED IN THE MANNER WHICH WAS THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF THE BISHOP OF THE APOSTOLIC SEE (Ad omnia nobis ille rescripsit eo modo quo fas erat atque oportebat Apostolicae sedis Antistitem). All of which you may now read, if perchance none of them or not all of them have yet received you; in them you will see that, while he has preserved the moderation which was right, so that the heretic should not be condemned if he condemns his errors, yet the new and pernicious error is so restrained by ecclesiastical authority that we much wonder that there should be any still remaining who, by any error whatsoever, try to fight against the grace of God….”

    Now, if the popes clearly claimed this worldwide doctrinal authority, and saints such as Augustine explicitly wrote that these popes behaved as was not only their “right” but even their “duty,” then why would people such as Andrew claim that the worldwide doctrinal authority of the Pope is “highly suspect”? For the simple reason that protestant historians conveniently leave out the explicit approval of Augustine and others to papal actions, and instead take marginally relevant documents and try to see if they can read into them a subtle, almost literary, almost poetic disapproval of papal authority.

    The standard of authority is easy to apply. And there’s plenty of evidence for it as soon as the data set gets rich enough to provide any consistent evidence at all on the subtleties of worldwide doctrinal controversy and authority. The only beef that one can have with it is really beef with the data set of early christian history itself: it’s sparse near the beginning. That doesn’t disprove Catholicism, or even make it unlikely. By far the most likely thing is that Augustine represents a better image of apostolic Christianity than Andrew does.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  31. Andrew

    The conservatives like you (I don’t know you but I will assume for the present that you are a conservative such as those on this loop) have landed on one particular interpretation of this tradition but many others are possible and there is no way to resolve one over another unless you simply assume that the current conservative wing of the RCC is correct. You cannot persuade someone that the group you associate with in the RCC has any more claim to be the rightful heirs of the tradition of the Apostolic and the Early Church than any other competing belief system in or outside the RCC

    and again

    So let’s take an example with some of the extremes in Roman Catholicism Let’s say you and me and Marcel Lefebvre and Hans Kung are in the same room debating the tradition of the RCC and its application. The three of you will have different opinions on a number of important issues. . . . I need you to see that for someone outside the RCC looking in (i.e. me) there is no way to decide who is correct.

    Well let’s see:

    as to bishop Lefebvre,

    He was so unhappy with the teachings (as he perceived them) that flowed from the Second Vatican Council that he formed his own society, or wing, within the Church as a tacit means of protest and resistence. His reaction and opinions were tolerated until he attempted to perpetuate the reaction by way of establishing his own ecclesial line:

    “In 1970, Lefebvre founded the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), which is still the world’s largest Traditionalist Catholic priestly society. In 1988, against the orders of Pope John Paul II, he consecrated four bishops to continue his work with the SSPX. The Holy See immediately declared that he and the other bishops who had participated in the ceremony had incurred automatic excommunication under Catholic canon law.”

    Now eventually the 4 bishops whose consecration by Bishop Lefebvre had caused the initial excommunication, affirmed their recognition of the legitimacy of the teaching authority of the Church, includng the pope, in a letter from one of their own, Bishop Fellay, to the Holy Father which reads as follows:

    “we are always firmly determined in the will to remain Catholic and to put all of our energy to the service of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept Her teachings with filial spirit. We firmly believe in the Primacy of Peter and his prerogatives, and because of that we suffer greatly by the current situation.”

    at which point, we learn that:

    “Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunication of the four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) ordained by Marcel Lefebvre in 1988 in a decision he hopes will lead to “real and final unity.

    oh and as for Hans Kung

    “Consequently, on December 18, 1979, he was stripped of his missio canonica, his licence to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian, but carried on teaching as a tenured professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen until his retirement (Emeritierung) in 1996.”

    so then when you say:

    I need you to see that for someone outside the RCC looking in (i.e. me) there is no way to decide who is correct.

    Your initial scenario of Bryan, bishop Lefebvre, and Hans Kung discussing theology has me thinking of a new joke which begins something like “three Catholics go into a bar to discuss theology” and then ends with something like “two of them are thrown out by a bouncer”, with some internal punch line about how the bouncer just happens to be . . . .

    At least Bryan gets to stay and enjoy the beer!

    By the way, do Protestant communions have bouncers?

    Call me crazy, but I kinda see how such theological disputes are handled in the Catholic Church.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  32. Andrew -one more thing

    I would be VERY interested in your rsponse to K Doran’s post and quotations from Innocent I, AND ESPECIALLY St. Augustan in light of what you wrote to Canadian:

    “Canadian – Generally we would not consider the sixth ecumenical council to be part of the era of the Early Church. One common demarcation between Early and Medieval churches is the death of Augustine. Perhaps we could this reference point unless you have a strong objection.

    Besides the fact that the demarcation point you propose seems entirely ad hoc; EVEN IF we grant the demarcation for purposes of discussing the ECF’s view of papal authority, can you not see how absolutely incredulous it is for you to make statments to the affect that the RCC has a notion of papal authority and infallibility which is contra to the ECF’s? Sure the I-word is not explicitly in the quote, but can your really maintain that a Catholic is being unreasonable and innovative when he asserts that the Church’s view on papal authority is consistent and contiguous? Read the Augustan quote very very carefully. He says: “yet the new and pernicious error is so restrained by ecclesiastical authority that we much wonder that there should be any still remaining who, by any error whatsoever, try to fight against the grace of God….”

    If the pope’s determination could be errant, then there is no way to know that his determination was errant at just this point concerning Pelagianism. This results in the possibility that “error is being restrained by errant authority”. How did Augustan KNOW that pope Innocent was not possibly wrong in his assesment of the doctrine, such that he could express the confidence that error was being restrained by “ecclesiastical authority”?

    Here is another question. Even if you refuse to entertain the possibility that Christ promised to protect the successors of Peter from error; given your contunual affirmation of the importance of tradition, why are not you, and other Reformed pastors, following in the clear example of Augustan in at least submitting doctrinal disputes to the Apostolic See for review and commentary? There is no way you can deny that at least consultation with, and respect for, the opinion of the “Apostolic See” is found all over the place within the Augustinian and pre-Augustinian era. If you really mean what you say about having so much respect for the guiding light of early Christainity (using your demarcation line) and the authority of the ECF’s, why not at least follow the ancient tradition of sending intra-Presbyterian doctrinal disputes to Benedict XVI for review and feedback – even if you refuse to receive such feedback as binding? You know, help clear up the “Federal Vision” problem, etc.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  33. A few thoughts on interpretive authority and interpretation:

    I agree with K Doran. The fundamental objection here is not that there is any inherent ambiguity in the Catholic system. The fundamental objection comes from outside the Catholic system–denying that her ultimate interpretive authority is genuine.

    Since, for the Catholic, the ultimate interpretive authority is a visible one, it is in many cases quite easy, from within the system, to discern the authentic voice of the Church. Those who have been excommunicated, such as Archbishop Lefebvre, do not share in the interpretive authority of the Church, nor do their interpretive opinions come from within the Church.

    Regarding interpretive disagreements in which neither party has been formally excommunicated: Sometimes, disagreement between Catholics takes the following form: The Magisterium says x. One Catholic thinker affirms x, another Catholic thinker affirms not-x. In such a case, there is no ambiguity regarding who has the correct interpretation of Magisterial teaching.

    There are cases of disagreement between Catholics in which there is some real ambiguity, regarding the right interpretation of Magisterial teaching. In these cases, both sides are free to use private judgment, reasonably appealing to various sorts of evidence in order to bolster one’s own interpretation, or undermine another. Thankfully, however, we are not, in principle, ultimately left to the mercy of our own speculations. The Magisterium can and does clarify itself, such that, over time, its teaching is better understood. We must ever use reason in interpretation, but the fact, and ongoing possibility, of Magisterial self-clarification often reduces this use to the recognition of explicit contradiction.

  34. How did Augustan KNOW that pope Innocent was not possibly wrong in his assesment of the doctrine, such that he could express the confidence that error was being restrained by “ecclesiastical authority”

    Indeed, how could he since:

    1) Papal infallibility was not dogmatized until 1870
    2) The decision of the pope in the case of Pelagius is not listed an an ex cathedra pronouncement by any Catholic theologian that I can find (but then again, there’s no infallible list of infallible pronouncements so I guess I could be wrong :) )

    So, good question, Ray, how could he?

  35. Steve G.

    Indeed, how could he since:

    1) Papal infallibility was not dogmatized until 1870
    2) The decision of the pope in the case of Pelagius is not listed an an ex cathedra pronouncement by any Catholic theologian that I can find (but then again, there’s no infallible list of infallible pronouncements so I guess I could be wrong :) )

    Well I see your point. Since St. Augustan could not time travel he clearly could not know the pope was protected from error when speaking to an issue of faith (Pelagianism) or morals. You got me.

    But wait . . . it just occured to me that possibly (and this is just a hypothesis), he was informed by those who proceeded him in the faith that Christ had given such a promise to Peter and that such promise was perpetual to his successors. They may have given him the novel idea that the analogy of the “keys” drawn from Isaiah entailed as much. Its possible, then, that his catechesis before, and especially upon ascending to the episcopate, entailed the instruction that it was “the right and duty” of something called the “Apostolic See” to speak authoritatively on such matters – and moreover that Rome WAS the apostolic see. That MAY be why he took the time to send off letters and explanations to Innocent for review and decision. The poor unfortunate saint, by virtue of his defromed Christian instruction may actually have believed that such a pronouncement against Palagianism, emmanating from Innocent I, amounted to an “authoritative” announcement that restrained error because it could not be false coming from the successor of Peter. Of course this assumes that some of the fathers before Augustan had any ideas about apostolic succession, or that succession occured in Rome, or that Peter was ever in Rome, etc. etc., etc.. Just a wild hypothesis. However, I did find out that both the Council of Orange (529) and later the council of Trent, both affirm Augustan’s position on palagianism, which Augustan himself submitted to Innocent for review – so perhaps the poor catechesis of Augustan has had all kinds of sad reverberations through history.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  36. @Andrew:

    John,

    The SSPX represents one extreme, but there are a multitude of belief systems within the RCC from the very liberal to the ultra-conservative. Now some of these may not care about tradition at all, but for those that do, they all claim to be interpreting the tradition of the Church correctly. It’s the analogous situation to the Protestants who all claim to be interpreting the Scriptures correctly.

    Andrew – the problem here is that it begs the question whether there is such a thing as the Catholic Church – a unity defined by Christ, sustained by communion with (and submission to) the Pope. If there is, then the situation is not at all analogous to the Protestant situation. In the latter case, there is no claim that there is one authority. There is, to be sure, the Bible, but since you can’t ask the Bible whether your understanding is correct, it isn’t an authority.

    Naturally, if the Catholic Church is just a denomination within a larger Christianity, then your take is quite correct. We each of us decides on some grounds – Scripture, the arguments of others, the arguments of people who attract us, whatever – what doctrines we believe. Then we are part of that portion – ‘conservative’ or whatever – that matches.

    But of course if I thought the Catholic Church was that, I could not be a Catholic, because its claims are absolutist. It explicitly denies that it is a denomination within a larger Christianity. It affirms that it is the whole of Christianity, and that other denominations are more or less in harmony with that.

    The conservatives, of which I assume you are one, believe that they have Peter as their Father so as to speak.

    I wouldn’t really use the label ‘conservative’ for me, any more than I would call myself ‘liberal.’ I don’t believe I have Peter as Father because I am conservative. I believe Jesus established a single unitary Church, that Peter’s successor is His vicar as pastor of that body, and that I have to be a member of that body and in submission to the Pope in order to be in union with Christ.

  37. Andrew (re: #27),

    I pointed out (in the last paragraph in comment #22 above) that the term ‘conservative Catholic’ is a misleading and inaccurate term, because it imports a political concept into a theological realm, as though it is just as permissible to be a “liberal Catholic” as a “conservative Catholic.” In actuality, there are those Catholics who “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God,” and those who don’t. The former are orthodox Catholics, and the latter are either material or formal heretics. This is why you won’t find the term “conservative Catholic” in the Catechism or any other Church document. Of course there is a sense in which an orthodox Catholic is conserving the faith handed down from the Apostles. But that’s not the primary connotation of the term “conservative Catholic.” The term is derived from politics, and when applied to the Catholic Church, it implicitly connotes theological relativism, which is part of the heresy of modernism.

    Update: See John Haldane’s comments on the use of these terms as well, and Cardinal George’s statement “The liberal/conservative thing, I think, is destructive of the Church’s mission and her life.”

    This is an odd claim since so many Catholics refer to themselves as “conservative” speaking theologically rather than politically.

    I don’t bother so much with whether claims are odd; I’m much more concerned that they are true. As the latest Pew study shows, if you want to know the truth about the Catholic Church, it is not a good idea to ask the average Catholic, since so many have been so poorly catechized. So, your method of determining what is the truth about what the Catholic Church believes and teaches, is flawed, because you are drawing from people who are not sufficiently catechized.

    And you are also speaking of the Catholic world as if it is a homogeneous thing.

    Actually, I’m not. There is one orthodoxy, because truth cannot contradict truth. There are not two orthodoxies. Whatever is not orthodox, is heterodox.

    Now I’m sure you will have good reasons why your position is the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church but of course your liberal and ultra-conservative Catholic friends believe the same thing. So why should I believe that your position is the correct one?

    I’d be glad to tell you, but you’d have to specify the particular doctrinal point in question. Otherwise you’re just speculating with vague generalities, which is possibly where you want to leave it, because it allows you to make untestable claims and sweeping generalizations, without ever having to demonstrate their truth.

    but the reality is that there are many different belief systems in the RCC and many believe that they are in accord with the tradition of the historic Christian Church.

    No one has denied that “many believe that they are in accord with the tradition of the historic Christian Church.” Many Protestants believe that too, and so do many Campbellites, Restorationists, Mormons, etc. But, your claim “the reality is that there are many different belief systems in the RCC” is false, if you are talking about many different orthodoxies. There is only one orthodoxy. Anyone who denies a dogma of the Church, has departed from the “belief system” of the Catholic Church. In that respect, there is only one “belief system” in the Catholic Church. If you disagree, then instead of merely asserting it, you’ll need to show at least two distinct “belief systems” within the Catholic Church.

    Of course you could just appeal to the fact that you hold to the same faith as the current pope, but even as the EO point out, the authority of the pope that evolved into that which we find in the Medieval era is highly suspect and is not in accord with either apostolic or sub-apostolic tradition.

    The authority of the pope never evolved. When Christ gave St. Peter the keys of the Kingdom, Christ was giving him authority over the whole Church, not just the Church at Rome or some other particular Church. Of course the Church’s understanding of the nature and form of that authority grew over time. But the ecclesial authority had by St Peter and his successors never increased or “evolved.” It is what it has always been.

    I need you to see that for someone outside the RCC looking in (i.e. me) there is no way to decide who is correct.

    Actually, you don’t need falsehoods; you need the truth. The truth is that there is a way to determine who is correct. But first you have to be willing to admit you could be wrong. You have done nothing here at CTC but deny the truths we have been laying out for almost two years. So far as I know, you have not conceded a single point. The problem is not at the level of the intellect; it is at the level of the will, at the level of the heart. You cannot see because you will not see. And so by your own choice you remain in the darkness of your chosen confusion.

    Those Catholics with differing interpretations of tradition are going to be every bit as convincing as you and in some cases I will likely find them to be considerably more convincing.

    Notice that you have already decided this a priori. That’s seemingly because you do not really want to find out whether what we are saying is true. By prejudging the question, you indicate that you want to believe that it is impossible to determine whether what we’re saying is true, and so you assume a priori that the heretics will be able to make a better case than will we. So you already have the fruit of your choice: the darkness and theological confusion that you desire. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

    So again, why should we Protestants believe the you and the Catholics you associate have the correct view while those elsewhere on the liberal/conservative spectrum are incorrect?

    Again, I would be glad to tell you, but first you have to come down from vague generalities, and point to concrete doctrinal questions or moral issues. Heresy loves to hide in ambiguity and vague generalities. Falsehood hates the light.

    You have I assume a similar sort of interpretation of tradition to the pope and you believe that the Pope has Peter as his father from a succession standpoint. And again I will ignore the highly uncertain role of the leaders of the Roman Church before Clement, but I still don’t know what I am to make of this succession claim any more than what I can make of the claim of the Pharisees that they had Abraham as their Father.

    The Pharisees were denying the Messiah. But St. Irenaeus was a disciple of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. So you have every reason to believe and trust St. Irenaeus when he writes:

    3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Adv. haer. III.3.3)

    If the succession of the bishops of Rome is “highly uncertain” to you, then you must be accusing St. Irenaues of false testimony. But that is the stance of unbelief, to refuse to believe the clear testimony of the Church Fathers. The faith you need, cannot come from man; it can only come from God. So pray and ask God to help you believe, to increase you faith, so that you can overcome your disbelief of St. Irenaeus’s testimony.

    In the final analysis for the Catholic the current RCC must be correct because she is the successor of the bishops of the Church from earlier ages.

    I could just say the same the same to you. “In the final analysis, for the Protestant the Catholic Church cannot be the Church Christ founded, because if she were, he would have to enter into full communion with her.” But that kind of psychological deconstruction does nothing to help us get closer to finding the truth together regarding where is the Church Christ founded.

    But succession is a two edged sword. It can and did guarantee fidelity of the bishops to their original marching orders in Scripture, but it can and did also guarantee just the opposite and that the worst of bishops would come to power as we see in the Renaissance era.

    God’s ways are not our ways. Christ set up the Church, with Apostles as foundation stones of the Church, and with the succession from them. Do bad bishops sometimes come into the episcopal office? No doubt. Does that justify our participating in (or remaining in) a schism from the Church? Absolutely not. You can complain about the bad bishops of the Renaissance, and I understand that this is a justified complaint. But on the Day of Judgment, when you have to stand before God and give an account of what you did viz-a-viz schism, you will not be able to justify it by pointing to bishops of the Renaissance.

    Would the bishops of the early centuries of the Church have recognized that the Renaissance popes were rightful heirs? Assumedly the answer for the modern Catholic is yes but that’s a highly doubtful assumption in my mind.

    Jesus never said “Schism from the Church is justified if you are not sure whether the Church’s present bishops would be recognized by the early bishops as their rightful heirs.” You are imposing this self-contrived criterion as a justification for entering into or remaining in a schism. That criterion would make schism very easily justified, because no one could ever know whether the early Christians would recognize the present bishops as their successors. But this criterion is your criterion that is from yourself, not from God. God tells us to obey our leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over our souls as men who will give an account to God on that Day. (Heb 13:17) If they do a poor job, it is they who will give an account. But if we rebel against them, then it is we who will give an account, even if they were less than faithful.

    But it is irresolvable given the standard which you have effectively chosen to use for the Church to determine matters of faith and practice.

    This too is false, and it is paradoxical that you, a Protestant, are trying to claim that theological questions are “irresolvable” given the threefold Catholic standard of Magisterium-Tradition-Scripture. Because we have a living magisterium, every theological question can, in principle, be definitively resolved by a pronouncement or set of prouncements from the Apostolic See, resolving by further clarification, if necessary, every follow-up question. For Protestants, by contrast, nothing at all has been resolved in the last two-thousand years, nor can anything be definitively resolved, in principle, because no one has the authority to resolve anything. The morass of confusion and contradiction is in principle irresolvable until Christ returns. Your ecclesology faces the problem that He was willing to pour out all His blood for us on the cross, but He couldn’t figure out how to do something that would allow the world to know with clarity and certainty what is His gospel and where is the Church He founded.

    And as I have tried to demonstrate before, you have chosen a standard which has no clear precedence from the standpoint of the beliefs of the early Church which you claim to defend.

    On the contrary, we Catholics are in the same Church that Christ founded and which was born on Pentecost, under the same magisterium that has extended down unbroken from the Apostles, using the same canon used by the Church for her first 1500 years, and affirming the same Apostolic Tradition that all the Catholics before us have lived and died upholding. You, however, are on the outside, not even having a bishop, something that no Christian could have imagined for the first fifteen hundred years of Church history, and yet you deign to tell us that our standard of authority has no clear precedent in the early Church? We are the same Church that held the Nicene Council in AD 325, where three hundred and eighteen bishops were present. We are the Church of St. Justin Martyr, of St. Athanasius, of St. Irenaeus, St. Cyril, St. Chryostom and St. Augustine. St. Paul wrote his letter (Romans) to our principal Church, and his bones, as well as those of St. Peter, are buried in Rome, St. Peter’s being under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. You have no Apostolic letters written to your congregation in Texas, or your PCA denomination founded in 1973. You have no bones of the Apostles. You have not a single bishop and no priests, because Protestantism abandoned apostolic succession four hundred and ninety three years ago. And this is why you have no Eucharist, by which agape is nourished in the soul. It is not we have an unprecedent authority structure; it is you who have chosen a standard (i.e. sola scriptura) that has no precedent whatsoever in the early Church. From the very beginning Scripture was always interpreted in the Church, by her authorized shepherds, and in the light of Tradition. It is time to wake up and realize that Protestantism, however well-intentioned, was a separation from the Church Christ founded, and since that separation millions of Christians have lost their faith to liberalism and the myriad splinterings of factions of sheep without a shepherd. It is time for the sheep to come home to the one flock with one shepherd of which Christ spoke. (John 10:16)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    On the Feast of the North American Martyrs, especially St. Issac Joques, whose fingers were chewed off by his torturers, but who came back to them again to preach the gospel, and was martyred. St. Joques, pray for us.

  38. Steve G. Papal infallibility was not dogmatized until 1870 …

    So … if St. Augustine wasn’t around when the dogma of Papal infallibility was solemnly defined in 1870, he couldn’t have known that this doctrine was the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium? Using that logic, let me ask you this, how was St. Augustine supposed to know that he should make a foundation of his faith Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura since Luther’s novel doctrine has never been dogmatized by the Catholic church?

    This brings us to a question that is germane to this thread – where are the scriptures that are formally sufficient to support Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura? I say that there aren’t any. Can you prove me wrong? Can you show me the scriptures that explicitly teach that the Protestant Bible is the only inerrant authority to which a Christian has access? If you can’t show me those scriptures, then what non-biblical argument can a sola scriptura believing Protestant give me that would convince me to believe in a novel doctrine that is nowhere taught in scriptures?

  39. Ray,
    nice post as always, but what’s up with “Augustan”? initially i thought it was a typo….

  40. Tap

    Well, that is a symptom of my esoteric excursions into patrology. In older texts you will find St. Augustine referred to sometimes as St. Augustan as for example in this list of prominent 4th century figures:

    “Ambrose of Milan
    Pope Siricius
    Augustan of Hippo
    Jerome
    Pope Innocent I”

    or you can even find him referred to as “St. Augustus”, as in the header of the following biographical summary:

    “The Confessions Of St. Augustus
    Saint Augustine was born to a pagan father and a Christian mother. He lived a life of immorality until his early thirties when he suddenly took a new path that would eventually lead to his canonization. According to Augustine he grew up in a life of sin. Though raised as a Christian he did not fully accept the faith that was taught to him by his mother. Instead, during his education, he became fascinated with the writings of the great philosophers such as Plato. . . . . . . . “

    I have a bad habit of interchanging the various usages I have come across. I’ll try to be more consistent with the familiar “Augustine” in the future :>)

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  41. Folks,

    You’ve responded with more than I can possibly answer properly, but I will take several things starting with K. Doran’s thoughts:

    Another reason, that he doesn’t state, is that he doesn’t believe that the authority of Church councils is sufficient to decide doctrine authoritatively.

    K. Doran – I believe that the Council of Nicea (just as an example) was authoritative. What I don’t believe is that Christians of the fourth century would have rejected it had they been told that the promulgations from this council were not infallible. The bishops had the authority to be holding such a council and their decision was authoritative even though there is no historical evidence to think that any of the bishops of that time ever hinted at infallibility. It’s not just that the term “infallible” was not employed, but that there was nothing which even sounded like infallibility. As I pointed out to Sean in #17, there was lots of evidence that the theologians of that age believed that Nicea was certainly true, but NOT that the theologians of Nicea could not possibly have erred. Sean posts a number of quotes from the Fathers which demonstrated that they thought the former, but not the latter. But the real point is that infallibility was not necessary for Nicea’s statements to be authoritative assuming we don’t adopt later Roman Catholic conceptions of what is authoritative at the outset. God did not create us to need infallibility in general in order for us to accept a given statement as authoritative. Now when we come to the realm of theology Catholic theologians say that we must have infallibility in order to have authority even though that is not true in any other area of human thought. Well unlike what Mike supposes above, I’m not back to bring up old arguments so I don’t want to repeat everything I’ve said before, and I really don’t want to try to convince Michael again that he misunderstood what I said. But I do want you to consider that it is possible for you to be convinced that something is authoritative even though it is not infallible whether this is a theological matter or not.

    Hans Kung doesn’t really believe in the authority of either councils or popes as far as I can tell

    Agreed. Certainly Kung did not believe that the councils and popes were authoritative in the same sense that the RCC today does. But you and Ray are missing the point I was making. Kung and Lefebvre and so many others in Catholicism argue from the same tradition that you do and yet come to different conclusions. The question I was posing to Bryan was how could someone possibly determine who was correct unless they assume the modern RCC system at the outset. And then you hit the nail right on the head with this quote:

    If you believe that a current guy is pope, and then you listen to him and the council of bishops who are in communion with him, you are an orthodox Catholic. If you don’t believe that there is a current pope, or you believe that there is, but you don’t believe in his authority or the other bishops’ authority, then you’re not orthodox. This isn’t a difficult standard to understand.

    Yes, absolutely. The only way we are ever going to concede the Catholic system of authority is correct is if we accept that “a current guy is pope.” But of course the problem that those of us outside the system of Catholic authority face is that we see no good reason for doing this either from the evidence from Scripture or the early centuries of the Church. The fact that the many Catholics come to different conclusions utilizing the same set of data (the tradition of the Church) just complicates the matter infinitely. So do you see my point? Do you see that there is no way that I’m going to be able to decide whether you or the ultra-cons or the liberals are correct? They are not idiots and they know their Church history well and they can argue that their particular position is in line with Catholic tradition as convincingly as you can. So what am I to think as a Protestant sitting in the middle of this? I’m sure it would be just like you sitting in the middle of a bunch of Protestants all arguing that their position on Scripture is the correct one.

    Ray – Canadian questioned me about my statement concerning the Early Church and then brought up the example of the sixth council and I just wanted to point out that historians generally don’t consider the time of the sixth council to be within what is commonly considered the Early Church. It was just a simple correction. I wouldn’t read anything more into my statement than that.

    I already commented on Augustine concerning authority. He would no doubt not have been able to accept the Protestant concept of authority but then neither would he have been able to accept what the Roman Catholic Church had become in the Renaissance/Reformation era.

    If the pope’s determination could be errant, then there is no way to know that his determination was errant at just this point concerning Pelagianism.

    Your statement here is anachronistic. Nobody in Augustine’s time affirmed anything like the papal infallibility of later RCC history. And even on the authority of councils, Augustine clearly said that the words of Scripture were superior to the any of the words of the bishops, even those of an ecumenical council. Augustine believed that the council had a right to judge matters of faith and doctrine, there was no reason to say that the promulgations of such councils should ever be put on the same effective authoritative level of Scripture.

    Even if you refuse to entertain the possibility that Christ promised to protect the successors of Peter from error;…

    It’s not that we refuse to entertain the idea. The problem is that there is no good reason from Scripture, reason, or early tradition to hold to such an idea.

    But of course if I thought the Catholic Church was that, I could not be a Catholic, because itsclaims are absolutist. It explicitly denies that it is a denomination within a larger Christianity. It affirms that it is the whole of Christianity, and that other denominations are more or less in harmony with that.

    John Jensen – Yes, absolutely. You have to accept that the Catholic Church is not just another denomination within Christianity to be Catholic. But of course, determining whether there is good reason to accept this is where Protestant and Catholic disagree.

    So far as I know, you have not conceded a single point

    Well Bryan, then I just broke a long tradition since I have just conceded to Ray above his point that Augustine’s ecclesiology is not in line with that of the Protestants. Actually I don’t think you are being fair with me, but there you have it….

    I think you have said all you could possibly say to me on that matters we have discussed, and in turn I have responded with about everything I can think of. So you tell me that the current RCC IS the true Church and what you have come to IS the orthodox way and so on. And I in turn try to dissect these comments and analyze them from a different perspective, but you seem not to want to bite. So we are stalemated as I see it. But again contrary to what Michael supposes, I did not post to bring up old arguments. Most all of my recent posts have been to point out areas where the writer has either represented the Protestant position in a way that we Reformed would never represent it, or stated matters in what I as a Protestant perceive is not going to promote dialogue. This is what I did in my post #6 above. But inevitably somebody asks me to clarify something and I end up repeating things I have already said to you or others here.

  42. Sean posts a number of quotes from the Fathers which demonstrated that they thought the former, but not the latter.

    Andrew.

    You said that God spoke through the council of Nicea. You also say that the council was fallible.

    If God spoke through the council of Nicea and if the council is the ‘word of God’ than the council is infallible because God does not lie.

    You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that God spoke here but his word was fallible unless you want to accuse God of being fallible.

    God did not create us to need infallibility in general in order for us to accept a given statement as authoritative. Now when we come to the realm of theology Catholic theologians say that we must have infallibility in order to have authority even though that is not true in any other area of human thought.

    Yet you believe that scripture is infallible don’t you? If God did not create us to need infallibility than why did he give us scripture which is infallible and authoritative – things that you say we don’t need?

  43. Dear Sean,

    Thanks for this article. There are, however, questions that I would like to raise.

    1. You defined formal sufficiency as: “On the other hand, for scripture to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all that is needed for salvation, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it (e.g. the church is not needed to interpret scripture.)”

    a. You gave an example of what you mean by “outside information” as “the church is not needed to interpret scripture”. However, you should note that no reformed christian who practices sola scriptura believes that the “church” is not needed to interpret scripture. I fail to find this principle stated in our confession of faith in light of (WCF Chapter 1 sec 5, 6, 7). My question is, are you not arguing against a straw man here?

    b. If I take your definition at face value, would you say that the accepted “infallible rule of faith” for RCs (Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium) are formally sufficient?

    c. On the quotes that you gave, how does Athanasius, Hilary and Vincent define the term “Catholic Church”? Do they believe the same way as you do that the the “Catholic Church” is a privileged few headed by the Infallible Pope in Rome?

    d. For example, Vincent advised Christians that in order “to detect the deceits of heretics that arise and to avoid their snares and to keep healthy and sound in a healthy faith” (4:1) we should “strengthen” or “fortify” our beliefs through “God’s Law” and the “tradition of the Catholic Church”. But his definition of the “tradition of the Catholic Church” is found in 4:3 where he states that “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” He argues that in order for a certain teaching or tradition to be called Catholic it must have the stamp of (1) Universality (2) Antiquity (3) Consent. The last criteria (ie. Consent) is defined as: “if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.” I wonder why he didn’t say that it must be in accord to what the Roman Pope says? And, I also wonder how we should interpret “nearly all” bishops and doctors should held to that tradition… Would 50%, 60% or 70% be enough? If this criteria is applied during the Arian controversy where majority of the high ranking bishops accepted the Arian heresy, would it not gave credence to the heresy instead?

    e. Finally, it seems to me that Vincent also gave several scenarios in 4:4. Yet not one instruction was given to the Christian to go ask the Roman Pope. Why is that so? In fact, the last scenario is quite relevant. Vincent wrote that in such cases as there is no universal, ancient or general consent of a certain teaching and tradition the Christian should “do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.” — Isn’t this bordering on private interpretation of the facts and non-facts of the situation? Shouldn’t the Christian be admonished to go ask and wait for the infallible intepretation of the Roman Pope instead?

    Thanks,
    Joey

  44. Oh btw Sean, applying Vincent’s rule (4:3-4) to determine which tradition or teaching is correct… how would you think the doctrines of Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary and the Infallibility of the Pope would fair?

    Thanks,
    Joey

  45. When in doubt, say the papacy is not found in antiquity. But then we find the papacy in antiquity. When in further doubt, say the “medieval” papacy is not found in antiquity. But then we find arrogant popes wielding worldwide doctrinal authority in antiquity. When in even further doubt, say that the “infallible” “medieval” “renaissance” or “RCC” papacy is not found in antiquity. But then we find people announcing that they will not believe a doctrine unless the pope rules that they can, and other people stopping believing in a doctrine when the pope rules that they can’t, and the doctrines never being changed because of the restriction of prior papal precedent, which are exactly the relevant outcomes of infallbility even if the word doesn’t get used. Thus, when in final doubt, say that the majority of these pro-papal quotes are from western sources, so this means that they were wrong. And yet, in spite of the fact that the conclusion doesn’t follow, it is still useful to meet that argument where it is, and therefore we point out that there are so many pro-papal eastern quotes as well.

    There were popes in antiquity. They wielded worldwide doctrinal authority. Bishops who didn’t sign their decrees were removed from their sees and replaced. Papal precedent was considered binding on later popes. People spoke of popes as divine oracles. There was a whole lotta pope going on in antiquity. So if you want do what the ancients did, get yourself into a conversation with the current Pope, whose name is Benedict XVI. He doesn’t bite, and neither does being Catholic. In fact its great, and it doesn’t involve hating anyone else, and its full of joy.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  46. :>)

  47. Gentlemen:

    I’m addressing this to readers in general, rather than to Andrew in particular, because Andrew has said he’s basically through with debating me. I don’t really blame him: on more than one occasion, I’ve reached the same point with him myself, and have said so. But I think it would be useful here to explain how I characterize Andrew’s theological position on the question of doctrinal authority. For his position is actually pretty typical of Reformed thinking on these matters, at least in my experience, and he’s expressed it with far less venom than some Reformed debaters do. It’s important to get clear about that position if debate is ever going to be useful.

    First, consider Sean’s challenge in #41:

    You said that God spoke through the council of Nicea. You also say that the council was fallible. If God spoke through the council of Nicea and if the council is the ‘word of God’ than the council is infallible because God does not lie. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that God spoke here but his word was fallible unless you want to accuse God of being fallible.

    Yet you believe that scripture is infallible don’t you? If God did not create us to need infallibility than why did he give us scripture which is infallible and authoritative – things that you say we don’t need?

    That challenge is quite apposite. Yet given my long acquaintance with Andrew’s arguments, he simply cannot see that challenge as apposite. That’s because, in keeping with the Protestant “hermeneutical paradigm,” all interpretation of the “sources”—Scripture, Tradition, the early Fathers, and even Catholic doctrine itself—is treated as a matter of opinion, even when one or more parties to the discussion do not recognize that move for what it is. And that holds even granted that, for many Protestants such as Andrew, the inspiration and inerrancy of the Protestant biblical canon are taken as a given, not as a matter of opinion. I’ll explain why a bit later.

    But first, notice the asymmetry. On the one hand, Andrew clearly implies that the question what counts as binding Catholic doctrine is a matter of opinion even for Catholics themselves. Why? Well, the sedevacantists do not agree that the present pope is the true pope; and progressives such as Küng deny that dogmatic definitions by papally ratified general councils are either infallible or binding. According to Andrew, that shows that there is more than one “rationally plausible” interpretation of Catholic tradition and ecclesiological doctrine, some of which are incompatible with others. Accordingly, the official principle of orthodoxy that Bryan, I, and others have cited is irrelevant to Andrew, because in his eyes, it cannot actually be applied with a force greater than that of one opinion among others. To him, it’s just one more “party line.” On the other hand, he thinks Nicene Christology must be considered “authoritative” because, as he has often asserted, it’s the only rationally plausible interpretation of Scripture, and Scripture is the binding, inerrant word of God. Hence the asymmetry: what counts as authoritative and binding Catholic doctrine is a matter of opinion even for Catholics, but Nicene Christology and the inerrancy of Scripture are not a matter of opinion for Christians in general.

    The question now arises: why doesn’t Andrew see such an asymmetry as a problem for his position? Why does he think it makes sense to say that Nicene Christology, which was fiercely debated for a century after Nicaea I, and is rejected by many baptized persons even today, is the only rationally plausible interpretation of the pre-Nicene sources on the person and nature of Christ, whereas the Catholic principle of orthodoxy that’s been cited by several contributors to this thread is not the only rationally plausible interpretation of Catholic tradition itself? Comparing the mere extent of dissent on two those matters respectively, which is easy given the historical record, would not suffice to answer the question. Clearly, there has been at least as much disagreement among the baptized about Nicene Christology as there is among Catholics about Catholicism’s principle of orthodoxy. The only way to deny that is to exclude from the category of “Christian” those who dissent from Nicene dogma. But even Andrew concedes that he and his church lack the God-given authority to do that definitively. They can and do exclude such dissenters from their fellowship, but they would never say that their reason for so doing is preserved from error by God himself.

    The answer to my question is, or should be, clear. Andrew believes that a study of the early sources establishes Nicene Christology as the only rationally plausible interpretation of those sources, whereas a study of the same sort, of those same sources, does not establish that the developed Catholic doctrine on the authority of Catholic doctrine itself as the only rationally plausible interpretation of those sources. Now of course, many people hold quite a different view of the sources. Some of us have expressed that view in this thread and on other C2C threads. I especially like K Doran’s way of expressing it. But that does not matter to Andrew. Why? Well, for one thing, Andrew clearly assumes that the only way to establish any given doctrine as “authoritative” for Christians is to conduct an careful, academic study of the early sources, so as to discern all the evidence for what the early Christians themselves considered authoritative doctrine. Once we have all that evidence in hand, then we have all that’s necessary and sufficient to justify saying that certain doctrines are “apostolic,” and thus belong to the deposit of faith, and that certain doctrines are not “apostolic,” and thus do not belong to the deposit of faith. Doctrines that are binding on Christian believers are those which can be discovered by such means, or can at least be logically deduced from what can be discovered by such means ; doctrines that cannot be discovered by such means, or deduced therefrom, are not binding. Andrew is convinced that he has unearthed and weighed the documentary evidence from the early sources in such a way as to justify asserting, on the one hand, that Nicene dogma is the only rationally plausible interpretation of those sources on the question of Christology, and on the other hand, that developed Catholic doctrine on the authority of Catholic doctrine itself is not the only rationally plausible interpretation of those sources on the question of doctrinal authority in the Church.

    Now it is all too easy to point out that Andrew’s interpretations of the sources are just his and others’ opinion, even as he maintains that our position on C2C is just our opinion and that of so-called “conservative” Catholics. But Andrew cannot see his opinion as a mere opinion, even as he sees our confession of Catholic faith as a mere opinion. Why? Because he think’s he’s already got the strongest argument there can possibly be for establishing certain doctrines as apostolic and binding and excluding others as not being apostolic and binding. Given as much, it does not matter to Andrew that we see his position as every bit as much an opinion as he sees ours. In his eyes he has, but we lack, the only sort of argument that’s rationally compelling as an answer to the question which doctrines are apostolic and binding and which are not.

    The fact remains, of course, that Andrew’s position really is just an opinion that he holds along with a certain segment of the Protestant world, including the Reformed. He doesn’t claim that his position is divinely preserved from error, and he knows that many baptized people—Protestants and Orthodox as well as Catholics—reject it. But he cannot see his position as a mere opinion. Why? Well, for one thing, he takes for granted that the inspiration and inerrancy of the Protestant biblical canon is not a matter of opinion, because the people he’s wont to regard as Christians, including us at C2C, happen to agree with him that all the books included in said canon are inspired and inerrant. That agreement has been the majority view among Christians ever since there was something recognizable as “the” biblical canon. Hence, and according to Andrew, we are justified simply on academic grounds in saying that such a belief is a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy. On the other hand, there have always been plenty of baptized people who have rejected papal authority, at least since that authority became a historically documented issue—and especially since, during the early Middle Ages, official Catholic about said authority developed into something much like the form it has today. Hence, according to Andrew, we are not justified in proposing such a doctrine as a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy. Or, if we do so propose it, we cannot defend it as anything more than a dubious academic opinion.

    Although that position of Andrew’s is no more than an opinion, and thus is not itself a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy, it appears otherwise to Andrew because he is committed to following an essentially academic method—which I’ve characterized above—as the best and only way to determine what is and what is not Christian orthodoxy. That is what Bryan and I mean when we claim that Andrew’s position is a form of “rationalism.” A rationalist is not going to see certain of his opinions as just opinions, because he’s convinced that he’s already got, and has successfully used, the strongest possible method there can be for discerning revealed truth. I learned something similar about the rationalist attitude when I studied rationalism as a strictly philosophical stance in epistemology. The rationalist as such is convinced that his methodology yields knowledge, not just opinion; indeed, that’s the attitude that makes him a rationalist. This is why, for Andrew, Nicene dogma afford us as much certainty in theology as the laws of gravity do in physics, whereas the official Catholic criteria for determining Christian orthodoxy do no such thing. To his mind, the former satisfies the criteria for knowledge whereas the latter do not. And that in turn is why Andrew sees the position adopted by Bryan, I, and others at C2C as just an one opinion among others that are rationally plausible for Catholics themselves to adopt.

    Now from the standpoint of the Catholic Magisterium, as well as that of Aquinas, Newman, and many others even today, such a stance is not the stance of faith, Catholic or otherwise. It is, in fact, no faith at all. For just as the content of divine revelation cannot be established or verified by reason alone, so its interpretation cannot be regulated and conducted by reason alone. Hence, interpretation of the media by which divine revelation is transmitted to us—i.e., Scripture and Tradition—can never carry divine authority if conducted just by an academic method. It can uncover “motives of credibility” that afford good reasons to to make the assent of faith, but those can never necessitate the assent of faith either logically or psychologically. Accordingly, no academic method can, by itself, tell us what we ought to believe as Christians. It can tell us what various Christians—the human authors of Scripture, the Fathers, the general councils, lesser theologians, etc.—have thought we should believe as Christians, but it cannot tell us which Christian thoughts really do bind all Christians with divine authority. For that, we need a living authority which speaks with that of Christ himself, so that we can identify with divine authority what the relevant sources are and be sure of what they mean. No candidate for such authority exists in Protestantism—as most Protestants would be quick to tell you.

    Best to all,
    Mike

  48. Michael

    I am an agreement that there is, loosely said, two modes of knowing, namely faith and reason. Having this view I have come to believe, at the least, that the Protestants account for the formation of the canon is unjustifiable. It would seem that matters of faith are not believed/discovered by natural reason, but comes from a source having divine authority. (I am not saying reason does not play a role, but to save time, I would assume you understand my point.) Now, as a former protestant becoming Catholic, my old view was, obviously, sola Scriptura. The main turning point for me was, given that, through the mode of faith, one believes the scriptures, and that these very scriptures do not give a) a divine table of contents or b) even the criteria for determining the canon, and since both A and B are not matters we can reason to, but fall under the category of things believed by faith and since they are absent from the contents of the Protestant’s only authority regarding matters of faith, then, I believe, they have a problem that they cannot get out of.

    My question for you is two parts. One, do you believe I am on the right track with my thinking regarding faith and reason. Two, could the Protestant get out of my problem by simply saying that there is no need for the scriptures to have either a divine table of contents or a criteria for determining the canon, for those two are the “contents” of what the scriptures are? In other words, since we come to believe the scriptures by faith, you cannot separate the table of contents from the other contents of scriptures, for they are one in the same in regards to what I put my faith in. Said again, you cannot say you have to give an account for the table of contents from the scriptures, for they are a part of the scriptures. I hope I am being clear.

  49. Joey # 42

    I don’t have a lot time the next several days so hopefully I can get some help answering your questions which I believe are important.

    However, in the few minutes that I have:

    However, you should note that no reformed Christian who practices sola scriptura believes that the “church” is not needed to interpret scripture. I fail to find this principle stated in our confession of faith in light of (WCF Chapter 1 sec 5, 6, 7). My question is, are you not arguing against a straw man here?

    Firstly, not all Reformed are saying that scripture is formally sufficient as I said in the original post. A material sufficiency is at least internally consistent with the position that you’ve taken: that the church is indeed needed to interpret scripture. However, this just pushes back the question: what is the church?

    If you haven’t already done so, I would invite you to read the Solo/Sola Scriptura article and the Ecclesial Deismarticle as they are both closely related to your line of line of questioning.

    b. If I take your definition at face value, would you say that the accepted “infallible rule of faith” for RCs (Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium) are formally sufficient?

    I am not sure I understand the question here. Are asking whether or not I believe that the Church with Her Scriptures, sacred Tradition and living magersterium are formally sufficient?

    On the quotes that you gave, how does Athanasius, Hilary and Vincent define the term “Catholic Church”? Do they believe the same way as you do that the the “Catholic Church” is a privileged few headed by the Infallible Pope in Rome?

    I do not believe that the Catholic Church is merely a ‘privileged few.’ I do believe that Athanasius, Hilary and Vincent were all members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ founded.

  50. Michael Liccone: Although that position of Andrew’s is no more than an opinion, and thus is not itself a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy, it appears otherwise to Andrew because he is committed to following an essentially academic method …

    Am I missing something? It seems glaringly obvious to me that as long as Andrew maintains that the Protestant Bible is the ONLY source of inerrant authority for a Christian, then it is quite impossible that he could offer anything other than his opinion on what constitutes the doctrines of Christianity. Andrew is no different in this respect than any other Protestant that is going to insist that Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine is true.

    It is also obvious to me, that given Andrew’s belief that neither he nor any other person can speak with inerrant authority, that the only path that he can pursue towards understanding the doctrines of Christianity is an academic path. He defends this pursuit of the truth when he writes “it is possible for you to be convinced that something is authoritative even though it is not infallible whether this is a theological matter or not.”

    What Andrew says here is not unreasonable. If one is being rational, one must examine the evidence available, and one cannot ignore the evidence that makes one question one’s own presuppositions. This is how science works. I quite agree with Andrew that it is possible to be convinced whether something is authoritative by examining the evidence.

    Let us examine some evidence then, and see if the evidence supports a foundational doctrine of Protestantism. Protestantism is making a claim that the Protestant Bible is formally sufficient to define all the doctrines of Christianity. One source of evidence that can be examined to test the veracity of that claim is Protestantism itself. If a rational person looks at what Protestantism actually is, he will find that it is thousands upon thousands of divided denominations that preach conflicting and irreconcilable doctrine. The doctrinal division within Protestantism gives the rational person all the evidence he needs to doubt the veracity of the Protestant’s claim that the Protestant Bible is formally sufficient to define the doctrines of Christianity.

    So I agree with Andrew, it is possible to be convinced whether a belief is authoritative by examining the evidence, and doctrinal anarchy within Protestantism is gives sufficient evidence to the rational person doubt that the Protestant bible alone is formally sufficient as a sole rule of faith for Christians.

    There is further evidence that a rational person can examine to test the veracity of the claim that the Protestant bible is formally sufficient to define every doctrine of Christianity. And that is the evidence found within a Protestant Bible. There are no scriptures in a Protestant bible that are formally sufficient to support the claim that the Protestant bible is the only source of authority for the Christian.

    Did the Early Church Fathers teach that the Protestant bible is the only source of inerrant authority for Christians? If one accepts Luther’s doctrine that the Protestant bible is the ONLY source of inerrant authority for the Christian, that is a moot point. Even if one could find such evidence, it wouldn’t be evidence that is guaranteed to be inerrant.

  51. Sean Patrick: Firstly, not all Reformed are saying that scripture is formally sufficient as I said in the original post. A material sufficiency is at least internally consistent with the position that you’ve taken: that the church is indeed needed to interpret scripture. However, this just pushes back the question: what is the church?

    There are Reformed Christians that believe that the Protestant bible is NOT formally sufficient to define all the doctrines of Christianity? If these Reformed Christians are going to maintain that the Protestant Bible is the ONLY inerrant authority that the Reformed Christian has access to, then any doctrine that is derived by a man’s interpretation of the Protestant Bible cannot be guaranteed to be inerrant, since no man can be a source of inerrant authority. It doesn’t matter if a single person such a John Calvin developed a doctrine by his interpretation of the bible or some nebulous entity called “the church” developed a doctrine by interpretation. As long as one is going to claim that Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine is true, the only doctrines of Christianity that can have the claim of inerrancy are the doctrines that the Protestant Bible are formally sufficient to maintain. Which leaves that Reformed Protestant between a rock and a hard place since there is nothing in a Protestant bible that is formally sufficient to support Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura.

  52. If God spoke through the council of Nicea and if the council is the ‘word of God’ than the council is infallible because God does not lie.

    Sean

    When we speak of God “speaking through” or “working through” something or someone we can mean it in different senses. I would assume that you believe that God works through a priest delivering a homily to the people to bless them. And I’m sure you would hope that God is working through you as you serve Him. But while you believe that God can speak through or work through individuals you would not hold that God is working through them in such a way that they are guaranteed to be free from error. God working/speaking through someone or some group of people infallibly is a special class of God working/speaking in this world.

    Yet you believe that scripture is infallible don’t you? If God did not create us to need infallibility than why did he give us scripture which is infallible and authoritative – things that you say we don’t need?

    That’s definitely a good question and one that we sometimes get hit with by liberal academics. I think at its most basic level if God has ordained something then we need it, but I don’t think that really gets to your question. Fundamentally we don’t hold to the infallibility of Scriptures because we inherently need it, but because God has ordained it to be such. God could have worked differently and not utilized an infallible standard but in His providence He did, so we hold to it and it of course since He has ordained it this way, it is vital to the human race’s understanding of who God is and what He would have us do. I would also note that the typical argument against the liberal here is Christological rather than epistemological. Even the liberals concede that Christ believed in the prevailing Jewish notion of Scripture of His time which was that the Scripture was God’s very Word and thus perfect. So, if Christ assumed that the OT Scriptures were infallible, but in fact the Scriptures are not infallible, then Christ was either lying or severely deluded. In either case Christianity becomes worthless in such a system.

    Well Michael, I don’t think I can ignore what you said and I don’t want to talk around you so I will try to clarify a few things I said.

    Firstly my point to Bryan was that in many cases someone from outside the RCC would never be able to determine who among the liberals and conservatives arguing from tradition of the Church was correct unless of course they did what K. Doran suggests and just follow whoever is pope. Of course if we follow the pope then there is only one rational interpretation of tradition and that is what the pope says. But if we don’t then there are many options, many of which can just as easily (sometimes more easily) be derived from the tradition of the Church.

    When you start off speaking of my understanding Nicean orthodoxy you say that I believe it is the only rational interpretation of Scripture. But then in your next paragraph you represent my position as defending Nicean orthodoxy as “the only rationally plausible interpretation of the pre-Nicene sources on the person and nature of Christ….” So why the switch? You have it right with the former statement, but not the later one. Then you go on to describe all of the differences in Church tradition concerning Christology but this would seem to serve my position rather than yours. Yes, there are lots of possible interpretations of the nature of Christ given the history of the Church because lots of groups of men had lots of opinions about the matter. But there is only one opinion in Scriptures as to who Christ was because it was written by one all knowing God. So yes, there is an asymmetry. I think for you there is also an asymmetry but it’s just the opposite of what mine is. Agreed?

    On these matters you say that we have no authority but you make this judgment ultimately because there is no infallibility associated with any of the ecclesiastical actions of the Reformed churches. If we assume the Catholic position that infallibility must be present then you are right, there can be no authority. But we don’t want to go through that again, do we?

    Concerning your description of my position of discovery and utilization of early sources, this does not really describe anything that the Protestants do to determine what is and what is not binding, although just as in any system of thought, such study is invaluable. But the epistemic status of what is derived from the study of the Fathers is different for Protestants than Catholics. Both sides use the sort of research you describe but we use it differently. But within the comments that you are responding to, it is not the difference between Catholic and Protestant that is being considered, but the difference between Catholic and Catholic, both who look to different strands of evidence from Church tradition to prove their system. And who can say that one system is right and one system is wrong based on the evidence from the tradition of the Church alone? Unless of course we just say that the pope is right.

    As I’ve said to Bryan it not’s what I think personally. If you want to talk about what the positions of the Reformed congregations were and are then I think that’s a better question. But it’s not correct to say that they look at the matter in a purely academic or rationalistic manner. The Word of God is always spiritually discerned by the churches which are faithful to Him, but if we look at things rationalistically we end up as humanists and agnostics in the final analysis. I think you can disagree with us about our methodology without going to such extremes in your critiques. You are just not describing something that separates Protestants from Catholics.

  53. mateo (#49):

    What Andrew says here is not unreasonable. If one is being rational, one must examine the evidence available, and one cannot ignore the evidence that makes one question one’s own presuppositions. This is how science works. I quite agree with Andrew that it is possible to be convinced whether something is authoritative by examining the evidence.

    I agree that Andrew’s position is “not unreasonable,” if all you mean is that he’s following a rational method which he believes yields knowledge of what does and does not belong to the true faith. I also agree that firmly established results of academic inquiry, at least in the sciences, are “authoritative” in the sense that it would be unreasonable to deny an important subset of those results. To use my favorite example: the laws of gravity. But all the same, I think you’ve missed the point of my critique.

    I’ll put it this way: the sort of doctrinal “authoritativeness” which Andrew believes can be attained by his method is not the sort that faith rests on and assents to at all, even if Protestantism were far more uniform than it is. The methodologies of the sciences, or indeed of any formal mode of academic inquiry, are those of reason, not of faith, and hence can never suffice even in principle to establish a single doctrine as orthodox. In fact, I shall go so far as to say that anybody who’s locked themselves into Andrew’s methodology and position lacks the virtue of faith altogether. My reasons for saying that are essentially those that Thomas Aquinas gives and that are expounded by Bryan here.

    That said, I point out that the great diversity of Protestantism does not show that all Protestant churches lack the sort of authoritativeness that can be had by academic inquiry. Although I reject, on strictly academic grounds, many of the results Andrew believes he’s established with his preferred methodology, that’s basically just an academic squabble. I believe it’s possible, using such a methodology well, to exhibit what the majority of early Christians explicitly believed, and indeed what the majority of Christians through the ages have regarded as orthodox doctrine. High on the list of such doctrines would be the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, and the list as a whole would be an “authoritative” academic result. But compiling it successfully would not move us a single step closer toward knowing what Christians in general really ought to believe. For that, we need an authority which, while making use of academic evidence when necessary, in no way depends on such evidence for its authority and must often goes beyond such evidence when making its decisions. An authority like that is one established by God and, under certain conditions, protected by him from error. And that would remain the case even if there were only one Protestant sect.

    Best,
    Mike

  54. Andrew (re. #51):

    The Word of God is always spiritually discerned by the churches which are faithful to Him….”

    A few questions:

    1. What do you mean by ‘is faithful to Him’?
    2. What do you mean by ‘spiritually discern’?

  55. Andrew (#51):

    I’m glad to see that you’re not interested in talking around each other. Allow me to address your major points.

    …in many cases someone from outside the RCC would never be able to determine who among the liberals and conservatives arguing from tradition of the Church was correct unless of course they did what K. Doran suggests and just follow whoever is pope. Of course if we follow the pope then there is only one rational interpretation of tradition and that is what the pope says. But if we don’t then there are many options, many of which can just as easily (sometimes more easily) be derived from the tradition of the Church.

    Your basic point there is sound, but it can only emerge as sound when a few misconceptions are cleared up.

    First, even if one just follows whoever is pope, it does not follow that what the pope teaches is the only “rational interpretation of tradition.” Often, in fact, it isn’t—and I say that as an orthodox Catholic faithful to Rome. The debate among Catholic theologians about the birth-control pill in the 1960s is a very good illustration of what I mean. It was not being settled by argument alone; indeed, I believe it could not have been; in the end, the dispute had to be settled by an exercise of papal authority. One of the major reasons why the Magisterium in general is necessary is that reason alone often doesn’t suffice to determine how “tradition” must be interpreted. And the endorsement of a particular interpretation by magisterial authority doesn’t change that. The authority of the Magisterium is charismatic, not academic. Its ruling must always make sense, but they needn’t be logically necessitated by any written sources it may cite as reasons.

    Second, the pope is by no means identical with the Magisterium. The Magisterium consists in the bishops, both individually and collectively, in full communion with Rome. Both the “ordinary” and “extraordinary” magisterium are exercised by all the bishops. The latter is usually exercised by the bishops collectively in a general council, and only rarely by the pope unilaterally. Either means of expression is divinely protected from error when expressed in the form of a dogmatic canon. The ordinary magisterium is also infallible under certain conditions. The pope’s contribution to the extraordinary magisterium is necessary because his ratification of a general council’s dogmatic canons is necessary to make them binding and irreformable. As for the ordinary magisterium, the pope’s contribution is vital only when the bishops are not managing to speak with one voice about a topic belonging to the deposit of faith. The “papal” magisterium is thus indispensable, but it is by no means all there is to the Magisterium. None of the great ecumenical councils of the first millennium were called by popes, nor were any popes present personally at them. And much that is infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium requires no special papal intervention.

    With all that in mind, y0u’re right that, if we “follow the pope,” then the serious doctrinal disagreements among Catholics that outsiders observe—or, for that matter, that Catholics themselves observe—can be resolved, at least in principle and when the pope sees fit to address it. In Protestantism, there is no equivalent authority. That’s a major reason why I’m not a Protestant.

    When you start off speaking of my understanding Nicean orthodoxy you say that I believe it is the only rational interpretation of Scripture. But then in your next paragraph you represent my position as defending Nicean orthodoxy as “the only rationally plausible interpretation of the pre-Nicene sources on the person and nature of Christ….” So why the switch? You have it right with the former statement, but not the later one. Then you go on to describe all of the differences in Church tradition concerning Christology but this would seem to serve my position rather than yours. Yes, there are lots of possible interpretations of the nature of Christ given the history of the Church because lots of groups of men had lots of opinions about the matter. But there is only one opinion in Scriptures as to who Christ was because it was written by one all knowing God. So yes, there is an asymmetry. I think for you there is also an asymmetry but it’s just the opposite of what mine is. Agreed?

    I admit that I made the mistake you said I made. But it’s important to explain why I made it.

    If “there is only one opinion in Scriptures as to who Christ was because it was written by one all knowing God,” it does not follow that there’s only one rationally plausible interpretation of the Scriptures. If there were, then the inability of most Jewish scholars to see that Christ fulfilled their Scriptures, or the inability of the Arians to see that the Son is co-equal and consubstantial with the Father, would convict them of irrationality—which in most cases would be false. What the Jews and the Arians needed was not a better academic take on the Scriptures, or a greater familiarity with formal logic, but the virtue of faith. All that follows from what you said is that there is only one correct interpretation of the Scriptures on the question who Jesus was and is. But that’s exactly why ecclesial authority is necessary for identifying the correct interpretation as such and certifying it as irreformable doctrine, not just as a human opinion. If the correct interpretation were the only rationally plausible one, then ecclesial teaching authority could, in principle, be replaced by that of logicians—which it clearly can’t be.

    I made the mistake I did because it seemed to me that you were saying not just that there’s only one correct Christological interpretation of the Scriptures—we agree on that—but that there’s only one that ultimately makes sense. If you were right, then we would have every reason to expect to find that interpretation taken for granted in the early Church, so that it would be just as true to say that there was only one rationally plausible interpretation of pre-Nicene ecclesial tradition on the matter as to say that there was only one rationally plausible interpretation of Scripture itself on the matter. So that’s what I thought you were saying. I’m glad you’re not saying that, because as you recognize, it wouldn’t be true. I suggest you consider that as evidence that it isn’t true in the case of Scripture either. If you end up agreeing with me that it isn’t true in the case of the Scriptures, your whole outlook would change considerably.

    On these matters you say that we have no authority but you make this judgment ultimately because there is no infallibility associated with any of the ecclesiastical actions of the Reformed churches. If we assume the Catholic position that infallibility must be present then you are right, there can be no authority. But we don’t want to go through that again, do we?

    I have repeatedly argued, not just assumed, that ecclesial infallibility is necessary for distinguishing between the actual content of divine revelation on the one hand from merely human interpretations of the sources on the other. You have rarely engaged the content of my argument, and on the few occasions when you have, you’ve invoked a concept of “authoritativeness” that is indistinguishable from merely human opinions. Accordingly, I’ve seen your responses as mostly irrelevant. But I suppose I agree that there’s no point in going through all that again. It seems to me that, so long as you view these things from within a Protestant HP, you won’t even be able to appreciate the distinctions I make, let alone accept the Magisterium.

    Regarding the Reformed churches, you wrote:

    But it’s not correct to say that they look at the matter in a purely academic or rationalistic manner. The Word of God is always spiritually discerned by the churches which are faithful to Him, but if we look at things rationalistically we end up as humanists and agnostics in the final analysis. I think you can disagree with us about our methodology without going to such extremes in your critiques. You are just not describing something that separates Protestants from Catholics.

    Very well then. If academic inquiry does not suffice to determine what is the correct interpretation of the Scriptures, and “spiritual discernment” is also necessary, then one important thing follows and one question arises from you.

    What follows is that there isn’t just one rationally plausible interpretation of the Scriptures. If there were, then spiritual discernment would be unnecessary. All we’d need are people who are good at reading texts and good logicians to point out what follows from the texts. In other words, people with the right natural gifts, not people guided supernaturally by the Spirit beyond what natural gifts could discern. But you now seem to agree with me that the latter are quite necessary indeed.

    The question for you that arises from that is this: whose “spiritual discernment” is authoritative in such a way as to show which doctrines Christians in general are to accept as de fide, i.e. as doctrines that convey divine revelation, not just human opinions? I’m Catholic partly because I see no way for Protestants to answer that question. And I see no such way because they don’t even claim the sort of authority that’s needed.

    Best,
    Mike

  56. Sorry if this has been responded to, but I just can’t resist commenting. Way back in comment #27 Andrew said to Bryan:

    Let’s say you and me and Marcel Lefebvre and Hans Kung are in the same room debating the tradition of the RCC and its application. The three of you will have different opinions on a number of important issues. All three of you are Catholic and you all believe that your position is in line with the historic tradition of the Church. Now I’m sure you will have good reasons why your position is the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church but of course your liberal and ultra-conservative Catholic friends believe the same thing. So why should I believe that your position is the correct one?

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that room! Andrew, the first thing that came to my mind was “lets ask Benedict XVI. After all, he is alive!” After consulting Papa the ones that he declares to be in communion with him are the ones who’s positions are not heretical. In the crew you mention, I think it is fairly obvious Bryan would be the only one calmly sipping his mint julep (I picture him sipping that for some reason) while Kung and Lefebre would be sweating it big time. There is no way this is possible in any Protestant reality. NO WAY. And the fact that a meeting has not taken place between the people you mention does not necesitate that the ones with heretical beliefs are part of the church somehow.

    So your comparison is utterly wrong. Catholics have a way to decide who is right. Protestants do not.

  57. Hey David,

    Take a peek at my #31 – seems we have a similar sense of humor :>)

  58. Michael Liccone: I agree that Andrew’s position is “not unreasonable,” if all you mean is that he’s following a rational method which he believes yields knowledge of what does and does not belong to the true faith. I also agree that firmly established results of academic inquiry, at least in the sciences, are “authoritative” in the sense that it would be unreasonable to deny an important subset of those results. To use my favorite example: the laws of gravity. But all the same, I think you’ve missed the point of my critique.

    I’ll put it this way: the sort of doctrinal “authoritativeness” which Andrew believes can be attained by his method is not the sort that faith rests on and assents to at all, even if Protestantism were far more uniform than it is. The methodologies of the sciences, or indeed of any formal mode of academic inquiry, are those of reason, not of faith, and hence can never suffice even in principle to establish a single doctrine as orthodox.

    I think that I do understand the point of your critique because you write so well. I agree with everything that you have said in your posts to this thread. If there is any misunderstanding between us, it is probably my fault because I know that I don’t always articulate my thoughts with your precision. I think that it is possible that you missed the point that I was trying to make.

    You say: “The methodologies of the sciences, or indeed of any formal mode of academic inquiry, are those of reason, not of faith, and hence can never suffice even in principle to establish a single doctrine as orthodox.” To that, I say amen. Let us look at one particular doctrine of Christianity that all orthodox Christians accept – the doctrine that the scriptures are inerrant because they are “God breathed”. If a Protestant believes this doctrine, the reason he believes it is not because he reached this belief by the methodology of science. The Protestant believes this doctrine because of he has been given the grace of God to believe something that has been supernaturally revealed.

    My point has to do with what human reason is capable of discerning once one has been given the grace to know what has been supernaturally revealed. The Catholic Church does not see human reason as pitted against supernatural revelation – she sees that human reason has a real value in apologetics. In fact, the whole point of Catholic apologetics is to show that what we believe is not unreasonable. The Church teaches that what we believe by divine and supernatural faith cannot be arrived at by human reason alone, but if one does believe in what Christ’s church teaches has been supernaturally revealed, the articles of the Christian faith are not unreasonable. IOW, a Catholics isn’t required to give up using his human reason if he becomes a Catholic, since nothing that is taught as an article of faith is against human reason if one first accepts by faith what has been divinely revealed.

    Now here is my point. If one believes that what is written is scriptures is inerrant, human reason alone suffices to show that sola scriptura is false doctrine. To arrive at that conclusion one does not need additional divine revelation, because logical thinking about what is written in the scriptures will bring one to that conclusion. A purely academic exersise, so to speak.

    Nowhere do the scriptures teach that the Protestant bible is the only source of inerrant authority for the Christian, nor does what is written in scriptures give the faintest hint that there is any truth to this novelty of Luther. A rational person has good reason to doubt the veracity of the Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine, since it is a self-refuting doctrine. It is simply not possible to know that Luther’s novelty is inerrant doctrine if I believe that the only source of inerrant doctrine is the Protestant bible. To maintain Luther’s novelty, I would need access to a source of inerrant authority that exists outside of the Protestant bible – an inerrant authority that reveals to men Luther’s novel doctrine, and that involves an irreconcilable logical contradiction, since Luther’s doctrine states that the ONLY inerrant source of authority for teaching Christian doctrine is the Protestant bible!

    To sum it up, I do not believe that human reason alone will ever arrive at the truths that are known by the supernatural gift of faith. Two things that require supernatural faith to believe are that scriptures are inerrant and that the teaching office within the Catholic Church can, under certain circumstances, interpret the scriptures without error. Human reason unaided by supernatural grace will never arrive at these two beliefs. But human reason alone is sufficient to prove that sola scriptura is false doctrine if one already believes by divine and supernatural faith that the scriptures are inerrant.

    As an aside, the inerrant scriptures gives us another means to discern the veracity of Luther’s novelty, and that is the scriptural teaching that a tree is known by the fruit that it bears. What has been the fruit of Luther’s sola scriptura novelty? Thousands upon thousands of divided Protestant denominations that teach contradictory doctrine. God is not the author of confusion!

    Michael Liccone: I shall go so far as to say that anybody who’s locked themselves into Andrew’s methodology and position lacks the virtue of faith altogether. My reasons for saying that are essentially those that Thomas Aquinas gives and that are expounded by Bryan here.

    This is an excellent article – “the person who disbelieves even one article of the faith, has neither living faith nor dead faith.”

    Martin Luther lost his faith when he elevated himself to the center of the universe and created a human religion built by the process of picking and choosing among the articles of the faith that had been handed down to him by the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is a terrible irony that the man that taught justification by faith alone had no real faith.

  59. Mateo (re. # 57),

    The Church teaches that what we believe by divine and supernatural faith cannot be arrived at by human reason alone….

    This isn’t entirely accurate. The Church’s teaching on the relation between faith and reason, in this context, is best exemplified by Aquinas. He explains that there are two sets of ‘articles of the faith’: (1) preambles of the faith and (2) mysteries of the faith. The preambles can, in principle, be “arrived at by human reason alone.” These include, for example, the propositions that God exists, or that we have a soul, or that our soul is immaterial, etc. The ‘mysteries of the faith’ are propositions that one can never, even in principle, come to know by human reason alone. These include, for example, the incarnation; God’s Trinitarian nature; or the nature, effect, and process of salvation. So you statement quoted above is true for the mysteries of the faith, but not the preambles of the faith.

    God’s revelation includes both subsets. Why would God reveal to us what you could already come to know, in principle, via human reason? The reason is, says Aquinas, it’d (i) take a long time, (ii) only a few would ever attain them, and (iii) they’d hold the preambles with a mixture of error. So many people hold even the preambles “by divine and supernatural faith” because they lack the time, inclination, or ability to understand the demonstrations that establish the preambles.

    Let us look at one particular doctrine of Christianity that all orthodox Christians accept – the doctrine that the scriptures are inerrant because they are “God breathed”. If a Protestant believes this doctrine, the reason he believes it is not because he reached this belief by the methodology of science. The Protestant believes this doctrine because of he has been given the grace of God to believe something that has been supernaturally revealed

    * * *

    Two things that require supernatural faith to believe are that scriptures are inerrant….

    I think your two quotes here are getting at the right point, but could be tightened. Many Protestants believe they can demonstrate, by reason, that scripture is inerrant. They say something like this:

    1. Whatever is ‘God-breathed’ is inerrant, because God can’t make mistakes.
    2. Scripture is ‘God-breathed.
    3. There scripture is inerrant.

    (I’m not endorsing this, just setting it out.) So the Protestant of this stripe holds by faith premise (2), not premise (1), as your quote seems to say.

  60. Ray #56,
    Hilarious. There really is a good joke in there somewhere. If I were there I would want to roll out a barrel of a nice Bavarian Doppelbock with the Pope.

  61. TDC,

    The Magisterium has, as you acknowledge, spoken definitively over the centuries on many matters. Typically they allow the family of God to hold diverse opinions. In fact, the wide, and sometimes heated, diversity of opinion; or the long & thoughtful give and take among theologians, bishops, etc. often serves as the material out of which definitive doctrinal statements are constructed. Typically, the Magisterium does not step in with a definitive statement UNTIL such disputes threaten the unity or salvation of God’s people. As much is implied in the notion that Peter and the apostles are “guardians” of the faith. Guardians of anything do not look over everyone’s shoulder, proactively inserting themselves to settle every possible dispute. Rather, they “break up” a controversy when it gets out of hand or threatens the stability of the community which they “Guard”. Or else, they guard against attacks on the community from without. All of this is just to say that they are Shepards, not despotic ideologues.

    Neither geocentrism (now how many Catholics actually argue this?) , evolutionary theory, nor the hermeneutical methodology of Raymond Brown, are currently internal or external arguments seriously threatening either the unity or salvation of Catholics. Hence, one would expect (on Catholic principles) the pope and bishops to behave just as they are on such issues. They reject geocentrism (because of the obvious science). They retain open and thoughtful dialogue with evolutionary theorists (because of the apparently obvious science); and they dialogue with scholars like Brown, whose presuppositions and methodology they may not embrace at every point, but which nonetheless, have yielded some positive results without attacking the authority of the Magisterium by denying defined propositions.

    As to morality, there is a vast distinction between the recognition and definition of inherently evil objective acts, or grave matter; and the culpability of persons who commit those acts. An act that is objectively mortal or deadly, may not, in fact, destroy the life of grace in the soul of the one who commits the act; since passions, circumstances and ignorance will all have to be assessed to determine culpability. You seem to acknowledge this distinction when you say that:

    “there are some instances where Catholics cannot even agree on what counts as material mortal sin”

    Now, as to “material” mortal sin or objectively grave matter; the situation is much like that concerning doctrinal disputes. While there is clarity on many traditional and obvious grave sins (murder, adultery); new circumstances arise (contraception, abortion, euthanasia, bioethical questions); which concern concrete acts not explicitly considered before. There is a time lag, often, where internal debate ensues; before the question and the frequency of the act becomes a matter of critical concern for the people of God. When it does become critical, the Magisterium speaks; as has happened with abortion, euthanasia, and contraception. So the fact that “some” concrete act may be in dispute among Catholics as grave or not, in the absence of a formal Magesterial definition, is just like the case with doctrine. Again, this is why the authority of the Magisterium is said to extend to “faith” AND “morals”.

    As to the culpability of individuals who commit objectively grave acts; since these acts are always particular and concrete rather than universal; they require a consideration of circumstance, passion and ignorance. Hence, they are – by definition – not the sort of thing that even CAN be defined by the Magisterium. Only universal moral norms CAN be defined by the Magisterium, including the definition of certain acts as ALWAYS (universally) evil. The Magisterium cannot, by the nature of the case, “define” the guilt or innocence of a person who has committed an objectively grave act, since the Magisterium is neither omnipresent (able to evaluate all concrete acts) or omniscient (able to assess the ignorance or passions of persons). Culpability for acts is “judged”, not “defined”. Even so, the Magisterium has done as much as it can. If you have not done so already, read John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor; which constitutes a profound effort at debunking the various schools of errant moral theory which pervade not only secular, but also Catholic, institutions. John Paul II could not speak to the individual guilt of persons, BUT he did the most one could possibly ask in terms of explaining the principles by which guilt is to be assessed.

    The bottom line is that the teaching Magisterium is a MASSIVE gift to the people of God. It speaks the truth concerning faith and morals! It cannot cause an individual to personally appropriate that truth in the concrete, nor judge the internal disposition of persons as having appropriated the truth. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. The historic divorce from this gift of Christ (teaching Magisterium) to His people has had, and is having, a terrible affect upon Protestantism generally.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  62. With all that in mind, y0u’re right that, if we “follow the pope,” then the serious doctrinal disagreements among Catholics that outsiders observe—or, for that matter, that Catholics themselves observe—can be resolved, at least in principle and when the pope sees fit to address it. In Protestantism, there is no equivalent authority. That’s a major reason why I’m not a Protestant.

    Michael – I see your point about the pope not judging apart from the bishops and the collective authority of the RCC. I’m using the pope as a representative of the Catholic Church which I should have stated because Protestants do often understand the pope’s authority in an autocratic way that is obviously not correct. And in a certain sense I see the argument for a central point of authority which can be used when deemed necessary. Such a hierarchical authority can bring an end to debates if needed. From the Protestant standpoint this kind of resolution could be very good or very bad depending on who the central authority is (a given pope and those supporting him). For the Catholic, the Protestants are bound for chaos since they don’t have such an authority. To this I would point first to the more decentralized authority structure of the EO. The Catholics are in communion with most of the EO churches but would not say that their lack of a single point of authority in their ecclesiastical structure has given way to chaos. And then I would also point to all of the Reformed confessions which came out of different cultural and geographic settings, but were remarkably unified. So the question is then how much formal unity is needed for the Church to carry out the orders Christ gave her in the Scriptures. The Church in time developed or evolved (you pick the term) into something very centralized. There were always those in the EO who never bought this model but even within Catholicism there were no shortage of conciliarists who were every bit as alarmed by what they perceived as the power grab of the Medieval/Renaissance popes. Of course the conciliarists got squashed like little bugs at Trent by the papalists, but it was not much of a debate. I don’t think there was any debate on that matter at all.…

    If “there is only one opinion in Scriptures as to who Christ was because it was written by one all knowing God,” it does not follow that there’s only one rationally plausible interpretation of the Scriptures. If there were, then the inability of most Jewish scholars to see that Christ fulfilled their Scriptures, or the inability of the Arians to see that the Son is co-equal and consubstantial with the Father, would convict them of irrationality—which in most cases would be false. What the Jews and the Arians needed was not a better academic take on the Scriptures, or a greater familiarity with formal logic, but the virtue of faith.

    And I agree with this last sentence. As Paul stated, when the Jews read the OT they read it with a ‘veil on their heart.” So the problem is not that the teachings such that Abraham would be a blessing to all nations were not clearly stated in Scriptures. The problem was that the Jews refused to see it. Of course when the Jew came to Christ this veil was lifted and with this new spiritual discernment he could now see what was clear. So I am saying that, to continue to use this OT example, the Scriptures are clear that the Abrahamic blessing would be extended to all nations. It is not one logical possibility among many. The fact that the Jews could read all the OT passages on the matter and come to various conclusions does not mean that there are more than one way to interpret Scriptures. It does however mean that there is more than one possible way to interpret the tradition of God’s people. So the tradition of the people of God could be interpreted multiple ways, but the Scriptures only one way. God wrote His Word to say that the Abrahamic blessing were for all peoples, the Jews misunderstanding of this principle should not lead us to conclude that there are more than one way to interpret the passages dealing with the Abrahamic blessings. There are many ways to misunderstand the Scriptures on this point and many of these misunderstandings become the traditions of Israel and the Church.

    So in a similar vein, if we skip forward again to Christology, if I say that I believe that Christ was truly human I do so with the conviction that this is what the Scriptures teach. I don’t see that we can say that the propositions that 1) Christ did come in the flesh, and 2) Christ did not come in the flesh can both be rationally derived from Scripture. They can perhaps both be rationally derived from the tradition of the Church. As I read someone like Athanasius on this matter I hear him pounding again and again on the Scripture and driving the point home that the Scriptures teach that Jesus was truly God and truly man. Now this does not mean that he was trying to obviate the teaching authority of the Church. He certainly believed that the Church Christ had founded was the tool for teaching what was in the Scriptures. But I don’t hear him saying that there were multiple possible interpretations of Scripture on whether Jesus was truly man and the Church was stepping in to rule on the matter. The Scriptures were thus the final bar of authority for the Church is determining whether Christ was or was not truly human. Again this does not obviate ecclesiastical authority, but rather establishes it as the body that communicates God’s Word to His people.

    The question for you that arises from that is this: whose “spiritual discernment” is authoritative in such a way as to show which doctrines Christians in general are to accept asde fide, i.e. as doctrines that convey divine revelation, not just human opinions? I’m Catholic partly because I see no way for Protestants to answer that question. And I see no such way because they don’t even claim the sort of authority that’s needed.

    Yes, I have not gotten to the point of what precisely defines the Church, but I would say that I don’t think we can go to the Church to define the Church. This it seems to me is why the RCC can never defend her own authority over against competing systems such as Orthodox ecclesiology. For the Protestants the Church is defined by the Scriptures. This of course places ecclesiastical authority firstly in the hands of the local congregation. There is of course a connectionalism between the congregations as exemplified in Acts, but we cannot see that the Roman understanding of this connectionalism can be derived from Scriptures.

    I made the mistake I did because it seemed to me that you were saying not just that there’s only one correct Christological interpretation of the Scriptures—we agree on that—but that there’s only one that ultimately makes sense. If you were right, then we would have every reason to expect to find that interpretation taken for granted in the early Church….

    I don’t see that this follows logically at all. To get back to my Jewish example, the Jews were very bright people who knew the Torah and traditions. But they were blinded (veiled) and would continue to stay in this condition no matter how clear the Scriptures were on a given matter.. The clarity of Scriptures of any given matter doesn’t translate into being obvious to even the most intellectually gifted of people.

    I have repeatedly argued, not just assumed, that ecclesial infallibility is necessary for distinguishing between the actual content of divine revelation on the one hand from merely human interpretations of the sources on the other. You have rarely engaged the content of my argument….

    Well, I don’t feel that this is accurate, but I did have several posts rejected for strange reasons. I said something to K. Doran about the topic in the first full paragraph in #40. But I think it’s all what we have been through before…

  63. Andrew said: The Word of God is always spiritually discerned by the churches which are faithful to Him….”

    Ryan asked:
    1. What do you mean by ‘is faithful to Him’?
    We are faithful to God if we follow what is communicated to us in Scriptures as that is mediated through the Church that has been defined in Scriptures.

    2. What do you mean by ‘spiritually discern’?
    In the context of the discussions here, I am juxtaposing this against a belief that is purely rationally or scientifically determined. So the Jews rationally determined what the Scriptures said when Moses spoke but when the veil from their heart was lifted they were able to use the spiritual discernment given to them in Christ to understand His Word.

  64. So your comparison is utterly wrong. Catholics have a way to decide who is right…

    That was never at issue. The question was whether they could defend whether they were correct to someone outside the Catholic Church. You could listen to Protestants debate who has the correct interpretation of Scripture, but they perhaps never would be able to convince you who was right. Your response would be I assume is that there is no resolution given Protestant assumptions on Scripture.

    So this is how we feel as we look at the various belief systems in Catholicism many claiming to have the correct interpretation of tradition.

  65. Ray,

    Thanks for replying. I figured my post had long been forgotten.

    So are you saying, then, that the issues that I mentioned will not gravely affect God’s people and that the Church focuses on the essentials? And furthermore, that God’s expectations are not for us to have all of our theological ducks in a row, but to follow His teaching and His Church to the best of our knowledge and ability through a well-informed conscience?

  66. Andrew (re: #62)

    You wrote:

    We are faithful to God if we follow what is communicated to us in Scriptures as that is mediated through the Church that has been defined in Scriptures.

    This statement is ambiguous regarding the phrase “the Church that has been defined in Scripture.” And since heresy loves to hide in ambiguity, we should clear up this ambiguity.

    Because Scripture must be interpreted, your statement could mean, “We are faithful to God if we follow what is communicated to us in Scriptures as that is mediated through the Church that is defined by its conformity to my [Andrew McCallum’s] interpretation of Scripture regarding what the Church is.” If that is what you mean, then you look at Scripture, and from your interpretation of Scripture you formulate a definition of ‘Church,’ and then you look around and find some present-day people who conform to that definition of Church, and then you follow what they say about God-as-communicated-through-Scripture. In that case there will be as many different ‘Churches’ as there are interpretations of Scripture regarding what the Church is. And in that case there need be no historical continuity whatsoever between the present-day community you pick as ‘the Church’ and the Church of the first century. In theory, the Church could have gone out of existence at the end of the first century, and then come back into existence at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as soon as some people in the last ten years came to hold your interpretation of Scripture regarding what is the Church.

    But you could mean: “We are faithful to God if we follow what is communicated to us in Scriptures as that is mediated through the Church Christ founded in the first century and which has grown continually in an unbroken continuity through the centuries to the present day, even in its mediation of what Scripture teaches about the identity and nature of the Church.” On this disambiguation, you don’t reserve some subset of Scripture [i.e. the parts about the Church] as unmediated through the Church, but receive all of Scripture (including that which is about the Church) through the mediation and explication of the Church Christ founded, and in this way you avoid creating a Church-in-your-own-image, according to your own interpretation of Scripture. In this way, there cannot be as many different ‘Churches’ as there are interpretations of Scripture regarding what the Church is. Rather, there can be only one Church [i.e. the Church Christ founded], and all interpretations of Scripture regarding what is the nature and identity of the Church are subject to the magisterial and interpretive authority of this one Church.

    So, which do you mean?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  67. Andrew said:

    “That was never at issue. The question was whether they could defend whether they were correct to someone outside the Catholic Church.”

    Come on. You know what I mean. And YES, they COULD defend whether they were correct by asking the Pope. He could say yea or nay. Protestants would each point to the bible (or some confession) and say their position is the position of the bible.

    So, Protestants could clearly see that Bryan held the “Catholic” position as opposed to Kung and Lefebre (and you of course, not even claiming to be Catholic).

    On the other hand, a Catholic would not be able to see which Protestant held the “biblical, Protestant” position. Or in your words:

    You could listen to Protestants debate who has the correct interpretation of Scripture, but they perhaps never would be able to convince you who was right. Your response would be I assume is that there is no resolution given Protestant assumptions on Scripture.

    The only thing I disagree with in that quote is the word *perhaps*. It can be ommited. So yes, “there is no resolution given Protestant assumptions on Scripture.” I would say that.

    BUT, there IS resolution given Catholic *assumptions* on Scripture (and revelation in general). The Pope can decide. This shows your point to be false.

    Now please don’t try to shift this to a discussion of “ultimate epistemology” (my words). That is what seems to happen at this point in the discussion with Protestants I have bumped into in recent months. I have higher hopes for you as you seem more interested in fairness than some others. The issue in your scenario was not one of “how can we know anything” but simply how can we know who holds the correct position that represents the group he claims to represent. Catholic representing Catholicism. Protestant representing sola Scriptura.

    You said:

    So this is how we feel as we look at the various belief systems in Catholicism many claiming to have the correct interpretation of tradition.

    I guess I am missing something here. If you were in a room with Scotus and Aquinas in the year 1853, and you wanted to know the Catholic position on the immaculate conception, there might be disagreement. But do you seriously compare that disagreement with that of Protestants? Even in 1853 though disagreeing on the doctrine itself there is still one thing they would agree on. They would submit to the Church and conform their conscience to it. And the next year that is exactly what Aquinas would have done. This has absolutely NO PARALLEL in Protestantism. None. (Please do not say “Scripture”, as even your comment #63 fully admits it cannot resolve the question.)

    So I am correct to say: Your comparison is utterly wrong, Catholics have a way to show whether they are correct to someone outside the Catholic Church. Protestants cannot show this to those outside their communion. This does not directly deny sola Scriptura, (it is a death blow I think though) so I think you can go ahead and admit it. I would have freely admitted it as a Protestant I think. It is true, just admit it.

  68. Andrew,
    I just got caught up with reading all these comments and Michael’s #54 did a way better job of explaining things. Especially what he said about the b.c. pill debate in the 60’s.

  69. Andrew (#61):

    There’s a lot in your epistemology I find wanting and could criticize here, but I can’t do everything at once. Here, I shall show that the “giveaway” weakness in your position is its abiding ambiguity about the referent of the phrase ‘the Church’, which Bryan has just pointed out in #65. And at the end I’ll show how that relates to the original topic of this thread.

    You have admitted to some ambiguity already by saying to me (in #61) that ” I have not gotten to the point of what precisely defines the Church…” That’s huge. Leaving aside the issue of ecclesial infallibility for once, if you don’t even know precisely what ‘the Church’ refers to, then there is no church to which you can look for an authoritative interpretation of Scripture, let alone an infallible one. Unless, of course, you want to say that your church is the Church, which so far you haven’t seemed willing to say. That’s huge because you have often said you’re not a solo– scripturist. You agree with us that something called “the Church” is needed for an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. But if you’re not clear on just what ‘the Church’ refers to, then you can’t say which church has the God-given authority to do what we agree it’s needed for.

    That’s why I’m floored by this from you:

    I don’t think we can go to the Church to define the Church. This it seems to me is why the RCC can never defend her own authority over against competing systems such as Orthodox ecclesiology. For the Protestants the Church is defined by the Scriptures. This of course places ecclesiastical authority firstly in the hands of the local congregation. There is of course a connectionalism between the congregations as exemplified in Acts, but we cannot see that the Roman understanding of this connectionalism can be derived from Scriptures.

    If “the Church is defined by Scripture,” and if, as you have said more than once, Scripture is clear on core points at least, then it should be clear from Scripture, to those who don’t have “a veil over their hearts,” which church is “the Church.” But by your own testimony, it isn’t clear—unless you want to say that you and your fellow Protestants have a veil over your hearts. That’s what I happen to believe, but I rather doubt you do.

    Your predicament is basically as follows. According to you, we can’t “go to the Church to define the Church”; for that purpose, we must go to Scripture. But given your own professed ambiguity on the identity of “the Church,” it isn’t clear to you just from Scripture which church is the Church. So if neither the Church nor Scripture suffices to define the Church—as distinct from a church—then what does? Tradition? But you yourself have said that there’s more than one rationally plausible interpretation of Tradition. And of course there’s always the question: “Whose tradition?” The local congregation’s? In the Protestant world, you can find “local congregations” disagreeing with each other about any virtually core point you pick, including the identity of “the Church.” The Reformed? What about the Lutheran and free-church traditions? What about the Catholic or Orthodox traditions? Clearly you don’t think we can settle the matter from Tradition. And you haven’t settled it just from Scripture. So if you’re not antecedently clear on which church is the Church, you’re just running around in circles.

    That’s one way of explaining why, when I was inquiring as a college student about which version of Christianity to adopt, I rapidly ceased being able to take Protestantism seriously. That’s also why, from the standpoint of somebody locked into the Protestant HP, Catholicism cannot “demonstrate” its own official ecclesiology from the sources, i.e. Scripture and Tradition. From that standpoint, nobody could demonstrate their ecclesiology—including the Orthodox, or the Reformed, or any sort of Protestant. It’s all just a matter of opinion, which is not enough for real authority or even clarity. The only way out of the circle that Protestants run around in is to submit to some visible body’s claim to the the Church, not just “a” Church. Few Protestant churches make such a claim, and none make it plausibly. That’s why my intellectual options narrowed down to Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

    Personally, I don’t believe that the choice between Catholicism and Orthodoxy can be settled just by considering the evidence of Scripture, Tradition, and history taken together. By such means, one cannot “prove” either’s claim to be the Church, so that the other’s claim is thereby falsified. Either claim is rationally plausible. So why did I decide to return to the Catholic Church rather than become Orthodox?

    Part of it was that it didn’t make much sense to me to say, on the one hand, that a monarchical bishop over each particular church is necessary for the unity of each such church, but on the other hand that no such bishop is necessary for the unity of the universal Church. Since there’s far more diversity in the universal Church than in any particular church, it seemed to me that a monarchical bishop over the universal Church would be at least as necessary for its unity as a monarchical bishop is for that of each particular church. And part of my reasoning was that, whichever communion turned out to be “the Church,” the means it afforded for identifying who speaks definitively for “the Church” would be clearer than the other’s. By virtue of the papacy, Catholicism’s means for identifying who speaks definitively for “the Church” is clearer than Orthodoxy’s—even though Orthodoxy’s is rationally plausible. So, even though my reasoning did not “prove” that the Roman communion is the Church rather the EO communion, I found reason enough to justify choosing the former over the latter.

    Accordingly, I made an assent of faith that, while not compelled by reason, was at least reasonable. But that’s where the “private judgment” which led to my decision left off. Given the nature of the Catholic Church’s claims, which I accept, I am no longer even capable of accepting any other church’s claim to be “the Church.” For my assent of faith entailed submitting to a body that claims to be preserved by God from error when speaking with her full authority. To make such an assent is to surrender one’s option to withdraw it on the basis of one’s private judgment. And my point to you for years has been that, unless and until one makes that kind of assent, whether to the Catholic or the EO church, one is left with no way to interpret Scripture in a manner that binds Christians as a matter of doctrine, not just as a matter of opinion. One is left just with one’s own opinion, in the company of some who happen to share it. That’s what Zwingli and Calvin did when they separated from the Catholic Church. You can thereby set yourself up as a “church,” but no such church can plausibly claim to be “the Church.” And that’s why you’re unclear even now about the identity of “the Church.”

    So how does this relate to the original topic of this thread? Bryan’s article “The Tradition and the Lexicon” explains it very well, but you didn’t seem disposed to accept that explanation. So perhaps you need to entertain the possibility that the following statement by Vatican II is true as a matter of epistemology and history, not merely as doctrine: “Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church are so linked and joined together that none can stand without the others.” If you do entertain that possibility, then you might see why Scripture can be considered materially sufficient to contain the deposit of faith, while not being formally sufficient to express the deposit of faith. To express deposit of faith authoritatively, as a matter of binding doctrine rather than human opinion, we need to know which church is the Church. The only two ecclesial communions that can plausibly make that claim are the Catholic and the EO.

    Best,
    Mike

  70. mateo: The Church teaches that what we believe by divine and supernatural faith cannot be arrived at by human reason alone….

    Ryan: This isn’t entirely accurate. The Church’s teaching on the relation between faith and reason, in this context, is best exemplified by Aquinas. He explains that there are two sets of ‘articles of the faith’: (1) preambles of the faith and (2) mysteries of the faith. The preambles can, in principle, be “arrived at by human reason alone.” These include, for example, the propositions that God exists, or that we have a soul, or that our soul is immaterial, etc. The ‘mysteries of the faith’ are propositions that one can never, even in principle, come to know by human reason alone. These include, for example, the incarnation; God’s Trinitarian nature; or the nature, effect, and process of salvation. So you statement quoted above is true for the mysteries of the faith, but not the preambles of the faith.

    Thank you for this comment. Your point is valid, and I believe it brings up an issue that is germane to Sean’s article. Sean writes:

    A Catholic can affirm that scripture is materially sufficient but cannot affirm that scripture is formally sufficient.

    So what is the difference between material and formal sufficiency? For scripture to be materially sufficient, it would have to contain (explicitly or implicitly) all that is needed for salvation.

    Is scripture materially sufficient to maintain all the doctrines of Christianity that are necessary for our salvation? The reason that I ask that question is because Ray Stamper makes a point in his post # 63 that is correct:

    … the authority of the Magisterium is said to extend to “faith” AND “morals”.

    The doctrines that are necessary for our salvation include all the doctrines of morals that the Catholic Church teaches. One question that has been debated within the Catholic Church is about the object material upon which an infallible teaching of the Magisterium can be based. Is that material restricted to that which has be divinely revealed; or does the object material include both divine revelation and that which can be known by natural law? I believe that Vatican II clarified that issue – that which is known by natural law can also be basis of an infallibly taught doctrine of morals.

    Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, Paul teaches that all men will be judged by God at the end of time based on the moral behavior that they manifested in their lives. (Rom 2:9). In the case of the “Greeks” that had no knowledge of the divine revelation given to the Jews by the Law, their ignorance of that divine revelation won’t necessarily make them inculpable for the immorality manifested in their lives. The reason the Greeks don’t get off scott-free because of their ignorance of the Law is that the Greeks, being human beings with human nature, had a knowledge of the natural law – “their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 2:16)

    One can argue on the basis of Paul’s letter to the Romans, that since the scriptures affirm that men have a knowledge of right and wrong because of their knowledge of the natural law, it follows that the scriptures are materially sufficient to defend the claim of the Catholic Church that the magisterium can teach infallibly about morality based on what is known by the natural law.

    Which is hardly an unimportant point, since our society is now struggling with issues such as the morality of embryonic stem cell research and in vitro fertilization. The Protestant that has bound himself to Luther’s novelty that the ONLY source of inerrant doctrine for the Christian is what the Protestant bible is formally sufficient to maintain cannot offer anything more than fallible opinions about these matters.

    Ryan: I think your two quotes here are getting at the right point, but could be tightened. Many Protestants believe they can demonstrate, by reason, that scripture is inerrant. They say something like this:
    1. Whatever is ‘God-breathed’ is inerrant, because God can’t make mistakes.
    2. Scripture is ‘God-breathed.
    3. Therefore scripture is inerrant.

    I don’t think the Protestant that has bound himself to Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine can arrive at point 3, and here is why. The verses in the Protestant bible that speak about scripture being “God breathed”, when they are read in context, refer to the scriptures to which the Jews had access – i.e. the “God breathed” scriptures refer to the scriptures of the Old Testament. There is nothing in a Protestant bible that says that all the books that make up the New Testament are “God breathed”. That fact isn’t problematic for a Catholic, since Catholics believe that the magisterium of Christ’s Church is speaking with infallible authority when she teaches that both the New Testament and the Old Testament are “God breathed” (divinely inspired).

    For the Protestant bound to Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine, the fact that the books of the NT make no explicit claim of being “God breathed” is very problematic – he has no way of knowing with certainty if all the books found in the New Testament found in his Protestant bible are “God breathed” or not. Luther himself doubted that the Epistle of James was “God breathed”. A Protestant that has bound himself to Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine can only offer a fallible opinion that perhaps Luther was wrong about that.

  71. …. the “giveaway” weakness in your position is its abiding ambiguity about the referent of the phrase ‘the Church’….

    Micahael – I cannot deny this although I will say that my intention was not to be ambiguous, but rather to try to isolate the issue of authority without getting into ecclesiological specifics. I mentioned to someone earlier that right at the beginning of Bryan’s solo/sola article I had asked him if we could try to look to the Early Church before there were any splits between EO/Catholic and Protestant/Catholic over nature of the Church. Bryan did not see what I was getting at and figured I just hadn’t read his article. But what I was trying to do and have continued to do is look to the early centuries of the Church before there was any of the splits. It’s not that I want to ignore the differences in ecclesiology but I’m trying to look to a period of time before there were such pronounced differences in the understanding of the nature of the Church. At the time of the Reformation both EO and Protestant (for different reasons and to difference extends) would argue that the RCC had arrogated authority to herself with no basis in the early tradition of the Church. But, if we go back to the early centuries of the Church we don’t have this debate, or at least not to the same extent. From an experimental standpoint I am attempting to remove a variable or at least lessen its impact on the situation. So the question I have been asking (like in #40 above) is what was the nature of authority and what was the epistemic status of authoritative statements before there was the hard lines drawn between the respective ecclesiological systems of Catholic, EO, and Protestant.

    So what does the Protestant believe about ecclesiology? I think this is a better way of making the query than asking (as RC apologists sometimes do) what Church is the correct Church if the Church of Rome is not. To us this is a loaded question. We take issue with the assumption in the question that there is inherently one institution in the description of what the Church is in the documents of firstly the Apostolic and secondly the sub-apostolic era. We believe that the Church is that which is described in the Scriptures and then later applied by the Early Church (sometimes more faithfully than at other times). The Church is defined by her works and her acts. The Church ought to have elders/bishops and deacons, she should preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, oversee the flock, discipline those who stray, care for the poor, etc. When there was disagreements between the congregations on a matter of ecclesiology (or anything else) they were to come together to judge the matter – this coming together is what I was referring to when I spoke of “connectionalism.” But then we have to ask what are the rules for this coming together? That is, what are the rules for how the congregations ought to relate and what administrative superstructure should exist to govern the congregations? Well, there are no such rules either in the Apostolic or sub-apostolic eras. Of course the congregations did centralize and obviously quite a bit more in the West than the East. Eventually in the West we get this highly centralized and hierarchical system of church government. But was this system correct just because it did develop/evolve in the way it did? Obviously the EO looking at the West would say no and the West looking East say that the EO were incorrect. So how do we decide who is correct (or if either is correct) without referring to the very church that is the subject of consideration? For the Protestants later in history there was no reason to go beyond what was stated in Scripture and we would note that the Church of the 1st century turned the world in its head without the kind of highly centralized ecclesiastic system that eventually developed in the Medieval West. In other words, there was no need to beyond the ecclesiastic system of Scriptures for the Church to do what Christ had commanded.

    To anticipate a possible objection, I’m not saying that everything in Scriptures concerning the Church is equally clear. It is clear that the congregations ought to have elders, but it is not so clear what the distinction is between elders and bishops. This distinction or the lack thereof was exemplified in the different practices in the 1st century Church. And among the Reformed it is still an intramural debate between Presbyterians and Anglicans.

    When you discuss EO you say, whichever communion turned out to be “the Church,” the means it afforded for identifying who speaks definitively for “the Church” would be clearer than the other’s.

    I would agree that a hierarchical system is going to in general be able to provide more clarity. This is true in ecclesiastic as well as civil systems. Citizens of a country ruled by an iron fisted king will have a better grasp on national laws than citizens in a decentralized republic. Same holds true in the analogous ecclesiastical system. But clarity might go hand in hand with truth or it might not.

    But that’s where the “private judgment” which led to my decision left off. Given the nature of the Catholic Church’s claims, which I accept, I am no longer even capable of accepting any other church’s claim to be “the Church.”

    But as I’m sure you will attest to, the way it works out in practice varies considerably in the Catholic congregations and the amount of Catholics who apply the Catholic system of authority in their lives as you do is not that great. In the Reformed congregations new members swear to submit to the leadership of the congregation. My observation is that in general the members of the Reformed congregations submit with greater consistency than members of the Catholic congregations. At this point the Catholic apologist will sometimes object that we have no ecclesiastical authority we can refer to that has made dogmatic statements on de fide matters and thus we cannot bind the conscience. This does not seem to add up to me. What if we could truly refer to an ecclesiastical system based on sacramental succession that had infallibly defined certain matters? What difference will this make to the person who has defied the elders in a congregation? If we minister the Word (which can bind the conscience) to him and he rejects it, what difference will it make if we tell him that the Church has infallibly judged the Scriptures to be saying what we previously told him directly from Scripture? The Catholic priest proclaims the “infallible” teachings of the RCC to the people while the Reformed minister proclaims the infallible teachings of Scripture to the people. The congregant who rejects one is hardly likely to accept the other, or so it would seem to me.

    But you do not see that the member in a Reformed congregation is really submitting because at some point later they may find that they don’t want to submit so they run down the road to another congregation that more closely approximates what they now believe. And you might anticipate, my observation is that the Catholic does this exact same thing except that they don’t run down the road. This leads to the situation where everyone remains Catholic as long as they don’t formally separate from the RCC. So then, in actual practice, what is the difference in the binding that happens in the Catholic congregation from that which happens in the Reformed congregation?

  72. Andrew – # 69

    What year are you using in your attempted analysis of the early church? What is the cut off date?

  73. Andrew McCallum: The Church ought to have elders/bishops and deacons, she should preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, oversee the flock, discipline those who stray, care for the poor, etc.

    Ought? What does that mean? Are you saying that any of these things are optional? Or are you saying that these things are not optional because THE church must manifest all these things if she really is THE church (the church founded by Christ)? If you mean the latter, then we have a starting point for a dialog about THE church.

    Let us examine one item on your list, the idea that the church founded by Christ has the authority to discipline the members of his church. Specifically, how does Christ’s church discipline the members of his church that are preaching heresy?

    From the inerrant scriptures we know that the members of THE church are to avoid the heretics that spread false doctrine:

    All the churches of Christ greet you. I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. Romans 16: 16-17

    Note that “all the churches of Christ” (the local particular churches) are to manifest a unity of doctrine, since the members of the local particular churches are to avoid heretics that create dissension by spreading false doctrine

    We also have the words of Jesus in the scriptures that explicitly tell us that the heretics that refuse to listen to THE church are to be excommunicated:

    … if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matt 18:17

    The scriptures are clear, the members of the local particular churches must accept all the doctrines of Christ’s church, and heretics are to be excommunicated from Christ’s church. Which means that to there must be some way that a member of Christ’s church can know with certainty when a heretic is spreading false doctrine.

    Andrew, please clarify a few things for me.

    Do you believe that a person that is NOT a member of Christ’s church can commit the sin of heresy?

    How do you think that Christ’s church definitively settled matters involving doctrine in a conscience binding way during the “sub-apostolic” age?

  74. Andrew (#69):

    I find it significant that, in your description of “Protestant” ecclesiology, you tread lightly over the differences within Protestantism, almost to the point of ignoring them altogether. You do mention the difference between Presbyterians and low-church Anglicans about church order, but you mention neither the Lutherans nor the vast variety of “free” evangelical and pentecostal churches. As you know, the free churches generally have a strictly bottom-up, “congregational” approach to church order, which is after all what makes them free churches. They now represent the fastest-growing and, soon if not yet, the largest segment of the Protestant world; the mainline is in marked decline. That you apparently saw no need to mention most such differences, at least for our present purposes, only serves to illustrate the main point I made in my previous comment.

    What matters to you is not so much how to resolve the differences among Protestants, or even the difference between Protestantism as a whole and Catholicism, but that one’s ecclesiology be derived from sources other than some visible body presently identifiable as “the Church.” That is why you reject my question “Which church is the Church?” as “a loaded question.” If people are in the position of having to define “the Church” just by means of their interpretation of the Bible and the available evidence from the sub-apostolic Church, then there’s no reason to answer my question. That the use of such means lead to serious and irreconcilable differences, so that there is no church clearly identifiable as “the Church,” doesn’t matter to you. What matters is that lots of people are getting together and doing recognizably churchy things that seem to them sufficient to be church, even if they have more-or-less serious disagreements about church order. I agree that such a conviction is what characterizes Protestant ecclesiology. But what you apparently see as a virtue, I see as a vice.

    Let’s consider your argument:

    We take issue with the assumption in the question that there is inherently one institution in the description of what the Church is in the documents of firstly the Apostolic and secondly the sub-apostolic era. We believe that the Church is that which is described in the Scriptures and then later applied by the Early Church (sometimes more faithfully than at other times). The Church is defined by her works and her acts. The Church ought to have elders/bishops and deacons, she should preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, oversee the flock, discipline those who stray, care for the poor, etc. When there was disagreements between the congregations on a matter of ecclesiology (or anything else) they were to come together to judge the matter – this coming together is what I was referring to when I spoke of “connectionalism.” But then we have to ask what are the rules for this coming together? That is, what are the rules for how the congregations ought to relate and what administrative superstructure should exist to govern the congregations? Well, there are no such rules either in the Apostolic or sub-apostolic eras.

    You really need to see why that last sentence is a serious overreach. For one thing, it is simply impossible to know that there were “no rules either in the Apostolic or sub-apostolic eras” about church order. From an academic standpoint, all we can say with confidence is this: The documentary evidence we have from the apostolic and sub-apostolic eras does not sufffice to show that the sort of church order which is clearly apparent throughout the Church by the 3rd century was a logically necessary development from what preceded it. But that is by no means the same as saying that there had been “no rules” about the matters you cite. Logically, an absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. And this is one sort of case in which that distinction and its importance are quite clear. For given how we know church order had developed by the end of the 2nd century at the latest (cf. Irenaeus), it would seem more likely that whatever actually was handed on to the 2nd-century Church from the apostolic and sub-apostolic eras struck people as quite a sufficient rationale for the sort of church order that we do know emerged. That point is made very cogently by Bryan and K Doran in the thread about St. Ignatius of Antioch. So your historical conclusion just doesn’t follow from what we do know. It’s a big jump from limited data.

    But I can see all the same why you make the jump. If one can make oneself believe that, in the first few generations of Christianity, there were “no rules” governing the questions of church order that you cite, then of course it’s up to individuals to decide, on the basis of their own understanding of the sources from that era, what those rules should be for churches today. Some individuals concur with a (high or low) Anglican approach; others, with the Reformed or Lutheran approaches; and many others with a free-church approach. (I happen to believe that, given the Protestant hermeneutical paradigm, the free-church approach makes the most sense; but of course you’d disagree even with that.) So long as the Protestant HP is adhered to, Protestants in general don’t get all that upset anymore about such differences—including you. Groups calling themselves churches not only can but may make their own rules, so long as they do churchy things, remain civil with each other, and keep out the dictator from Rome, with his tiresome insistence that his old group just is “the Church.” Quite a cozy arrangement, I should say.

    But of course, the very stance that licenses a range of mutually incompatible conceptions of church order licenses a range of mutually incompatible doctrines on virtually every point of theological Importance. That’s because, if there now is no visible body identifiable as “the Church” Christ founded, then there is no authority to decide how the sources themselves ought to be received and understood. And that in turn leaves no principled way to distinguish between divine revelation and human opinon about how to receive and understand its sources of transmission. Even such questions as what belongs in the biblical canon, and whether what belongs in there is inerrant, become matters of opinion. As Newman said: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what is given.” I became convinced of that even when I was a college student not knowing what sort of Christian to be. I soon concluded with Newman that Protestants—at least insofar as they’re convinced Protestants—simply lack the virtue of faith. And that holds regardless of what the content of the deposit of faith, as the proximate object of faith’s assent, may be in itself—a question which I could not then answer.

    As far as I’m concerned, therefore, passages such as the following from you are simply irrelevant:

    My observation is that in general the members of the Reformed congregations submit with greater consistency than members of the Catholic congregations. At this point the Catholic apologist will sometimes object that we have no ecclesiastical authority we can refer to that has made dogmatic statements on de fide matters and thus we cannot bind the conscience. This does not seem to add up to me. What if we could truly refer to an ecclesiastical system based on sacramental succession that had infallibly defined certain matters? What difference will this make to the person who has defied the elders in a congregation? If we minister the Word (which can bind the conscience) to him and he rejects it, what difference will it make if we tell him that the Church has infallibly judged the Scriptures to be saying what we previously told him directly from Scripture? The Catholic priest proclaims the “infallible” teachings of the RCC to the people while the Reformed minister proclaims the infallible teachings of Scripture to the people. The congregant who rejects one is hardly likely to accept the other, or so it would seem to me.

    I readily grant that dissenting Catholics are more likely than dissenters from Reformed doctrine to stay in the church in which they find themselves. But all we can conclude from that is that, given the present state of things, Catholics who lose the virtue of faith but remain formally in the Church are less likely to be disciplined than members of Reformed congregations who dissent from official doctrine. It doesn’t mean that plenty of Catholics don’t just leave and go elsewhere; a recent, major Pew Forum survey shows that, if ex-Catholics were a church unto themselves, they would be the 2nd-largest church in the U.S. But that doesn’t show that the authority of the Catholic Church isn’t what she says it is. All it shows is that, if such authority is what she claims it to be, then such Catholics have lost the virtue of faith. Nor does it show that the “submission” rendered by faithful members of Reformed congregation is deeper or more authentic than the submission rendered by faithful Catholics. The latter accept an authority which, if it is what it says it is, enables them to identify divine revelation as such and accept it with the virtue of faith. The former do not accept such an authority, and therefore, to the extent they do submit to Reformed elders, submit to an authority that is no authority at all. The adults among them submit to those with whose interpretation of Scripture they already accept for reasons of their own, and thus submit only to themselves.

    Ultimately, and as I’ve often said before, the choice is this: either there is a visible body called “the Church” which claims to be and is the judge of any given individual’s orthodoxy, or individuals decide, for reasons of their own, what is orthodox, and found or pick a church on that basis. The former is necessary for the virtue of faith; the latter is simply incompatible with it.

    Best,
    Mike

  75. I find it significant that, in your description of “Protestant” ecclesiology, you tread lightly over the differences within Protestantism….

    Concerning these differences, I was speaking of the Reformed churches. My point was that there were little differences between the confessions of the various Reformed bodies. Consider the WCF, Heidelberg, London, Thirty-nine Artciles, etc etc. There are of course differences particularly in the areas of ecclesiology and the nature/efficacy of the sacraments. Sometimes Catholics look at the differences and think that they are huge because they are looking at it from the Catholic vantage point. Of course differences in the efficacy of the sacraments would be big if we were Catholics, but we are not. You mention the Lutherans and certainly today many of the conservative Lutherans would not allow those outside of their communion to the table, although we would allow them. It is an unfortunate situation and I don’t really understand their reasoning here.

    Now concerning Evangelicalism in general, yes there is any number of variants. I was speaking with a Reformed missionary from Uganda the other day who said that if there is a patron saint of Africa it is Benny Hinn. Common folks get saved and the next day they start a church and gather a following. Protestant Christianity is by his estimation miles wide but inches deep. I’m picking an extreme to illustrate that I’m not resistant to speaking of even the most egregious examples of do-it-my-way kind of Evangelicalism. But I would also add that such examples are not a necessary outworking of historic Reformation principles, but rather a rejection of them. All over the world we have examples of Evangelicalism embracing just what the Fathers of the Reformation warned against and getting just what the Reformers predicted. But as messed up as Protestantism is in the African example the Catholic congregations in Africa don’t seem to be faring any better. You find any number of odd syncretistic blends of Catholic Christianity with the local pagans religions. Now I’m sure you would argue that such divergences from Catholic orthodoxy are not the fault of the RCC just like we would argue that the multitudes of strange variants of Evangelical Protestantism are not to be blamed on historic Protestantism.

    When you say that we don’t get upset anymore about ecclesiological differences, if you are speaking about the historic Reformed congregations you are largely right. This is, as noted, one of the areas where there is some divergence in the Reformed confessions. But, Anglicans like J.I. Packer and Presbyterians like R.C. Sproul and Baptists like Al Mohler can work together closely. They are aligned on most everything else and the idiosyncrasies of their ecclesiological systems don’t inhibit the communion they have. They are not administratively united but they are united in the way that Christ and Paul spoke of (being of the same mind, etc). For Catholics being administratively separated runs contrary to very essence of Christianity. For the Protestants the central idea of unity is not administrative, but rather a unity of belief and practice. I’m not saying that conservative Catholics like you don’t care about the lack of unity of faith and practice in the RCC, but only that such divisions are a secondary matter to the much more important matter of formal unity with the Church of Rome.

    On the question of “which Church is the Church” being a loaded question, I hope that you would recognize that if we accept the assumptions of this question then there can be no further debate. If there is only one centrally governed hierarchical institution that is THE Church then Protestantism vanishes in a puff of rhetorical smoke. And so does Eastern Orthodoxy. So my point is that you should not define away competing understandings of the visible Church by framing your opening salvo in such terms. Do you see that posing the question as “what Church is THE Church” rather than “what is the correct understanding of the nature of the Church given Apostolic teaching” is building an assumption into your question that we reject at the outset? It’s not that your question does not matter to me, I just wish you would ask it in a different manner.

    ….it is simply impossible to know that there were “no rules either in the Apostolic or sub-apostolic eras” about church order.

    Let me point out here that I did not say that there were no rules about church order, I said that there are no rules about the governing superstructure over the congregations. There is in Acts an example of the churches coming together to judge on a certain theological matter, but there are no rules established in Scriptures or in the sub-apostolic corpus as to how congregations should relate to each other. No of course certain rules do pop up and in time govern intra-church relations. But everything we see in documents like those from Ignatius that Bryan links to are descriptive rather than prescriptive. So in Igantius’ ecclesiology there is the mention of a distinct office of a bishop ruling over a given church. So the question then is whether this is the way it should be or just the way it was. Often in the history of the Church (and in the history of societies and cultures in general) the descriptive becomes the prescriptive and Christians assume that the current order of things must be correct because that’s the way it has been for as long as anyone can remember. So there is in the history of the West this gradual evolution/development from decentralized to centralized. You mention the 3rd century, but at this point there is still a long way to go before the ecclesiological descriptions of the Middles Ages where the centralized power of the RCC reaches its zenith in the popes of that age. Are the descriptions of the power of the RCC, and particularly that of the Bishop of Rome, a proper development from the time of the simple ecclesiology of the bishops of the 1st century? It is this kind of question that seems to be a moot point for the Catholic apologist. The simple fact that the power of Rome did develop to the point that it did by the time of Julius II, Leo X, etc. is enough. The descriptive has become the prescriptive, end of story. But why did the power of the Church centralize? We could theorize that it was a proper spiritual development but it could also be because of a myriad of philosophical, historical, political, and just pragmatic reasons.

    But of course, the very stance that licenses a range of mutually incompatible conceptions of church order licenses a range of mutually incompatible doctrines on virtually every point of theological Importance

    I brought up the cases of the Reformed churches partly to show that this was not the case.

    , if there now is no visible body identifiable as “the Church” Christ founded, then there is no authority to decide how the sources themselves ought to be received and understood.

    And I do understand your point and all of the supporting arguments you have made concerning it. And I agree that if the RCC today is the proper successor of the 1st century Church going back to Peter and the Apostles and if the criteria for determining this succession is the formal “sacramental” succession of bishops then the theological distinctions of the RCC, at least for those that are dogmatically defined, must be correct. But there are some big “ifs” in there…..

    My discussion of Reformed dissenters from Catholic one was meant to try to draw out what difference ecclesiastical infallibility makes in the lives of the Catholic congregants. I pointed out that the Catholic priest proclaims the “infallible” teachings of the Church and the Protestant pastor proclaims the infallible teachings of the Scripture. But Protestants are told that we cannot bind the conscience since we have no infallibly proclaimed human dogma to fall back on. But from the standpoint of the Catholic parishioner, how is he supposed to be any more confident of the proclamation of “infallible” dogma of the RCC than the infallible teachings from Scripture? The answer to my question may be simply that there is no difference when it gets down to the level of the Catholic worshipper, and if so you can say that.

  76. What year are you using in your attempted analysis of the early church? What is the cut off date?

    Sean, I think this depends on the specific topic within the Early Church we are addressing which we have taken on more than one in this thread. In the case of ecclesiology we have to start with the biblical corpus. Of the top of my head I would go next to the end of the the 1st century to talk of Clement and the authority the Church of Rome possessed and then immediately to Ignatius as Bryan did. The next step might be to go to Irenaeus and Tertullian.

    I don’t think I’m answering your question though….

  77. When I was an evangelical Pentecostal, we had a particular interpretation of scripture. That interpretation permitted us to be Protestant in orientation (the Church had failed so we could try to be the Church of Acts 2 all over again), and Pentecostal in practice.

    Any interpretation that denied that Jesus had failed to protect His Church from failure was denied. Any item in scripture which might be interpreted to deny that the charismatic gifts were still in operation was denied. That separated us from the Baptists of that location who, interpreting Paul’s statement that the gifts will come to an end, interpreted it to mean that the end had arrived long ago. Based on that interpretation no charismatic gifts were permitted in their congregations.

    One lady of my acquaintance, a Baptist, discovered herself speaking in tongues. Presenting that item in that church found her being told that they did not believe in such manifestations and that those people down there (the Assemblies) did, accompanied by the suggestion that she go join people of a like practice. She was no longer welcome in that particular Baptist congregation.

    Sometimes people would join us because they believed, in part or whole, what we believed. Sometimes we’d get volunteers because they were thrown out by their previous congregation.

    The interpretation of scripture was highly individualistic because when everyone is in charge, no one is in charge. One might even agree with Luther or Calvin (or supply a name) but given the differences within Lutheranism and the Presbyterian / Reformed churches, which may or may not have anything to do with scripture, one understands that it is not really scripture which determines belief. It is the individual.

    My own problem was that I saw God working with the Jews. He led, they strayed, He corrected them and brought them back. He never failed and He never abandoned them.

    I saw the temple with the high priest and his associates guarding the rites and offering the sacrifices, however poorly they did so. I saw the nation with its king, his mother (the hegira) and the chamberlain (keyholder).

    I saw grand themes in scripture and when I looked throughout Protestantism, I failed to see those themes but assumed that they had to be there, because scripture indicated that they must be. There was a high priest (Jesus), there was a king (Jesus), there was the hegira (His mother in relationship to her Son and to His people), there was a chamberlain (Peter), there was a sin-offering sacrifice which must be eaten based on the Passover.

    The scripture was delivered to us from the Church which Jesus had created to fulfill His mission to humankind out of obedience to God the Father.

    My move to the Roman Catholic Church was made not because I understood but because I believed. I believed that Jesus had founded a Church, that it was visible, that it fulfilled and exceeded both the Temple and the Nation, and that it had the authority to do what was needed to collapse the gates of hell and free the hostages. It was infallible because Its Head was God Himself. I believed that Jesus had not failed and my justification for being Protestant was undermined.

    To be sure, over time my understanding has grown, but we are saved by faith through grace, not by gnosticism.

    Scripture got me to Catholicism out of Protestantism but scripture is not an end in itself. I believe it was CS Lewis who noted that we needed a map. Scripture guided me to look for the Church. The Church, including its scripture, is the map provided by Its Head to get me to His location. I am no longer blazing a trail unique to myself. I am now part of that flock led by the Good Shepherd.

    If my experience is any indication, any zealous Protestant who wants to remain where he/she is currently, must use blinders or misinterpret scripture to ensure the individual’s desired outcome.

  78. Andrew McCallum: For Catholics being administratively separated runs contrary to very essence of Christianity. For the Protestants the central idea of unity is not administrative, but rather a unity of belief and practice. I’m not saying that conservative Catholics like you don’t care about the lack of unity of faith and practice in the RCC, but only that such divisions are a secondary matter to the much more important matter of formal unity with the Church of Rome.

    In your analysis of the Catholic faith, you have it exactly backwards. For Catholics, union with Christ is the essence of Christianity. The Eucharist, not administration, is the source and summit of the Christian life:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”

    “All ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Administration is a necessary fact of life when running a church with close to a billion members, but even the administrative duties pressing upon the bishops are oriented towards the Eucharist.

    Steve G: I’ve worshiped in Baptist churches, Lutheran churches, Episcopal churches, Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, Pentecostal churches, non-denominational “Bible” churches, and I have taken the Lord’s Supper in all of them.

    Andrew McCallum: When you say that we don’t get upset anymore about ecclesiological differences, if you are speaking about the historic Reformed congregations you are largely right. This is, as noted, one of the areas where there is some divergence in the Reformed confessions. But, Anglicans like J.I. Packer and Presbyterians like R.C. Sproul and Baptists like Al Mohler can work together closely. They are aligned on most everything else and the idiosyncrasies of their ecclesiological systems don’t inhibit the communion they have.

    Andrew, I don’t know if the particular Protestant sect that you belong to practices “open” communion with “Baptist churches, Lutheran churches, Episcopal churches, Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, Pentecostal churches, non-denominational “Bible” churches” …. but there is a reason why the Catholic Church does not ordinarily allow Protestants to receive the Eucharist. One big reason is that the Protestant sects are not united in faith with the Catholic Church. The Protestant sects are not even united in faith with each other, since Protestantism is fragmented into thousands upon thousands of denominations because of their vast doctrinal differences.

    To understand why the Catholic Church does not practice open communion, I would direct you to what is printed on the inside front cover of “Today’s Missal” which is found in the pews of my parish church:

    For our Fellow Christians

    Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to the Holy Communion. Eucharist sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (canon 844 § 4). Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of communion by Christians of these Churches (canon 844 § 3).

    For those not receiving Holy Communion

    All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.

    For non-Christians

    We also welcome to this celebration those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. While we cannot admit them to Holy Communion, we ask them to offer their prayers for the peace and unity of the human family.

    From my POV, Protestants are way too blithe about the serious doctrinal differences that separate them into thousand upon thousands of divided sects. I don’t see how a person can thing he is being “scriptural” if he is sharing the “Lord’s Supper” with those that cause division within the church.

    I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you …
    1Cor 11: 17-18

  79. Michael (re:#71) and all,

    I have just received a letter from the elders of my former church (non-denominational, broadly “Reformed”), months after I formally resigned my membership and returned to the Catholic Church. The letter states that I have made shipwreck of my faith by embracing “another gospel,” and thus, I am apostate. I am implored to return to the (Protestant) Gospel. I have been told by an elder that if I do not “repent,” the congregation will be told to “treat me as an unbeliever.” Michael, your last paragraph in #71 sums up the crux of the “Catholic/Protestant question” as well as anything I’ve found. May I quote it, verbatim and in full, in my reply to the elders? I will give you credit for the words, by name, if you wish… or not– you probably have enough on your hands already without more possible combox debates from Protestants whom you’ve never met! :-)

    To all of my Catholic friends here, please pray for me. This development is not unexpected, but it is painful. These elders, and many of the other members of my former congregation, were once close, cherished friends of mine in Christ. I would still love for that to be the case, but my return to the Catholic Church may have made it impossible. However, I cannot “repent” of following the fullness of truth, to which God led me, and which, in turn, has led me back to the Church. The cost is painful, but it is worth it.

  80. Christopher,

    I am so glad to see you (as in internet “seeing”). I do often keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I will continue to do so.

    I do find it sad that you are accused of being an apostate. This is the problem of Protestantism, namely, what Father Bouyer called “subjective authoritarianism”. Terms are thrown around without any regard to meaning. An apostate is one who rejects the Person and work of Jesus Christ. An apostate is someone who no longer confesses Jesus is Lord. Neither of these have you done, yet, you are called an apostate. Now if they called you a heretic that would make more sense. You have deviated from their understanding of the Gospel. That, of course, brings up another question, as I have said here before, “heresy according to whom?”

  81. Andrew,

    “But, Anglicans like J.I. Packer and Presbyterians like R.C. Sproul and Baptists like Al Mohler can work together closely. They are aligned on most everything else and the idiosyncrasies of their ecclesiological systems don’t inhibit the communion they have. They are not administratively united but they are united in the way that Christ and Paul spoke of (being of the same mind, etc).”

    If I may ask, in what meaningful way can these men be of the same mind? Maybe I can see Packer and Sproul, but what of Mohler? Mohler, to my knowledge, as a Southern Baptist, would not accept the baptism of one who was baptized as an infant. If they are not united on the fundamental act of unity, baptism, how can they be of the same mind?

  82. @Christopher:

    The letter states that I have made shipwreck of my faith by embracing “another gospel,” and thus, I am apostate

    Certainly will pray for you, Christopher. A very dear friend – one whose writings had been a major part of my own becoming a Catholic, whom I called a mentor – told me that there was some excuse for cradle Catholics (I guess you guys were just brainwashed in infancy :-)), but that I new better, and was guilty of “high-handed treason” against Christ and the Gospel.

    Sad, but in a way, an honourable response. Much, much preferable to the “oh, I suppose if you find you are fed in the Catholic Church, then…”

    I pray for my friend as well, and will for you and your previous congregation. Some of those who were most horrified at my becoming a Catholic are now Catholics, so keep praying! And pray, too, for those who have some negative feelings about their Reformed congregation, leave it on your account, never find the Catholic Church, and are now wandering in the wilderness. Some have left the faith entirely. Newman was always cautious about encouraging people to become Catholics.

    jj

  83. If I may ask, in what meaningful way can these men be of the same mind? Maybe I can see Packer and Sproul, but what of Mohler? Mohler, to my knowledge, as a Southern Baptist, would not accept the baptism of one who was baptized as an infant. If they are not united on the fundamental act of unity, baptism, how can they be of the same mind?

    Good Morning Tom,

    Al Mohler is one of those baptists that is constantly trying to get his fellow baptists to look at the history of the baptists to see what their theological heritage is. When you trace that history and place it besides that of the Presbyterians there is not that much difference. Al Mohler and RC Sproul will have to talk a long time before they find anything to disagree over. The most notable difference is of course over the object and significance of baptism. As I was saying to Michael, the difference between Catholics and Presbyterians on the significance of baptism is great, but much less between Baptists and Presbyterians. So the simple answer to your question is that they are of the same mind on most everything, the significance of baptism being one exception.

    We have baptists in in our church. They are folks who are Reformed (or moving that way) but have not gotten their minds around the whole infant baptism thing. It’s not that we don’t believe that baptism is important, but rather that we want to give people time to think it through and understand what they are doing when they baptize their children.

  84. One of the real problems with Sola Scriptura is the impulse to declare every matter of controversy to be a secondary or unimportant matter. Even if there is no good basis in scripture or tradition to call it unimportant. So an Anglican like Packer and a Presbyterian like Sproul can talk a long time before they disagree. But the price they pay is an unspoken agreement to not talk about the issues they know they differ on. Should the church be run by bishops and apostolic succession as Anglicans try and do? Should it be run by elders elected by the congregation as Presbyterians try and do? Is this really a minor matter?

    I would even say matters of liturgy and worship style are not minor matters. There is so much disagreement over them no protestant dares suggest unity is important in that area. But it is. It is how the faith gets deepened and solidified in the hearts of the faithful.

    With the battle against secularism raging there is going to be a lot of commonality. Protecting Presbyterian tradition from moral relativism is going to look a lot like protecting Anglican tradition from moral relativism. That is if both men are conservatives within their particular tradition. But the fact is they don’t share the same faith. They are not what Paul meant by being of the same mind. They cannot be in the same church.

    The truth is that Catholics who are very liberal are quite easy to have in my parish. We agree on who the parish priest is, who the bishop is, and who the pope is. We recognize the same sacraments and the same catechism. They might see Hans Kung as a hero and I see him as a heretic. So what? We can be in the same church and make it work. So we are of the same mind to some imperfect degree.

    Protestants can’t make it work even with much more material agreement. They can’t agree on who should lead and from there it all falls apart. What is Paul saying when he commands us to be of one mind? To think alike? That would be a strange command. Or to submit to the body in the important areas and make it work? That is what the Catholic church enables us to do.

  85. Andrew,

    I guess it should be obvious that communion isn’t shared and that Protestantism isn’t a happy land of coexistence as you would like to paint it as. I was a Protestant (never a “cradle Catholic”) and I was part of several different denominations at different times in my life. The only unity that was professed between any of them was a vague “we all believe in Jesus and that we are saved when we ask Him to come into our hearts” and the opposition to the Catholic Church. The former unity would instantly be shattered shortly after its mentioning as it was usually followed up by, “but here is where the [enter denomination] get it wrong”, proving that the vague invisible Church unity based on the theory of[semi-] common belief is, in reality, non-existent. I think that it is the latter unity that is the strength of Protestantism, its animus against Catholicism. Any other attempt to paint Protestantism as unified fails simply by the visible fact that there are thousands of doctrinal differences between each of the thousands of denominations.

    As a former Protestant (a vehemently anti-Catholic one at that), it still never ceases to amaze me when Protestants attempt to paint Protestantism as one happy family, despite the obvious.

  86. Randy,

    The truth is that Catholics who are very liberal are quite easy to have in my parish. We agree on who the parish priest is, who the bishop is, and who the pope is. We recognize the same sacraments and the same catechism. They might see Hans Kung as a hero and I see him as a heretic . .

    Right, and this points up the crucial connection that keeps getting overlooked when the idea of Catholic “ecclesial unity” is pitted against some theoretical unity of “doctrinal essentials” within Protestantism as iff ecclesial unity and doctrinal unity wre not two sides of the same coin. It is precisely BECAUSE the Catholics agree on ecclesial unity (who the priest, bishop and pope are), that REAL unity in essentials can be maintained. If the pope were at some point to use his magesterial authority to explicitly declare Kung’s positions heretical (rather than simply remove his license to teach as a Catholic theologian) , THEN (since everyone knows who the pope is), those who currently see his positions as compatible with Catholic faith will have to either:

    a.) Make an assent of mind and will in the pope’s authoritative teaching or
    b.) Secretly maintain their position, but never bring in to the public light or
    c.) Risk discipline or even excommunication from their bishop

    Any of those three responses will result in a working peace.

    In the end, if the specific points of debate in Kung’s theology ever rise to a level of controversy that seriously threatens the unity of the family of God, the pope can step in and speak with authority to the issue. In this way, ecclesial unity serves as the basis for unity in essentials (which is what dogmas/irreformable teachings are).

    The lack of ecclesial unity within Protestantism IS the reason there is no unity in doctrine – even “essential” doctrines – because there is no one within the wide spectrum of Protestantism who is recognized as having anything like “binding” authority to define what is essential and what is not. This is true, not only among the non-denominational (theology-lite) groups, but even among the theologically rich sectors. The best example I can give is the famous “Lordship” debate which one can read about here:

    http://www.gty.org/Resources/Articles/A129

    If ever there were an argument over “essential” WITHIN Protestantism, this is it.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  87. Christopher (#75):

    No doubt that letter is painful for you; but remember to rejoice, like the Apostles, in the chance to suffer for the Name. I have prayed for you, and doubtless others have too. In the meantime, allow me to explain another lesson here for the general good.

    The elders who have branded you “apostate” are behaving as though they believe they have and exercise the authority of “the Church” Christ founded. If that belief were correct, their view of you would also be correct. As you know, neither is correct. But the main point of interest here is why they believe they’re correct, and why they’re wrong.

    They believe they’re correct because they believe they know what is, overall, the correct interpretation of the Bible. In fact, they’re so convinced they know the correct interpretation that they seem unable to distinguish it from the content of divine revelation itself. It’s like a spouse who says, in a domestic dispute, “Of course I’m right. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t believe what I do!” That’s why they believe they’re just upholding “the Word,” when what they’re really upholding is just their interpretation of what they take to be the Word; they know they can’t bolster their arrogation of authority by claiming that their intepretation is just their opinion. And yet, since this is America, there are probably several churches within a short drive of your old church who also believe they each have the correct interpretation, and those interpretations would not be entirely compatible with the Reformed or with each others’, even on core points. Now everybody’s got opinions, and opinions do not bind the conscience. So the authority of opinion, even rationally plausible opinion, is not enough to establish the kind of authority the elders of your old church believe themselves to be exercising. They have to maintain that their interpretation of the Bible is not merely their opinion, but is also the only reasonable interpretation on the points at issue—just as the mathematically expressible laws of gravity are not just physicists’ opinion, but are truths it would be positively unreasonable to deny. So, just as science can demonstrate many of its theories by experiments that confirm predictions, so the Reformed interpretation of the Bible is supposed to show, by cogent methods, how the Bible is to be interpreted and how the message of the Bible so understood is “self-authenticating.”

    Now if one were to grant their construal of certain key terms used in the New Testament, their position would indeed be logically unassailable, and thus represent the only rationally plausible interpretation of the Bible. But why grant that construal? In my experience, their arguments are of three types: from the lexicon, from philosophy, and from spiritual discernment.

    The actual content of such arguments is not important here. What’s important is the sort of cognitive stance they are fit to support. To the lexical, the best sort of response is the sort Bryan adopted in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.” Thus, unless one has antecedently established that one’s construal of certain key terms bears the authority of the Church Christ founded, then one can offer one’s lexicon and one’s use of it as no more than opinion, which isn’t enough for the purpose at hand. As for the philosophical—well, philosophers are notorious for disagreeing about everything, including what philosophy is and whether it can yield any sort of knowledge. As a trained philosopher, I can say with confidence that, by itself, the philosophical arguments don’t suffice for more than opinion in this matter either. Nor does the argument from spiritual discernment get us far; for of course, everybody with a strong conviction as to what the message of the Bible is believes it to be the result, at least in part, of spiritual discernment, and they notoriously disagree with each other even on core points. So the three types of argument taken severally yield nothing more than opinions; and arguments which, when taken severally, yield no more than opinion, cannot yield more than opinion when taken collectively either. That holds even granted that the arguments taken collectively are stronger than when taken severally.

    Accordingly, the most that the elders of your old church are justified in saying is that, in their opinion, you are apostate. Not only do they make no claim to infallibility; given the kinds of arguments they use, they cannot even offer their position as authoritative enough to bind their own conscience, let alone anybody else’s. Thus they do not, because they cannot, speak with the authority of the Church Christ founded. It is of course possible for them to believe and act as though they have the needed authority, and of course there are people who believe those elders have and exercise such authority, so that together, elders can look like they have authority and congregants can look like they’re submitting to it. But it’s all ersatz, not real, and they’d know it if there weren’t a veil over their hearts. They don’t even claim that they are “the” Church Christ founded; indeed, their theological epistemology precludes identifying any visible body as that church. Instead, they decide for themselves what is orthodox, based on their interpretation of the sources, and then found or pick a church on that basis. Thank God you’ve learned to say: “big deal.”

    Best,
    Mike

  88. Christopher Lake:

    God bless you bro. It is hard to have so many people you respect just not “get it”. I havnt been excommunicated by my PCA church yet but if I am I think that would be just so sad. Such an impotent gesture. Like a chihuahua (PCA) biting the ankle of a great dane (Catholic Church). Sound and fury signifying nothing. Without authority from those authorized by Christ how can it signify anything? Lets pray that the blinders are taken off their eyes.

    Remember to “offer up” even your small trials like this to Christ. He will use them. (this is one of those doctrines I am coming to love in Christ’s Church.)

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  89. Again… Michael Liccione beat me to the punch with thrice the power. Nice job.

    At any rate, I will be praying for you Christopher, please pray for me also. My family will be entering the Church, getting confirmed, and renewing our vows to recieve a sacramental marriage next month (hopefully).

    -David

  90. Christopher.

    # 75…

    We’ll be praying for you. When I left the PCA I received no such letter yet I’ve had other friends that have received such letters. However none of those who received the letters were actually excommunicated. In other words, none of those churches followed through with the threat of excommunication.

    I have a good friend that became Catholic last year. He wrote the elders of his PCA church an amazing letter after he received a ‘warning’ letter threatening excommunication. I’ll ask him if we can post it.

    Sean

  91. Christopher- Hang in there, my brother. I know it stings. Yet there’s peace!!! Jesus is the Center.
    herbert vanderlugt

  92. Andrew (#72):

    I considered remaining content with my reply to Christopher Lake (#83) as a reply to you, and I believe that reply should suffice. But on reflection, I’m sure it won’t suffice for you, because having re-read your #72, I see that you’re not quite appreciating the force of the fundamental issue here. You’re still locked into the Protestant HP. So here, I’ll endeavor to correct what I see as the misconceptions of yours that prevent you from appreciating the force of the fundamental issue.

    1. You write:

    For the Protestants the central idea of unity is not administrative, but rather a unity of belief and practice. I’m not saying that conservative Catholics like you don’t care about the lack of unity of faith and practice in the RCC, but only that such divisions are a secondary matter to the much more important matter of formal unity with the Church of Rome.

    On Catholic doctrine, papal authority is not primarily an arrangement of convenience meant to ensure “administrative” unity as distinct from “unity of faith and practice.” The pope is not the CEO of Catholic Church Inc., with the bishops being the managers of local branches and subsidiaries. That analogy is not only inadequate, as all analogies are, but positively misleading. We believe that papal authority was instituted by Christ to provide a focal point of, precisely, unity in belief and practice. That’s how we interpret Christ’s words to Peter: “Feed my sheep” and “Confirm your brethren.” That’s what important here—not centralizing management of the universal Church in the Vatican. Indeed, history shows that, generally speaking, the more strenuously administrative centralization in the Curia is attempted, the more likely it is to fail. It has hardly ever been possible, and would not be desirable even if it were possible. For it would not be compatible with the authority of bishops as the Church herself understands that authority. For the reasons why, read Lumen Gentium. What it says about the authority of bishops is quite an eye-opener. And that’s quite compatible with what it says about papal authority.

    Both logically and historically, the main role of the papacy is compatible with different degrees of “administrative” unity or disunity. For instance, and as you presumably know, during the first millennium the pope did not appoint anything close to all bishops over Western sees, and appointed none of the Eastern bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs even when he was in full communion with them. The fact was that neither politics nor technology allowed the universal Church to be run from Rome on a regular basis, even at the level of episcopal appointments. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Rome won the privilege of appointing all bishops in the Latin Church; but she still doesn’t appoint the bishops of all the Eastern churches in communion with her. And she doesn’t even aspire to at this point, because the reality is that reunion with the Orthodox cannot be attained without allowing them to carry on with appointments and discipline mostly as they have in the past—the only difference being that whichever bishops emerge from the process must remain in communion with Rome, as Catholic dogma lays out the conditions for that. Such a policy would be respecting the Orthodox principle of “synodality,” which is legitimate in its own sphere, but which does not suffice to maintain the unity of the whole Church. So the point of having the pope appoint all Latin and many Eastern-Catholic bishops, which it didn’t in the first millennium, is not to conform practice to dogma, but to make it easier for the papacy to exercise its true authority without being subject to the degree of political, economic, and military pressure that secular rulers, and bishops such rulers may dominate, have typically sought to exert over it. But even if history reverted to a situation in which the pope didn’t get to appoint most bishops, he could and would still serve as an indispensable focal point of unity in belief and practice, as the court of last appeal for resolving disputes about such matters.

    That said, I freely admit that, nowadays as in many cases from the past, Rome tolerates a good deal of disunity in belief and practice at the parish level. There are two reasons for that. First, and as I’ve already implied, even if Rome could micromanage the Church down to that level so as to ensure greater unity in belief and practice, she could not do so without trampling on the authority of local ordinaries as she herself defines that authority. Second, for both pastoral and doctrinal reasons, the pope and the bishops would rather tolerate a good deal of material heresy and liturgical abuse “on the ground” than simply excommunicate those responsible for it. Pastorally, the presumption is that it makes more sense to treat heterodoxy and heteropraxis as errors made in good faith than to treat them as manifestations of ill will. That is the stance of “mercy.” In my opinion, many local ordinaries carry that policy too far; they should clamp down harder than most of them do. That’s partly because their laxity allows many people to receive the Eucharist unworthily, to their own condemnation, and partly because that degree of laxity reduces the Church’s ability to evangelize consistently. Indeed, this is why Catholic adult formation remains generally weak. Unlike the situation in much of the past, there are a great many loyal Catholics who are both literate and motivated. But their scope is limited because too many things look likematters of opinion or taste to other Catholics, just because the erring are not disciplined. In this situation, collective efforts to evangelize encounter resistance from people who should be among the evangelizers. Thus, e.g., the “peace-and-justice” crowd in the Catholic Church has little to do with the “pro-life” crowd, and vice-versa. It’s a scandal. Divisions deriving from political and academic ideology prevent many Catholics from recognizing the true voice of the Church, and those divisions are not being closed by consistently enforced discipline.

    As unpleasant as the present pope and we Catholics loyal to him find this situation, however, we also know that the essence of the Church and her authority not only remain, but also remain visibly embodied for anybody who cares to see it. The pope still does what the pope is supposed to do, and so do many bishops, despite egregious failures we all know about. Things are actually not as bad now as they have been during certain periods in the past. The true faith is still taught, and is recognizable in magisterial documents such as the CCC. All the sacraments are still validly celebrated in most places. And there’s a large enough core of Catholics who “get it” to ensure doctrinal and liturgical continuity over time, despite all the heresy and abuse that one can find not only today, but in most periods in the Church’s history. That’s what we who trust Christ’s promises to the Church expect. And that’s what we find.

    2. You write:

    On the question of “which Church is the Church” being a loaded question, I hope that you would recognize that if we accept the assumptions of this question then there can be no further debate. If there is only one centrally governed hierarchical institution that is THE Church then Protestantism vanishes in a puff of rhetorical smoke. And so does Eastern Orthodoxy. So my point is that you should not define away competing understandings of the visible Church by framing your opening salvo in such terms. Do you see that posing the question as “what Church is THE Church” rather than “what is the correct understanding of the nature of the Church given Apostolic teaching” is building an assumption into your question that we reject at the outset? It’s not that your question does not matter to me, I just wish you would ask it in a different manner.

    I agree that the very question I ask, if legitimate, makes the Protestant HP “vanish” like “a puff of rhetorical smoke.” I knew that decades ago as a college student. There’s an analogy here: what the question “Which church is the Church?” is to Protestantism, the question “Why does the universe (or multiverse, if there is any) exist?” is to atheism. If the question is allowed as legitimate—i.e., as one that might well have an answer we can learn—then atheism cannot but appear as unreasonable, or at least as an unwarranted stretch. But my ecclesiological arguments most definitely do not do that to Orthodoxy. As I’ve often stressed, my arguments do not prove that the Roman communion, as distinct from the EO communion, is the Church Christ founded. All I believe my arguments establish is that, if we’re going to have a principled way to distinguish “divine revelation from human opinion about its sources of transmission,” then there must be some visible body clearly identifiable as “the” Church Christ founded. My reasons for coming to believe that the Roman communion is that body were, and remain, only my opinion. Of course, having made an assent of faith encouraged by that opinion, I cannot now believe that the EO communion is “the Church.” But that doesn’t mean my arguments definitively refute those who do believe that the EO communion is the Church. With the Catholic Church, I believe that the EO churches are true, particular churches, and hence that the communion of those churches is a real communion of churches. It’s just that, as a Catholic, I cannot see the EO communion as enjoying the degree of communion that Christ willed for the universal Church. Only acknowledgment of the papal claims can do that.

    3. I wrote:

    But of course, the very stance that licenses a range of mutually incompatible conceptions of church order licenses a range of mutually incompatible doctrines on virtually every point of theological Importance.

    and you replied:

    I brought up the cases of the Reformed churches partly to show that this was not the case.

    Your reply misses my point altogether. Of course the Reformed are agreed on Reformed principles; that’s what makes them Reformed. But the Reformed are only one part of the Protestant world, and not the largest. And my point was this: if one requires, as the Protestant HP does, that one’s ecclesiology be derived from one’s interpretation of the sources, independently of the claims of any particular, visible church, then neither one’s ecclesiology nor one’s overall theology can have more than the force of opinion. Therefore, they lack divine authority. And because they lack divine authority, they cannot rule out with such authority any ecclesiology or broader theology that is incompatible with them. That’s what accounts for the vast variety in Protestantism, which is endemic to Protestantism, unlike the variety in Catholicism, which is both of lesser degree and resolvable in principle. No Protestant church has an authoritative ecclesiology, because Protestantism as such can have no authoritative doctrine. The disunity of Protestantism is simply irresolvable in principle. You’ve grown so comfortable with that reality that all you can do is call it “unfortunate” without caring that the problem is unsoluble from within your HP. That’s not an attitude that even makes possible the unity for which the Lord prayed at the Last Supper.

    4. You write:

    I agree that if the RCC today is the proper successor of the 1st century Church going back to Peter and the Apostles and if the criteria for determining this succession is the formal “sacramental” succession of bishops then the theological distinctions of the RCC, at least for those that are dogmatically defined, must be correct. But there are some big “ifs” in there…..

    I’m well aware that, for you as a Protestant, those are “big ifs.” And that doesn’t bother me just by itself. The bigger problem I’m addressing, however, is this: so long as you think you have to develop an ecclesiology just from an study of the early sources, independently of the claims of any church to be “the Church,” you’ve made the question “Which church is the Church?” impossible to answer with divine authority. I suspect it’s because you know as much that you essentially reject the question.

    What you need to do is acknowledge the legitimacy of the question. And the only way to do that is to accept my argument that a clear answer to that question is essential for distinguishing, in a principled way, between divine revelation and human opinion about its sources of transmission. Now as you know, only two communions of churches that make the claim to be “the” Church Christ founded. Neither is Protestant. Hence, if my argument is correct, being able to make the above distinction in a principled way entails rejecting Protestantism.

    Once you see that, you’ll be knocked off your horse like Saul of Tarsus was, and the scales will fall from your eyes. Just as a great Jew like Saul could only interpret the Jewish Scriptures rightly by accepting the personal authority of the risen Christ who confronted him, so a Protestant can only interpret the Christian Bible rightly, or even get its list of books right, by accepting Christ’s authority in his Mystical Body, the Church he founded. The confrontation, like Paul’s, includes a question.

    Best,
    Mike

  93. All who replied to me,

    Thank you for your encouraging comments, and even more, for your prayers. David, I will certainly be praying for you and your family (and I will be striving to remember to “offer up” my suffering– thanks for the reminder, brother. I definitely need it!).

    I do want to write more in response to each of your replies, but with my recent change of both locale and specific living situation, my “internet time” has been drastically reduced, for the time being (not due to my own choice), and tonight, I need to write a hopefully God-honoring reply to my former elders. This Wednesday evening, the congregation will be told of my “apostacy.” After that, if I do not “repent,” I will be “excommunicated.” (They don’t make idle threats about things like this. They will follow through.) I just thank God that this won’t be an excomunication from the Church that Christ founded!

    I am grateful for all of your replies, not least for the way in which they have given me food for thought for my reply to my former leaders. God bless each of you.

  94. David Meyer,

    That’s excellent news! My thoughts and prayers are with your family during this time.

  95. Gentlemen –

    I suppose this is a good time to tune in. This is the first time I have posted here, but I’ve been reading Called to Communion for over a year now. I first encountered persuasive Catholic polemic on Neal’s (now inactive) blog, just after I moved to Oklahoma to begin attending grad studies in philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. That was about a year and a half ago. To reduce a long and painful story (apparently, I am in good company) to a few words, my wife and I are now attending RCIA and are planning on entering the Catholic Church this coming Easter. I want to thank all the contributors to Called to Communion, and especially Bryan Cross (with whom I have privately corresponded), for your unflagging efforts at serious and charitable discourse. I think I have learned just as much from the comboxes as I have from the main articles. Of course, after reading Neal’s blog and beginning to read Called to Communion, I made Amazon rich off their Catholic theology section. But I’ve continued to monitor this site throughout my studies, to my great benefit. So know that God is using your ecumenical efforts, even if you are unaware of the lives you are touching.

    I will pray for you tonight, Christopher. Very soon after discovering Catholic theology, wanting to keep myself open to critique and avoid being “drawn in” by persuasive but fallacious arguments, I began a long and often intense email discussion with my father and my father-in-law. My father-in-law is also my pastor (Reformed Presbyterian Church, RPCNA). This week I will be sending him and the session a 40 page response to the critiques he’s brought against the Church regarding papal infallibility, sacramental Penance, and unity. I don’t know what lies ahead regarding church discipline or excommunication, but I should appreciate your prayers. To my great joy, God has already answered my first prayer by bringing my wife and I into perfect harmony regarding the Church.

    The Peace of Christ to you,

    – Max

  96. Max.

    I’ll be praying for you – your note is a great encouragement.

    Sean

  97. Max,

    Welcome home! You have my prayers. Thank you for sharing that.

  98. Max,

    Be assured of our prayers for you and your wife and may God bless you in your studies.

  99. I’ll add you to my intentions with my rosary tonight, Max & Christopher.

    This site (and as Max mentioned, the comboxes are just as important as the articles!) has been instrumental in my own conversion. I never would’ve thought when a convert friend of mine linked to an article last Reformation Day that when the end of October rolled around again, I’d be joyfully involved in RCIA!

    While we’re asking for prayers, please pray for my husband’s conversion. He’s taking RCIA with me, but he’s not “there” yet. However, to his credit, he is unwilling to split apart our family (we have a young son) when he is himself unsure of where he stands anymore. This time last year, we were both firmly Reformed. And now? Now I pray nightly for his conversion.

  100. FYI… I’m part of RCIA team at Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta. Last year, over 2000 converts to Catholicism came into the Church at the Easter Vigil for the Archdiocese, 48 of those were from the Cathedral (which was a record). This year, there are over 60 people going through the RCIA process at the Cathedral, a 20% increase from last year’s record. If those numbers are the same across the archdiocese, there will be over 2400 coming in at Easter 2011, please God. It is really wonderful to see because the ones coming in are serious about their Faith and know exactly why they are coming in… just like the ones who have commented in this combox. Let’s continue to pray for all Christians to come home and for the unity that Christ prayed for.

  101. On another note, there has also been an increase of fallen away Catholics coming back. At the Cathedral, we jumped from 3500 families to over 5000 families in one year (this past year)!

  102. 1. Would it be safe to say that formal sufficiency = material sufficiency + perspicuity ?

    2. Is it heretical for a Catholic to hold that the Scriptures are perspicuous in what they explicitly teach?

    Peace,
    John D.

  103. I listened to a talk from a Priest tonight who claimed:

    (1) The Gospel of Mark was written around 80-90.
    (2) Luke and Matthew and John (whoever they were) wrote down stories they heard from early Christians to codify the preaching of Christ, but not accurate history.
    (3) We know more about Cicero than the historical Jesus.
    (4) The Gospels are theology and thus do not present reliable historical information.

    Is it safe to say that he is not a conservative Catholic? He does not explicitly (or implicitly?) deny any dogmas in those statements, but that is certainly not the traditional understanding of the Gospels.

    Peace,
    John D.

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