Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross

Nov 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Articles

In February of this year Ryan Glomsrud, the Executive Editor of Modern Reformation, invited me to participate in a roundtable discussion on the subject of sola scriptura, with Michael Horton, editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation, a co-host of the White Horse Inn, and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. The article containing our discussion was just published in the November/December 2010 issue of Modern Reformation, and is titled “Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross.” The purpose of the discussion was to educate and inform readers regarding the nature of the points of remaining disagreement between Protestants and Catholics concerning sola scriptura.

The discussion is a roughly seven-thousand word interchange between Michael Horton and myself. But the published discussion ends rather abruptly, and not as our actual discussion ended. In actuality, after a couple of exchanges, I received Michael’s fourth comment, which was about eighteen hundred words long. As I began to prepare my reply, Ryan informed me that there was space enough for me to write only five hundred more words. So, I sent him a five-hundred word comment just wrapping things up, and letting him know that I would post a longer reply later, here on Called to Communion. But unfortunately none of my five-hundred word comment was included in the published version, I presume because there was less available space than Ryan had estimated.

Online access to the Modern Reformation article requires a subscription, and I cannot reproduce the entire article here. So below I have included the very last two comments in the article as it appears in its published form: Michael’s eighteen-hundred word comment and then my fifty word comment. That is the part in burgundy-colored font. Then, below that, I have provided the original five-hundred word comment that I sent to Ryan and Michael as what I thought would be my concluding comment in the dialogue. Then below that I present a more thorough response to Michael’s last comment. I would like to thank Ryan and Michael once again for inviting me to dialogue, and for their example of grace and civility in a discussion about issues and divisions that are so sensitive and provocative that negative emotions can easily poison the well of genuinely productive ecumenical dialogue. I see such dialogue as a stepping-stone to future reconciliation. Finally, I should note that in the introduction of this issue of Modern Reformation, on page two I am described as a “former Presbyterian pastor,” when in fact I was never a Presbyterian pastor.

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Michael Horton: We all have to answer that “according to whom” question. Why the Church of Rome? Why not the East, Wittenberg, Geneva, or Canterbury? Or, for that matter, Tulsa or Salt Lake City? At some point, you came to believe that the Church of Rome has magisterial authority over the whole body of Christ, but why? Even if you now submit unquestioningly (fides implicita) to everything taught as necessary by the Church of Rome, you still had to make a decision about which side you thought was correct when you left Reformed Christianity.

It’s interesting biographically when you say, “I came to believe that the Westminster Confession has no authority, because the only basis for its ‘authority’ was my own agreement with its interpretation of Scripture. And agreement with oneself cannot be the basis for authority.” Sifting out the caricature, I see your point, but as an argument it seems quite dangerous to me. It seems to assume that the Bible is murky, confusing, perhaps even contradictory, requiring the clarity of an infallible teacher. When it comes to Scripture, one has to interpret a lot, but when it comes to the Magisterium, no interpretation is necessary. I don’t believe one could find a single respected Roman Catholic theologian or cleric who would agree with you on that one, but it is certainly a radical surrender of one’s fate to ecclesial authority. Quite aside from the specifics of actual church history (which renders the assumption of a clear and self-consistent Magisterium implausible), I puzzle over what appears to be a radically postmodern (skeptical) view of the possibility of a faithful interpretation of Scripture coupled with a radically modern (absolutist) view of ecclesial interpretation.

Although there are passages I don’t understand, the Bible seems marvelously clear on the essentials of doctrine and life—so clear, in fact, that Christians across all times and places can agree with its summary in the ecumenical creeds. In sharp contrast with Scripture is the massive library of deliverances from councils, counter-councils, counter-counter councils, popes, counter-popes, and so forth. Rome has to require implicit faith in everything that the church teaches. How could one even be aware of everything that the church teaches? The scandal of opposing Protestant denominations and interpretations that weaken public confidence in the ability to arrive at truth is also apparent throughout the history of the church prior to the Reformation—and in Rome ever since.

My concern is that the position you defend is naive both in its confidence in magisterial infallibility and clarity as well as in its interpretation of church history. First, even the presence of the living apostles did not preserve the church from internal strife. The Epistles address a variety of errors and disciplinary issues in the churches, even questioning whether the church in Galatia was a true church. Yet it is the apostolic canon of the New Testament that is the infallible rule, not the apostles themselves. If so, then it is even more certain that the ordinary ministers who followed were subject to the authority of Scripture—even if one’s pastor happened to have been a disciple of one of the apostles.

Of course there is a “living teaching authority in the church”: normatively, Christ, by his Spirit, speaking in his Word and, subordinately, the common confession of this Word through the instruction of pastors and teachers (held in check by elders). It’s not an infallible, fail-proof system. But then, neither is Rome. History simply stands against any claim that the Church of Rome has been as self-consistent or clear as Scripture. And I repeat my earlier point that the anathemas of the Council of Trent (reaffirmed ever since) actually set Rome in opposition to the clear, marvelous, and saving gospel that is taught in Scripture. So even if there were an infallible teaching office in the church today, Rome would fail that crucial test.

When you say concerning contradiction that “ecumenical councils cannot and have not done so,” I suppose a lot depends on what you include. Not only Protestants, but Eastern Orthodox bodies, would be unable to endorse Rome’s list. In fact, some Western councils anathematized the East, while others anathematized Protestants; and in one, as I mentioned, the medieval church anathematized itself. By definition, an ecumenical council cannot be subordinate to a single pastor. (Indeed, “Roman Catholic” is an oxymoron, since the catholic church is the whole body of Christ in all times and places.)

All of the passages you offered speak of the necessity of submitting to our pastors and elders in the church. Yet not one passage in the New Testament supports the idea that the apostles handed off their apostolic office to their successors. Peter and John emphasize that their apostolic authority derived from their being directly and immediately called by Jesus as eyewitnesses and ambassadors of his ministry. At the beginning of Galatians, Paul also labors this point concerning his office. Yet the apostles speak of their ministerial successors as pastors and elders in each city (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17-22; Tit. 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1; Rev. 4:4), having their authority conferred upon them by Christ indirectly and mediately, through the laying on of hands by the whole presbytery (presbyterion; 1 Tim. 4:14).

Even at the Council of Jerusalem, neither Peter by himself nor even the whole college of apostles decided the matter. On the contrary, the phrase is repeated throughout Acts 15 that “the apostles and elders” arrived at the synod’s dogmatic conclusions that were then binding on the whole church. Even with the living apostles, the decision was reached in communion. The official practice of the church was not determined by a single apostle, or even by the college of apostles, but by delegated representatives (apostles and elders). Furthermore, the decision was not delivered from a single church to the rest of the body or left to the judgment of each local church. Rather, it was reached by these representatives from all the churches in assembly together.

If this was true in the apostolic church, it is surely to be the case in the post-apostolic era. The apostles laid that foundation by their extraordinary calling and ministry, while the ordinary ministers who follow them will build on that foundation (1 Cor. 3:9-17). The apostles gave us the deposit and now ministers like Timothy are told to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14), “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2). In the face of heresy and schism, the ordinary ministers and elders are to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). There is a magisterium—a proper teaching authority—in the church after the apostles, but it is representative rather than hierarchical, catholic rather than based on a single pastor or city, fallible rather than infallible, and ministerial rather than magisterial.

Even Pope Benedict XVI, as well as Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, acknowledge that presbyterian government was the earliest form of polity (see John Zizioulas, Being as Communion [Crestwood, NJ: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997], 195: “On the one hand [the bishop] was understood as a ‘co-presbyter,’ i.e. as one—presumably the first one—of the college of the presbyterium. This is clearly indicated by the use of the term presbyters for the bishop by Irenaeus [Haer. IV 26:2]. This should be taken as a survival of an old usage in the West, as it can be inferred from I Clement 44, 1 Peter 5:1, etc.” [195, fn. 85]. In Called to Communion [trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996)], Pope Benedict [then Cardinal Ratzinger] acknowledges that presbyter and episcopos are used interchangeably in the New Testament [122-23]).

You cite the early Father Clement of Rome: “In St. Clement of Rome, for example, before the end of the first century, we see him exercising authority when he says to the Corinthian usurpers, ‘You therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue’ (c. 57)” (emphasis added). In the New Testament Epistles, the terms elder (presbyteros) and bishop (episkopos) are used interchangeably for the same office. Eventually the bishop became the moderator of presbytery and then, by Irenaeus’s day, was a separate office. Regardless of whether one affirms presbyterian or episcopal government, however, none of these early Fathers argued that the bishop of Rome was the universal head of the church, much less endued with infallibility.

The argument of Irenaeus against the Gnostics makes sense. The Gnostics were basing their heretical teachings on spurious writings, and they gathered their own circle of false apostles. Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John the Apostle, could appeal to an obvious and publicly recognized circle of pastors in the line of the apostles who walked with Jesus. However, this historical argument became a dogmatic argument that went beyond the church’s constitution (Scripture). After Constantine, churches in both the East and the West began to imitate the hierarchical political system of the empire. Yet as late as 597, Pope Gregory the Great famously declared, “I say with confidence that whoever calls or desires to call himself ‘universal priest’ in self-exaltation of himself is a precursor of the Antichrist” (quoted in Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages [NY: Columbia University Press, 1979], 64). The bishops of the East certainly agreed with this statement, but Gregory’s successors were less inclined to such pastoral humility.

Of course, the Spirit could have preserved the Jewish elders and Sanhedrin from error, but he did not—which is why Jesus placed the authority of Scripture over the Magisterium in Matthew 15:6 and Paul did as well (1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:8-9). The Spirit could have preserved the Christian elders and teaching office from error, but he has not—although he does lead his true church into all truth through pastors and elders who are instructed, examined, and held accountable to the Scriptures by the wider church in its representative assemblies.

The church was full of all sorts of doctrinal errors during the time of the apostles. In spite of the clarity and power of God’s Word, the church is a mess and has always been so. Yet Christ’s pledged presence with his church in the power of his Word and Spirit remains in effect. Again, there seems to be a lot of unhistorical nostalgia for a church that never was and a certainty that is absolute and visible in this world that no longer requires interpretation and is no longer susceptible of differences and tragic divisions. But that has never been and will never be until our Savior returns to glorify his ecclesial body and we behold him face to face. “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

Bryan Cross: Thank you very much for inviting me to participate and for being gracious. I feel we only scratched the surface. I hope we can pursue this in greater depth at some point in the future. May Christ make us instruments of his peace for the reunion of Protestants and Catholics.1

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Here, below is the unpublished five-hundred word reply that I submitted after learning that there was space for me to write only five-hundred more words:

Bryan Cross: Michael, I’m told by Ryan that there is space for me to say only five hundred more words. In such a short space I cannot give an adequate reply to your most recent comments. So I will offer a very brief summary here of what I see as the most fundamental point of disagreement, and later at Called To Communion I’ll post a more thorough reply to your latest comment.

Three years ago your colleague R. Scott Clark, talking about the Federal Vision controversy, said the following: “All heretics quote Scripture. The question in this controversy is not the normativity of the Bible but who gets to interpret it.” He was absolutely correct. But it is not only the question in the FV controversy; it is ultimately the same question at the very heart of the Protestant-Catholic divide: Who has interpretive authority? The Catholic answer to that question is based on apostolic succession. Christ did not leave His Church with only a book; He also authorized and equipped a perpetual, visible living magisterial authority to provide the authoritative interpretation of Scripture to His flock, until He returns. The Church universally affirmed and practiced apostolic succession, wherever she spread all over the world, as is clear in the historical record from the second century on. There wasn’t some great controversy or debate as the ‘heretical’ practice of apostolic succession universally swept over the Church in the first and second centuries, and replaced the ‘original’ notion that ecclesial leadership was based entirely on agreement with the Apostles’ doctrine. If the Apostles didn’t institute the practice of apostolic succession, that’s a very strange silence. If apostolic succession were a later innovation, we would expect to find all those Christians who were being martyred for holding fast to what the Apostles had taught, vociferously protesting to the death that apostolic succession is not the way the Apostles set up the basis for leadership in the Church. But what we find instead is that these martyrs are the ones defending apostolic succession, and defending those bishops ordained by way of apostolic succession. The only ones denying the necessity of apostolic succession were the second-century Gnostics, because they didn’t have it. One must adopt a radical ecclesial deism in order to explain away such evidence.

Although it would be nice to think that Scripture is so clear that no visible living interpretive authority is needed to provide the authoritative interpretation, if the fragmentation of Protestantism over the past four hundred and ninety years is not enough to falsify such a position, then how many more centuries of division would be needed to falsify it? Exegesis and hermeneutics cannot unite Christians in one body; only a divinely authorized visible living interpretive authority can do so.

I wish to thank you for inviting me to participate in this discussion. I pray that it may be helpful for advancing mutual understanding, and the eventual reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics together again in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

But, Michael’s eighteen-hundred word comment obviously calls for a more thorough reply, which I had intended to give. So, below is my reply to Michael’s last comment in the dialogue. It is divided into twelve sections, as I have outlined here:

Outline

I. The Tu Quoque
II. Perspicuity of Scripture
III. Persons and Texts
IV. Strife and Error in the First Century
V. Following the Spirit
VI. Trent vs. Scripture?
VII. The Roman Catholic Church: An Oxymoron?
VIII. Scripture and Tradition
IX. Apostolic Succession
A. Evidence from Tradition
B. The Ground of Magisterial Authority
C. Evidence from Scripture
X. Bishops
XI. The Authority of the Magisterium in Relation to Scripture
XII. The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty

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Michael,

You have raised a number of objections to the Catholic position, so many, in fact, that answering them with sufficient depth and care would require something approaching a book-length reply. So for the sake of space and time I’ll sketch out relatively brief replies to your primary objections.

I. The Tu Quoque

I stated earlier in our discussion that the problem with claiming that the Reformed confessions and catechisms are binding because they summarize the teaching of Scripture is that such a claim leaves out the “according to whom.” That is, each different Protestant confession and catechism summarizes the interpretation of Scripture held by some subset of like-minded Protestants. And each confessional denomination thinks its own tradition’s confession best summarizes the teaching of Scripture. Without apostolic succession, ultimately the only answer to the “according to whom” question is “me and those who agree with me.” But since without apostolic succession no subset of Protestants has any more authority than do any other Christians, therefore there is no ground or basis for any Protestant to claim that his own confession has any more authority than that of any other Protestants. He can treat his own confession as authoritative only by arbitrarily ascribing to himself an authority he would deny to Protestants holding interpretations contrary to his own, or by abstracting away the existence of contrary Protestant hermeneutical traditions.

Your response to this argument is essentially that the Catholic is in the same boat, picking some particular ecclesial institution on the basis of its agreement with his own interpretation. We might summarize this response as the tu quoque objection. Here’s why the tu quoque is not true—for the same reason you think magisterial authority is more than ministerial authority. Apostolic succession qualitatively changes the picture by including in the present a visible living magisterial authority, having its authority not on the basis of agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, but on the basis of authorization by Christ through His Apostles and their successors. If apostolic succession is true, and if Christ gave to St. Peter and his successors the primacy with respect to teaching and interpretive authority, then no creed is binding-because-of-one’s-own-judgment-that-it-accurately-summarizes-Scripture, but instead because of an authoritative decision by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the successor of St. Peter that the creed in question authentically presents the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles and faithfully preserved and handed down by their successors. The doctrine of apostolic succession entails that orthodoxy is found ultimately through living divinely authorized visible persons. By contrast, the denial of apostolic succession relativizes ‘orthodoxy,’ because no person has any greater interpretive authority than does anyone else, and so no one’s interpretation of Scripture is any more ecclesially authoritative than is anyone else’s. No one’s ‘orthodoxy’ is any more binding than is anyone else’s, and no one’s ‘heresy’ is any more condemned than is anyone else’s.

Of course the inquirer has to determine whether there is a succession of authority from the Apostles to the bishops of the present day, and whether Christ gave to St. Peter and his successors the primacy. But just as our discovery of Christ does not entail that the basis or ground of His authority is our judgment that He is the Son of God, and just as a first century Roman citizen’s discovery of the Apostles would not entail that the basis or ground of their authority is his judgment that they were sent by Christ, so the contemporary inquirer’s discovery of the Catholic Magisterium extending down through the centuries by an unbroken succession from the Apostles to the present day does not entail that the basis or ground of this Magisterium’s authority is the inquirer’s judgment that it is the divinely authorized teaching authority of the Church Christ founded. The reasons by which he grasps its authority are not the ground of its authority, whereas without apostolic succession the only ground for the authority of any confession or pastor is its or his general agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. I have written a more detailed response to the tu quoque objection in a post titled, “The Tu Quoque.”

II. Perspicuity of Scripture

You stated that my claim that the only basis for the Westminster Confession of Faith’s ‘authority’ is one’s own agreement with its interpretation of Scripture assumes that the Bible is “murky, confusing, perhaps even contradictory.” First, I’m not sure where you got the notion that my position is that the Bible is “perhaps even contradictory.” We agreed at the outset that the Bible is inerrant, and this has always been the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.2 And since truth cannot contradict truth, therefore it should be clear that my position cannot possibly be that the Bible is contradictory.

As for whether the Bible is “murky” and “confusing,” as St. Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:16 some parts of Scripture are “hard to understand” and easily subject to distortion by untaught interpreters. If Philip the deacon had thought all Scripture is easily understood, he would not have asked the Ethiopian eunuch whether he understood what he was reading. Nor would the eunuch have replied, “How could I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31) And I think you agree on this, because otherwise you would not participate in the activity of a seminary, an institution built on the notion that persons need training in order rightly to interpret and teach Sacred Scripture.

Take Jesus’ parables, as an example. If the Apostles had not explained the meaning of Jesus’ parables, it is quite likely that no degree of exegesis could have determined their meaning. In themselves, exegesis and our best hermeneutical tools would have left the meaning entirely underdetermined. In the time of Christ, the only way to learn what the parables meant, was to learn the meaning from those to whom Christ had privately revealed it. And this same hermeneutical principle remains true to this day for so many Jews who study the Old Testament; a veil remains over their eyes, as St. Paul says regarding the unbelieving Jews of his time. “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted.” (2 Cor 3:14) They can read the words, but they cannot understand what they are reading, no matter how many exegetical or hermeneutical tools they apply to the text. Perceiving the true meaning of the Sacred Scripture is not fundamentally a matter of using the right exegetical tools or methods, because as St. Paul explains, the natural man cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

And this same principle applies broadly to the whole of sacred Scripture, precisely because it is a divine text. The problem with the mere exegetical approach is not exegesis itself; the problem is much deeper. The notion that all one needs in order rightly to interpret Scripture are exegetical tools, lexicons, and the historico-critical method, denigrates Scripture by reducing it to a merely natural book, decipherable through natural tools and the natural power of human reason. The notion that proper scholarship is sufficient to determine the meaning of Scripture is what I would call hermeneutical Pelagianism. That is true even if one appropriates the guidance and approval of the Spirit, by claiming that the Spirit guides one’s own exegesis and hermeneutics, or at least guides those who generally share one’s own conclusions from Scripture. And if one claims to rely on the Church for the interpretation of Scripture, then without apostolic succession one has only reasoned in a circle, as I showed here.

Some Protestants think that if Scripture requires divine aid to be rightly understood, this makes Scripture inferior to other writings, as though it implies that God is incapable of writing to humans even as well as we can. But there is another way to view this. If Scripture could be understood just as we can understand the writings of mere men, without the aid of divine grace, this would reduce Scripture to something merely natural, and not supernatural. It is precisely because Scripture is supernatural (i.e. having God as its primary Author), and reveals truths that exceed the capacity of natural reason to grasp on its own, that we require divine aid in order to understand it rightly. We need divine aid in order rightly to understand Scripture precisely because Scripture is superior to every other writing; in fact it is divine, and thus incapable of being truly grasped by finite minds, without grace from above. What is supernatural cannot be attained to by what is natural, without divine aid. The denial of that truth is the essence of the Pelagian error, i.e. to think that what is supernatural can be attained by what is merely natural, without supernatural aid.

Of course a person with no training or guidance can come to faith in Christ through reading the Bible, by the aid of the Holy Spirit. Many people have come to faith in Christ in this way. The disagreement and fragmentation among well-meaning Christians demonstrates that God has not given the Spirit’s infallible guidance to each Christian individually. Hence the unity of the Church cannot be preserved by Scripture alone, as the history of Protestantism clearly shows. The notion that without a divinely authorized magisterium Church unity can be preserved by Scripture alone has been shown to be false by the many schisms and sects of the four hundred and ninety year experiment that is Protestantism.3 A divinely authorized magisterium is necessary, and has permitted the Catholic Church to remain a unified body for almost two thousand years, even though many others have gone out from her. And while there have always been Catholics who in some respect dissent from what the Magisterium of the Church teaches, their doing so only separated themselves in that respect from the one faith taught definitively by the Church’s Magisterium. The essential unity of the Magisterium serves to preserve the first of the Church’s four marks listed in the Creed: unity.

I do agree with you that there were theological disagreements within the Church prior to the sixteenth century, and there have been disagreements within the Church all the way back to the beginning of the Church. But it would be anachronistic to describe any party in those prior conflicts as ‘Protestant.’ When some Catholics would obstinately retain a position contrary to the doctrine the Church’s Magisterium had already definitively determined, those persons were by that very fact shown to be holding a heretical position, and were either brought to repentance and reconciliation with the Church, or excommunicated. But when those disagreements were about doctrinal matters that had not yet been formally defined by the Church’s Magisterium, they were fully compatible with unity in the faith, and thus with full communion in the Church’s sacraments and hierarchy.4 A Protestant obviously wouldn’t want to say that the sixteenth century disagreement between Protestants and the Catholic Church was a disagreement of the former sort, for that would be to categorize Protestantism as one more heresy in the history of the Church. But neither can Protestantism be described as a disagreement of the latter sort, because the Church has spoken definitively and irreversibly in the ecumenical Council of Trent. Therefore, disagreements within the Church regarding doctrinal matters not yet defined do not show either that a living visible magisterial authority is unnecessary for preserving the Church in “one faith,” or that the Protestant’s rejection of the Council of Trent on the basis of appeals to his own interpretation of Scripture is comparable to those earlier in-house disagreements about doctrinal questions the Church’s Magisterium had not yet decided. In-house theological disagreement about matters not yet defined is one thing; cases of heresy and schism are something else altogether.

You stated that the Bible is “marvelously clear on the essentials of doctrine and life.” If that were true, disagreement regarding which doctrines are essential could be due only to illiteracy or malice. But when we engage in on-the-ground ecumenical dialogue with Christians in other interpretive traditions, we find that the people with whom we disagree on such matters are generally neither unintelligent nor malicious. That implies that resolving the disagreements regarding which doctrines are essential is not as simple as pointing to Bible verses. Otherwise, after the last five centuries of reading and studying Scripture, then even if there was not an initial agreement concerning the meaning of Scripture, there should be at least a convergence of biblical interpretations among all students of Scripture. Instead there has been a continual multiplication of doctrinal disagreements among the various Protestant traditions. Nor does appealing to the creeds resolve the question because, for example, Protestants and Catholics do not agree regarding the referent of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” and what “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” means. In addition, as you noted at the beginning of our discussion, Catholics and Protestants do not even agree over which books belong to the Bible, and that question cannot be resolved by appealing to the Bible. For these reasons, Scripture alone is not capable of answering the “essentials” question.

III. Persons and Texts

You raise another important objection when you suggest that my position is that Scripture requires the clarity of an infallible teacher, but that the Magisterium needs no interpreter. You see such a notion as an ad hoc juxtaposition of postmodernism on the one hand and absolutism on the other hand. I have already explained just above why Scripture, being a divine inspired text, requires the aid of the Spirit to be faithfully interpreted, on pain of hermeneutical Pelagianism. Noting this limitation of human reason is not a form of skepticism; it is rather a recognition of the limits of the natural power of human reason before a supernatural text. And the last five-hundred years of Protestant history only confirm this about the powerlessness of human reason to resolve interpretive disputes. In light of that continual fragmentation, it would be naïve to maintain that “faithful interpretation of Scripture” is available to everyone, through interpreting it for themselves, or through following academia.

Let me clarify that it is not my position that the Magisterium “needs no interpreter.” But when the Magisterium needs to be interpreted, the Magisterium itself performs this function, just as St. Philip explained to the Ethiopian eunuch what the prophet Isaiah meant. This is not some ad hoc juxstaposition of postmodernism and absolutism. There is a relevant ontological distinction between the respective communicative potencies of persons and books; and this distinction has very important hermeneutical implications. This is why it does not follow that if a book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to function as an ecclesial authority holding the Church in “one faith,” then we must need an infinite regress of living persons in order to interpret the living voice we presently hear.

A book contains a monologue with respect to the reader. A book’s author can often anticipate the thoughts and questions that might arise in the mind of the reader. But a book cannot hear the reader’s questions here and now, and answer them. A living person, however, can do so. A living person can engage in genuine personal dialogue with the reader, whereas a book cannot. Writing is a human technology that records the speech or dialogues of others, but cannot engage in authentic personal dialogue with the reader. Chesterton notes this when he writes that though we can put a living person in the dock, we cannot put a book in the dock. In this respect, a person can do what a book cannot; a person can correct global misunderstandings and answer comprehensive interpretive questions. A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. This unlimited potency of persons with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its goal; we can continue to ask clarification questions, be heard, and receive answers to those very questions, until the questions are answered. By contrast, a book cannot speak more about itself than it does at the moment at which it is completed; thus without a visible living magisterium, disputes regarding the interpretation of Scripture can in principle be interminable and unresolvable. A person, by contrast, remains perpetually capable of clarifying further any of his previous speech-acts. So likewise an enduring Magisterium made up of persons remains perpetually capable of clarifying and explaining any of its previous statements.

One objection is an argument that takes the form of a dilemma in which it is claimed that we must choose between an infinite hermeneutical regress on the one hand, and on the other hand, no need for an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture. Our response to this objection is to show that it is a false dilemma. We do not have to choose between an infinite hermeneutical regress, and not needing an interpretive authority. It can be true that we need a living interpretive authority in order for Scripture to fulfill its function as the authoritative Word of God, without it being true that we are stuck in an infinite hermeneutical regress. One reason why there is no necessary infinite hermeneutical regress is that with a living Magisterium we can continue to ask clarifying questions, even to the point of saying, “I’m understanding you to be saying x. Is x what you are saying? Yes or no?” And the Magisterium can respond by saying “yes” or “no.” And at that point, there is no need for an interpretive authority, so long as a person understands the English language and has adequate hearing. Interpreting “yes” and “no” is quite different from interpreting, say, the book of Romans. We do not need an interpretive authority to explain the meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ But we may very well need an interpretive authority to explain the meaning of the book of Romans, or at least to help us avoid misinterpreting it.

Does my position involve a “radical surrender of one’s fate to ecclesial authority”? Yes, it does. Faith in Christ involves radical surrender to Christ, through radical surrender to those He has placed in authority in His Body the Church, just as for the first generation of Christians listening to Christ involved listening to His Apostles. “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16) This requirement to submit to the Church is part of the gospel, to come and take up one’s cross and die with Christ, in His Body, the Church. That man who remains his own highest arbiter of what Christ said and did has not yet discovered the Apostles and the living Church present in the world today. His gospel is a kind of gnosticism which grants him only an invisible Christ and an invisible Church. Where no radical trust in the Church is required, the Church has not yet been discovered. As the Church Fathers said repeatedly, “He cannot have God for His Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.”

IV. Strife and Error in the First Century

You suggest that I am being naïve, because in your opinion I must be either unaware or unable to account for two phenomena in the first century: the internal strife among the Apostles, and the presence of errors and disciplinary issues in the particular Churches. You wrote that the Church was “full of all sorts of doctrinal errors during the time of the apostles. … [T]he church is a mess and it has always been.” As a Catholic I can agree with that last statement, under a certain qualification. And I am aware of the internal strife among the Apostles and the presence of errors and disciplinary issues in the particular Churches of the first century; both are fully compatible with Catholic theology and ecclesiology.

There have always been sinners in the Church, and there have always been dissenters and heretics. In every generation of the Church we find some new or old heresy arising and leading some people astray. They go out from us, as St. John put it. (1 John 2:19) In addition, there have always been some unfaithful men among the clergy, men who have committed shameful deeds, or watered down or perverted the faith, or led their flock into schism. There have always been such men in the Church, and their sin has always been the cause of scandal. Likewise, in every century of the Church’s history there have been instances of disagreement between certain bishops, and cases of certain priests or bishops requiring Church discipline.

On that we agree. But from that you conclude that only Scripture has divine authority and only Scripture is infallible, and that there is no visible living magisterial authority in the Church Christ founded. That conclusion does not follow from those premises. The presence of a visible living magisterial authority in the Church does not entail that those belonging to the Magisterium will never disagree with each other, nor does it entail that particular Churches will never err. It entails that when the Magisterium speaks with her full authority, either when the bishops in communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter, together with him, definitively determine a matter of faith or morals in ecumenical council, or when the Pope does so ex cathedra, they are protected from error by the Holy Spirit, and hence such dogmas can never be subsequently overturned or revoked or denied. The fact that Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement, or that Paul rebuked Peter, does not in any way reduce the magisterial authority of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 to that of the individual interpreter of Scripture. In other words, none of these things makes the individual believer his own highest interpretive authority; the Magisterium remains the divinely instituted authority to which all those who wish to follow Christ should submit, and to whose judgments their own private interpretation of Scripture should conform.

St. Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29) He speaks here of heretics coming into the Church and seeking to lead her members astray. But St. Paul is not saying that the universal [visible] Church will be led astray, or that the Magisterium of the Church will be taken over by wolves. That would have been to deny the very purpose of Christ establishing magisterial authority in His Church. We believe that Christ by His Holy Spirit is protecting His Church, guiding her into all truth, and preventing the gates of hell from prevailing against her. But there are continual onslaughts from the forces of darkness. Dissent, heresy and schism can and do occur, but thanks be to God they can never prevail against the Magisterium of the Church, the Magisterium that Christ Himself established and through which He continues to govern His Church. He has the key of David; what He opens no one will shut, and what He shuts, no one opens.5 There can be heresy in the Church, even among various bishops, but the Church herself, governed by the Magisterium Christ established in her to endure until He returns, can never fall into heresy. There can be schism within the Church, but the Church’s essential visible unity can never be diminished or destroyed, because whichever side separates itself from full communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter, becomes by that very fact a schism from the Church.6

Regarding theological matters not yet formally decided, internal disagreement about such matters is in a certain sense healthy for the Church, so long as it is done in charity, peace and the pursuit of truth. That is because the Holy Spirit often deigns to work through such debates to help deepen the Church’s understanding of the deposit of faith, clarifying the orthodox nature of orthodoxy and the heretical nature of heresy. But the decision of the Apostles in council together was protected from error by the Spirit. The decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 did not become free from error only when St. Luke wrote about it; nor did it come to “seem good to the Holy Spirit” only after St. Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote about it. Likewise, the presence of doctrinal error in particular Churches is not incompatible with Catholic theology. The Catholic Church has never believed or taught that every particular Church would be protected from heresy. The Catholic Church has believed and taught that the Holy Spirit prevents the Church universal, in communion with St. Peter and his successors, from falling into heresy. So the presence of errors in particular Churches is not incompatible with what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about the universal Church. But the presence of errors in various denominations is a problem for the claim that Scripture is marvelously clear on the essentials of doctrine and life, because if Scripture were marvelously clear on the essentials of doctrine and life, then there would be no errors in such matters among those who read and study Scripture.

V. Following the Spirit

You propose that the living teaching authority in the Church is Christ, by His Spirit, speaking in the Scripture. But the question is this: How does one know what the Spirit is saying? How does one find and follow the grace from above, by which to understand Scripture? The Mormons claim to rely on the Spirit, by following the burning in their bosom. But that is not a reliable way of determining what the Spirit is saying.7

The Catholic way of following the Spirit is to follow the Magisterium of the Church in its explication of the deposit of faith entrusted to it, not an internal bosom-burning. Christ promised that He would send His Spirit to guide His Church into all truth, and that He would be with her even until the end of the age. But where there are contradictory beliefs, the Spirit cannot be guiding both parties, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth,8 and by the Spirit the Church is the pillar and bulwark of Truth.9 So we are neither hermeneutical Pelagians who credit the Spirit for our own exegetical efforts, nor do we resort to the subjectivity of bosom-burning. We follow the Spirit by finding the Temple not made with human hands, because the Spirit dwells in the Church Christ Himself founded, and speaks through that Church.

We believe that because Scripture is a divinely-inspired book, it therefore requires the aid of the Holy Spirit in order to be understood rightly. And the means Christ established, by which the Holy Spirit would teach and guide His Church, is the divinely-established Magisterium (i.e. the Apostles and their successors), by whom His Spirit will lead His people into all truth.10 So, we agree that Christ is the living teaching authority in the Church, and that we must follow His Spirit speaking in the Scripture. But the point of disagreement here is that Catholics affirm, while Protestants deny, that it is through the successors of the Apostles that the Spirit guides the Church in rightly understanding the deposit of faith. Hence Dei Verbum, says:

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.” This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2). And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. (Dei Verbum, 7-8)

According to the Catholic Church, Christ established a permanent visible living teaching authority in His Church, so that Christians of all time would be able to know what is the truth concerning the deposit of faith He entrusted to His Apostles. When in describing the Catholic position I refer to the Church’s living teaching authority, I am referring to the Church’s visible living teaching authority. The visible Church Christ founded needs a visible living teaching authority. Because Christ’s physical body is not now visible to us, He cannot in that respect be the Church’s visible living teaching authority. That is why before His ascension He gave authority to men to be the visible living teaching authority of His Church until He returns, so that we would not be left like sheep without a shepherd.

VI. Trent vs. Scripture?

You also claim that the anathemas of the Council of Trent “set Rome in opposition to the clear, marvelous, and saving gospel that is taught in Scripture.” From my point of view, the Council of Trent is like the Council of Nicea with respect to Arianism, and the Council of Ephesus with respect to Nestorianism, and the Council of Chalcedon with respect to Eutycheanism—the Council of Trent, by its very authority as an ecumenical council, gives the orthodox way of understanding the doctrine of justification found in Scripture. In other words, it shows us how rightly to read and interpret the passages of Scripture so as to avoid heresy. That is why your use of your own interpretation of Scripture to judge that the Council of Trent erred in its teaching concerning justification, presupposes that Christ did not establish His Church with a Magisterium by which to provide us with the authoritative determination of orthodoxy and heresy. This paradigm difference makes the task of reconciling Protestants and Catholics much more difficult, because Protestants appeal to their own interpretation of Scripture to judge the Council of Trent to be in error, and Catholics look to the Magisterial authority of the Council of Trent to determine that the Protestant interpretation of Scripture is in error.

For example, the Council of Trent explains “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) in relation to St. Paul’s claim in Romans 6 that we are buried together with Christ by baptism. The Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin allows Romans 8:1 to be explained by union with Christ through the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape (Rom 5:5) into the soul through baptism. It allows it to be true that “in those who are born again God hates nothing.”11 The Council of Trent makes use of the Tradition to explain that in Romans 7:17 St. Paul is not speaking of sin itself, but of concupiscence, i.e. that disorder in our lower appetites which is not itself sin, but which is the result of sin and inclines us to sin, and must be manfully resisted. Understanding the seventh chapter of Romans in this way allows us to see justification as God truly making the believer righteous, such that by the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape there is now no condemnation for him. This is how the Tridentine Fathers understand St. Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) By the washing of baptism, the believers were both sanctified and justified, and received also the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.12 Trent’s treatment of justification as being made internally righteous by the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape on account of the merit of Christ’s passion, allows the righteousness had by faith (Rom 4:11,13), the justification had by faith (Rom 5:1,16), and the free gift of righteousness (5:17), to be the same righteousness to which we are now “slaves,” (Rom 6:18) no longer walking in darkness but in newness of life. (Rom 6:4) According to St. Paul, obedience to this righteousness “leads to” righteousness, (Rom 6:16), which can also be described as yielding our members to righteousness for sanctification. (Rom 6:19) Given the teaching of Trent regarding justification, we can then see how growth in justification (i.e. righteousness) is part of St. Paul’s theology, and how justification and sanctification are co-referential terms.

This likewise reconciles St. Paul’s theology with the teaching of Jesus that all those who love Him keep His commandments (John 14:23, cf. 1 John 5:3), and that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Mt. 11:30), and that His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). It likewise makes sense of Jesus’ statement to the rich young ruler: “if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Mt. 19:17) It makes sense of Jesus’ claim that the whole law is summarized in the two great commandments to love God and to love one’s neighbor (Mt. 22:40), and St. Paul’s teaching that the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14, Rom 13:8, 13:10) Without the mortal-venial distinction, James’ statement “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” would contradicts Jesus’ teaching about the law not being burdensome. We don’t have to imagine that James’ statement “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well” (James 2:8) is merely hypothetical, since “there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation,” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XV), and “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

Seeing Scripture in this paradigm brings all the parts of Scripture into a beautiful harmony. But, from a Protestant paradigm, the Catholic claims seem contrary to Scripture. That is why the disagreement cannot be resolved by pointing to various Scripture verses, and thus presupposing that no one has greater interpretive authority than does anyone else, or by pointing to ecumenical councils, and thus presupposing that ecumenical councils have more authority than do individual interpreters, because underneath the disagreement about justification are two very different paradigms regarding the authority of the Church and her Magisterium. If the Catholic points to the Council of Trent to resolve the Protestant-Catholic dispute, that simply begs the question, i.e. assumes precisely what is in question between us. But likewise, if the Protestant simply points to Scripture to resolve the dispute that too begs the question. Both such approaches to the dispute do not address the underlying paradigmatic difference. So in order to resolve this long-standing schism we (Protestants and Catholics) have to learn to understand both positions, each on its own terms within its own paradigm, and then find common ground by which to evaluate the respective paradigms. I think the nature of the Catholic paradigm makes this is more difficult for a Protestant to do than for a Catholic seeking to understand the Protestant paradigm. Hence when you say, “So even if there were an infallible teaching office in the church today, Rome would fail that crucial test” you seemingly do not realize that if Rome does have a charism of infallibility, then where your theology is contrary to the doctrine taught by the Council of Trent, it is your interpretation of Scripture that is mistaken. So using your interpretation of Scripture to show that Rome does not have the charism of infalliblity assumes precisely what is in question.

You have claimed a few times in our discussion that the Magisterium has not been self-consistent. But you have not explicitly stated any alleged inconsistency. In order to evaluate whether your claim is true, I would need to know the particular ways you think the Magisterium has been inconsistent. It is easy to assume that over the course of two-thousand years of history, the Magisterium must have contradicted itself, just as it is easy for liberals to assume that Scripture contains contradictions. But, we believe that the Magisterium has never contradicted itself regarding any teaching of faith or morals, because the Holy Spirit has prevented her from doing so. In addition, contrary to your claim, it has never been the case that the Magisterium “anathematized itself.” When the Magisterium anathematizes a teaching which in your opinion is a truth in Scripture, this is not anathematizing itself, but anathematizing a particular [heretical] interpretation of Scripture.

VII. The Roman Catholic Church: An Oxymoron?

In response to my claim that ecumenical councils have never contradicted each other, you note that Protestants and Eastern Orthodox “would be unable to endorse Rome’s list” [of ecumenical councils].13 I recognize that Protestants and Orthodox do not accept the Catholic Church’s list of ecumenical councils. But their not accepting all the Catholic Church’s ecumenical councils does not have any bearing on whether any of those ecumenical councils contradicted each other.

You also claimed that the term “Roman Catholic” is an oxymoron, since, as you said, “the catholic church is the whole body of Christ in all times and places.” An oxymoron involves a contradiction, and if the Church were said to be particular and universal at the same time and in the same sense, that would be a contradiction. But there is no contradiction if a thing is particular in one sense, and universal in a different sense. And that is the sense in which the Catholic Church is Roman. As Pope Pius XII wrote in Mystici Corporis Christi in 1943:

If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ – which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church – we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression “the Mystical Body of Christ” – an expression which springs from and is, as it were, the fair flowering of the repeated teaching of the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. (Mystici Corporis Christi, 13, emphasis mine)

The universal Church Christ founded is Roman in the sense that its visible head (until Christ returns) is the episcopal successor of St. Peter at Rome. The notion that either the Catholic Church Christ founded has no visible head, or there is no Catholic Church, is a false dilemma. Christ being the Savior of all men (every race, tribe, nation) is compatible with His being born of the Virgin Mary in a stable in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. In Christ we see universality in one sense, and particularity in another sense, such that there is no contradiction. So likewise, the Catholic Church that Christ founded extends throughout the whole world, will endure through all time, and is open to all men; in that sense it is universal.14 Yet Christ gave the keys of this Catholic Church to one man (i.e. St. Peter), who made Rome the place of his apostolic seat, and through martyrdom spilled his blood, handing those keys on to St. Linus, who gave them up to St. Cletus, who gave them up to St. Clement, etc.15 In that sense the Catholic Church is Roman; that is its particularity, which is rooted in Christ’s giving the keys of this universal Church to one particular man. So there is no oxymoron in the term “Roman Catholic,” because the Church is Roman in a different sense in which it is Catholic.

VIII. Scripture and Tradition

Another fundamental aspect of the paradigm difference between the Catholic and Protestant approaches to Scripture is that in the Catholic paradigm, because Scripture is the divinely-inspired written words of God, it is rightly understood only in light of the Apostolic Tradition in which it was given, and thus only within the community of persons in which that Tradition has been consciously and faithfully maintained and preserved over the last two thousand years.16 We do not believe that Scripture can be rightly understood (as a whole) from an abstract view-from-nowhere, a traditionless and contextless vacuum. The view-from-nowhere is an ‘illusory ideal,’ and the illusion is most effective when we think we have obtained pure objectivity, all while unknowingly presupposing contemporary ideas and assumptions. So our goal is not to attain an absolute, elusive view-from-nowhere when approaching Scripture. Our goal is to approach Scripture in and with that very same living Tradition in which it was given, in the same continuous community of persons who have lived-the-text within that Tradition, and whose very life and practice and sensibility still carry that Tradition like an intricately woven tapestry.

St. Paul makes a distinction between two modes in which the Revelation of God to His People is handed on. He calls the process of handing on the Word of God “tradition.” He does this most clearly in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, where he says:

Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions (paradoseis) that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Bible—i.e. Tradition in its written, divinely-inspired form—is not the only means by which the deposit of faith is transmitted. The Bible itself does not teach that it is the only means by which we receive Revelation. The Apostle John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.” (John 20:30) This distinction between oral and written modes of handing on the tradition was taught by the Council of Trent (1546), which declared:

This [Gospel], of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct.

It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.

Following, then, the examples of the orthodox Fathers, it receives and venerates with a feeling of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is the author of both; also the traditions, whether they relate to faith or to morals, as having been dictated either orally by Christ or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church in unbroken succession.17

It was likewise taught at the First Vatican Council (1870):

“Now this supernatural revelation, according to the belief of the universal Church, as declared by the sacred Council of Trent, is contained in written books and unwritten traditions, which were received by the apostles from the lips of Christ himself, or came to the apostles by the dictation of the Holy Spirit, and were passed on as it were from hand to hand until they reached us.”18

“Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God written or handed down and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn definition or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.”19

And the Second Vatican Council further developed the Church’s understanding of the relation of Scripture and Tradition, teaching that they have one common source, the deposit of faith, received by apostolic succession from the Apostles, who in turn received it from Christ:

“Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the end of the age”. ” Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church.20

Toward the end of the second century, St. Irenaeus wrote:

But, again, when we refer them [the heretics] to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.21

St. Irenaeus refers to the Apostolic Tradition, which is preserved by apostolic succession. But it would not make sense to appeal to apostolic succession as preserving the Apostolic Tradition if ‘apostolic succession’ simply meant ‘agreement with the Apostles.’ According to St. Irenaeus, the heretics consent neither to Scripture nor to Tradition. In this way, St. Irenaeus testifies to the real distinction between Scripture and Tradition, even at the end of the second century. He goes on to explain how the Apostolic Tradition was to be found, to whom it was entrusted, and how it was preserved:

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.22

St. Irenaeus testifies that the Apostolic Tradition is to be found in those bishops (and the Churches over which they are bishops) having the succession from the Apostles. The Apostolic Tradition is openly and publicly taught and known by those bishops in those Churches. Just over two hundred years later, St. Augustine wrote:

In the first place, I want you to hold as the basic truth of this discussion that our Lord Jesus Christ, as He Himself said in the Gospel, has subjected us to His yoke and His burden, which are light. Therefore, He has laid on the society of His new people the obligations of the sacraments, most sublime in their meaning, as, for example, baptism hallowed by the name of the Trinity, Communion of His Body and His Blood, and whatever else is commended in the canonical writings, with the exception of those burdens found in the five books of Moses, which imposed on the ancient people a servitude in accordance with their character and prophetic times in which they have lived. But, regarding those other observances which we keep and all the world keeps, and which do not derive from Scripture but from tradition, we are given to understand that they have been ordained or recommended to be kept by the Apostles themselves, or by plenary councils, whose authority is well founded in the Church.23

Tradition plays an important role in answering the question of apostolic succession. One typical Protestant way of seeking out an answer to the question of apostolic succession is to presuppose that if apostolic succession were part of the deposit of faith, the teaching and practice of apostolic succession would be explicitly spelled out in Scripture. Then, not seeing this doctrine clearly and indisputably spelled out in Scripture, the Protestant concludes that it must not have been part of the teaching and practice of the Apostles, and that its presence in the early Church is due to the adoption of a man-made innovation that was later mistakenly assumed to be an Apostolic teaching and practice. But that presupposition loads a Protestant assumption concerning the purpose and sufficiency of Scripture into the inquirer’s methodology, and in that respect presumes precisely what is in question between Protestants on the one hand, and Orthodox and Catholics on the other. So when you say that “not one passage in the New Testament supports the idea that the apostles handed off their apostolic office to their successors,” you seem to presuppose that if apostolic succession were something we are supposed to believe, it would be explicitly presented in Scripture. But that’s not a neutral assumption; it is a Protestant assumption, because it assumes that the Tradition is not needed to make explicit what is only implicit in Scripture.

A Catholic approach to the question of apostolic succession is to examine the testimony and practice of the early Church Fathers who had received the deposit of faith from the Apostles, and then approach Scripture through the Tradition we find in the Fathers. In examining the Church Fathers we observe that the Church universally affirmed and practiced apostolic succession, wherever the Church spread all over the world. There was not any great controversy or debate as the ‘heretical,’ novel practice of apostolic succession universally swept over the Church in the first and second centuries, and replaced the ‘original’ notion that ecclesial leadership was based entirely on agreement with the Apostles’ doctrine. If the Apostles did not institute the practice of apostolic succession, that silence is a very strange and unexpected silence. If apostolic succession were a man-made innovation, we would expect to find in the early Church all those Christians who were being martyred for holding fast to what the Apostles had taught, vociferously protesting that apostolic succession is not the way the Apostles set up the basis for leadership in the Church. But instead we find that these martyrs were often themselves successors of the Apostles, or at least loyal defenders of the bishops ordained by way of apostolic succession. Moreover, if those bishops who in the first four centuries determined for the Church which books did and did not belong to the canon had not only fallen into the ‘error’ of apostolic succession, but by way of the ‘error’ of apostolic succession had acquired the ‘authority’ to give testimony concerning which books are and are not canonical, we could not trust their judgment concerning the canon, and thus we could not trust that the canon of Scripture is correct. In this way, ecclesial deism undermines the justification for believing in the veracity and authenticity of the canon.

IX. Apostolic Succession

A. Evidence from Tradition

Given the importance of understanding Scripture in light of the Tradition, as explained just above, when answering the question of apostolic succession, it is therefore important first to consider the Tradition concerning this question, as it is manifested in the Church Fathers. According to the Church Fathers, the Apostles had received authority from Christ Himself, and the Apostles then handed on their authority to their successors. We find evidence of this succession in all the apostolic Churches. St. Clement of Rome, writing sometime toward the last part the first century, describes what the Apostles did, writing:

The Apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the Apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved [i.e. tested] them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.24

St. Clement first explains that the preaching of the Apostles by having received Christ’s authorization and commission is a continuation of the preaching of Jesus, by the authorization and commission of God the Father. This authorization and commission means that one speaks for the other, and therefore that accepting the sending one requires accepting those he sends, while rejecting those he sends entails rejecting the one who sent them. Having that pattern as the basis for their own authorization, the Apostles then, by this same authority they had received, appointed men whom they had tested, to be bishops and deacons of those who would come to believe in Christ.

Then in chapter 43 of his epistle to the Corinthians, St. Clement refers to the example of Moses, who had to deal with rivalry and contention concerning the priesthood and authority. St. Clement describes how Moses placed the twelve rods in the tabernacle, knowing all the while that Aaron’s rod would blossom. Moses did this not to learn which tribe ought to have the priesthood, but according to St. Clement, “he acted thus, that there might be no sedition in Israel.” In other words, Moses did this so that all the people would know who rightfully held the priesthood, and in this way would have no excuse for sedition. Then St. Clement shows that the Apostles (whom St. Clement knew personally) likewise knew “with perfect foreknowledge” that there would be contention over authority in the Church. So the Apostles did something that would show the people who had the rightful authority in the Church, and thus leave men without excuse with respect to sedition. He writes:

Our Apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those already mentioned [i.e. bishops and deacons], and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ, in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them.25

According to St. Clement, in order to show the people who had the rightful authority in the Church, the Apostles publicly appointed bishops and deacons, so that everyone would know who were the rightful successors of the Apostles. In addition, the Apostles instructed these bishops to do the same when they too approached death, so that “other approved men should succeed them [i.e. the first generation of bishops] in their ministry.” Here we see the principle that underlies apostolic succession. Teaching and governing authority in the Church is given from the top-down, that is, from Christ, to the Apostles, and then to their successors. Since no one can give what he does not have, then those who have not received such authorization cannot give it. Not only that, but in order to prevent sedition, these appointments, like Christ’s authorization of the Apostles, were made in an orderly way, because “all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” (1 Cor 14:40) By ordaining their successors in this public and orderly way, no one could claim ignorance of who was the rightful ruler, as a justification for sedition or schism.

This same pattern of succession can be found from the beginning in all the apostolic Churches. Earlier I pointed out that according to Eusebius (c. AD 263–339), after the martyrdom of St. James the Righteous, who became the bishop of Jerusalem, Symeon, the son of Clopas was found to be worthy of “the episcopal throne of that see.”26 When Symeon was martyred under the emperor Trajan in A.D. 106 or 107, “his successor on the throne of the Jerusalem bishopric was a Jew named Justus.”27 Eusebius goes on to list the succession of bishops in Jerusalem until the siege of Hadrian (AD 133):

But since the bishops of the circumcision ceased at this time, it is proper to give here a list of their names from the beginning. The first, then, was James, the so-called brother of the Lord; the second, Symeon; the third, Justus; the fourth, Zacchæus; the fifth, Tobias; the sixth, Benjamin; the seventh, John; the eighth, Matthias; the ninth, Philip; the tenth, Seneca; the eleventh, Justus; the twelfth, Levi; the thirteenth, Ephres; the fourteenth, Joseph; and finally, the fifteenth, Judas. These are the bishops of Jerusalem that lived between the age of the apostles and the time referred to, all of them belonging to the circumcision.28

Eusebius gives us a succession of fifteen bishops that sequentially occupied the “episcopal throne” of the Church at Jerusalem, until the time of Hadrian.

Regarding the succession from St. Mark in the Church at Alexandria, Eusebius writes:

In the fourth year of Domitian, Annianus, the first bishop of the parish of Alexandria, died after holding office twenty-two years, and was succeeded by Abilius, the second bishop.29

Domitian came into power in AD 81. So according to Eusebius, Annianus died about AD 85, having held the episcopacy in Alexandria since around AD 63. Then Eusebius writes:

It was during the first year of [Trajan’s] reign that Abilius, who had ruled the church of Alexandria for thirteen years, was succeeded by Cerdon. He was the third that presided over that church after Annianus, who was the first. At that time Clement still ruled the church of Rome, being also the third that held the episcopate there after Paul and Peter. Linus was the first, and after him came Anencletus. At this time Ignatius was known as the second bishop of Antioch, Evodius having been the first. Symeon likewise was at that time the second ruler of the church of Jerusalem, the brother of our Saviour having been the first. …30

About the twelfth year of the reign of Trajan the above-mentioned bishop of the parish of Alexandria died, and Primus, the fourth in succession from the apostles, was chosen to the office.31

Trajan took office in AD 98, and so according to Eusebius, it was during this year that Abilius (i.e. the second bishop of Alexandria) was succeeded by Cerdon. Cerdon was bishop of Alexandria until about AD 110, at which time he was succeeded by Primus. At this time, St. Clement was still bishop of the Church at Rome. Primus was succeeded by Justus (121-129), who was succeeded by Eumenes (129-141), who was succeeded by Mark II (141-152), who was succeeded by Celadion, (152 – 167)32 then Agrippinus (167 – 178), and then Julian (178-189), and then Demetrius (189-232), who died at the age of 106. Demetrius is the bishop who appointed Origen to teach at the Catechetical school in Alexandria, and then later (around 230) condemned Origen (for self-castration and, possibly, heresy). Demetrius was the first bishop of Alexandria to establish other bishoprics in Egypt.

Concerning St. Clement of Rome, Eusebius writes:

In the third year of the reign of the emperor mentioned above, Clement committed the episcopal government of the church of Rome to Evarestus, and departed this life after he had superintended the teaching of the divine word nine years in all. (Historia Ecclesiastica III.34)

According to Eusebius, St. Clement served as bishop of Rome until about AD 101, while St. Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch after Evodius who was the first bishop of the Church of Antioch. Concerning St. Ignatius, Eusebius writes:

And at the same time Papias, bishop of the parish of Hierapolis, became well known, as did also Ignatius, who was chosen bishop of Antioch, second in succession to Peter, and whose fame is still celebrated by a great many.33

According to the tradition St. Ignatius had been taught and ordained by apostles, and his character shows no sign of infidelity to the mission he received from them to hand on faithfully the deposit of faith entrusted to him. But, St. Ignatius believed and taught that without the three-fold hierarchy, no Church is entitled to the name of ‘Church.’34 In the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, laymen are enjoined to submit to their bishop, and to do nothing apart from their bishop. According to St. Ignatius, the bishop has more authority than [mere] presbyters. (See “St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church.”) because of apostolic succession. He writes:

“Every one whom the master of the house sends ought to be received as him who sent him. Clearly therefore we must regard the Bishop as the Lord Himself.”35

St. Ignatius teaches that the basis for the authority of the bishop, is that Christ sent him. The bishop is to be received as one would receive Christ, because the bishop has been sent by Christ. The principle is that we ought to receive the messenger as we would the one who sent him, because the messenger represents him, and speaks for him. But the authorization and sending of the bishops was not merely an internal, private, subjective witness, nor were they authorized by a bottom-up democratic election by the local congregation. Rather, they were authorized and given their mission by the Apostles. Hence, St. Ignatius shows that in his understanding (formed by personal acquaintance with apostles), when the Apostles ordained and commissioned a bishop, it was primarily Christ who was ordaining and commissioning that bishop. And this is the consistent principle we find in the early Church Fathers, that when a bishop having apostolic succession ordains someone, it is Christ who is doing so through the one He authorized to speak and act in His Name.

According to Eusebius, when St. Ignatius was martyred (around AD 107), “he was succeeded by Heros in the episcopate of the church of Antioch.”36 Heros was succeeded by Cornelius, who was succeeded by Eros, who was succeeded in the latter part of the second century by Theophilus,37 who wrote the work Ad Autolychum, which still exists today. Theophilus was succeeded by Maximus I (AD 182 – 191), who was succeeded by Serapion, who was bishop until AD 211.

In Asia, the apostolic appointment of bishops continued even to the end of the first century. Eusebius relates the following from St. Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215):

For when, after the tyrant’s [i.e. Domitian’s] death, [the Apostle John] returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit.38

Shortly after AD 96, the Apostle John returned from Patmos to Ephesus, and began to travel to neighboring territories to appoint bishops, and set in order whole churches, and to choose to the ministry some that were pointed out by the Spirit. By “choosing to the ministry” St. Clement of Alexandria is likely referring to St. John choosing some laymen to become presbyters, something distinct from “appoint bishops,” which likely refers to ordaining one presbyter (within a particular Church) to the episcopacy. Among those ordained by the Apostle John at this time was St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. Tertullian writes, “For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John.”39 Concerning St. Polycarp, Eusebius writes:

At that time Polycarp, a disciple of the apostles, was a man of eminence in Asia, having been entrusted with the episcopate of the church of Smyrna by those who had seen and heard the Lord.40

And this is confirmed in the epistle of St. Ignatius to St. Polycarp. St. Polycarp was entrusted with the episcopate of Smyrna by one or more apostles. According to less established tradition, the first bishop of Smyrna was Apelles (mentioned in Romans 16:10), followed by Strataes, a brother (or uncle) of Timothy, then Ariston, then Bucolus, the bishop under whom St. Polycarp was raised, first being made a deacon, then a presbyter, and finally, upon the death of Bucolus, bishop.

In Athens, Dionysius the Aeroapagite became the first bishop of the Church there. This we learn from a letter written by a different Dionysius, Dionysius the bishop of Corinth, written around AD 170 to Soter, bishop of the church at Rome from AD 166-175 AD. Dionysius the Aeroapagite was succeeded by Narkissos (who was originally from Palestine) around the year AD 96. Narkissos was succeeded by Publius (who was from Malta). According to St. Jerome, Publius was martyred during the persecution under the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). He was succeeded by Quadratus. There is some dispute as to whether the Quadratus who was bishop of Athens after Publius was the same Quadratus of Athens who was an apologist, and who wrote a letter to Hadrian when the latter visited the city of Athens. The letter helped relax the persecution against the Christians. In the letter he reports that he himself had seen many who were healed by Jesus and even raised from the dead by Jesus.41

In Crete, St. Paul ordained St. Titus to be the first bishop of the churches there. From Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (writing in AD 170) we learn that at that time Philip was bishop of Crete, the church at Goryna being the location of the episcopal see of Crete. It was this Philip, according to Eusebius, whose writings most effectively refuted Marcion’s errors. We learn from Eusebius that Pinytus then became bishop of Crete, and died around AD 180.

St. Paul also ordained St. Timothy the first diocesan bishop of Ephesus. The tradition indicates that St. Timothy served as bishop there until the last decade of the first century, and was martyred. His relics were later moved to Constantinople. Around AD 107, St. Ignatius, in his epistle to the Ephesians, refers to Onesimus as the bishop of Ephesus. About AD 190, Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, wrote a letter to Victor, the bishop of Rome, in which letter he states that the Apostle John is buried in Ephesus, and the Apostle Phillip is buried in Hieropolis. He also tells us that seven of his relatives had been bishops before him. So Polycrates thus testifies to the connection and continuity between the episcopal office held by Onesimus and later by Polycrates.

Hermas, mentioned in Romans 16:14, is said to have become the bishop of Philippi, and was later martyred. (His feast day is May 9.) Tradition holds that Philemon, to whom the Apostle Paul wrote his epistle, became the bishop of Colossae, where tradition says he was martyred. The earliest tradition shows that Crescens (mentioned by Paul in 2 Tim 4:10) became a bishop in Galatia. Aristarchus, mentioned in Acts, Colossians and Philemon, became the bishop of Thessalonica. According to tradition, Jason, at whose home Paul stayed in Thessalonica (Acts 17; cf. Rom 16:21), became the bishop of Tarsus, Prochorus, one of the seven deacons named in Acts 6, became the bishop of Nicomedia, and Nicolas, another of the seven deacons, is said to have become the bishop of Samaria.

Also according to St. Jerome, St. Philip, one of the seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6, later became the bishop of Tralles. When St. Ignatius composed his epistles, he tells us that at that time Polybius was the bishop of Tralles. Tradition maintains that the bishop of Philadelphia, to whom Ignatius refers without naming him in his [Ignatius’s] epistle to the Philadelphians, was Demetrius (mentioned in 3 John 12). Demetrius had been ordained bishop of Philadelphia by the Apostle John. According to tradition Gaius (mentioned in 3 John 1) was the first bishop of Pergamum, followed by Antipas (mentioned in Revelation 2:13). According to that tradition Antipas was martyred by being burned at the stake some time before John wrote the book of Revelation. A piece of Antipas’s skull is now preserved as a relic in the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos. St. Ignatius also tells us that at that time (i.e. AD 107), Damas was the diocesan bishop of Magnesia. Papias (AD 60 – 135), an auditor of the Apostle John, and a friend of Polycarp, became the diocesan bishop of Hierapolis, the place where Philip, one of the Twelve Apostles, was buried. Two later bishops of Hierapolis were Apolinarius, who flourished during the time of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180), and then Abircius Marcellus, who was martyred around AD 200. According to tradition the first bishop of the Church at Laodicea was Archippus (Col 4:17), followed by Nymphan, followed by Diotrophes (3 John 9), followed by Sagaris, who was martyred in AD 166 under Marcus Aurelius. In Lyon, St. Irenaeus was the second bishop after Pothinus, who was about 90 years old in AD 177, and could have remembered the Apostle John.

Everywhere we look, we see this same pattern regarding the authorization and commissioning of bishops by the Apostles, and then these bishops continuing this practice in ordaining bishops to succeed them.

In the generation after the Apostles, if someone had asked the question, “By what authority do you do these things?” it is clear that the bishops would have answered by pointing to their ordination, i.e. their having received authorization from the Apostles. And the second generation of bishops would have pointed to their having been ordained by those having the succession from the Apostles. We see this most clearly in St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, both writing toward the later part of the second century. St. Irenaeus writes:

“Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?”42

Here St. Irenaeus is teaching that the truth about Christ and Christianity is to be found not by looking to the heretics but by looking to the bishops who were entrusted by the Apostles with the deposit of faith, and to the apostolic Churches which these bishops shepherd. Because the Apostles entrusted the deposit of faith to the bishops, that deposit belongs to those bishops and is guarded and preserved by the succession of bishops in those apostolic Churches.

Earlier in this same work St. Irenaeus had written:

“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions [of bishops] of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority—that is, the faithful everywhere—inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who are everywhere.”43

First, it is worth noting that according to St. Irenaeus it is necessary that “every Church should agree with this Church,” meaning that every particular Church (e.g. Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus) must agree with the particular Church at Rome on account of its “preeminent authority” due to its having been founded by St. Peter and St. Paul.44 But, St. Irenaeus is also saying here that the faith comes down to his time by means of “the succession of bishops.” He is not saying that the faith merely happens to have been preserved in the succession of bishops; he is making a much stronger claim than that. He is saying that the succession of bishops is the normative means by which the deposit of faith can be determined, precisely because the authority of stewardship of this deposit was entrusted to these lines of bishops by the Apostles. His whole argument against the Gnostics would be undermined if he was claiming only that it presently happens to be the case that the genuine deposit of faith is found in the succession of bishops. In that case, it would be pointless to bring up the succession of bishops, for it would offer no more (or less) assurance of finding the genuine deposit of faith there than among the Gnostics.

St. Irenaeus continues:

“Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters [priests] who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate [bishop], have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also necessary] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever . . . . But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did.”45

We see here that the priests and the bishops have their authority because they “possess the succession from the apostles.” This phrase shows what St. Irenaeus understood concerning the gift the bishops (including himself) had received at their ordination. The possessed something that those not having the succession did not. Through having the succession from the Apostles, they possessed stewardship over the deposit of faith, to guard and preserve it, and to provide the authoritative determination concerning its identity and meaning. By having the succession from the Apostles, they possessed what St. Irenaeus calls “the certain gift of truth.” The priests and bishops are promised (by Christ) the gift of preserving the truth that was entrusted to them by Christ through the Apostles, upon condition of remaining in communion with the successor of the one to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. In this quotation we see also that St. Irenaeus teaches that we should hold in suspicion those who depart from “primitive succession”—i.e. those who reject apostolic succession, and claim to teach the apostles’ doctrine, but do not have the authority from the Apostles to say what is the Apostles’ doctrine. St. Irenaeus views departure from the succession of bishops as schism, as having in some sense rejected the Apostles who authorized and sent these bishops. The principle is that he who rejects the Apostles, rejects Christ, just as he who rejects Christ rejects the Father who sent Christ. “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16)

St. Irenaeus was himself only one generation removed from the Apostles, because he had known St. Polycarp (AD 69 – 155), who had been ordained by the Apostle John. Concerning St. Polycarp, St. Irenaeus writes:

“But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he [Polycarp] tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time—a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics.”46

According to St. Irenaeus, St. Polycarp was instructed by apostles, and by apostles appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna. During his long life he taught the things he had learned from the Apostles. Surely, if apostolic succession was something the Apostles either did not teach, or taught against, St. Polycarp would have opposed it. But, there is absolutely no evidence that St. Polycarp, or anyone of the second generation bishops, opposed the doctrine and practice of apostolic succession. We have every reason to believe that the doctrine of apostolic succession we find in St. Irenaeus is the doctrine of apostolic succession he had received from men like St. Polycarp, who had themselves received it from the Apostles.

We can see this same idea in Tertullian in his work titled The Prescription Against Heretics, where he writes:

“The apostles . . . next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day borrowing them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality, — privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery.”47

According to Tertullian, the authority of the Church corresponds to the origin and organic development of the Church. The Apostles founded Churches and ordained bishops over those Churches. These Churches are Apostolic by having been directly founded by the Apostles. Later, other Churches were founded by men sent out by the Churches founded by the Apostles. Tertullian explains that in order for a Church which was not founded by the Apostles to be Apostolic, it must have been founded by a Church which is itself Apostolic. In this way there is always organic unity between all the priests and bishops, and all the particular Churches. All true Churches can be traced back to the Churches founded by the Apostles, because they have the authorization from the Apostles.

Tertullian again writes:

“But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,– a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. For after their blasphemy, what is there that is unlawful for them (to attempt)? But should they even effect the contrivance, they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner. To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine. Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith.”48

Tertullian is here saying that the way to distinguish heretics from the orthodox is to get out the records and see whose bishops can trace their succession back to the Apostles. The heretics cannot trace their bishops back to someone who was ordained by the Apostles. The Apostolic Churches, however, can do just that. Tertullian provides two tests to show that the doctrine of the heretics is contrary to that of the Apostles. These two tests are related to each other. One necessarily comes before the other, and depends on the other. First, he uses the test of apostolic succession. “Let them produce the original records of their churches, let them unfold the roll of their bishops ….”. The second test depends on the first test. The second test is comparing whether the ‘faith’ proposed by the heretics agrees with the doctrine held by the Apostles. But to determine whether the doctrine of the heretics agrees with the doctrine of the Apostles, Tertullian does not say, “Look at the Scriptures.” He says that the ‘faith’ of the heretics must be compared to the faith of the Churches which are in agreement with the Churches founded by the Apostles. So the Apostolic Churches (the ones founded by the Apostles and maintaining the succession from the Apostles) are still the standard for what is the Apostolic faith. For Tertullian, we know which Churches have the Apostolic faith by comparing their doctrine to that of the apostolic Churches, i.e. the ones having the succession from the Apostles. So the second test (i.e. comparing the faith of the heretics to that of the Apostles) depends on the first test (i.e. apostolic succession). According to Tertullian, the succession of bishops in the Apostolic Churches is what determines the standard for what is the apostolic doctrine, against which to compare the doctrine of these gnostic heretics.

The requirement of testing the claims of heretics against the faith taught in the Apostolic Churches would make no sense if there were no “charism of truth” in the Apostolic Churches. If ecclesial deism were true, there would be no more reason to expect to find the Apostles’ doctrine in the Apostles doctrine than in the assemblies of the Gnostics. In other words, if Tertullian believed that the Apostolic Churches of his time only happened to contain the Apostles’ doctrine, but were not necessarily the divinely authorized and divinely protected guardians and stewards of the deposit of faith, there would be no reason to point to the Apostolic Churches as the standard by which to locate the Apostles doctrine. That would simply beg the question (i.e. presume precisely what was in question) between the Catholics and the Gnostics, because the Gnostics maintained that the true doctrine of the Apostles had not been passed down to the bishops. So Tertullian’s requirement that Apostolic doctrine be determined by conformity to the doctrine taught in the Churches founded by the Apostles presupposes not only that the Apostles did not withhold any revealed doctrine from the bishops they ordained, but also that there is a divine promise of preservation of the faith among those having the succession from the Apostles. In other words, we see here implicitly in Tertullian the same notion in St. Irenaeus of a “charism of truth” that accompanies possessing the succession from the Apostles, in full communion with the successor of St. Peter.

Again Tertullian writes:

“From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for “no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach—that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached–in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them—can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both viva voce [with the spoken voice], as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches—those moulds and original sources of the faith must be accounted true, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.”49

Tertullian is here saying that no man knows the Father except Christ, and no one knows Christ except the Apostles, and no one knows the Apostles except the bishops whom they appointed. Therefore, no one who is not sent by the bishops should be received to preach. In other words, the imperative for Catholics of the second century is this: Do not accept as your Church authority anyone who is not sent by the bishops (who are themselves sent by the Apostles, who were themselves sent by Christ, who was Himself sent by God the Father). If it does not come from the Apostles and those ordained by the Apostles, then it is ipso facto not to be received. This applies not only to teaching, but also to teachers and preachers.

Again Tertullian writes:

“Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, go through the apostolic churches, in which the very seats of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally. Achaia is very near you, (in which) you find Corinth. Since you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi; (and there too) you have the Thessalonians. Since you are able to cross to Asia, you get Ephesus. Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves). How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! where Peter endures a passion like his Lord’s! where Paul wins his crown in a death like John’s where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile!”50

Notice Tertullian’s emphasis on the unique authority of the Church of Rome among all the other apostolic churches, much as we saw in St. Irenaeus’ claim that all the particular Churches should agree with the Church at Rome, on account of its preeminent authority.

And again Tertullian writes:

“Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, “as many as walk according to the rule,” which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, “Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine? Indeed, Marcion, by what right do you hew my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting the streams of my fountain? By what power, Apelles, are you removing my landmarks? This is my property. Why are you, the rest, sowing and feeding here at your own pleasure? This (I say) is my property. I have long possessed it; I possessed it before you. I hold sure title-deeds from the original owners themselves, to whom the estate belonged. I am the heir of the apostles. Just as they carefully prepared their will and testament, and committed it to a trust, and adjured (the trustees to be faithful to their charge), even so do I hold it. As for you, they have, it is certain, always held you as disinherited, and rejected you as strangers—as enemies.”51

Tertullian here shows that those who are not in communion with the Apostolic Churches have no right to appeal to Scripture to defend their positions, because the Scriptures belong to the bishops to whom the Apostolic writings were entrusted by the Apostles. Since the Scriptures belong to the bishops, those not in communion with those bishops in the universal Church have no right to challenge what the bishops say that the Scriptures teach. The sacred books do not belong to them, but to the bishops to whom the Apostles entrusted them. Since the Scriptures belongs to the bishops and have been entrusted to them, they have the right and authority to determine its authentic and authoritative interpretation.

The notion of apostolic succession we see clearly in the latter half of the second century in the writings of St. Irenaeus and Tertullian we find also in the middle of the second century. Eusebius tells us that St. Hegesippus, who was already a young man at the time of the time of the death of Antinous (AD 130), came to Rome under Anicetus (154-7 to 165-8) and wrote in the time of Eleutherus, bishop of Rome from 175 to 189. Eusebius writes:

Hegesippus in the five books of Memoirs which have come down to us has left a most complete record of his own views. In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops, and that he received the same doctrine from all. It is fitting to hear what he says after making some remarks about the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. His words are as follows:

“And the church of Corinth continued in the true faith until Primus was bishop in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. And when I had come to Rome I remained there until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. In every succession, and in every city that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord.”52

As St. Hegesippus traveled through many different cities in the middle of the second century, he met a great many bishops, and received doctrine from them. He notes that he received the same doctrine from them all. And this is a testimony to the unity of the faith and practice of the Church in the second century. Even though we see heretics (e.g. Marcion, Valentinus) arise within the Church, be excommunicated from the Church, and lead some Catholics to follow them out of the Church, there is no evidence here or elsewhere of a great falling away of the Church. There is no outcry or protest as though some group of Christians within the Church adopted a novel practice of apostolic succession, while some original group of Christians or Churches stood in opposition, maintaining the apostolic practice of ordination from below by congregational election. In St. Hegesippus’ letter we see evidence that in the mid-second century, the faith of the Church is everywhere preserved within the Church. That is significant because in the middle and late second century, we see apostolic succession, as episcopal succession, practiced ubiquitously in the Catholic Church.53 And this implies that the apostolic succession described at the end of the second century by St. Irenaeus and Tertullian was the same apostolic succession believed and practice in the middle of the second century. And in order for there to have been the kind of widespread agreement St. Hegesippus describes in the middle of the second century, we have very good reason to believe that the mid-second century belief and practice of apostolic succession was itself a faithful continuation of a doctrine and practice established by the Apostles themselves.

Between St. Hegesippus and the testimonies of St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, we find the testimony St. Dionysius. Around AD 170, St. Dionysius, the bishop of Corinth wrote a number of letters to various Churches, and in these letters he describes each Church as having its own bishop.54 In his letter to the Church at Athens, St. Dionysius writes of the recent martyrdom (under the persecution of Marcus Aurelius) of their bishop Publius, and reminds them of the faith of their first bishop, Dionysius the Areopagite, who had been converted to the faith by the Apostle Paul, recorded by St. Luke in Acts 17:34.55 Similarly, a few years later, Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, wrote a letter to Victor, bishop of Rome from 189 to 199.56 There is no reason to disbelieve that the episcopacy we see in the example of bishop Polycrates at the end of the second century is not the continuation of the episcopacy that St. Paul had established at Ephesus in St. Timothy, and which St. John had maintained when he returned from Patmos.

Around AD 215, St. Hippolytus, a presbyter at the Church of Rome, wrote a work known as “The Apostolic Tradition.” This is a work intended to record some of the tradition which the Church at Rome had received and always practiced concerning ordination of bishops and presbyters. St. Hippolytus writes:

We have set forth as was necessary that part of the discourse which relates to the spiritual gifts, all that God, right from the beginning, granted to people according to his will, bringing back to himself this image which had gone astray. Now, driven by love towards all the saints, we have arrived at the essence of the tradition which is proper for the Churches. This is so that those who are well informed may keep the tradition which has lasted until now, according to the explanation we give of it, and so that others by taking note of it may be strengthened (against the fall or error which has recently occurred because of ignorance and ignorant people), with the Holy Spirit conferring perfect grace on those who have a correct faith, and so that they will know that those who are at the head of the Church must teach and guard all these things.

St. Hippolytus here states that he is presenting the “essence of the Tradition which is proper for the Churches,” a Tradition that has lasted from the time of the Apostles “until now.” Those at the head of the Church “must teach and guard all these things.” He then presents a description of the rite by which a bishop is ordained:

He who is ordained as a bishop, being chosen by all the people, must be irreproachable. When his name is announced and approved, the people will gather on the Lord’s day with the council of elders and the bishops who are present. With the assent of all, the bishops will place their hands upon him, with the council of elders standing by, quietly. Everyone will keep silent, praying in their hearts for the descent of the Spirit. After this, one of the bishops present, at the request of all, shall lay his hand upon him who is being ordained bishop, and pray, saying:

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies and God of all consolation, you who live in the highest, but regard the lowest, you who know all things before they are, you who gave the rules of the Church through the word of your grace, who predestined from the beginning the race of the righteous through Abraham, who instituted princes and priests, and did not leave your sanctuary without a minister; who from the beginning of the world has been pleased to be glorified by those whom you have chosen, pour out upon him the power which is from you, the princely Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son Jesus Christ, which he gave to your holy Apostles, who founded the Church in every place as your sanctuary, for the glory and endless praise of your name. Grant, Father who knows the heart, to your servant whom you chose for the episcopate, that he will feed your holy flock, that he will wear your high priesthood without reproach, serving night and day, incessantly making your face favorable, and offering the gifts of your holy Church; in the spirit of high priesthood having the power to forgive sins according to your command; to assign lots according to your command; to loose any bond according to the authority which you gave to the Apostles; to please you in mildness and a pure heart, offering to you a sweet scent, through your son Jesus Christ, through whom to you be glory, power, and honor, Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Church, now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen.

We see that one who is to be ordained a bishop can be ordained only by a bishop. We also see an explicit description of the authority of the bishop as a continuation of the authority of the Apostles. The bishop has the responsibility to feed the holy flock, to function as a high priest through the sacrifice he offers in the Eucharist (i.e. “the gifts of your holy Church”), having the apostolic power to forgive or retain sins (John 20:23). He also has the authority to assign presbyters and deacons their places in the Church, and to loosen any bond. Next, regarding the ordination of elders St. Hippolytus writes:

When an elder is ordained, the bishop places his hand upon his head, along with the other elders, and says according to that which was said above for the bishop, praying and saying:

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look upon your servant here, and impart the spirit of grace and the wisdom of elders, that he may help and guide your people with a pure heart, just as you looked upon your chosen people, and commanded Moses to choose elders, whom you filled with your spirit which you gave to your attendant.

Now, Lord, unceasingly preserving in us the spirit of your grace, make us worthy, so that being filled we may minister to you in singleness of heart, praising you, through your son Christ Jesus, through whom to you be glory and might, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen.

Of note here is that while the [mere] elders do also place their hands on the candidate to be ordained an elder, they do so not for the same reason or with the same necessity as that of the ordaining bishop. Mere elders cannot ordain, but a bishop can ordain. The other elders also lay hands on the candidate to show their union with the bishop and to join their prayer to that of the bishop, that the candidate may receive the Holy Spirit’s sacramental gift of ordination to the priesthood.

This same affirmation of the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession is ubiquitous in the third and fourth centuries. For example, St. Augustine, responding to the Donatists in 393 wrote:

You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not. (PL 43.30)

Seven years later, responding to a Donatist appeal to episcopal succession, St. Augustine writes:

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

Now, even although some traditor had in the course of these centuries, through inadvertence, obtained a place in that order of bishops, reaching from Peter himself to Anastasius, who now occupies that see—this fact would do no harm to the Church and to Christians having no share in the guilt of another; for the Lord, providing against such a case, says, concerning officers in the Church who are wicked: “All whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Thus the stability of the hope of the faithful is secured, inasmuch as being fixed, not in man, but in the Lord, it never can be swept away by the raging of impious schism. (Letter 53)

Regarding apostolic succession you wrote:

The argument of Irenaeus against the Gnostics makes sense. The Gnostics were basing their heretical teachings on spurious writings and they gathered their own circle of false apostles. Himself a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Apostle, Irenaeus could appeal to an obvious and publicly recognized circle of pastors in the line of the apostles who walked with Jesus. However, this historical argument became a dogmatic argument that went beyond the church’s constitution (Scripture).

The arguments given by St. Irenaeus and Tertullian for apostolic succession are not that the Apostolic doctrine is more likely to be found among those having the succession from the Apostles. Otherwise, the Gnostics could have treated such arguments as question-begging, that is, as presuming without any justification that the succession of bishops fully received and faithfully preserved the deposit of faith. That is precisely what was in question between the Catholics on the one hand, and the Gnostics on the other hand. In their arguments against the Gnostics, St. Irenaeus and Tertullian are making a much stronger claim. They are claiming that the Apostles publicly authorized certain men (i.e. bishops) to function as official stewards of the deposit of faith, to guard it and explicate it, and charged them to publicly authorize other tested and qualified men to carry on this function of stewardship, in a line of perpetual successions, until Christ returned for His Bride. According to St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, the Apostles did not merely preach some truths to the first Christians, and then go to their martyrdom. That would have left the Church susceptible to the Gnostic challenge, with many clamoring voices claiming to speak for the Apostles, and claiming to have texts written by the Apostles. It would have left the sheep without divinely-designated shepherds, entirely at a loss regarding what is the truth concerning Christ and His Gospel. Rather, according to St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, by publicly appointed successors, and giving to them the authority to appoint further successors in perpetuam, the Apostles cut off the Gnostic challenge at the knees, by, in a sense, perpetuating themselves, and so ensuring that no Gnostic challenger could ever have an equal claim to speak for the Apostles. In this way, it is not just an “historical argument.” It is an argument that reaches back into history in order to show why the normative way of determining the truth concerning the apostolic deposit is to unroll the lines of bishops, and see whose go back to the Apostles. Only those bishops have the divine authority from the Apostles to say what does or does not belong to the deposit of faith received from the Apostles.57

As for Scripture being the Church’s “constitution,” that is not a claim made either by Scripture or by the Church Fathers. The Church did not even settle the canon of the New Testament until the end of the fourth century. If the Apostles had intended the Bible to be the Church’s constitution, they would have publicly settled the canon question even before departing from Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost, or at least at the Jerusalem Council. They would have made sure that before they departed from this earth, the canon was settled and every particular Church received a copy of the [Protestant] Bible. But they did not do that; they sought instead to establish bishops in all the Churches, before they died. So there seems to be no good reason to believe that they intended Scripture to be the Church’s constitution.

B. The Ground of Magisterial Authority

The authority of Catholic teaching does not rest on an a priori or fideistic assumption of the Church’s orthodoxy. The authority of the bishops and their teaching is based on the authority of the Apostles who ordained them, which in turn is based on the authority of Jesus who authorized and commissioned them. Recognizing that authority as authoritative is not a fideistic leap, but something confirmed by the miraculous signs and wonders done by Christ and the Apostles, and by Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Therefore, belief in the authority of Jesus and of His Apostles and the bishops whom they ordained, is not an a priori belief, but is instead a belief based on the motives of credibility provided by these divine signs. By contrast, because a Protestant does not rely on the Church as the authority by which to know the divine character of Scripture and the veracity of the canon of Scripture, he has to derive his belief about the divine authorship of the books of Scripture, and the veracity of the Protestant canon, from the books themselves, by a kind of internal witness, hopefully from the Holy Spirit.

What we do not see in the Church Fathers, in the transition from governance of the Church by the Apostles, to governance of the Church by their successors, is any notion that each individual Christian is his own highest interpretive authority. But the notion that the successors of the Apostles had only “ministerial” authority entails just that, namely, that the successors of the Apostles did not have the authority to provide the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, and the authoritative determination of orthodoxy and heresy. That would leave each individual as his own highest interpretive authority.58 Instead, as I have sketched out above, what we see in the transition from Apostles to bishops is a very strong sense of continuity of authority from the Apostles to the bishops.

In all the evidence we have from the early Church, we find not a single case in which someone was recognized as holding episcopal authority, but did not receive that authority either from Christ Himself, or from someone who had received authority mediately from Christ, by way of succession from the Apostles. No one could take ecclesial authority to himself, precisely because it is not a human authority, but a divine authority, which therefore has to be given from above. And this is also why no one could receive ordination from someone who had not himself received this authority from Christ directly or from Christ mediately through succession from the Apostles. Knowingly treating an invalid ordination as though it were a valid ordination would be the equivalent of arrogating ecclesial authority to oneself. Because no one can give what he does not have, therefore those not having ecclesial authority could not give it. Only those having ecclesial authority could give ecclesial authority in the act of ordination.59

In the first fifteen hundred years of Church history there is not a single case of a [mere] presbyter or deacon ordaining anyone, let alone a layman. Congregations might put forward candidates for ordination, as in Acts 6:1-6 where the whole multitude put forward seven candidates to be ordained as deacons. But in the history of the Church there is not a single known case of ordination “from below,” rather than by Apostolic succession. Only presbyters who had episcopal orders could ordain, though as I showed above in St. Hippolytus, presbyters without episcopal orders participated in ordinations by laying on their hands as well, not to ordain, but to offer their blessing and unite their prayer with that of the bishop.60

C. Evidence from Scripture

In light of the evidence from Tradition in the Church Fathers, the meaning of the evidence in Scripture is more apparent. Christ made His Apostles the foundation of His Church. We see this in Ephesians 2:20, where St. Paul explains that the Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. Just as we saw above in the section titled “Persons and Texts,” Christ is not fundamentally a concept or proposition; He is a divine Person. And before He ascended into Heaven He established authorized persons to stand in His place as stewards of His Church until He returns. In that respect, it is not Scripture that is the foundation of the Church, but the Apostles, even those Apostles who never wrote any Scripture.61

When men have “hands laid” on them by those having authority, in the sacrament of ordination, they receive delegated authority (1 Tim 4.14; 5.22; 2 Tim 1.6; Heb 1.10). This was a continuation in the Church of a practice under the Old Covenant, as Moses laid hands on Joshua (Num 27:15-23, Deut. 34:9); in this way the Spirit which was upon Moses was given to the elders. (cf. Num. 11:16-17,25) St. Paul tells Titus to “declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). But this is not Titus’ own authority; Christ has all authority, and He entrusted His authority to His Apostles, who delegated this same authority to their successors.

The evidence for this can be seen in the New Testament in the clear pattern of authorized succession that has its source in the Godhead. This succession begins with God the Father. Jesus does not speak or act on His own initiative; He does and says only what He was sent to do and say by His Father. (John 5:19, 30; 8:28, 42; 12:49-50: 14:10) His teaching is not His own but that of the Father who sent Him. (John 7:16) That is why to listen to Jesus is to listen to the Father. (John 14:24) The same pattern continues with the Spirit, who is sent by Christ and discloses what belongs to Christ. (John 16:14-15) Jesus teaches that this same pattern continues with the Apostles.”He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (Matthew 10:40), and “He who listens to you listens to Me, and he who rejects you, rejects Me.” (Luke 10:16) To receive the Apostles is to receive Jesus, because Jesus is the one who sent them. (John 13:20) Just as the Father had given authority to Jesus, so Jesus gives authority to His Apostles. (Luke 22:29-30; Matthew 11:27) Jesus gives to St. Peter the keys of the Kingdom. The Apostles in communion with Peter share in the authority by which their decisions on earth are ratified in heaven. (Matthew 16:19; 18:18) St. Paul speaks of the authority with the Lord gave to him as an Apostle. (2 Cor 10:8, 13:10) When the Apostles forgive sins, those sins are forgiven; when they retain men’s sins, those sins are retained. (John 20:23) This all reveals that Christ had extended to the Apostles a participation in His divine governance of the Church; upon His ascension, He governed through them. As the Father sent Christ, so Christ sent the Apostles. (John 17:18; 20:21) The Church was to continue to follow the pattern it had received from the Apostles (2 Tim 1:13) including the pattern of succession of authority.

Just as Christ had authorized the Apostles to teach and govern His kingdom in His name, so the Apostles authorized successors to do the same, entrusting to them the deposit of the faith, and teaching them to do the same to their own successors. (2 Tim 2:2; Titus 1:5) We see this already in their filling Judas’ unoccupied “ἐπισκοπὴν” (i.e. bishopric). (Acts 1:20) If there were no apostolic office, but only twelve individuals chosen by Christ, it would make no sense to choose someone to take Judas’ bishopric after his death.62 The apostolic authorization was given through the laying on of hands. (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 2 Tim 1:6; 1 Tim 4:14) And St. Paul warns St. Timothy not to be hasty or incautious when he [i.e. Timothy] ordains successors. (1 Tim. 5:22) Without this authority received from the Apostles or their successors, those speaking did not speak for the Church, or as Christ’s authorized representatives; they could only speak in their own name. (John 5:43) When the Apostles ordained successors, they knew that it was not only they who were doing this, but also the Holy Spirit working through them. (Acts 20:28; cf. Acts 14:23)

Consider Acts 15:24, “Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind.” If apostolic succession were merely doctrinal, then the Apostles would not have implied that the disturbers needed a mandate from the Apostles. Their lack of an Apostolic mandate would be irrelevant, and therefore not even mentioned. The Apostles and elders should simply have said only that the doctrine of the disturbers was not the Apostles’ doctrine. But the Apostles and elders do not merely say that. Instead they provide a mandate to Paul and Barnabas, Silas and Judas called Barsabbas. The “letter” mentioned in verse 23 is the authentication or proof that these men have the necessary mandate from the Apostles to teach and preach in their name, as official legates or ambassadors of the Apostles.63

In Romans 10:15, St. Paul writes, “And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” St. Paul indicates that a person needs to be sent, in order to preach. But who can send the preacher? There are two possible answers to that question: the Spirit apart from the Church, or the Spirit speaking in and through the Church. But if someone claims to be sent by the Spirit, apart from the Church, we should not assume he has been sent by God, unless by miraculous signs he demonstrates himself to be divinely authorized. Hence, if someone comes without signs, he cannot give an authorized message unless he has the authorization of the Church.64 Those who claim that prophecy ceased at the end of the apostolic era, therefore can be authorized to preach only by being sent out by those having the authority to send out men to preach on behalf of the Church. If only ordained people can ordain, then it follows by logical necessity that if anyone is presently ordained, there must be an unbroken succession extending back to the Apostles.65 In this way, Romans 10:15 requires apostolic succession, for those who claim that prophecy ceased at the end of the first century.

As we saw above, those having this authority from the Apostles could “speak and reprove with all authority.” (Titus 2:15) Titus, for example, was authorized by St. Paul as bishop of Crete, and Timothy as bishop of Ephesus. Eusebius writes, “Timothy, so it is recorded, was the first to receive the episcopate of the parish in Ephesus, Titus of the churches in Crete.”66 To explain this in Scripture, William Mounce in his Word Biblical Commentary on the Pastorals has to create a new office which he titles “apostolic delegate,” and which does not last beyond the age of the Apostles. That he has to do this shows that the falsehood of apostolic succession is not as obvious in Scripture as you seem to suggest. In the New Testament, we see that to be authorized by the Apostles was to be authorized by Christ, precisely because when the Apostles exercised the divine authority entrusted to them, Christ worked through them (Mt 16:19; Lk 10:16, 2 Tim 1:6) Those who know God listen to those who are “from God,” i.e. have been sent by Christ or by those whom He sent, or by those whom they sent. (1 John 4:6)

Only on the basis of this succession is it right for us to obey and submit (Heb 13:17) to the shepherds of the Church, for in doing so we are submitting to Christ. But those who “take the honor” (Heb 5:4) to themselves, without the succession, are not true shepherds. (John 10:1-2)

Only by this succession of divine authorizations, derived from the Apostles who had themselves received it from Christ, does the Church remain perpetually the “pillar and ground of truth,” (1 Tim 3:15) preserving the apostolic kerygma until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Any person can claim that Christ has given him authority. Any group of people can claim to speak for Christ or speak for the Church. Any group of people can claim to act on behalf of Christ in giving Christ’s authority to an ordinand. Anyone can claim to have the Apostles’ teaching. The sacramentality of ordination helps guards the unity and doctrinal purity of the Church. In order to preach in the name of Christ, one must be sent by the legitimate authorities of the Church, i.e. those in sacramental succession from the apostles, just as the apostles could not send themselves but could only be sent by Christ. (cf. Acts 15:24; Romans 10:15; 2 Cor 5:20).67

If ecclesial authority were not derived from the one laying on hands, then anyone could ‘ordain’ anyone, and ordination would thus be “presumed authority,” that is, nothing more than permission from a group of persons to speak to them or teach them. In that case, no one would have actual ecclesial authority. But if ecclesial authority is derived from the one laying on hands, and the one laying on hands has no authority to give, then again the ordinand would have only presumed authority, not actual authority. So actual ecclesial authority can be acquired in ordination only if the one laying on hands has the authority to give. But the same truth applies to the one laying on hands; he could have acquired actual ecclesial authority at his ordination only if the one who laid hands on him had the authority to give. And the same applies again to the one who ordained him, etc. This shows that either no one has actual ecclesial authority, or only those ordained in sacramental succession from the Apostles have actual ecclesial authority.68

At one point above you wrote:

There is a magisterium—a proper teaching authority—in the church after the apostles, but it is representative rather than hierarchical, catholic rather than based on a single pastor or city, fallible rather than infallible, and ministerial rather than magisterial.

I think the evidence I have laid out above demonstrates that the authority of the bishops was not derived from the approval of the laypeople. Ordination was not bottom-up authorization, by democratic approval. “Ministerial authority” as you are using the term means that each individual remains his own highest interpretive authority. No doctrinal determination by the Apostles or bishops is higher in authority than one’s own interpretation of Scripture. Such a notion is entirely foreign to the early Church. The bishops represent Christ to the people, just as the Apostles represented Christ to the people. I have already addressed the “catholic or Roman” dilemma in the section VII. The Roman Catholic Church: An Oxymoron?. And the infallibility issue would require its own forum. But in short, we believe that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church, and that He is guiding her into all truth. The notion that the Church, speaking with her highest authority, could get the deposit of the faith wrong, is a denial of what the Church teaches about herself as not only a divinely established institution, but as a divinely animated Body. Every dissenter and heretic has to posit that the Church has gone wrong, and that it is his own interpretation that is true, in order to justify his refusal to accept the Church’s teaching. This ecclesial deism is fundamentally a disposition of doubt, a lack of faith in Christ’s indwelling of the Temple He is building, and a placing of oneself in position of hermeneutical superiority to those having the succession from the Apostles. While the Gnostics of the second century claimed that the bishops never received the full teaching of the Apostles, Protestantism claims that the bishops lost it. But, either way, it amounts to a kind of ecclesial deism; Christ set up His Church and then backed away and let her lose the faith. The Church is not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Heb 10:39)

X. Bishops

In your last paragraph you claim that Pope Benedict XVI and John Zizioulas “acknowledge that presbyterian government was the earliest form of polity.” Your evidence for this claim is that Pope Benedict XVI and John Zizioulas affirm that the bishop is a fellow presbyter, and that the terms for ‘presbyter’ and ‘bishop’ are used interchangeably in the New Testament. Both of those claims are true, but they do not establish that someone without apostolic succession had the authority to govern in the early Church or the power to ordain others. Both Pope Benedict XVI and John Zizioulas believe that the episcopacy is an Apostolic institution, and that the bishop received his authority to ordain from the Apostles through the sacrament of episcopal ordination. Every bishop is also a presbyter, so referring to a group of persons as ‘presbyters’ does not entail that there is no bishop among them. Moreover, a bishop can be so in two [compatible] ways: by having received from the Apostles or their successors the authority to ordain, and by being given charge over a particular Church, to be its shepherd or overseer. There could be multiple presbyter-bishops [i.e. bishops in the sacramental sense] in a particular Church at a single time, even if only one of them had juridical charge over that particular Church. And while a Church was still being overseen by one or more Apostle, it could have presbyters (with or without the authority to ordain) without any one of them having juridical charge over that Church as its bishop. That is why we cannot justifiably infer from the Scriptural data that the earliest form of polity was presbyterian and not episcopal. For a more detailed explanation see Tim Troutman’s article “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood.”

You wrote:

After Constantine, churches in both the east and the west began to imitate the hierarchical political system of the empire. Yet as late as 597, Pope Gregory the Great famously declared, “I say with confidence that whoever calls or desires to call himself ‘universal priest’ in self-exaltation of himself is a precursor of the Antichrist.” The bishops of the East certainly agreed with this statement, but Gregory’s successors were less inclined to such pastoral humility.

The Church was constituted a hierarchical Body by Jesus Christ, when He appointed the Twelve to sit on twelve thrones, (Mt. 19:28, Lk 22:30) and made them the foundation stones of the Church. (Eph 2:20, Rev. 21:14) Of the old temple, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” (Mt. 24:2, Mk 13:2, Lk 21:6) But the Church is the new Temple, as St. Paul says in 1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 6:16, and Eph 2:21. And the foundation stones of this Temple are the Twelve Apostles. Not everyone in the Church was an Apostle. (1 Cor 12:29) Rather, Christ established His Body with an order wherein some were publicly given the authority to govern the Church. The authority of the bishop is something we see very clearly in the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred about AD 107.69 It can be seen implicitly in the writing of St. Clement, who writes:

These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behooves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things, being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen. (Epistle to the Corinthians, c. 40)

He is writing about doing all the things which the Lord (Jesus) has commanded us to do, and in speaking of “offerings” he is speaking of the Eucharist, which Christ commanded to be done in memory of Him. And St. Clement explains that Christ has appointed certain people to present these offerings, at the appointed times and hours. Then he immediately makes a three-fold distinction in “peculiar services.” The high priest has his own peculiar duties, and the priests have their own proper place, and so do the Levites. And even the laymen have laws pertaining to them. So in describing the functioning of the Church, St. Clement lays out a three-fold distinction in Holy Orders, as something established by Christ. Christ established in His New Covenant three different Holy Orders: new high priests, new priests, and new Levites. And these clearly are referring to the three-fold division of bishop, priest, and deacon, with the bishop being the high priest of the Church in his city.

That was long before the time of Constantine in the fourth century. But it is understandable that bishops would be given authority over cities, i.e. areas individuated on the basis of their political characteristics. And this should not surprise us; it is in keeping with the principle that grace builds on nature. Whereas every city would have a political leader sometimes termed a ‘magistrate,’ the Church in that city also had a leader, i.e. the bishop.

At the time of the Council of Nicea, the bishops were not just a loose collection, but were organized under metropolitans, who were themselves under patriarchs—and of the three patriarchs, the bishop of Rome had the primacy. This hierarchy of bishops under metropolitans and patriarchs was not something that developed from the bottom up, but from the top down. And that is how we can know that it went all the way back to the beginning, even to the time of St. Ignatius. St. Paul not only ordained St. Titus a bishop, he also made him essentially a metropolitan in Crete, a bishop over other bishops. St. Ignatius held the office in Syria that would become known as patriarch, one having an authority over other bishops. Whether St. Ignatius already exercised patriarchal authority over other bishops is unclear. But just as the priesthood grew from the episcopate as an expression of the need to extend the work of the bishop into the parishes of a particular Church, so the expansion of bishops under metropolitans and patriarchs grew not in a democratic way (i.e. by the coming together of bishops and election of one of them to be patriarch) but by the appointment of subordinate bishops by the patriarchate. So even if this did not yet occur in St. Ignatius lifetime, it at least occurred shortly thereafter in his successors, who by the time of the Council of Nicea had patriarchal authority over many bishops. This was not something that came about after Constantine; it was in place long before Constantine.

Regarding the statement by Pope Gregory the Great, to understand the sense in which he condemned the expression “universal Bishop,” we must understand the sense in which John the Faster intended it. It has always been Catholic teaching that the bishops are not mere agents of the Pope, but true successors of the Apostles. The supreme authority of St. Peter is perpetuated in the Popes; but the power and authority of the other Apostles is perpetuated in the other bishops in the true sense of the word. The Pope is not the “only” Bishop; and, although his ecclesial authority is supreme, his is not the “only” power. But John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople, wanted to be bishop even of the dioceses of subordinate bishops, reducing them to mere agents, and making himself the universal or only real bishop. Pope Gregory condemned this intention, and wrote to John the Faster telling him that he had no right to claim to be universal bishop or “sole” bishop in his Patriarchate.70

XI. The Authority of the Magisterium in Relation to Scripture

According to Catholic doctrine, the authority Christ gave to His Apostles and their successors is three-fold: the authority to teach, the authority to lead men to holiness (by way of the sacraments), and the authority to govern the Church.71 Here I’ll clarify the nature of the Magisterium’s teaching authority, and how it differs from the authority of Sacred Scripture

The Sacred Scriptures are divinely inspired; God is their primary author. They contain in written form the words of God, including the final word given to us in His Son. In giving to us His Son, God has said everything He has to say, because to see Jesus is to see His Father. There will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross writes:

In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.”72

For this reason, no new public revelation is to be expected until Christ returns on the clouds in glory. This is why “the Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions,” such as Islam or Mormonism.73 So when the Magisterium of the Church exercises its teaching authority and declares some doctrine definitively to be believed by all the faithful, it is not adding to the deposit of faith, but instead unfolding and clarifying it. In doing so, the Magisterium is not divinely inspired; no new revelation is being given. The Nicene Creed, for example, is not divinely inspired. But because God protects the Magisterium from error when it defines a doctrine to be believed by all the faithful, the Nicene Creed is without error. And because the Magisterium has the authority (given to it by Christ) to make definitive decisions regarding the content of the deposit of faith entrusted to it, therefore to deny any dogma so taught by the Magisterium is ipso facto, [material] heresy. This is why it is heretical to deny any part of the Nicene Creed, but it is not ipso facto heretical to deny the interpretation of any particular person or group of persons. Heresy is not defined in terms of truth-as-determined-by-me, but in terms of truth-as-determined-by-those-to-whom-Christ-gave-the-authority-to-make-such-determinations.

One of the primary tasks of the Magisterium is to give the authoritative interpretation of the deposit of faith:

“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”74

But having interpretive authority does not mean that the divinely authorized interpreter has more authority than what is being interpreted. When the Apostles testified to Jesus being the Christ, they did not thereby take away from Christ’s authority. An authorized witness can give an authoritative testimony to an authority greater than himself, otherwise no one could have come to believe in the divinity of Jesus through the authority of the Apostles’ testimony. That is why, according to Catholic doctrine, the Magisterium “is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant.”

“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”75

Protestants sometimes mistakenly think that the Catholic position is sola ecclesia, but that is not an accurate description of the Church’s teaching, because it excludes the essential role of Scripture and Tradition. There is a three-fold structure of authority consisting of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and Magisterium, each according to its own mode of authority:

“It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”76

Catholics treat Scripture as something properly known and understood only within the bosom of holy Mother Church, and only as explicated by the Magisterium of the Church. Of course this does not preclude private study of Scripture, which is encouraged. But we view Scripture as something known through the Magisterium’s teaching authority, not fundamentally or ultimately removed from it. Interpretive authority is distinct from the authority of divine revelation, but each complements the other. The authority of Scripture is authority with respect to the content of the deposit of faith. The authority of the Magisterium, on the other hand, is interpretive authority with respect to the identification and explication of the deposit of faith. These are two different types or modes of authority. They do not compete with each other but complement each other and are mutually dependent. The Magisterium cannot exist as an interpretive authority without the sacred deposit of the Word of God. Similarly, the Sacred Scriptures cannot provide their own authentic and authoritative interpretation to the Church and so require the Magisterium in order to fulfill their purpose in the Church.

In relation to interpretive authority there are two kinds of interpretation. One is private interpretation. That is what I do when I read the Bible on my own. Another is authoritative interpretation. That is what the Church does when she speaks with her full authority about some doctrine, say, the Trinity or the Incarnation. Our own interpretation of the Bible does not have equal or greater authority than the interpretation of the Magisterium when the latter speaks with its full authority. To pit interpretive authority against (or in competition with) the authority of divine revelation is to fail to recognize the qualitative distinction between the two types of authority. Because they each have a distinct mode of authority, they can be complementary in function.

Tertullian shows us quite clearly how the question of interpretive authority is of primary importance:

“Our appeal [in debating with the heretics], therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. For a resort to the Scriptures would but result in placing both parties on equal footing, whereas the natural order of procedure requires one question to be asked first, which is the only one now that should be discussed: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong? From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions”77

“Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you?'”78

Tertullian shows here that the Scriptures belong to the Church, and therefore that the Church has the right and authority to interpret them. The heretic does not have the authority to give the authoritative determination of Scripture. But if ‘heretic’ were defined as “anyone who denies my interpretation of Scripture,” what Tertullian is saying here would not make any sense. Each party would treat every disagreeing party as heretical, and there would be no objective answer to the question, “Who has interpretive authority?” In other words, if interpretive authority rested in having the right doctrine, as determined by oneself, then every heretical sect could claim to have an interpretive authority that every other sect lacks. So in order for there to be a meaningful sense of interpretive authority, it cannot rest on right-doctrine-as-determined-by-oneself. This is why, as Tertullian explained above, interpretive authority rests in the succession from the Apostles. Of course the heretics think the bishops having the succession are in error and have misinterpreted Scripture; otherwise the heretics would not be heretics but would be in communion with the bishops having the succession. In actuality, however, the heretics are shown to be exactly that, heretical—not fundamentally by a journal article or academic authority because that presupposes that the determination of the true meaning of Scripture is fundamentally a matter of reason. Instead, they are shown to be heretical fundamentally by their disagreement with those having the succession and only per accidens by an exegetical or hermeneutical argument.

You claimed that in 1 Corinthians 4:6 and Galatians 1:8-9, St. Paul “placed the authority of Scripture over the magisterium.” You mean that in those passages, St. Paul denies that there is in the Church a [Magisterial] interpretive authority to which our interpretations must conform.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6, St. Paul says:

I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. (1 Cor. 4:6)

And in Galatians 1:8-9 he writes:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

I do not see in 1 Corinthians 4:6 St. Paul denying Magisterial interpretive authority. The point in discussion in 1 Corinthians 4:6 is not whether there is an interpretive authority or how to interpret what is written. The point in question is whether the Corinthian believers should (in some sense) go beyond what is written, not whether they should hold to the authoritative interpretation of what is written.

Regarding Galatians 1:8-9, St. Paul is not teaching that individual laymen should subjugate Church authorities to their [i.e. the layman’s] own interpretation of Scripture. St. Paul is saying that the Galatians must not abandon the gospel which he and all the other Apostles had preached to them. The foundation laid is absolutely true and therefore must never be torn up and re-founded on something different. That initial apostolic preaching is an infallible and irrevocable foundation. But the gospel that St. Paul and the others had preached was not defined as the individual Galatian believer’s own personal interpretation of Scripture. It was something much bigger than that. It was the faith that had been preached throughout the world by the Apostles. There was a communal, historical and personal dimension to the received faith and its identity; it wasn’t limited to the letters written by the Apostles. To see whether someone was teaching a novel teaching, one would compare the message in question to the teaching universally received from the Apostles throughout the whole universal Church. The standard by which to measure the message in question was not “my interpretation of Scripture.” Otherwise, anyone following his own novel interpretation of Scripture could claim to be following the original gospel. Instead, St. Paul is exhorting the Galatian believers to test the spirits against what had been originally given to them and to the whole world by the Apostles, namely the Apostolic deposit. He is not advocating the authoritative supremacy of private interpretation of Scripture but rather the irreversibility and irrevocability of the one universally received Apostolic deposit. That’s what Catholics have always affirmed and still affirm.

If a Catholic priest or bishop comes along who teaches contrary to the Apostolic deposit that has been taught and believed throughout the Church, we must not follow him because he is a heretic. But the standard is not our own private interpretation of Scripture; rather, the public and communally-shared faith received by the whole Church from the Apostles is the standard. It is public and communal, not a standard of private interpretation. So the Catholic Church is not requiring anyone to give more obedience to the successors of the Apostles than did St. Paul because St. Paul was not teaching that each individual has supreme individual interpretive authority. The duty to submit to present interpretive authority is not incompatible with a duty to hold to what has previously been given; the two duties go together, and neither nullifies the other. The duty to hold on to what has been handed down from the Apostles does not give us a green light to pick as our ecclesial ‘authorities’ those who teach according to our own interpretation of Scripture. In other words, the duty to hold on to the Apostolic deposit and not to forsake it does not justify doing what St. Paul condemns in 2 Timothy 4:3-4—i.e. choosing one’s ecclesial ‘authority’ on the basis of their agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

XII. The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty

While from your perspective I exhibit a “nostalgia for a church that never was,” from the Catholic perspective Protestantism is objectively (though not necessarily subjectively) an expression of a lack of faith in Christ in the form of a lack of faith in the Church Christ founded that continues to exist in unbroken continuity from the day of Pentecost. The Catholic Church in communion with the successor of St. Peter, is the very Church referred to in the Creed: “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” This is an article of faith. The Church that for you “never was” is the same universal Church that gave us the Creed, the ecumenical councils, and the canon of Scripture. This one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church has always been a single visible universal Church, capable of excommunicating someone not just from a branch but from the universal visible Church.79 This universal visible Church has always been capable of promulgating doctrinal and disciplinary decisions to all the faithful.80 You seemingly think that although Christ prayed in the Garden that His followers would be unified, so that the world may know that the Father sent Christ and that Christ loves them (John 17:23), His prayer will not be answered until He “returns to glorify His ecclesial body.” Hence you see the Catholic claim that Christ established His Church with an essential unity that is essentially visible, as “over-realized eschatology.” But, if Christ truly did establish His Church with a principium unitatis such that she can never lose visible unity, then the Catholic position is not “over-realized eschatology;” rather, your position is an under-realized ecclesiology. So, in order to adjudicate between the two paradigms, we have to determine what kind of unity Christ established in His Church, and whether the schisms that occurred in the history of the Church actually divided the unity of the Church, or whether they amounted to schisms from the Church.81

To believe in the gospel as expressed in the Creed, one must believe also in the Church Christ founded. And this Church is known by those four marks which this same Church formulated in the Nicene Creed. The Reformed tradition, without any ecclesial authorization, replaced those four marks with three different marks (i.e. preaching the [Protestant] gospel, administering [two] sacraments, and practicing Church discipline). In doing so, they “de-materialized” the original four marks, as I have explained here. That invisible-church ecclesiology allows Protestants in their own minds—and with the good intention of preserving the purity of the apostolic doctrine—to justify separation from the Church Christ founded. But it is impossible to lay another foundation than the one Christ laid, namely, the Apostles themselves (Eph 2:20, Rev. 21:14).

Namaan, for example, did not like the muddy Jordan. He would have picked a cleaner river back home near Damascus. (2 King 5) But the issue was not ultimately about some virtue of Jordan’s water but about faith as submission to God, accepting what God had said through His prophet even though it was not the way Namaan would have done it. The obedience of faith required of Namaan by divine prescription that he dip in what to him was the muddy Jordan, whereas he would rather have washed in a cleaner river in his homeland. The Church Christ founded is very much like this. Even her seven sacraments are foreshadowed in Namaan’s being required to dip seven times. That is because the Mystical Body mirrors Christ’s physical body. Isaiah tells us, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) The Church, which is the Body of Christ, imitates Christ in this respect. It is so human that one can walk right past it without recognizing it for what it is. Just as when looking at the physical body of Christ on the cross, and seeing the wounds from the nails, the gashes from the scourging, the crown of thorns, we might not see the divinity of that body, so likewise it is easy to look at the tares within the Church, dissenters within the Church, heretical clergy, etc., and conclude that this visible body cannot be the Church that Christ founded. It requires the eyes of faith to believe that this visible body, having the succession from Peter and the Apostles, is the Church that Christ founded and that Christ is found within her.

You seem to think that I have or seek a certainty “that is absolute and visible” but which never has been and never will never be until our Savior returns. But from my point of view you lack a certainty that Christ through His Church has always offered to all His sheep. Because you do not believe in an infallible Church, you cannot be certain about the canon of Scripture, being left with what R.C. Sproul calls a “fallible collection of infallible books.”82 You cannot be certain about the Creed because it is not an exact restatement of Scripture, nor does it follow by logical deduction from Scripture. Thus for a Protestant there is no dogma because nothing other than Scripture can be known to be protected from error. Because of the absence of an authoritative Magisterium within Protestantism, in two thousand years of Church history, nothing has been definitively and irreversibly established. Every single theological question is unsettled, still up in the air, capable in principle of being answered in a way contrary to the way it has always been answered.

The problem with the claim that Catholics are on a quest for illegitimate religious certainty is that ‘illegitimate’ is defined in a question-begging way, i.e. one that presumes that Christ did not establish His Church with a living visible Magisterial authority by which doctrinal and moral questions could be definitively resolved. While from a Protestant point of view the Catholic seems guilty of QIRC (i.e. Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty), if in fact Christ did establish a living visible Magisterium, then the Protestant is guilty of what we could call NODIMA (Neglect Of Divinely Instituted Magisterial Authority). So charging the Catholic with QIRC is question-begging, and in order to resolve the disagreement on this point we have to step back and examine whether or not Christ did in fact establish a visible living Magisterial authority in His Church.

St. Paul describes the condition of men in the last days as “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3:7) They are like the episcopal ghost in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, who cannot come to the knowledge of the truth. The one term they cannot bear is ‘dogma,’ because it requires them to submit their own interpretation to that of someone else. They have placed themselves in this epistemic condition because ultimately they are “lovers of self.” (2 Tim 3:2) By making themselves their own highest interpretive authority, they lose the very possibility of dogma and hence lose the possibility of coming to a knowledge of the truth. They are left perpetually only with opinion, with its accompanying uncertainty. And that is desirable to them in one respect because it allows them to retain autonomy. No one has the authority to tell them how to interpret and understand Scripture and thus how to worship and what to believe. They can therefore interpret Scripture as seems fit to them, having an appearance of learning, by accumulating for themselves ‘teachers’ to suit their own likings. (2 Timothy 4:3) They choose teachers who fit their own interpretation of Scripture, and if no denomination or community exists which teaches their own interpretation of Scripture, then they simply start one and tailor it to their own interpretation. We see this clearly today in the form of ecclesial consumerism, and ‘hipster Christianity.’ Your solution is a return to Scripture, or, more accurately, to your own interpretation of Scripture. But the source of the problem so clearly manifest in the explicit ecclesial consumerism of our time is inherent in the Protestant denial of the visible living magisterial authority Christ established in His Church. Church-according-to-my-style and Church-according-to-my-interpretation are two sides of the same coin. You condemn the former, while embracing the latter. You can call people to your interpretation of Scripture; however, since you have no interpretive authority by way of a succession from the Apostles, you are essentially just one more talking head among the myriads of men offering their own opinion. And that very fact performatively expresses approval to everyone to follow his or her own opinion concerning God and Scripture: if you can do it, so can they. But we are men under authority, subject to Christ by submitting ourselves to those having the succession from Christ through the Apostles.83

May God help us, and reconcile us all in the full communion He prayed we would manifest to the world. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the peace of Christ,

– Bryan

Feast of St. Albert the Great, 2010.

  1. Excerpted from “Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross,” Modern Reformation (Nov./Dec. 2010, Vol 19 Issue: 6, pp. 47-49) []
  2. See “Vatican II and the Inerrancy of the Bible.” []
  3. See Bishop Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches. []
  4. Disagreements of this sort continue within the Catholic Church to this day, as for example, Thomists and Bonaventurians and Scotists differ on certain undefined points of theology, but nevertheless share in the Eucharist together. Because these disagreements are not about already-defined matters, they are in that respect not like schisms and heresies, both of which are incompatible with unity of faith and full communion in the sacraments. []
  5. Revelation 3:7, cf. Isaiah 22:22. []
  6. See, for example, “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome.” []
  7. In June of last year I addressed this Montanistic approach to following the Spirit in a post titled “Play Church.” []
  8. John 14:17, John 15:26, John 16:13 []
  9. 1 Tim 3:15 []
  10. John 16:13 []
  11. Council of Trent, Session 5. []
  12. Council of Trent, Session 6, chapter 7. []
  13. See here for a list of the ecumenical councils. []
  14. That the Catholic Church is Roman in this respect obviously should not be taken to mean that every particular Catholic Church is Roman in the same sense that the Latin [particular] Church is Roman. The Catholic Church is a communion of twenty-two particular Churches, only one of which is the Latin Church. []
  15. See the list of Popes here. []
  16. See my “The Tradition and the Lexicon.” []
  17. Session 4. []
  18. Vatican I, Session 3, 2.5. []
  19. Vatican I, Session 3, 3.8. []
  20. Dei Verbum 9,10 []
  21. Ad Haer. III.2 []
  22. Ad Haer. III.3 []
  23. Letters, 54; To Januarius. []
  24. Epistle to the Corinthians, 42. []
  25. Epistle to the Corinthians, 44. []
  26. Historia Ecclesiastica III.11. []
  27. Historia Ecclesiastica III.35. []
  28. Historia Ecclesiastica IV.5. []
  29. Historia Ecclesiastica III.14. []
  30. Historia Ecclesiastica III.21-22. []
  31. Historia Ecclesiastica IV.1. []
  32. Historia Ecclesiastica IV.19. []
  33. Historia Ecclesiastica III.36 []
  34. Epistle to the Trallians, 3.1. []
  35. Epistle to the Ephesians, 6:1. See also 3:2. []
  36. Historia Ecclesiastica III.36 []
  37. Eusebius writes, “At that time also in the church of Antioch, Theophilus was well known as the sixth from the apostles. For Cornelius, who succeeded Hero, was the fourth, and after him Eros, the fifth in order, had held the office of bishop.” (Historia Ecclesiastica IV.20 []
  38. Historia Ecclesiastica III.23. []
  39. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 32. See also Historia Ecclesiastica III.36. []
  40. Historia Ecclesiastica III.36 []
  41. Cf. this fragment. []
  42. Adversus haereses III.4.1 []
  43. Adversus haereses III.3.2 []
  44. As for Schaff’s interpretation of this paragraph from St. Irenaeus, his is a novel interpretation; that is not how it has always been understood. Nor does it fit with what St. Irenaeus is saying. St. Irenaeus says nothing about travelers to Rome keeping the Church at Rome orthodox. Travelers to Rome could just as easily have corrupted it with heresies. In fact we know of many Gnostics who went to Rome in the second century (e.g. Marcellina, Cerdon, Valentinus, Marcion), precisely to try to infiltrate the mother Church with their heretical doctrines. The basis St. Irenaeus gives for the “preeminent authority” of the Church at Rome is the succession from St. Peter. []
  45. Adversus haereses IV.26.2. []
  46. Adversus haereses III.3.4 []
  47. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 21. []
  48. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 32. []
  49. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 21. []
  50. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 36. []
  51. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 37. []
  52. Historia Ecclesiastica IV.22 []
  53. Regarding some of the more recent claims about St. Hegesippus, see my comments #20 and #26. []
  54. Historia Ecclesiastica IV.23 []
  55. Historia Ecclesiastica IV.23 []
  56. Historia Ecclesiastica III.31 []
  57. St. Augustine wrote, “[I]f you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognise that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, through the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all. (Against Faustus Bk. 33.9) []
  58. See “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” []
  59. Moreover, only those who had received the authority to pass on that authority could do so. Those who had not received the authority to pass on their authority could not pass on their authority. []
  60. This is the sense in which we can understand St. Paul’s statement, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” (1 Tim 4:14) Since Apostles and bishops are also presbyters, the phrase “laying on of hands by the presbytery” does not necessarily mean that all the men who laid hands on Timothy when he received this gift were [mere] presbyters. The term “presbytery” could include both [mere] presbyters and bishops and even apostles, such as St. Paul. []
  61. Just as the writing of the Old Testament came after the covenant with Abraham, so the writing of the New Testament came after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and sending of His Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The people of God existed prior to the sacred writings, because God used members of these communities to write these texts. Therefore the sacred writings could not be the foundation of the Church, for otherwise the Church could not exist until the writings existed. []
  62. Moreover, the Apostles made use of lots in order to choose Judas’ successor, precisely because they so strongly believed Christ’s promise that the Spirit was guiding the Church, that they trusted His providential guidance of the lots. []
  63. I agree with you that there were elders participating at the Jerusalem Council, and that Peter himself did not decide the matter. The collegiality of the Jerusalem council is fully in keeping with the collegiality of the bishops in communion with the successor of St. Peter. (See Lumen Gentium, 19-27.) But since every bishop is an elder, the fact that elders participated in the Jerusalem Council does not show that the Apostles treated [mere] presbyters as having the authority reserved for bishops at the first Council of Nicea. Even to this day, larger cities have more than one bishop, even though only one is the diocesan bishop, as James the Righteous was of the Church at Jerusalem. Therefore, Luke’s account of the Jerusalem Council is fully compatible with Catholic ecclesiology. []
  64. Luther and Calvin did no miraculous signs, arguing rather that such things ceased with the death of the Apostles. Nor did they have the authorization of the Church to say what they said against the Church. []
  65. But if unordained people can ordain, then any believer can ordain any other believer, perhaps even himself. In that case, anyone can celebrate the Lord’s Supper, even in one’s own kitchen. []
  66. Historia Ecclesiastica III.4. []
  67. If Scripture so clearly taught something incompatible with the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession, it would be strange that no one throughout the universal Church noticed it, for fifteen hundred years. []
  68. As for the common Protestant objection that because seeing the Lord was one criterion for being an Apostle, therefore there can be no apostolic succession, I have addressed that in comment #89 of the “John Calvin’s Worst Heresy” thread. []
  69. See “St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church.” []
  70. For an illuminating study regarding the authority of the Pope in the Church Fathers, I recommend Studies on the Early Papacy, by Dom John Chapman, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96 – 454, by Giles, The Primitive Church and the See of Peter, by Luke Rivington, and The Throne of the Fisherman, by Thomas W. Allies. []
  71. Mystici Corporis Christi, 38. []
  72. CCC, 65. []
  73. CCC, 67. []
  74. Dei Verbum, 10. []
  75. Dei Verbum, 10 []
  76. CCC, 95. []
  77. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 19. []
  78. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 37. []
  79. cf. Matthew 18:17. []
  80. cf. Acts 15. []
  81. Cf. St. Cyprian writes:

    The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, “I say unto you, that you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, “Feed my sheep.” And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins you remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins you retain, they shall be retained; ” (John 20:21) yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, “My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her.” (Song of Songs 6:9) Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same thing, and sets forth the sacrament of unity, saying, “There is one body and one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God?” (Ephesians 4:4)

    And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by a falsehood: let no one corrupt the truth of the faith by perfidious prevarication. The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole. The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the source. Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light; break a branch from a tree—when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up. Thus also the Church, shone over with the light of the Lord, sheds forth her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, nor is the unity of the body separated. (On the Unity of the Catholic Church, 4-5)

    []

  82. Cf. “The Canon Question. []
  83. I would like to thank Tom Brown, Barrett Turner, Andrew Preslar, Jonathan Deane, and John Kincaid for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this post. []
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  1. Excellent. Thank you.

  2. Because you do not believe in an infallible Church, you cannot be certain about the canon of Scripture, being left with what R.C. Sproul calls a “fallible collection of infallible books.”

    But your own church has never published an infallible list of infallible papal pronouncements. I read just the other day a discussion where several Catholics were discussing which pronouncements were infallible and which weren’t. I found the discussion rather amusing as they argued for the inclusion of this announcement or exclusion of that one. They couldn’t even agree on what set of conditions made a statement “infallible”. So at this point you don’t even have a fallible list of infallible pronouncements so I’m not clear that you are any better off than Protestants – at least we have a list of books, as “fallible” as that list may be. I mean if you can’t tell me what is to be believed infallibly, then what is the value of infallibility?

    Because of the absence of an authoritative Magisterium within Protestantism, in two thousand years of Church history, nothing has been definitively and irreversibly established. Every single theological question is unsettled, still up in the air, capable in principle of being answered in a way contrary to the way it has always been answered.

    Really? Every theological question in unsettled? If that were so, then how could Protestants be considered “separated brethren” or even Christians by the Catholic Church? You’d have nothing to judge our Christianity by in order to make that decision if EVERY theological question were unsettled. Obviously, this statement is a gross overstatement – there any number of theological issues with which we are in agreement with Catholicism. You do your cause no good in making inaccurate assertions such as this.

  3. Great Job Bryan! Excellent response!

  4. Thank you so much for this, Bryan. I am a convert and this has been really helpful to me.

    jj

  5. Thank you for this wonderfully lucid and detailed post Bryan. You and your colleagues here do excellent work. It is a great

    Steve G,

    I think you are missing a key element in Bryan’s post. Just because a bunch of Catholics get together and pronounce upon what papal documents are fallible or infallible does not mean they have the authority to do so. As Bryan put it, “when the Magisterium needs to be interpreted, the Magisterium itself performs this function”; unless those Catholics whom you heard were bishops in consultation with the Pope, their discussions are merely private, and not binding on other Catholics. Thus you cannot say that they speak for the Catholic Church in any meaningful sense; they just speak for themselves. This is the type of distinction, between private members and those with public authority binding on other Catholics, between those who have Christ’s authority to teach and those who don’t, which is lacking in the various Protestant churches. That at least is what I think Bryan was trying to say in the quotations you cited from his post.

    Best,

    Alypius

  6. Bryan, fantastic responses, too bad the 50 words chosen for your response didn’t include any of this. I pray that the abrupt ending of the article doesn’t lead too many readers astray believing the case was closed with Horton’s last response.

    I am a fellow Catholic very interested in Church Authority. A question that popped into my head recently, and I’m struggling to find the answer. Admittedly, it’s a simplistic question, stemming from a simplistic observation. When I read in Matthew Christ plainly builds a Church (which, we all know). Since everything God creates is perfect, infallible, this Church must also be infallible. Action after action in Matthew leading up to the creation of the Church is of Christ performing visible, phyiscal miracle after miracle healing the sick left and right, multiplying fish and loaves, making impossible transformations. Thus, the action of His building a Church can’t be anythign short of a miracle, especially one of this magnitude or more!

    I fail to see the miraculous event of the creation of Jesus’s infallible Church in the Protestant understanding of the Church. The best I could see is Horton’s allusion to the Bible being the infallible entity in the Church. However, Scripture is a seperate entity from the Church, a seperate infallible creation of God’s.

    I often hear Protestants say there’s no such thing as an infallible church. Yet I don’t understand how God could make something fallible. Or, I don’t understand what exactly is infallible in the Protestant notion of the Church Christ built. Undoubtedly, Jesus is an infallible entity in the Church, as He’s the head of his bride, the Church. But He also built His Church on Peter, infallibly giving him the power to bind and loose in heaven. Where was the transforming miracle of infallibility of that in the Protestant view of Church?

    Also, all too often I see Protestants offended at the notion that the Bible perhaps isn’t enough for us to know God. They view it as an attack on the Bible, as I saw Horton describe. They desire to believe that the infallibility of Sacred Scripture can somehow make up for our fallible selves. They settle with the concept that the best God gave us to know Him is infallible Scripture filtered through our fallible interpretations. Sadly, they fail to see that God didn’t leave us with a fallible system. Instead, He paired infallible Scripture with the lenses of the infallible Church so that we have an completely infallible system for knowing Him.

    Thanks be to God for giving us the Church and Sacred Scripture to know Him. God bless!

  7. Do we honestly believe this debate will be resolved? I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but it seems that Catholics and Protestants’ starting points are so fundamentally different that there can’t be any eventual agreement in the end. I think, as the discussion continues, we can better understand one another, but I don’t see how unity will ever be possible.

  8. But your own church has never published an infallible list of infallible papal pronouncements. I read just the other day a discussion where several Catholics were discussing which pronouncements were infallible and which weren’t. I found the discussion rather amusing as they argued for the inclusion of this announcement or exclusion of that one. They couldn’t even agree on what set of conditions made a statement “infallible”.

    The charism of infallibility works whether we recognize it or not. Often that is all that is required. Just get the answer right. Sometimes something must be known to be infallible to be effective. Like when there is a large group that feels strongly on the other side. The church can do that be calling a council if needed. The all-male priesthood is a good example. John Paul II made an infallible statement on it. Many have responded by simply denying that it is infallible. So we might need a council to more definitively settle the matter. But for many of us it is already settled.

    I am confused why the set of conditions are not clear. They were defined by Vatican I. If somebody is saying Vatican I just got it wrong then they have left the Catholic faith.

    Really? Every theological question in unsettled? If that were so, then how could Protestants be considered “separated brethren” or even Christians by the Catholic Church? You’d have nothing to judge our Christianity by in order to make that decision if EVERY theological question were unsettled. Obviously, this statement is a gross overstatement – there any number of theological issues with which we are in agreement with Catholicism. You do your cause no good in making inaccurate assertions such as this.

    It is not that there is no issue where there is a strong consensus among protestants. You can argue whether there is 100% agreement on any issue but that is not the point either. The point is there is no truth that if you rejected it you would not be protestant. Even if there are no examples today of protestants rejecting them. There is no principle by which that is impossible.

    If you would have told Luther and Calvin that protestants would be rejecting the bodily resurrection of Jesus and accepting gay marriage they would have said that could not happen. Sola Scriptura could not be twisted that badly. Just because we can’t imagine it does not mean it is impossible. There was nothing stopping it and so it was just a matter of time. What is safe? What doctrine can not be twisted in time?

  9. Very thorough! Extremely good!

  10. Anthony,

    Re#7

    Do remember that this discussion is bigger than us in more ways that one. One way, in particular, is that this discussion here may not in the end sway the participants in one way or another, however, there are countless people reading this discussion and they might find the piece of the puzzle they’ve been missing and it might help
    them on their way to God’s Truth. Just because not everyone will benefit from this discussion doesn’t mean that no one will or that it’s not worth having.

    Also, realize that for a Catholic, defending the authority and infallibility of Christ’s Church is just as important as defending the inerrancy of the Bible and defending the deity of Christ. That is why this discussion is always worth having.

    Peace be with you,

    A.T.

  11. Do we honestly believe this debate will be resolved? I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but it seems that Catholics and Protestants’ starting points are so fundamentally different that there can’t be any eventual agreement in the end. I think, as the discussion continues, we can better understand one another, but I don’t see how unity will ever be possible.

    Anthony,

    I agree it looks discouraging and I don’t think the debate will ever fully be resolved. However that doesn’t mean we can achieve some success through Christ. If all these unification efforts only bring us to a better understanding, we have achieved a lot. By understanding each other, the truth of Christ will prevail over the misconceptions.

    Matthew

  12. Anthony, debates are rarely ever resolved. And ever when there is a clear winner, time has a way of changing that position. For instance, G. K. Chesterton clearly won all debates with H. G. Wells, yet most people these days only hear H. G. Wells’ side of the debate and have no clue who G. K. Chesterton is. And even when there is a clear winner that time does not challenge, the winner might have acted with so little charity that the loser will get more sympathy.

    The another key problem in debates is that each side tends to present a very skewed view of the evidence, emphasizing things that support one side and ignoring things that weaken that side and in some cases misrepresenting (either intentionally or unintentionally due to misunderstandings) the other side. If one side “wins” it might be because they are a better and more prepared debater rather than they were right.

    That being said, debates are valuable at clarifying perspectives. They give listeners things to think about and plant seeds that might grow with time. Though debates like these might not convert Protestants or Catholics as a group, they can ultimately convert individual Protestants or Catholics.

    Personally, I think two one-sided Socratic discussions (with one side causing the other to clarify his position then the reverse being done) to be far more valuable at clarifying positions and emphasizing the weaknesses of each side. But Socratic dialogs tend to be much more verbose and thus far fewer “sound bites” so they are not as friendly to the modern listener or reader.

  13. To Matthew and A. T.:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. At some point, however, after everything that can be said has been said, it seems like in the final analysis there is just flat out disagreement. Please don’t misunderstand me: I believe the discussion is valuable, and I’m glad to be a part of it. At the end of the day though, the presuppositions are quite pronounced.

  14. anthony: I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but it seems that Catholics and Protestants’ starting points are so fundamentally different that there can’t be any eventual agreement in the end.

    Let us look at the starting points – the starting points of the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. The Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ. She has a two thousand-year-old history, and she has maintained apostolic succession for two millennia. The Protestant churches were all founded by men about one thousand five hundred years after Christ founded his church. The starting point of Protestantism is found in men like Luther, Calvin and Henry VIII – cafeteria Catholics that went into schism with the Church founded by Christ. The “reformers” founded their own personal churches that taught the doctrines of that these men wanted taught – and then they demanded that the members of these new churches accept as authoritative the teachings of their schismatic founders. None of the “reformers” taught the same doctrine in their new churches.

    The “debate” between Catholics and Protestants is centered on the issue of authority and apostolic succession. The Protestants are incapable of providing any scriptural support for the founding of personal churches – a process that has let to thousands upon thousands of Protestant churches where a different Gospel is taught in every church.

    I think the debate will be settled when the doctrinal anarchy that reigns within Protestantism becomes too oppressive to bear any longer.

    Steve G: Really? Every theological question in unsettled? If that were so, then how could Protestants be considered “separated brethren” or even Christians by the Catholic Church? You’d have nothing to judge our Christianity by in order to make that decision if EVERY theological question were unsettled. Obviously, this statement is a gross overstatement – there any number of theological issues with which we are in agreement with Catholicism.

    Can you name even one uniquely Protestant doctrine that EVERY Protestant denomination holds in common?

  15. Two things that immediately sprang to my mind when I read the piece by Horton quoted here:

    1) When Horton talks about our “radical surrender” to ecclesiastical authority, he betrays the individualism at the heart of Protestant Christianity. I’ve heard this kind of statement from a lot of my evangelical friends, and every time it strikes me how it sounds so much more like a slogan for the American Revolution than like biblical and historical Christianity. Bryan picked up on this so I won’t go on and on. It’s just worth pointing out that Protestants have no ecclesiological category for statements like those in Hebrews 13 that command us categorically to submit to the authority of the Church. These “arguments” really do seem like repackaged Enlightenment political philosophy. Nowhere does the New Testament even hint at the idea that some kind of secession from ecclesiastical authority would be thinkable, much less necessary.

    2) Related to #1 is Horton’s treatment of Acts 15. Note how that, in his attempt to spin it so that it supports Presbyterian ecclesiology, he completely misses the point that the very existence of something like what we see in Acts 15 presupposes the existence of one, visible, institutionally and doctrinally unified Church. Something exactly like what we see expressed in the Nicene Creed, and exactly what the Catholic Church sees itself as. Again, Acts 15 does not work at all in the Protestant system because all the individual believer has are the pronouncements of his own denomination’s synod, or the leaders at his own local church. Then, of course, when the decisions of one denomination’s synod run contrary to the decisions of another’s, there is no recourse. If one group does not have a coherent reason why its sentences carry more authority, the believer is again left to pick and choose whose authority he wants to follow.

    In both of these cases, therefore, the Bible has nothing to say in favor of a Protestant model. In the one case, it categorically condemns schism and commands obedience to ecclesiastical authority. In the other, the synod of Jerusalem, whatever it was and whatever it says about apostolic succession, presumes the existence of a Church that Protestants have been systematically dismantling over the last 500 years.

  16. It seems to me that the fundamental difference between the way Michael Horton approaches the question and Bryan Cross is that Michael is, unconsciously, begging the question. He is assuming that the Catholic Church is simply the collection of persons who call themselves Catholics – then showing, what is unquestionably the case, that there is no consistent complete agreement amongst them – and concluding that the Catholic Church cannot be infallible because it is internally inconsistent.

    This is to assume the truth of his ecclesiology from the start. If the Catholic Church is a supernatural organism, then one can no more decide what is part of it and what not than one can decide what is a legitimate part of my body and what not by examining the fragments of matter – including clothing, dirt, dead skin cells, cancer cells, etc – that seem to have some relation to it.

    jj

  17. Anthony writes: Do we honestly believe this debate will be resolved? I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but it seems that Catholics and Protestants’ starting points are so fundamentally different that there can’t be any eventual agreement in the end. I think, as the discussion continues, we can better understand one another, but I don’t see how unity will ever be possible.

    Anthony, I think that the founders of this site have recognized a position that I first found with the Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher: You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become a man’s own, unless each day he maintain and hear it maintained as well as work it out in life. Reference the Golden Sayings.

    If we are to become and remain good Catholics, we need to grow in grace and understanding.

    I believe that this position in Christianity is related to another item, which is purely scriptural and is based on faith: One plants, another waters, and God grants the increase. While Jesus preached to thousands, and worked scads of miracles, Paul notes that about 500 saw Jesus after the resurrection and before the Ascending back to God the Father. Then Peter spoke on Pentecost and about 3000 people were added to the Church. How many of those people saw and heard Jesus? How many of them were present for the miracles? No idea on my part and nothing I have seen in scripture elicits the names of those people or of their previous experience with Jesus.

    However someone had planted and someone had watered before the Holy Spirit, working through Peter, brought about the increase. That someone might have been Moses for all I know, but I do know that Moses looked forward to Jesus and that is certainly sufficient.

    A lot of people will go through this website and something will stick in their minds and/or hearts due to grace. A lot of people will go to Principium Unitatis, or the Association of Hebrew Catholics, or Roman Catholic Blog, or another similar website, and something will appeal to them and will stick in their minds and/or hearts.

    Others will hear a Catholic witness. So, we speak. We speak when it is unwelcome (think of in front of an abortionary) and we speak in the hope that it will be welcome, but whichever it is, we speak.

    When I speak I always try to remember that it is good news because it is. It may not be good news when I present it, but it may be good news later, down the line, because I remember when it was not good news for me – which is when I needed most to hear it.

    My thanks to those who serve in this fashion. I owe you and I remember you in my prayers.

  18. Steve G (#2):

    But your own church has never published an infallible list of infallible papal pronouncements. I read just the other day a discussion where several Catholics were discussing which pronouncements were infallible and which weren’t. I found the discussion rather amusing as they argued for the inclusion of this announcement or exclusion of that one. They couldn’t even agree on what set of conditions made a statement “infallible”. So at this point you don’t even have a fallible list of infallible pronouncements so I’m not clear that you are any better off than Protestants – at least we have a list of books, as “fallible” as that list may be. I mean if you can’t tell me what is to be believed infallibly, then what is the value of infallibility?

    In my long experience as a Catholic educator, I have found that few Catholics who are not professional theologians have a firm handle on this subject. It is not taught to most young Catholics preparing for confirmation; it is not mentioned from the pulpit on Sundays; nor do most Catholic adults care to inform themselves about it. On this and many other topics, such indolence deeply frustrates me. One of the Catholic Church’s greatest pastoral problems is the complacent ignorance of most of the laity and not a few of the clergy. I won’t go on further about all that, but it is something you need to know so as not to sustain misimpressions about the teaching of the Church that you might have gained from following online discussions by the inexpert. With that out of the way, I will say that, although not a specialist in ecclesiology myself, I have a firm enough handle on this subject to address your objection.

    Among Catholics who do bother to learn about these matters, there is no dispute that whatever popes unilaterally “define” ex cathedra–with an anathema or something similar in form–is infallibly taught. Leaving aside decrees of canonization, which call themselves definitions even though their subject doesn’t pertain to the deposit of faith, the actual instances of such papal definitions are relatively few, easily identified, and uncontroversial. Many educated Catholics also know that whatever is “solemnly” defined (i.e., with anathemas) by a council deemed ecumenical by the papacy is also infallibly taught. Among theologians who teach with the papally required mandatum, there is no dispute about that either. Nor is there any dispute among ecclesiologists that some teachings, though not solemnly defined, have been infallibly set forth by the “ordinary and universal magisterium” (OUM) of the bishops. One such teaching is the Resurrection itself, in the sense that Jesus’ real, human body which died was transformed into a different and better body that nevertheless had continuity of personal identity with the earthly one. Another such teaching is that the Passion of the Christ won grace sufficient for the salvation of each and every human being. I could go on, but there’s no need to. Even Catholic theologians who dissent from magisterial teaching on some serious issues would grant that all the above reflect settled criteria for identifying “irreformable” teachings, i.e. teaching that, according to the Church, have been infallibly set forth and are therefore irrevocable.

    Debate arises mostly about whether certain traditional teachings that have recently become controversial have actually been infallibly set forth by the OUM, such as those on women’s ordination or birth control. In its dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (yes, you can Google it for a free copy), Vatican II taught:

    Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.

    That statement is only 45 years old–mere infancy by theological standards. That accounts for the fact that both its degree of authority and its proper interpretation still in dispute among Catholic theologians. Few theologians would deny that it’s true, but there’s been a lot of controversy for the past 20 years or so about just how to apply its key criteria. E.g., since the statement itself is not a solemnly defined dogma, are Catholics as such bound to believe it? Does it apply to itself? And if the answer is yes to both questions, how are we to recognize, short of a dogmatic definition, when the college of bishops is “in agreement on one position as to be definitively held?”

    The actual arguments given on both sides are irrelevant here. What’s relevant is the question what’s needed to get matters in dispute beyond the level of mere theological opinion, and onto the level of binding doctrine. There’s only one way to do that: rely on the Roman Magisterium itself to apply the relevant criteria authoritatively. Anything short of that leaves as matters of opinion the doctrines whose level of authority is in dispute. Fifteen years ago, Rome made a start on what needed to be done, by issuing several pertinent documents centering on the matter of women’s ordination. I think she should do so in other cases too. If she did, misimpressions such as yours, which are shared by many Catholics, would be less frequent.

    With all that clarified, it’s time to address the objection with which you began. It’s a form of what Bryan calls the tu quoque (i.e., “you too!”) argument . Thus, if it’s a problem for Protestant that they lack an infallible list of canonical books, then it’s a problem for Catholics that they lack an infallible list of irreformable doctrines; obversely, if it’s not a problem for Catholics that they lack an infallible list of irreformable doctrines, then it’s not a problem for Protestants that they lack an infallible list of canonical books. Or so I understand your argument.

    The problem with that argument is that it misses the point. Unlike Catholics, Protestants can appeal to no binding ecclesial authority for holding that only such-and-such books, and not others, are divinely inspired. That the Protestant canon, no more and no less, is divinely inspired is a doctrine that’s either “presupposed” or supported–if it can be called support–by an appeal to bosom-burning. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that their canon is divinely inspired because the Church has definitively taught as much by statements which, theologians agree, fulfill the criteria for irreformability that I’ve described above. There are many other such statements, and you can find them enumerated in texts that most Catholics don’t even know exist. That many if not most Catholics are ignorant of such things does not mean that the Church lacks the needed criteria. It only means that the Catholic Church needs to do a far better job of catechesis within her own ranks.

    Best,
    Mike

  19. Thanks Bryan for a thorough, precise and well researched response…WOW! These are just the reasons why reformed protestantism’s (protestants in general) principle of Sola Scriptura is not logically, biblically and historically attainable. Looked at how the spin goes to the “Beggars All” blog…mind boggling.

    Peace.

  20. BTW, Bryan, I meant to say that you’ve done a good job of answering Michael Horton and that he is a worthy opponent for you. I’ve profited from his book Christless Christianity, which I note, for the benefit of readers, is fairly reviewed here. Although I don’t share Horton’s distinctively Reformed theology, he is quite right about American religiosity in general.

  21. This man is doing the Lord’s work. Well done.

  22. To those who doubt there will ever be progress in reuniting separated Christians: Two days ago, on a plane ride to Texas, I found myself sitting next to Bishop Louis Falk, President of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in America. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Falk
    He was on his way to a meeting in San Antonio with other like-minded Anglican bishops. They are all in the process of leading their churches into full communion with Rome.

  23. Mark,

    Given Faulk’s history, I wouldn’t be so happy about that.

  24. Long time lurker, first time (Protestant) commentor here. . .
    While I’d like to read the whole dialogue between Mr. Cross and Mr. Horton, this seems to be pretty poor from Professor Horton. I think I could argue against his position and I’m nothing like the scholar he or Mr. Cross is (or any of the main contributors here for that matter).
    I think that he makes one good point that I’d like to see addressed. Mr. Horton says, “Of course the Spirit could have preserved the Jewish elders and the Sanhedrin from error, he did not — which is why Jesus placed the authority of Scripture over the Magisterium in Matthew 15:6 and Paul did as well (1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:8-9)” While I think Bryan does a good job of dealing with both the 1 Cor and the Gal passage, I noticed that he didn’t deal with the Matthew passage at all. I’m not saying there’s no answer, but I find that curious as it seems like a much stronger argument than either of the other two. I understand the issue regarding the forming of the NT canon, but this is OT canon we’re talking about here and there was no formal interpretive body for the OT and Jesus seems to be appealing directly to the Scriptures past the authority of the elders, which is exactly what the people like about him and gets Him in trouble with those same elders (this is one who teaches with authority, unlike that of the scribes and pharisees — or something like that). So why was there no interpretive authority in the OT like the NT now seems to require? One thing I’ve seen here is how important it is to connect the two together, yet it seems like this is something like a radical departure from how the covenant people of the OT interacted. Is it because the OT is somehow more perspicacious or something?
    Also, and this is more for clarification than anything else, he asks early on “How could one be aware of everything that the church teaches?” — is the answer to this question the Catechism of the Catholic Church or is there something more?
    In Bryan’s response, right before XII begins, he says, “But the standard is not our own private interpretation of Scripture; rather, the public and communally-shared faith received by the whole Church from the Apostles is the standard. It is public and communal, not a standard of private interpretation.” Again — is this “public and communal” the Catechism or something vague? I guess a lot this sounds awesome from Bryan, but I think to Protestant ears like mine (and Mr. Horton’s) it does sound almost naive and pie-in-the-sky. How could such a thing actually truly exist given the accepted divisions within Protestantism?
    Anyways, thanks for what you do. I appreciate the discussion and the desire for unity. I really wish more high-end Protestants would engage here — ones much more capable than myself. I enjoyed the interaction with Dr. Trueman, who I regard very highly after being in his classes at WTS, and would like to see more of that and things like this article. I think Protestants really do need to be evaluating their own positions and dealing with the actual Catholic positions and not some bogeyman that is presented by most Protestants.

  25. JD, I’d like to take a stab at answering some of your questions.

    JD: Mr. Horton says, “Of course the Spirit could have preserved the Jewish elders and the Sanhedrin from error, he did not … why was there no interpretive authority in the OT like the NT now seems to require?

    If the Sanhedrin did possess the Holy Spirit’s understanding of the scriptures, why didn’t the Sanhedrin recognize that Jesus was their Messiah? It seems like it would have been a good thing for the Sanhedrin to possess a gift of interpreting scriptures with irreformable authority.

    I would say this: because the Sanhedrin did not possess the habitual grace of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they were incapable of giving irreformable interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures. The scriptures given to the Jews had a pedagogical function of teaching the Jews how desperately they were in need of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Previous to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s Church at Pentecost, it was only when the Holy Spirit rested upon a man that he was he able to act as a Prophet of God for the People of God.

    The Jews living in the time of Jesus hadn’t seen a living prophet for a long time, and that is why there was excitement about the appearance of John the Baptist. There is also this fact about the Sanhedrin of the Sadducees that comes into play in the New Testament era – the Sanhedrin of the Sadducees were the political lackeys of the secular state, which didn’t exactly make them reliable interpreters of the scriptures:

    The Sect of the Sadducees Establish a Sanhedrin

    From various talmudic references we learn that twice during an approximate 100-year period toward the close of the Second Temple, the kings who ruled over Israel during those times had all he sages of the Sanhedrin executed – once during the reign of Alexander Yannai, and once again during the days of Herod. … Over a period of several years, Simeon ben Shetah was successful in gradually replacing the Sanhedrin’s character … the Sanhedrin ceased to be a group of simpletons and Sadducees …

    The Temple Haggadah, Rabbi Israel Ariel, ISBN 965-220-340-8

    The Sanhedrin that Jesus had to deal with was composed largely of the political hacks of the Sanhedrin of the Sadducees. Contrast that corrupt Sanhedrin with the church that Jesus founded. Christ is the head of his Church, and to Christ’s Church has been given both the Holy Spirit to guide her, and the promise that the powers of death would never prevail against it. Christ’s church can never teach corrupted doctrine, because Christ is the head of his Church, and he will never allow his church to teach the doctrines of the devil. Heretics and schismatic sects that are apart from Christ’s church – they, of course, do teach corrupt doctrine. That is why is important for the Christian to belong to the church, and not just a church.

    JD: Also, and this is more for clarification than anything else, he asks early on “How could one be aware of everything that the church teaches?” — is the answer to this question the Catechism of the Catholic Church or is there something more?

    What kept Stalin from wiping out the Russian Orthodox Church? Russian grandmothers. Russian grandmothers that taught, by and large, without access to written catechisms.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    1255 For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult on the road of Christian life. Their task is a truly ecclesial function (officium). The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism.

    108 … the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living”. …

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a real value in catechesis, but it is no substitute for living in a community under the authority of validly ordained bishops, since that community is receiving her supernatural life through the Eucharist. Without validly ordained bishops and priests, there is no valid Eucharist within the community. The scriptures are indeed God’s precious gift to his church, but the source of the Christian life is the Eucharist, not the Bible:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” … in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”

    1325 “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. …

    The Christian religion is not a “religion of the book”. That is the first thing to keep in mind, and with that in mind, we can recognize that there is a need for proper catechesis in the Church so that the members of the Christian community can know their faith. IMO, the Catholic Church hasn’t done that great a job lately in her catechesis in the U.S.

    The CCC says that the CCC is “an organic presentation of the Catholic faith in its entirety”, without making the claim that is the only written source from which a catechist may consult. From the CCC:

    Quite early on, the name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life, thus building up the body of Christ. [CCC #4]

    “Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.” [CCC #5]

    This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church’s Magisterium. It is intended to serve “as a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are composed in the various countries”. [CCC #15]

    This catechism is conceived as an organic presentation of the Catholic faith in its entirety. It should be seen therefore as a unified whole. [CCC #18]

    The texts of Sacred Scripture are often not quoted word for word but are merely indicated by a reference (cf.). For a deeper understanding of such passages, the reader should refer to the Scriptural texts themselves. Such Biblical references are a valuable working-tool in catechesis. [CCC #19]

  26. JD,

    Thanks for the comment. A similar question was raised in the comment thread following the Solo/Sola Scriptura article. (I think that the relevant part of the conversation began here.) I trust that someone else can address your point more fully, but in the meantime, I’ll re-post my comment from the previous conversation:

    Perhaps you have already discussed this, but allow me to wonder out loud whether the ongoing possibility of further [public] revelation to ancient Israel obviated the need for an infallible Magisterium. That is, if those who had been endowed with the OT magisterium did attempt to bind the people of God in a definitive way to doctrinal error, God could raise up a prophet with further revelation to correct course….

    However, since the Word made flesh is the ultimate revelation of the Father, in the Holy Spirit, poured out upon all flesh, no additional public revelation of God is to be vouchsafed to his people in the (future) course of time. Therefore, no new prophet can rise up with a public revelation from God to the whole Church in order to call her back from self-destruction (e.g., dogmatically teaching error). So, with the cessation of public revelation, how does the Church, as a whole, (1) adjudicate between doctrinal truth and error when disputes arise? (2) How does Our Lord preserve his Church from dogmatically teaching error and / or becoming divided (as Israel was divided)? The Protestant answers are: (1) Sola scriptura (private interpretation proceeding along lines of scientific exegesis), and (2) he doesn’t. The Catholic answer is the sacramental, teaching Magisterium.
    ____________

    To these thoughts, I would simply add that, just as, or rather because, Jesus Christ fulfills the law and the prophets, the New Covenant fulfills the Old Covenant. This fulfilling is not a matter of destruction, of breaking the mold and adopting a new pattern, but rather a filling full, a heavenly reality joined to the earthly form, in an irrevocable way. There is obviously continuity, but there is also change. The Christian Magisterium carries on in the place of the Mosaic, but not in the same old way. The New Covenant rites and offices are more powerful than those of the Old Covenant, being founded upon better promises. The Old Covenant was weak, destined to pass away. Israel, according to the flesh, was a preparation, not an end in herself. The Church is the Body of Christ, destined to endure throughout the ages. She is spiritual Israel, and hers is a better covenant.

    Andrew

  27. Andrew,

    I like your added thoughts at the end of that comment. Talking about the magisterium as something “needed” or “not needed” is so dry. I think Protestants tend to revert to this kind of argumentation when the topic comes up because it sounds too good to be true. The real question we should ask ourselves is: wouldn’t it be awesome if we had an infallible teaching authority so that we could have a sure guide in matters of faith, so that we wouldn’t end up like the guy Paul describes as being tossed about by every wind of doctrine as we change our opinions about any number of doctrines again and again throughout our lives as we find “new insight” in the bible and read fresh “scholarship”? I’m willing to bet that most Protestants think that the idea of what we’re describing sounds awesome, but are too skeptical, especially in light of the real shortcomings that the Church has often exhibited throughout history, to entertain the idea seriously. But as you’ve pointed out, this is part of the greatness of the New Covenant. Whether or not the Jews had one or needed one, we’ve been given one and that’s amazing! It is a cause for rejoicing. But we must see the Church, since it is Christ’s body, with the eyes of faith, not just with our natural eyes. Protestants must look at the Catholic Church not like the one thief who saw in Jesus nothing but a bruised, battered, failed human, but like the one who looked at him and saw the glory shining through all that.

  28. David,
    I very much agree with your statement “I’m willing to bet that most Protestants think that the idea of what we’re describing sounds awesome, but are too skeptical, especially in light of the real shortcomings that the Church has often exhibited throughout history, to entertain the idea seriously.” I’m starting to consider the idea more seriously myself, but that certainly seems to be one of Mr. Horton’s main points — essentially history is too messy to support the claim.

    Mateo,
    Thanks for your comments. I guess this is just one of those places where Protestants and Catholics look at things through different eyes. As a Protestant, I like having the book (even if, as has been repeatedly pointed out here, I can’t really justify why I hold to it other than appeal to the tradition of the church) because it provides a touchstone to base everything on. So even among the admittedly diverse Protestant denominations, there’s at least an appeal to Scripture to justify positions. We’re all starting with the same thing as it were. I would be more comfortable with your position if it were summarized neatly in the Catechism. As the you quote it, ‘Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living”’ — this livingness is almost problematic for me (and I think many Protestants) because it seems to be very similar to ideas like a “living Constitution” where things are able to be changed with the times (we know it says this, but as we’ve become more enlightened we now know that it should say {fill in the blank} — therefore nothing is definitive. Now, I know that you wouldn’t agree with that and I get that. I think it’s one of those differences about being on the inside or the outside.
    Also, if it was the Russia grandmothers who kept the Orthodox faith alive during the reign of Stalin (and I have no reason to doubt that this was the case along with the Holy Spirit) then what about the Eucharist as the life of the Church? It seems, then, that all Stalin would have to do is eliminate the priesthood and the community would necessarily die with it. So there must be some give and take between the sacramental life of the people of God and the true knowledge of faith.

    Andrew,
    Thanks for your comments. I have read that entire thread and you’re right that it is dealt with there. It just seems like a perenial issue that gets brought up in all these discussions. Personally I see it as more of a Protestant rear-guard action, but I was just curious as to why Mr. Cross didn’t approach it in his very thorough reply.

  29. Gentlemen:

    The argument that, because God’s people in the OT didn’t “need” an infallible magisterium, therefore God’s people the Church don’t need one either, is very common among Protestants. It is also fallacious. David Pell is right to remark that posing the issue in terms of need is “so dry,” but I think we can learn from seeing why the argument itself is fallacious.

    The argument is a non-sequitur, and what makes it so is a fallacy of ambiguity on two points: ambiguity about what authority in God’s people is needed for, and who God’s people actually are. If what authority was needed for was just to maintain some sort of fidelity to the Old Covenant among God’s people, then it’s quite true that an infallible magisterium was not necessary in the OT. The priesthood, when it could discharge its function, was necessary, as were prophets, teachers, and scribes. They all had the Law (Torah), in due course written down in a book taken to be God’s word; they observed it more or less, and helped others to do so. None ever claimed infallibility, and there’s no reason to suppose that an infallible teaching authority was needed for what they did.

    But the argument’s conclusion does not follow. For there are two major disanalogies to the OT in the NT, and those very much affect the argument.

    The first disanalogy is about the identity of God’s people, the ecclesia called out of the world to obey and witness to the one God. In the OT, that identity was easy to discern. God’s people were a distinctive ethnic group whose ancestry could be traced. God’s word was addressed primarily to them, and only pointed to a future dispensation in which it would be addressed to all people, calling them to be God’s people. In the NT, however, it is addressed directly to all people, and it announces the new dispensation to which the OT merely pointed. The new ecclesia, “the Church,” now embraces those who hear the Gospel and accept it with faith and baptism, be they Jews or Gentiles. But if that’s so, then the identity of God’s people is not so easy to discern as it was in the OT. Many who are baptized “go out from us,” as the Apostle John says, and the manner in which they do shows that “they are not of us.” To be one of “us,” God’s people, it is not enough to be baptized; it is not enough even to be baptized and profess some sort of “faith” in Jesus. One must remain faithful to the Gospel as the Apostles authorized by Jesus, and those whom the Apostles themselves authorize, preach and define it. It was not enough to treat the writings now included in the NT canon as the word of God; indeed, that was not even relevant. For when John wrote what I’ve cited, no such collection had even been made, and he appealed to no such authority. Belonging to God’s people must, rather, involve fidelity “what was handed on,” the paradosis or “tradition” cited even by Paul and preserved by those who succeeded the Apostles through “the laying on of hands.” On that approach, one cannot reliably identify and adhere to that tradition without obedience to the teaching of those who lead God’s new and wider people. That very fidelity is what eventually led to the formation and coalescence of the NT canon: fidelity to the new authorities who are divinely authorized to speak in God’s name to and for those people. And so fidelity to their tradition, which was prior to the NT and ran alongside it once it coalesced, was necessary for belonging to God’s people, for being “one of us.” There is no suggestion that one qualifies as a member of this new ecclesia primarily by studying something called “the Scriptures” for oneself and then deciding for oneself that the ecclesia‘s leadership has got them right. That was the method employed by the Jewish leadership of the first century, and we see how far that got most of them. It just wasn’t enough. Being part of God’s people meant accepting a new kind of doctrinal authority, not just being part of an ethnic group carrying out the prescriptions of the Law as one understood those prescriptions. Most of those who had “the Scriptures,” including most of those educated in the Law, could not see what they really meant unless they accepted that authority as coming from the risen Jesus–himself understood as the ultimate authority, but identifiable as such mostly through fidelity to the teaching of those whom he authorized.

    The reason for that brings me to the second disanalogy: that between the partial and developing stage of divine revelation recorded in the OT and the full and definitive stage recorded in the NT. In the former state, an infallible magisterium was unnecessary because “salvation history” had not yet exhibited its focus: the God-Man Jesus himself and the “Christ event.” The purpose of an infallible magisterium is to maintain the deposit of faith whole and entire, without addition, subtraction, or corruption. It does that by adjudicating with divine authority among competing interpretations of the deposit’s sources of transmission. Yet the question how to do that could not arise prior to Jesus because the deposit had not yet been fully given, and thus was not yet whole and entire. It was still developing. That indeed was why the Jews prior to Jesus had no firm agreement about just which writings, beyond what we call the “Pentateuch,” were divinely inspired. The point of it all had not yet been fully made. And once the point was fully made, it could not be grasped reliably just by seeing what could be deduced from writings that were seen by most Jews as divinely inspired. That Jesus was the Messiah, that he was born of a virgin, that he was risen from the dead, that he was in some sense divine, that he died for the sins of all people not just the Jews–none of those ideas could just be logically deduced from writings that some Jews took as “Scripture.” Such ideas were of course logically compatible with those writings, but it took “the apostolic hermeneutic” of “the Scriptures” to see how Jesus and the new people of God went beyond mere logical compatibility and actually fulfilled them. Most Jews rejected that hermeneutic, and still do, because they did not and do not recognize the authority with which it was propounded. But if that authority was what Jesus and the Apostles said it was, then radical submission to a living, divinely authorized teaching authority, beyond a mere collection of books, was necessary for grasping divine revelation in its fullness–unlike what we find in the OT taken by itself.

    Nowt hat kind of submission would be unjustified if that authority were just giving its interpretive opinions without ever being preserved by God from error. It would only be justified if the authority in question were infallible when exercising its full authority in Jesus’ name. Once divine revelation was complete and definitive, it could be preserved whole and entire only by an infallible magisterium, submission to which would be necessary for grasping it whole and entire. To reject such a magisterium in favor of nominal adherence to a set of writings is to revert to the attitude that had blinded most of the Jews during apostolic times, and continues to do so.

    Best,
    Mike

  30. Mike,

    “Yet the question how to do that could not arise prior to Jesus because the deposit had not yet been fully given, and thus was not yet whole and entire. It was still developing. That indeed was why the Jews prior to Jesus had no firm agreement about just which writings, beyond what we call the “Pentateuch,” were divinely inspired. The point of it all had not yet been fully made.”

    That’s a key observation for understanding the larger picture and logic of progressive revelation. Its just the sort of explanatory note shedding light on the transition from Old covenant to New that has been icohately fluttering around in my head, yet I could not put my finger on. Thanks!

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  31. Mike,

    Thanks for your most recent comment. The Protestant objection you’re dealing with there seems strongest in a different context. As I understand it, Cardinal Newman argued for an infallible magisterium on the following grounds:

    1. If God saw fit to provide an inerrant scripture, then He’d also provide an infallible interpreter of that scripture.

    2. God saw fit to provide an inerrant scripture.

    3. Therefore, God provided an infallible interpreter of that scripture.

    Newman, as I understand it, argues for (1) by saying that,

    (4) without an infallible interpreter, the value (or benefit or efficacy) of an inerrant scripture is reduced or eliminated.

    [I, for one, think (2) is true; and I think (1), (3), and (4) are very plausible.]

    This is where the Protestant objection *seems* to have the most force. If (4) is true, and if one believes that the OT is inerrant, then it seems that the Jews must have had an infallible interpreter too. The Protestant objection would look something like this:

    (5) If God saw fit to give provide an infallible OT, then He’d see fit to provide an infallible interpreter of that scripture.

    (6) But God didn’t provide an infallible interpreter of the OT [in OT times].

    (7) Therefore, it’s not the case that God provided an infallible OT.

    But, says the Protestant, because (7) is false, one of the premises must be false. (5) is the best candidate for being false because there is more warrant for affirming (6) than (5). Therefore, (5) is false. Thoughts?

  32. Dr. Liccione,
    Your thoughts are, as always, illuminating and thought-provoking.
    Why can our normal epistemological means for knowing not apply to Scripture and the Magisterium? That is, why does the Church’s teaching have to be infallible rather than simply authoritative?
    I’m not sure if that’s very clear, but what I’m wondering is how or why we must have infallible certainty in this area, yet we get along quite fine in the rest of life without it. I guess this is where ultimately Protestant confessions come down, so that the WCF is authoritative but not inspired or infallible and as such pastors and elders can take some exceptions to it which do not prohibit them from ministry. I realize the basic response would be to simply say that the divisions of the Protestant churches shows how this doesn’t work since there are multiple competing authority claims and ultimately the individual has to decide which one best fits with his or her understanding of the Scriptures (thus making the individual the sole arbiter), but couldn’t the Catholic Church say (or have said) that they are the initial Churchly authority established by Christ (as someone like Dr. Trueman seems willing to admit) but are not infallible (as, again, Dr. Trueman seems to require for his reunification ideas to take place)? I’m not sure why, epistemologically, this is not (or was not) at least a potential option?
    I mean the US Supreme Court is authoritative and everyone agrees that it is, but it can and does change its mind on occasion. To me that seems to be part of the significance of having a living Magisterium — the ability to correct potential errors.
    Maybe we Protestants are like the Jews of Jesus’ day committed to a sacred book but lacking the true interpretation of it and thus divided into splinter groups, each claiming to have the true interpretation. That is an interesting idea and I need to think about it some more.

    One more thing, slightly related to the above, and something I’ve been wondering about and wanted to throw it out there to see what y’all thought of it:
    Like Dr. Liccione said, being part of the OT people was primarily genetic/racial, although people could and did join the covenant community (Rahab and Ruth come immediately to mind) from outside. Given the fact that revelation was still on going, would it have been possible for a non-Israelite group to take the Torah and base their society on them and live them and thus be part of the covenant community? My initial reaction to that would be no. Yet I wonder how much different this is than what we Protestants have done with the Bible — that is, have we wrenched it out of the covenant community and tried to interpret it on our own outside of the primary people of God?
    This has just been rolling around in my head for a few days and I’m not sure what I think of it. I think that if it’s true, it’s a pretty powerful argument towards either the Catholic Church or the Orthodox.
    Thanks for the time of all the contributors here.

  33. Hey Ryan,

    I don’t mean to butt in, and likely Mike will have a better response; but a thought just occurred to me as I read your post. The distinction between infallible and inerrant may actually be critical here. Infallibility is generally said of persons, whereas inerrancy is the better term as applied to scripture. Inspiration insures inerrancy. Infallibility is usually said of persons because it seems to imply a quality that can attach to action. For instance, the charism of infallibility allows a pope or an ecumenical council of bishops to form an inerrant doctrinal definition. Inerrancy describes the character of the definition itself. The pope and the council cannot (when they act) err, whereas the definition (which cannot act) just is inerrant. So infallibility seems to represent something like an ontological potency, whereas inerrancy seems to describe the state of a thing already in act – the bible is inerrant; it is not capable of acting in an inerrant way. The point is that it makes no sense to talk of the bible, as a text, having a potency to do anything infallibly. It only makes sense to say that it is inerrant because its author – God – is infallible.

    On the stage of human history, the issue of infallibility only arises when the problem of interpretation arises. But that problem always DOES arise in both the Old and New covenant. As Matthison said “All appeals to scripture are appeals to interpretations of scripture”. So, under the Old covenant, despite the fact that some set of books – not explicitly demarcated – were recognized as authoritative did not make the interpretive problem go away. Disputes over resurrection of the body, etc. continued until Jesus time. There is nothing to prevent us from saying that books had been inspired by God, and thus were inerrant the Old Covenant; while also affirming that no infallibly human authority existed. But we must also recognize that that very situation left the Jews inconclusive with regard to some mighty substantial theological points (I mean whether or not there will be a bodily resurrection is pretty crucial). It also left them inconclusive regarding the exact listing of canonical books. No Protestant wants to admit agnosticism on theological issues as large as those.

    It seems to me that Mike’s notion concerning the reason why no infallible interpreter was gifted to the People of God under the Old Covenant is likely correct. The question how to maintain the deposit of faith whole and inviolate was unnecessary to ask – and even impossible to ask – while people were still waiting for the fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises. Everyone knew the deposit of faith had not been entirely – well – deposited. That completion of the deposit did not arrive until Christ. But the moment the deposit is recognized as being complete, the problem for the People of God shifts radically from trying to figure out when the final Word has been spoken (which is what the messianic expectation was all about) to protecting that final Word from corruption by wolves and thieves.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  34. An infallible teacher is just one way God can use to keep his covenant community from going astray. I think it is logical God would provide some grace that would keep His followers on track. In the OT that grace was prophets and priests. Look at John 11:

    49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

    51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

    This seems to indicate the Holy Spirit was with the office of High Priest in some way. Eve a bad High Priest which Caiaphas certainly was benefited form that.

    Then you have Mat 23:

    1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

    Here you have some seat of authority that Jesus seems to feel is legit. Again the office is separated from the individual holding the office.

    So God does not need to provide the exact charism of infallibility that He did in the NT. But He did provide something. Ethnic considerations helped with unity as well. Including the ceremonial Jewish laws around circumcision and eating pork and such.

    Now a protestant will reply that God did provide something for the NT. The bible. But is that a tenable position? Has the bible kept the covenant community from going astray? If Catholicism is not Christian then the church of the 15th century had gone astray. If protestantism is true then Christendom’s descent into Catholicism proves that scripture is not adequate to that task.

  35. Ray,

    Thanks for your comment; it’s always good to hear from you. I should say thank you (and Mike and Bryan) for largely being responsible for helping clear away many of the remaining ‘hurdles’ I had re. whether to become Catholic. I’ve decided to become Catholic and I’m now navigating the delicate issue of whether my wife will too. Please pray for me and my family.

    1. re.’inerrant’ v. ‘infallible’
    You’re right that there’s a critical difference here. I sloppily mixed the terms in my comment, which I realized after I posted. Thanks for pointing that out. I’m not entirely sure, though, how substituting the correct terms resolves the point I was driving at (which is explained more fully below).

    2. re. Newman’s argument
    The point I was trying to bring out in the earlier comment is this: it seems like Newman’s argument needs to be revised. If one needs an infallible interpreter for inerrant texts to be efficacious, then one needs an infallible interpreter of the OT [during OT times]. But what I anticipate Mike replying (and, I suspect you echo) is that Newman’s claim must be revised to say this: one needs an infallible interpreter if the deposit of faith is to be efficacious. Where ‘the deposit of faith’ includes (but is larger than) scripture. And since the Jews didn’t have the fullness of the deposit of faith, they didn’t need an infallible interpreter. Is that accurate?

  36. JD: Thanks for your comments. I guess this is just one of those places where Protestants and Catholics look at things through different eyes. As a Protestant, I like having the book (even if, as has been repeatedly pointed out here, I can’t really justify why I hold to it other than appeal to the tradition of the church) because it provides a touchstone to base everything on.

    As a Catholic I like having the book too! After all, Catholics wrote the entire New Testament, and the bible is an invaluable part of my patrimony. I wasn’t trying to pit the Scriptures against the Eucharist, as if there is some sort of either/or conflict between the two. The Eucharist, the Bible, the Magisterium – these are all part of the precious birthright and blessing given by God to the children of God. When the first “reformers” discarded the Eucharist and the Magisterium by creating a new “religion of the book”, they committed a great sin with consequences not just for themselves, but also for the generations of men and women that have followed the “reformers” down their destructive path.

    The “reformers” such as Luther, and Calvin were cafeteria Catholics that created new religions where their precious birthright as Catholics was lost to themselves and their spiritual children. When the “reformers” threw away both the supreme gift of the Eucharist, and the precious gift of the Magisterium, the “reformers” became like Esau, the man who sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge. The children of Esau were not personally responsible for the sin of their father, but they were nevertheless deprived of the benefits of the birthright and the blessing because of their father’s sin. The spiritual children of the “reformers” are like the children of Esau – while not personally responsible for the sins of the “reformers”, they also live without the benefit of their birthright. There is good news though: the children of Esau can recover the gifts of the birthright and the blessing if they want it, because the loss of the birthright and the blessing is not an irrevocable curse upon the house of Esau.

    JD: … the book … provides a touchstone to base everything on

    But how has having a religion based on the book alone worked out in reality? Five hundred years after the “reformers” created their new “religion of the book” has led to the disaster of doctrinal anarchy reigning within Protestantism – thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that cannot agree on what the Christian faith actually is. How is that chaos a blessing upon the world? It isn’t – it is a scandal that hinders the proclamation of the Gospel to an unbelieving world, because if Christians cannot agree on what the Gospel actually is, then there is no reason for an unbelieving world to take Christians seriously.

    DECREE ON ECUMENISM – UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO

    The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.

    JD, I have no desire to drive a wedge between Catholics and Protestants, and I understand that today’s Protestants are not culpable for the sins of Luther, Calvin, et al. But I see the doctrinal chaos within Protestantism as serious problem that affects me personally, and that bothers me. The doctrinal anarchy of Protestantism hinders the spreading of the Gospel, and Christ has given all the members of his church a mandate to spread the Gospel.

    What do you think that Protestants should do to end the doctrinal anarchy within Protestantism?

    What do you see as the source of this doctrinal anarchy?

  37. Ryan (#31):

    The problem does indeed arise about:

    (5) If God saw fit to give provide an infallible OT, then He’d see fit to provide an infallible interpreter of that scripture.

    I’m not sure which passage of Newman you have in mind, so I can’t comment on whether (5) adequately expresses his premise. But I can say that it doesn’t adequately express mine.

    For one thing, it’s misleading to call any text “infallible.” Infallibility is a property of persons or of collectivities composed of persons. It’s better to call the OT, which is a text, “inerrant.” With that in mind, (5) should be recast as

    (5*) If God saw fit to give provide an inerrant OT, then He’d see fit to provide an infallible interpreter of the OT.

    From my point of view, there are two problems with (5*).

    The first is that, since revelation was not complete before Christ, the interpretation of even that limited set of books which all Jewish parties agreed was inerrant–i.e., the Pentateuch–was necessarily provisional. If so, then it could not have been definitive, and therefore could not have been irreformable. And if it could not have been irreformable, then nobody was in a position to interpret it infallibly. That didn’t come until after the Christ-event.

    Moreover, the canon was not closed even for the Jews until the Council of Javneh circa 100. And the canon they came up with was the Muratorian canon, not the Septuagint canon that the Church used. Accordingly, there wasn’t full agreement between the Jews and the Church about just which set of books was inerrant. Indeed, on the Catholic account, even the NT canon wasn’t closed until a few generations after the Apostles. So, as I understand Newman, his argument applies only to the full canon, which records the full revelation.

    Best,
    Mike

  38. JD (#32):

    You wrote:

    I’m not sure if that’s very clear, but what I’m wondering is how or why we must have infallible certainty in this area, yet we get along quite fine in the rest of life without it. I guess this is where ultimately Protestant confessions come down, so that the WCF is authoritative but not inspired or infallible and as such pastors and elders can take some exceptions to it which do not prohibit them from ministry. I realize the basic response would be to simply say that the divisions of the Protestant churches shows how this doesn’t work since there are multiple competing authority claims and ultimately the individual has to decide which one best fits with his or her understanding of the Scriptures (thus making the individual the sole arbiter), but couldn’t the Catholic Church say (or have said) that they are the initial Churchly authority established by Christ (as someone like Dr. Trueman seems willing to admit) but are not infallible (as, again, Dr. Trueman seems to require for his reunification ideas to take place)? I’m not sure why, epistemologically, this is not (or was not) at least a potential option?

    The reason why the confessional-Protestant option doesn’t work appears in the very first sentence I’ve quoted above from you. Yes, of course we can “get along quite fine in the rest of life without” infallibility. For instance, we have justified certainty about the laws of gravity even though physicists are not infallible and do not claim to be. But divine revelation is not like like that. What justifies our certainty about the laws of gravity is that, given the rational, empiriometric means by which they were discovered and verified, there is no rationally plausible alternative to affirming them. You can’t say the same about divine revelation.

    Since divine revelation is public, God does not vouchsafe it directly to most of us as individuals, and it’s not something that can be discovered by natural reason. He addressed it to humanity as a whole for the purpose of “calling” people out of the mass of humanity to be his people, incorporated as such into the Mystical Body of the incarnate Son. So the only way to know its doctrinal content is to learn it from some ensemble of authorities within and over the Church established by his authority. As one such authority, inspired Scripture would suffice only if it were perspicuous enough in itself to ensure that a particular hermeneutic of it were the only rationally plausible way to extract its doctrinal content. But there isn’t just one rationally plausible way to do that. If there were, then any Christian who disagreed with it would convict himself of (in Bryan’s words) “illiteracy or malice.” But many sincere Christians who are neither illiterate nor malicious disagree with each other about how to interpret Scripture on some very important points. Therefore, appeal to Scripture alone does not suffice to exhibit the full doctrinal content of divine revelation, because Scripture alone is not perspicuous enough to settle disputes about what’s de fide either within the texts or in general. It’s perspicuous enough, in many instances, to justify an account of what its human authors actually believed, but it’s not perspicuous enough to tell us exactly what we ought to believe, where that is in dispute.

    Accordingly, if we’re going to be able to distinguish the doctrinal content of divine revelation from plausible doctrinal interpretations of its “sources,” there has to be some interpreter that’s not only divinely authorized to interpret the sources definitively but is also protected from error in doing so. If no person or group is protected from error when interpreting the sources of revelation, then nobody can propound an interpretation of the sources as anything more than one rationally plausible and provisional account among others. No such account can command the assent of faith as distinct from that of opinion. That does not suffice to enable us even to identify divine revelation reliably, much less assent to it with certainty.

    Best,
    Mike

  39. For a less philosophical answer to the question of do we need infallibility, think about a church that is split over an issue. I was in the Christian Reformed church when they were split over Women in Office. There were lots of very strong feelings on both sides. Our synod made decisions. Both sides knew those decisions could be reversed. In fact, the synod flip-flopped a few times. Very few people changed their view of the issue in response to the most authoritative body in the church. If you reflect on that and ask what would it take? What kind of authority would be required to get both sides to agree that this is in fact God’s will and we should proceed according to that? Could anything less than an infallible statement do it? I could not see it.

    I have a sister who has been ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed church. For her, accepting that she had that doctrine wrong would mean making a big change in her life. So besides the strong feelings you have personal life choices based on doctrine. You need to be sure.

    You think of abortion, gay marriage, contraception, etc. You can imagine life situations where those doctrines mean hard choices. Can we make those choices based on a fallible interpretation of God’s word? What about martyrs? What doctrines would you die for? Faith needs to be right when everyone else is saying we are wrong. Even when we have lots of doubts in our own minds.

  40. I think it would be great if there were a live debate/discussion on this topic. Perhaps Bryan Cross and Mr. Horton (or another representative of Sola Scriptura view) could take part in a live discussion and debate. I have seen other debates, but I appreciate Bryan’s way of handling the discussion. I particularly appreciate his ability to explain things clearly, in a philosophical way. This helps me to understand both the question and the different views.

    I think there are a lot of reasons why this would be really great. One large reason is that I think having a live debate will really help show us (in a live setting) which view cannot answer certain objections.

    In fact, I personally would be willing to donate to help out.

    I hope this is not out of line to post this in the discussion, but does anyone else in here share my interest? If this was in the interest of CTC, and perhaps if enough of us committed to some amount of donation so that CTC could make this event possible, then this thing could really take place.

  41. Mark:

    As Bryan’s post indicates, he and Michael Horton did have a “live debate/discussion.” Bryan’s post above is just his written supplement to the published version of that discussion.

    Of course, the more discussion there is, the more there remains to be discussed. That’s just the nature of these things.

    Best,
    Mike

  42. Mark (re: #40),

    Do you have some particular question on this topic that the Modern Reformation article cited above, or my response above, or our “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority” article, or my The Tu Quoque” post, or “The Tradition and the Lexicon” post, does not answer?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Ryan (re: #35) –

    I well understand the delicacy of which you speak–though, for my wife and I, the discussions with our extended family have been the most painful. I will pray for you and your family.

    Peace,

    – Max

  44. Brian,

    From the article: [Because you do not believe in an infallible Church, you cannot be certain about the canon of Scripture, being left with what R.C. Sproul calls a “fallible collection of infallible books.” ]

    Bryan, do you think you could explain why this objection is in fact an objection to the Sola Scriptura view. I was hoping, Bryan, that you could perhaps lay out the argument in a logical form. I think I understand this objection, but I don’t quite know how to lay the steps out.

    I suppose this is what I had in mind with my earlier comment- I imagine such an argument being presented to another philosopher who is defending Sola Scriptura. And if the philosopher defending Sola Scriptura is going to defend his view, then he must show why the argument fails- that is show it to be invalid, unsound, false premises, ambiguous terms, etc. This would be like a Socratic dialogue.

    The reason I am saying this is because I feel like after all the hundreds of comments I have read following the articles- it seems like people do not understand the article and the objections raised. It seems, sometimes, like the discussion is not getting off the ground because of a lack of understanding of the content of the arguments.

    I mean to offend nobody and assume good intentions on the part of people taking part in discussion. I appreciate the dialogue taking place on this website, and applaud the efforts of all who participate and further our search for the truth.

    Cheers,
    Mark

  45. Ryan,

    I am thanking God regarding your decision to convert – how wonderful! I will be praying for you where your wife is concerned – I know what that is like. My wife was not unsupportive of my decision to become Catholic; still, it was about a year later before her questions were settled and she was received into the Church. Like Max, I remember more resistance and difficulty arising from close family. I can still hear the words of my father-in-law, a Church of Christ minister: “I did not raise my daughter to become Catholic!” – and it went down hill from there. BUT, it eventually went back up hill such that my father-in-law was actually reading the CCC the year before he passed away. At any rate, you can count on my prayers.

    Okay, some thoughts on the inerrant text/infallible magisterium thing. You wrote:

    If one needs an infallible interpreter for inerrant texts to be efficacious, then one needs an infallible interpreter of the OT [during OT times]. But what I anticipate Mike replying (and, I suspect you echo) is that Newman’s claim must be revised to say this: one needs an infallible interpreter if the deposit of faith is to be efficacious. Where ‘the deposit of faith’ includes (but is larger than) scripture. And since the Jews didn’t have the fullness of the deposit of faith, they didn’t need an infallible interpreter. Is that accurate?

    That almost represents my thinking, however there is a bit more to it. I want to focus on the term efficacious. Efficacious for what? It seems to me, that is the question.

    First though, I am not entirely sure about the absolute absence of anything like an infallible magisterium under the Old Covenant. In the NT, Jesus mentions the “seat of Moses” and we find a wicked high priest prophesying because he currently held the office of high priest. Maybe these examples do not represent a full scale magisterium, but they appear to be just one evolutionary step away. Perhaps if a priest or prophet in Israel can be found who explicitly contradicts other priests and/or prophets of Israel on some point of faith or morals, that might suffice to disprove any sort of protection from error in relation to Israel’s spiritual leaders. But can we find an instance where a priest or prophet of Israel taught X, and then later we find a priest or prophet contradicting X? No doubt there are plenty of sinful priests, and even sinful prophets; but do we find doctrinal contradiction emanating from the same? I am not putting forward a researched theory here; maybe such contradictions can be pointed out by other readers, proving that the spiritual leaders of Israel taught doctrinal error. It seems, however, that many folks just take for granted that there is nothing akin to an infallible magisterium going on in the Old Covenant, and I am not sure that assumption has been properly vetted yet.

    But let’s assume that the spiritual leaders of Israel were not protected from error in any respect – no infallible magisterium. When Protestants say that the existence of inerrant/authoritative books without an infallible interpreter under the Old Covenant proves that inerrant/authoritative books need no infallible interpreter under the New Covenant; they seem to be saying something like this: “Hey, Old Covenant Israel got by alright with the scriptures and no infallible magisterium, so can we.” The problem with that notion is that the Jews at the time of Christ really were not able to get by alright. Their redemption was not yet. Even the ancient saints who had died were in a holding place until Christ’s passion was complete. The whole atmosphere was waiting, expectation, a yet-to-be-fulfilled spiritual and soteriological outlook. As I said, they were still debating about the truth of bodily resurrection. So that situation, wherein they had some inerrant scrolls and no infallible interpreter, was NOT an efficacious situation in terms of their spiritual destiny or salvation. Hence, to act as though we can get along with the same scripture / magisterium nexus today that they did then, is to utterly ignore the radical difference between the two stereological states. It leaves aside the larger salvation context which determines what any scriptures or magisterium are ultimately for. Consider how the color of the question changes when rephrased as follows:

    “Jews didn’t need an infallible interpreter to go along with an inerrant scripture back then for salvation; therefore, Christians don’t need an infallible interpreter to go along with inerrant scriptures today for salvation.”

    Stating the assertion this way reveals a chink, or at least a serious weakness, in the logic because the Jews DID NOT yet have salvation. The conclusion does not follow.

    The reason for thinking that the new soteriological situation (realized salvation), requires a new scripture/magisterium relationship is this: once the truth about Jesus Christ which definitively secures human salvation has been given (deposit of faith); unless some protection is put in place which guards that deposit against corruption, misrepresentation, false teaching, etc.; future generations will lose access to that crucial data within the deposit of faith which is necessary for their salvation. In other words, once accomplished, the realized salvific effort of Christ runs the risk of losing its efficacy across history without an infallible interpreter to protect the meaning of the inerrant sources. I am trying to say that we have perhaps not been reading the issue of efficacy deep enough. Its not just that without an infallible interpreter, the scriptures are not efficacious enough to distinguish the “de fide” content of divine revelation from human theological opinion. The reason why THAT efficacious failure would ultimately be so damaging is because it would render God’s very effort of Divine Revelation in Jesus Christ inefficacious for human salvation. That I think is the wider context of Newman’s insight.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  46. Mark (re: #44),

    You wrote:

    From the article: [Because you do not believe in an infallible Church, you cannot be certain about the canon of Scripture, being left with what R.C. Sproul calls a “fallible collection of infallible books.” ]

    Bryan, do you think you could explain why this objection is in fact an objection to the Sola Scriptura view. I was hoping, Bryan, that you could perhaps lay out the argument in a logical form. I think I understand this objection, but I don’t quite know how to lay the steps out.

    Sola scriptura is the claim that Scripture alone is infallible, and thus that the Catholic Church is in no respect infallible. Hence, given sola scriptura, it follows that the Catholic Church could be wrong regarding what is the canon of Scripture. But given sola scriptura, no individual layman is infallible in his or her determination of the canon of Scripture. And those are the only two ways we could possibly come to know the canon infallibly, i.e. either through the Church, or through a personal direct message from the Holy Spirit to each person individually. Therefore, given sola scriptura we’re left with what Sproul calls “a fallible collection of infallible books,” meaning that we don’t know whether some books should be removed from the list or some should be added. For any particular book, we do not know for sure whether it belongs to the canon, because we do not know for sure whether it is divinely inspired, and what are the criteria for determining canonicity and divine inspiration. Hence each individual has to determine for himself, by his own reason, which books are divinely inspired. And since there is no directly-beamed-down-from-heaven list of criteria to determine whether a book is divinely inspired, each individual has to come up with those himself too. (See Tom Brown’s “The Canon Question.”) For this reason, given sola scriptura, one’s only way of determining that a book is divinely inspired is by a kind of subjective internal bosom-burning. And when two people’s bosom-burnings don’t agree, then the canon is relativized; you have your canon and I have mine. There is no non-arbitrary reason to defer to one person’s determination of the canon (e.g. Luther or Calvin) over any other’s, since, given sola scriptura, no man is infallible. The full implications of denying the authority of the Church to determine the canon have not yet been realized in Protestantism, because of the inertia of Catholic Tradition that has carried on within Protestantism, but is gradually fading. Yet the individualism intrinsic to Protestantism continues to work its way out, and we can see its effects not only in liberalism, but also in emergentism.

    The reason I am saying this is because I feel like after all the hundreds of comments I have read following the articles- it seems like people do not understand the article and the objections raised. It seems, sometimes, like the discussion is not getting off the ground because of a lack of understanding of the content of the arguments.

    Well, if you have a question, I’ll be glad to try to answer it. If you think someone doesn’t understand something, feel free to show them where you think he or she does not understand. If you are not ready to do that, then pray for those whom you think do not understand, that they would come to understand the truth, and that the Lord might grant you some role in helping them come to understand the truth.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. Bryan, thanks for the helpful comments thus far. I have got to be honest, I am having a difficult understanding the argument totally. Here are a few questions about where I don’t think I quite got it.

    You said that if somebody known the infallibility of Canon, they must come to know one of two ways- the Church or individual revelation. What is it to know the infallibility of the Canon- how would it differ from just knowing that a set of religious books was divinely inspired. What if someone says- we don’t know the infallibility of any religious truth. We don’t claim that our religious beliefs (one of which is that a certain set of books are inspired) are infallible.

    I think I’m missing something, so feel free to correct my understanding.

    Mark

  48. Bryan,

    Sorry, I misread your comment. Actually, you said, ‘come to know the Canon infallibly’. But, for the religious believer, what is the difference between coming to know a religious truth and coming to know it infallibly?

    Mark

  49. Ray (#45):

    You wrote:

    But what I anticipate Mike replying (and, I suspect you echo) is that Newman’s claim must be revised to say this: one needs an infallible interpreter if the deposit of faith is to be efficacious.

    I had already replied to Ryan in #37. But on rereading that, I don’t think the argument in my last paragraph is clear. I wrote:

    …the canon was not closed even for the Jews until the Council of Javneh circa 100. And the canon they came up with was the Muratorian canon, not the Septuagint canon that the Church used. Accordingly, there wasn’t full agreement between the Jews and the Church about just which set of books was inerrant. Indeed, on the Catholic account, even the NT canon wasn’t closed until a few generations after the Apostles. So, as I understand Newman, his argument applies only to the full canon, which records the full revelation.

    What I meant, broadly, is this. The sort of argument Newman gave must be so framed as to take the entire canon as its subject. That’s because only the entire canon is about the entire deposit of faith, and it’s only about the entire deposit that any interpreter could be alleged to be infallible. I think you made that clear in your own reply to Ryan.

    Best,
    Mike

  50. Mark, (re: #47,48)

    But, for the religious believer, what is the difference between coming to know a religious truth and coming to know it infallibly?

    In matters of nature, the natural power of reason is capable of knowing a truth, by knowing the immediate cause of its truth. But matters of supernatural revelation exceed what can be known by the natural power of reason without the aid of supernatural grace. That is because we cannot know the immediate cause of their truth. For example, we cannot see the Trinity for ourselves, not in this life. We cannot see for ourselves, without the aid of divine grace, that Jesus is Lord. (1 Cor 12:3) The immediate cause of their truth is outside the reach of unaided human reason. Concerning such things we can know that they are true, if God supernaturally reveals that they are true; and then we can know them with certainty, on the basis of the authority of God who cannot lie. But if God does not supernaturally reveal them, we can only grope about in the dark concerning them.

    For the same reason, if God does not reveal which books are divinely inspired, we can only grope about concerning the canon, not knowing which, if any, are divinely inspired. That is because divine inspiration of a text is a supernatural quality of a text. And St. Paul says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor 2:14) Scripture did not come with a table of contents specifying which books belong to the canon. The identity of the canon is something that belongs to Tradition. I have explained briefly above, in section VIII. Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic understanding of the role of Tradition. We (Catholics) believe that divine revelation is contained in sacred Tradition, and guarded and defined by the Magisterium of the Church. Hence by faith we have a way of knowing objectively and with certainty which books belong to the canon and are divinely inspired.

    But Protestantism denies that Tradition contains divine revelation not contained in Scripture, and that Tradition and the Magisterium are in any way infallible. So Protestantism is left in a situation of not knowing which books belong to the canon, but rather, groping about, unless the Holy Spirit immediately reveals the canon to each individual person. That is the intrinsic position of Protestantism vis-à-vis the canon (for the reasons I explained in comment #46), though many Protestants (i.e. the non-liberals) generally avoid this result in practice by borrowing from Catholic Tradition, even to maintain the canonicity of the books in the Protestant canon. In this way Protestantism is living on the inertia of its Catholic origin.

    So the relevant question is not “what is the difference between coming to know a religious truth and coming to know it infallibly,” because given that for Protestantism, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church are not sources of divine revelation or divinely guided determinations concerning divine revelation, the identity of the canon of Scripture is something no Protestant can know at all, unless the Holy Spirit immediately reveals it to him. In other words, it is not the case that with respect to the canon the Catholic condition and the Protestant condition are conditions of knowing infallibly and simply knowing, respectively. Rather the Catholic condition and the Protestant condition, with respect to the canon, are knowing and not knowing, respectively. The Protestant does not know the canon, unless the Holy Spirit immediately and directly reveals the identity of the canon to him. In reality he would be left groping about with mere conjectures and speculation if he did not tacitly rely on Catholic Tradition as a source of divine revelation concerning the identity of the canon.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. Mike,

    Just FYI, that section you responded to was actually written by Ryan at the end of #35. I messed up on the blockquote in #45, which is why you probably thought that it originated with me.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  52. Bryan, (Re #50)

    Some things said:

    Concerning such things we can know that they are true, if God supernaturally reveals that they are true…For the same reason, if God does not reveal which books are divinely inspired, we can only grope about concerning the canon, not knowing which, if any, are divinely inspired.

    So, does this basically means that it takes divine revelation to know whether a book is divinely inspired. This is because of the nature of the matter- i.e. truths about supernatural realities (in this cause the nature/origin of the text)?

    …given that for Protestantism, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church are not sources of divine revelation or divinely guided determinations concerning divine revelation, the identity of the canon of Scripture is something no Protestant can know at all, unless the Holy Spirit immediately reveals it to him.

    Does the Catholic need divine revelation to know that the truth about the nature of the Church, i.e. that it is guided by the Holy Spirit?

    If the Catholic can know (by faith) about the Supernatural nature of the Church by faith, how would this be different from the Protestant knowing (by faith) the supernatural reality that underlies the Bible by faith?

    One difference I see is that the Catholic actually has knowledge of a claim being made by the Church- i.e. he sees a visible Church which claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and can even know about the origin of these claims by researching tradition- that is, he can read and learn that Jesus Christ said a host of things which amounted to the establishment of one Church. Would the Protestant position lack this sort of ‘knowledge of a claim’ (for lack of a better phrase) ? Could they just accept some tradition, and use this tradition as reasons for thinking that the texts which constitute the Bible are in fact texts whose authors believed them to be inspired texts? It seems that if they do this, then they are in a position to assent by faith to the a claim- the claim (made by the authors, though not actually written down) that these texts are inspired. Is the picture I have tried to give implausible/problematic or just naive of the historical situation form which we received the texts?

  53. Mark (re: #52),

    Some kind of divine revelation is necessary in order to know whether a text is divinely inspired. That the Church has a supernatural origin can be known by the motives of credibility, just as that Christ was sent by God can be known by the motives of credibility. But faith in the Church as that through which Christ reveals Himself, requires the aid of grace, as does faith in Christ.

    Would the Protestant position lack this sort of ‘knowledge of a claim’ (for lack of a better phrase)? Could they just accept some tradition, and use this tradition as reasons for thinking that the texts which constitute the Bible are in fact texts whose authors believed them to be inspired texts?

    As I explained in #50, Protestantism does not have theological room for divine revelation in the oral Tradition, because that’s precisely what sola scriptura denies. Sola scriptura is not only that Scripture alone infallible, but also that Scripture is formally sufficient, and hence that nothing we need to know wasn’t written down. Hence Protestants must appeal to an immediate work of the Spirit in each individual, to testify that any particular book belongs to the canon of Scripture. Tom Brown argued this very carefully in his article titled “The Canon Question.” Have you read it?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. Steve, (re: #2)

    You wrote:

    But your own church has never published an infallible list of infallible papal pronouncements. I read just the other day a discussion where several Catholics were discussing which pronouncements were infallible and which weren’t. I found the discussion rather amusing as they argued for the inclusion of this announcement or exclusion of that one. They couldn’t even agree on what set of conditions made a statement “infallible”. So at this point you don’t even have a fallible list of infallible pronouncements so I’m not clear that you are any better off than Protestants – at least we have a list of books, as “fallible” as that list may be. I mean if you can’t tell me what is to be believed infallibly, then what is the value of infallibility?

    Michael has already said (in comment #18) what I would say in answer to your question. The Magisterium has provided criteria by which we may know when it is speaking infallibly. In Lumen Gentium 25, we see that the bishops in communion with the Pope teach infallibly under the following conditions:

    Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith. (Lumen Gentium, 25)

    And likewise, the Pope teaches infallibly under the following conditions:

    And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith,(166) by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. (Lumen Gentium, 25)

    Through these objective criteria we may determine when a doctrine has been infallibly defined, even while other doctrines have not yet been infallibly defined. Among those adequately trained in Catholic theology, there is little dispute regarding what has or has not been formally defined. The conversation you observed was probably between laymen, and could be resolved through a letter to their bishop.

    And that is precisely why there is a principled difference between the Protestant and Catholic situations. Having an infallible Magisterium entails a principled difference between the two situations. Without an infallible Magisterium, then if there is no infallible list of books that belong to the canon, the only way to know with certainty that a book is divinely inspired and thus belongs to the canon of Scripture is through an internal witness of the Holy Spirit (a.k.a. “burning in the bosom”) — see comments #46, #50 and #53 above. But in the Catholic case, the existence of an infallible Magisterium entails that in any question concerning doctrine or morals, the question can in principle be definitively resolved through an infallible teaching or decree by the Magisterium. If there is a question among the faithful concerning whether a doctrine has been infallibly defined, the Magisterium can in principle provide a definitive answer; Protestantism does not have recourse to this solution.

    You wrote:

    Really? Every theological question in unsettled? If that were so, then how could Protestants be considered “separated brethren” or even Christians by the Catholic Church? You’d have nothing to judge our Christianity by in order to make that decision if EVERY theological question were unsettled. Obviously, this statement is a gross overstatement – there any number of theological issues with which we are in agreement with Catholicism. You do your cause no good in making inaccurate assertions such as this.

    Yes, in Protestant theology no theological question has been definitively settled, because Protestantism denies the existence of a magisterial authority by which any theological question can be infallibly resolved. This is why John Frame (who taught at Westminster Seminary for many years) wrote:

    Similarly, we should not seek to impose on church officers a form of creedal subscription intended to be maximally precise. We are often tempted to think that heresy in the church could be avoided if only the form of subscription were sufficiently precise. Thus in some circles there is the desire to require officers (sometimes even members) to subscribe to every proposition in the church’s confession. After all, it might be asked, why have a confession if it is not to be binding? But that kind of “strict” subscription has its problems, too. If dissent against any proposition in the confession destroys the dissenter’s good standing in the church, then the confession becomes irreformable, unamendable, and, for all practical purposes, canonical. And when a confession becomes canonical, the authority of the Bible is threatened, not protected.

    In churches with looser subscription formulas than that described above, there is often pressure to define the church’s beliefs more precisely. Where officers subscribe to the confession “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures,” there are sometimes demands made that that “system of doctrine” be defined precisely. What belongs to the system of doctrine and what does not? It seems that we must know this before we can use the confession as an instrument of discipline. But once again, if the church adopts a list of doctrines that constitute the system, and if that list becomes a test of orthodoxy, then the list becomes irreformable, unamendable, and canonical. It will not then be possible to challenge that list on the basis of the Word of God. Thus those who seek a much stronger form of subscription are, in effect, ironically asking for a weakening of Scripture’s authority in the church.” (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, pp. 225-226, my emphases)

    According to Protestant theology, no Protestant council can make an infallible decision. It follows therefore, that no theological question can be definitively resolved within Protestantism. The Catholic consideration of Protestants as “separated brethren” and as Christians does not depend on Protestants being able to resolve a theological question infallibly and thus definitively. So long as Protestants receive a Trinitarian baptism, and affirm the Trinitarian and Christological doctrines defined by the first four ecumenical councils, they can be recognized as both Christians and separated brethren. But if they reject even these (as in the case of Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses) they remove themselves still further from the dogmas of the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  55. Steve – in a comment on Bryan’s remark:

    According to Protestant theology, no Protestant council can make an infallible decision. It follows therefore, that no theological question can be definitively resolved within Protestantism. The Catholic consideration of Protestants as “separated brethren” and as Christians does not depend on Protestants being able to resolve a theological question infallibly and thus definitively. So long as Protestants receive a Trinitarian baptism, and affirm the Trinitarian and Christological doctrines defined by the first four ecumenical councils, they can be recognized as both Christians and separated brethren. But if they reject even these (as in the case of Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses) they remove themselves still further from the dogmas of the Catholic Church.

    The point is that the Catholic Church considers certain Christians to be ‘separated brethren’ not because these brethren have any definitive doctrine, but because the Catholic Church has definitive doctrine – and considers that when a Protestant holds these doctrine for whatever reason, he should be considered to be in a certain, albeit imperfect, relation to the Catholic Church. It is the Catholic Church’s ability to know definitively the truth of a particular doctrine, not the fact that any particular ‘separated brother’ has grounds for holding the doctrine, that makes him a ‘separated brother’ in relation to the Church. The ‘separated brother’ may believe the doctrines in question for any number of reasons – tradition within his own fellowship, discernment from reading the Bible, and so forth. If he has received the Sacrament of Baptism validly – again, it is the Catholic Church that can decide whether that is so – and he holds doctrines that the Catholic Church definitively holds to be core – then he is by that to be considered a ‘brother’ – albeit in some sense ‘separated.’

    jj

  56. Bryan,

    I just saw your #54: the Frame quotation is apt and chilling.

  57. Hello CTCers,

    I have enjoyed reading this article and several others on this site which do cover a wide range of topics. I’d also like to participate in the lively discussions around here. As a Lutheran, I know that all too often we either avoid such discussions and keep to ourselves, or we get left out or overlooked because we don’t really fit in with what people typically think of as Protestants, and we don’t fit in with Rome, or the East, or anywhere else, really. And, if I may, I’d like to mention, very briefly, the Lutheran understanding of sola scriptura and the Church fathers. I haven’t seen it mentioned here in the posts on sola scripture on the site, and I thought it wouldn’t be too out of place, though I understand a lot of the writers here come from Reformed backgrounds.

    Now one thing to keep in mind was that the Lutheran Reformation was a conservative reformation, it didn’t toss everything but the Scriptures. In fact, we do cherish the history of the church and the Church Fathers. The history of the church is our history.

    In regards to the topic at hand, sola scriptura, and the tradition and history of the church, one thing to note is that the Lutheran take on sola scriptura is not the same as the Reformed Protestants. Lutherans simply note that one cannot contradict Scripture, and one cannot hold another to what Scripture has not said. For us, sola scriptura is sort of a simple working rule in that respect. I know some of you may disagree with that but I am just trying to clarify the Lutheran position on it. It’s mentioned in Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession and Article XXVIII of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, as well as in the Preface to the Formula of Concord.

    The writers of the Augsburg Confession and Apology to the Augsburg Confession routinely cite the Church Fathers in an effort to show that they weren’t inventing anything new, that they didn’t just pull what they believed, taught, and confessed out of thin air. They cite Fathers like Jerome, Ambrose, Hilary of Poiters, Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux, etc to support their articles and arguments. So they did look to a good number of the great theologians that had gone before them for support and understanding on these matters.

    I know it isn’t the same as the Roman Catholic understanding, but its not the same as the Reformed either, and I think its important to keep in mind when discussing the Reformation.

  58. BW, (re: #57)

    Welcome to CTC, and thanks for your comments, and graciousness.

    Lutherans simply note that one cannot contradict Scripture, and one cannot hold another to what Scripture has not said. For us, sola scriptura is sort of a simple working rule in that respect.

    The problem is that neither Luther nor Lutherans had the authority to establish or stipulate any rule concerning what members of the Church Christ founded ought to believe.

    The writers of the Augsburg Confession and Apology to the Augsburg Confession routinely cite the Church Fathers in an effort to show that they weren’t inventing anything new, that they didn’t just pull what they believed, taught, and confessed out of thin air.

    Calvin also routinely cited the Church Fathers, and yet Lutherans would say that Calvin’s position was indeed a novelty. It is not unusual for a heresy to attempt to justify itself by cherry-picking from the Fathers (and especially misinterpret what they say, by taking them out of context). So, the fact that early Lutherans routinely cited the Church Fathers does not show that their position was not a novelty. Luther’s notion of justification as an extra nos imputation of an alien righteousness, for example, is a novelty, as McGrath makes clear. The bottom-line is authority: who has the authority to determine what is orthodoxy and what is heresy? For Luther, the authority was his own private judgment, before his Bible. But for the previous fifteen hundred years, it had always been the magisterium of the Church, by apostolic succession. So his denial of apostolic succession is a case of ecclesial deism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  59. Bryan,

    Thank you for your patience and response. I know you’ve probably repeated your response before to others and I am wading into in the discussion now. I can’t really give you a full response at the moment so please bear with me, but I’d just like to add that it is important to keep in mind that it was not just Luther that worked on the Lutheran Confessions, nor are all of his writings considered Lutheran doctrine and theology, though of course many we find in agreement with the Confessions, but that is a discussion for another time. It’s good to bear in mind that a number of people, especially Phillip Melancthon, worked on the documents in the Book of Concord, so this isn’t just Luther that is determining what is true orthodoxy, nor do we declare everyone that doesn’t completely agree with the Book of Concord a heretic.

    Again, I apologzie for not being able to give a more complete response at the moment.

  60. Thanks BW (re: #59),

    I’m aware that the Lutheran documents to which you refer were composed not only by Luther, but also in conjunction with a number of early Lutherans. My point above (in #58) does not depend on Luther being the only one who composed those documents. If a number of persons without divinely bestowed magisterial authority get together, and collaborate to write a ‘confession’ or ‘creed,’ the resulting document has no more ecclesial authority than if only one such person had composed it, because if its ‘authority’ is ultimately grounded in the individual’s right of private judgment (whether it is the expression of one person’s private judgment or of many persons’ private judgments), the resulting document has no more authority than the private judgment of every person who disagrees with the document. (See the first footnote in “The Tu Quoque” post.) Two agreeing private judgments have no more authority than does one disagreeing private judgment. Christ never established a democratic rule in the Church such that the minority of Christians must submit to the opinion of the majority. And if majority rule were ipso facto authoritative, then since there are more Catholics than Lutherans, and always have been since Lutherans began to exist, therefore, it would follow that all Lutherans should submit to the Catholic position. :-) But you reject that conclusion. Therefore, you must agree that the majority rule is not authoritative. And therefore, you can understand why the fact that the Lutheran documents to which you refer were composed in conjunction with a number of early Lutherans gives them no more authority than if they had been composed only by Luther.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  61. Bryan: In section III. Persons and Texts, you state: A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. This unlimited potency of persons with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its goal; we can continue to ask clarification questions, be heard, and receive answers to those very questions, until the questions are answered.

    Can you tell us how you/we know that persons have unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification?

  62. rfwhite (re: #61),

    We know about persons from our experience with persons and as persons. Because persons are alive and have reason, we are not only able to receive and answer questions, we are able to receive and answer questions about previous questions we have received and about previous answers we have given. And we can receive and answer questions about our answers to questions about our answers to questions. And so on. So as persons, we can answer second order questions, third order questions, fourth order questions, etc. And there is no nth order question that in principle we cannot answer. It is not as though there is some limit at 26th order questions, or some other number, that is beyond the power of reason. And that is why for persons the intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification is not limited. Obviously human persons can tire, forget what they have previously said, and even die. But those are limitations we have as humans, not as persons.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  63. Bryan: so is it your claim that the intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification had by human persons is unlimited?

  64. rfwhite (re:#63),

    As humans, our potency for interpretive self-clarification is unlimited with respect to reason (as I explained in #62), but any particular individual human is limited in his capacity for interpretive self-clarification by the condition and finitude of his mortal body. Of course, because the soul is immortal, there is no ultimate limitation. (If we both get to heaven, I’ll explain then, though in that eternal moment you wouldn’t need to ask.) But obviously, what is relevant for this discussion is the interpretive activity of persons in this temporal life on earth. So, in that respect, we as individuals are limited. But, the living Magisterium of the Church is not composed of only one individual mortal human; it is made up of a succession of men extending from the Apostles to the last bishops still living when Christ returns. And thus the living Magisterium is not constrained by the biological limitations of an individual human person. And thus not only with respect to reason, but also with respect to time, by the Holy Spirit who dwells within the Temple which is the Church, the living Magisterium has an unlimited potency for interpretive self-clarification.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  65. Bryan: Thank you for indulging my questions. Is it your view that the Apostles had an unlimited potency for interpretive self-clarification?

  66. Bryan: Your forbearance is appreciated … in #63 you write of limitations imposed on one’s capacity by the mortality of the body. How do you assess the limitations imposed on one’s capacity and, in particular, on human reason by the sinfulness of the soul?

  67. Bryan,

    Suppose that one cannot know of the inspiration of Scripture apart from accepting the Catholic faith, would a consequence of this issue be that (supposing one has considered all the available information) a person should not believe in Christianity if they do not believe in Catholicism.

    I don’t think whether or not this is a consequence proves whether Catholicism is true, I just wonder whether this is a consequence.

    Best,
    Mark

  68. rfwhite (re: #65,#66)

    Is it your view that the Apostles had an unlimited potency for interpretive self-clarification?

    Yes, as long as they remained on earth. Christians who lived during the time of the Apostles could ask them any clarifying questions about what they [i.e. the Apostles] had already preached, taught and written, and could ask follow-up questions about their answers, and ask further follow-up questions, etc. This is what Jesus Himself had done privately with the Apostles — answering their questions when they asked Him about the meaning of His public teachings.

    in #63 you write of limitations imposed on one’s capacity by the mortality of the body. How do you assess the limitations imposed on one’s capacity and, in particular, on human reason by the sinfulness of the soul?

    In the section titled “The Four Wounds of Nature Consequent Upon Sin” in my post “Aquinas and Trent: Part 3,” I presented St. Thomas’ explanation of how sin wounded the two powers of reason, i.e. intellect and will. The wound to the intellect is ignorance, and the wound to the will is malice. (The other two wounds, corresponding to the other two appetites, are weakness with respect to attaining the arduous good, and concupiscence.) We acquire these four vices, because (by Adam’s sin) we have lost original righteousness and the preternatural gifts. The four vices are not equally severe in each individual, even without sanctifying grace. But the severer they are in an individual, the more the possibility of his communication with others is impaired. The ignorant person has nothing to communicate, nor can he understand others if he is ignorant of the meaning of what is said to him. The malicious person seeks to deceive when speaking, and seeks to distort when listening. The cowardly person does not have the fortitude to labor to communicate when communication is difficult, either in explaining or in listening. And the self-indulgent person (with the vice of concupiscence) is too distracted to communicate, either to explain or to listen.

    But those would obviously be severe cases. Every day we see non-Christians do all sorts of things, things that require the four cardinal virtues. And we believe that even non-Christians can have the four cardinal virtues, even without having sanctifying grace. This is how they can run businesses, acquire academic degrees, make scientific discoveries, solve mathematical problems, raise children, etc. We don’t ascribe that to [common] grace, but to the goodness of human nature. (Natural goodness is not salvific, even though it is good. It is not salvific because it is not by grace, and what is not by grace cannot get us to heaven; that would be Pelagianism — see Barrett’s post.) So just as the sinfulness of the soul does not make it impossible for humans to do those things (i.e. run businesses, acquire academic degrees, etc.) so for the same reason sinfulness of the soul does not make it impossible for [non-Christian] humans to clarify previous speech-acts in an iterative way. Reason retains the intrinsic potency in principle to clarify any nth order question, because that ability is intrinsic to the power of reason itself, which power is not lost through sin. And for those persons in a state of sanctifying grace, with the infused gifts of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge, benevolence, fortitude, and temperance needed for communication are augmented, because grace perfects nature.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  69. Mark (re: #67)

    Suppose that one cannot know of the inspiration of Scripture apart from accepting the Catholic faith, would a consequence of this issue be that (supposing one has considered all the available information) a person should not believe in Christianity if they do not believe in Catholicism.

    Regarding the word ‘should,’ we must distinguish two imperatives with respect to belief. We should not be fideists. And we should not believe what is false. But a fideist who happens to get the right belief, should believe what he believes (because what he believes is true), but [in another sense] he should not believe what he believes (because he has no justification for believing it — he made a crazy wild guess, and got lucky).

    So, given the truth of your premise [i.e. “that one cannot know of the inspiration of Scripture apart from accepting the Catholic faith”], and given that if one is not a Catholic, one has no justification for believing in Christianity apart from either a supernatural experience or knowing of the inspiration of Scripture, it follows that unless a person has a supernatural experience, then apart from accepting the Catholic faith, that person should not believe in Christianity, where the ‘should not’ is to be understood to refer to the justification imperative of belief (i.e. we should not be fideists), not to the truth imperative (i.e. we should believe the truth, and not believe falsehoods). But the second premise of that argument is not true. Justifiably knowing the inspiration of Scripture, and/or a supernatural experience are not the only two ways one can be epistemically justified in being a Christian-who-is-not-a-Catholic. By evidence available through rational investigation, a person could come to believe that the books of the New Testament are reliable records of what Jesus said and did, but not believe that they are divinely inspired, and then make an act of faith in Christ. That would be reasonable.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  70. Bryan (#68):

    Nice reply. Even so, I feel the need to suggest a distinction and a consequence thereof.

    You wrote:

    Reason retains the intrinsic potency in principle to clarify any nth order question, because that ability is intrinsic to the power of reason itself, which power is not lost through sin.

    If you mean that, considering just the general capacities of human reason, no particular number may be assigned to n, you’re right. But it does not follow that, for any particular line of inquiry, no upper limit can be found for n. And as a matter of fact, that would not be true. In many lines of inquiry, we can and do reach the point where the question “And what does that statement mean?” can no longer be answered usefully, so that iterating the question becomes idle. E.g., as any elementary school teacher could tell you, explicating the meaning of ‘2+2=4’ pretty quickly reaches a dead end. At some point, the student either gets it or they don’t; and if they don’t, nothing more can be said to make them get it. Just what that point is will vary from case to case, but that there always comes such a point is pretty evident.

    Theology, of course, is a lot more complicated than that; but not indefinitely so. The early Church confessed, e.g., that Jesus is both divine and human, and the Chalcedonian formula explicated that so as to exclude certain misunderstandings. But there does come a point at which the mystery of the Hypostatic Union cannot be expressed with any greater linguistic clarity. The depths of the reality expressed by the doctrine can be indefinitely plumbed by those who believe, adore, and meditate; and the results of that process can and should exclude further misunderstandings (e.g., the common idea that Jesus could have sinned). But at some point, the believer either grasps the meaning of the linguistic formula itself or they don’t.

    The distinction I’m invoking is important when dealing with sola scripturists, especially those of the Reformed persuasion. They typically hold that, at some point, we come to understand the semantic meaning of scriptural and confessional statements as well as they can be understood, which is supposed to be all that’s necessary for understanding the Christian faith. It is true that we often can and do reach such a point with scriptural and confessional statements themselves; when we do, that suffices for telling us what the statements mean as expressions of human thought. But of course it does not follow that that suffices for telling us what we ought to believe now. That question can only be answered by locating, identifying, and submitting to the authority by which such statements are propounded. Hence, when dealing with those who uphold the “perspicuity” of Scripture, we can readily grant that, in many instances, Scripture is perspicuous enough to tell us what its human authors meant. The same goes a fortiori for creedal and other confessions. But without some further account of authority, that does not suffice to tell us all that we ought to hold as de fide, or even why what they meant even is de fide.

    This is why there’s no getting round the question by what authority Scripture is to be accepted as a record of divine revelation, and by what authority it is to be interpreted as containing what we ought to believe. The authority questions remain even we reach an upper limit of linguistic explication. That’s the real reason why sola scriptura is untenable.

    Best,
    Mike

  71. Mike (re: #70),

    Thanks for your helpful qualification. I agree with both your points. I’m addressing another tu quoque, namely, that Catholics also have to interpret the Magisterium, and so if interpreting Scripture makes Protestants their own ultimate interpretive authority, then interpreting the Magisterium makes Catholics their own ultimate interpretive authority. And therefore a Catholic who says that Protestants are their own ultimate interpretive authority, while denying that Catholics are their own ultimate interpretive authority, is being ad hoc, engaging in special pleading.

    And my response to that tu quoque is that there is an ontological difference between persons and texts, one that makes a relevant difference with respect to the possession of interpretive authority. (See section III. Persons and Texts above.) So long as a person lives, he (not the listener) retains interpretive authority over his previous statements. But if we have only a book, without a divinely instituted Magisterium, then by default every individual becomes his own ultimate interpretive authority.

    Regarding your first point, yes, I’m not saying that any line of meaningful inquiry regarding interpretive clarification is potentially an unlimited series of questions. If that were so, there couldn’t be any communication, because there wouldn’t be any shared first principles, formal or material. Because there are shared first principles, interpretive self-clarification can reach its goal of mutual understanding, and is not an exercise in futility. My point (in #62, #64, and #68) was that persons as persons have an unlimited intrinsic capacity to receive and answer interpretive self-clarification questions; books do not have that capacity. And your qualification is that because of first principles, meaningful inquiry regarding interpretive clarification cannot consist in an unlimited series of questions. I agree, and that’s what makes the finitude of the human lifespan a rather moot point as a limiter of the intrinsic capacity for interpretive self-clarification, because any serious inquiry pursuing interpretive clarification can reach the point of first principles in short order.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  72. Bryan @60,

    Oh please do not misunderstand me, I was not trying to argue that because multiple people composed the Lutheran Confessions, that this was a response to the Tu Quoque Argument. I just wanted to be clear on Reformation History, as sometimes I see the Lutheran Reformation portrayed as only Luther and Luther’s writings becoming, and forming Lutheran doctrine. That’s all I meant and I apologize for any offense or confusion.

  73. “The reasons by which he grasps its authority are not the ground of its authority, whereas without apostolic succession the only ground for the authority of any confession or pastor is its or his general agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.”

    I think something is missing from the “tu quoque” debate. I’m not sure its correct to frame the debate around what a person chooses in terms of a confessions or a particular interpretation as surely what we are debating is whether one chooses “sola scriptura” or magisterium apostolic succession etc. Yes of course protestants have their confessions and indeed many get initially convinced by various interpretations. But in the end what comes is a decision for sola scriptura is it not? Is that not what this whole massive thread is about? In which case if I’m right the “you tu!!” stands for the reason by which i grasp hold of “sola scriptura” are not the grounds for its authority either.

    Hopefully this hasnt been answered somewhere up above. Im sure you’ll forgive for not having read it all…

  74. Richard, (re: #73)

    Regarding your statement that:

    “the “you tu!!” stands for the reason by which i grasp hold of “sola scriptura” are not the grounds for its authority either.

    Sola scriptura has no authority. It is a name for a theological claim. But that claim has no authority. The person who believes sola scriptura does not believe that sola scriptura has authority, but that Scripture alone has infallible authority and that no visible human on earth has binding interpretive authority.

    I addressed the tu quoque objection in more detail in a separate post titled “The Tu Quoque.” If you haven’t already read that, I suggest doing so, if you are inquiring about the tu quoque objection.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  75. Yes but no.

    I believe you are conflating the method behind the thing with the actual thing. The magisterium has an internal mechanics for coming to its decisions, those mechanics are not the magisterium and yet it is the magisterium that one decided to throw their lot in with. Likewise scripture as authority is what protestants throw their lot in with where as the mechanics of this is sola scriptura. Even if this devolves into private interpretation it does not matter for the sake of this argument. In both systems the person is not taken out of the loop. Hence you too are involved. Albeit it an earlier stage and only at that stage.

  76. Richard (re: #75),

    You wrote:

    In both systems the person is not taken out of the loop.

    Of course. But, for the reasons I explained in “The Tu Quoque,” that does not entail that both positions reduce to private judgment.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  77. Richard and Bryan:

    The Protestant tu quoque is really a way of arguing that the Protestant hermeneutical paradigm is rationally unavoidable. Only, it isn’t. From the fact that the PHP allows no binding interpretive authority, it follows indeed that all Protestant claims that such-and-such doctrines are de fide are instances of private judgment. But that doesn’t follow in the Catholic HP. It would only follow if there were no way in principle for the Magisterium to resolve, infallibly, questions about how to interpret its own pronouncements. But there is such a way, as the history of Catholic doctrine amply attests and as Bryan has argued. That’s precisely the difference between an HP that restricts inerrancy to a book, i.e. the PHP, and one that also recognizes it in a living interpretive authority, i.e. the CHP.

    Best,
    Mike

  78. Dear Richard,

    Even if this devolves into private interpretation it does not matter for the sake of this argument.

    First, it should be noted that if ANY Christian approach, Catholic or otherwise, to “Divine Revelation” devolves into “private interpretation”; it seems to follow that the very notion of “Divine Revelation” is undermined, in that there remains no means by which to distinguish what God intends to reveal (what God wants us to know) from the multitude of “private judgments” about the same. Possibly one or more available private judgments IS synonymous with what God wants us to know, but there is no means by which to decipher the difference. I am assuming that you, along with myself and other Catholics, would find the implications of that situation to be disastrous for evangelization and for the claims of Christ generally. Hence, the question: “how can one distinguish the “de fide” content of Divine revelation from mere human opinion?” is a crucial epistemic question.

    That said, I would like to make two points regarding the following comment:

    In both systems the person is not taken out of the loop. Hence you too are involved. Albeit it an earlier stage and only at that stage.

    Your insight here is well taken; namely, that the subject is necessarily “involved” in so far as he must “throw his lot in” with either sola scriptura or the Catholic Magisterium. Your comment highlights the epistemic dimension of the problem from the viewpoint of the “choosing” subject. “How do we know” we have “thrown in our lot” with the correct approach? And the REASON that we care so much about THAT question is because we care so much about the larger problem I mentioned above: namely; how can we distinguish between the God-intended content of Divine revelation, and all of the variant human opinions about the same. At first blush, your critique appears to establish an epistemic equivalency between the two approaches. However, the two approaches are not equivalent since there are at least two crucial differences related to the subjective “choice” (or better “act of faith”) by which the Christian subject adopts one or the other of these two paradigms.

    1. The charism of infallibility which the Catholic Magisterium claims to possess (Divine protection form error under specific conditions) is a charism that either exists, or not, independent of one’s subjective assessment/belief/etc. While this does not address the epistemic concern directly, it involves the postulation of a Divinely guided episcopate which, IF its claims are true, could provide just the sort of decipher mechanism needed to make the crucial distinction between Divine revelation and human opinion discussed above. The Protestant paradigm, as Michael Liccione has already noted, does not propose even the possibility of a mechanism which might achieve that all-important distinction, since its mechanism of choice just is “private judgment”. Thus, there is an IN-equality between the two positions in that the Protestant paradigm could not resolve the overarching problem of distinguishing orthodoxy from heterodoxy EVEN IF its claims are true; whereas the Catholic mechanism, if its claims are true, can. That theoretical difference leads to a second, and more important, point which bears on the epistemic problem more directly.

    2. The “choice” to “throw in one’s lot” with either the sola scriptura paradigm or the Catholic Magisterium is better described as an “act of faith” from the side of the subject. One very good reason for making an “act of faith” in the Catholic Magisterium rather than in the principle of sola scriptura is because of the theoretical ability of the former to resolve the overarching orthodoxy/heterodoxy problem which the latter, by definition, cannot. Secondly, an “act of faith” in the Catholic Magisterium is not an irrational “leap of faith” because there are many motives of credibility attached to that act such as the continuity and spread in time and space of the Catholic Church, the consistency of Magisterial doctrine over 20 centuries, the historical fact of unbroken ordination within the Catholic episcopate from the apostles to the present, and more. I am unaware of any similar motives of credibility which attend to the principle of sola scriptura – a principle which cannot, even in theory, solve the larger orthodoxy/heterodoxy problem in the first place.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  79. Puritan Board discussion of this article.

  80. Ray,
    Both “the consistency of Magisterial doctrine over 20 centuries” and “the historical fact of unbroken ordination within the Catholic episcopate from the apostles to the present” also have to be taken on faith to some extent. To the former, I’m sure you’re aware of the commonly referenced controversial moral issues RC theologians have debated the history of in terms of how certain teachings seem to have changed and fluctuated (even seemingly being reversed or abrogated entirely) according to historical/societal circumstances.

    For the latter, there are 2 issues in that there is no record or documents of episcopal lineage of the current hierarchy extending past the 16th century with Rebiba (of course that does not mean there is no valid succession from the apostles to the 16th century, but even a single break in a chain causes issues) and secondly, even if we had that documentary evidence to trace succession all the way back to apostles, with Trent’s doctrine of intent required for the sacraments to effect any grace, one again has to have faith in God’s providence that all ordinations in the episcopal lineage of 2k years were performed successfully/validly with the correct intent of those performing the ordination.

  81. Interlocutor:

    Every hermeneutical paradigm in theology entails faith in some ensemble of authorities. So, pointing out that the Catholic HP requires faith in its ensemble of authorities does not, by itself, constitute a criticism. It would only become that if one antecedently showed that there is less reason for faith in the Catholic ensemble of authorities than for faith in some competing ensemble. The argument Ray makes is that there is more, not less, reason for faith in the Catholic ensemble of authorities than for faith in some competing ensemble. So you have not really addressed his argument.

    Best,
    Mike

  82. Yep,

    That is why I did not respond to the question, since it does not address my argument, plus the fact that I do not currently have the time to enter into a debate regarding the hermeneutic of discontinuity/continuity in Moral Theology or dogma; much less in a historical review of the extent of recorded Holy Order consecrations, or the implications of documentary gaps which exist therein. Besides ,there are many other motives of credibility which make the Catholic claim “credible” in my view. The main point remains that the Protestant paradigm seems to be bereft of any such motives altogether. In fact, in some ways, it does not really make sense to even discuss such motives in a Protestant context, because the Protestant paradigm does not really ask me to believe anything that requires a look into its credibility.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  83. Interlocutor (#80):

    I forgot to address the following point of yours:

    I’m sure you’re aware of the commonly referenced controversial moral issues RC theologians have debated the history of in terms of how certain teachings seem to have changed and fluctuated (even seemingly being reversed or abrogated entirely) according to historical/societal circumstances.

    Such changes would only undermine the Catholic HP if it could be demonstrated that they entailed reversing doctrines meeting the criteria for having been infallibly set forth either by the ordinary and universal magisterium or by the extraordinary magisterium. To demonstrate that, one would have to show, inter alia, that such doctrines are of a form that could be irreformable to begin with. But no prudential judgment could be irreformable, because prudential judgments must vary with facts that themselves can change. So, the critic of the Catholic HP would have to show that at least one moral precept that’s changed is not merely a prudential judgment that can perforce vary with circumstances, but is of a form that applies universally and thus regardless of circumstances.

    The case most commonly cited for that purpose is usury. It is alleged, e.g., that the Church’s loosening of the ban on “usury” in the 19th century entailed negating a precept that applies universally and that had met the conditions for having been infallibly taught–that precept being “no interest on loans, period.” But that is not how the Magisterium ever interpreted the precept. “Extrinsic titles” to interest had always been recognized. The question then became what could count as an extrinsic title. But answers that question depend on circumstances; hence, they are prudential judgments that, as such, cannot be irreformable. So, when medieval and Counter-Reformation popes issued bulls condemning certain kinds of interest-taking as failing to meet the conditions for extrinsic titles, they might have been wrong. In some cases, they were eventually seen to be wrong.

    So, the case most commonly cited against the Catholic HP is not cogent. If you have other cases to adduce, I’d be happy to discuss them.

    Best,
    Mike

  84. Good Lord Brian. You have written a book!

    Your comment that “unfortunately” your comments did not get published appears to me to be a pregnant and charitable one, given that you put yourself at the mercy of a magazine devoted to promoting anti-Catholic propaganda. I appreciate your good sport and willingness to put yourself into such a venue.

    I especially appreciate your last comment, expressing your desire for more charitable relations between Protestants and Catholics. I’m sure in due time you will write a book on the subject of Sola Scriptura, and I hope that your engagements will not have the opposite effect on the Protestant-Catholic divide that you wish for.

    Pax,

    Bradley

  85. Thanks Bradley! (re: #84)

    I didn’t intend it to be so long. But as I studied Michael’s last reply, it was clear to me that to address it adequately, I needed to point out the fundamental underlying points of disagreement, because otherwise it would just be trading bits of rhetoric and hand-waving over the deeper points of disagreement. My post probably won’t convince anyone; that’s not its immediate purpose. My point is to show the other paradigm, and to show that the disagreement is paradigmatic, that is, show how the differences between the Reformed and Catholic positions are not intra-paradigmatic, but involve two distinct paradigms that must be understood as distinct paradigms to be understood rightly and to be compared properly. Until we see that, we’ll just keep talking past each other. And that’s at least part of the reason why the divide has persisted so long, because we tend not to grasp the paradigm difference, but instead view the other ‘side’ through our own paradigm, and thus as obviously heretical, incompetent, unbiblical, pick your word. So to resolve the disagreement we have to compare the paradigms, and thus compare the framework that constitutes the respective paradigms. And that’s what I’ve tried to do here.

    As for putting myself at Modern Reformation‘s mercy, well, sure, but to reach out in charity across these divides, we have to take some risks, show trust in others, and pray that God brings good out of it. I think that’s part of what it means to be catholic-minded, to reach out across the divides, in love, and put ourselves at risk in some sense. MR contacted me, to initiate the dialogue, so I commend them for their willingness to host this kind of dialogue with a Catholic. And I have met Michael before, and listened to him for years on WHI, and read his books, so I trust him. He reads and respects theologians outside the Reformed tradition. I knew he would be fair and respectful, even when he disagreed.

    As for a book, well, we’ll see. In my mind, this is public information, and understanding what still divides us is so important for all Christians that it wouldn’t seem right to sell it. No one should have to pay, in order to learn about what still divides Protestants and Catholics, and how to effect reconciliation. That would be like selling indulgences! ;-)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple

  86. Bryan,

    Thanks for all your hard work here and elsewhere. If I my make an unsolicited request. I think it would be helpful for many (on this site and elsewhere) if you’d put together an entire post relating to, as you say, “comparing the paradigms” as the most fundamental and critical starting point for discussion. This kind of post would be both a kind of (1) analysis of the process of true ecumenism, and (2) and substantive outline of some of salient points of each paradigm.

  87. Ryan:

    When I read Bryan’s #85, I immediately thought of doing just the sort of post you recommend. I’d rather do it here than at my own blog, which is basically moribund at the moment, because here it would spark more discussion. I shall ask Bryan about this.

    Best,
    Mike

  88. On another article I shared:

    I’m hoping you can help me with one of my main concerns with Apostolic Succession… Mainly that Paul himself in Gal 1:8 appears to subvert that same authority with the authority of the Gospel. So even if an Apostle preaches another gospel you aren’t to listen to him (Gal 1). As an example he points to Peter as an example of leading Jewish Christians away from the true Gospel (Gal 2). If Peter, whom you call the first Pope, could get the Gospel wrong, even as an Apostle, what confidence should I place in the succession of such Apostles?

    Bryan Cross was kind enough to respond with:

    Welcome to Called To Communion. We are in the process of preparing an article on apostolic succession, but in the mean time, you could see Section IX: Apostolic Succession of my article replying to Michael Horton’s last comment in the Modern Reformation interview. Regarding the passage in Galatians 1, I addressed that in Section XI: The Authority of the Magisterium in Relation to Scripture of that same article. As for the rebuke in Galatians 2, see chapter 23 in Tertullian’s Prescription Against Heretics

    I appreciated Bryan’s comments on Gal 1:8-9 above, but still struggle with explaining Gal 2 away. Tertullian’s “Presecription Against Heretics” offers some clarification, but, (perhaps due to my youth) it’s hard to understand how he rebuffs the challenge. He appears to offer a sort of tu quoque against Paul himself… Saying, in effect, that if you think Peter didn’t get the gospel because of Paul’s claim, you also have to think Paul didn’t understand the gospel either because of Timothy’s circumcision. He then appears (at least to me) to fall into some question begging by asserting that it is impossible for Peter and Paul (the Apostles) to preach false doctrine. And just seems to brush the argument off with “Never mind those who pass sentence on apostles!” If it’s so easy to understand that Tertullian seems confident to brush off easily, can someone here please clarify the Gal 1:8-9 (Gospel is authoritative) vs. Gal 2 (Peter as an example of getting it wrong) challenge? I ask somewhat to challenge, but mostly for my own benefit, as this passage is difficult for me to swallow as pro-Magisterium, pro-Apostolic succession.

  89. Salvadore,

    In Galatians 2, do you think that St. Peter is teaching something contrary to the faith? Paul opens Gal 2 discussing how Peter had been assigned to the Jews, but when he came he apposed him because, “he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised.

    What St. Peter was doing was not teaching something contrary to the Gospel but being a hypocrite (“And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him) to his very own words in Acts 15:

    My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”

    The Catholic Magisterium and apostolic succession is not predicated on the apostles being sinless but rather on God’s grace and His gifts which are without repentance (Rom 11:29). St. Paul in 2 Corinthians expounds about just how “Hebrew” he was. It only makes sense that someone who had given up living Judaism on high octane would appose St. Peter’s behavior. This also makes more sense when we get to Paul’s pastoral admonishments at the end of his epistle (Gal 6:1, “if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit”). Remember, our Savior praised St. Peter for proclaiming His true identity, and then a time later St. Peter denied him thrice. What did our Lord do? Did he say, “Sorry Peter, looks like I picked the wrong guy.” No! He came to him after the Resurrection, reconciled, and beckoned him to feed His Church.

    St. Peter didn’t get it wrong, he lived it wrong. Against the donatists of every generation, the Church will always proclaim the truth of Christ in spite of Her humanity; but also always in the light of God’s marvelous mercy and grace entrusted to Her by Christ himself.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  90. I am aware that an article on Apostolic succession is on the way. But, if it’s not too much trouble, could somebody try and help put together an argument from the Scriptural evidence. I can see how the Scripture cited in the Apostolic Succession section of the article, seems compatible with Apostolic succession, but I’m not sure how it shows that the doctrine is actually true (or whether it was meant to).

    Best,
    Mark

  91. Mark,

    The AS article has been in my court for a long time now, but I have not done anything much at all with it. AS in the episcopate, in its tactile and propositional aspects (i.e., as an observable rite and a doctrine about that rite, universally held), is indisputable tracing back to the late second century. For an analysis of some of the claims that the notion of episcopal succession was invented at that time, rather than being an original tradition of the Church, received from Christ himself, see Section III of Tim Troutman’s article, “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood.” The claim that Holy Orders is a sacrament, which claim Tim makes and defends, is crucial to a proper understanding of AS, in its spiritual dimension. For Catholics, authority does not replace mystery. AS is a mystery, but not invisible for all that, sort of like the Incarnation.

    Neal Judisch has made some very helpful suggestions on how to look at the biblical data for AS in his longish addendum to one of Bryan’s posts, which addendum is prosaically entitled “A Longish Addendum to Bryan’s Last Post.” Neal compares the biblical case for AS to the biblical case for infant baptism.

    And you have seen Bryan’s material, above.

    Originally, my plan was just to lift most of these guys’ ideas, squash them together, fill in a little bit here and there, and presto! an article on AS. But now I don’t want to do that, nor do I know what to do with this topic. But I highly recommend the material just mentioned, as being helpful and ready to hand.

  92. Andrew,

    Thanks for the response. I took a look at Neal’s addendum, and I think I get what he is trying to say about an attempt at a Biblical-proof-type-argument.

    Suggestion for a possible argument:
    I wonder if there might be something like an argument that integrates the Biblical support, historical support, as well as support that the doctrine might gain in virtue of it’s being a “historically and biblically supported epistemological-problem-solver”. This importance of the last element is highlighted by the epistemological problems that protestantism has no solution for, such as the canon question.

    Are there arguments?
    To be honest, I have seen no ‘argument’ for apostolic succession. And if you are aware of any, I’d be glad if you could point me in their direction. I’m actually surprised by this, and maybe there are some out there that I have not encountered simply because I have not familiarized myself with the literature. Most of the stuff I’ve seen is in the flavor of the Apostolic succession section of this article (usually citing historical support, and citing Scripture that AS is compatible with).

    I am RC, but I have to be honest to my own rational conscience, and admit that I have yet to see a Bible-proof for AS. And maybe, as Neal suggests, there is no necessity for such a proof, because the doctrine can rationally be supported in other ways (ways that rational Christians should be ready and willing to accept). In my own case, I find AS rather easy to accept, because I see Biblical support of the Papacy, and it seems like we could work from the Papacy to AS without too much effort. By ‘work from’, I mean that one could accept the authority of Papacy (by means of divine revelation, grace, and faith), and be led to believe in and accept the One True Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit (by means of divine revelation, grace, and faith)- and when one can accept these two things in the way I described, one could (on a rational basis) accept certain doctrines that this Church teaches (one of which would be AS).

    Best,
    Mark

  93. Regarding the subject of apostolic succession, Joe Heschmeyer has a very helpful illustration in a post titled “Power Cords and Apostolic Succession.”

  94. Bryan,

    The article reads,

    “The authority of the bishops and their teaching is based on the authority of the Apostles who ordained them, which in turn is based on the authority of Jesus who authorized and commissioned them. Recognizing that authority as authoritative is not a fideistic leap, but something confirmed by the miraculous signs and wonders done by Christ and the Apostles, and by Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Therefore, belief in the authority of Jesus and of His Apostles and the bishops whom they ordained, is not an a priori belief, but is instead a belief based on the motives of credibility provided by these divine signs.”

    I’m trying to get the chain of connections down. So it looks like the connections, in certain cases, goes like the following (in this order)

    (A) Historical documents —-> (B) Miraculous actions and fulfilled prophecies—-> (C) Authority (and identity) of Jesus —-> (D) Authority Apostles —-> (E) Authority of Bishops (and their teaching) —-> (F) Each of these books is inspired (or, relatedly but differently, we have the correct Canon)

    Where A gives us reason to believe in B, and B reason to believe in C, etc. I added the the first (A) and last elements (E), at least to this selection of the text (but think I remember you mentioning A before, I could be wrong).

    So, my question is the following:
    Are there independent reasons for thinking that (A) includes all historically accurate documents, that don’t depend on B, C, D, or E ? Are there independent reasons for thinking that all the books excluded from (A) contained historical errors, reasons that don’t depend on B, C, D, or E ?

    When I use the phrase, ‘that don’t depend on B, C, D, or E’, I am asking about the ‘reasons for thinking that..’

    Best,
    Mark

  95. Mark, (re: #94)

    I don’t know what exactly is included in (and excluded from) your (A), so I can’t answer your question. But recognizing the evidential weight of the motives of credibility does not require faith. That would be circular reasoning, and defeat the whole point of the motives of credibility. But if you want to discuss the motives of credibility, I recommend that you do so on the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  96. Bryan,

    (A) was supposed to be the texts of Scripture, that are in the Catholic Canon. Or, at least the ones from which can be derived the motive of credibility for apostolic and papal authority.

    If those certain historical texts are the ones used as historical documents from which we gather the motive of credibility, how do we explain the use of those texts and the exclusion of other texts. Is there good reasons for thinking that those texts were historically accurate while the others were not; other texts which might undermine, question, or challenge the historical reliability (or at least claims) of the texts included in (A).

    Are there, ‘non-religious authority- dependent’, reasons for thinking that we were correct in regarding these texts as historically accurate, and others as not?

    Best,
    Mark

  97. Mark,

    This thread is for discussing the Michael Horton interview. If you want to discuss motives of credibility, please do so in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  98. Just wondering if anyone has read and critiqued C. John Collin’s new book with a host of Reformed co-authors? I’d be interested in anyone’s feedback if they have.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0076BOCE6/ref=pe_174260_22740200_nrn_image

  99. I confess I haven’t read the whole article, but having read some of the other stuff on this site it seems to this Protestant that the Catholic argument against sola scriptura reduces to something like:

    One hasn’t escaped radical individualism unless one has submitted oneself to a living infallible interpreter.
    Protestants haven’t submitted to a living infallible interpreter.
    Ergo …

    Isn’t this more or less what you’re saying?

  100. Apologies if I’m asking this on the wrong thread….

  101. re 99

    David,

    Among the contributors here are former Calvinists from various Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, at least one Reformed Baptist, and some evangelicals including Pentecostals. Radical individualism? Perhaps? I have to believe that most of us were in those communions because there was something there that appealed to us, at that time, coming from wherever we came from.

    I am actually assuming that the impetus for each and everyone of us was to follow Jesus. I am not assuming bad faith on anyone’s part.

    What then occurred? Jesus told Peter that Peter would be going somewhere he did not want to go; and He told us to count the cost. Virtually all of us ended up in a place that we never expected to go, and given what I have read here, most of us went down fighting the idea that the RCC was “the Church.” We each fought until it became obvious to each of us that It is the Body of which Jesus is the Head. Our decisions of where we should or wanted to be ran into a Person Whose Body we were being called to join. If any of us believed that Body was where we were at that time, you wouldn’t be reading responses such as this.

    In response to your idea, we found we were no longer in charge, we were no longer the primary decision maker, we were no longer the arbiters of truth. We had each found Who was in charge, and Who was the primary decision maker (and it was not Peter).

    In my case, I found the Church, I found the forgiveness of sins, I found the Passover meal of the New Covenant, I found the scripture fulfilled. Nothing good I had been given prior to becoming Catholic was lost.

    Please God that will help answer your question.

    Cordially,

    dt

  102. David R,

    There is not just one argument against sola scriptura; there are many. And laying them out in a combox would be too tedious, and would oversimplify them. One of the arguments can be found in the article written by Neal Judisch and myself, titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” Also, in our Index, you will find about ten articles on the subject of sola scriptura.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  103. Donald,

    Thanks. I don’t know whether you yourself were formerly a Calvinist, but I wonder in your case what was the most compelling reason for your embracing Catholicism. What was it you were looking for (that you didn’t have as a Protestant) and what exactly did you gain that you didn’t already have?

    Bryan,

    Thanks for your response, and the link to that index. Lots of resources there and I will check out some of them. I have already skimmed through your response to Mathison a few times. Yes, I realize I vastly simplified things in my comment above, but it does seem to me that the argument I outlined is the basic presupposition in much of what I’ve seen here in the posts and comment threads. I’ll read on….

  104. David R.,

    You said:

    but it does seem to me that the argument I outlined is the basic presupposition in much of what I’ve seen here in the posts and comment threads

    Regarding

    One hasn’t escaped radical individualism unless one has submitted oneself to a living infallible interpreter.
    Protestants haven’t submitted to a living infallible interpreter.
    Ergo …

    Calling this a “presupposition”, I think, confuses the matter. It would be a presupposition if I had to first assume it for the rest of the argument against sola scriptura to make sense. However, this particular premise is not necessary for the conclusion that sola scriptura is false. If you have not already, I highly recommend Mike’s article here.

    What was I “looking for”? As a Protestant, I was looking for a principled, non ad hoc method for determining doctrine. If I had no such principled method, and my decision to accept a particular doctrine was rationally ad hoc, and my raison d’etre for holding to a particular doctrine was “internal enlightenment by the Holy Spirit” or merely preference, then on intellectual grounds I was a subjectivist. If, at the end of the day, the only thing that separated my judgment and yours was the (assertion) “Holy Spirit”, that in my bosom baptism was a symbol and in yours baptism was salvific, then we are subjectivists. Christianity, on this view, seemed to be a fairy tale religion. Nevertheless, what kept me from the despair of Joshua Lim was an intimate, personal relationship with Christ that involved too much history to walk away from. So, I knew there was Truth — I knew Him –but all I saw around me was opinion (I was at this time teaching Bible in a multi-denominational setting, still ready to “save” a Roman Catholic if I met one). This, though, did not negate for example, that on just three central Christian doctrines — Justification, Baptism, and the Eucharist — I saw a huge disparity between various Protestant camps who had exegesis lined up around the corner in their defense (Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Arminian for example). In other words, it was not so much what I was looking to get (some Magisterium), but what I saw I didn’t have.

    In other domains of knowledge, I had such methods available to me. In those domains, men of good will and common intellect agreed on the conclusions using those methods. Thus, despite my personal fallibility, I had apparent warrant to trust those methods and the concluding facts. That is the point of the Catholic position (as Mike’s article evinces). We can never escape our human frailty, but what we can escape is the wrong use of reason. If, for example, I decided to reject the principles that govern knowledge in the domain of observation, I would suffer for it. I might walk into doors, assuming that, for ad hoc reasons, today I can simply walk through the door. That today, doors don’t keep people out. When a Catholic says, “Mr. Protestant, you are being ad hoc,”, he is simply saying that you have no principled reason for preferring your doctrinal position over its competitor. Of course, you may have Biblical evidence for your position, and that is a good thing. However, and this is an important point, there can be nothing in a conclusion that is not in the premises. So, if my doctrinal conclusion is “x”, and that conclusion is not aided by the Holy Spirit in such a way that it is not erroneous (infallible), then since that is not in the premise, we can never be certain that the conclusion is without error. It is why R.C. Sproul admits that the the canon of Scripture is a “fallible list of infallible books” (That one took my breath away when I was a Protestant). Also, if my doctrinal conclusion is “x”, and that conclusion is grounded only upon my rational conviction that said doctrine is “x”, then I have reduced faith to rationalism. That is why I always find it ironic when the Protestant claims that the Catholic is being a rationalist for wanting doctrinal “certainty” (and obtaining it through the supernatural charism of infallibility given to the Church by the Holy Spirit), but it is the Protestant who grounds his or her conviction of the Biblical witness in his or her particular rational convictions — and those rational convictions only.

    The question is, what is the Protestant response? It is not enough to say, “The Magisterium doesn’t work”. Disproving an alternative does not prove the positive. So, while it is true that the Catholic position solves the problem, it is not necessary to first assume the Catholic solution in order to see the problem.

    Peace to you on your journey

  105. re 103

    David,

    Early in my first conversion, and I went into the Assemblies of God because of the joy I saw there, I was aware of the virtually blinding number of churches and sects in the small city where I lived. I was aware of the differences between, for instance, the Assemblies and at least some of the Baptists. We were in contention, and to a fair extent, we did not believe the same things.

    That fact, about not believing the same things, was also evident but to a lesser degree with other church bodies. The place I lived had Pentecostals, including the United Pentecostal Church (UPC), which is a Oneness church, regular and a charismatic Lutheran congregations, Methodists, Calvinists of various stripes, Wesleyans, JWs, Catholics and heaven knows what else.

    I would offer to you that we all claimed to be Bible believing, Spirit filled, moved by the love of God, and individual motivations not withstanding, it simply was less than true.

    Excepting the Catholics, we ignored Jesus whenever what He was saying was in conflict with our positions. The theme of the lamb prophesied by Abraham (on the way to kill Isaac), the Passover lamb which must be eaten, the lamb which was silent before its slaughters, the Baptist’s singling out Jesus as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, Jesus statement to His followers that unless they eat His Body and drink His Blood they will not have everlasting life (after which many departed from Him), the Last Supper as viewed in the Synoptics, and Paul’s reiteration of the same in 1st Corinthians, was evident to me relatively early. Acts also adds to this by noting that the encounter on the way to Emmaus was resolved when Jesus was recognized “in the breaking of the bread.”

    Excepting Catholics (I don’t remember any Orthodox Churches where I was at), Jesus statement about who sins you forgive they are forgiven them was met with our own position that we were perfectly capable of going to God directly for forgiveness.

    Abortion was relatively new in our country at that time. I actually had a position, noting that we are given “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and I could not fathom how one could have liberty or the pursuit of happiness without being alive. I also could not figure out what those babies had done to deserve capital punishment. Abortion appeared to me to be akin to slavery, that is one person owns another to the point of death. Wretched idea.

    My own church, along with most of the others I was aware of, took the position that abortion was tragic, but…. But?

    In scripture I was seeing Jesus make binding decisions. In the Acts I was seeing Peter make binding decisions. In Acts I saw the Church in the Jerusalem Council make binding decisions. I was aware that the Catholic Church condemned abortion in no uncertain terms. There was no “but…” involved. The risk to Protestant Churches was that people who disagreed could up and move. Pastors whose livelihood depended on paying seats in the pews had to decide what was most important. A lot a decisions involving right and wrong were deferred to the real authority.

    I found it necessary to leave, and God in His great generosity led me to a place where I would not have to insult my conscience to accommodate what I was seeing.

    That Place also fulfilled the scriptures I was reading, which is necessary for anyone coming from an evangelical background.

    Count the cost. The cost of staying would have been my soul.

    Cordially,

    dt

  106. #104 Brent

    I have benefitted from you logical mind since I have been lurking, thank you.

    I would ask you to clarify something for me though. You said above in #104:”Nevertheless, what kept me from the despair of Joshua Lim was an intimate, personal relationship with Christ that involved too much history to walk away from. So, I knew there was Truth — I knew Him –but all I saw around me was opinion”
    Q. Since it was the crumbling doctrine of sola scriptura that caused Joshua Lim’s scepticism, how were you able to hold onto your intimate, personal relationship that involved knowledge of God taken objectively because it is God’s self revelation, but does take on a subjective personal element? Was the “too much history” part, your seeing God’s hand in your life, or was it reading of God’s faithfulness in history? The whole reason to be in despair is because one’s prior faith commitments are compromised.

    Would you kindly address this?

  107. Perhaps I have been pushed to the dizziness of freedom and now I must make my choice. I can choose to believe that he began a good work and that he has continually been leading, or I can reject the RCC because I don’t like it’s weird stuff and I like my autonomy too much. Vertigo of the Infinate, and a leap of faith that seems to be the logical next step. Pray for me, my anxiety is growing.

  108. Alicia,

    Q. Since it was the crumbling doctrine of sola scriptura that caused Joshua Lim’s scepticism, how were you able to hold onto your intimate, personal relationship that involved knowledge of God taken objectively because it is God’s self revelation, but does take on a subjective personal element? Was the “too much history” part, your seeing God’s hand in your life, or was it reading of God’s faithfulness in history? The whole reason to be in despair is because one’s prior faith commitments are compromised.

    Without going into too many personal details, I will just say that I was unfortunately (but fortunately!) put in various situations from a young age where all I had was Christ. Thus, I developed a tremendous, personal reliance upon Him. How can you turn your back on the one who has delivered you from the hand of your enemy, healed your soul, and brought you refreshment in an hour of distress?

    Was there bits of skepticism? Sure. But I always knew there was truth to be found, that the Truth would not leave me to myself — alone, fearful and searching. Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. Those were the faithful words of the Lover of my soul. Finding Christ’s Church, was, for me, the terminus of that journey as an orphaned Christian. I had found the ground and pillar of Truth, the Church with the keys of the kingdom, who did not teach like so many “pastors”, self-made bishops, or teachers, but with one who had (been given) authority. Like the Lord commanded him, Peter forgave me, welcomed me home, and I will forever (by God’s grace) be a faithful son of the Church — the Body of Christ.

    Peace to you on your journey

  109. Question for the Catholics:

    Is it possible for Scripture to provide authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that a) determines what texts are and are not Scripture and b) infallibly interprets Scripture?

    And I do not mean “theoretically possible” but rather possible in reality as God has established it…let me know if there is anything else in the question that is unclear (I’m sure there is but I am a horrible self-editor)…work with me here :)

    Peter

  110. Brent,

    Thanks very much for your response and your helpful clarifications. A few quick thoughts:

    Calling this a “presupposition”, I think, confuses the matter.

    Okay. Having read your response, I think I can revise the basic presupposition as: One hasn’t escaped the morass of radical subjectivity unless one has submitted oneself to a living infallible interpreter.

    Is that better? (I did read through the first section of the article you linked by Dr. Liccione.) In other words, the basic presupposition is that Protestants are mired in subjectivity and need to be set free.

    What was I “looking for”? As a Protestant, I was looking for a principled, non ad hoc method for determining doctrine. If I had no such principled method, and my decision to accept a particular doctrine was rationally ad hoc, and my raison d’etre for holding to a particular doctrine was “internal enlightenment by the Holy Spirit” or merely preference, then on intellectual grounds I was a subjectivist.

    I’m not grasping this. As a Protestant, I have an infallible source of doctrine in the inspired Scriptures. Of course your response will be that my interpretation of the Scriptures is fallible so I haven’t escaped subjectivism. But why isn’t it adequate to point out that interpretation is an aspect of all communication and that the interpretive process inherent in communication doesn’t imply radical subjectivity/skepticism? In other words, I can understand something reasonably well without being infallible.

    Nevertheless, what kept me from the despair of Joshua Lim was an intimate, personal relationship with Christ that involved too much history to walk away from. So, I knew there was Truth — I knew Him –but all I saw around me was opinion (I was at this time teaching Bible in a multi-denominational setting, still ready to “save” a Roman Catholic if I met one).

    I certainly resonate with this to an extent (and not just the “’save’ a Roman Catholic” part!). But as a Reformed Christian, I of course hold that the Reformed faith is the purest expression of what the Bible teaches.

    This, though, did not negate for example, that on just three central Christian doctrines — Justification, Baptism, and the Eucharist — I saw a huge disparity between various Protestant camps who had exegesis lined up around the corner in their defense (Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Arminian for example). In other words, it was not so much what I was looking to get (some Magisterium), but what I saw I didn’t have.

    I don’t see the huge disparity. For example, all Protestants hold to essentially the same doctrine of justification. And if they don’t, they’ve departed from Protestant principles. On baptism, there are only two views up for grabs. On the Eucharist, things are admittedly a little (though not much) more complex. I agree with you that I don’t have a Magisterium. But unlike you, I don’t see that I need one. (And I can say that even though formerly I have been charismatic, credo-baptist and dispensationalist. I believe I understand better now, largely because I have been privy to the teaching of men who understood the Scriptures better, some of them only through their books.)

    Of course, you may have Biblical evidence for your position, and that is a good thing. However, and this is an important point, there can be nothing in a conclusion that is not in the premises. So, if my doctrinal conclusion is “x”, and that conclusion is not aided by the Holy Spirit in such a way that it is not erroneous (infallible), then since that is not in the premise, we can never be certain that the conclusion is without error.

    If the “premises” are the things being communicated in Scripture (by the Divine author), and the “conclusion” is my interpretation of Scripture, then it’s true, the conclusion can never be infallible since I, as the interpreter am fallible, but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand the Scriptures. As I’m sure you know, Presbyterians confess that: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (WCF 1.7).

    It is why R.C. Sproul admits that the the canon of Scripture is a “fallible list of infallible books” (That one took my breath away when I was a Protestant).

    Whatever he meant by that, it wasn’t that we can’t be sure about the canon. As I understand it, he was simply contrasting the Protestant versus the Catholic view of the church.

    Also, if my doctrinal conclusion is “x”, and that conclusion is grounded only upon my rational conviction that said doctrine is “x”, then I have reduced faith to rationalism.

    I don’t understand you here. Are you saying I am a rationalist for holding to doctrine “x” on the grounds that the Scriptures teach doctrine “x”? If so, I my response is that you are confusing rational conviction with rationalism. To have a rational conviction is not to be a rationalist, since there can be no faith without rational convictions. For example, if the Scriptures say: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28), and I conclude that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, that does not make me a rationalist. (Forgive me for belaboring the obvious.)

    Anyway, to sum up, I don’t find myself to be mired in all this subjectivity that you guys talk about. On the contrary, I do indeed find that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are … clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other.” Thanks again for the interaction!

  111. Alicia (#106)
    I think this raises an important point: we do not need a revelation to be saved. God might have chosen not to give us a revelation. He might have left us to seek Him according to that which we can naturally know about Him – what St Paul calls His power and glory and all the attributes we can know about Him from creation.

    So losing faith in revelation does not necessarily entail the absence of a personal relation with God. I recall, when I was struggling with whether to become a Catholic or not, telling my wife that I didn’t know how this whole business was going to end – but that I was sure that if I did not become a Catholic, I would never again believe in … well, I expressed it as believing in the authority of a church – but I went on to say that I might end up being something like a Quaker. So I think that I really meant that I would just seek God entirely on my own. I wasn’t even sure I would consider Jesus to be uniquely God’s presence in the world – and to do so is, surely, to believe Him as a – indeed, the – revelation of God.

    So I think it must happen that people who once believed in authoritative Scripture or whatever, but cease, may still have an intense personal relation with God.

    But … God has given us a revelation. And I think the whole point of the Catholic view is that that revelation is not the Bible first, and then a Church – Catholic or otherwise. That revelation is Christ – and it is then embodied – enfleshed – in the Church – which puts some of it into writing – necessarily only some. How can you put all of Christ into writing?

    In fact, I ought perhaps to say that the revelation which is Christ is enfleshed first of all in the Eucharist – and the Church itself is made the Body of Christ by its communion with Christ Himself in the Eucharist.

    jj

  112. Is it possible for Scripture to provide authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that a) determines what texts are and are not Scripture and b) infallibly interprets Scripture?

    I think there has to be some authority. Often you can have the authority of consensus. So that is not really a magisterium. When there is no real disagreement on what scripture says on a given question you take it as settled. You still have the question of who counts in your consensus. As a protestant my authority was the consensus of reformed Christians. I treated it as infallible. Then I started to fellowship with non-reformed Christians. I realized that my criteria for consensus was based on what tradition I was born into. At the same time liberalism was creeping into reformed churches and making consensus much less clear on many issues. So it became unworkable. Still I think it would be too strong to say scripture with consensus provides no guidance on any issue.

  113. Thanks Randy. That’s a helpful nuance.

    If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re answer to the question would be something like:

    No, it is not possible for Scripture to provide *objective* authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that a) determines what texts are and are not Scripture and b) infallibly interprets Scripture?

    [adding the word “objective” there to account for your “consensus” qualification]

    Does that work?

  114. David R.,

    Thanks for the dialog. May this help the cause of Christian unity.

    Okay. Having read your response, I think I can revise the basic presupposition as: One hasn’t escaped the morass of radical subjectivity unless one has submitted oneself to a living infallible interpreter. Is that better? (I did read through the first section of the article you linked by Dr. Liccione.) In other words, the basic presupposition is that Protestants are mired in subjectivity and need to be set free.

    No, you would be describing a conclusion. The point of my last comment was to demonstrate that it is not a presupposition. It would be a presupposition if I needed it as a premise for the conclusion that “Protestants only have opinion”. However, I don’t need it as a premise for the conclusion that “Protestants only have opinion”.

    I have an infallible source of doctrine in the inspired Scriptures.

    No, you have an inerrant and inspired source of doctrine. The Bible cannot act. Infallibility is the description of an act. What St. Peter does in Acts 2 is infallibility, what St. Luke operated under to record it was inspiration, and thus it was/is inerrant.

    Of course your response will be that my interpretation of the Scriptures is fallible so I haven’t escaped subjectivism.

    I didn’t say that, but I would say something similar to it. I would say that since you do not have a particular charism of infallibility, you do not have sufficient warrant to believe what you believe regarding Protestant doctrine. Why? Because doctrinal knowledge is either supernatural knowledge or natural knowledge. If it is natural knowledge, then it does not require the assent of faith. In other words, I don’t have to give the assent of faith to your opinion. If it is supernatural knowledge, then it requires the assent of faith.

    I don’t see the huge disparity. For example, all Protestants hold to essentially the same doctrine of justification. And if they don’t, they’ve departed from Protestant principles.

    I do, and it would be ad hoc to say that they err because they “depart from the Protestant principles” as if “Protestant principles” were a principled means by which all Christians could measure their dogma against.

    On baptism, there are only two views up for grabs. On the Eucharist, things are admittedly a little (though not much) more complex.

    I disagree. Pure symbolism in dixie cups to Transubstantiation/Adoration and everything in-between is irreconcilable differences. Moreover, even if it were “two views up for grabs”, that would be a far cry from truth. If I told you that you could either drink cup A or cup B, one of them being poison, you would hardly think it inconsequential that “there are only two cups up for grabs”.

    (And I can say that even though formerly I have been charismatic, credo-baptist and dispensationalist. I believe I understand better now, largely because I have been privy to the teaching of men who understood the Scriptures better, some of them only through their books.)

    Doesn’t your personal history undermine your claim that the doctrinal differences amongst Protestant groups are unappreciable? Have you stopped believing in the gifts of the Spirit? Do you now believe in the doctrine of cessationism?

    If the “premises” are the things being communicated in Scripture (by the Divine author), and the “conclusion” is my interpretation of Scripture, then it’s true, the conclusion can never be infallible since I, as the interpreter am fallible, but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand the Scriptures.

    That is not what is at stake here. What is at stake here is if your understanding can rise to the level of binding dogma on all Christians. Maybe not your understanding, but let’s use instead “Protestant principles”. Can the people or group of people who came up with the “Protestant principles” bind all Christians to believe those “principles”? Let’s say I’m a credo-baptist, charismatic who could care less about your “Protestant principles” because I think that Scripture is perspicuous with regards to support for my position. Why do I care about the “Protestant principles”?

    I don’t understand you here. Are you saying I am a rationalist for holding to doctrine “x” on the grounds that the Scriptures teach doctrine “x”?

    No, because a doctrinal statement is not merely a citation of Scripture. We both agree what the Scripture says, what is at issue is what it means, and more importantly, what I must believe it means.

    If so, my response is that you are confusing rational conviction with rationalism. To have a rational conviction is not to be a rationalist, since there can be no faith without rational convictions. For example, if the Scriptures say: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28), and I conclude that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, that does not make me a rationalist. (Forgive me for belaboring the obvious.)

    No, you don’t understand my distinction. I’m not confusing rational conviction with rationalism. A rational conviction would be rationalism if the person did not have sufficient warrant to believe “x”, but believed it otherwise because of their “rational conviction”. For our purpose, if when it comes to Sacred theology, my only conviction is my “rational conviction”, then I have reduced dogma to a species of rational knowledge — no matter my source of that conviction. That is rationalism. The Scripture passage you cite is a perfect case study. I could be “rationally convicted” that “faith apart from works by the Law” — considering the context — does not exclude works animated by love. Moreover, given the more broad context, I could rationally conclude that St. Paul is speaking very specifically about the ceremonial law, not the ten commandments. Which leads to our problem. How do we decide this matter? Have an intellectual slugfest? An “I’ve got the Holy Spirit how about you” marathon? Seriously, what must a Christian believe regarding this matter? If the Church is the “ground and pillar of Church” able to “bind things on earth” which will be “bound in heaven”, then I say that the Church decides, not me. I should listen to the Church and incline my ear to understanding.

    Warmly in Christ,

    Brent

  115. Brent (#114)

    No, you have an inerrant and inspired source of doctrine. The Bible cannot act. Infallibility is the description of an act. What St. Peter does in Acts 2 is infallibility, what St. Luke operated under to record it was inspiration, and thus it was/is inerrant.

    It might help – at least I think it would have helped me when I was struggling with these issues – if I made a comment on these three concepts as I see them – and viewing the differences between them which I did not understand when I was first looking at the Catholic Church.

    I hasten to add that the following is just my understanding; perhaps some who know these things better can correct or illuminate what I say:

    – inerrant – has no errors. I might write a book on mathematics that is inerrant. It could be a proof of some sort of proposition – and possibly a complex one.

    – infallible – will not fail me. My book might be inerrant – but if a person reading it wasn’t good enough at understanding this stuff, the book might fail him, because he is depending on his own understanding to see what the book actually says.

    – inspired – God caused me to write it – my book would not be that! :-)

    It is easy to confuse the first two with regards to the Bible. Catholics and Protestants agree that the Bible is inerrant. In those things it intends to teach (and there are issues there, of course – e.g. does the Bible intend to tell us that we could have stood by with a stopwatch during Creation and noted that it took 518,400 seconds?), the Bible is without error.

    But the point I understand Brent to be making is that the Bible can – and does! – fail us, if we think that by reading it, studying it, interpreting it, we will make no errors. It is, of course, not the Bible that has failed. It is my own understanding that has failed.

    One may suppose the Catholic to be in the same situation. After all, I may make a mistake in understanding some Papal definition. But the point is that if I do, the infallible Church is there to correct me. I have a way of finding out if I am wrong – if and only if the Church is infallible. But if the Church is fallible, then I have no way of knowing that I am wrong about my interpretation either of the Bible or of the Church’s writings.

    This situation is sufficiently clear at least to some Protestants that there are some who claim direct illumination of the Holy Spirit – so that they believe they know infallibly the meaning of this or that Scripture. This would be a wonderful thing if it were true. It is sadly the case that two such persons are, in my experience, in disagreement with one another. This is, in fact, a version of the Catholic claim to infallibility, but on a personal level.

    jj

  116. JJ in 115 stated:

    One may suppose the Catholic to be in the same situation. After all, I may make a mistake in understanding some Papal definition. But the point is that if I do, the infallible Church is there to correct me. I have a way of finding out if I am wrong – if and only if the Church is infallible. But if the Church is fallible, then I have no way of knowing that I am wrong about my interpretation either of the Bible or of the Church’s writings.

    How does the church correct a person and which errors does the church correct?

    If I have to initiate the church correcting me, how do I first know when I should be looking for the correct answer?

    A couple of weeks ago at mass, the gospel was John 15:9-17. During his homily, my current parish priest explained that the gospel meant that the greatest love was the family that was open to children or priests that choose celibacy. As way of more explanation, the priest is not a fan of the administration’s healthcare and contraceptive plan and uses every opportunity to preach against it.

    Whether he is a fan or not of it is not the point, the point is I am not sure his explanation of the gospel is correct.

    If it is not correct, then is this the type of error that is corrected? How does someone sitting in the pew first decide that they need to research the meaning and second how do they get the correct meaning?

    Thanks

  117. Norm (#116)

    How does the church correct a person and which errors does the church correct?

    Many ways – particularly, for most of us, by on-going statements about things. The Catholic Catechism is a major way. The assumption, of course, is that I am seeking the truth. The Catechism clarified many things for many persons. The whole on-going life of the Church, with councils, papal encyclicals, etc are part of this.

    And of course there are times when there are direct corrections: theologians publishing things that are so far out the Church must respond. Such occasions are rare.

    If I have to initiate the church correcting me, how do I first know when I should be looking for the correct answer?

    Again, the person seeking the truth is the person this is directed to. The point is that as a Bible-only man, I am constantly seeking the truth – but the Bible does not have any way of telling me for sure that I have found it.

    Consider the ordination of women. For centuries there was never any question about it. Then in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Protestant groups began ordaining women. And the question thus had begun to arise: may women be ordained? There were a number of documents during the latter part of the 20th Century indicating they might not. Finally recently Ordinatio Sacerdotalis made a pretty definitive correction of this error.

    Regarding your specific question about the priest’s homily, the example is well-chosen. And the answer will be much the same for the Catholic as for the Protestant: know what in general the Church has said about this (and the Church, in my opinion, is pretty much in agreement with your priest); make yourself open to that, and to thinking about it; know what room there is for freedom of thought. But for the Catholic, he knows that when push comes to shove, there is the possibility of an authoritative answer.

    Which is not the same as saying that his application of that Gospel was the best one. I am not at all sure that one can say that this or that application of something like that is right or wrong. Particular Scriptural texts can be well-applied in enormously varies ways. It is when the application leads to a false result that it must be condemned. Suppose your priest had taken a Manichaean slant on it, had said that laying down one’s life for one’s friends meant that suicide – say something like Buddhist protest suicides – was what it meant. You could be sure he was wrong.

    jj

  118. Brent’s #114 is very important. I remember very clearly the awe and terror I felt when I first read a theological exposition on Divine Faith and realizing that Protestantism’s principle of private judgment makes faith impossible. For me, this was the reductio ad absurdum of Protestantism.

  119. re 109

    Peter,

    Quote: “Is it possible for Scripture to provide authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that a) determines what texts are and are not Scripture and b) infallibly interprets Scripture?”

    Such “authoritative” guidance seems very limited on the individual level. A good example is abortion, or the value of human life. Given the recognition in Genesis that God created human life, is literally its Author, and is also the Author of the commandment “thou shalt not kill,” can the directed killing of unborn human beings be justified?

    There are a lot of people who believe it can. They march, speak, write and vote for the right to kill the unborn, whose crime is being conceived. There are whole denominational bodies which hold to this position, in real part because they have no authority and in part because they might lose people who contribute to the financial well-being of the congregation/denomination.

    This issue actually came up with the early Church fathers (including Tertullian, Jerome, Augustine, and Clement of Alexandria) who recognized contraception, abortion and infanticide as sins against the commandment forbidding killing. They did not see a human right to prevent the conception of children, the killing of children in utero (abortion), or their killing upon being born (infanticide).

    That background is behind what is being expressed by Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. Paul VI expresses the longstanding position of the Church. Does scripture give a specific direction regarding abortion? Not that I am aware of. This position is defined and maintained by the Church.

    Of note, that Church claims the right to make such binding decisions, and I found that willingness to do so refreshing. An authoritative Organization acting with authority. The Body of which Jesus is the Head did not attempt to straddle this fence. It spoke in favor of human life, which makes it unique. It sees the dignity given by God to human beings and immediately went to their defense at a time in the past when It was confronted with the zeitgeist or the peoples and the governments of that time.

    It did not waiver in the face of its wayward sons and daughters who would take an opposite position. It did not look at the possible loss of revenue from individuals or organizations which would disagree. It stood right where Its Master told It to stand.

    It made the decision He had made. It accepted the truth that It was told to expect as the Holy Spirit guided It to all truth, and then promulgated that truth.

    (Of note, and intending fairness, originally Mormonism was pro-life. It now holds the position that abortion is acceptable for rape, incest and life of the mother, which is something less than a pro-life position.

    A Mormon bishop (essentially a congregational pastor) can give a Mormon woman permission to o-abort. I don’t deem that “pro-life.

    The Mormon position appears to me to be pro-abortion with some guidelines.)

    I am pro-life.

    Thanks be to God Who does all thing well without regard to the politics or the finances.

    Cordially,

    dt

  120. John/Brent/Bryan et al,

    Would any of you be willing to either answer the following question as stated or provide some input if you think the question needs to be refined? (Just trying to get a sense of the Catholic position)

    Is it possible for Scripture to provide objectively authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that a) determines what texts are and are not Scripture and b) infallibly interprets Scripture?

    Thanks.

  121. Peter G.,

    You asked two questions:

    Is it possible for Scripture to provide objectively authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that determines what texts are and are not Scripture.

    Let me ask you, could you explain to me how any book, apart from explicitly saying “these and no other” are the chapters in the book, can do what you imply? Even if I granted such a possibility, Jesus quotes from the “deuterocanon” copiously, which leads to a kind of awkward moment. Don’t you think?

    Further, if it could be established that Christ gave us an infallible Teaching Office (I prefer “Teaching Office” to Magisterium when in dialog with a Protestant, because it doesn’t grind against Protestant sensibilities as much as the leviathan sounding “Magisterium”) in the Church, why would I seek such objectivity a part from her guidance? Even given a very high view of Scripture — which Catholics have (the Sacred Scripture is part of her 3-part authority structure), why would I seek a certainty a part from the Church, if Christ founded that Church, gave her the keys of the kingdom to bind and loose, and empowered her with His Spirit? In other words, in the Catholic paradigm it is a false dilema.

    Is it possible for Scripture to provide objectively authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that infallibly interprets Scripture?

    First, we can adduce from Scripture what the 10 commandment are. We can adduce what the beatitudes are. To know what these are is not to interpret, in the strict sense we are speaking of here, but to reproduce what the text says.

    However, the answer to your question is “No”. Because Scripture cannot infallibly interpret Scripture. A person can infallibility (or fallibly) interpret Scripture. That person could, and should, use Scripture to interpret Scripture — but the person is doing the lifting. He or she has to decide which Scriptures will act as the fulcrum, so to speak, of the interpretive action. He or she has to decide which facts are marginally important and which are not. And, with regards to Sacred Scripture, face-time in the story, may or may not count, so you cannot assume something is less important simply because it is spoken about with less detail or page-space. Thus, I will affirm that Scripture interpreting itself is a good principle of interpretation in general.

    However, grace builds upon and perfects nature. So, even if a person could employ all the possible proper techniques on a text of Scripture, had the highest IQ in the world, etc., that would not be enough. They would need grace — or else Christianity is just a matter for those with the best reading comprehension, and her guides reserved for the intelligentsia. On this view, to the Greek, Christianity is nothing more than an open book (Bible) of rationally adducible principles — not foolishness! To the Jew, Christ is the obvious fulfillment of the Torah — not a stumbling block! Of course, this is not the case. This vicious assumption is what leads to the snarkiness and condescension of many of the combox dialogs with some Reformed folks. I mean, if we don’t get it when it is so obvious, we are either the devil or a dud. Ergo, the attitude so prevalent in the comboxes at some places.

    Which is why even Protestants admit the notion of “self-attestation” given by the Holy Spirit as a crucial component for “recognizing” the canon or interpreting a text. However, “self-attestation” or “personal enlightenment” does little good for Christians who conflict precisely on the point of their “inner light”. Thus, we conclude that it is not the “inner light” that is the ultimate “ground and pillar of truth.” Because the “ground” is where the rubber hits the road, and if I always have the right to dissent from my Church, then I have no Church at all. I have joined a club; a community of my choosing. On the contrary and for the Catholic, Christ, as Truth Himself, inspired the Scriptures, inhabits the Church (Tradition), and left us with a Teaching Office in the Church that would act as a steward of His Leadership until He returns. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are led into all truth.

    Peace to you on your journey

  122. Thanks Donald (just noticing your response in #119 now). Appreciate the interaction. Helpful illustration.

    Judging from the whole of your response its seems that your answer to the question (as stated in #120 above) would be “No”. Is that be correct? Although, at the beginning of your response, you did say that “such ‘authoritative’ guidance seems very limited on the individual level,” which would suggest that you answer could be “yes”.

    Sorry for “pigeonholing” you here. Just trying to a definitive answer from the Catholic perspective. Let me know if you have any suggestions for clarifying the language so that you would be able to give a definitive answer.

    Thanks,
    Peter

  123. Re 122

    Peter,

    What I was not aware of as a Protestant is the moral or natural law. That law, which is elegantly described by CS Lewis in a short book titled The Abolition of Man, recognizes that God did place in the human heart a series of recognitions which cannot be avoided. The best view that we in the west have of the moral law is the 10 Commandments. The 613 commandments, the entirety of the law, do not all fall under the moral law.

    The 10 Commandments, consistent with other displays of the moral law, deal with one’s relations and obligations to God, parents, and other people. It is recognized in disparate cultures, in various times, and in places with no other natural connection to each other. It is internally consistent no matter the time or place or culture it appears in.

    The recognition of God is tempered, my own assumption being that what we know about God involves revelation, and that revelation of the Judeo/Christian type was not given to everyone. However that God exists, and is responsible for the gift of life, means that we have an obligation to recognize Him and offer Him worship and thanksgiving, which is common fare in the moral law. The natural virtue associated with this is the virtue of religion.

    When God wrote “thou shalt not kill” on the tablets of the law, He was reiterating what He had written in the hearts of men. If, because of original sin and its outworking we break the moral law (sin), we have no excuse. Sin is what Jesus comes to redeem us from.

    Since my original item noted abortion, the Hebrew law does not recognize it. It recognizes that if a child in the womb is killed as men contend with one another, there is a penalty. The death of the child in the mother’s womb is recognized, but not as abortion.

    The Jews lived by cultures where children were fed to the fire for Moloch and his favor. They were forbidden that evil and generally seem to have lived up to the idea that children were gifts of God. This is also consistent with the story of Abraham and Isaac. God tested Abraham’s obedience – which contrasts with Adam’s obedience – and Abraham’s obedience was not found wanting, and whose son was not required as a sacrifice.

    If abortion is not specified in scripture, how are we to think of it? If I understand Judaism correctly, it has not taken a position, or perhaps better, its position is to not take a position. That, succinctly, means that it has no moral authority over its adherents. (Note, I did hear a rabbi stand up for human life, but he is literally the only rabbi I ever heard take that position, so I assume it was his choice, not the position of his version of Judaism.)

    Christianity looked at the practices of the people around it, and looked at what God had done for us and took the position that life is intended for sacredness, for life in the company of the Triune God. That being true, the early Church, as evidenced by those early Church fathers, stated their opposition to contraception, abortion and infanticide. They decided in favor of “be fruitful and multiply” and in favor of “thou shalt not kill.”

    Authoritative. Decisive. The mind of Christ. Consistent with God’s design from the beginning. In harmony with the natural or moral law.

    I found scripture compelling with regard to the Eucharist (thanksgiving) as a sacrificial meal, the new Passover. I found the arguments in Abraham’s prophecy of the lamb that God Himself will provide, in the lamb to be killed and eaten as part of the Passover under Moses, of the lamb silent before its slaughters in Isaiah. I found it spelled out in John 6, in the Synoptic descriptions of the Last Supper, and in Paul’s reiteration of the Synoptics in 1st Corinthians, followed by Paul writing “Christ our Passover” in another location. The reality of what He did exists in what He is doing for us, feeding us Himself as the only Food capable of sustaining us on the journey through this life to the world to come. I could not limit Him.

    I found a lot of scripture of a very specific person who would participate with her offspring in bringing salvation to the world. I found this in opposition to a widely held position in evangelicalism that “any woman would do.” However both the Scripture and the Church spelled out someone who is prophesied from the first promises after the fall. “Any woman would do” was not scriptural.

    That position, believing things that were not scriptural, was the catalyst for me. Near the end of John 6, grumbling disciples left Jesus because of what He said. He did not amend what He said, rather He looked at the apostles and asked if they were leaving as well.

    I looked at scripture, I looked at what positions I was holding, and I found myself lacking. I did not want to leave Jesus, rather I wanted to stay with Him. If John 6 was any indication, He wasn’t going to change His position for me or my position, so it was incumbent on me to change. Amen.

    Given the disparity and contention of beliefs in Christendom, who is right? I found the Place where what He said is believed in a quite literal way. It was the furthest place from my mind, however I wanted to stay with Him, so here I am.

    So, is scripture alone sufficient? Sometimes, and if my own experience is used, it depends on the individual and/or the denomination. Yet we (the corporate we of my denomination) had taken positions antithetical to scripture. I had taken positions antithetical to scripture (and discovered that they were largely anti-Catholic positions. Those Catholics could not be right.).

    Yet that scripture came from a Church making authoritative decisions, including the decision on what gospels and letters belonged in scripture, and which did not.

    It took some years for that combination of issues to work themselves through, and when it was done, I became a Catholic.

    Is scripture sufficient? It was sufficient to cause me to look for the Church Jesus founded and Which believes Him. Once I arrived at that conclusion, I had to submit. He must be right no matter the cost to me. He was right before I knew it, and He has been right ever since.

    Hopefully that will answer your question to me.

    Cordially,

    dt

  124. Brent, (re: #121)

    Thanks for your response.

    You wrote:
    “Let me ask you, could you explain to me how any book, apart from explicitly saying “these and no other” are the chapters in the book, can do what you imply?” (or, if I may paraphrase your question, “How can Scripture provide objectively authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that determines what texts are and are not Scripture?”)

    By way of example, do we need to know whether or not Esther is in the Canon in order to know whether or not it is permissible for us to commit adultery? Or, do we need to know whether or not the Maccabees are part of the Canon to know that God created the heavens and the earth?

    Jesus did not leave an exact list of inspired texts for the Apostles and the rest of his followers. But that did not prevent Him, the Apostles, or the rest of the Early Church from believing that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Were they being irrational or fideistic or ad hoc or subjectivist (or whatever) in this belief since nobody had definitely told them “these and no other”?

    You wrote: “the answer to your question is ‘No’.” (again, to paraphrase: “No, it is not possible for Scripture to provide objectively authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that infallibly interprets Scripture.”)

    Is there such a thing as an “objective contradiction” to Scripture? For example, let’s say that someone reads the commandment commit adultery and decides that what the text really means – when interpreted in light of the whole of Scripture – is that it is only permissible to commit adultery in some cases. Is it possible for us to objectively determine that their “interpretation” contradicts Scripture? Or must we say that, ultimately, the Scriptures are not clear enough for us to make that determination without the authority of an infallible magisterium/teaching office?

    Thanks,
    Peter

  125. Thanks Donald. I may disagree with your conclusions but I appreciate you taking he time to share all of that with me.

    Just to clarify, at this point, I not arguing for the sufficiency of Scripture. I just trying to figure out what Scripture is minimally capable of from a Catholic perspective (in terms of providing objectively authoritative guidance).

    Thanks,
    Peter

  126. Peter G, you ask:

    I just trying to figure out what Scripture is minimally capable of from a Catholic perspective (in terms of providing objectively authoritative guidance).

    It seems to me, that to answer your question would require clarity about the issues involved in Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.

    What can a man get out of Scripture without the illumination of the Holy Spirit?

    What can a man get out of Scriptures with the illumination of the Holy Spirit?

    From the Catholic perspective, the illumination of the Holy Spirit, or the lack of that illumination, makes all the difference in the world as to how one should answer your question.

  127. Mateo,

    Good point. I have been assuming “illumination of the Holy Spirit” throughout my discussion but it’s good to make it explicit.

    That said, I should clarify: Are you talking about “illumination” of the individual believer or of the Magisterium? And, if we’re talking about the individual, does the Catholic perspective allow for 2 Spirit-indwelled Christians to look at the same text of Scripture and arriving at differing (even mutually exclusive) interpretations?

    Thanks,
    Peter

  128. Peter,

    What happens when good men, men doing their utmost to be true and holy, disagree.

    What happens when Paul in Romans writes that Abraham is saved by faith without works? What happens when James invokes Abraham and Abraham’s works? (It did not go over very well with Luther who wanted to dump James from the canon because James’ position made Luther’s position untenable.)

    Did God provide a mechanism to humankind for making that decision? Is it up to the individual or the individual congregation to pick Door 1 or Door 2?

    There has to be a singular authority who can determine if it is Door 1 or Door 2, or if Paul is saying one thing such as referring to the portions of the law requiring circumcision,and the wearing of tassels and phylacteries, while James is writing about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked?

    The alternative is chaos. The Yellow Pages under Church describe that chaos.

    So, Scripture opened a door for me, but it did so by leading me to the Church, the Body of which Christ Jesus is the Head. Scripture is a servant, and it responds properly to its Author Who is the Head of the Body and Whose words are recorded in it.

    Cordially,

    dt

  129. Thanks again, Donald.

    You raise some good points but I’m just not convinced that we have to choose between infallible magisterial authority or “chaos”. Is there not a single word, phrase, or verse in Scripture that has an objectively verifiable meaning?

    Perhaps you could take a shot at the question I posed to Brent:

    Is there such a thing as an “objective contradiction” to Scripture? For example, let’s say that someone reads the commandment not to commit adultery and decides that what the text really means – when interpreted in light of the whole of Scripture – is that it is only permissible to commit adultery in some cases. Is it possible for us to objectively determine that their “interpretation” contradicts Scripture? Or must we say that, ultimately, the Scriptures are not clear enough for us to make that determination without the authority of an infallible magisterium/teaching office?

    Thanks,
    Peter

  130. Peter G. (#124),

    For the sake of brevity, I will refer you to your dialog with donald todd. He has answered many of your questions as they pertain to the natural law.

    You asked:

    By way of example, do we need to know whether or not Esther is in the Canon in order to know whether or not it is permissible for us to commit adultery? Or, do we need to know whether or not the Maccabees are part of the Canon to know that God created the heavens and the earth?

    For this first question, I will only add that we need to know whether or not Esther is in the canon so we don’t add or take away from what constitutes Scripture. Because to add or take away from Scripture would constitute a grave moral evil.

    Were they being irrational or fideistic or ad hoc or subjectivist (or whatever) in this belief since nobody had definitely told them “these and no other”?

    No, but they were not also assuming, a part from the Church, what is and is not canon. In other words, the early Christians did not have “canon” as such. Also, and more telling, the historical evidence leads us to the conclusion that the passage of Scripture you cite (2 Tim 3:16) did not prevent them from revering a number of non-canonical books as canonical (1/2 Clement, 3 Corinthians, etc.). So, them acting upon a personal conviction in no way obfuscates the importance of an authoritative Church. This same holds true today. The Church always sets the boundary of my personal “conviction”. She, not I, is the “ground and pillar of truth”.

    Is there such a thing as an “objective contradiction” to Scripture? For example, let’s say that someone reads the commandment commit adultery and decides that what the text really means – when interpreted in light of the whole of Scripture – is that it is only permissible to commit adultery in some cases. Is it possible for us to objectively determine that their “interpretation” contradicts Scripture? Or must we say that, ultimately, the Scriptures are not clear enough for us to make that determination without the authority of an infallible magisterium/teaching office?

    Most of this is addressed by donald todd’s comments about natural law. However, you asked Mateo:

    Does the Catholic perspective allow for 2 Spirit-indwelled Christians to look at the same text of Scripture and arriving at differing (even mutually exclusive) interpretations?

    Of course! Just because I have the Spirit personally, doesn’t mean I’m preserved from error. Now, if your question is whether or not the Holy Spirit can illuminate two individuals to reach two mutually exclusive conclusions, then the answer is obviously “NO!”. The Holy Spirit is God who is Truth — in whom there is no variance or shadow of turning.

    Peace to you on your journey

  131. Peter G. you ask:

    That said, I should clarify: Are you talking about “illumination” of the individual believer or of the Magisterium?

    I don’t understand your question. The living magisterium is composed of the living bishops of Christ’s Church. Each bishop is an individual believer, just as I am an individual believer.

    And, if we’re talking about the individual, does the Catholic perspective allow for 2 Spirit-indwelled Christians to look at the same text of Scripture and arriving at differing (even mutually exclusive) interpretations?

    Certainly the Catholic Church teaches that I could be in a state of grace and reach an interpretation of scriptures that differs significantly from that of another Catholic that is in a state of grace. The Catholic Church does not teach that my personal interpretations of the inerrant scriptures are necessarily without error just because I am in a state of grace.

    Do you believe that two Spirit filled Christians can reach different interpretations of the inerrant scriptures?

  132. Peter,

    The walls of Jericho did fall down. Some archaeologists found the wall. After a lot of denial, scripture was proven right, ergo the author of that book was telling us objective truth. We can see it and date it and if we are motivated, we can even go there and take pictures of it. If you want to agree with me on that, we can. It is objectively true.

    It seems to me that most of what we disagree about is not so simple as finding a wall that fell down. We disagree over the meaning and purpose of the Church that Jesus founded. I found that once I understood the Church and its purpose, and agreed with it, the rest was easy. Peter was easy. Mary was easy. The communion of saints was easy. Auricular confession was easy. The Lamb of God under the guise of bread was easy. Scripture became much easier as I wasn’t in a constant state of denial about what I was reading.

    I noted that when I found parts of scripture to be true because I found them consistent in what I was reading, I also found my co-religionists and my denomination did not believe it. I was busy accepting what Jesus or scripture was saying at face value, and virtually everyone around me was picking and choosing what they would or would not believe.

    Any comparison of the Catholic (and Orthodox) view of the Eucharist with the Lutheran, the Calvinist, and evangelical views will find conflict. The Anglican/Episcopal view is that the Eucharist is whatever you want to believe, as long as you don’t believe it is a sacrifice. Real Presence? Okay. A remembrance only? Okay. Which view most clearly corresponds to Scripture?

    How do you scientifically measure the change in the bread and wine after the consecration? I doubt that a scientist would be able to test for this particular Change. There is no fallen wall to check out.

    Is God limited by the Church? Nope. Not for a minute do I believe that. I found holy people outside the Church. I read Corrie Ten Boom. I read Watchman Nee. I could and do appreciate their faith and fidelity to what they believed. It was their conception of Church with which I disagreed. What they believed limited God, hamstrung Him. Jesus left a place without working a miracle, noting their lack of belief.

    We stand at the gates of Jericho. While I believe we both want to arrive at the same destination, I don’t believe that we are on the same road. We interpret things differently, and I have deferred my judgment to that of the Church Whose Head is Christ Jesus and Whose Holy Spirit leads the same Church to all truth. No guarantees for me personally, but a guarantee to the apostles which passed on to the Church of which they are the pillars.

    I looked at the Catholic Church and saw that it was busy carrying the gospel to the ends of the world, right from the time of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit empowered it to do so. It could make the arguments, but it had a particular mission: Spread the good news and baptize using the trinitarian formula. It did what it was supposed to do. It was obedient.

    I haven’t looked back. I was converted. It was not the emotional conversion I experienced the first time. It was deeper. It demanded that I submit myself, that I am not the authority. It worked. Here I am.

    You will get good and exact answers here, and I can easily commend my betters and peers Brent and Mateo, yet I would recommend a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It has the answers that the Church was given by Her Master and Head.

    Cordially,

    dt

  133. Brent/Donald,

    First of all, thank you both for taking the time to dialogue here. I’m sure you both have busy lives and I do not mean to presume on you time or drag this discussion any further than it needs to go. So feel free to cease and desist at any point.

    It appears that (unsurprisingly) I was unclear on a couple points. Let me try to revise/reframe some of my questions:

    “By way of example, do we need to know whether or not Esther is in the Canon in order to know whether or not *Scripture teaches that* it is permissible for us to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14)? Or, do we need to know whether or not the Maccabees are part of the Canon to know that *according to Scripture* God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)?” My point in asking these questions is that we do not need to know the extent of the canon in order to derive objectively authoritative guidance from Scripture on matters of faith and practice. As I noted, Jesus and the Apostles appealed to/taught from Scripture despite the fact that, as Brent noted, there was no “canon” at that time. [Brent- While Donald’s points about the natural law were interesting/helpful, I do not see how they are relevant in answering the questions I am asking here.]

    Brent wrote:
    “No, but they were not also assuming, apart from the Church, what is and is not canon.”

    Agreed. The Apostles were not “assuming” a “canon”. Rather, they *knew* that they had *Scripture* in their possession. And they knew this apart from formal canonization on the part of the Church. I’m not saying that the process of formal canonization on the part of Church is not important. I am only arguing that the Church’s “authority to answer the question” cannot be the “only principled basis” for our belief that we have Scripture in our possession. Otherwise, we would have to argue that the Apostles and the Early Church, as Tom Brown put it, had “no principled reason or basis for knowing what is the deposit of faith.” If you could have asked the Apostle Paul, or the Apostle Peter, or Timothy, or Clement (of Rome), or Ignatius, or Origen (etc.) to explain to you which books they believed to be Scripture and why, what do you think they would have said? I imagine their answers would have been quite similar to the ones Protestants give today. Certainly, they would not and could not have answered the question by appealing to the Church’s magisterial authority, since Scripture had been around long before the Church even existed. Does that make them “ad hoc”?

    Brent wrote:
    “Most of this is addressed by Donald Todd’s comments about natural law.”

    Again, while I appreciate Donald’s comments about the natural law, I do not see how they are relevant in answering the question I had asked. Perhaps you could elaborate. Here’s the original question again (with a few minor revisions for clarity):

    “Is there such a thing as an “objective contradiction” to Scripture? For example, let’s say that someone reads the commandment in Scripture not to commit adultery and decides that what the text really means – when interpreted in light of the whole of Scripture – is that it is only permissible to commit adultery in some cases. Is it possible for us to objectively determine that their “interpretation” contradicts Scripture? Or must we say that, ultimately, the Scriptures are not clear enough for us to make that determination without the authority of an infallible magisterium/teaching office?”

    That said, I completely agree with Donald that God “reiterates [in Scripture] what He has already written in the hearts of men”. But this statement would not be true if the words “thou shalt not kill” did not have some minimal objective meaning. If these words could also be interpreted to mean “thou shall not kill, unless you are so are so angry that you cannot control yourself” then it would be inaccurate to say that God “reiterates [in Scripture] what He has already written in the hearts of men”.

    Donald wrote:
    “We disagree over the meaning and purpose of the Church that Jesus founded.”

    Yes, we do. And where are we to get reliable information about the meaning and purpose of this Church if we are unsure of the identity of this Church in the present day? Should we look for a Church in the present day that conforms to our notions of what we think the meaning and purpose of the Church should be? Or should we look to the Church’s Founder and His closest followers (whose words and actions are record in Scripture) to see what kind of Church was actually founded? Where in Scripture do we find an explicit indication that magisterial infallibility is essential to the meaning and purpose of the that Church Christ founded? If explicit evidence cannot be found why do you believe that magisterial infallibility is essential to the meaning and purpose of the Church? Is it because you believe that the “alternative is chaos”?

    One last thing. Brent wrote in a previous comment: “if I always have the right to dissent from my Church, then I have no Church at all”

    What you call the “right to dissent from my Church”, I would recast “responsibility to humbly, thoughtfully, judiciously and lovingly help hold the leaders and fellow members of my local church (and, to a lesser degree the rest of my brothers & sisters, in the universal church) accountable to the Scriptures and to the Gospel” (as Scripture commands us to in Galatians 1:6 among other places). All Christians have the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). And that means Christians have both responsibility to and (some measure of) authority in the local and universal Church. We are responsible for each other. But alas, my Congregationalist colors are seeping through; are we not the worst kind of schismatics of them all? :)

    Thanks again,
    Peter

  134. Peter,

    Your questions are good. I have no difficulty with them.

    “We disagree over the meaning and purpose of the Church that Jesus founded.” Yes, we do. And where are we to get reliable information about the meaning and purpose of this Church if we are unsure of the identity of this Church in the present day?

    Remember, I came out of evangelicalism, and assumed a great deal for scripture. What was I seeing?

    Of great import, I saw Jesus as high priest and king. There are numerous items in scripture which lead to these twin points but I suspect you are capable of digging them out without my assistance. Those items are however necessary in order to see what the Church is about.

    Note that I began to see the Church as something different than what I was in. I saw Jesus rename a man who had the perfectly good name of Simon, and then tell Simon that he is the rock upon which He would build His Church. This is of import because if Jesus is King, then the Church is a Kingdom. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah had chamberlains, holders of the keys, meaning people who could provide or limit access to the king. A good description of that is in Isaiah 22:20-21. The words instituting Peter (Matthew 16) are very close to the description given in Isaiah. Peter had a singular position in a Kingdom which is still operating. Unlike his Lord and King Who is eternal, Peter died to this world, and he has had successors down through the ages, all his successors as keepers of the keys.

    I saw the apostles given the ability to confect the Meal of the new Passover. To do so, Jesus conferred on them a share in His priesthood. Accordingly the Church is also the fulfillment of the Temple. It is intended to bring the Sacrifice of the New Covenant to all people, where they are at. No need to visit Jerusalem and a Temple that no longer exists. The Sacrifice of the New Covenant came to us. The eternal Sacrifice, God Who desires that all men be saved, God Who told His apostles to go forth to all corners of the world, makes Himself present to us by making His Body and Blood available without extensive travel on our parts.

    Note: A priest of any religion has two functions: 1) guard the rites, and 2) offer the sacrifice. So Peter and the remaining 10 were associate priests to Jesus the High Priest.

    The Church was given the commission to preach, teach and baptize.

    The Church was given the authority to forgive sins.

    The Apostles were told that the Holy Spirit would guide It to all truth.

    No easy segue on this. I was reading a history of scripture when I ran into the issue that there was a Hebrew Old Testament and a Greek Old Testament, and that they disagreed on what constituted the Old Testament canon. So very importantly, the question arrives: Who decides what is scripture?

    I actually figured that part out quickly and easily. If one is a Mormon, that body decided that Doctrines and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Book of Mormon were scripture, just like the slightly modified King James Bible where Joseph Smith wrote himself into Genesis.

    If one is a Jehovah’s Witness, the heavily modified New World Translation is the scripture.

    One might pick out the writing of Mary Baker Eddy for the First Church of Christ Scientist.

    Luther hated James which conflicted with Luther’s theological position, and wanted James banished from scripture.

    Other forms of Protestantism which wanted human beings to be saved without any consideration for their being ready to see the face of God, dispatched Maccabees which collected money for the Temple to pray for the souls of soldiers who died in battle wearing amulets.

    So Protestantism in general moved the “extra” books to an appendix at the end of the bible, following Revelations. Later, the Scottish Bible Society questioned why Romish books would be included at all. It saved paper, typesetting, ink and cost in publishing bibles. I believe that this occurred in the 1830s or thereabouts.

    Ergo, scripture is what whoever is in charge says it is.

    I was using a 66-book Bible, and we would ask Catholics why they had extra books in their Bible. Given the historicity, they should have been asking us why we got rid of seven books or parts of books.

    After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, a group of rabbis decided to use the Hebrew version of the Old Testament. I believe the phrase was that they built a fence and dug a trench around it, and in doing so precluded consideration of the Greek Septuagint. Did they have that authority? Doubtful. However there was no Temple and no high priest to approach for validation. But then again, scripture is what whoever is in charge says it is

    However it occurred to me that what mattered is what happened on the Pentecost after the Jesus’ Ascension. What those rabbis did in 99 AD did not matter. What the Church decided was what mattered. The canon was decided on during a Church council, and a following council reiterated that position. It included the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament.

    Scripture was leading me to the Church. Scripture was telling me about what attributes the Church would display. So, at least one of the purposes of scripture was to lead me to the Body of which Christ Jesus is the Head. I had to have a relationship with all of Him, and not merely the Part I was willing to acknowledge. The same Person Who told me to love God with all my being, also told me to love my neighbor as myself. Then He gave me those neighbors. I did not have to go look for them. They were already there. His anticipation is astounding.

    So the Church is a Kingdom with a King and a chamberlain, and a religion offering a perpetual Sacrifice displayed in a Meal, with a High Priest and His associates.

    That is what I was finding in scripture, and frankly my old denomination did not look much like that. Often, when they had to decide if Jesus was speaking clearly, they decided that He was not speaking clearly. Why? What He was saying conflicted with their positions.

    If scripture was perspicacious for me, it was the grace to want to believe Jesus without regard to my own understanding. In that I was like Peter, in John 6, when a lot of disciples depart. Jesus asked the apostles if they were leaving as well. Peter spoke. “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that You are the Holy One of God.”

    So I had a choice: believe my old denomination, or believe Jesus. I found myself standing with Peter. I did not have to know “how” Jesus would do what He was doing, I merely had to have faith that He could do it, and would do it for my benefit. Good by me. If I must be wrong for Him to be right, then He is right and I am wrong. It is not a problem any more. We are not contending for top slot. He is in charge and I am not. He said things I once did not believe, and now I believe them. It was scripture that did it for me. I was not contending with creeds or theologies, or epochal figures such as Luther and Calvin. I was contending with God and He won.

    There have been plenty of changes in “churches” over the past 30+ years. Splits. Changes in belief. There is one Church that still believes what Jesus said, and then does its best as an institution to live up to that belief. It does so in spite of internal and external opposition. It gets up every day looking to preach, teach, baptize, forgive sins, and offer the only Meal capable of feeding us on the supernatural journey to Heaven. That is what I looked for. That is what I found.

    Scripture aided me in that journey. All of scripture. The sabbath was made for man. Scripture was made for the Church. It is a surety that it really became alive for me when I became a son of the Church.

    Cordially,

    dt

  135. Peter G.,

    I think we are talking past each other. I also think that your questions are directed the wrong way. First, let’s establish that for the Catholic, Scripture is authoritative. It is a part of a three-legged stool of authority. This authority flows from Christ. Christ established a Church, the deposit of faith resided in Sacred Tradition, and some of that Tradition formed the New Testament (Scripture). Thus, your method of searching around for a place where Scripture, for the Catholic, functions without Tradition and the Church is like looking for a town without a road that goes into it.

    The Apostles were not “assuming” a “canon”. Rather, they *knew* that they had *Scripture* in their possession.

    First, are we talking about the Apostles, themselves, or about those who came after the Apostles? This was not clear from your last comment. Let’s grant that they knew they had “Scripture”. But, to know you have Scripture is not to say you know you have all of the Scriptures. And, as questions that are raised that can only be answered by recourse to all of the Scriptures knowing what is, and what is not, Scripture is paramount.

    I am only arguing that the Church’s “authority to answer the question” cannot be the “only principled basis” for our belief that we have Scripture in our possession.

    I wouldn’t make that argument because I think we both agree that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to bear witness to God speaking to us through Sacred Scripture (think lectio divina) However, what happens when I think 1 Clement is Scripture and you think it is not? What happens if I include Esther and you do not? What happens if you think baptism saves and I think it is only a symbol? It is only for these cases that we need a principled method for making a distinction. That is the reason Christ gave us the Church. It is why he said we should take our brother who is in sin to the Church, and if he does not listen to the Church, we should treat him as a pagan. As I said in previous comments, what are we to do when it is the “inner light” that is precisely our point of contention?

    Otherwise, we would have to argue that the Apostles and the Early Church, as Tom Brown put it, had “no principled reason or basis for knowing what is the deposit of faith.”

    Of course not! They were the Magisterium! Now, did the first century Christians have a principled reason or basis”? Yes, they listened to who Christ “sent” (Apostles) and to who the Apostles “sent” (their successors).

    If you could have asked the Apostle Paul, or the Apostle Peter, or Timothy, or Clement (of Rome), or Ignatius, or Origen (etc.) to explain to you which books they believed to be Scripture and why, what do you think they would have said?

    It depends on how the question was asked. What is your opinion, Mr. Origen? OR, what does the Church teach? The difference between them and the Protestant is that they would submit to the Church and the Protestant would not. For an example of this, see St. Jerome for his treatment of the canon of Scripture.

    That said, I completely agree with Donald that God “reiterates [in Scripture] what He has already written in the hearts of men”. But this statement would not be true if the words “thou shalt not kill” did not have some minimal objective meaning. If these words could also be interpreted to mean “thou shall not kill, unless you are so are so angry that you cannot control yourself” then it would be inaccurate to say that God “reiterates [in Scripture] what He has already written in the hearts of men”.

    We agree. Nevertheless, it is a road to nowhere looking around to see if one can find the city where the Scriptures can be hijacked from the Church and Her Teaching Office and yet still function authoritatively. The Scriptures function authoritatively with and in Christ’s Church.

    What you call the “right to dissent from my Church”, I would recast “responsibility to humbly, thoughtfully, judiciously and lovingly help hold the leaders and fellow members of my local church (and, to a lesser degree the rest of my brothers & sisters, in the universal church) accountable to the Scriptures and to the Gospel”

    Since you have no principled method for demonstrating why you use seven less books than me, or have the book of Esther in your Bible, or rely upon the authority of a group of Jews who in the same breadth they picked the Hebrew canon also anathematized all Jesus-followers, I humbly, thoughtfully, and judiciously resist your “help”. I don’t mean this as a chide or snarky comment. I simply want to say that your justification for dissent — while pious sounding at first blush — leaves open the possibility for anyone to dissent from anything (given some inner conviction). Lastly, your “Gospel” both begs the question and must, of no necessity of Divine Revelation, reduce to a small set of rationally adducible axioms from Scripture. This approach leads, I believe, to “essentialism”, which is just the opposite of how the revelation of Christ works. Instead, the Church will continually grow and expand in her understanding of the deposit of faith because it is truly a treasure that can never be fully unpacked. Nevertheless, the Church has been given that task, and I — as her son — the opportunity to learn.

    Peace to you on your journey

  136. Brent, (#)

    Thanks for the response.

    I do not think we are talking past each other at all. I am understanding you points as best I can and trying to tell you why I agree or disagree with them. You seem to be doing the same. It’s been a helpful dialogue. Although, I do think its important not to import assumptions that we do not hold in common into our arguments and assert them as if they were facts. I am trying to be on my guard against that and I hope you are doing the same.

    You wrote:
    “Thus, your method of searching around for a place where Scripture, for the Catholic, functions without Tradition and the Church…”

    I am not looking for a place where Scripture functions without tradition or the Church. I am looking at the Church that Christ founded and pointing out to you that Scripture functioned authoritatively in that Church without an infallible magisterium determining it contents.

    You wrote:
    “I wouldn’t make that argument because I think we both agree that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to bear witness to God speaking to us through Sacred Scripture.”

    We do agree on this point. But why would that deter me from arguing that the Church’s “authority to answer the question” cannot be the “only principled basis” for our belief that we have Scripture in our possession. In fact, the assurance of the Spirit’s “self-attestation” and “illumination” only lends more credence the argument that infallible magisterial authority is not necessary for Scripture to function authoritatively. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you.

    You wrote:
    However, what happens when I think 1 Clement is Scripture and you think it is not? What happens if I include Esther and you do not? What happens if you think baptism saves and I think it is only a symbol?

    You tell me. Has the Catholic Church provided reasons/rationale when making formal pronouncements on these matters over the course of its history? Or did they simply justify their decisions by saying “because we are the Magisterium and we say so”? And if they did provide rationale did you find it insufficient or inconclusive? Was it not “principled” enough to rationally justify the Church’s conclusions in your mind?

    I agree with you that questions like these are part of the reason that Christ gave us the Church; but does that necessarily entail that the Church he gave us would have an infallible teaching office? As I asked Donald: “Where in Scripture do we find an explicit indication that magisterial infallibility is essential to the meaning and purpose of the Church that Christ founded?”

    You wrote:
    As I said in previous comments, what are we to do when it is the “inner light” that is precisely our point of contention?

    The same thing the Church has always done: to the extent possible, get together and prayerfully consider and discuss the matter together in light of Scripture and tradition. Is “unity in truth” part of every Christian’s job description or just that of the Magisterium? Is my job as a church member to submit only or to strive for a healthy balance between joyfully “submitting to those in authority over me” (Hebrews 13:17) and lovingly “admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16)?

    You wrote:
    “The difference between them and the Protestant is that they would submit to the Church and the Protestant would not.”

    Not true, friend. The Protestant would submit to the Church while recognizing that it is possible for the Church to err. Do you have any evidence to substantiate the implicit assumption in your statement here; namely, that the Apostles & the Early Church believed that the Church possessed infallible magisterial authority?

    You wrote:
    We agree. Nevertheless, it is a road to nowhere looking around to see if one can find the city where the Scriptures can be hijacked from the Church and Her Teaching Office and yet still function authoritatively. The Scriptures function authoritatively with and in Christ’s Church.

    Road to nowhere? We just got somewhere! We just agreed that God objectively teaches in Scripture that murder is wrong. That means that if tomorrow morning Pope Benedict made an ex cathedra statement saying that murder is permissible in certain cases, you would be forced to seriously reevaluate all of the conclusions you have come to about the Catholic Church (and yes, I realize that, for Catholics, this not a possibility; but the point still holds unless you can objectively demonstrate that the doctrine of Papal Infallibility is true). You may not like where the road ends up but that doesn’t mean it leads to nowhere.

    And again, I am not trying to “hijack” Scripture from the Church. I am trying to look at the Church in Scripture and see how Scripture functioned within it.

    You wrote:
    “I simply want to say that your justification for dissent — while pious sounding at first blush — leaves open the possibility for anyone to dissent from anything (given some inner conviction).”

    Sure. But then we just established that you too would have to dissent from the Catholic Church if she ever taught that murder was permissible. I wonder what other objective Scriptural teachings we would stumble upon find if we continued down that “road”?

    You wrote:
    “your “Gospel” must, of no necessity of Divine Revelation, reduce to a small set of rationally adducible axioms from Scripture.”

    Yup. That way it can be clearly preached from Scripture in a manner that people who are not indwelled by the Holy Spirit can hear and understand the message. The message of the Cross is not “foolishness” because people cannot rationally comprehend it, but rather because they do not like it and find it “offensive”…

    You wrote:
    “the Church will continually grow and expand in her understanding of the deposit of faith because it is truly a treasure that can never be fully unpacked.”

    …and yet, you’re right! The message of the Cross and the rest of the “deep things of God” can never be fully comprehended. They are gloriously inexhaustible!

    Thanks,
    Peter

  137. Peter G.,

    I agree. I think we are making progress. I will just say that my comments were meant to point out that trying to establish the independence of Scripture from the Church is pointless if Christ gave us both to always and everywhere be together. Particularly, if Christ gave us a Teaching Office in the Church that could teach without error by a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Has the Catholic Church provided reasons/rationale when making formal pronouncements on these matters over the course of its history? Or did they simply justify their decisions by saying “because we are the Magisterium and we say so”? And if they did provide rationale did you find it insufficient or inconclusive? Was it not “principled” enough to rationally justify the Church’s conclusions in your mind?.

    Yes. Nevertheless, it is something more than just the rational arguments that make their promulgations regarding supernatural dogma binding on all Christians. We are compelled by her arguments, sure, but also and more importantly her authority. She is like her founder, as one who teaches with authority, not like the Scribes and Pharisees…whom I’m sure had good, rational arguments. : )

    “Where in Scripture do we find an explicit indication that magisterial infallibility is essential to the meaning and purpose of the Church that Christ founded?”

    “Whatever you bind on earth, I will bind in heaven…”

    Also see Fred Noltie’s story “The Accidental Catholic“.

    Do you have any evidence to substantiate the implicit assumption in your statement here; namely, that the Apostles & the Early Church believed that the Church possessed infallible magisterial authority?

    “Whatever you bind earth, I will bind in heaven…”

    “I give you the keys to the kingdom…”

    “The Paraclete will come and lead you into all truth…”

    “This is that which the prophet Joel prophesied…”

    Let me ask you a question, because your question assumes a preference for “primitivism”. Do you have any evidence to substantiate the implicit assumption in your question; namely, that the Apostles/Early Church constitute an archetype for the understanding of the faith and practice of Christianity and not the germ of that faith? (think Newman’s Development of Dogma) In other words, why should we always prefer what is first, and not what is after?

    Sure. But then we just established that you too would have to dissent from the Catholic Church if she ever taught that murder was permissible.

    If the Church that Jesus Christ personally founded taught error, then the Church would have failed. Then Jesus’s promise that the Church would not fail would come to naught. The gates of hell would have prevailed. Then Jesus would have been a false prophet. He did not send the spirit of truth, but of error. His promise would have returned to Him void. So, instead of trying to prove the theoretical impossible, select a <particular case where you think the Church teaches something contrary to Scripture — one of her two sources of dogma — and make your argument on the appropriate article. Fair?

    As an analogy, trying to prove I would divorce my wife “if” proves little about her real character.

    I think on your last two points about the simplicity of the Gospel, we agree. Thank you for your irenic tone, and may all benefit from our dialog.

    Warmly in Christ,

    Brent

  138. Brent, (#137)

    You wrote:
    “trying to establish the independence of Scripture from the Church is pointless if Christ gave us both to always and everywhere be together.”

    It is not the “always and everywhere together” that we disagree on. It is the relationship of the one to the other even as they are indeed “always and everywhere together”. As you noted, it is the, “teaching Office in the Church that could teach without error” where we disagree.

    You wrote:
    “Nevertheless, it is something more than just the rational arguments that make their promulgations regarding supernatural dogma binding on all Christians. We are compelled by her arguments, sure, but also and more importantly her authority.”

    Got it. And Protestants too are guided by the Church’s authority in answering these questions. But again, we simply do not believe that she needs be absolutely infallible in order for us to follow her lead.

    Regarding the Scriptural evidence you provided for magisterial infallibility…
    I did say *explicit* evidence, right? :) I’m sure you’re aware that there are a variety of interpretations (including some espoused by the Church Fathers) of these passages, that do not necessarily entail magisterial infallibility.

    You wrote:
    Let me ask you a question, because your question assumes a preference for “primitivism”.

    You might infer that from my question but I was assuming no such thing in asking it. And don’t think I prefer primitivism. I would prefer to believe things that are true so if that includes magisterial infallibility then show me where to sign :)

    You wrote:
    “Why should we always prefer what is first, and not what is after?”

    For the same reason that the Apostles writings were accepted as Scripture and those after them were not. God spoke through them uniquely and thus their words and actions as recorded in Scripture are uniquely authoritative and normative. This is not to say that we can or should discard all developments that followed. But later developments must be measured by that which is intrinsic to their nature and “foundational” to their existence (i.e., that which is “apostolic and prophetic”) (Ephesians 2:20). And the Apostles and Prophets can be encountered uniquely, directly and objectively on the pages of Scripture.

    You wrote:
    “If the Church that Jesus Christ personally founded taught error, then the Church would have failed. Then Jesus’s promise that the Church would not fail would come to naught. The gates of hell would have prevailed. Then Jesus would have been a false prophet. He did not send the spirit of truth, but of error. His promise would have returned to Him void.”

    All of this presupposes the necessity of an infallible Church Magisterium; which is one of the matters currently under debate.

    You wrote:
    So, instead of trying to prove the theoretical impossible, select a particular case where you think the Church teaches something contrary to Scripture — one of her two sources of dogma — and make your argument on the appropriate article. Fair?

    That would be fair. And there are several of cases where I believe the Catholic Church has contradicted itself, which I would cite if it were necessary. However, the fact the scenario I discussed is, by definition, a “theoretical” possibility unless/until it is proven to be impossible is sufficient for that leg of my argument to stand as stated.

    In sum, – and I think these will be my last comments here unless you have any further issues to raise that we have not already discussed – I would refer back to my original question(s):

    Is it possible for Scripture to provide objectively authoritative guidance on any matters of faith and practice apart from an infallible Magisterium that a) determines what texts are and are not Scripture and b) infallibly interprets Scripture?

    Reading back over our dialogue, I think that, on both counts, we have seen that the answer is yes (although you and Donald have made it clear that you do not believe this is preferable).

    Not trying to get the “last word” in here or whatever. And again, I’m more than willing to continue if there are still any legitimate issues we should address. Just don’t want to prolong the discussion further than it needs to go; we all have lives :)

    Thanks again for the interaction. I too appreciate the gracious tone and lucid thought/writing you and Donald have brought to the table.

    Take care,
    Peter

  139. Wonderful!

    The key passage with respect to direct experience is this one:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/11/sola-scriptura-a-dialogue-between-michael-horton-and-bryan-cross/#personstexts

    Persons & Texts – if both Catholics and Protestants are faithful to our own experience we will realise that there is never a point where this dichotomy arises; both traditions rely on the same method of dialogue with reference to a text (i.e. a fixed piece of tradition) – the objective difference is that Catholic Tradition includes the whole of Protestant teaching and experience (except of course the parts that have truly diverged from Christianity, usually without being aware of this).

  140. Peter G.,

    “teaching Office in the Church that could teach without error” where we disagree.

    Yes.

    And Protestants too are guided by the Church’s authority in answering these questions. But again, we simply do not believe that she needs be absolutely infallible in order for us to follow her lead.

    For this statement to be true, you would need to define “Church” in such a way that (1) it could be recognized a part from a thing that is “not-Church” and in such a way that is not question-begging or ad hoc and (2) you would need that Church to at least under certain conditions be able to teach without error. (1) is important for location purposes. (2) is important, because if it is not possible for your Church to teach without error — at least under the conditions when she is acting to correct/guide you — then she is not a guide but a sounding board of your own personal theology or a spiritual opinion generator. You might as well “take it to the PTA”, because the Church at this point is a little more than a club. At worst, such a “Church” is a case of the blind leading the blind.

    I did say *explicit* evidence, right?

    Where does Scripture teach that you need explicit evidence for a doctrine? Do you believe in original sin? Purgatory? I imagine you believe in the former but not the later. Ironically, it is the later which has more explicit Biblical evidence. The point is that I don’t think you apply this principle yourself equitably, because the principle itself is not found in Scripture.

    Regarding the infallibility of the teaching office of the Church under certain conditions:
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/infallibility-and-epistemology/
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/infallibility-and-inspiration/
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/the-issue-of-authority-in-early-christianity/

    So, go ahead and sign up! : )

    Since you are open to doctrinal development, I recommend Newman’s book, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Since we are on the topic of doctrinal development, do you believe that Mary is the Theotokos?

    And the Apostles and Prophets can be encountered uniquely, directly and objectively on the pages of Scripture.

    Can I not objectively, uniquely and directly encounter the Apostles through their successors too (in addition to Scripture)?

    All of this presupposes the necessity of an infallible Church Magisterium; which is one of the matters currently under debate.

    Instead of saying my argument assumes an “infallible Church”, why don’t you prove how the Church that Jesus founded teaching error is compatible with the Church not failing. Instead of an assumption, I take the infallible Church as a direct inference from the impossibility of the Church failing. I infer it from the data. So, what inference do you make from the data?

    However, the fact the scenario I discussed is, by definition, a “theoretical” possibility unless/until it is proven to be impossible is sufficient for that leg of my argument to stand as stated.

    That is not true. Let me try this another way. I tried the analogy of marriage. In that analogy, your argument would seek to demonstrate that if, per possible, my wife could cheat on me, then I would have grounds for leaving her. Right? So, your argument is as follows:

    A. I say that “x” is impossible
    B. Some condition can be thought of whereby I would do “x”
    C. Therefore, “x” is possible (A is false)

    The problem with this argument is that it is missing a middle term. To say that theoretically “x” is possible, does not prove the conditional of “x” is possible. You would need to prove first that the condition is not just possible, but actual. In fact, you could only prove it possible if you had a case of actuality, because we only know what is possible by what is actual. Thus, you can now understand my insistence that you prove a positive case where the Church has erred.

    More importantly, I can take your same argument and prove too much (more than you would like, I’m sure):

    A. You believe it is impossible that Jesus could be a liar
    B. There is some condition that we can think of that could exist to prove that Jesus was a liar
    C. Therefore, it is possible that Jesus could be a liar

    Notice that without proving the conditional, or namely, that some condition actually exists whereby Jesus could be proved a liar, C does not follow. Therefore, the leg of your argument falls down and everything on the table with it. Again, a theoretical possibility does not prove an actuality. In other words, the Church being infallible is completely compatible with the theoretical possibility that she is not. Jesus being God is completely compatible with the theoretical possibility that He is not. Simply because I can posit some theoretical condition whereby “x” is possible, does not negate the impossibility of “x”.

    Pax Christi,

    Brent

  141. Brent- I took a minute to look back through what I wrote (should have done that beforehand. Duh! :) and I noticed so many typos that I found it too distracting and unlear at points. So I fix took a few minutes to fix some of them (though I’m probably I didn’t catch them all) and made a few other minor additions along the way. Sorry for the duplication!

    Brent, (re: #140)

    Thanks for the response.

    To be honest, I feel like we are spinning our wheels here a little bit and getting away from the original questions; which, as I said, I think have already been answered. So, if I do not respond to some of you questions, please know that I am not trying to “dodge” them and that I think they are good questions to which good answers can/should be provided. But alas, I am a man of limited means :)

    You wrote:
    “you would need to define “Church” in such a way that (1) it could be recognized a part from a thing that is “not-Church” and in such a way that is not question-begging or ad hoc…(1) is important for location purposes.”

    I could indeed provide you with such a definition. But that would be quite time-consuming and not directly relevant to my original questions. So, I will simply direct you to some resources that might help to explain how we can go about locating the Church in history: http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Church.html?id=HwBspD89ppwC (sorry for the uber-long URL; I don’t know how to hyperlink to text)

    You wrote:
    “(2) you would need that Church to at least under certain conditions be able to teach without error…(2) is important, because if it is not possible for your Church to teach without error — at least under the conditions when she is acting to correct/guide you — then she is not a guide but a sounding board of your own personal theology or a spiritual opinion generator. You might as well “take it to the PTA”, because the Church at this point is a little more than a club. At worst, such a “Church” is a case of the blind leading the blind.”

    Interesting. So would you regard the parental guidance that you received as a child a mere “sounding board” for your own desires/opinions? Were your parents just an example of the “blind leading the blind”? Or, did they have real God-given authority over you? And if they did have real, God-given authority, were they ever infallible in exercising it? Or do you “at least” know of “certain conditions” under which their guidance was infallible? And if your answer to the 2 preceding questions is “no”, then was you obedience to them nothing more than juvenile, ad hoc, question-begging fideism? The simple fact is that God-given authority and pervasive fallibility are not incompatible attributes of any given person or earthly institution. And that is all I need to demonstrate in order for my submission to a fallible Church to be based on a “principled” conviction.

    You wrote:
    “Can I not directly encounter the Apostles through their successors too (in addition to Scripture)?”

    No, you cannot. Or does the Catholic Church claim that it’s Catechism was actually written by and/or is composed of direct quotes from/accounts of the Apostles themselves? Even if I granted that the “successors” occupy the same offices as the Apostles, that would not mean that they are the same people. At most, you can argue that one can encounter the Apostles *indirectly* through their successors. Secondary sources are helpful they are not the same thing as primary sources.

    You wrote:
    “Instead of saying my argument assumes an “infallible Church”, why don’t you prove how the Church that Jesus founded teaching error is compatible with the Church not failing. Instead of an assumption, I take the infallible Church as a direct inference from the impossibility of the Church failing. I infer it from the data. So, what inference do you make from the data?”

    Call it an assumption, an inference, or whatever you like, you still have not demonstrated that it is objectively true; only that you think it is true. As such, I do not need to prove anything (although, again I could provide plenty of instances where the Catholic Church has, in my opinion, contradicted itself; but I do not want to get into this because it would be quite time-consuming, unnecessary to demonstrate the point, and not directly relevant to my original questions). Rather, it is you who must substantiate your assumption in order to prove your argument that the Catholic Church is infallible and is the only Church that is capable of not “failing” (according to your definition of what constitutes “Church failure”).

    You wrote:
    “A. I say that “x” is impossible”

    Once again, your starting point is an subjective assumption rather than an objectively verifiable fact. You are assuming that that which is naturally and objectively possible is, by supernatural means, impossible. In other words, you are assuming that a group of human beings who are objectively fallible by nature, are supernaturally infallible through the charism of the Holy Spirit. If you cannot first objectively demonstrate that this is the case, then I do not need to prove that a theoretical condition actually exists whereby this infallible group becomes fallible (because you have not demonstrated that they are infallible to begin with).

    Here is my argument:
    1. The magisterium is an institution consists of human beings.
    2. Human beings are fallible.
    3. Therefore, the magisterium is fallible.

    What you need to do is prove something supernatural that can be inserted between 2 and 3 that would make this particular group of human beings infallible under certain conditions. Unless/until you can do this the scenario I discussed in (#136) is necessarily and objectively a real possibility; even if you believe it is impossible and/or only theoretical.

    You wrote:
    “More importantly, I can take your same argument and prove too much (more than you would like, I’m sure)…”

    The fact that “I believe” Jesus cannot lie does not mean he is objectively incapable of lying. Jesus was a human being and human beings are by nature fallible and capable of lying. I would need to demonstrate some special “condition” whereby Jesus would be infallible and incapable of lying (namely, that Jesus is divine). But I cannot objectively demonstrate this (if we could faith would be unnecessary). Therefore, I must acknowledge that it is possible for Jesus, insofar as he is objectively a human being, to lie; even though I do not believe that he ever would or could, since I do believe He is Divine.

    In the same way, it is impossible for you to objectively demonstrate – without recourse to some article of faith to which I do not subscribe – that the magisterium, which is composed fallible human beings, is infallible. Therefore, you must acknowledge that it is a real possibility for Pope Benedict to make an ex Cathedra statement that explicitly contradicts an explicit statement in the Bible; even though you do not believe that it is possible.

    Thanks again for the dialogue. If I fail to respond to any future comments, please understand that that does not mean that your questions are not good ones that merit thoughtful responses.

    Take care,
    Peter

  142. Peter G.,

    Given our limited means and the possibility that this is the end of our conversation, I will be brief.

    So would you regard the parental guidance that you received as a child a mere “sounding board” for your own desires/opinions?

    If when it comes to matters of controversy, I always reserved the right as a child to dismiss their guidance/correction, then yes.

    Were your parents just an example of the “blind leading the blind”? Or, did they have real God-given authority over you? And if they did have real, God-given authority, were they ever infallible in exercising it? Or do you “at least” know of “certain conditions” under which their guidance was infallible? And if your answer to the 2 preceding questions is “no”, then was you obedience to them nothing more than juvenile, ad hoc, question-begging fideism?

    No, because their guidance is natural. Their authority is in the order of nature, not grace. And, yes, as spiritual guides my parents would be ultimately inadequate. They could have raised me as an atheist, muslim or mormon.

    The simple fact is that God-given authority and pervasive fallibility are not incompatible attributes of any given person or earthly institution. And that is all I need to demonstrate in order for my submission to a fallible Church to be based on a “principled” conviction.

    In the order of nature, but not in the order of grace. That is why I brought up Christ. So let’s look at what you said there…actually, first:

    Rather, it is you who must substantiate your assumption in order to prove your argument that the Catholic Church is infallible and is the only Church that is capable of not “failing” (according to your definition of what constitutes “Church failure”).

    If I say, “So-and-so has never done “x”,” and you disagree, the onus is on you to prove that so-and-so has done “x”. Bryan Cross makes this point a different way and in a slightly different context here.

    Regarding Christ, the Church, and supernatural objects of faith, you write:

    The fact that “I believe” Jesus cannot lie does not mean he is objectively incapable of lying. Jesus was a human being and human beings are by nature fallible and capable of lying. I would need to demonstrate some special “condition” whereby Jesus would be infallible and incapable of lying (namely, that Jesus is divine). But I cannot objectively demonstrate this (if we could faith would be unnecessary). Therefore, I must acknowledge that it is possible for Jesus, insofar as he is objectively a human being, to lie; even though I do not believe that he ever would or could, since I do believe He is Divine.

    No, you don’t have to acknowledge that. Simply because all humans who are not also God can lie does not mean that Jesus could possibly lie. Also, just because all man-made institutions fail, does not mean that a God-built institution will fail. Both assume that the only thing that can be objectively true is that which you can demonstrate through the use of sense data. However, I reject that premise. Theology is a more certain, more objective, science than biology.

    In the same way, it is impossible for you to objectively demonstrate – without recourse to some article of faith to which I do not subscribe – that the magisterium, which is composed fallible human beings, is infallible. Therefore, you must acknowledge that it is a real possibility for Pope Benedict to make an ex Cathedra statement that explicitly contradicts an explicit statement in the Bible; even though you do not believe that it is possible.

    No, I don’t. Notice that you admit the inverse, or namely, that I could demonstrate with “some article of faith to which you do subscribe” that Jesus could not lie. So, what you are saying is that the truth of statement “x” is completely contingent upon you believing in the conditional. However, that is not how truth works. Jesus is either a liar or he is not. He is not “not a liar” because I believe so. Either my belief is a true belief or it is a false belief. And, even if I accept your premise, then really what is at stake is not so much the conditional, but the conclusion — since the conclusion is contingent upon you believing the conditional. That is why the onus is squarely on you to demonstrate how the Catholic Church has explicitly contradicted a clear statement of Scripture. Feel free to link to an article if you like, and I’m sure someone can respond to it on the appropriate thread.

    Kindly,

    Brent

  143. Bryan,

    From your essay, quoting St. Irenaeus:

    “For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?”

    I have often read this quote used by Catholic apologists as a defense of tradition over and against Sola Scriptura, when it seems to suggest the very opposite. The corollary is: since the Apostles have left us writings, it is not necessary to follow the course of the tradition handed down. The clear implication is that the Writings are superior and render tradition a “second string” resource to be tapped only if the Writings aren’t available.

    Any thoughts?

    Burton

  144. Burton, (re: #143)

    In order to determine what that line means, I think it has to be considered in its context. In chapter 1 of Book III, St. Irenaeus says that the deposit has come down to the Church from the Apostles, who had received the entire deposit before they began publicly preaching and writing. In chapter 2 of Bk III he explains that the gnostics claim to have a secret tradition received after the apostles, and that the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood apart from this secret tradition. But each gnostic leader provides a different ‘secret tradition.’ The Church, however, according to St. Irenaeus, does not refer to some *secret* tradition. The tradition the Church received, claims St. Irenaeus, originated from the Apostles and is preserved publicly by means of the succession of the presbyters in the Church. When the Church refers these gnostics to this apostolic tradition, these gnostics claim to be wiser than the presbyters, even wiser than the Apostles, and thereby consent neither to Scripture nor tradition.

    Then in chapter 3 of Bk III he points out the public character of the apostolic tradition. Anyone can go to the various apostolic Churches around the world, he says, to see therein the tradition of the Apostles. The relation of these Churches to the Apostles is a matter of public record; we can show by way of historical record the succession of bishops from the Apostles down to the present bishops of the apostolic Churches. And these Churches all hold and believe the same thing, and do not teach what these gnostics profess. If the Apostles had received some secret revelation, they surely would have handed such a thing on to the bishops they ordained as their successors, to whom they committed the Churches, “delivering up their own place of government.” I [St. Irenaeus] could show this apostolic succession in all the Churches, but that would be too tedious. So to refute those [i.e. these gnostics] who assemble in meetings unauthorized by the bishops, it is sufficient to point to the tradition derived from the Apostles in the Church at Rome founded by St. Peter and St. Paul, and coming down to us from the succession of bishops in Rome, because it is necessary for every [particular] Church to agree with that [particular] Church on account of its preeminent authority. Then he recounts the episcopal succession in Rome, from St. Linus down to Eleutherius, the current bishop of Rome in St. Irenaeus’s time. In this order and by this succession, claims St. Irenaeus,

    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.

    Then St. Irenaeus refers to St. Polycarp as an additional witness to the apostolic tradition, because St. Polycarp “was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna.” St. Irenaeus refers to St. Polycarp not only because of St. Polycarp’s direct relation to the Apostles, but also because of St. Irenaeus’s relation to St. Polycarp. St. Irenaeus explains that even till his old age St. Polycarp taught what he had received from the Apostles, as all the Asiatic Churches testify. And this apostolic tradition taught by St. Polycarp was the same tradition “which is handed down by the [universal] Church.” The same apostolic tradition can be found, claims St. Irenaeus, in the Church at Ephesus. St. Irenaeus’s point, here, is that the apostolic tradition is public, and is found in all the apostolic churches. The agreement of all these apostolic churches shows that their doctrine has a common origin in the Apostles.

    Then in chapter 4 of Bk III we arrive at the paragraph containing the statement about which you asked:

    Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

    Because there is so much evidence that these Churches were founded by the Apostles, and because the tradition handed down by these particular Churches is in agreement, showing it to be the tradition handed down by the Apostles, it is not necessary to turn elsewhere to find out what the Apostles taught, because it is so easy to obtain the apostolic tradition from the Church. The Apostles deposited all that they had received from Christ into the Church, and for this reason the Church is the entrance to eternal life. All other persons claiming to speak for Christ or for the Apostles are “thieves and robbers,” because the Apostles did not entrust the deposit to them, but to the bishops to whom they entrusted the Churches. So we are bound to avoid these imposters, and instead lay hold of the tradition through the Church in succession from the Apostles, because the truth of the gospel of Christ has been deposited by the Apostles in the Church. This is precisely why if some dispute arose among us regarding some important question, we would resolve it rightly by turning to the apostolic Churches. And this is why if the Apostles had not left us any writings, it would be necessary to go entirely by the [oral] tradition handed down from the Apostles to the bishops to whom they committed the Churches, the tradition located in these apostolic Churches.

    His point is that if we did not have Scripture, then the tradition located in the apostolic Churches would be the only way we could know the Apostolic deposit, and in that case it would be necessary for us, in order to follow Christ, to go only by the tradition handed down in those apostolic Churches. However, because the Apostles have left us writings, we also have another way of knowing the Apostolic tradition, and are not entirely dependent on the indirect oral tradition preserved in the apostolic Churches to know the apostolic deposit. (Of course we are still dependent on the tradition and these particular Churches in order to know that these writings are in fact apostolic.) So in this context we can see that St. Irenaeus is not saying that it is not necessary to follow the apostolic tradition. He thinks that it is necessary to follow the apostolic tradition, as preserved in all the apostolic Churches. This is precisely why we should turn to the apostolic Churches when there is some dispute among us who *do* have Scripture. According to St. Irenaeus, ” the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us” (III.5). There is a divine guarantee, for St. Irenaeus, that the Apostolic tradition will always be preserved in the Church, (contra ecclesial deism). Rather, for St. Irenaeus, both Scripture and tradition come from the Apostles, and it is important to adhere faithfully to both. Moreover, for St. Ireneaus, the Scripture is known rightly in the bosom of the Church, because the Scripture is of the Spirit, and so requires the Spirit to be understood rightly. But the Spirit is present in the Church; this is how we receive the Spirit, through entrance into the Church (see III.24). This is why those who take hold of the Scripture outside the Church twist and distort it. This is also why, for St. Irenaeus, it is necessary to

    “obey the presbyters who are in the Church, those who as I have shown, possess succession from the Apostles; those who, together with the succession of Bishops, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But it is also incumbent to hold in suspicion those who depart from the primitive succession of the succession, and assemble themselves.together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God— namely, strange doctrines— shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hell (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore, Dathan, and Abiron. But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did. (IV.26.2)

    Obedience to those having the succession from the Apostles would not be part of the rule of faith if sola scriptura were true. It would only be accidentally the case that we should do what they say, because they presently happen to be rightly interpreting Scripture. The true test of orthodoxy would be “the Spirit speaking through the Scriptures” in the mind and heart of every person who picks up Scripture, and by which we are to judge presbyters and everything else. The necessity of obedience to those having the succession shows that for St. Irenaeus appealing to Scripture was not sufficient. Rather, for St. Irenaeus, the Scripture had to be approached according to the tradition, as preserved by those having the succession.

    Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters….It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and 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. (V.20.2)

    We are nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures from within the bosom of the Church. For St. Irenaeus, that’s where the right understanding of Scripture is preserved, by a “certain gift of truth” by which the tradition from the Apostles “is permanent among us.” So I see no good evidence in St. Irenaeus for a Scripture-Tradition dichotomy, as though the possession of Scripture makes tradition superfluous, unnecessary or even subordinate. On the contrary, the full context of his remarks implies that Scripture is rightly and properly understood within the Church, by way of the tradition divinely and permanently preserved in the Church by the succession from the Apostles.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  145. R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, recently wrote:

    Properly speaking, there is no “Roman Catholic Church.” Such a claim may be clever marketing but it’s oxymoronic. A church is either Roman (local) or catholic (universal). By definition she cannot be both simultaneously any more than Jesus’ humanity can be at the right hand of the Father and in Berlin at the same time.

    I addressed that claim above in VII. The Roman Catholic Church: An Oxymoron?.

  146. (Re: #145) A Catholic mentioned to Clark that I had addressed this same objection from Michael Horton. Clark replied by pointing to a number of red herrings. When the Catholic then correctly pointed out that none of those things addressed the substance of my reply to Clark’s claim that “Roman Catholics” is “oxymoronic,” Clark replied:

    Cross’ argument makes no sense. Rome claims that she, being Roman, is universal. The qualifier Roman is of the essence of the being and nature of the Roman communion. From a historical pov, Rome has not made the sort of argument Cross makes. But if you insist, once more: The word “katholikos” is Greek for “universal.” The adjective “Roman” is necessarily local. These are mutually contradictory. The church is either Roman or catholic but it isn’t both simul. Of course, the church is universal and visible but that’s not the same as universal and Roman.

    The Catholic interlocutor then replied to Clark, apparently, but Clark deleted his comment, because according to Clark’s new rules for his comment box, advocating Catholicism is not allowed there. (Prior to these rules, Clark would sometimes close the comment box immediately after replying to a Catholic’s objection, thus preventing a follow-up to his reply. Now, by prohibiting the advocacy of Catholicism in his combox, he no longer needs to close the comment box, at least not on account of Catholics raising difficult objections to his position. )

    So consider Clark’s reply, quoted just above. He claims that my argument makes no sense because the adjective “Roman” is necessarily local, and the word “katholikos” is Greek for “universal.” Therefore, he claims, the terms are “mutually contradictory. The church is either Roman or catholic but it isn’t both simul.” This claim entirely misses my point, which is that the sense in which the Catholic Church is ‘Roman’ is not the same as the sense in which she is catholic. If I were claiming that the Church is both local and universal at the same time and in the same sense, that would be a contradiction. But the Catholic Church is not Roman in the sense that she is located entirely in Rome. She is Roman in the sense of her hierarchical relation to the bishop of Rome. She is catholic in the sense that in her mission she is directed to the whole world, extending outward from Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost to every nation and through all time until Christ’s return, and that she contains the entirety of the apostolic deposit. The Church being ‘catholic’ in that sense is fully compatible with her being ‘Roman’ in the sense of being hierarchically related to the bishop of Rome as her principium unitatis.

    Just as Jesus’ being in one place in His human nature does not prevent Him from being (in His human nature) the Head of the universal Church, so likewise the Pope’s being in one place (i.e. Rome) does not prevent Him from being the Vicar of Christ for the universal Church. And just as there is no contradiction between a head of a body being the head of the whole body, and the body being a whole much larger than its head, so there is no contradiction between the bishop of Rome being the visible head of the universal Church, and the universal Church being much larger and spread out than its visible head. When Clark claims that “Roman Catholic” is an oxymoron, he therefore attacks a strawman. The sense in which the Catholic Church is Roman is not the same as, and is fully compatible with, the sense in which she is catholic.

    Clark concludes his remarks by adding:

    3. One of the problems in debating with Called to Communion types is that they don’t know their new communion, your their adopted tradition. They’re typical Americans (still thinking like the evangelical converts they are) and making up things or imputing their own ideas to the church and the tradition. The E. Orthodox has their “Baptists” (as they say) and now so does Rome

    This, sadly, is an ad hominem. But if it were really true that we are so ignorant of Catholicism, it seems like Clark wouldn’t need to ban Catholics from commenting on his site. He could keep the doors open and simply point us to the relevant parts of the Catechism or Trent or other Catholic documents. That would be a much more powerful way of refuting us than banning us. To ban us (or, which is the same, to muzzle us from in any way advocating Catholicism when on his site) when we haven’t been rude or discourteous makes it seem as though he fears us or the evidence and argumentation supporting the Catholic case. But if we’re ignorant, then ‘schooling’ us should be a piece of cake, and would be a helpful lesson to all onlooking Reformed seminarians. Truth has nothing to fear, and a truth-seeker reflects that in his willingness to consider criticisms of his position. Falsehood, on the other hand, has to build walls around itself to perpetuate itself, because otherwise it could not withstand the light of truth.

  147. 3. One of the problems in debating with Called to Communion types is that they don’t know their new communion, your their adopted tradition. They’re typical Americans (still thinking like the evangelical converts they are) and making up things or imputing their own ideas to the church and the tradition. The E. Orthodox has their “Baptists” (as they say) and now so does Rome.

    If anyone is wondering, the articles presented here at CtC concerning the Catholic position are the positions being taught in Roman Catholic seminaries. So to claim that the writers here at Called to Communion are “imputing their own ideas onto the Church” is simply not true. I have not seen any article here which runs contrary to the education I received from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2011.

    The only difference between Called to Communion and the way my own professors explained the material is that here at CtC the authors place the Catholic position in opposition to the Reformed position. My seminary professors taught the Catholic position by itself and not in contrast to any other creed or belief.

    I don’t really know what to say other than that. Ok, maybe I’ll add that I’m shocked people actually say things like that in the first place. If Dr. Clark is reading this I’d ask for specific instances where the authors here are imputing their own ideas onto the tradition that I was raised in.

  148. Bryan (re:#146),

    I replied to Dr. Clark as well on the Hiedleblog thread, and I simply stated the same point that you make in #146 (but without going into as much detail, my hope being to avoid controversy and accusations of “advocating for Romanism” there)– that the *geographical location* of the Church’s (earthly) leadership in Rome is not the *essence* of the Catholic Church. I pointed out that while “Roman Catholics” comprise the largest rite within the Church, there are many other rites, such as Eastern Catholics and Maronite Catholics, who are also in communion with the Pope and who are no less Catholic than Roman Catholics. My comment was never posted.

  149. Bryan,

    I wonder if strawman arguments are purposeful. Certainly Dr. Clark is smart enough to see his error. I do not understand why Dr. Clark would write an article on his blog and not allow, not only Catholics, but anyone who saw the glaring problem with his argument, to respectfully debate the issue. I also read your rely to D. Horton regarding # VII in the article above, and it is completly understandable and demonstrates that there is no oxymoron.

    Susan

  150. Susan (re: #149)

    I don’t think it is purposeful, and I think we should not speculate negatively regarding motives. But, like Fr. Bryan said in #147 above, I find it puzzling. The initial task in ecumenical dialogue is achieving mutual understanding, such that we each come to understand the other’s position correctly, and represent it accurately, even if we think it is mistaken. That sort of mutual understanding is a precondition for beginning the task of resolving the disagreements that still divide us. Clark’s claim that “Roman Catholic” is an oxymoron presupposes conceptual limitations for those two terms (i.e. “Roman” and “Catholic”) that are not present in the Catholic paradigm. In that respect, his “oxymoron” objection to the Catholic position begs the question. And that’s why I’m calling attention to it, to try to help us attain a condition of mutual understanding.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  151. Mr. Cross,
    No, I was not speculatiing about Dr. Clark’s motives; I do not think his motives are wrong. I was only wondering if strawman arguments are “usually”drawn with ulterer motives. Of course, that would defeat ones own argument, purposefully, if such was the case, and why would anyone want to do that? Dr. Clark, I am certain. is an upright man and understands that that there are no conceptual limitations between the terms Roman and Catholic. These men at Westminster Seminary California,are admirable and good……I know a couple, and they are not worried about Catholic arguments. Mutual understanding, however, is limited when comboxes are blocked.

    Susan

  152. Bryan:

    My personal policy is to not address people who would deny the Catholic Church her very name. But I admit it’s worth explaining why to a larger audience.

    Best,
    Mike

  153. I just wanted to highlight this because after reading R Scott Clark’s latest blog entry I think its worth repeating:

    But if it were really true that we are so ignorant of Catholicism, it seems like Clark wouldn’t need to ban Catholics from commenting on his site. He could keep the doors open and simply point us to the relevant parts of the Catechism or Trent or other Catholic documents. That would be a much more powerful way of refuting us than banning us. To ban us (or, which is the same, to muzzle us from in any way advocating Catholicism when on his site) when we haven’t been rude or discourteous makes it seem as though he fears us or the evidence and argumentation supporting the Catholic case. But if we’re ignorant, then ‘schooling’ us should be a piece of cake, and would be a helpful lesson to all onlooking Reformed seminarians. Truth has nothing to fear, and a truth-seeker reflects that in his willingness to consider criticisms of his position. Falsehood, on the other hand, has to build walls around itself to perpetuate itself, because otherwise it could not withstand the light of truth.

  154. Concerning the Church being Roman in one sense and Catholic in another, could we not say that the same is true of Jesus and his own sonship?

    Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man, but not in the exact same ways. Paul says that Jesus was “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” and “born of a woman, born under the law.” But surely his being the divine Son of God is irrespective of such historical qualifications.

    So it would seem that if Jesus can have two distinct parentages, with both being true in differing senses, then surely the Church can truly be both Roman and Catholic in two differing senses, no?

  155. I was the Catholic commenting on Clark’s site (mentioned by Bryan in # 146), whose final comment was deleted for apparently “advocating Catholicism”. For the record, my deleted comment had almost nothing to do with Catholicism per se; but rather concerned the role of predicates in relation to subjects with respect to establishing a proposition as contradictory. The comment was almost entirely logical in nature, not ecclesial. I remain mystified and saddened by Clark’s deletion and subsequent response.

    “Roman Catholic Church” (RCC) is no more contradictory a phrase than “Los Angeles International Airport” (LAX). Although the predicates “Los Angeles” and “International”, considered according to their terminological definitions, are contrary with respect to geographical range (the former being relatively local, the later relatively universal); nevertheless, in the above phrase they are both predicated of “Airport” in a non-contradictory way because each predicate relates to a different property of the subject “Airport”. An airport must be managed. An airport has a given geographical reach through its established flight patterns. The first predicate (Los Angeles) indicates the locale from which the airport is managed; whereas, the second predicate (International) indicates the geographical scope of the airport’s flight patterns. Clearly, these two predicates are not said of “Airport” in the same way. But a propositional contradiction ensues only when two contrary predicates are predicated of the same subject for precisely the same time and in precisely the same way. Hence, there exists no inherent or oxymoronic contradiction in the phrase “Los Angeles International Airport”; nor is there any inherent or oxymoronic contradiction in the phrase “Roman Catholic Church”, and for precisely the same reason.

    Pax

  156. By Brian Cross? – II. Perspicuity of Scripture [third paragraph]

    Take Jesus’ parables, as an example. If the Apostles had not explained the meaning of Jesus’ parables, it is quite likely that no degree of exegesis could have determined their meaning. In themselves, exegesis and our best hermeneutical tools would have left the meaning entirely underdetermined. In the time of Christ, the only way to learn what the parables meant, was to learn the meaning from those to whom Christ had privately revealed it. And this same hermeneutical principle remains true to this day for so many Jews who study the Old Testament; a veil remains over their eyes, as St. Paul says regarding the unbelieving Jews of his time. “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted.” (2 Cor 3:14) They can read the words, but they cannot understand what they are reading, no matter how many exegetical or hermeneutical tools they apply to the text. Perceiving the true meaning of the Sacred Scripture is not fundamentally a matter of using the right exegetical tools or methods, because as St. Paul explains, the natural man cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

    KCM: Sadly, Cross uses the 2Cor 3:14 passage to illustrate that the Scriptures cannot be understood, but apparently purposely the one element which makes correct interpretation possible – Receiving the Lord Jesus as one’s Messiah [Savior/Deliverer]. This cannot be a simply oversight because the Paul makes this clear by stating it twice. First in v-14, the portion that Cross omits [Intentionally I believe, because it would seriously weaken his argument], the rest of v-14 reads “which vail is done away in Christ.” And secondly in v-16 where the Apostle states “Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” The “Christ” of v-14 is “the Lord” of v-16. The Apostle Paul is declaring that true Faith in Christ is the KEY to the proper interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians usually refer to as the Old Testament. To give added weight to Paul’s interpretation is our Lord’s own instruction to two sets of individuals in Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:44. Perhaps the primary reason why so many RCC doctrines are in error is that its very own interpreters of Scripture [From Priests, to Cardinals, to Popes – reverse this order if you wish] have left out the very KEY which gives the common individual, Jew or Gentile, the ability to rightly interpret the Scriptures – Christ Himself! Apart from a right relationship with Christ no consistently correct interpretation of Scripture is possible, 1Cor 15:3-4; 2Timothy 2:15.
    In the following paragraphs Brian Cross completely misses the starting point for correct interpretation of the text and blathers on about the need for “divine grace” from above in order to properly interpret. What, or better, Who does Brian Cross think is the SOURCE of such grace? The Scriptures are clear with regard to the SOURCE of grace, John 1:16-17. The “grace” to properly interpret is intimately conected with a saving relationship with Christ through the New Birth, John 1:12-13.

    By Brian Cross – III. Persons and Texts [second paragraph]

    Let me clarify that it is not my position that the Magisterium “needs no interpreter.” But when the Magisterium needs to be interpreted, the Magisterium itself performs this function, just as St. Philip explained to the Ethiopian eunuch what the prophet Isaiah meant. This is not some ad hoc juxstaposition of postmodernism and absolutism. There is a relevant ontological distinction between the respective communicative potencies of persons and books; and this distinction has very important hermeneutical implications. This is why it does not follow that if a book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to function as an ecclesial authority holding the Church in “one faith,” then we must need an infinite regress of living persons in order to interpret the living voice we presently hear.

    KCM: The words of Cross here confirm my earlier point. What was missing in the Ethiopian eunuch’s ability to understand the Scriptures, here Isaiah 53? He had no relationship with the Messiah! It took a man with a relationship with Messiah, Saint Philip [I wonder if Cross believes Philip was a Saint before or after he died]. Philip had a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and thus was able to clarify for the Ethiopian eunuch God’s meaning of the text they were considering. So clear was Philip instruction that the eunuch himself quickly came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. How did the eunuch come to a true understanding of Isaiah 53 – Philip preached to Him “Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Again Cross either ignores the foundation for correction interpretation [The Lord Jesus Christ] or is, in some sense, ignorant of this reality himself.

  157. Kenneth (re: #156)

    Welcome to CTC. See our posting guidelines regarding addressing participating persons in the third person.

    You wrote:

    Sadly, Cross uses the 2Cor 3:14 passage to illustrate that the Scriptures cannot be understood, but apparently purposely the one element which makes correct interpretation possible – Receiving the Lord Jesus as one’s Messiah [Savior/Deliverer].

    I never claimed that Scripture cannot be understood. Rather, my claim is that the text of Scripture is not in itself sufficient for ensuring unity of faith within the visible Church. And that is true even if faith in Christ is present. Otherwise, there would be unity of faith among all those having faith in Christ.

    In the following paragraphs Brian Cross completely misses the starting point for correct interpretation of the text and blathers on about the need for “divine grace” from above in order to properly interpret.

    If you want to engage in sincere and authentic dialogue, you are welcome here. But if you want to engage in sophistry, by construing the arguments of those who disagree with you as “blathering on,” then CTC is not the right place for you.

    What, or better, Who does Brian Cross think is the SOURCE of such grace? The Scriptures are clear with regard to the SOURCE of grace, John 1:16-17. The “grace” to properly interpret is intimately conected with a saving relationship with Christ through the New Birth, John 1:12-13.

    Of course I agree with that.

    The words of Cross here confirm my earlier point. What was missing in the Ethiopian eunuch’s ability to understand the Scriptures, here Isaiah 53? He had no relationship with the Messiah! It took a man with a relationship with Messiah, Saint Philip [I wonder if Cross believes Philip was a Saint before or after he died]. Philip had a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and thus was able to clarify for the Ethiopian eunuch God’s meaning of the text they were considering. So clear was Philip instruction that the eunuch himself quickly came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. How did the eunuch come to a true understanding of Isaiah 53 – Philip preached to Him “Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Again Cross either ignores the foundation for correction interpretation [The Lord Jesus Christ] or is, in some sense, ignorant of this reality himself.

    Again, if merely having a “saving relationship” with Christ were sufficient for unity of faith, there would not be division upon division of denominations each affirming faith in Christ, yet continuing to splinter and fragment because, in part, they cannot agree regarding what is the content of the faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  158. Dear Bryan

    I appreciate so much your quick and personal response. I was surprised by that, especially in light of the fact that it had been a period of time since the last comment on this site. I apologize for the offense. I in no sense meant to be mean spirited. I do not quibble with your gifted intelligence and obvious education (James 1:17) you possess both in spades.

    I am very new to this business of posting and dialoguing in this manner. And I sincerely apologize if I violated protocol in my wording or argumentation. It was very late at night and I had not read your posting guidelines but I take full responsibility and believe I am ultimately accountable for my words before the Lord Jesus Himself, Acts 17:31.

    Bryan, my primary and deep concern is that you seemed willing to leave out the most important point in the 2Corinthians 3 passage that the Apostle Paul was making. That is, that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ one is spiritually blind and is incapable of sound interpretation of God’s Word. Further, I am not suggesting that a personal relationship with Christ [a “saving relationship” with Christ] is the “be all end all” of interpretation, but that it must be firmly fixed as the foundation and starting point. To restate my point, no amount of intellect, education, or religious training can take the place of simply knowing Christ as the starting point, the KEY, if you will, for correct Biblical interpretation. Based on other comments within your article I believe, at least in regard to the previous sentence, we are probably in agreement.

    You speak of the “unity of faith” – but I do not believe this can be imposed on individual believers from the top down by way of a universal institutional church, rather it must come as the result of such individual believers seeing themselves in union and unity with the Lord Jesus Christ and then with others who are thus like-minded, Ephesians 4:2-3; Philippians 2:1-5; 3:12-17.

    And Bryan would address my question concerning Philip, was he a “saint” in life or only after death. For I believe that you did refer to him as a saint. Thanks for any consideration on this subject. This question is sincere for I would like to know the basis, particularly your Biblical support, for the canonization of saints. I believe this is the correct terminology.

    Sincerely desiring God’s infinite best for you and nothing more because there is nothing more,

    Kenneth C. Marr

  159. Ave Maria!
    Kenneth,
    While a deep relationship with Christ is essential for understanding the Revelation of God, it has to be guided. It may be said, “Loving Jesus is enough for me”, but that invites the questions, “What is Love”,” “Who is Jesus,” and “How do we love Him”.

    The point Bryan was making was that, even for those who seek to love God, Scripture is not “perspicuous”, which does not mean that it cannot be understood, but that it is not so obvious that there is no confusion about its meaning. To assert that a loving relationship with Christ is what we need to be able to understand Scripture implies that those who disagree with me about the meaning of Scripture don’t have a loving relationship with Christ, because if they did, they would agree with me. Or one asserts that on the Essentials everyone agrees, but this is a subjective, extra-scriptural concept of “Essentials vs Non-Essentials”. There is no list of “essential” beliefs in Scripture, rather Scripture insist on the “Unity of Faith”.

    I will agree on the importance of a loving relationship to be able to penetrate into the meaning of scripture. This is actually a very Catholic idea. Two of the greatest medieval theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, St. Aquinas once asked St. Bonaventure which from which books he obtained his unparalleled knowledge. Saint Bonaventure pointed to the crucifix and said “This is my library”.

    However, as I said above, if it is true that there is a need for personal, prayerful union with Christ, it also true we need a teacher. The history and present state of those who deny this testifies to the need for a point of unity, which Our Lord gave us in the person of St. Peter and his successors, the Popes.

    Finally, it seems you are largely unfamiliar with Catholic spirituality in this regard. I think you would enjoy the first two chapters of the Imitation of Christ (the most popular Christian book of all time after the Bible itself):
    http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imb1c01-10.html#RTFToC13

  160. Dear Bryan

    I have read the “rules of engagement” [intended to be humorous] and will attempt to follow them in any future postings. If I were to post the first article [above] again I would have done so a bit differently. I would have put it together on a word processing format and corrected the grammar, missing words, etc. I would have let it set overnight, reread it, corrected or adjusted any of its elements, logic, etc., and then have sent it on.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Colossians 2:5-8; 3:27; 4:6

    Ken Marr

  161. Kenneth (re: #158)

    Thanks very much for the change in tone. I appreciate that very much.

    Bryan, my primary and deep concern is that you seemed willing to leave out the most important point in the 2Corinthians 3 passage that the Apostle Paul was making. That is, that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ one is spiritually blind and is incapable of sound interpretation of God’s Word.

    I agree.

    Further, I am not suggesting that a personal relationship with Christ [a “saving relationship” with Christ] is the “be all end all” of interpretation, but that it must be firmly fixed as the foundation and starting point. To restate my point, no amount of intellect, education, or religious training can take the place of simply knowing Christ as the starting point, the KEY, if you will, for correct Biblical interpretation. Based on other comments within your article I believe, at least in regard to the previous sentence, we are probably in agreement.

    Yes, I think we are, because I agree that knowing (and loving) Christ is a necessary condition for the proper interpretation of Scripture. But, what I’m arguing here is that it is not a sufficient condition. We need the Church as well. The Scripture was entrusted to the Church, and the Church is its rightful steward and interpreter.

    You speak of the “unity of faith” – but I do not believe this can be imposed on individual believers from the top down by way of a universal institutional church, rather it must come as the result of such individual believers seeing themselves in union and unity with the Lord Jesus Christ and then with others who are thus like-minded, Ephesians 4:2-3; Philippians 2:1-5; 3:12-17.

    I don’t agree with you on this point. If there were no possibility of belief taught ‘top-down’ by Church authority, there would have been no such thing as the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

    And Bryan would address my question concerning Philip, was he a “saint” in life or only after death. For I believe that you did refer to him as a saint.

    Every canonized saint was already a saint before he or she died. The canonization by the Church is a public recognition of the heroic virtue present in the saint before he or she died.

    Sincerely desiring God’s infinite best for you and nothing more because there is nothing more,

    Thank you very much, and my hope and desire is the same for you.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  162. Dear Bryan Cross.

    I seek some clarification from you regarding a couple of areas we touched on previously.

    KCM: You speak of the “unity of faith” – but I do not believe this can be imposed on individual believers from the top down by way of a universal institutional church, rather it must come as the result of such individual believers seeing themselves in union and unity with the Lord Jesus Christ and then with others who are thus like-minded, Ephesians 4:2-3; Philippians 2:1-5; 3:12-17.

    BC: I don’t agree with you on this point. If there were no possibility of belief taught ‘top-down’ by Church authority, there would have been no such thing as the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

    My understanding of the Acts 15 council was that it primarly centered on whether or not it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved and that the primary issue was not the unity of believers in the body/church. Unity would be of course related but secondary, without the correct teaching on the redemptive truth there could be no real unity. Also at stake was what the early church thought it necessary to require in terms of spiritual practice on the part of believing Gentiles.

    Interesting in the light of this is the lack of unity and actual split between Paul and Barnabas at the end of this very same chapter, so if the primary goal of the Acts 15 council was produce unity it seems to failed before it hardly got started, Acts 15:36-41.

    Also an aspect of the great divide between the RCC and Protestantism, indeed the greatest aspect and the primary reason for the divide in the first place, is in this very area of redemption. Any true unity between the two would require, I believe, first a meaningful unity with regard to redemption. Having said this I recognize that the RCC has a much more unified position on what they believe is the basis of redemption than does the Protestant movement in the board sense. I would to think that all of Protestantism rallies around “Faith alone in Christ alone on the basis of sheer grace alone,” Ephesians 2:8-9. But that is simply not the case.

    To clarify, I do not reject the basic idea of “TOP DOWN” at all. I believe that God’s truth is top down, that is, what God declares is true is true. It is indeed absolute truth! The Lord Jesus Christ said “I Am the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but by/through Me.” This is a TOP DOWN statement. But church unity seems to me to be quite different, more a matter of the spirit (Ephesians 4:2-3; Philippians 2:1-5; 3:12-17) and something which cannot be imposed from the top down. Paul does not seem to be ordering or imposing unity here but rather strongly encouraging it in light of who the Believer in Christ is. Interestingly in Philippians 4:2 with regard to the apparent dispute between Euodias and Syntyche Paul did not order them to unity, but rather encouraged them to unity. He uses the Present Indicative of PARAKALEO [To call alongside] and not an Imperative.

    I thank you in advance for your consideration. Ken Marr

  163. Kenneth (re: #162)

    My understanding of the Acts 15 council was that it primarly centered on whether or not it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved and that the primary issue was not the unity of believers in the body/church.

    There could not be unity in the body/church so long as the former question remained unresolved, because the question was causing strife. So the two are not mutually exclusive.

    Also at stake was what the early church thought it necessary to require in terms of spiritual practice on the part of believing Gentiles.

    I agree, but notice how the conciliar decision is given as a top-down decision. The whole Church had to conform to the decision of the council.

    Interesting in the light of this is the lack of unity and actual split between Paul and Barnabas at the end of this very same chapter, so if the primary goal of the Acts 15 council was produce unity it seems to failed before it hardly got started, Acts 15:36-41.

    I addressed that in IV. Strife and Error in the First Century above. Paul and Barnabas did not break fellowship, or form a schism. Even though they had a personal disagreement regarding a prudential judgment, they remained in the one Church Christ founded, with unity in faith, unity in sacraments, and unity in Church government.

    Also an aspect of the great divide between the RCC and Protestantism, indeed the greatest aspect and the primary reason for the divide in the first place, is in this very area of redemption. Any true unity between the two would require, I believe, first a meaningful unity with regard to redemption.

    I agree.

    Having said this I recognize that the RCC has a much more unified position on what they believe is the basis of redemption than does the Protestant movement in the board sense. I would to think that all of Protestantism rallies around “Faith alone in Christ alone on the basis of sheer grace alone,” Ephesians 2:8-9. But that is simply not the case.

    I don’t disagree.

    To clarify, I do not reject the basic idea of “TOP DOWN” at all. I believe that God’s truth is top down, that is, what God declares is true is true. It is indeed absolute truth! The Lord Jesus Christ said “I Am the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but by/through Me.” This is a TOP DOWN statement.

    I agree.

    But church unity seems to me to be quite different, more a matter of the spirit (Ephesians 4:2-3; Philippians 2:1-5; 3:12-17) and something which cannot be imposed from the top down.

    Where are you getting this idea that the Spirit works fundamentally apart from the Church, rather than through the Church? That’s precisely the error of the Montanists at the end of the second century. I have written a bit more about this notion (without referring to the Montantists) in “Play Church.” See also the testimonies to being guided by the Spirit, in the two videos in comment #29 of the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” post.

    Paul does not seem to be ordering or imposing unity here but rather strongly encouraging it in light of who the Believer in Christ is.

    How could St. Paul be any clearer in 1 Cor. 1:10: “Now I exhort you brothers through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that all of you confess the same thing, and there be no schisms among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 1:10.) Isn’t this an *exhortation* to unity?

    Interestingly in Philippians 4:2 with regard to the apparent dispute between Euodias and Syntyche Paul did not order them to unity, but rather encouraged them to unity. He uses the Present Indicative of PARAKALEO [To call alongside] and not an Imperative.

    The term also has the sense of ‘exhort’ or ‘admonish.’ The mood does not have to be imperative to be exhortation, because the word itself has that meaning. But even if St. Paul were gently encouraging these two to live in harmony, that would in no way mean or entail that there is no moral imperative for all Christians to be united in one faith, and not to form a schism or remain in schism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  164. Dear Bryan Cross

    Thank you for your timely, well reasoned, and clear response to the issues I’ve raised. I many not agree with your every conclusion but your conclusions are reasonable and logical.

    Where I disagree I am not doing so to be argumentative. So very very much is at stake in this whole theological arena.

    I once heard a man, who I believe has been given great God given wisdom (again, James 1:17) say: “I prefer clarity to agreement.” I fully agree and might further add that if agreement comes at the expense of clarity then that level of agreement is in grave danger of falling apart should those in agreement hit any bumps in the road of life as we all must from time to time.

    I deeply appreciate your spiritual interests and responses.

    One who is in Christ but only by His incredible infinite matchless GRACE!

    Philippians 1:20-21

    Ken Marr

  165. Dear Bryan

    BC: “There could not be unity in the body/church so long as the former question remained unresolved, because the question was causing strife. So the two are not mutually exclusive.”

    KCM: Agreed

    BC: “I addressed that in IV. Strife and Error in the First Century above. Paul and Barnabas did not break fellowship, or form a schism.”

    KCM: I will fully grant that they did not form a schism, no question concerning that. But the strong wording in Acts 15:39, as well the subsequent action, certainly implies a breaking of fellowship at least for a period of time. That this break was eventually mended I have little doubt.

    Bryan, I will grant that in the case of 1Corinthians 1:10 there is a clear call to unity. The Corinthian Church was so incredibly divided over what was correct teaching this was absolutely necessary here.

    With reference to a possible meaning and interpretation of PARAKALEO you are correct, the word itself contains a fairly wide variation of meaning. And the idea of exhortation is implicit in that meaning.

    BC: “Where are you getting this idea that the Spirit works fundamentally apart from the Church, rather than through the Church? That’s precisely the error of the Montanists at the end of the second century. I have written a bit more about this notion (without referring to the Montantists) in “Play Church.” See also the testimonies to being guided by the Spirit, in the two videos in comment #29 of the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” post.”

    KCM: With reference to my views of the Holy Spirit being somewhat akin to the views of Montanism of the 2nd century. It is my understanding that Montanus taught that the Holy Spirit could guide one into truth that went beyond what even Jesus or Paul taught. If your comment implies that is remotely my position I reject that implication entirely. The Holy Spirit of God will never go beyond what is found in the written Word of God. NEVER! The focus of the Holy Spirit, will in fact be primary on the Son of God and Christian’s relation to Him and the Christian’s relationship with Him, John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15. In one sense even the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the Old Testament is in line with this, 1Peter 1:10-12. In saying this I am not discounting the Spirit’s ministry to the Church in the corporate sense.

    I am traveling the next few days. May you enjoy the weekend in this land so blessed by God’s grace.

    Ken Marr

  166. Yesterday R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, wrote “Indeed, the very expression Roman Catholicism is a contradiction in terms.” This error was addressed in 2012 in comments #145 and #146 above.

  167. In 2010 in the article above I wrote about the importance of recognizing the paradigmatic character of the Protestant-Catholic disagreement. By “paradigmatic character” I mean that the disagreement cannot be understood or resolved if the respective positions are not comprehended as belonging to broader paradigms, but are instead conceived and evaluated only in terms of one’s own paradigm. Failing to grasp the paradigmatic character of the disagreement leads to presupposing one paradigm as the standard by which to adjudicate between the two paradigms, and thus commits the basic fallacy of begging the question, i.e. presupposing precisely what is in question in the disagreement.

    I had written about the paradigmatic character of the Protestant-Catholic disagreement before, in 2009 in “A Reply From a Romery Person.” Subsequent to this present article in 2010, I wrote about this same topic again in “Imputation and Paradigms: A Reply To Nicholas Batzig” (2012), in the last paragraph of comment #316 in “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” (2013), then again in comments #4, #7, #9, and #12 of “Clark, Frame, and the Analogy of Painting a Magisterial Arrow Around One’s Interpretive Arrow” in January of 2014, and addressed it again in February of 2014 in the second paragraph of comment #15 in “Overcoming the Scandal of Division,” and again in July of that same year in comment #30 of the “Protestant Objections to the Catholic Doctrines of Original Justice and Original Sin.”

    Robert Breaker’s video below titled “What I am NOT a Catholic” illustrates exactly this phenomenon:

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