Mathison’s Reply to Cross and Judisch: A Largely Philosophical Critique

Feb 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This is a guest post by Michael Liccione, who is well known to regular readers of Called To Communion. Michael earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and his B.A. in philosophy and religion at Columbia University. He has taught at a number of institutions, including UPenn, St. Francis College, the Catholic University of America, and the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He currently teaches critical thinking at Bryant & Stratton College in Syracuse, NY, where he moved last year to be closer to his family of origin. His previous job was assistant to the editor at First Things, for which he is preparing a feature article on the development of doctrine.

Sacra Conversazione
Sacra Conversazione
Fra Angelico (c. 1443)
Fresco, Convento di San Marco, Florence

In November 2009, two of this site’s co-authors, Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch, posted what has become its best-known contribution to Catholic-Protestant dialogue: the article “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” It was devoted mostly to a critique of Keith Mathison’s argument, in his book The Shape of Sola Scriptura, that there is a principled difference between solo scriptura (henceforth ‘solo’) and sola scriptura (henceforth ‘sola’) as ways of upholding the primacy of the Bible and interpreting it so as to expound the true doctrinal content of the “faith once given to the saints.” Since then, the article’s combox has run to well over 1,200 entries conducting debates about both the central issue and the numerous ones related to it. In defense of the article’s main thesis, I gladly contributed to those debates. But much of it had the feel of a busy conference hall awaiting a speaker’s arrival. For it was over a year ago that Mathison promised a considered reply. Now that he has delivered that reply (see here for the links), I shall deliver a critique of my own. My page references will be to the PDF version of Mathison’s paper.

The main thesis of the Cross-Judisch article is that, pace Mathison, there is no “principled difference” between solo and sola, inasmuch as the latter requires as much as the former that the individual’s interpretation of Scripture be the ultimate interpretive authority. Mathison of course denies that and, in his reply, backs his denial with many arguments. Now my aim is not to speak for Cross and Judisch — who are quite capable of defending themselves, and doubtless will — but to focus attention on what I believe to be the fundamental issues needing to be addressed directly. Those issues are philosophical, and so far have not been seen or addressed as such. Largely for that reason, I shall not discuss in detail most of the subsidiary arguments Mathison makes in a paper that runs to over 50 pages of double-spaced text. They are quite uneven in quality, ranging from the historically well-informed to the downright fallacious. Many who follow this site are well able to assess most of Mathison’s arguments piecemeal; if they do, I think they will verify for themselves what I have just said about those arguments. Instead I shall frame the broader context of debate, summarize and criticize Mathison’s main argument, and point up how it illustrates the radical difference of interpretive paradigm (henceforth ‘IP’) between Catholicism and conservative Protestantism (Reformed or otherwise) quite generally. At the end, I shall explain what is involved in assessing those paradigms against each other so that the uncommitted inquirer may determine which is the more reasonable. The unavoidable need to determine which IP is the more reasonable is the most important philosophical issue in the debate.

I.

I say “conservative” Protestantism because, unlike liberal Protestantism, it shares two basic assumptions with Catholicism that allow us to specify a clear context of debate. First, the divine revelation in and through Jesus Christ is public, definitive, once-for-all, consistently and authoritatively identifiable through time, and expressible as the doctrinal content of the “deposit of faith.” Second, the ultimate “material” object of faith is God. That is to say, what we have faith in when we make the assent of faith is ultimately a who: God, as revealed in and through Jesus Christ. It is ultimately on divine authority that we must believe what we do as belonging to the deposit of faith “given once for all to the holy ones.” The main difference between Catholicism and conservative Protestantism as a whole is not about that, but about the proximate, “formal” object of faith. In other words, the two represent different answers to the question: Just which ensemble of secondary authorities must we trust, and in what relationship with each other, in order to reliably identify all and only what the primary object of faith wants us to believe, namely the deposit of faith? Now as a theologian of the Reformed tradition, Mathison is committed to a way of answering that question that not all conservative Protestants would accept. But the points I shall make at the end, after I have addressed his main arguments directly, apply to conservative Protestantism generally.

A conservative Protestant would say that inspired Scripture is the highest authority, the authority-beyond-appeal, in what I have called the “ensemble of secondary authorities.” Of course some Protestants deny that there is any other secondary authority, but that should not be taken at face value. Protestants as well as Catholics rely to some extent on other secondary authorities such as tradition, churches, pastors, scholars, and the experience of believers. Protestants disagree among themselves about the weight such authorities have relative to each other and to Scripture, and we will need to consider one aspect of Mathison’s understanding of that relation. For now, though, note that Catholicism too acknowledges the primacy of Scripture in a certain sense.

Catholic theologians generally understand Scripture as the divinely inspired norma normans for other secondary authorities, including the Church. That means that, once the biblical canon was formed, whatever was admitted from other authorities had to conform to and cohere with Scripture. No authority may introduce anything as de fide that is logically incompatible with Scripture or otherwise fails to cohere with it. Other authorities are thus norma normata: they are “normed” by Scripture rather than vice-versa. Many Catholic theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas, have also held that Scripture is “materially sufficient,” in the sense that it somehow contains, either explicitly or implicitly, all the doctrinal content assent to which is necessary for salvation. But given that it’s not a definitive teaching of the Catholic Magisterium, the material sufficiency of Scripture is considered only an acceptable opinion among Catholics rather than a doctrine binding on the conscience of believers. On the material-sufficiency view, even though the Church affirms extra-scriptural Tradition as another “source,” older than and concurrent with Scripture, from which we receive the Word of God, Tradition does not convey any revealed truth that is not “somehow” contained in Scripture. Of course many conservative Protestants would go further and claim that the canon is formally as well as materially sufficient, thus obviating unwritten Tradition as a source of knowledge of revealed truth. But that too is only an opinion, one which I regard as at best conceptually confused and at worst as actually self-refuting, depending on how it’s formulated. And of course, Protestantism diverges from Catholicism and Orthodoxy in holding that only the Masoretic canon of the Old Testament, rather than the larger Septuagint canon, is truly inspired. That difference will also be important later in my own argument. For now, the main point to keep in mind is that both parties to the debate accept some version of the biblical canon as the norma normans among secondary authorities, in virtue of its being the inspired, inerrant Word of God in fixed, written form.

Accordingly, the main focus of disagreement between Catholicism and conservative Protestantism is less about the importance of Scripture as a secondary authority — both receive it as the norma normans in some sense — than about the importance of other secondary authorities relative to it and to each other. This is where Mathison’s distinctively “confessional” conservative Protestantism — in his case, the Reformed tradition — becomes relevant. According to confessional Protestantism of whatever brand, ecclesial creeds and confessions are very important secondary authorities for identifying the deposit of faith as the proximate object of the assent of faith. The authority of the churches that produce them is correspondingly important. Ecclesial authority is seen as scripturally justified, even necessitated; and as Catholics, Cross, Judisch, and I would agree. And here is where we find the main difference between solo and sola within Protestantism itself. Let us now consider Mathison’s own view of that.

II.

Mathison agrees with Cross and Judisch that all reading of Scripture, like “communication”” generally, “requires interpretation.” But the questions naturally arise: Whose interpretation of Scripture is authoritative for Christians, and to what degree? Any answer to those questions will identify a secondary authority in addition to, but not opposed to, Scripture. And in a paragraph that Mathison does not gainsay, Cross and Judisch wrote:

[Mathison] is arguing that solo scriptura undermines legitimate ecclesial authority established by Christ. It does so by denying the “authoritative teaching office” in the Church, and the “hermeneutical authority” of those holding that office. How does it do that? Mathison is explicit: “the individual measures his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture.” For Mathison, God did not establish the Church as a democracy; rather, He gave specific gifts to men to teach and govern His Church.

For Mathison, then, what’s wrong with solo is that “the individual measures his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture.” If it’s the individual being taught who is the interpreter-beyond-appeal, that is only an ersatz authority, since the individual cannot claim authority greater than, or even as much authority as, that of something called “the Church,” understood as the “assembly” (ecclesia) of God’s people as a whole. Solo is thus untenable. It amounts to saying “I submit to the Church only when I agree,” which is no submission at all. We must rather adhere, in good confessional-Protestant fashion, to sola. We must indeed affirm that Scripture is the sole inerrant rule of faith, because unlike the deliverances of any other secondary authority such as ecclesial creeds and confessions, Scripture is divinely inspired and thus inerrant; but Scripture cannot be authoritatively interpreted by individuals. The authoritative interpretation of Scripture belongs to something called “the Church.” On that score too, Cross and Judisch agree with Mathison.

This suggests, correctly, that getting the true identity of “the Church” right is pivotal for interpretation of Scripture that is truly authoritative, not just personal opinion, no matter how many people may share a given interpretive opinion at any given time. So on one level, it would seem that the disagreement is only about which body now constitutes “the Church” that Christ founded and to which he gave authority. And indeed there is sharp disagreement about that. But it is at just this point that I find Mathison’s argumentative strategy so curious.

He does not argue that his Reformed denomination, or indeed any particular church body today, is “the Church” that Christ founded. Instead, Mathison takes up more than the first half of his paper with a sprawling, surprisingly strident argument that the Catholic Church is not that Church. In due course, I shall review and criticize his most important subsidiary arguments against Catholicism; but as we shall see, the interest of that is primarily what it reveals about the general quality of Mathison’s arguments, not how it contributes to debate about the immediate point at issue. Next, he briefly summarizes his book’s argument — against the Cross-Judisch interpretation of it — as to how to identify “the Church.” He begins with the assertion: “I defined the church in terms of the rule of faith, and I as an individual did not determine the content of the rule of faith” (p. 36). He goes on to explain both what that means and how it can be supported by historical inquiry. On that account, the “rule of faith” in terms of which “the Church” is to be “defined” is embodied in the creeds that developed progressively out of the early church’s baptismal formulas and confessions of faith, culminating in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed of 381. I see no reason to doubt that Mathison’s account of early creedal development is substantially correct.

Now those creeds were clearly backed by the authority of something calling itself even at the time “the catholic church” (I use the lower-case ‘c’ intentionally). So one might think that, given the importance Mathison attaches to getting right the identity of “the Church” as a secondary authority, he would argue that such creeds were true and authoritative regulae fidei because they were propounded with the authority of a body identifiable as “the catholic church.” But that is not quite what he argues. And on reflection, that is understandable, because Mathison’s actual position forbids him to argue it.

He argues instead that such rules of faith were authoritative inasmuch as they were, and were regarded by the self-described catholic church as, “uninspired summaries” of the plain teaching of inspired Scripture. But they were only thought necessary because some people, for whatever flimsy reasons, didn’t “get” the plain sense of Scripture. In other words, the rules of faith could be known to be authoritative less because the-Church-as-secondary-authority propounded them than because they plainly were correct interpretations of Scripture, which is why they were regarded as such by the early “catholic church.” So “the Church” as secondary authority is to be identified as that body of believers whose rules of faith conformed to Scripture, by virtue of clearly summarizing and correctly interpreting Scripture in her rules of faith, and doing so in a way that can be validated even without invoking her authority. Accordingly, it’s not as though we have to get the identity of “the Church” right before we can know the correct interpretation of Scripture. We must first get the plain sense of Scripture, so that we can go on to identify “the Church” as that body of believers whose rules of faith clearly reflect it. Only then do we have reason enough for saying that “the Church” is authoritative as interpreter. That is how Mathison “defines” the Church, and the authority of the Church on the sola view.

Frankly, how Mathison could suppose that that argument rebuts the Cross-Judisch thesis is beyond me. He is in fact doing precisely what they criticize him for doing in his book. He has not managed to depict “the Church” — be it the post-apostolic, “catholic” church or any church today — as an indispensable measure of any particular person’s interpretation of Scripture, which is what his version of sola would require. Rather, he holds that a certain interpretation of Scripture, embodied in the Creed of 381, is plainly correct, and supports that view by arguing that the early church took it that way too. Citing the creeds and the attitude of the early church is supposed to reinforce the point that the correct interpretation is plain, without thereby suggesting that its being plain logically depends on its being endorsed by the authority of the church. So if the early church was authoritative in the sought-after sense, that is only because her relative closeness to the time of the apostolic tradition’s “inscripturation” in the canon makes it likely that she got the interpretation of Scripture right — not that said interpretation can be known to be right only if she says it is. And so, for the purpose of identifying the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith, the authority of “the Church” as interpreter is dispensable in principle, even though in practice it is always needed for the disciplinary purpose of calling out the errant and recalcitrant.

Thus it would seem that sola reduces to solo after all. For as individuals, we are to identify “the Church” as that body of people whose leadership has got Scripture essentially right. We needn’t and shouldn’t say that the true identity of “the Church” Christ founded must be known before we can identify the correct interpretation of Scripture as such; indeed, on Mathison’s account, any attempt to approach the matter that way would get it backwards. Rather, the inquirer into these matters must learn the identity of “the Church” by means of exegetical and historical arguments that the early “catholic church” got Scripture right in her summary rules of faith. “The Church” today is thus identifiable as whatever collection of people attends church and adheres to such rules as the correct interpretations of Scripture. But of course, no visible body today is co-extensive with that collection; therefore, no set of authorities within any such body can be identified tout court as the authorities of “the Church.” The Church, such as it is, has authority because it is right about Scripture; accordingly, the individual churchgoer cannot know that “the Church” has interpretive authority without his already knowing the correct interpretation of Scripture. But that destroys any principled difference between solo and sola. Which, of course, is just the Cross-Judisch thesis.

So much for the second half of Mathison’s main argument. Its first and far lengthier half, which concludes that the Catholic Church is not the Church, fares no better. But before getting to the substance of that case, we need to consider why Mathison finds it necessary to make such an argument.

He finds it necessary because, according to him, the “difference” between solo and sola “becomes invisible only when one begins by assuming the correctness of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church” (p. 1), so that it’s necessary to demolish such an “assumption” in order to uphold the difference. But in Mathison’s paper, I can detect no explanation why Cross and Judisch must assume, for purposes of their own argument, that the Catholic Church today is the Church, or even an argument that they actually do so. The closest they come to doing so is in this statement: “Our point is to show that implicit within the claim by proponents of sola scriptura to be submitting to the Church, is always a prior judgment concerning which body of persons count as the Church, and a theological assumption about how that judgment is to be made.” That, of course, is true of anybody who would appeal to something called “the Church” for the sake of authoritatively interpreting the “sources” by which divine revelation is transmitted to us. For if an appeal to the living authority of something called “the Church” over biblical interpretation is to be anything but circular, we need an extra-biblical reason for saying which church is…well, the Church. The extra-biblical reason Mathison gives for his definition of ‘the Church’ is his interpretive opinion, which is by no means shared by all in the fourth century or today, that the Creed of 381 promulgated by the church of the time was only conveying the plain sense of Scripture. That is not the same as saying something that Cross and Judisch would agree with, namely that said creed’s was the correct interpretation of Scripture. For his purpose, Mathison must adopt such an extra-biblical premise, because to argue that we don’t need anything beyond statements of the Bible to identify which church has the authority of “the church” mentioned in the Bible would be justified only by the sort of reasoning that would make the church dispensable for the purpose of authoritatively interpreting the Bible quite generally. The philosophical problem for Mathison is that, although he needs and wants to avoid that result, it is exactly the result his argumentative strategy yields.

Still, what is of interest for the debate here is not the question which church today actually is the Church — on that, agreement will obviously not be reached — but whether the identity of the Church today must be established prior to determining whether sola does, in fact, collapse into solo. That’s the sort of epistemological question philosophers love to consider. From that point of view, Mathison’s main argument requires showing that sola does not collapse into solo because we can reliably identify the early “catholic church” as the Church, and thus as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture. But of course, Cross and Judisch would agree with the identification itself; they too believe that the church that promulgated the Creed of 381 is in fact the Church. So the question whether the church then was in fact the Church is not the question we need to consider in order to get at the root of the disagreement. The root of the disagreement is about not whether the early “catholic church” was the Church or even that she had interpretive authority, but about the method by which that church is to be so identified, a method which would also identify which church is the Church even now. Cross and Judisch say that the right method is to discover which church enjoys “apostolic succession,” which is probably why Mathison says that they must assume, for purposes of their argument, that the Catholic Church is the Church. But for the reasons I’ve already given, their commitment to that method as Catholics is not needed as a premise for their argument against Mathison’s thesis.

To be sure, Mathison makes much of the fact that Catholics and Protestants today view history and Scripture through quite different lenses. That indeed has been a fact since the 16th century. But as I shall show later after completing the review of Mathison’s main argument, he doesn’t get the difference of IP between Catholicism and conservative Protestantism quite right either. And that is a severe defect of his argument against Catholicism.

III.

Mathison makes his argument against Catholicism (or what he prefers to call ‘Rome,’ as if the Latin Church were all there is to the Catholic Church), on historical, exegetical, and logical grounds. But he takes virtually no account of the fact that many highly intelligent and scholarly Catholics have disagreed and do disagree with him, using far more thorough arguments of precisely those sorts — for example, Yves Congar and Joseph Ratzinger. With only one exception I shall discuss below, Mathison’s foil is not thinkers of that caliber, but only unnamed Catholic “apologists” who aren’t really scholars. And he concludes his argument with this bold claim: “…there is absolutely zero evidence that the leadership of the local church of Rome is uniquely protected and abundant biblical and historical evidence that it is not” (p. 22).

The question to raise here is: “Protected from what?” If the answer is “sin,” Catholics willingly grant that “the local church of Rome” is by no means protected, uniquely or otherwise, from sin. At certain points in its history, the papacy would have been grist for tabloid newspapers, had there been any. All one has to do is read Chaucer or Boccacio, and listen to weightier Catholics from the era who criticized the abuses but never left the Church. The Reformation, whether itself justified or not, was in part a response to justified grievances, and most Catholics, including the present and the previous pope, have acknowledged as much. As far as I know, nobody claims that the members of any church, including popes, have ever been protected from sin, even grave sin; indeed, the Apostles themselves, including Peter, were not so protected. What is at issue is whether any church is ever divinely protected from doctrinal error, not moral error, under certain conditions. In other words, is any church ever gifted by God with doctrinal infallibility, and if so under what conditions? The Catholic Church claims that she is, and the claim is supremely relevant to a discussion of the nature of ecclesial authority to interpret whatever “sources” transmit divine revelation to us.

But even though Mathison is well aware of that claim, and its logical difference from any claim of impeccability that would be a mere straw man, some of the evidence he cites against that claim is moral. Thus he argues that, prior to the Reformation, the papacy and the bishops had “abandoned the flock,” thereby and obviously forfeiting their claim to be successors of the Apostles. But even assuming that the pope and the bishops were often poor pastors, that sort of pastoral judgment is irrelevant to the issue at hand. The relevant question is: In what way is “the Church” necessary to reliably and authoritatively interpret the sources by which divine revelation is transmitted to us? The question is not whether the rulers of the Church, at any given time, are otherwise ruling well. If it were manifest that the claims of the Catholic Magisterium for itself are false for that or any other reason, than most Catholic prelates and theologians for at least a millennium would have to be either poor scholars or willfully blind, and every faithful Catholic layman an illiterate or a willing dupe. Depicting one’s opponents as either incompetent or in bad faith, mostly by ignoring the best among them, is not an effective argumentative strategy.

To be fair, I note that Mathison does adduce some relevant arguments against the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to infallibility under certain conditions. One is the standard Protestant argument that some Catholic doctrines are contrary to Scripture — especially the papal claims themselves. But regardless of any particular example it may use, that sort of argument is radically question-begging. A good part of what is at issue here — indeed, the main part — is the question how Scripture is to be interpreted authoritatively. To argue that Scripture interpreted authoritatively goes against Catholicism requires already premising one particular answer to the very question at issue — which of course is precisely what Mathison charges Cross and Judisch with doing for their own purpose. And so I shall ignore this sort of argument from Scripture against Catholicism.

Another of Mathison’s arguments is that there’s no evidence of mono-episcopacy in Rome until the late second century, and that some Catholic scholars agree with that judgment, which indeed they do. That requires arguing, as he does, that St. Irenaeus and one of his sources, Hegisippus, misstated the evidence from the post-apostolic Church of Rome, even though Irenaeus himself had been to Rome and known St. Polycarp of Smyrna personally, who in turn had been to Rome and had himself known the Apostle John personally. Such an argument would have us believe that, roughly 1,900 years after the fact, we can understand the meaning and reliability of the late first-century sources better than people who had lived less than two generations after the fact and had known eyewitnesses to it. That dubious sort of move is rather common among liberal scripture and patristic scholars; it’s just special pleading when made by a conservative theologian who would often find liberal scholarship dubious on just such grounds. The argument in question, which is fairly common, also trades on an ambiguity in the use of the word ‘presbyteros’ in the early Church. And it has been vigorously contested on that and other grounds by Catholic scholars whom Mathison simply ignores. The selective use of secondary scholarly sources is not a reputable form of argument. So Mathison’s present argument doesn’t merit more attention here either.

Needless to say, Mathison has many other arguments. Indeed, he seems to have thrown almost all the tomatoes at the target, hoping some will stick. I shall focus on the most important, which alas are not made with the care they require.

One is that the course of Catholic doctrinal development (henceforth ‘DD’) has yielded significant internal inconsistencies, which could not obtain if the Magisterium’s claim to infallibility under certain conditions were true. But that argument isn’t enough for Mathison’s purpose. For no party to the debate denies that some Catholic teachings have changed, yet it doesn’t follow that that poses an insurmountable logical problem for the Magisterium. Doctrinal change would be an insurmountable, internal logical difficulty for the Magisterium only if at least one of the changes involved negating a doctrine which the Magisterium had deemed irreformable, i.e., infallibly set forth, by its own criteria. But Mathison makes no argument to that effect — at least none that I can detect.

Another argument from Mathison on this score is, in effect, that the very notion of DD is a deceptive name for unwarranted additions to or corruptions of the deposit of faith: essentially, a con job. I’ve heard that a lot in my time. Of course DD would be exposed a con job if Mathison had shown what I have just said he’s made no argument to show. But pretty much all he has to offer is the following ill-considered remark centering on John Henry Newman, the primary advocate of DD in the 19th-century Catholic Church:

…the Roman Magisterium has lost and corrupted and changed her theological and moral teachings over time. It takes the genius and ingenuity of a Cardinal Newman to blind one to this fact. The doctrine of papal infallibility itself is one of the most obvious examples of an invented doctrine that was never believed always, everywhere, and by all, but more on this below. (p. 22, emphasis added.)

So according to Mathison, Cardinal Newman used his admitted “genius” to blind not only himself, but a host of later Catholic scholars, to an obvious truth that he, Mathison, has by no means made obvious. Res ipsa loquitur. The only good part is that one real Catholic theologian is actually cited, and acknowledged as a genius. But of course, the genius does not begin or end with Newman.

Mathison also cites against the Catholic Church what’s known as “the Vincentian Canon,” stated in the fifth century by St. Vincent of Lerins: “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” Thus:

…Rome’s version of apostolic succession ultimately led her to replace the Vincentian canon with the “magisterium of the moment.” Instead of that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all, the Roman standard is whatever Rome happens to be teaching today. If she teaches it now, it must have been taught by the apostles and the early church, even if there is no evidence of that in Scripture or the history of the church. The Vincentian Canon is an inductive principle based on the evaluation of evidence. The Roman standard is a deductive principle based on a bare assertion. (p. 50)

That argument too is sloppy. For one thing, Rome does not claim that “whatever” she now teaches was actually taught by the Apostles. She claims only that what she teaches as de fide, and thus as irreformable, belongs to the apostolic deposit of faith, whether or not we happen to know, on independent grounds and in every case, that the Apostles themselves would have said the same. Of course, as a Protestant Mathison would reject that claim too, but it is a much narrower claim than the one he formulates, and arguing against it requires much more care than he devotes.

Notice also that the Vincentian Canon is not true without careful contextual qualification. It is not true, without qualification, that every doctrine St. Vincent professed as a Catholic had been held “always, everywhere, and by all,” even if we take the ‘all’ to be quantifying only over people who had been baptized as Catholics. As I argued here on textual grounds, to understand and apply the VC as St. Vincent did, one must already know what the phrase ‘the Catholic Church’ refers to, and even then limit the VC’s use to those with some sort of authority in said church — which must in turn be weighed by the statements of the highest ecclesial authorities. Acccordingly, citing the VC against the Catholic Church today just begs the question.

I could go on and would enjoy doing so in such a target-rich environment, but I’ve said enough to paint a fair picture of the quality of Mathison’s case against Catholicism — a case which he needn’t make anyhow, because for the reasons I’ve given, one needn’t assume that Catholicism is true in order to show why the solo-sola distinction ultimately collapses. Rather than dwell on the disservice Mathison had done himself, I now turn to the deepest root of the debate.

IV.

In many comments on this site as well as old posts on my own blog, I have argued that there is an irreconcilable difference between the respective “hermeneutical paradigms” of Catholicism and Protestantism, meaning conservative Protestantism. Here I shall call the difference one of ‘interpretive paradigms’ (IPs) so as to lighten the jargon. An IP is a systematic framework for interpreting the data that is “underdetermined” by the data, meaning that the data do not dictate it, but are themselves are interpreted by means of it, and that more than one IP is logically consistent with the data. Now when the dataset is as large as that of theology, no interpretation of the data that’s alleged to yield the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith can be made without bringing some IP to the data. In fact, given the size and complexity of the dataset, more than one IP can be at least rationally plausible, even though no two such IPs are entirely consistent with each other. Now in my experience, no debate between Protestants and Catholics, including the one that’s occasioned this contribution, makes any genuine progress without directly addressing what amounts to that difference of IP. And so I shall now characterize the difference so that the debate can be fruitful, and the uncommitted inquirer accordingly better positioned to discern which is the more reasonable of the two.

I shall omit consideration of any liberal-Protestant IP for a reason I gave at the beginning: none share with Catholicism two crucial assumptions, which I set forth, that frame a clear context of debate. In fact, I would argue that any “liberal” IP reduces religion straightaway to a matter of opinion, thereby making it impossible to identify anything as divine revelation rather than as mere human opinion about how to interpret sources that have been alleged to transmit divine revelation. Now according to the conservative-Protestant IP, the only way to reliably identify the formal, proximate object of faith — which means identifying the correct ensemble of secondary doctrinal authorities and their proper relationship to one another — is to study the written sources from early Christianity, mainly but not limited to Scripture, and make the correct inferences from them. Inconsistencies in such a body of inferences can only be resolved, when they can be resolved, by appeal to inspired Scripture, which trumps anything to the opposite effect in the other, uninspired sources. Hence the slogan ad fontes, a rallying cry of the Renaissance humanists who so influenced the early Reformers. On this approach, the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith consists in what is (a) explicitly asserted in Scripture and (b) what can be inferred from those assertions with valid deductive and inductive arguments, such as those made in the early “catholic church” to yield Nicene orthodoxy. Once we’ve identified a set of such statements, we’ve learned all we need to know about which doctrines are revealed and apostolic, which in turn are all and only the doctrines we must believe. Anything beyond that is human opinion masquerading as divine revelation, and thus a deception. So much for DD as the Catholic Church has come to understand that idea.

But according to the Catholic IP, such a methodology is insufficient for reliably identifying the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion. Though necessary, studying the early written sources and making inferences from them can only yield human interpretive opinions, unless validated by some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation of the relevant data is divinely protected from error under certain conditions — a gift which, all sides would agree, is at least logically possible, given what and who God is. That interpreter is, of course, understood to be the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which consists in the “college” of bishops in communion with the bishop of Rome. The Magisterium is not only the divinely appointed authority that distinguished which early writings were divinely inspired from which were not, but is also the authoritative custodian and interpreter of the inspired books and all else that has been handed down from the Apostles, which includes extra-scriptural Tradition such as the liturgy, creeds, and certain pious beliefs and practices. Those are taken to cohere with Scripture to form one “deposit of faith,” even though, in many cases, they are not inferable from Scripture by rules of logic alone. Hence, as Vatican II says:

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

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

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (Dei Verbum §10; references omitted, emphasis added).

The general conditions on infallible teaching are described in another document of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium (§25 ff). Now as a matter of history, only rarely does a pope infallibly teach unilaterally. A more common way in which infallibility is exercised is in the issuance of dogmatic as distinct from disciplinary “canons” of “ecumenical” councils. And ordinarily, the college of bishops as a whole teaches infallibly when “though dispersed throughout the world, they are in agreement that one position is to be definitively held.” That was the situation for the entire time before the first ecumenical council, that of Nicaea in 325, and remains the situation in many cases of doctrine today.

Now there is a certain sense in which a “confessional” Protestant such as Mathison could accept the formula: “Sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church are so linked… that none can stand without the others.” That may be seen in how Mathison argues for sola as opposed to solo. Even though his argument is unsuccessful, he does consider all three secondary authorities — Scripture, Tradition, and the Church — severally indispensable and mutually interdependent, together forming the proximate, formal object of faith. The fundamental disagreement that confessional Protestants have with the Catholic Church should thus be seen as over (a) which body of people forms the church with the requisite teaching authority, and (b) how that church is to be identified. The answer to (a), whatever that is, derives from the answer to (b), whatever that is. Unsatisfactory though it is, we’ve at least seen Mathison give an answer to (b), and accordingly to (a).

Now I do not say that Mathison’s argument for his answer to (b) is the only or the best that a confessional Protestant can give. But it is evident that, on the Protestant IP, the only way to answer (b) with anything more than provisional human opinions is to construct a rationally unassailable set of inferences from Scripture and from other early sources that enables us to grasp what is, and can readily be seen as, the plain sense of Scripture. “The Church,” both then and now, is accordingly identifiable as whatever collection of people faithfully assents to what is thereby grasped. But under no circumstances is she to be considered infallible. Given as much, the question fairly arises: How to explain the fact that many baptized, churchgoing people don’t agree about what the plain sense of Scripture is, or even that it’s always and necessarily inerrant even when agreed to be plain? If the proximate, formal object of faith can be clearly identified by a rationally unassailable set of inferences from the pertinent early sources, the primary one of which is assumed to be inerrant, does that tell us that those who don’t find that set rationally unassailable are either unlearned or willfully irrational? Remember: the “rationally unassailable” set of inferences is not itself inerrant, because nobody holding it can be considered an infallible interpreter, even if at least one of the sources is itself inerrant.

The historical and scholarly evidence, which I have no time to review in detail, would suggest that the answer to the above question is no. Even during those intermittent periods over the last two millennia when there was relative consensus about what Christian orthodoxy is, there never has been a time when all dissenters could be fairly dismissed as either unlearned or willfully irrational. Wrong, yes; disobedient to what is, in fact, duly constituted ecclesial authority, yes; but not unlearned or willfully irrational. In these matters, some people just don’t see as “plain” what others do, and that is not always a vice, because revealed theology is not like mathematics or natural science — where what is obvious in itself, but not obvious to many people, becomes obvious to the person who has been fully initiated into of the discipline. Yet unlearned or willfully irrational is how we would have to view dissenters, if the conservative-Protestant IP were itself the one most rational to adopt.

Along that line, I am reminded of this:

The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgement. The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgement but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was sui ipsius interpres and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy, but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that “the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.” By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey,” Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45; emphasis added).1

I would add that Schwenckfeld made his wry observation thirteen years after Luther had nailed his theses to the door, and two years after the ill-fated Colloquy of Marburg.

To see Protestant theological antagonists treating each other, as well as Catholics, that way is evidence that the Protestant IP is not the most rational one to adopt. For treating all determined opponents as either unlearned or willfully irrational is itself unreasonable — even when Catholics do it, as not a few have done in the past, including but not limited to the Arian controversy. Yet Mathison treats Catholicism as though Catholics would have to be unlearned or willfully irrational to believe it. If he doesn’t treat all non-Reformed Protestants similarly, that might be because, now that centuries have passed, Protestants can find it in themselves to treat charitably any Christian who is not a Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church has got beyond the old, insultingly dismissive attitude toward Christians who do not accept her claims; other Christians, especially the Reformed, would do well to reciprocate. Fortunately, some have.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that Reformed Protestants have what seems to them good reason for such hostility, which is why it’s hard to blame them for their attitude. That reason would be that the conservative-Protestant IP is itself, unlike the Catholic, rationally unavoidable for anybody who share the two assumptions which I said, near the beginning, “frame a clear context for debate.” And they have what qualifies as an argument for that belief. I shall conclude by outlining that argument, which is now common among Protestants, and showing why it fails.

V.

In various forms, the argument that the conservative-Protestant IP is itself rationally unavoidable (for anybody who shares the two above-referenced assumptions) appears in what Cross has called the tu quoque objection to the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself. Mathison himself uses a version of the tu quoque against Cross’ advocacy of apostolic succession as the way to identify “the Church” as interpretive authority. But particular examples are not important here, for the argument takes pretty much the same form regardless of which particular doctrine is at issue, and its primary application is to the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to infallibility under certain conditions.

The argument is that, even if we suppose arguendo that some ecclesial authority is in fact infallible under certain conditions, such an authority cannot be infallibly known to be infallible, so that infallibility cannot in any instance supplant private judgment, which of course is fallible. In other words, supposing for reductio that the Catholic Magisterium can’t be wrong under certain conditions, the only reasonable basis for believing as much would be an argument that can only be made fallibly, and is therefore not certain. If one argues that the Catholic Magisterium, being infallible under certain conditions, infallibly teaches under those conditions that it is infallible, one is merely arguing in a circle. So one cannot rely on ecclesial infallibility to make the Magisterium’s claim to infallibility credible — a conclusion I readily accept as a Catholic. Now according to the objector, one must argue instead, but of course fallibly, that a study of early Christian sources makes such an affirmation rationally unassailable as an inference from those sources. For absent infallible arguments, that’s the only way to approach the requisite level of certainty. Yet such an affirmation is far from rationally unassailable, as the history of doctrine amply demonstrates. So there is reason enough after all to believe not only that the Catholic IP is rationally avoidable, but that the conservative-Protestant IP is rationally unavoidable. For the Catholic himself must make use of its characteristic methodology to support his own position, and that use is performatively absurd, because it commits the Catholic to making precisely the sort of judgment that the Catholic Magisterium is supposed to obviate.

Now the authors of this site have produced their own responses to that sort of argument, and I do not want to criticize those responses here, because I believe they are substantively correct. But to bring out more clearly why the above argument fails, I shall frame the rebuttal a bit differently.

Nobody disputes that “arguments” of whatever kind in theology can only be made fallibly, even when they are made by councils or popes. But in view of that fact, consider two things. First, the proponent of the Catholic IP is not committed to claiming that his IP is rationally unavoidable, because he is not committed to claiming that the Magisterium’s claims for itself, as part of the formal, proximate object of faith, are rationally unassailable given a study of the early “sources.” He is committed to claiming only that, when interpreted in light of the Catholic IP, the sources make the Magisteriium’s claims for itself seem reasonable enough, which is not in dispute. On the other hand, the proponent of the conservative-Protestant IP is committed to claiming that his way of identifying the proximate, formal object of faith is rationally unassailable, given such a study. So the Protestant IP here entails making a stronger claim than the Catholic, and accordingly requires stronger support. But that support is not forthcoming, for if it were, then dissenters could only be unlearned or willfully irrational — a dyspeptic conclusion that cannot be justified on independent grounds that would corroborate it. So the methodology to which the conservative-Protestant IP commits its user is not only fallible, but also does not yield rationally unassailable conclusions.

For example, the Protestant has no way, other than fallible arguments, to secure his account of what belongs in the canon, which account, in the case of the OT, runs counter to what the older traditions of Catholicism and Orthodoxy eventually concluded. Therefore, he has no way, other than the use of fallible arguments, to show how the canon should be identified. And if he doesn’t have more than that, then he has no way of making certain that the way he identifies the norma normans for the other secondary authorities is correct.

Second, there is a positive reason for holding that the Catholic IP is the more reasonable one to adopt for somebody who shares the two basic assumptions framing the debate. That reason is that, if the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then we have an authoritative interpreter whose judgments, though not unassailable from the standpoint of reason alone, are nonetheless secured by divine authority. Of course that by itself in no way shows that said claims are true. What it shows, in conjunction with the reason I’ve already cited against the conservative-Protestant IP, is that, if said claims are true, then there is a principled as opposed to an ad hoc way to distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions about how to identify it in the sources. And that is the way in which the Catholic can distinguish the assent of faith from that of opinion. Eschewing any interpretive infallibility from any quarter, ecclesial or individual, the advocate of the conservative-Protestant IP has no principled way to make that distinction.

For the above two reasons, the tu quoque objection fails. The Protestant IP is rationally avoidable because it cannot present the conclusions reachable by means of it as rationally unassailable. And the Catholic IP is rationally preferable, even though also rationally avoidable, because it offers a principled way to make the distinction that the two basic assumptions framing the debate call for making. By contrast, just as sola appears to be just solo waiting to show itself, conservative Protestantism appears to be liberal Protestantism waiting to happen all over again. That is why the inquirer who shares said assumptions, but isn’t sure whether to become Protestant or Catholic, does better to choose the latter.

Of course nothing I’ve said so far shows that that the Catholic IP is superior to the Eastern-Orthodox IP. Both are committed to ecclesial infallibility, and thus do not share the basic defect of any Protestant IP. Both are committed to apostolic succession as a necessary condition for identifying “the Church.” And both are rationally defensible. In my opinion, answering the question which IP, the Catholic or the EO, is the more reasonable depends on subtler considerations of the development of ecclesiological doctrine than I’ve broached here. But that is a task for another time and place.

Feast of Blessed John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico)

  1. I am indebted to David Waltz of Articuli Fidei for this quotation. []
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  1. Mike – Fantastic. You have hit the nail on the head in many ways and you have pointed out why so many of those who have read KM’s response were disappointed in it.

    I just want to highlight the following portion because if anybody pays attention to the higher profile Reformed blogs the following point is literally one of the most common used arguments. Some suggest that the matter is closed and that we should all just drop our case that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ and that Benedict is the successor to St. Peter.

    Another of Mathison’s arguments is that there’s no evidence of mono-episcopacy in Rome until the late second century, and that some Catholic scholars agree with that judgment, which indeed they do. That requires arguing, as he does, that St. Irenaeus and one of his sources, Hegisippus, misstated the evidence from the post-apostolic Church of Rome, even though Irenaeus himself had been to Rome and known St. Polycarp of Smyrna personally, who in turn had been to Rome and had himself known the Apostle John personally. Such an argument would have us believe that, roughly 1,900 years after the fact, we can understand the meaning and reliability of the late first-century sources better than people who had lived less than two generations after the fact and had known eyewitnesses to it. That dubious sort of move is rather common among liberal scripture and patristic scholars; it’s just special pleading when made by a conservative theologian who would often find liberal scholarship dubious on just such grounds. The argument in question, which is fairly common, also trades on an ambiguity in the use of the word ‘presbyteros’ in the early Church. And it has been vigorously contested on that and other grounds by Catholic scholars whom Mathison simply ignores. The selective use of secondary scholarly sources is not a reputable form of argument. So Mathison’s present argument doesn’t merit more attention here either.

    Well said. It is important to note that such scholars that are relied on for this material such as Peter Lampe have argued many other things using the same approach that any conservative Protestant would reject out of hand. For instance, some of Lampe’s views about history and the reliability of the New Testament which any conservative Protestant rejects are discussed here.

    Further, as you know, we have previously tried to get some of these Reformed bloggers to interact with material and explain why the work of such modern scholars is more reliable than persons who lived within several generations of the apostles to no avail.

  2. Hello Mike,

    I’m going to get into trouble if I try to do too much exegeting of Mathison and I will need to let him speak for himself. And while I have nothing specific to say about the first two-thirds of document, much of which I thought was unnecessary and off track, I did want to suggest something about his concept of the “rule of faith” beginning on page 36. I too would find this an odd way to define the Church and I am working off the assumption that Mathison does not think that the “rule of faith” is a complete definition for the Church, but rather a necessary element. Much of Mathison’s work is built on that of Heiko Oberman who has similar discussions in Dawn of the Reformation and elsewhere. Oberman and Mathison are attempting to describe the ongoing process of the Church’s production and communication of tradition. This is what Oberman describes as “Tradition 1.” Oberman and Mathison would say that this process is a necessary work of the Church and I think that part of what Mathison’s purpose in juxtaposing this with the RCC that the Reformation was born into was to show that there was little similarity. In other words someone looking at what the Church did it her early centuries and then secondarily in the era leading up to the Reformation might comment that there was no similarity. I think your answer that the power and money grabbing RCC of the Renaissance period was a bad thing but did not mean that the Church had been fundamentally corrupted. And I would say that while this is theoretically possible, it still does not look like the Church of the Renaissance/Reformation era was doing anything much that characterized the work of the Early Church. Anyway, the “rule of faith” comments in this regards would seem to me to be apropos.

    And secondly a question. You do not give much of a defense here for CHP but rather are on the attack against the PHP. Is this because you are just trying to argue specifically against Mathison here, or do you think that you have you said all you can in defense of CHP?

  3. Thanks, Sean. Right now, I’m just hoping to get others to notice and comment on this post!

    Best,
    Mike

  4. Andrew (#2):

    I appreciate your implication that identifying the “rules of faith” is only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for identifying “the Church” that has divinely given interpretive authority. I think that’s right, and it points up a another weakness in the way Mathison defended himself from the Cross/Judisch criticism. Perhaps I should have written my post accordingly. But I do have trouble with something else you say:

    Oberman and Mathison are attempting to describe the ongoing process of the Church’s production and communication of tradition. This is what Oberman describes as “Tradition 1.” Oberman and Mathison would say that this process is a necessary work of the Church and I think that part of what Mathison’s purpose in juxtaposing this with the RCC that the Reformation was born into was to show that there was little similarity.

    That, it seems to me, is yet another instance of applying the conservative-Protestant IP uncritically. It assumes that normative “tradition” is adequately identifiable by a study of the early sources, so that as we go on to study the subsequent historical development of the idea and content of tradition, we are in a position to see whose development adheres to the norm. That’s exactly the sort of thing that Protestants of your stripe are wont to do. But if the Catholic IP is rationally preferable, then it’s more reasonable to hold that the authority of the Catholic Magisterium, as the Magisterium itself understands that authority, is needed for determining what in the early sources is normative. If that’s the case, then there is no epistemic standpoint from which it could be said that the Magisterium’s developing understanding of the criteria for identifying normative tradition is incompatible with what is, in fact, normative in the early sources.

    Of course, that reply of mine calls for making an argument that the Catholic IP itself is the more reasonable. That’s what I did in the last section of my post. But you say:

    You do not give much of a defense here for CHP but rather are on the attack against the PHP. Is this because you are just trying to argue specifically against Mathison here, or do you think that you have you said all you can in defense of CHP?

    Well, of course there’s always more than could and should be said. But I think I adumbrated it in my post, especially in the penultimate paragraph:

    The Protestant IP is rationally avoidable because it cannot present the conclusions reachable by means of it as rationally unassailable. And the Catholic IP is rationally preferable, even though also rationally avoidable, because it offers a principled way to make the distinction that the two basic assumptions framing the debate call for making.

    You don’t seem to have taken much note of that second sentence, which gives the conclusion of a previous argument. But I’m not surprised by that. In my history of interaction with you, I’ve often made the same argument, and you’ve rarely taken note of it. :)

    Best,
    Mike

  5. Mike -

    Thanks for this. I’ve benefited greatly from your voluminous but careful interactions in the comboxes here are C2C. I’m glad to see a full length article. I read it last night, but need to read parts of it again before I can enter into any discussion, particularly your section on the tu quoque. Just wanted to let you know that it is being read. :-)

    - Max

  6. Fantastic. Thanks Mike!

  7. Max Parish: Thanks for this. I’ve benefited greatly from your voluminous but careful interactions in the comboxes here are C2C. I’m glad to see a full length article.

    I agree whole-heartedly with Max. Congratulations, Michael, on your first article at CTC. I hope to see more!

  8. Mike,
    You have a beautiful mind. Very well done. Towards the end you get to what for me was the meat of the decision between the two paradigms. Infallibility. It is rationally plausible that Catholicism could be wrong on that mark, yes. Does this create a “tu quoque” situation?

    Please bear with an extended comment that may include shoddy reasoning, personal anecdotes presented as good reasoning, biased assumptions, and unashamed cheerleading for the contributors to this site. Reformed controversialists can skip reading this without missing much.

    I am no philosopher, and I come to conclusions mainly through personal experience and intuition. I have been criticized by many from the Reformed persuasion for this, and that serves to only confirm my intuition that they are wrong. That they could boldly criticize another persons fallible interpretation of the data as being so much worse than their own self admitted fallible decision is laughable. They don’t take their interpretive skepticism seriously enough. For me Sola Scriptura was shown to be a device of satan by it’s fruit. A way to rob the written word of God of its authority. Any Protestant who like me has waded through the morass of contradictory “fallible” interpreters in search of the real Bible knows the spiritual pain of that search. It is a search for Christ that ends each time with a smiling man in a suit behind a podium on what used to be called an altar. He pounds his finger into a book and claims the authority of Christ, but then claims he could be wrong in what he says. Could Christ be wrong? Is listening to another word from this man’s mouth even an option for a follower of Christ? If the man is a Priest on an altar is the choice still the same?

    Here is why my mind failed to see this “you too” situation I am supposedly now in as a Catholic. In the aftermath of my sola scriptura disillusionment the thing that kept coming to the fore in my thoughts was this: (serious) Protestants don’t even claim infallibility in their various teaching authorities. This to my mind is why the tu quoque fails. There can be no “you too” if one side admits they could fail to speak truth at any moment while the other claims the certainty of God himself. The choices are not equal. Of course both sides could be wrong as far as their claims, and certainly my choice between them is fallible. But in that sense my choice of Christ over Buddha as a teenager was just as fallible. But to me the Choice was obvious based on the claims of the two men in relation to “reality”. One claims He is the infallible God, the fullness of truth and will never leave me or forsake me, the other denies I can ever really know anything. Intuition pointed me to Christ. The choice is just as obvious now for Catholicism (or EO) over any self admittedly fallible religionists, Reformed, Buddhist, or Pantheist.

    I began to see the various men who communicated the truth of Christ to me teaching contradictory things in His name in a disgustingly bold and blasé manner. When faced with what to my mind was the same choice I made as a teen, I offered the care-taking of my family’s faith in our Lord on a silver platter to any claimants of the title “Church” who claimed to be the infallible Church of Christ who could unequivocally say to me “thus saith the Lord”. Only two men stood up out of the crowd to take it: Benedict and Bartholomew. (from a Protestant perspective, these two men have the exact same religion btw) Why would I even consider the other options? The others all admit they are capable of teaching me error, something even Buddhism would not be flaky enough to claim. The others cowered in the shadows, alone with their skepticism.

    For me, there can be no tu quoque in this situation. I can choose between Christ or opinion. The options (this is MY conviction, others can and will disagree) are Christ or unbelief. EVERYONE other than Benny and Bart, including Keith Mathison told me I was doomed to forever follow fallible churchmen interpreting an infallible book. I should just “get used to it”. Could that paradigm be true? I suppose it could, and I suppose Scientology could be right as well. Either way, that would lead to my abandoning the Christian faith, for it would show Christ to be faithless, and not who He said He was by leaving His bride alone to be ravaged by strange teachers. If the Church of Christ cannot speak with the Voice of Christ, it is just yet another man made religion. If they say “thus saith the Lord… but I could be in error” then I will fall back to the pantheist religion of my forefathers and eat drink and be merry. I say that with not an ounce of hyperbole. Give me Christ with every bit of His authority, including infallible teaching, or forget the whole thing. And if your church don’t claim it, you don’t have it.

    Thank you Mike (and Bryan) for being those men whom God used to show me these truths. You have made an eternal impact on at least this one guy and his kin. And I know my Reformed brothers would agree about the eternal impact at least! ;-) Pray for my family and I will continue to pray for you guys and your work on CTC. For any of the CTC contributors (and Mike L. and Ray S.): email me personally (davidmeyerfamily(AT)gmail) and my family would love to pray a rosary dedicated to any specific intentions you may have. Any way I can thank you I will.

    Prayer to Our Lady, Help of Christians
    Mary, powerful Virgin, You are the mighty and glorious protector of the Church. You are the marvelous help of Christians. You are awe inspiring as an army in battle array. In the midst of our anguish, struggle, and distress, defend us from the power of the enemy, and at the hour of hour death, receive our soul in Heaven. Amen

    -David Meyer

  9. You’re all very kind, gentlemen. Even Andrew. ;) Thank you.

    @David: Your story is moving, and I very much appreciate that prayer to Our Lady Help of Christians. The parochial school I attended as a child was named after her, and is still going strong in new quarters!

    Best,
    Mike

  10. Hi Sean,

    I see that you linked to one of my posts on Lampe (and his methodology); I now have a total of 5 posts on this issue/subject: LINK.

    Grace and peace,

    David

  11. David:

    As soon as I saw your name, I knew I should have cited your blog as the source of that ANS Lane quote I used. Sorry about that. I’ll ask Bryan to make the change. Meanwhile, I’d welcome your substantive comments on my post, especially when the mono-episcopacy thing comes up again here, as it doubtless will. :)

    Best,
    Mike

  12. Mike,

    Great work: you wrote:

    For the above two reasons, the tu quoque objection fails. The Protestant IP is rationally avoidable because it cannot present the conclusions reachable by means of it as rationally unassailable. And the Catholic IP is rationally preferable, even though also rationally avoidable, because it offers a principled way to make the distinction that the two basic assumptions framing the debate call for making. By contrast, just as sola appears to be just solo waiting to show itself, conservative Protestantism appears to be liberal Protestantism waiting to happen all over again. That is why the inquirer who shares said assumptions [1.) divine revelation as the definitive, public, identifiable, propositionally expressible "deposit of faith" and 2.) God as the ultimate "material" object of faith], but isn’t sure whether to become Protestant or Catholic, does better to choose the latter.

    One could spend a lifetime in the labryinth of scholarly probablistic disputes over ecclesial exegesis, primitive Christian history, doctrinal development, etc; but that very last line of your argument IS the bottom line.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  13. Glad to see more comments on this post. Still waiting to hear someone come and comment with the same ferocity about these arguments as they did the comments against Mathison’s response. I guess, when looking to pick a fight, bullies look for little kids instead of big ones. Great article.

  14. Mike (re: #3),

    You suggested I take a closer look at this particular quote from your reply to Mathison: The Protestant IP is rationally avoidable because it cannot present the conclusions reachable by means of it as rationally unassailable. And the Catholic IP is rationally preferable, even though also rationally avoidable, because it offers a principled way to make the distinction that the two basic assumptions framing the debate call for making.

    I’ve certainly listened to you as you’ve said the same sort of things before, but I’m not sure what there is for me to say more than what I’ve said before. Your argument comes down to saying that unless there is a “divinely ordained authority,” which is the RCC in your mind, to interpret the tradition then there are just going to be no way to differentiate between mere opinion from the proper object of faith. Well sure, we cannot argue that handing all historical interpretation over to the RCC would logically entail one authoritative tradition. However, as you say, such a commitment is “logically avoidable” and from my perspective the reasons for not going this route are legion and they consist of some of the kinds of things which Mathison brings out. So I’m not sure what to say other than I think what you suggest is the end of the process of becoming Catholic rather than something towards the beginning. In other words if you can satisfy yourself that the mountains of data suggesting that the current RCC is not the rightful heir of the faith of the Apostolic Church can be explained within a Catholic paradigm then it would make sense then to affirm that the RCC, utilizing her magisterial teaching authority, should be the sole interpreter of the Christian tradition.

    Now I’ve heard all sorts of folks here who have either converted to Catholicism or seem to be a long way down the road on their journey. Their reasons for becoming Catholic are varied although there are common themes. For someone in this camp I could see your argument having a fair amount of resonance. But for those of us who comment here and are somewhat or firmly committed to a Reformed outlook on things at this point, I’m not sure that there is much that is of apologetic value here. For interactions with the average Reformed Protestant it would seem to me to be a better approach to try to reason through the history of the Church together rather than you telling us that everything will be a mess of human opinions unless we hand the process over to RCC theologians. If it’s true that the RCC way of handling the data of history is correct then perhaps this will come out in such a study.

    Cheers….

  15. I propose there should be a summarized/syllogistic form of Mike’s fine refutation of Mathison’s thesis.
    I’m not sure how it should look exactly, but I’d guess something along these lines:

    (1) solO scriptura is the interpreting of Scripture apart from the church

    (2) solA scriptura is the interpreting of Scripture along with (or by) “the church”

    (3) but “the church” cannot be identified without first properly interpreting Scripture

    (4) thus, one cannot logically practice solA scriptura without first practicing solO scriptura

    (5) thus, solO scriptura is truly the foundation of solA scriptura – but this destroys any principled difference

    Here’s another summary of Dr L’s argument, based on two mutually exclusive options:
    (1) The correct identification of the Church determines the correct interpretation of Scripture.
    (2) The correct interpretation of Scripture determines the correct identification of “the church”.

    A Protestant wouldn’t agree with #1, but if they go with #2 – correct (authoritative) interpretation of Scripture logically proceeds identification (and submission to) the church – they’ve embraced a paradigm that is a common, foundational characteristic of both solA and solO.

  16. Thanks for responding thoughtfully, Andrew.

    You conclude:

    For interactions with the average Reformed Protestant it would seem to me to be a better approach to try to reason through the history of the Church together rather than you telling us that everything will be a mess of human opinions unless we hand the process over to RCC theologians. If it’s true that the RCC way of handling the data of history is correct then perhaps this will come out in such a study.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t get much closer than you’ve got before to describing the sort of conversation that needs to occur. What you’re advocating would only result in the interlocutors’ presenting two radically different ways of interpreting “the data of history.” I know so because I’ve often had that conversation myself and have often read others having it. All it’s established, and would establish, is what we already know, i.e. that the interlocutors come to the data with IPs that are not only different from but also irreconcilable with each other. Now my post describes the difference between those two IPs. Given that description, the kind of conversation that’s needed for getting beyond the interpretive impasse, and that my post ends by contributing to, is about which IP is, itself, the more reasonable one to adopt. One cannot begin to address that question merely by having all over again the sort of conversation you advocate. That would only point up once again the need for the sort of conversation I advocate.

    And yet, you haven’t quite described correctly what I’m advocating. I do not advocate “hand[ing] the process over to RC theologians.” I’m all for everybody’s being involved in the “process,” partly because what I advocate is comparing the two IPs against each other in order to assess which of the two is the more reasonable. That’s an essentially philosophical enterprise, one in which anybody so inclined can fruitfully participate. In fact, it would be highly desirable that theologically uncommitted inquirers participate, because they’re the least likely to have their philosophical vision fettered by theological assumptions.

    Given as much, the conversation I advocate refines the question that needs answering in order to decide reasonably on a way of making the identification. To uncommitted inquirers interested in identifying the formal, proximate object of faith, the conversation I advocate presents a question it’s important to answer in order to decide how to decide reasonably on a way of making the identification. By the same token, the value of such a conversation for the theologically committed is that it clarifies the way in which their respective IPs can be considered reasonable, not just as “presuppositions.” And I think that does have apologetic value for all hands.

    Best,
    Mike

  17. Nick:

    Very good summary! If I hadn’t been so tired, and if the post hadn’t been so long already, I would have come up with something like what you’ve offered. Thanks.

    Best,
    Mike

  18. Dane Nicolai Grundtvig, (1783-1872) a Lutheran theologian, wrote: “I have discovered a truth; we do not discover the church in scripture, we discover the scripture in the church.”

    I believe that there are two distinct considerations in Grundtvig’s statement. 1. He discovered Lutheranism’s justification by being a Lutheran inside of Lutheranism. 2. Scripture came from the Church (not the Lutheran Church), which consideration I suspect eluded him.

    I also believe a new paradigm is occurring where “churches” with seemingly no fixed beliefs are mushrooming. They carry names like Neighborh0od Community Church or similar titles, and they appear to make little or no demands on those who would like the opportunity to sit in company on a Sunday morning being motivated or justified by a cross-less Christianity, if there is such a thing as cross-less Christianity.

    These new “churches” are divorced from virtually everything that has gone before, including the idea of fixed beliefs.

    They are the end result of sola/solo scriptura, of not tying themselves to the oneness Jesus prayed for in John 17. The other stops on this train were merely way stations on the track to this point where the idea that Jesus founded a Church has been replaced by Jesus and me and I am free to believe whatever I want, however and whenever I want to believe it and practice it.

    Mathison has drawn a line in the sand. Unfortunately for him, it is on the beach and the tide has washed it away.

  19. Mike, Andrew M., and all,

    I think that there is a kind of committed-Protestant inquirer that can be moved towards the Catholic position by reading Sacred Scripture and the early Fathers, apart from overt consideration of competing paradigms. I fully admit that the final decision to become (or remain) Catholic, or Orthodox or Protestant, will probably involve the sort of thing that Mike describes in the post. But I do want to affirm the possibility of being moved by the sources themselves, against the grain of one’s own IP.

    For example, as a committed Protestant, with no intention of becoming Catholic, I read the Old Testament one summer, and then the New Testament, with the express intention of not worrying about or consciously thinking about latter theological categories and debates. (At that point, I was only interested in, and only much knew about, in-house Protestant debates and categories.) I just wanted to bathe in Scripture (sans Deutero-canonicals), for pleasure, healing, and information, in sum, because I really wanted to know God, and to know of his ways among men. In my mind (then and now) nothing could be better.

    This reading of Scripture (I still have the purple, paper-back NIV and red, pew-edition ESV that I used–the margins marked over with many non-inspired ideas and associations of my own) encouraged me to continue reading. In particular, this reading of Scripture (especially the book-ends, the Pentateuch and Revelation, but also Chronicles, and all of these shed new light on the Gospels, particularly Our Lord’s careful formation of the Apostolic community) had impressed me with the idea of the people of God, united as a visible liturgical community, delighting in the lawful worship of God, who had irrevocably bound them to himself by covenant.

    This is no place to describe my own (very rudimentary) biblical theology, though it bears mentioning that through reading Scripture that Summer, my hitherto complete conviction of the classical Protestant doctrine of justification was shaken to the core. Although it took some time to put the theological pieces together, my sola fideism had been all but demolished by my sola scriptura reading of Scripture.

    Suffice to say that I wanted to read the continuation of the story, so I started in on Church history. What I discovered in Scripture, in the Fathers, and in the subsequent history of the Church leading up to the Reformation, was a mountain of evidence testifying to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and against Protestantism.

    I don’t pretend that my testimony here carries any evidential weight as regards the identity of the Church that Christ founded. But I offer it as some little evidence that a committed Protestant can interpret the biblical and historical data and arrive at a non-Protestant conclusion. It was, however, my experience that the competing claims of the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church could not be definitely adjudicated by exegesis and history alone. My decision to become Catholic rather than Orthodox was in fact based on considerations like those brought forward in Mike’s article, together with the unshakable thought that, for me, to move more fully into the life of the covenant, yet not to be in full communion with Rome, would be an unendurable compromise.

    Anyway, Andrew M. and Andrew P. might be looking at two different mountains of data, but it is more likely that we are looking at the same mountain in two different ways. This suggests that what Mike is doing in this post does in fact have “apologetic value for all hands.”

  20. Mike,

    Thank you for your excellent article. You have framed this debate very clearly, and in a way I have not seen before. A valuable contribution.

    -David

  21. Andrew M. and other gents,

    Andrew M. writes:

    However, as you say, such a commitment is “logically avoidable” and from my perspective the reasons for not going this route are legion and they consist of some of the kinds of things which Mathison brings out.

    Andrew, I really think that you and Keith entirely underestimate the decision process that stands behind many of the Reformed defections to Rome. You mention “legions” of reasons to deny the Catholic IP. Likewise, Keith, when attacking the historical basis of Catholic ecclesiology (as he must), also makes many declarative assertions about the plain-clear-raw-data of the NT and the first century documentary evidence; as if it is obviously perspicuous in a Presbyterian-like direction. Keith even goes so far as to suggest that “real” scholars (as opposed to the ill-informed apologist wanna-be) all know that his assessment of the data “just is” the case.

    For example, he makes authoritative declarations about Roman house churches and how, what Catholics (and the early succession lists) take to be the first successors to Peter, were really just designated go-betweens; and how none of them had any awareness of succession (how could he possibly know this psychological detail?). He pulls the scholarly “just so” trump card over and over again to secure for himself an exegetical and primitive Christian PCA-like notion of the church SO THAT he has something that looks like an academically indisputable means by which to fend off the monoepiscopal conclusions which an Irenaeus or Hegisippius would seem to imply if the primitive data were inconclusive (BTW, what about Clement of Rome [80ad] or St. Ignatius [70-107ad] whose ecclesiology seems to line up nicely with Irenaeus [189ad]). Anyhow, not unlike liberal scholars who constantly utilize the “hermeneutic of suspicion” or “methodological skepticism” to suggest that NT authors write things about Jesus of Nazareth that are non-historical, non-factual, glosses cast back into the NT text to support a later development of belief; Keith selectively employs a similar approach as Mike pointed out when he wrote:

    arguing, as he does, that St. Irenaeus and one of his sources, Hegisippus, misstated the evidence from the post-apostolic Church of Rome, even though Irenaeus himself had been to Rome and known St. Polycarp of Smyrna personally, who in turn had been to Rome and had himself known the Apostle John personally. Such an argument would have us believe that, roughly 1,900 years after the fact, we can understand the meaning and reliability of the late first-century sources better than people who had lived less than two generations after the fact and had known eyewitnesses to it. That dubious sort of move is rather common among liberal scripture and patristic scholars; it’s just special pleading when made by a conservative theologian who would often find liberal scholarship dubious on just such grounds

    Now I do not want to argue all the details about Irenaeus etc. The point I want to make is that you and Keith are making somewhat bombastic scholarly assertions like a man robbing a bank with a squirt gun. The problem is that we Catholics can simply call your scholarly bluff. I do not mean call your bluff in terms of some indisputable scholarly proof that Keith has got his facts wrong (which is how Keith actually colors his own claims); but rather, call your bluff as to the notion that Keith’s assessment of the “scholarly” facts are just obvious to all ”real” scholars. Some of the world’s brightest Catholic theologians can and have gone toe-to-toe, point-by-point, on such assertions. I have read Congar, Ratzinger, Butler, Chapman, Quasten, Fortescue and others. Not to mention there are a host of Orthodox scholars who would take Keith to task on many of his claims as well. Are we to believe that a Newman or a de Lubac, or a Von Balthasar spent a lifetime of theological effort in utter ignorance of the primitive documentary evidence? These men are scholars on a par with anyone Keith is tagging to support his view. They hold a radically different ecclesiology based on the same raw source-data: a view that is often as persuasive in the Catholic direction as Keith’s declarative assertions are to his Reformed colleagues. In addition, their assessment of the raw data has the benefit of not requiring them to posit a radical discontinuity between the pages of the NT/primitive Christian history, and the Catholic/EO-like ecclesiology which shows up in the second century and thereafter (I mean where is the 2nd, 3rd, 4th century documentary evidence for Presbyterian polity? If it were there, you can bet Keith would appeal to it).

    As another example; while the Fathers, no doubt, hold differing opinions on a wide array of subjects, I don’t think anyone (I could be wrong) denies that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries reveal all kinds of Catholic or proto-catholic type doctrines which modern day Reformed Christians find odious (the very centuries during which Keith’s summary rule-of-faith is being developed). Yet, I have seen you repeatedly make the broad claim that the church of the Fathers looks nothing like the Renaissance/Reformation era Catholic Church. No doubt, you could cull particular data from the patristic age and arrange it in a persuasive manner so as to paint a picture of substantial discontinuity between the two. However, I hope you will grant the fact that many a Catholic patristic scholar has culled data from the same patristic history and arranged it in an order which paints a picture of quite rich CONTINUITY between the two. I have spent a lot of time reading the Father’s (perhaps you have spent more – who knows); yet, unlike you, I very sincerely see powerful continuity in government, doctrine and sacrament between the NT, the era of the Fathers, the Medieval Church and the Catholic Church of today. Again, the point here is not to debate the details, but to bring home the fact that the details are debatable.

    Both Mathison’s and your own general take on the NT and historical data will certainly be persuasive to those Reformed who have not taken the time to dig into the vast quagmire of Protestant/Catholic – Conservative/Liberal scholarly debate. It may even remain persuasive to those who have; but I don’t think that anyone who has looked at Catholic scholarly rebuttals to Keith’s claims (as opposed to lib Catholic scholars which would undermine many other theological premises which Keith, himself, would hold dear) would come away asserting that the Reformed view is “scholarly”, while the Catholic view only arises in the minds of Catholic “apologists” hacks. The fact is that many of us converts HAVE delved into that material. We have read many of the same scholars that Mathison leans on AND read counter-appraisals of the data by scholars within the academic community who come to significantly different conclusions. How can the same data yield different conclusions among equally well qualified scholars? Do we want to say it’s a matter of some being more qualified than others and WE know how to mark the difference – I think not. Its the presuppositions one brings to the evaluation. Historical, and especially exegetical scholarship, just like scientific research, NEVER takes place in a paradigm-neutral vacuum. Never. Keith’s assertive tone about the monolithic nature of scholarly conclusions is a fiction – and a fiction which forces him to treat many early Fathers the same way a Bultmann treats the NT authors themselves.

    Now here is the main point. I am NOT saying that the Catholic scholarly assessment is obvious and unassailable. That is what Keith seems compelled to affirm for his own position. What I am saying is that the Reformed assessment – contrary to Mathison’s tone – is very much assailable from an academic POV. But if one cancels out the special pleading and tonal assertiveness in order to recognize that NT exegesis, primitive Christian history, patristic analysis, etc. are assessed in substantially different ways by competent scholars; then one immediately realizes that academic scholarship shall NEVER – by itself – render a conclusive “rationally unassailable” judgment for either the Reformed or Catholic IP as it relates to the data sets. In that situation, and assuming one still desires to hold a Christian faith whose doctrinal content has a claim to something better than mere human opinion, it makes a great deal of sense to cast one’s lot with the Catholic (or else EO) IP, because at least IF that scholarly defensible IP should be true, the ability to distinguish “de fide” Divine revelation from human opinion across space and time remains a functional possibility. To cast one’s lot with the scholarly defensible Protestant IP is to give up on that crucial “de fide” / human opinion distinction all together – because the Protestant IP explicitly denies the existence of any infallible differentiation between the two beyond what academic scholarship can make “just obvious”. THAT is what has driven many a thoughtful, well read, Reformed Christian across the Tiber. Mike has hit the nail on the head.

    The only logical reason to prefer yours and Keith’s IP over the Catholic would be IF the raw data of NT exegesis, primitive Christian history, patristics, etc. were just simply and obviously rationally unassailable. That, no doubt is why Keith spent the lion’s share of his response playing the “scholar card” in a, frankly, pontificating” way . But his “just so” story is simply NOT the case; and the moment one reads deeply enough in the literature to realize that such is not the case; one quickly comes to the conclusion that if either the Catholic (or at least EO) IP is not true, then we humans are left with no way to distinguish “de fide” Divine revelation from human best-guesses (even if they are scholarly guesses). Whatever persuasive power the Protestant IP has; it is entirely dependent upon the unassailability of it exegetical and historical table-pounding. Admit that Catholic scholars, using the same data, develop at least equally rational interpretations of that data in a Catholic direction and the attraction to the Protestant IP gig is up. I know that none of this will change your interpretation of the relevant biblical and historical data; but I am hoping you will see that many of us converts to the Catholic Church from Protestantism did not get here by reading a few tracts from Catholic Answers or “Rome- Sweet-Home” or by watching an EWTN“ video. Many us of got here after years of grappling with the mind-numbing details of scholarly debate and recognizing that such debates, given their substantially divergent conclusions on central points, could never – in principle – yield a doctrinal content worth more than the prowess of the given scholar(s) currently defending such-n-such position. David Myer’s #8 is a great example of how these bottom-line issues play out in the mind and heart.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  22. David (#20):

    Thanks for that! I hope to hear more from you around here.

    Best,
    Mike

  23. One wide-spread but false notion going around is that Protestant side can make an equally if not more compelling case from Scripture for their “distinctives” – but if the Bible is truly a Catholic book, which it is, then this cannot be so in reality. Too often the Protestant comes to these discussions under the misplaced assumption that their case from Scripture is so strong that the Catholic side must ‘downplay’ Scripture’s importance in order to save face and claim some legitimacy. This, to me, is the real reason why such talks often go in circles (though the caliber of apologists at places like C2C are better at nipping things at the bud).

    A typical and case-in-point example of this is the notion that when it comes to Sola Fide, Protestants think they have Paul on their side while Catholics only have James 2:24. If that were true, then the Protestant should be smug in his conclusions when arriving at the discussion, or at least not as worried as he could be. But if that’s not true, and it’s not, then the Protestant is in trouble. And *here* is where the Protestant IP begins to manifest itself to be unfair and even hypocritical, because it cannot survive an objective analysis of the ‘raw data’ the way the Catholic position can (keeping in mind the Bible is a Catholic book) and instead must resort to the very dogmatism it condemns Catholicism for proclaiming. This is why Bryan concluded his essay “Does the Bible teach Sola Fide” with this:

    Even if the evidence were a 50-50 toss-up, not favoring one position over the other, the Catholic position would have the benefit of the doubt. That is because a schism cannot justifiably be created or maintained, on the basis of a hermeneutical coin-flip.

    I see it time and again, the Protestant will unconsciously turn dogmatic in their interpretation, when that’s the very thing they’re supposed to be avoiding. I firmly maintain that a more objective look at the ‘raw data’ won’t leave the Protestant any room to maneuver, and this is to be expected because, again, the Bible is a Catholic book. And this is confirmed more and more with the Protestants converting to Catholicism, especially at C2C and The Journey Home, and all they did was start by put less dogmatic weight on their own abilities.

    GK Chesterton said it best:

    In the first stage, the convert imagines himself to be entirely detached or even indifferent but feels that he ought to be fair to the Church of Rome. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.

  24. For context, my last comment was offered bearing in mind expressed concerns (by several people, on several occasions) about the more philosophical, a priori, nature of the arguments offered in many of the posts and comments on CTC, and now in both Keith Mathison’s response (i.e., Catholic presuppositions getting in the way of the truth, and so forth) and Mike’s reply to Keith.

    In another conversation, on another forum, but in the same connection, I remarked that it could very well be that some people, by intellectual disposition and perhaps for reasons having to do with personal experience, simply *prefer* to carry on the discussion, first and foremost, at the level of exegetical (and historical) arguments, building consensus from the ground up, as it were. I am one of these. However, I have been convinced (for some time) that the more philosophical approach is very instructive, indeed, indispensable for moving forward, and that the ground up, exchanging-exegesis way of striving for unity in truth cannot, by itself, take us very far–though not-very-far is a lot better than nowhere at all! I for one don’t mind taking things piece-meal, in ecumenical dialogue.

    Regarding the substance of Mike’s article, I am still digesting that, and have little to say other than thanks.

  25. Andrew P (#19):

    Thanks for that autobiographical contribution. The following passage calls for a philosophical response from me:

    I don’t pretend that my testimony here carries any evidential weight as regards the identity of the Church that Christ founded. But I offer it as some little evidence that a committed Protestant can interpret the biblical and historical data and arrive at a non-Protestant conclusion. It was, however, my experience that the competing claims of the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church could not be definitely adjudicated by exegesis and history alone. My decision to become Catholic rather than Orthodox was in fact based on considerations like those brought forward in Mike’s article, together with the unshakable thought that, for me, to move more fully into the life of the covenant, yet not to be in full communion with Rome, would be an unendurable compromise.

    The experience you recount is not only possible—as your personal example proves—but often occurs as a prelude to a Protestant scholar’s becoming Catholic. Good examples are Francis Beckwith and David Anders, who both weigh in at C2C from time to time. But exactly what does such a person thereby accomplish?

    It’s not just that he’s formed the opinion that a Catholic interpretation of the data is more reasonable than a Protestant. As you’ve implied, that opinion is defensible but not enough to compel the choice of Catholicism over Protestantism. For one thing, his fellow Protestant scholars can, do, and will say that, if only he did further research—perhaps taking due account of the findings of this-or-that set of scholars he may not know, or may be taking too lightly—he’d see that his newfound opinion isn’t so secure after all, that the reasons for remaining Protestant are, in Andrew M’s term, “legion.” Any inquirer who allows the matter to remain at that level is not yet Catholic, even if he truly believes he’s done enough homework. In fact, if he believes the matter ought to stay at that level, it would be performatively inconsistent for him to become Catholic. Why?

    If he really thinks that the choice to become Catholic or Protestant is just a matter of deciding which interpretation of the sources is more defensible on the scholarly merits alone, then he’s still working within the Protestant IP, and is thus still (a certain sort of) Protestant in fact if not in name. I’ve seen guys “convert” to Catholicism in that fashion, only to end up leaving their newfound home later, on the ground that they’ve reached a different set of scholarly conclusions. That shows that they didn’t fully grasp what it means to become Catholic. To become Catholic is not just to identify, as the proximate, formal object of faith, the authority-set “Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church.” More specifically, it means deferring to the teaching authority of the Church when its interpretation of the two other authorities conflicts with one’s own, even if one’s own is informed by a library of scholarship. That’s what “submission” to the Church, at least in theological matters, really means; for if I submit only when I agree, that is no submission at all. But if that’s what it means to become Catholic, then the choice to become Catholic isn’t just a choice of one set of scholarly conclusions over another. It’s a choice to accept, as part of the proximate, formal object of faith, an authority that trumps whatever scholarly opinions one might tentatively reach, if and when the two conflict and the authority is teaching with its full authority. If that choice could itself be dictated by scholarship alone, or by any form of human reason, it wouldn’t be the choice it is. It would be a Protestantism masquerading as Catholicism–a phenomenon I’ve seen more of than I care to elaborate on right now, even among the formally Catholic.

    It is the very choice I’m describing—which you, Beckwith, Anders, and so many others have made—that sticks in the craw of so many Protestants, especially those committed to the life of the mind. To them, it’s just “checking one’s brains at the door” of the church. We both know why that isn’t so, of course; but first we have get more of them to understand what the choice involves, and why the choice is reasonable, apart from any tentative scholarly conclusions about “data.”

    Best,
    Mike

  26. Mike,

    Yes. That underscores the difference between faith and opinion. Protestants can appreciate this, since many conservatives can honestly say, along with faithful Catholics, “I will accept whatever Sacred Scripture teaches, even if it means giving up some desirable activity, or cherished opinion, or personal comfort and security.” Your analysis moves the discussion forward by asking how can we know, with the certainty of faith, what Sacred Scripture does in fact teach on a particular matter (e.g., sexuality, abortion, the Real Presence, the ontological relation between Christ and the Father, etc.). The Catholic answer is “I can know with the certainty of faith because I believe the Church, which cannot err.” The paradigm difference, so far as I can tell, is that the Catholic believes the Church whether or not he can or has independently derived knowledge or even a favorable opinion of what the Church teaches. The Protestant recoils or at least demures from this sort of “implicit” faith, much as the liberal or skeptic recoils or demures from the Protestant’s “implicit” faith in Scripture. At least, that is part of the way that I conceive of the difference between the IPs, and of the similarity with difference between the Catholic’s and Protestant’s personal response to divine revelation. Vatican 2 indicates that many Protestants do, in fact, have the gift of faith, even though, as has been argued, they can reasonably hold only probable opinions about the meaning of Sacred Scripture on many fundamental theological matters. I tried to sort through that in a previous post, and Bryan also addressed the matter in one of his posts.

    Andrew

  27. Andrew,

    You are exactly right that we have now reached an impasse. The choice to convert to Catholicism as academic only, as the choice to become a Christian in general or Hindu, or Muslim could be done for academic reasons only would be insufficient to “hold” the convert. So, Mike’s observation is accurate. Conversion involves the entire person, and in my own journey to the Catholic Church as I am sure was similar with you, conversion involves both academics and prayer. While Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine was a kind of “nail in the coffin” of my Protestantism, the fact that I prayed every day with every fiber of my being, “Lord, throw me off this path if this (Catholicism) isn’t of You” (with many tears at times) and that God confirmed His Church at every moment along the way was as important as Newman or Chesterton or Hahn. This is comforting because God is a good Father (Lk 11:11).

    In that prayerful spirit, I would love to see a discussion on CTC about birth control. If birth control is evil, against God’s first gift (life), then how can ANY Protestant explain how their church left the truth. While they may personally hold to a position, the fact that only One Church has dogmatically rejected birth control points us to something that scholarship can’t un-pack. Rather, all of us must look deep into our souls and ask, “How can this be and what does it mean?”

    I appreciate these moments on CTC because I believe we are finally getting to a place of dialogue where real progress can be made. Where instead of speaking simply head-to-head we can begin to speak heart-to-heart, at the level in which God knows us; not just merely as an organization of propositions but as a composition of a total person.

    In Christ through The Immaculate,

    Brent

  28. Mike, this is a trenchant analysis. Regarding your last comment, I think the apotheosis of Protestantism is N.T. Wright: here is a super-star theologian who for decades has read the Bible and its contemporary documents in their original languages, studied and prayed about important issues like justification, and who has come to “his own conclusion” about justification–not unlike Luther and Calvin did with their respective versions of sola fide. He doesn’t become Catholic, he says, because he doesn’t see any Marian doctrines in the Bible (and he believes in sola scriptura, so these doctrines must not be admissible (with the exception of infant baptism which he accepts without explicit biblical support).

    He is brilliant and if anyone should be his own ultimate interpretive authority, it is him. For him to become Catholic would require “escaping” from the Protestant paradigm and submitting his (admittedly large) intellect to the Catholic Church, recognizing that, for all his individual scholarship and research, his opinion about what the various sources and historical evidence say is just that, one man’s opinion.

  29. Dr. Liccione,

    What happened to norma?

    At the beginning of your essay you say, “Catholic theologians generally understand Scripture as the divinely inspired norma normans for other secondary authorities, including the Church.” But then in Section III you write: “ A good part of what is at issue here — indeed, the main part — is the question how Scripture is to be interpreted authoritatively.” Since “norma” is the Scriptures by your earlier definition, then the answer to your later question is that Scriptures are, by definition, the “how” to interpret Scripture. So sola scriptura is inescapable, on your definition, unless one engages in some equivocation.

    And I don’t think you fairly portray the Reformed IP, which you state thusly:

    “Once we’ve identified a set of such statements, we’ve learned all we need to know about which doctrines are revealed and apostolic, which in turn are all and only the doctrines we must believe.”

    But even a cursory view of Reformed authorities shows how backwards this interpretation is. For example, the Westminster Confession (Chapter 1, section 3) states that the authority of Scripture “depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church”. So one can gather as many statements as one wants and it is completely irrelevant, from the Reformed perspective as tto the truth or power of the Scriptures. The veracity of Scripture stands on its own which is surely what the Apostles taught (Romans 3:4, 2 Peter 3:19-21, 2 Timothy 3:15, etc., etc.) (It is entirely fascinating in this regard to note that the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins with man but the Westminster Confession, as one example, begins with the Scripture.)

    So it seems that the Catholic position is contradictory in its normative standard and needy in its understanding of its opponent in this matter.

    But it sure has been fun to read!

    Good luck finding norma!

    Peace.

  30. Constantine:

    We presumably agree that Scripture is true, even inerrant. But your argument assumes that Scripture can only function as the norma normans for the other secondary authorities if it’s also perspicuous in roughly the sort of way the early Reformers thought it was. Thus, as you’re interpreting what I said, the Catholic teaching that Scripture is norma normans for the other secondary authorities itself requires assuming that the meaning of Scripture is clear independently of the other authorities as conditioning interpretive factors. But your assumption is incorrect.

    The Catholic understanding of the proximate, formal object of faith is that it consists in three secondary authorities: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church. And as my quotation from Vatican II showed, those are held to be not just severally necessary but also mutually interdependent: “none can stand without the others.” On that understanding, the Magisterium is “the sole authentic interpreter” of the “Word of God,” which includes Scripture as well as Tradition. So the closure of the biblical canon, by the authority of the Magisterium, did indeed make it the norma normans; but tht does not entail that Scripture can function as such independently of its authoritative interpretation by the Magisterium. What it entails is two things: (a) Scripture must always be taken into full account by the other two authorities, so that their deliverances cohere with Scripture; (b) whatever has been set forth as the authoritative, irreformable interpretation of Scripture may never subsequently be contradicted or ignored by the Magisterium. In the Catholic schema, therefore, Scripture has never functioned as the norma normanson its own, without authoritative interpretation, because it has never been authoritatively taught that Scripture is perspicuous without authoritative interpretation. And for good reason: it isn’t.

    Of course I’ve made that argument before in other contexts, only to be swiftly met with the objection that it renders meaningless the notion of Scripture as norma normans. But it does not. On the Catholic schema, the meaning of Scripture becomes progressively clearer over time by means of authoritative interpretation, and it is precisely that clarified meaning that becomes normative for subsequent interpretation. From a purely epistemological viewpoint, that is no different in principle from what Jesus himself did with Scripture by unpacking it for his disciples before and after the Resurrection. The Jewish authorities could not reach Jesus’ interpretation just by reasoning from what they considered Scripture; getting the right interpretation also required being confronted by, and putting faith in, the ultimate, “material” object of divine revelation itself, namely the Person of the Son. His mystical body, the Church, performs that same function in his stead since Pentecost, when the Spirit descended on the Apostles to empower them, and their successors, to do it.

    Best,
    Mike

  31. Constantine:

    You quote the Westminster Confession as teaching that the authority of Scripture “depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church”. I assume that by Scripture you have in mind the Christian Canon. Well, if the Church plays no role in the authority of the Scripture, then scritpure, whatever it means, might as well be a Buddhist book, a book thrown down from the sky, or have high probability of not being a Christian book. To the extent that the human writers of the Christian “Scripture” are members of the Church and not outside of her, the Church’s testimony on the Scripture is both valuable and necessary. Personally, I accept the Christian Scripture only on the basis of the testimony of the Catholic Church.

  32. Brent (re #27),
    You can see a discussion of birth control by Called to Communion here:
    Contraception and the Reformed Faith
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/07/contraception/

    As well as a discussion of Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on condoms:
    Did the Pope Condone Condoms in Certain Cases?
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/11/did-the-pope-condone-condoms-in-certain-cases/

    Best of luck,
    God bless.

    -Steven Reyes

  33. Brent,

    Matt Yonke wrote a piece on contraception here.

  34. David (#8),

    It is a search for Christ that ends each time with a smiling man in a suit behind a podium on what used to be called an altar.

    If they say “thus saith the Lord… but I could be in error” then I will fall back to the pantheist religion of my forefathers and eat drink and be merry. I say that with not an ounce of hyperbole. Give me Christ with every bit of His authority, including infallible teaching, or forget the whole thing.

    Your first quote is profound. Your second expresses the same idea but in a slightly less poetic manner, and is similar to the position I eventually found myself in about 2 years ago. With all the arguments flying back and forth about infallible truths that can only be known by fallible arguments and fallible interpretations of infallible Scripture, etc. – I eventually felt like either the Catholic Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, or it’s total relativism and I cannot know anything with certainty. That was a scary moment: standing there in the midst of the ruins of sola/o scriptura and your only options are to live in the pathless desert, abandoning hope of knowing anything for certain; or to enter the gates of the imposing, mysterious, exotic, and yet enticing city of Jerusalem. Faced with the prospect of living for nothing but to “eat, drink, and be merry”, I am thankful that God gave me the grace to resist that temptation and empty promise and gave me the courage to submit myself to Christ’s Church, where I can eat, drink, and be merry via the only Food and Drink that really matters.

    Michael,

    I’m a regular reader but a very infrequent commenter and have followed the 1,200-comment debate on the original article as well as the new debate caused by Mathison’s response with great interest. I appreciate this article along with all your comments for the charitable and carefully reasoned way you interact. Your article, along with the original Solo/Sola article, is what gets me excited about this site. You guys aren’t just shouting talking points at each other or trying to win the “Who can quote the most Bible verses/Church Fathers?” battle, you’re trying to get to the heart of the divide between Protestants and Catholics, which as your article shows (and as I eventually came to realize in my own journey, although I could not express it formally as you have done) is a philosophical difference.

    Sorry, I don’t feel like I’m philosophically-literate enough to be able to make much of a contribution to the ongoing discussions, but I wanted to give an encouragement and a thank-you to all of you at CtC.

    - Steven

  35. Tim,

    Thanks. As that article notes:

    I believe the disconnect we see between the Reformers and their theological descendants stems from the implications of sola Scriptura that the Reformers didn’t see.

    So, I guess the desire to talk about it is in the ball-park.

    The reason the Catholic Church is able to take such a stand is because of its view of Sacred Tradition as another sure source of knowledge of the things of God.
    &
    In Sacred Tradition we have a sure guide because the Tradition has its roots in Christ Himself and its protection from error from the promises of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit through the Apostolic Succession of bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff.

    Just another glaring and egregious example of the problem of sola/solo scriptura.

    Thanks again for the link. I’ve forwarded it to a friend.

  36. Devin (#28):

    Thanks!

    In my opinion, NT Wright is one of the best Protestant theologians writing in English, if not the best. I’ve benefited from reading his work on the Resurrection and on justification. A great deal of what he says is perfectly compatible with Catholicism. But he and the reception he’s received are also one of the best examples of what’s so unfortunate about sola scriptura-ism. His account of justification is well-founded in the sources; but is it really settling any disputes about justification in the Protestant world? Doesn’t look like it to me. It’s just another voice at the table. He believes in women’s ordination, but it’s hard to evaluate his reasoning when it’s not clear what, exactly, he thinks ordination is ordination to; and the more conservative among the Reformed tradition believe women’s ordination is unscriptural in any case. Now if sola doesn’t reduce to solo, how is “the Church” supposed to resolve any of this, or indeed any other major issue? By more theological debate? All I can say is that the future is usually like the past. But the most interesting thing to me is Wright’s attitude toward the Catholic Church’s Marian doctrines.

    Like most Protestants today, he does not believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary—a doctrine which was not only defined as dogma by the fifth ecumenical council (Constantinople in 553), but was still believed by the best-known champions of sola scriptura, Luther and Calvin themselves, almost a millennium later! Were they not sola enough? If not, just how sola does one have to be? More important, who says? And what authority do they have to say it? This is one of the more poignant examples supporting the argument that sola collapses into solo. The advocate of sola needs to explain how it is that a doctrine which was once held as scriptural by churches claiming interpretive authority is either nothing of the kind or merely an opinion. The same goes, I would add, for the contraception issue that Brent brought up. A doctrine which was held by peaceable consensus throughout Christendom until well into the 20th century, and was considered scriptural by the founders of the Reformation—namely, that contraception is intrinsically evil—is now thought by most Protestants to lack scriptural justification. If this is sola, it’s getting more solo all the time.

    As to the other Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church, no reputable Catholic theologian argues that they can be logically inferred from Scripture alone, so the Protestant argument that they can’t be only introduces the issues needing discussion rather than resolving them. The most obvious question that raises is whether development of doctrine can only be legitimated by probative arguments from Scripture, perhaps interpreted in light of other pre-Nicene written sources, or whether the Church as interpretive authority may and should take account of more than that, such as the sensus fidelium and the analogia fidei, so that those too should be admitted as heuristic factors in the interpretation of Scripture. If the answer is yes, then we have the resources for interpreting Scripture and the Marian doctrines as mutually cohering and mutually illuminating. Ironically, that in turn would lend support to the material-sufficiency view of Scripture, without thereby suggesting that everything Scripture contains implicitly can be drawn from it by reasoning from Scripture alone.

    But from an epistemological point of view, even more basic than all that is the question how a question such as the one I called “obvious” above can itself be answered authoritatively, not just as a matter of opinion. Neither sola nor solo, nor Protestantism in general, can answer either question authoritatively. The whole thing is a mess, as the history of Protestantism itself ought to show us.

    Best,
    Mike

  37. @Michael Liccione

    I just have to say that your article above is really quite excellent, and it really really contributes to the dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. A lot of times apologetics is just rehashing of old positions, but I find what you have posted above to break new ground. Usually the debate is over what is more biblical, rational, or historical but you have added something new….that the Catholic IP is preferable. Kudos

  38. Nick (#23)

    a more objective look at the ‘raw data’ won’t leave the Protestant any room to maneuver, and this is to be expected because, again, the Bible is a Catholic book. And this is confirmed more and more with the Protestants converting to Catholicism, especially at C2C and The Journey Home, and all they did was start by put less dogmatic weight on their own abilities.

    I feel your frustration bro. Just remember, the truth always wins. This is as good a place as any to say this, but since my reception into the Church, TWO more families from my old PCA church have entered RCIA in a very serious way. These are oldschool Reformed folks, not the types (like me) that could be reasonably mocked as being unlearned by their Reformed brothers. The snowball is rolling and people are looking into the very solid answers to books like Keiths if only because they see their friends swimming the Tiber. If it is just some guy who converts, it is easy to dismiss. When it is someone you know is a commited believer who converts, it stops you dead in your tracks and gives you permission to examine afresh Reformed dogmas like Sola S. Given what you describe above, and the increasing divisions among and “boiling down” of the true heirs of the reformation into tiny conservative ghettos in the evangelical world, combined with the Reformed love for what they see as history and tradition, they will come. The ones that don’t come will see their children absorbed into the vapid mass of evangelicalism, which Reformed men can’t stand in the least. When the choice is non-denom Pentecostalism or a vibrant Catholicism, many Reformed men will soon be looking at the sources in a new way, with those glasses Keith mentioned. (sorry to be off topic folks)

    -David M.

  39. If anyone wants to step up the “fun,” I invite you to read a recent blog article I wrote quoting multiple well respected mainstream Reformed scholars and apologists saying the Apostolic Church didn’t and couldn’t practice Sola Scriptura. If so, then this adds another layer of problems for Mathison, because before he can find the church he needs the correct interpretation of Scripture, but in order to have the correct interpretation of Scripture he needs the complete canon in the first place. Uh oh.
    Here is the link:
    http://catholicnick.blogspot.com/2011/02/array-of-reformed-tetimony-of.html

    Another thing I wanted to point out is something I noticed recently after reading some of Pope Leo’s XIII Encyclicals (e.g. Libertas) and was struck by how brilliantly he explained and built from Natural Law, using Christian Philosophy as the bedrock of the ‘lesson plan’. What the Pagans could only partially and inconsistently get right, and what Protestantism has generally ignored, the Catholic Church was able to get right and explain to its fullest. After thinking about this thread, I realized this is a perfect example of the Catholic IP being on a totally different wavelength than the Protestant IP. In the Catholic IP, the authority and wisdom of the Church enables it to make Natural Law mean something at the end of the day, where as in Protestant IP the notion of Natural Law doesn’t really have any place. This is because their notion of authority is limited ultimately to what is “divinely taught” in Scripture, making Natural Law something of no binding worth. And this makes sense: without the authority and inspiration of the Church, man won’t be able to derive the fullest out of Natural Law on his own, nor will opposing denominations and non-believers generally even submit to it. This amounts to a seriously deficient IP for the Protestant, compared to a robust and well-rounded IP for the Catholic.

  40. Dr. Liccione,

    I wasn’t going to add anything to this thread, but I wanted to commend your comment #36, especially the final two paragraphs. The questions you have raised lie at the very center of the debate, and if people want to avoid going down rabbit trails, they should look closely at how you have framed the issues.

    Blessings in Christ,

    JA

  41. Ray, re: 21 (& Mike L)

    Firstly, I would never try to characterize the Catholic apologists you refer to as “hacks” nor would I want to suggest that the arguments against considering the Catholic position here to be unassailable. I think that Keith’s introduction to the whole topic concerning presuppositions that we all bring to the table was to point out that we cannot easily extract ready answers out of the data. On this point it seems that Keith and Mike are in some agreement.

    You are right that I have often referred to the Church that the Reformation was born into and I have tried to demonstrate the discontinuity between this body and that of the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic ages. But no matter how different they might seem to me I cannot say that the data just speaks for itself. My feeling is that I am discussing the matter with folks who already have decided that there is fundamental continuity if for no other reason that the Renaissance bishops could trace their ecclesiastical lineage to Peter and the Apostles. But of course even this claim is very difficult to substantiate given our very uncertain knowledge of what Peter and subsequent leaders in Rome actually did there prior to Clement. But my comment to Mike was meant to underscore the problem of adopting a Catholic paradigm to separate the object of faith from mere human opinion before any of the kind of work that you are suggesting has been done or the kind of objections I am referring to have been resolved. In other words I don’t think we can readily decide to go with the Catholic IP until we have at least answered some of these challenges.

    What interests me at this point is what Mike speaks of in #16 in “everyone being involved in the process” and not just “handing the process over to the RCC theologians.” Actually I don’t really know how you do this if you are to adopt a Catholic IP exclusively (since the alternative can only lead to meaningless comparisons of one human opinion against another). To me it seems that some of the kind of conversation that I am having with Perry Robinson on the previous thread could be helpful in this regards since we are talking about some of the pillars so as to speak of the Catholic, Reformed, and EO paradigmatic approaches to these problems. One of those problems is just how we ought to treat the data from the Early Church and what normative status it ought to have. Catholics will often speak of what the ECF’s believed and in effect derive prescriptive principles from the descriptive events of the Earlty Church. But exactly how much we ought to be treating the belief systems of the Early Church as a consensus patrum is really not clear. This then relates to the whole matter of the oral tradition and how it stacks up against Scripture in terms of it’s normative content. To me these kinds of topics can be considered necessary elements of the respective Catholic and Reformed IP’s rather than just pieces of data to be weighed.

  42. Mike, re: 16

    In fact, it would be highly desirable that theologically uncommitted inquirers participate, because they’re the least likely to have their philosophical vision fettered by theological assumptions.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. Hard-headed people (like me!) debating their perspectives only goes so far without someone closer to the center keeping them honest.

  43. Dr Liccione (#36),

    I think the matter of contraception, which you pointed out, is the best example of how sola collapses into solo. To the extent that tradition can be objectively evaluated, one would have to conclude that there is overwhelming support contra contraception.

    I think the best example to argue that sola does NOT collapse into solo is the canon itself. I’ve never personally heard a protestant argue for including or expunging addition books from the NT. Protestants seem to take the canon on tradition (unless it could be argued the at the sola/sola debate assumes an agreed-upon canon).

    Best wishes

  44. Andrew, perhaps you are misunderstanding Keith?

    Keith M. in #229 of the reply thread:

    “The only question that concerns me is whether Rome’s claims are true or not. An examination of the historical evidence reveals that these claims have zero historical plausibility.”

    (emphasis mine)

    Andrew in #41 of this thread:

    I think that Keith’s introduction to the whole topic concerning presuppositions that we all bring to the table was to point out that we cannot easily extract ready answers out of the data.

    I think you are wanting Keith to be making that point. But he does not make it. “Zero historical plausibility” is the ready answer he gets from the data, and it is not presented by him as merely his presupposition, but rather an obvious fact to be simply accepted. He did not say “very unlikely” or “perhaps 10% probability”, he said ZERO. Do you agree with his statement Andrew? Zero? really? Are all those Catholic scholars like Chapman and Fortesque just blind, or stupid, or diabolically biased? They would have to be thus biased for Keith’s “Zero historical plausibility” statement to be true. But I really want to know if you agree with Keith on this.

    Peace,
    -David Meyer

  45. John (#40):

    Thanks! All we need to do now is get people to to stop following the “rabbit trails” and stick to the “center.” If you want to help do that, I’d welcome your contributions.

    Best,
    Mike

  46. In the spirit of “center” and charity, I want to consider evidence from logic and experience and then posit a charitable plausible explanation:

    Logic:
    (1) Sola Scriptura is scripture alone as the rule of faith of the Church
    (2) In order to understand “the Church” one must interpret scripture
    (3) Thus, it is impossible to make that first interpretive action of scripture to determine the Church with/by the Church
    (4) Consequently, sola scripture collapses into solo scripture (or we might say sola scriptura presupposes an act of solo scriptura; which is actually the problem we have in the beginning with Calvin, Luther, et. al. and the only way to get to the principle of sola since it is not taught in scripture)

    Experience:
    I came to the above logical conclusion 1 year before I ever even considered READING something about the Catholic Church. Albeit, I was a Church History major but my study was under the tutelage of a Presbyterian scholar, Ph.D. from Aberdeen who taught at Trinity and mentored me to be wildly anti-Catholic. I was raised in the Pentecostal tradition. No Catholic shades here. Yet, I had someone tell me that “scripture must interpret scripture” and that didn’t sit right. Why? Because it is impossible. Interpretation is a human act. Scripture cannot interpet scripture because this would go back either to (1) a single passage or (2) in infinite regress which is impossible. Scripture can be understood/interpreted through other passages of scripture BY a person. Therefore, there must be a first agent cause of the interpretive action.

    Since NO ONE has addressed the argument of Dr. L’s response (Nick #15), also mine which is a slight modification, we have no reason to reject it. Further, the outlandish claim that “because I’m Catholic I can’t undertand the difference” (1) may demonstrates the interlocutor’s reliance upon presuppositions in developing an idea (2) their discomfort with rational argument, or (3) overlooks the clear evidence of my experience and others (see Nick #39).

    So, what compels our Protestant separated brothers to this kind of “fight or flight” defense of sola? Charitably, it may be that solo scriptura, “my Bible and me” is just so non-sensical, so against experience, against the tradition and apposed to science that the suggestion that their religion is built upon this principle shocks the senses. Further, when you think about the tri-fold authoritative structure of the Catholic Church (Sacred Scripture-Holy writ, Sacred Tradition-Holy history, Magisterium-Holy Interpreter) in sola scriptura as it is defended you get a kind of “best in show” for the radical individual’s attempt at submitting their own schema (scripture-sans 6 books, my particular tradition, me as the interpreter). So, in a way, our Protestant brothers and sisters who are fighting to defend the reasonableness of sola, are right, it is a lot more reasonable than solo and in a radical modernist, individualist way has a grain of truth to it. However, it may just be wishful thinking.

    Last thought: if Protestants have such a problem with humans at the centre of Catholicism (versus the B-I-B-L-E), this is the main difference between Judaism (The Torah) and Christianity (The Person of Christ). They put the torah in the tabernacle we put Jesus in the tabernacle. He is the focus of our worship, not a book. If Christ ascended and left us His Church, His Body (Col 1:24) then the Papacy, Mary, the Saints, the Eucharist all point to the Incarnational, material reality of the person of Jesus Christ and the material, communal way His Body shares in His ministry as authority, intercessor, mediator… Catholicism continues in the Incarnational ministry of Christ through the Petrine office, affirms the human personhood of Jesus and our cooperation with Him as His body in our Marian dogmas and affirms the unique immanence of Christ with his Church and His sovereign reign over creation through the Eucharist.

    Through the Sacred Heart of Jesus,

    Brent

  47. Brent:

    I find your thoughts spot on. Thanks for that.

    Best,
    Mike

  48. Jesse (#43):

    I think the best example to argue that sola does NOT collapse into solo is the canon itself. I’ve never personally heard a protestant argue for including or expunging addition books from the NT. Protestants seem to take the canon on tradition (unless it could be argued the at the sola/sola debate assumes an agreed-upon canon).

    That example is not hard to deal with. Whether one’s defending sola or solo, one can’t very well argue that one is interpreting the data of divine revelation as a proximate, formal object of faith if the primary constituent of the that object is itself treated as a matter of choice. It has to be fixed, or at least assumed to be so, if the whole project is not to be exposed as a game of opinion-mongering.

    And yet, even R.C. Sproul has admitted that the canon can only be identified as such fallibly. I leave it to you to draw the natural inference.

    Best,
    Mike

  49. Jesse (#43):

    The canon is not an issue that sola scriptura has recourse to answer. Even more, I would be careful here. Since the list of the books is not in scripture, the act of defining the canon would not support the idea of sola scriptura but rather The Church. What we are arguing is that since the definition of “The Church” requires exegesis according to sola scriptura, then it is impossible by the principles of sola scriptura to “come up with” that concept. What would take place, rather, is an act of solo scriptura when defining “The Church” which defines the canon. Such is the necessity for saying that the canon as identified is fallible (which I think hints at solo). What Sproul fails to understand is the difference between infallible truth and imperfect knowledge of the truth. I may have imperfect knowledge about Christ (since I posses it as such), but that knowledge can be perfect in so much that it is perfect apart from my knowing it. So, regarding revealed truth, the Church can teach “Jesus is God” infallibly by a charism of the Spirit and I can still know it imperfectly (all of my ideas about Jesus may not perfectly correspond to this truth but I may still confess and hold to it yet only imperfectly, fragile, etc.). Trent made it clear that this type of knowledge is all that is needed for salvation.

    What doesn’t work, is The Church is left with only an inerrant book and no infallible guide. Remember, Paul said that the scripture is “profitable” for doctrine, rebuke…It is not in fact any of those things. Christ promised his Church that: “I will send you the Spirit who will teach you all things” and commanded Peter (thrice) “Feed my sheep.”

    In Christ through The Immaculate Conception,

    Brent

  50. David Meyer (re: 44),

    Concerning Keith’s statement that the Catholic claims concerning have “zero historical plausibility,” no I don’t agree with Keith here, because I think that they do have plausibility within the Catholic hermeneutic paradigm (CHP) that we have been discussing. I don’t want to get into exegeting Keith’s reply and analyzing what he means in his discussion of Catholic vs Protestant presuppositions, but it would seem that he should have modified this statement.

  51. Dr. Liccione,

    I’ve read through Dr. Mathison’s reply a few times, and yours twice, and still whenever I read…

    I argued in my book that the church is defined in terms of “X” – the apostolic doctrine – found in its fullness in the inspired Scriptures, and in an uninspired “summary” form in the Nicene Creed. (PDF pg. 37)

    …I can’t do much but wonder how, if at all, we’re to get out of the epistemic quagmire we seem to be in. As you’re no doubt already familiar with, there are countless denominations all claiming to have X. Of course, (some) claim contradictory things, so they can’t all have X. The Reformed churches perhaps more than other denominations are shrillest in their proclamations of having X, but other denominations make just as much claim to possessing X as the OPC/PCA/CRC/etc do.

    For my part, I appreciate your article mainly because it offers a way around the “blind leap”, (or even ideally “best guess”) fideism which seems to be philosophically entailed by the Protestant IP. Frankly, it’s a little weird for me to deal with an entity that claims to be “the church” not because it correctly interprets the Bible, but because it is the authorized interpreter of the Bible. There’s a world of metaphysical difference between those two claims, and the latter is I think much more philosophically relevant than the former.

    At least on my evaluation of the available evidence, Cross/Judisch are correct: sola philosophically collapses into solo. It is at this point that your reply becomes germane: we can either “bite the bullet” and all become non-denoms (which, with its de-emphasis on belief in any doctrinal essentials, seems a plausible response to sola collapsing into solo), or (as you argue) we can choose an IP which “if…true, [provides] an authoritative interpreter whose judgments, though not unassailable from the standpoint of reason alone, are nonetheless secured by divine authority”.

    The only thing which I think has been neglected in the discussion, thus far, is the Pascalian Wager aspect of church choice: As Christians, we must go to a church. Not picking a church isn’t an option. Further, in some real sense, our choice is a decision made in the condition of imperfect knowledge (we’re not omniscient, hence our having to make a choice which will always be, in some sense, underdetermined by the available evidence). I think your article nicely points out that, given the condition of ignorance in which we find ourselves, a non-Protestant IP of the sort offered by the Catholic and EO churches is more rational than the proffered Protestant IP.

    Thanks for the article – I found it rather edifying.

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  52. Hey Mike and Benjamin,

    Yes, I agree that this is excellent, and that once one follows Mike’s argument to the end, a version of pascal’s wager comes into play.
    As Christians, we must choose a Church, and this one is rationally preferable to the alternatives.

    Though I hope that Protestants reading this don’t think that this alone is why we actually became practicing Catholics; that, for all of us (regardless of our personalities), neither our moral sense, our historical judgment, our aesthetic appreciation for holiness, or our own personal experience of God’s leading presence played any part in our conversions. For most of us, I imagine these other aspects played a greater role than our philosophical sense.

    But there are people whose primary reason for conversion is thinking, and abstract thinking at that; the rest comes later.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  53. Brent: What would take place, rather, is an act of solo scriptura when defining “The Church” which defines the canon.

    I can’t see how that could possibly work. Solo is me-and-Jesus-and-my-bible-alone. If I don’t already have a bible, how am I going to use my bible to define the contents of the bible so I can use my bible to define the canon? Once one delves into the question of how the canon was determined, the doctrine of solo/sola is revealed to be the self-refuting absurdity that it is.

    Benjamin Keil : The only thing which I think has been neglected in the discussion, thus far, is the Pascalian Wager aspect of church choice: As Christians, we must go to a church. Not picking a church isn’t an option. Further, in some real sense, our choice is a decision made in the condition of imperfect knowledge.

    If the bible really is a source of inerrant authority for me, picking a church is not an option available to me that is authorized by the scriptures. The scriptures teach that Christ founded the church against which the powers of death will never prevail, and his followers are commanded by Christ to listen to his church or be excommunicated. (Matt 16 & 18). Scriptures plainly teach that the follower of Christ has been put into the position by Christ of being a listener and a follower of his church, and has not been put into the position of being a free agent that, as long as he is following his conscience, can choose to follow any old church founded by a man or a woman.

    That said, I am glad that you brought up the Pascal’s wager argument. Look at what the Protestants are asking you to bet your eternal life on: follow a church that is not founded by Christ, but by a man or a woman, a church where no one has any certainty about what the doctrines taught by the Apostles actually are. Then claim that you are saved by faith alone, when that faith may be faith in false doctrines taught by the Protestant sect that you happen to choose. Since Protestantism is thousands upon thousands of sects that teach contradictory doctrine, it follows that most Protestant sects are teaching at least some heresy. If there is one sect within Protestantism that teaches no heresy at all, you have no way of finding it, as long as sola scriptura is your guiding principle. It is a theoretical possibility that you just happen to have the same exact private interpretation of the Bible as the Protestant sect that teaches no heresy (if it exists), and you were lucky enough to join that sect and hit that 1 in 30,000 long shot. But you can never have any certainty that you hit the jackpot until you are dead, when Christ will reveal to you whether or not you made the right choice in the church that you listened to.

    The Catholic church is at least claiming to be the church that Christ founded, and she teaches that it is absurd to assume that Christ founded a church, commanded his followers to listen to his church, and then left us two-thousand years later with no way of identifying his church, or ever having any certainty of knowing what the doctrines of Christianity actually are. If I believed that the scriptures were the inerrant, inspired, word of God (which I do), Pascal’s wager would be sufficient to drive me to a church that has a two-thousand year old history that claims to be the church founded by Christ. And that would leaves me with a choice between the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholic Church. Then the question for me would be this: How do these churches claim to know when an Ecumenical Council is valid?

  54. K. Doran -

    I’ve appreciated your recent comments. When I recently reread Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy,” this passage jumped out at me:

    If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion. Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences. I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it. (“Orthodoxy,” Chap. 9)

    I think the immense amount of time and thought that has been devoted to issues like sola Scriptura and interpretive authority on C2C is worthwhile and rightly focused, for these issues are foundational and provide some common ground on which to engage. (Once one goes higher in the order of doctrines, with the Protestant assuming sola Scriptura and the Catholic not, it can be extremely difficult to attain mutual understanding, not to mention agreement.) However, setting up the debate in this way, as necessary as it is, can easily lead to a most unfortunate consequence: that Protestants (perhaps unwittingly) begin to think that Catholicism is all about ecclesial authority, or papal infallibility, or Mary, or–fill in the blank with any of those doctrines Catholics are commonly called upon to defend against Protestant challenge. The truth is that Catholicism is not “all about” those things, though it certainly includes them.

    In my case, I find it strangely difficult to explain why I am becoming Catholic. Of course, there is a sense in which it is quite easy. If asked, I can rattle off a string of arguments for why Protestantism is implausible and why the Catholic Church’s claims are much more plausible. And there is a sense in which my decision to join the Church is based on these arguments. But at the same time, it would require much more than the destruction of any one (perhaps even many) of these arguments to dissuade me. This is not (I hope) because my decision is not based on evidence, but because the evidence on which it is based is diffused across multiple domains of life. The Church’s teaching as a whole “meshes” with the way I experience reality. Catholicism is not merely an answer to a list of knotty theological and philosophical problems, though it is certainly that; it is a unified answer to the complex network of longings, questions, beliefs, fears, and experiences that lie at the core of my being.

    How to effectively communicate this to my Protestant friends and family who see things so differently is a question I often think about. Sometime I hope to find the time to write about it in greater length and detail.

    Peace,

    - Max

  55. Well said, Max. You should write about it. Someday the words you put on the page about how God has entered your life may guide another pilgrim on a rainy day.

  56. mateo #53

    That’s the point and you are right! I guess that first act would be solo scriptura incompletus. Thanks for clarifying and drawing light on the further absurdity of sola/solo.

  57. First sorry for the blunders in English.
    Do you not think that ultimately, both the Protestant and Catholic, to decide what form of Christianity is closer to that desired by Jesus, must inevitably make use of its (precarious) individual capacity of judgement and interpretation of a given body of data? If at the end “Sola Scriptura” collapses into “Solo Scriptura” because in the last resort is the individual who first interprets Scripture, and only then choose the church according to its own interpretation, the same can be said in the case of the Catholic because to become Catholic is necessary to judge and interpret a given body of data. The Catholic, just as the Protestant, first interprets a given body of data and only then choose the church according its own interpretation.
    Where is the epistemological advantage for the catholic?
    A Spanish from Rome :)

  58. Luis:

    In section V of my post, I’ve already answered essentially the same objection you’ve just posed. On this site, that objection is called the tu quoque (“you too”) argument, and we’ve all heard it in various forms. But to clarify my answer for you, I shall restate it more succinctly here.

    If the Protestant “interpretive paradigm” were the best to adopt, then all we’d have is opinion about what constitutes the formal, proximate object of faith (‘FPOF’ for short). In that case, there would be no principled way to distinguish the doctrinal content of divine revelation itself from human opinions about how to interpret the “sources” alleged to transmit it. And that is what your objection you’ve described amounts to admitting. But in that case, our ostensible assent of faith is not the assent of faith; we’re not putting faith in God by believing what he has revealed, because we haven’t identified as an object of faith what he has revealed. That result is unreasonable for anybody who claims to be putting faith in God by believing what he has revealed.

    The only way to make the needed “principled” distinction is to accept some secondary authority as the divinely appointed, infallible certifier and interpreter of “the sources.” But only two churches claim to be that. Neither is Protestant. That does not demonstrate, as a matter of reason alone, that either church is what she claims to be. What it does show is that some such claim must be true if we are to be able to identify the formal, proximate object of faith. Accordingly, the epistemic difference between Protestants and Catholics is not the method by which they reach their respective conclusions about what the FPOF is–both methods involves opinions only—but about what the FPOF itself really is. The Catholic FPOF permits the needed distinction; the Protestant does not, and thus does not qualify as the FPOF.

    Of course you could always bite the bullet and insist that all we’ve got is opinion. In that case, faith is impossible; therefore, none of us can have faith in Christ.

    Best,
    Mike

  59. Luis (re: #57),

    Welcome to Called To Communion. In addition to what Mike said in #58, and in his article, I wrote “The Tu Quoque” to answer that very question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  60. Luis #57

    The only problem with what you are saying is that it would lead to extreme skepticism about all truth claims. All we would have is a knower interpreting a given body of data and then making a choice. I would presume this data would be a set of proposition, a kind of Lockean problem, right? Between Kant and Locke, the rest of a comedy of errors unfold. People like Gilson pointed us to Thomas’s way out, and Lonergan gave us a new way out. Polanyi, in my opinion, also gives a compelling argument for both an objective reality and yet the personal commitment of the knower to engage it.

    So, the question is rather, as Micheal L has pointed to, what is the formal, proximate object of faith? (FPOF) In other words, what acts on the senses to know “Catholicism is true” or “Protestantism is true”? My personal conversion started with the realization that Protestantism’s formal object was ideas (these ideas were dreamt up by Calvin, Luther or Kentucky mountain preacher)–very good ideas many times, albeit, but just ideas. Catholicism’s FPOF is the person of Christ transmitted at his ascension to His Church, His Body. Scripture and history evidences this, and the Church teaches it. Thus, I am different in that I have as my object a “thing” whereas a Protestant has only a “concept”. Bryan has done that work, see:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/06/christ-founded-a-visible-church/

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/why-protestantism-has-no-visible-catholic-church/

  61. Thanks Liccione (do you speak italian?), Crosss and Brent for your answers. They are very interesting and I will reflect on them. I confess my inability to answer in English to issues raised. In my lack of language resources, I leave three thoughts.

    1) Do you not run the risk that the “secondary authority” became in fact the center of the faith of the believer? For the catholic believer the primary object of faith is the church itself, since the church defines the nature and the content of Revelation.

    2) It is not the people of Israel the proof to show that “infallible authority” is not necessary to distinguish the doctrinal content of divine revelation itself from human opinions about how to interpret the “sources” alleged to transmit it?

    3) By assumption, if it were proved the falsity of the Magisterium of the Roman-Catholic Church, for you, the faith in Jesus would still be reasonable?

    Sorry again for my bad English and thanks to Google translate ;)

    I will continue to read you with interest, but I will not take to respond. It’s too frustrating not knowing how to express well in English!

    Greetings from Rome,
    Luis

  62. Luis,

    Se si preferisce non scrivere in inglese, quindi si prega di scrivere in italiano, e useremo Google Translate. :-)

    nella pace di Cristo,

    - Bryan

  63. Luis @61

    1. When Christ spoke to Saul, he asked him “why do you persecute ME?” While there is an ontological difference between us as his Body as humans and Christ himself, in virtue of the divine plan, The Church–The Body of Christ–participates in the work of Christ. That union will be perfected in heaven. This cooperation was instituted by Christ himself. The Church is not a secondary authority, but the vehicle by which Christ operates his primary authority until He returns. Yet even then scripture indicates that the Apostles will have a role in ruling the new heaven and earth.

    2. (this is a hard one to translate) I’m assuming that you meant to say that Israel, as a fallible group, demonstrates there not being a necessity for a infallible Church. Under that assumption, two things (1) The old covenant is merely a type and shadow of what is promised in the new; what is ineffectual in the Old becomes sacrament, reality, effect in the New and (2) whether not it “could” work is beside the point if in fact Christ instituted a Petrine Office which has the keys to bind and loose heaven.

    This type of reasoning could make one ask, “Did God have to send Jesus?” We can argue that he did or didn’t, but if He did it is really besides the point. In other words, you need to ask “Did he institute a Church” before you ask “Did he have to”. St. Anselm’s “Faith seeking understanding” might inform the spirit of our research as Christians. Not “skepticism finding neccesity”.

    3. The reasoning also provides for the question, “If Christ was proven to not be God, would the Christian religion not be valid?” You know the answer, so it kind of begs asking. The question should be, “if I believe in Christ must I also believe in His Church?”

    Greetings from Florida

    Brent

  64. Luis (#61):

    Brent has answered you reasonably well, but I want to focus on one of your questions:

    Do you not run the risk that the “secondary authority” became in fact the center of the faith of the believer? For the catholic believer the primary object of faith is the church itself, since the church defines the nature and the content of Revelation.

    That is not an entirely accurate summary of how the FPOF is identified by the Catholic as such. First, the primary object of faith is God. Thus, when we believe what the Church teaches with her full authority, we are believing God. The ultimate “material” object of faith, God, is identified as Revealer and believed by means of assent to the FPOF: the triad Tradition-Scripture-Magisterium.

    Second, and on that triadic schema, “the church itself” is not and cannot be the primary constituent of the FPOF. The primary constituent is what has been “handed down” to us from Christ through the Apostles and their successors, the bishops who govern the Church: namely, the entire deposit of faith transmitted to us by Tradition and Scripture. But the Magisterium of the Church is indispensable for the purpose of enabling us to interpret those sources reliably, because it is divinely protected from error when interpreting them with its full authority, and thereby enables us to identify reliably what those sources mean on any particular point of doctrinal importance. The Magisterium did not originate what Scripture and Tradition convey, nor does it guarantee the truth of what they convey. Only God as Revealer does that. The Magisterium’s role is merely to enable us to receive and understand them as God intends, so that our reception of them does not devolve into a farrago of mere opinion.

    Best,
    Mike

  65. Dr. L,

    Thanks for the professional clarification! Luis, you are in good hands with Mike.

    Mike, could The Church (not the Magisterium only now, but as a part of it) be understood as the sensible (material) object of faith? In other words, what acts on my senses to know God? God becoming matter, more specifically man (Jesus), portends God’s saving plan; his rubric. Could The Church be understood as the continuation of that? If God is the FPOF, than could The Church be the MPOF? I know we don’t put our faith in The Church, but we ultimately know God through The Church which is The Body of Jesus. Maybe I’m just bringing up an entirely different topic altogether.

    Also, I am unsure what you are claiming in #64. Is the tri-fold authority of the Church what Christ left us, or did he leave us His Church which teaches the tri-fold authority? Since (1) there is no evidence he required anyone to write anything down-he could have since we know he required someone to carry a money bag and (2) since The Tradition comes to us by the Spirit working through The Church.

    Your insight would be well received.

  66. Liccione #62

    That is not an entirely accurate summary of how the FPOF is identified by the Catholic as such. First, the primary object of faith is God. Thus, when we believe what the Church teaches with her full authority, we are believing God. The ultimate “material” object of faith, God, is identified as Revealer and believed by means of assent to the FPOF: the triad Tradition-Scripture-Magisterium

    Italian: No, in realtà per un cattolico perfino la stessa definizione di Dio dipende dal Magisterio e dal suo modo di interpretare la Rivelazione. Prima di credere in Dio, devi credere al Magistero Infallibile della Chiesa Cattolica che ti dice chi è Dio, qual è la sua natura, quando si è rivelato, perché, come, e poi ti fornisce anche l’interpretazione di questa rivelazione. Assumendo il paradigma cattolico, la tua fede nella Chiesa precede la fede in Dio, perché puoi conoscere Dio solo attraverso la stessa Chiesa.

    Translation into English: No, actually for a Catholic even the very definition of God depends on the Magisterium and its way of interpreting Revelation. Before you believe in God, you must believe in [what] the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church is telling you about who God is, what is His nature, when, why, and how this has been revealed, and then it provides you with the interpretation of this revelation. Assuming the Catholic paradigm, your faith in the Church comes before faith in God, because you can know God only through the Church itself.

    “Second, and on that triadic schema, “the church itself” is not and cannot be the primary constituent of the FPOF. The primary constituent is what has been “handed down” to us from Christ through the Apostles and their successors, the bishops who govern the Church: namely, the entire deposit of faith transmitted to us by Tradition and Scripture. But the Magisterium of the Church is indispensable for the purpose of enabling us to interpret those sources reliably, because it is divinely protected from error when interpreting them with its full authority, and thereby enables us to identify reliably what those sources mean on any particular point of doctrinal importance. The Magisterium did not originate what Scripture and Tradition convey, nor does it guarantee the truth of what they convey. Only God as Revealer does that. The Magisterium’s role is merely to enable us to receive and understand them as God intends, so that our reception of them does not devolve into a farrago of mere opinion”

    Italian: In fondo, stai ragionando in modo circolare. Mi stai raccontando la “narrazione dei fatti” che ti propone il Magistero cerca se stesso e il rapporto tra Scrittura e Tradizione. Credi nel Magistero nel modo in cui il Magistero ti dice di credere.

    Translation into English: After all, you’re arguing in a circle. You’re telling the “narrative of events” that presuppoposes the Magisterium itself and the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. You believe in the Magisterium in the way in which the Magisterium tells you to believe.

  67. Luis:

    You wrote, translated:

    No, actually for a Catholic even the very definition of God depends on the Magisterium and its way of interpreting Revelation. Before you believe in God, you must believe in [what] the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church is telling you about who God is, what is His nature, when, why, and how this has been revealed, and then it provides you with the interpretation of this revelation. Assuming the Catholic paradigm, your faith in the Church comes before faith in God, because you can know God only through the Church itself.

    If that is meant as a criticism of Catholic doctrine, it is based on a complete misunderstanding of that doctrine. According to St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the First Vatican Council, God can be known just by reasoning a posteriori from the existence and nature of the universe. Thus, according to the Catholic Church herself, you don’t need the Catholic Church to know that God exists and know something about God’s nature. I came to believe that not because such authorities tell me so, but by philosophical reasoning, before I ever accepted the claims of the Catholic Magisterium for itself. It is of course true that some people believe in God in part because the Church says they should. But that is because they believe they have reason enough to accept the Church as trustworthy overall in such matters. Without examining those reasons, you have no basis for criticizing their way of believing.

    You also wrote, translated:

    After all, you’re arguing in a circle. You’re telling the “narrative of events” that presuppoposes the Magisterium itself and the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. You believe in the Magisterium in the way in which the Magisterium tells you to believe.

    In this case, you have completely misunderstood the reasons I gave for accepting the claim that Tradition-Scripture-Magisterium, as the Catholic Church understands them, is the FPOF. I argued, philosophically, that unless some such claim is true, there can be no way to reliably identify the FPOF as an object of the assent of faith as distinct from opinion. That argument only works, of course, on the premise that there is an FPOF and that, whatever it is, it can be reliably identified. So if you want to reject my actual reasoning, as opposed to what you think my reasoning was, you need either to show that we can reliably identify the FPOF without ecclesial infallibility, or that there is no FPOF to identify.

    Best,
    Mike

  68. Brent (#65):

    You asked:

    Mike, could The Church (not the Magisterium only now, but as a part of it) be understood as the sensible (material) object of faith?

    You’re using the term ‘material’ in a sense different from the one I was using. I was contrasting the material with the formal, whereas you’re contrasting the material with the insensible. The latter usage is far more common nowadays; but as the scholastics used it, and some of us still do, the material/formal distinction is that between what something is and how it is located and identified. In that sense, God as Revealer is the ultimate, material object of faith because, as the who doing the revealing, he is ultimately what we have faith in. The triad: Tradition-Scripture-Magisterium is the formal, proximate object of faith (the FPOF) because believing that triad is how we come to identify the content of divine revelation, which is what God wants us to believe about him and his relationship with us. Thus, by means of putting faith in the FPOF, we believe God as Revealer.

    That said, I believe your instinct is sound. For reasons I explained in my post and to Luis, a visible church with a living teaching authority divinely protected from error is an indispensable component of the FPOF. Just as an encounter with the tangible, claim-making Person of Christ was necessary for the Apostles to know the correct interpretation of the Old Testament and the oral tradition concurrent with it, so an encounter with his tangible, claim-making Mystical Body, the Church, is necessary for us today to reliably identify the divine revelation transmitted by the other two components of the FPOF, Scripture and Tradition.

    You also write:

    Is the tri-fold authority of the Church what Christ left us, or did he leave us His Church which teaches the tri-fold authority? Since (1) there is no evidence he required anyone to write anything down-he could have since we know he required someone to carry a money bag and (2) since The Tradition comes to us by the Spirit working through The Church.

    I did not say that the authority of the Church is “tri-fold.” I said that the FPOF is tri-fold, and that the authority of the Church is only one of the three components. What you say in (1) and (2) is of course true, but I don’t see that anything problematic follows.

    As to (1), it is true that we have no evidence of the sort you describe. But we do in fact have writings from the apostolic church that the authority of the Church has certified as the supremely normative expression of what’s been handed on from the Apostles, i.e. of Tradition. As to (2), Tradition does indeed come to us by the Spirit working in the Church, but he works in part through the other two components of the FPOF.

    Best,
    Mike

  69. Dr. L,

    Maybe you can clear this up a bit further. Aquinas appears to me to categorize the formal and material object(s) of faith differently than you describe. He says that the formal object of faith is the First Truth and the material object is that which is believed (God, as you said). Of course, like you he says that the formal object is the ‘how’ (as color is the formal object of sight and the material object is that which is seen), but it appears to me that Brent could be on the right track in saying that the Church, etc. are considered under the material objects of faith, not, as you said, in the sense of material vs. immaterial nor in the sense of being independently considered, but only considered, as Aquinas says, “as bearing some relation to God.” Thus the Church is the object of faith as being His mystical body; the Scriptures as being His Word, etc.

    Thoughts?

  70. Dr. Liccione,

    Luis can correct me if I’ve misunderstood him, but I think what he’s seeking is a criterion by which to weigh the Roman Catholic IP’s merits relative to the merits of other Christian IPs. That is, he wants to know what is the principled way of determining true IP among the various contenders, viz. Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc.

    If that is his point, he’s questioning your rebuttal of the tu quoque. The idea is that, in the absence of a principled way of identifying the true IP, we all have only opinions about which IP is correct. The upshot then would be that affirming the Magisterium’s infallibility whilst criticising private judgment creates a murky modal environment, something along the lines of the classic sketch from Yes, Prime Minister.

    Blessings in Christ,

    John

  71. Tim & Mike,

    Tim, good questions, and Mike that is what I was getting at (Tim’s input). When I said “material” I was referencing the Aristotilean metaphysical material-formal distinction and not the modern notion of mater, although I can see how my epistemic references may have muddied the waters. As the Doctor Subtilis in De Prima Principia proves, there is but one first cause that is preeiment in the order of final and efficient causes. So, our knowledge of God starts with God. But, could the Church participate in that causality in a material way, or would we say that rather the Church is a formal co-participant in God’s efficient, material, and final action to save souls (along with the Magisterium and Sacred Scripture)? The problem that I run into is that The Church (not just talking about the Magisterium) is more than the Magisterium and in fact gives us Sacred Scripture and Tradition. I don’t have a problem with this since Christ seemed to be okay with it from our record in scripture indicating that he only in fact instituted a Church, gave it His Mother and His Spirit, the Keys of Heaven, and fed it with His Body and Blood.

    I will wait for your response.

  72. Tim:

    Aquinas says that “..the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church” (ST II-II Q5 a3 co). What he’s referring to as “the First Truth, as manifested” in Scripture and the teaching of the Church is what I’m calling “the deposit of faith.” As per Vatican II, I also include the specific deliverances of Tradition in the FPOF. But Aquinas, being an adherent of the one-source, material-sufficiency view, saw no need to distinguish between Scripture and Tradition as the deposit’s sources of transmission, because he believed that Tradition supplies no knowledge of the deposit that we can’t extract from Scripture. I don’t think that’s quite right. The difference here shows how the Church’s reflection on her own faith occasions development in understanding both its form and its content.

    I don’t see anything wrong with your second paragraph. I’d just say that the Magisterium is a material object of faith in the common sense of ‘material’, but not in the scholastic sense Aquinas and I employ.

    Best,
    Mike

  73. John:

    Perhaps you’re right. I enjoyed that little skit! But that’s not how I read Luis. His remark about “arguing in a circle” suggests that he’s pressing the objection that one must assume the truth of Catholicism in order to argue for the superiority of its presentation of the FPOF over others. Now, ahem, where have we heard that before?

    Of course one might otherwise want to argue, against my presentation, that one must first agree, philosophically, on what would in general constitute an FPOF before one can go on to discuss whose presentation of the FPOF meets those criteria. But I think I already adumbrated that. I assumed that identifying an FPOF means invoking a principle to distinguish between the assent of faith and that of opinion, and I implied that no Protestant account of the FPOF enables us to do that in anything other than an ad hoc sort of way. Debating that would mean a prior discussion of the distinction between faith and opinion. I’m game if you are.

    Best,
    Mike

  74. Brent (#71):

    You write:

    …our knowledge of God starts with God. But, could the Church participate in that causality in a material way, or would we say that rather the Church is a formal co-participant in God’s efficient, material, and final action to save souls (along with the Magisterium and Sacred Scripture)?

    That’s an interesting ecclesiological question I’ve never considered. Perhaps I can begin doing so by considering what you call your “problem”:

    …The Church (not just talking about the Magisterium) is more than the Magisterium and in fact gives us Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

    When reference is made to the Church as part of the FPOF, we’re talking just about the Magisterium as authoritative interpreter. But clearly “the Church” is a lot more than that. I agree that the Church is “material” not just in the sense that she’s visible, but also in the sense that she’s the Mystical Body of Christ. So being incorporated into the Church just is to be incorporated into Christ, which is the beginning of Christian life, which in turn is the beginning of “eternal life.” The Church is the “what,” the medium, in which Christian life occurs and through which it is lived. Moreover, when we put faith in the Church in the broad sense of ‘trust’, we are trusting Christ, which is the virtue of faith in a fuller sense than just intellectual assent.

    How’s that?

    Best,
    Mike

  75. Mike:

    Well, I’d prefer not to distract from Luis’ question, but I am interested to learn where specifically you believe Protestants run into trouble with respect to opinion and the assent of faith. From the comments here, there seem to be at least two distinct locations where troubles are alleged to arise, namely at (a) the assent to scripture itself, and at (b) the assent to inferences from scripture.

    By (a) I have in mind the criticism that Protestants lack an infallibly defined canon; by (b), the criticism that scripture does not formally imply all the doctrines Protestants believe. The trouble said to arise at (b) may extend further (to b’), it being thought that even if scripture did formally imply what Protestants believe, still, no person or institution would have the meaningful authority to present his or its interpretation as normative for all the faithful.

    How far do (a), (b) and (b’) reflect the places where you believe the “conservative Protestant” IP collapses into opinion?

    Best,
    John

  76. John (#75):

    How far do (a), (b) and (b’) reflect the places where you believe the “conservative Protestant” IP collapses into opinion?

    That’s as good as place as any to resume. As to (a) and (b), the problem is the same in each case. Let’s start with (a).

    If the canon cannot be infallibly recognized as such, then the question what counts as the “inerrant” Word of God can only be answered provisionally, as a matter of opinion. Of course it doesn’t look that way to conservative Protestants, for the Protestant canon has not changed since the Reformation, and there’s no reason to believe it will. But such changelessness is understandable in light of two facts. First, if general agreement about what counts as Scripture were not maintained, the conservative-Protestant insistence that Scripture is the sole inerrant rule of faith would sink swiftly into quicksand, which would destroy the rationale for conservative Protestantism. But even more important, the divinely inspired nature of the Protestant canon is not disputed by Catholicism and Orthodoxy, for the Protestant canon is a subset of the canon recognized by the two older traditions. Accordingly, if either Catholicism or Orthodoxy is true, it follows that that the books conservative Protestants recognize as divinely inspired are so in fact. So the question whether the Protestant canon contains only canonical books is not, as a matter of fact, answerable only by an opinion. The answer is yes, and that’s not an opinion on anybody’s account.

    But of course, it does not follow that Protestantism as such is equipped to say why the canon question is not a matter of opinion. For Protestantism disagrees with Catholicism and Orthodoxy about whether the Masoretic or the Septuagint canon is the correct OT canon. For Protestants, those older traditions were not able to identify infallibly all and only the truly inspired books as such, because they are not infallible in general, and in particular got some books wrong. Now, since no Protestant church claims infallibility, no Protestant body can claim greater authority than the Catholic or Orthodox churches for the purpose of identifying the canon. So how is Protestant theology supposed to explain how their way of identifying the canon is better than Catholicism’s or Orthodoxy’s? Only by means of scholarly arguments. But by anybody’s account, such arguments are fallible opinions; so, on the Protestant IP, there is no way to explain why the canon question is not a matter of opinion, even if, in fact, it isn’t such a matter. Even though, as a matter of objective fact, it’s no mere opinion to affirm that the Masoretic canon is canonical, the Protestant IP supplies us with no principled way to identify it as part of the FPOF, as distinct from just an opinion—whereas the Catholic (or Orthodox) IP does. This is just one of the ways in which Protestantism is parasitic on the older traditions.

    Given all that, the problem with (b) can also be identified. It is of course quite possible to draw logically valid inferences from those forms of words in Scripture which can be understood as assertoric. Happens all the time, and should. But if one tries to stick, for doctrinal purposes, to making logical inferences from Scripture, one faces four difficulties.

    First, an IP lacking a principled way to distinguish irreformable doctrine from theological opinion cannot tell us why everything asserted in Scripture is asserted by God, because it cannot explain why the identity of the canon is more than a matter of opinion. Second, even if we assume that whatever the sacred writers assert is asserted by the Holy Spirit, not all illocutionary forms in Scripture are assertoric; in such cases, we need more sophisticated interpretation to determine what doctrinal content can be extracted from them. But there’s disagreement about what interpretations are necessary and sufficient for that purpose. Third, there’s no agreement on whether every form in Scripture which is assertoric on a human level actually expresses, precisely as such, what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us as their principal author. For example: Paul asserts “I do not allow women to speak in church,” which is no doubt true; but that assertion reports an imperative, and we cannot infer from Scripture alone that such an imperative is a permanent injunction of the Holy Spirit. Finally, there is no agreement on whether there’s a normative tradition according to which only what can be logically inferred from assertions in Scripture belongs to the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith. The claim that there is such a tradition is, itself, only an opinion.

    What all that implies for (b’) is pretty much what you describe. Even if, as a matter of fact, the doctrinal conclusions drawn by some Protestants from Scripture do belong to the deposit of faith, the Protestant IP has no principled way of explaining how and why they belong to the FPOF and are not just opinions.

    Best,
    Mike

  77. Luis,

    I’m going to lay down a series of subsequent points:

    1. To add to Mike’s response, I think we need to make sure that we all agree that in certains acts of intellection, I can gain more from the sensible object than just empirical data. This is important because Mike’s assertion of the a posteriori knowledge of God is impossible without the possibility of this happening. I can’t know a posteriori for instance, that God is omnipotent or the first cause, if my intellect through sensible objects cannot come into contact with more than “qualia” (the more would be things like cause/effect, universal-particular, space-time, etc). This is called general/natural revelation.

    2. Assuming we can know God exists and we are not atheists, we would then need to be convinced that Christ is God, that He in fact was crucified and resurrected. If this doesn’t happen, then who cares if He has a Church. So, we start off with the evidence that we have and notice that His disciples, when writing about Christ, are sure to mention that they touched his hands, put their hands in his side, etc. etc. They also go into detail regarding his crucifixion and death. So, on the testimony of witnesses, we are going to believe that in fact Christ was God since only God would have the power to raise himself from the dead.

    3. Assuming (1) & (2), from the available evidence, we would need to determine if in fact he founded a Church, if there is a Petrine Office in that Church, an Apostolic college, ordained priesthood, 7 sacraments, etc. So, either the Catholic Church is what she says she is, namely the Church Jesus established; or, she is the great deceiver of all time (this isn’t true of our separated brothers because their churches don’t make our claim). This claim is like Christ’s, He is who he says he is or he is a madman.

    Notice, I do not have to be Catholic to (1) believe in God or (2) be convinced that Jesus is His Son. However, even the demons believe (1) and (2), so the story is more complicated than this. So, the question would be what interpretive paradigm gets me to the truth about Christ, his teachings and whether or not (3) is true. I can ignore the claim and live in happy naiveté, or can force myself to come to terms with it since (a) it is the cause of the Reformation which is the cause for me being separated from her probably not in virtue of my will but in virtue of the family i was born into, (b) the Church still very much exists despite the claims of the Protestant “project” to rebuild a church that the gates of hell had sacked and (c) that Church still claims (3). (more reasons could be added)

    Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

  78. Mike (#76):

    Thanks both for your reply and for your evident zeal for the truth. Honestly, I wasn’t making a bid to resume anything. And my IP, as you know, isn’t strictly speaking the “conservative protestant” one you have critiqued above–despite my being conservative and a protestant. On the relation of scripture, tradition, and apostolic succession, I hold more or less the position that John Behr and Denis Minns have attributed to St. Irenaeus, a position which is consistent, I believe, with the one J. B. Mozley articulated back in the 19th century. We’ve discussed all this at great length before, and we don’t need to revisit it here.

    Be that as it may, I am intrigued by what you have said. For one thing, I don’t believe Orthodoxy, Eastern or Oriental, is quite as uniform in teaching as you seem to suggest; perhaps that even counts as a strike against them, in terms of your reasonableness test. But in any case, what interests me most in your remarks is this statement:

    If the canon cannot be infallibly recognized as such, then the question what counts as the “inerrant” Word of God can only be answered provisionally, as a matter of opinion.

    That appears to take us back to the issue I’ve thought Luis is raising. If you can forgive my imitating your phrasing, the issue is this:

    If the true IP cannot be infallibly recognized as such, then the question what counts as the “correct” IP can only be answered provisionally, as a matter of opinion.

    Do you disagree? If not, what is the specific, relevant difference between what you profess to do in assenting to your FPOF, and what many a Protestant (e.g. John Owen or Thomas Halyburton) has professed to do in assenting to the scriptures with a faith divine and supernatural?

    To be sure, I can see reasons whereby you could argue that a position like Owen’s is less attractive or less reasonable than yours. But you seem to press further, asserting that such a position is not only less reasonable, but positively unreasonable. Maybe I’m misunderstanding; if so, I’d be grateful for clarification.

    Best,
    John

    PS I realize this only touches (a), but I think you can guess what I’d say about (b) and (b’).

  79. Mike,

    Something I’ve been meaning to ask you about is your use of the term “opinion” or sometimes “mere opnion.” I’ve pointed out to you before that the concept of opinion is used differently in Protestantism than it is used in Catholicism and I’m not sure that we are hearing what you mean when you use one of these terms. I have opinions on issues like what the best steakhouse in Houston is, or on a more serious matter, where Jesus was born. If I went onto the streets of Houston I could find folks who disagreed with me on either one of these opinions, which is what to me make them opinions. They are not incontrovertible facts like the fact that it is water coming out of my kitchen tap rather than gasoline. They are beliefs that I hold that are backed up sometimes by more and sometimes by less evidence and sometimes influenced more and sometimes less by my own personal preferences. But I don’t think either one of my examples is what you are getting at when you speak of “opinion.”

    Concerning ancient texts in general there is oftentimes a great deal of disagreement over original meaning of the text although this is certainly not always the case. But on any heavily contested ancient text what would you think if I were to make a distinction between the object of what the author was trying to convey and mere opinion about the author’s intent as if there was no way to get beyond mere opinion concerning this text? Does the endless controversies on the text under consideration justify the conclusion that we can only ever have opinions on the intended message of the author? I think the answer you might give me might be similar to the answer we give you when you state that without the infallible human interpreter we will only have opinions on the intended message of the Scriptures. The controversies over the meaning of Scripture between and within Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy do not justify an infallible human interpreter from our standpoint.

    So one of the issues that we ought IMO to get into is whether the Catholic IP you suggest is a reasonable facsimile of the IP that the Early Church operated with. Of course they were not thinking in the same philosophical perspective that you and I are speaking of today so this is difficult to assess. But there were constitutive elements of their IP and this is actually one of the more valuable things that Keith Mathison analyzes in his original work on sola scriptura, but not unfortunately in his reply to Bryan and Neal. The question he asks in The Shape of Sola Scriptura is was there any sense in which the regula fidei of the Early Church could be said to have been promulgated with infallible certainty. This was the discussion that Perry and I had which he seems to have dropped but which again IMO is at the heart of the Tradition 1/Tradition 2 (from Oberman whom Mathison relies on) and sola scriptura debates. Now if you were to take out the “infallible” designation from your “divinely appointed infallible interpreter” then you would be talking about Tradition 1 type of stuff that Oberman and Mathison accept. But by positing an “infallible” interpreter you then elevate the Tradition 1 to Tradition 2 and end up with an IP that is not shared by that of the Early Church, or so the Protestant argument would go. But it is here that everything about sola scriptura rests – is there a case to be made from the ECF’s that there was something akin to Tradition 2 at play in the Early Church? Our case is that positing an infallible human interpreter suggests a philosophy of revelation that cannot be seen in the Early Church theologians. Of course in time such a philosophy of revelation is adopted by the RCC, and the question for us then is what the justification was for the adoption of such a philosophy. To us it seems that Tradition 1 evolved into Tradition 2 for no good reason, or at least the reason is entirely shrouded in mystery. The analysis of the writings of the ECF’s on this matter delves into some of the details that you want to avoid by looking at Protestant and Catholic IP’s, but then at some point you have to look into whether or not you can fit the individual facts into the paradigm you adopt.

    My take away from your critique of Mathison’s reply is that you are giving us your expectations of what the evaluation of revelation should be in order achieve an acceptable level of certainty concerning that interpretation. And my question to you is whether it is not possible that you are trying to make the case for more certainty than what God had ever intended. You did after all previously concede that God could work through a system where no such infallible human interpreter existed. So perhaps there is no case to be made for an infallible interpreter given the data of the history of the Early Church because such a thing was never in view by the authors of the sacred texts?

  80. John:

    Each of your points are worth discussing for the benefit of readers.

    1. You write:

    …my IP, as you know, isn’t strictly speaking the “conservative protestant” one you have critiqued above–despite my being conservative and a protestant.On the relation of scripture, tradition, and apostolic succession, I hold more or less the position that John Behr and Denis Minns have attributed to St. Irenaeus, a position which is consistent, I believe, with the one J. B. Mozley articulated back in the 19th century. We’ve discussed all this at great length before, and we don’t need to revisit it here.

    Without rehashing all the details, I think that issue is worth revisiting here. As I see it, what you describe as your position is indeed an instance of applying the conservative-Protestant IP. For the sake of identifying and getting clear about the FPOF, you do not rely, as a necessary condition, on the teaching authority of any church claiming to be now the “catholic church” Irenaeus spoke of then. Instead, your position results from “studying the early sources and drawing inferences from them” so as to give an account of the FPOF describing the “relation of scripture, tradition, and apostolic succession.” That is, you’ve studied an early source, Irenaeus, interpreted him in the Behr-Minns way, compared him with other sources, and concluded that his way of understanding the FPOF (on that interpretation) yields an account that is, and should be received as, normative for Christians. Unless, of course, you wish to offer such an account only as a plausible opinion, in which case that and four bucks will get you a decent latté.

    As you doubtless recall quite well from our original discussion, which is well represented in this post of mine, I made two responses to that. One is that the Behr-Minns reading should be questioned, for if their way of reading Irenaeus were correct, then we would have to say that, for him, “the sure charism of truth” resides not at all in the “subject of tradition,” i.e. the Church and her leadership, but only in “the objective tradition itself,” i.e. Tradition as normatively expressed in Scripture. Thus the Magisterium would not constitute part of the FPOF, which it doesn’t seem to me he wants to say. But even if the Behr-Minns reading were correct, what I’d say as a Catholic is that, in that case, Irenaeus just wasn’t quite right about how to identify the FPOF. For if he were right, then we not only could but should interpret Scripture and Tradition in such a way as to make our interpretation the measure of the Magisterium’s, not vice-versa—which is just what the conservative-Protestant IP would have us do.

    2. You wrote:

    Be that as it may, I am intrigued by what you have said. For one thing, I don’t believe Orthodoxy, Eastern or Oriental, is quite as uniform in teaching as you seem to suggest; perhaps that even counts as a strike against them, in terms of your reasonableness test.

    It’s interesting that you say that. The reason I consider the Catholic IP more reasonable than the Orthodox is precisely that Orthodox ecclesiology seems to me neither as clear nor as consistent as Catholic, so that if a living, clearly identifiable, infallible teaching authority is a necessary component of the FPOF, then the Roman as distinct from the EO communion can make the stronger claim to have that. But as I didn’t make that case in my post, it’s really a side issue here.

    3. As for your re-posing of Luis’ objection, what it looks like to me is a re-stating of the tu quoque argument. And my reply is pretty much what I’ve already said.

    The question which IP, the Catholic or the (conservative) Protestant, is the more reasonable, is a philosophical one, and thus indeed can only be answered fallibly. So what’s the relevant difference between the two IPs themselves? The relevant difference lies not in the methodology by which one comes to choose between them, but in what one thereby assents to as the FPOF. The Catholic IP contains a principled way of distinguishing the doctrinal content of divine revelation from human opinions about how to interpret the sources alleged to transmit it, i.e. Scripture and Tradition. The Protestant does not. Hence, if the Catholic way of identifying the FPOF is true, we get beyond mere opinion to the assent of faith; whereas there is no way we can do so on the Protestant IP, because that IP depicts any way of identifying the FPOF as fallible, and thus can only offer an object of the assent of opinion, not of faith. That does not of course prove that the Catholic way of identifying the FPOF is true. What it shows is that, for anybody who’s interested in making the distinction described above, the Catholic IP supplies a basis for doing it, and is thus at least a candidate in the running, along with the Orthodox IP. The Protestant does not and is not.

    Best,
    Mike

  81. Liccione #68

    “Thus, according to the Catholic Church herself, you don’t need the Catholic Church to know that God exists and know something about God’s nature. I came to believe that not because such authorities tell me so, but by philosophical reasoning, before I ever accepted the claims of the Catholic Magisterium for itself.”

    Italian: Il punto non era se si può dimostrare o meno l’esistenza di Dio tramite la sola ragione.
    Il punto era riferito a questa affermazione:

    English translation: The point was not whether or not you can prove the existence of God through reason alone.
    The point was in reference to the following statement:

    Liccione#64
    “First, the primary object of faith is God. Thus, when we believe what the Church teaches with her full authority, we are believing God. The ultimate “material” object of faith, God, is identified as Revealer and believed by means of assent to the FPOF: the triad Tradition-Scripture-Magisterium”

    Italian: Per il cattolico, ai fini pratici, il Magistero (ed è il Magistero a informarci infallibilemente sulla natura, il contenuto e l’interpretazione della Scrittura e della Tradizione e anche della relazione che intercorre tra di esse) si costituisce in pratica come criterio ultimo di verità. Il problema è che l’autorità del Magistero è inverificabile all’interno del paradigma interpretativo cattolico. Si può solo ripetere la “narrazione dei fatti” che il Magistero fa per giustificare se stesso.

    English translation: For the Catholic, for all practical purposes, the Magisterium (and it is the Magisterium which infallibly informs us of the nature, content and interpretation of Scripture and Tradition and also of the relationship between them) is in practice the ultimate criterion of truth. The problem is that the authority of the Magisterium is unverifiable within the Catholic paradigm of interpretation. One can only repeat the “narrative of facts” that the Magisterium makes [gives] to justify itself.

    I argued, philosophically, that unless some such claim is true, there can be no way to reliably identify the FPOF as an object of the assent of faith as distinct from opinion. That argument only works, of course, on the premise that there is an FPOF and that, whatever it is, it can be reliably identified. So if you want to reject my actual reasoning, as opposed to what you think my reasoning was, you need either to show that we can reliably identify the FPOF without ecclesial infallibility, or that there is no FPOF to identify.

    Italian: Per avere una conoscenza infallibile di qualcosa, non basta asserirlo o almeno il solo fatto di asserirlo non dà nessun vantaggio epistemologico. Se l’infabillità è il grande vantaggio del paradigma interpretativo cattolico rispetto a quello protestante, si dovrebbe poter verificarlo infallibilmente all’interno del paradigma interpretativo cattolico, altrimenti la stessa pretesa di infallibilità decade da vantaggio epistemologico in semplice opinione teologica.

    English translation::To have an infallible knowledge of something, it is not enough to assert it, or at least the mere fact of asserting gives no epistemological advantage. If infallibility is the great advantage of the Catholic interpretive paradigm over that of the Protestant, you should be able to verify it infallibly within the Catholic interpretive paradigm, otherwise the claim to infallibility loses the epistemological advantage over simple theological opinion.

  82. Ah, grazie mille della traduzione!!!

    English translation: Ah, thank you very much for translation!!!

    [Editors: Prego!]

  83. Andrew (#79):

    1. You wrote:

    Something I’ve been meaning to ask you about is your use of the term “opinion” or sometimes “mere opnion.” I’ve pointed out to you before that the concept of opinion is used differently in Protestantism than it is used in Catholicism and I’m not sure that we are hearing what you mean when you use one of these terms.

    When we’re talking about matters assessable by reason alone, the concept of opinion needs to be distinguished from that of fact; when we’re talking theology, opinion needs to be distinguished from faith as well as fact. A fact is whatever is expressible by a statement it would be unreasonable to deny, because there’s a reliable method for verifying the statement, and that method has been used to verify it. By contrast, an opinion is a belief which, whether true or false, can be reasonably denied, either because there is no generally reliable method for assessing it or, if there is, it has not been used. Now in theology, opinion must also be distinguished from faith. An opinion in theology is a belief whose truth or falsity cannot be firmly established just by the relevant method, i.e. reasoning from premises that are true de fide, otherwise known as “articles of faith.” An article of faith is a truth that can be assented to as such only on divine authority, without otherwise being testable by reason alone. Hence the assent of faith is not that of opinion.

    Now, why do I say that the Protestant IP can only yield opinions rather than an object for the assent of faith? Because its preferred methodology of inquiry cannot, even in principle, resolve disputes about the meaning of statements in what are taken as the relevant “sources” transmitting divine revelation to us, or even disputes about what those sources should be taken to be. Hence it has no principled way of distinguishing articles of faith, as I defined those, from theological opinions.

    My clarification of terms affords us a nice segue into the next point.

    2. You wrote:

    The controversies over the meaning of Scripture between and within Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy do not justify an infallible human interpreter from our standpoint.

    You’re saying, in effect, that the persistence of across-the-board controversy is a reason to deny that there’s an infallible interpreter. But it isn’t. The persistence of controversy shows only that not everybody recognizes the need for such an interpreter and agrees on what it would be. Assuming that the persistence of controversy is undesirable, it would be desirable to have a way of resolving at least some of it. If there is an infallible interpreter, putting faith in it would do that. The methodology you prefer would not, and could not even in principle.

    3. You wrote:

    But it is here that everything about sola scriptura rests – is there a case to be made from the ECF’s that there was something akin to Tradition 2 at play in the Early Church? Our case is that positing an infallible human interpreter suggests a philosophy of revelation that cannot be seen in the Early Church theologians. Of course in time such a philosophy of revelation is adopted by the RCC, and the question for us then is what the justification was for the adoption of such a philosophy. To us it seems that Tradition 1 evolved into Tradition 2 for no good reason, or at least the reason is entirely shrouded in mystery. The analysis of the writings of the ECF’s on this matter delves into some of the details that you want to avoid by looking at Protestant and Catholic IP’s, but then at some point you have to look into whether or not you can fit the individual facts into the paradigm you adopt.

    I hope you read my reply to John just above, because what I claimed he’s doing with Irenaeus is pretty much what you’re doing here in a broader way. With people like Mathison and Oberman, you’re assuming that a truly normative way of understanding the concept of Tradition can be adequately identified just by a study of the early sources—in this case, the ECFs in general—so that as we go on to study the development of that concept later, we are in a position to see whose development adheres to the norm. That’s classic, conservative-Protestant IP procedure. But aside from the other difficulties I pointed out, the whole procedure is fundamentally question-begging. If the Catholic way of identifying the FPOF is correct, then there is no epistemic standpoint from which we could say that the Magisterium’s developed understanding of the concept and content of Tradition is erroneous. Rather, the Magisterium’s way of understanding the concept and content of Tradition is the criterion for identifying what’s normative in the early sources.

    4. You wrote:

    My take away from your critique of Mathison’s reply is that you are giving us your expectations of what the evaluation of revelation should be in order achieve an acceptable level of certainty concerning that interpretation. And my question to you is whether it is not possible that you are trying to make the case for more certainty than what God had ever intended. You did after all previously concede that God could work through a system where no such infallible human interpreter existed. So perhaps there is no case to be made for an infallible interpreter given the data of the history of the Early Church because such a thing was never in view by the authors of the sacred texts?

    To the question you posed to me in that paragraph, I reply with another question: by what means would you come to know what level of certainty God intended? If your methodology can yield only opinion, as I’ve argued, then that question is already answered for you. Religion reduces to a matter of opinion for you, and you’ve thus given up what I said is one of the two “basic assumptions” framing the debate between Catholicism and conservative Protestantism. You are in effect a liberal Protestant waiting to become what you are. I observe a lot of that in the Presbyterian world.

    When I “conceded” that God could reveal himself without an infallible interpreter, I was referring to the Old Testament. But that was a time when revelation was still in the process of unfolding, and had thus not yet achieved a definitive form that anybody could be infallible about. An infallible interpreter is only needed when revelation has achieved its definitive form, thus obliging us to adopt what I described as the first of the two “basic assumptions” framing the debate. You know, the one your methodology forces you to give up.

    Best,
    Mike

  84. Luis, (re: #81),

    Neal and I addressed the sola ecclesia objection in the section titled “B. Sola Ecclesia: The Church Is Autonomous, a Law unto Itself, and Unaccountable.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  85. Luis (#81):

    1. As Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch has already answered your sola ecclesia objection, I shall content myself just with quoting a statement I’ve already made above, in comment #64:

    The Magisterium did not originate what Scripture and Tradition convey, nor does it guarantee the truth of what they convey. Only God as Revealer does that. The Magisterium’s role is merely to enable us to receive and understand them as God intends, so that our reception of them does not devolve into a farrago of mere opinions.

    2. You wrote, translated:

    To have an infallible knowledge of something, it is not enough to assert it, or at least the mere fact of asserting gives no epistemological advantage. If infallibility is the great advantage of the Catholic interpretive paradigm over that of the Protestant, you should be able to verify it infallibly within the Catholic interpretive paradigm, otherwise the claim to infallibility loses the epistemological advantage over simple theological opinion.

    Your first sentence is true, but not germane. The Magisterium does not claim to have infallible “knowledge” of the deposit of faith, as if the authority of the Magisterium were that of an expert who has mastered a discipline. On the Catholic IP, the authority of the Magisterium is charismatic,, not academic. Thus when the Magisterium teaches with its full authority, what preserves its teaching from error is God, not expertise. Therefore, what we have when we assent to the Magisterium’s teaching is not an object of knowledge, but of faith.

    That is why it is not necessary, in the case of any given teaching set forth with the Magisterium’s full authority, to “verify it infallibly within the Catholic interpretive paradigm.” If, per impossibile, anybody were in a position to do that, the Magisterium itself would be unnecessary, and thus not part of the FPOF—a result that would in fact be incompatible with the Catholic IP. It is of course desirable for the Magisterium to show how its teachings cohere with the sources, authoritatively interpreted. The Magisterium has come to realize that, which is why, over the past century or so, its documents tend to contain more detailed explanations of why their teachings make sense. The more that is done, the easier it is for people to render the assent of faith. But it is impossible even in principle to supply explanations and arguments infallibly. Hence, within the Catholic IP, such explanations and arguments are often valuable heuristically, but never dispositive from the standpoint of faith.

    Best,
    Mike

  86. Thanks Mike for this explanation. This cleared up a lot for me. Particularly:

    “the authority of the Magisterium is charismatic, not academic. Thus when the Magisterium teaches with its full authority, what preserves its teaching from error is God, not expertise. Therefore, what we have when we assent to the Magisterium’s teaching is not an object of knowledge, but of faith.”

    I think since the Reformation, discourse generally about faith (in particular the Protestant West) have lost sight of the charismatic/prophetic nature of The Church (think Humanae Vitae), as much of the debate inside of Protestantism focuses on the academic, “proving” faith, verification and so on. How did Isaiah know what he was saying was “The word of the Lord”? I’m not suggesting a type of Catholic fideism, so I hope no one reading this gets off track, but I think what you’ve pointed out is that all of the epistemological skepticism about infallible knowledge of “x” misses the point. This same line of argument would turn on and destroy sola scriptura just as easily. How can one verify that Scripture is infallible? Since both require faith, we would need to determine which is more reasonable/plausible (sola scriptura as rule of faith or Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium).

  87. You’re welcome, Brent.

    You know, in a way I’m grateful to Luis. He poses the standard epistemological objections to the Catholic IP more succinctly than anybody else I’ve yet encountered on this site. That makes it easier to get down to the “real nitty-gritty.” A teacher couldn’t ask for more. :)

    Best,
    Mike

  88. Andrew,

    In dialogue with Mike, you wrote:

    And my question to you is whether it is not possible that you are trying to make the case for more certainty than what God had ever intended

    So if I am reading you (and perhaps JJS) correctly; what you are saying is basically something like this:

    “Sure, IF one insists that something about the Christian faith requires some sort of certainty about doctrinal truth which reaches beyond fallible human opinion; then yes, we see Mike L’s point about how one might prefer the Catholic IP over the Protestant IP on philosophical grounds (even if we still deny the historical basis for Catholic claims). We can even admit that sola does reduce to solo from an epistemic standpoint. But why should we think that anything about the Christian faith necessarily requires a level of certainty (of the kind Mike proposes) beyond the epistemic fallibility which solo scriptura has to offer?”

    In the interests of mutual understanding and clarification, I would like to offer some of my own thoughts as to why the sort of certainty (as opposed to opinion) which Mike assumes that all Catholics and conservative Protestants associate with the “deposit of faith” makes sense. Here is how Mike defined the assumption which you seem to call into question:

    . . . the divine revelation in and through Jesus Christ is public, definitive, once-for-all, consistently and authoritatively identifiable through time, and expressible as the doctrinal content of the “deposit of faith.”[bold emphasis mine]

    The word “identifiable” is the crucial term in his definition because identification places an accent on epistemology. To say that one has “identified” the deposit of faith entails a claim that one knows what it is and where it is to be found. With Mike’s definition in mind, I want to recall the macro-notion of what human problem(s) the very concept of a “Divine-revelation-yielding-a-deposit-of-faith” (however conceived) is supposed to resolve.

    I think I speak for both Catholics and conservative Protestants in saying that – broadly speaking – the “deposit of faith” is divinely “revealed” in order to provide humankind with answers to his deepest questions; including, but not limited to, a determination of his eternal destiny. Or to simplify the point I’m driving at, one could say that God has at least two crucial purposes (there are more) in mind in giving us a Divine revelation. Firstly, to inform mankind that he faces one of only two potential eternal destinies. Secondly, to inform mankind how he can arrive at one and avoid the other. In short, one crucial purpose in the giving of Divine revelation is knowledge of salvation (think of the Jews after Peter’s speech at Pentecost: “What must we do to be saved?”)

    Said another way, humanity has a serious problem – the most serious problem conceivable – we all have immortal souls which are exposed to the risk of damnation at the moment of our death; a death which is inexorably marching closer and closer towards each one of us with each passing day. Hence, the question of the Jewish crowd as well as the rich young ruler “what must I/we do to be saved?” is one of the most fundamental questions a person can ask. It seems to implicitly cry out for some sort of definitive, rather than conjectural, answer. When St. Peter responds to the crowd at Pentecost, his response seems imbued with an air of trenchant authority: “Do penance: and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins.”

    Its hard to imagine the crowd (full of compunction) being satisfied with some answer from St. Peter like: “Well, no one has a definitive answer to that question, but personally, based on my exegesis and analysis of the Old Testament in relation to my discussions with Jesus, I think the most likely answer to that question is “X” – but the other apostles may not see it that way, so you’ll need to evaluate their position as well and make a choice for whichever explanation seems most credible to you”.

    But that is the kind of answer which solo scriptura would seem to limit one to. Furthermore, if in fact sola reduces to solo, that’s the only kind of answer that Protestantism generally has to offer.

    Think of it in another light. Our immanent death and the uncertainty of our eternal destiny is an infinitely graver concern than the worst imaginable impending natural disaster. Imagine that NASA detects a “global-killer” asteroid on a collision course for earth, due for impact in 6 months. Humanity – all of it – has a BIG problem. How can we be saved from this impending disaster? A plan is devised to nuke the asteroid in space before it reaches our atmosphere. When scientists finally reveal the details of their plan of action to save temporal humanity to world leaders (the deposit of faith), will those leaders be interested in the level of certainty (mathematical or otherwise) which attaches to said proposal? I think so! Now the question of eternal damnation or salvation is of an infinitely greater order of concern than the scenario I just described. Hence, it seems to follow that something more than human opinion is demanded by the inquirer if he/she is to have any reason to take some answer to this question seriously. Thus, some means by which to “identify” the deposit of faith with a certainty better than multiple, mutually exclusive, human opinions about how to be saved, seems to be a practical requirement of any meaningful notion of “Divine revelation”. Without that, what practical good is it?

    Finally, here is a hypothetical interchange which I hope gives voice to the problem (as I and many Catholics see it) that stands behind a denial of Mike’s premise.

    Secular Seeker: “Why am I here, what is my purpose in life, what happens when I die? I’m so confused. There are thousands of religions or philosophies all giving different answers to such question. I guess it’s just impossible to really know for sure which one (if any) is correct. I give up, I just have to live, get along, and do the best I can. At least I can enjoy whatever temporal pleasure can be eked out of modern convenience and affluence until I die; I’ve got one life to live, I might as well enjoy it as best I can.” – I take this as indicative of the thinking of a vast swath of modernity.

    Sola/Solo Christian: “Dear, poor, soul: you’ve become a victim of modernity and cultural relativism. All is not lost, there is truth; there is hope! God has revealed Himself to men and given answers to mankind’s most pressing questions! He has a plan for your life. All other religions and philosophies in the world are man-made. They are attempts (no doubt often laudable) by men to evaluate the world around them from the ground-up, in order to arrive at some explanation to the questions that vex you. Christianity is fundamentally different; it is a religion revealed by God from heaven. God has broken into human history to answer that which we could not answer for ourselves. He has spoken!”

    Secular Seeker: “I’ve never heard the claims of Christianity framed that way. That’s exciting. If God really has broken into human history to communicate with us; that would provide good reason to think that Christian answers to my questions are different from all the other answers by people or groups who never claim to represent a God-who-has-spoken-concretely-in-history. I am very interested in learning more about the grounds for believing that such a historical in-breaking has occurred. However, before I take the time to explore the evidence for that claim, for now (assuming that what you say is true) can you tell me what kind of answers Christianity says its God has provided to my questions?”

    Sola/Solo Christian: “Well, believe it or not, there is a lot of dispute about that among Christians. You see there are lots of different Christian groups who don’t worship together or believe the same way. However, there are some common texts that almost everyone agrees come from God. Still, there is a lot of disagreement about how to interpret the meaning of those texts.”

    Secular Seeker: “Oh, okay – well can you at least tell me what the basic essential answers that God is supposed to have communicated are? I mean with reference to the kind of fundamental questions I have been asking? Surely there is at least agreement about that?”

    Sola/Solo Christian: “Well, actually there’s a lot of disagreement about those as well. In fact, some Christian groups think that other (so called) Christian groups interpret the “essentials” of God’s message from the texts in such an aberrant way, that they are leading human souls to eternal damnation.”

    Secular Seeker: “Well is there any way to tell which Christians get the essentials right and which don’t?”

    Sola/Solo Christian: “Well, the best we can do is read and study the texts which we believe came from God in order to try and figure out what is most likely the correct understanding of the essentials; though certainly no one can really claim that his or her understanding is definitive or infallible or anything like that. The good news is that there are a lot of really smart scholars who study the texts in the original language as well as the history of the texts. These scholars are able to produce very scholarly opinions about what essentials God wanted us to know”

    Secular Seeker: “Do all the duly trained scholars come to the same conclusions about the essentials God wants people to know from these purported revelatory texts?”

    Sola/Solo Christian: “Well, honestly, not really”.

    Secular Seeker: “So your saying that among all the world’s religions and philosophies, Christianity is unique because it gives us God-revealed (rather than man-made) answers to mankind’s most pressing questions; yet, when it comes to telling someone exactly what the essentials of those God-revealed answers actually are, Christians (even scholarly ones) – are really limited to best-guess man-made opinions?”

    Sola/Solo Christian: “I can see why it looks that way to you”

    Secular Seeker: “Looks that way? – I think I’ll save myself a lot of time and not bother looking into the claims that God has “revealed” anything in human history; since even if He provided some texts, on the practical level – according to what you have just explained – our ability to know what essential answers He means to offer mankind about fundamental human questions can’t be known on anything better than the same sort of intelligent human opinions that drive arguments for atheism or any number of other cultural proposals about existence, meaning, destiny, etc. Thanks for getting my hopes up for nothing.”

    By the way, once upon a time that seeker was myself. I would be interested in knowing whether or not what I have just said has any bearing in your mind upon the reasonableness of Mike’s premise.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  89. Italian: Grazie Liccione della spiegazione. In effetti la parola “conoscenza” non era quella adatta. Non avevo in mente un’infallibilità “accademica”. Comunque il mio errore terminologico è stato proficuo :)

    English translation: Thanks Liccione for the explanation. In fact the word “knowledge” was not suitable. I did not have in mind ‘infallibility’ in the academic sense. However, my terminological error turns out to have been useful. :-)

    Italian: Credo che uno dei problemi quando si trattano questi argomenti è che le risposte tendono a risolvere le obiezioni poste contro un dato paradigma all’interno di quello stesso paradigma, cioè, sono risposte molto belle per chi crede già in quel paradigma, ma non sono sempre convincenti per coloro che lo esaminano dall’esterno.

    In termini pratici, come faccio a sapere che il Magistero della Chiesa è infallibile quando dice di essere infallibile? Finora la risposta tipo è stata: “Il Magistero è infallibile perché [ciò che dice il Magistero per spiegare la propria infallibilità]. Se non c’è verso di saperlo al di fuori della fede (può essere una risposta accettabile), allora si riconosca che il paradigma cattolico non offre nessun vantaggio epistemologico. Tutto qua. Anche così, potrebbe essere vero.

    English translation: I think one of the problems when dealing with these arguments is that the answers tend to resolve the objections raised against a particular paradigm within the same paradigm, i.e., they are very beautiful answers for those who already believe in that paradigm, but not always convincing to those who examine it from the outside.

    In practical terms, how do I know that the Magisterium of the Church is infallible when it claims to be infallible? So far, the standard reply was: “The Magisterium is infallible because [what the Magisterium says to explain his own infallibility]. If there’s no way of knowing outside the faith (may be an acceptable answer), then it is recognized [i.e. clear] that the Catholic paradigm does not offer any epistemological advantage. That’s it. Even so, it might be true.

    Italian: Brent, ti dovrei dare parecchie risposte. Il problema è che sono troppo impegnative e non ho il tempo che vorrei per rispondere.

    English translation: Brent, I should give you several answers. The problem is that they are too demanding and I would not have the time to respond.

  90. Mike (#80):

    Thanks for your reply. I’m going to leave the second point alone, for fear of sidetracking the discussion. On the first and third points I have brief comments.

    1. It is up to any curious readers to compare your interpretation of St. Irenaeus with the interpretation that Behr, Minns and Congar advance. I’m not going to reopen debate on that topic, for there is more historical material to work through than we can do justice to here. But if, after studying the two options and reviewing AH 4.26, the reader decides that your understanding of the charisma veritatis certum is correct, then I agree that he will have good reason to favor your account of the FPOF. On the other hand, if the reader agrees with me that your interpretation is anachronistic, and that Irenaeus instead instead teaches what Behr, Minns and Congar say he does–which is, in effect, the Tradition 1 of Obermann that Andrew McCallum has rightly noted–then I believe the reader would be “biting the bullet,” as the expression is, were he to go on holding to your account of the FPOF.

    Additionally, since you have brought it up, yes, I do believe it is scandalous for the Roman Catholic Magisterium to teach what it does in Munificentissimus Deus, paragraphs 44 and 45. To tell someone that he has fallen away completely from the divine and catholic faith because he follows St. Epiphanius on the Assumption seems rather unreasonable to me. It should be clear, however, that I do not say this on a whim, but rather, that I speak from a considered position on the nature of apostolic tradition. It is on the merits of that position relative to yours that I would prefer your readers to focus.

    2. praetereundum

    3. You write,

    The relevant difference lies not in the methodology by which one comes to choose between them, but in what one thereby assents to as the FPOF. The Catholic IP contains a principled way of distinguishing the doctrinal content of divine revelation from human opinions about how to interpret the sources alleged to transmit it, i.e. Scripture and Tradition. The Protestant does not.

    What is the principled way of distinguishing the true IP from the various alternatives? In the absence of a principled way of making the distinction, your identification of the FPOF seems just as ad hoc as Owen’s and Halyburton’s. For, although they identify a different FPOF, their explanation of the Christian’s receiving the scriptures with faith divine and supernatural is other respects closely parallel to your explanation for assenting to the FPOF as you understand it.

    Now, it may be that Owen and Halyburton cannot make good on their claims about which doctrines are formally implied by scripture. Actually, I would be inclined to agree there, inasmuch as on some matters I side with the Anglicans over against the Puritans and the Scots Presbyterians. Nonetheless, whether the latter are correct or not about what scripture teaches is a separate issue from whether they can coherently make the assent to scripture itself that they profess to make. What renders their assent to scripture incoherent, as opposed to being merely too ad hoc for your tastes?

    I ask because I have yet to see why (a) must be a fatal problem for Protestants. With respect to reasonableness, Sproul’s position on (a) doesn’t look categorically different from yours; if you can get by with a fallible identification of the FPOF, why can’t he? The heart of your objection seems to lie in (b) and (b’), and I think you may be weakening your case by issuing too strong a charge over (a).

    Best,
    John

  91. Mike (#85):

    You write,

    That is why it is not necessary, in the case of any given teaching set forth with the Magisterium’s full authority, to “verify it infallibly within the Catholic interpretive paradigm.” If, per impossibile, anybody were in a position to do that, the Magisterium itself would be unnecessary, and thus not part of the FPOF—a result that would in fact be incompatible with the Catholic IP.

    I think you’re confounding epistemic authority with authority of jurisdiction. We’ve discussed the law analogy before, but again, because our constitutional tradition is public, any reasonably informed citizen can in principle see for himself when the Supreme Court is right and when it is wrong. The Court has no authority as an epistemic arbiter; its authority is one of jurisdiction, viz. having the power to deliver enforceable rulings in legal controversies. The authority of bishops in doctrinal controversies is, as Protestants conceive it, similar to the authority of the Court. The bishops render decisions that are enforceable within their communion, and thus have real authority, but their authority does not include privileged insight into the tradition.

  92. Michael,

    the divine revelation in and through Jesus Christ is public, definitive, once-for-all, consistently and authoritatively identifiable through time, and expressible as the doctrinal content of the “deposit of faith.”

    Can we ever have more than opinions about the truth of this assumption? If the answer is, yes we can if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then does the question become, can we ever have more than opinions about whether the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true?

    Thanks,
    Mark

  93. Luis (#89):

    You wrote, translated:

    In practical terms, how do I know that the Magisterium of the Church is infallible when it claims to be infallible? So far, the standard reply was: “The Magisterium is infallible because [what the Magisterium says to explain his own infallibility]. If there’s no way of knowing outside the faith (may be an acceptable answer), then it is recognized [i.e. clear] that the Catholic paradigm does not offer any epistemological advantage. That’s it. Even so, it might be true.

    I think that, once again, you have incorrectly described what you call “the standard reply.” The reason I offered for accepting the Magisterium’s claim for itself is not that the Magisterium has explained why that claim is true, which would indeed be circular; the reason I offered was, in effect, that unless some such claim is true, there is no principled way to make the distinction between articles of faith and theological opinions.

    Now I was quite explicit that such a reason counts as a reason only for somebody who assumes that there is such a distinction and that it can be successfully made. And that assumption can only be made by somebody who’s already “in the faith business,” so to speak. But if I understand you correctly, you are calling for a probative argument that can be made without any assumptions of the sort I described toward the beginning of my post, which assumptions require being in the faith business. I reply that there could be no such argument, because if there were, then faith would be unnecessary for apprehending divine revelation. In that case, revelation would be knowable by reason, not faith, and thus not qualify as revelation at all; for divine revelation is, by definition, that which cannot be known by reason alone, but can only be apprehended by faith. So, what you’re seeking is simply not appropriate to the subject matter.

    Best,
    Mike

  94. The authority of bishops in doctrinal controversies is, as Protestants conceive it, similar to the authority of the Court.

    Consequently, this is why Protestants, having realized over time that their notion of the visible Church amounts to nothing more than a human institution that looks and acts like other institutions conceived and implemented by man, have made the logical jump to being conscious proponents of “solo scriptura.” Churches derive their authority from the consent of the governed and must, from time to time, be overthrown and reshaped by people who know better. Many of my Protestant friends, when talking to me about why they are Protestant and not Catholic, sound like they’re actually just talking about classical liberalism and the American Revolution.

  95. Mr. Pell,

    Yes, I’ve many times made an analogy to the American Revolution. If you guys were content to argue against my position as the Brits did at first against the colonies, viz. by saying “you’re rebels, you only have a pretend government,” then I’d count that as a step forward. For, that would amount to the denial that our bishops have an authority of jurisdiction. But the criticism being advanced in this thread is much stronger. It is that not only do Protestants bishops lack an authority of jurisdiction, but that they create an unstable epistemic environment, by not claiming for themselves the interpretative authority that the Roman Magisterium claims for itself. I disagree, for reasons already given. And as it is, I don’t believe the US government is “nothing more than a human institution.” That seems reductionist to me, but then again, that’s a topic for another day.

  96. Ok, Liccione thanks for your time and your effort in answering.
    And thanks to the translator :)
    God bless you,
    Luis

  97. John (#90 and #91):

    1. You wrote:

    But if, after studying the two options and reviewing AH 4.26, the reader decides that your understanding of the charisma veritatis certum is correct, then I agree that he will have good reason to favor your account of the FPOF. On the other hand, if the reader agrees with me that your interpretation is anachronistic, and that Irenaeus instead instead teaches what Behr, Minns and Congar say he does–which is, in effect, the Tradition 1 of Obermann that Andrew McCallum has rightly noted–then I believe the reader would be “biting the bullet,” as the expression is, were he to go on holding to your account of the FPOF.

    That, I’m afraid, just begs the question. It assumes that the way to identify the charisma veritatis certum is to study an early source, Irenaeus, settle on a persuasive interpretation of how he did it, and then either accept that how he did it is objectively normative for Christians, or just “bite the bullet” in face of the evidence. As a Catholic, I do not share that assumption. On the Catholic IP, it would make no sense to take a non-authoritative interpretation of an early source—or of an ensemble of such sources, for that matter—and make that normative for the Church’s understanding of Tradition’s form or content. Rather, it’s ultimately up to the Magisterium to determine how the theories we find in such sources are normative if at all. Even St. Vincent of Lerins saw this. Thus, if the Behr-Minns interpretation of Irenaeus turns out to be the most defensible, then a Catholic just has to say, tentatively, that Irenaeus didn’t adequately think through how to identify the FPOF. I don’t know of anybody who says that he was right about every other matter he addressed; there’s no cogent reason to believe he had to be right about this one, if indeed he meant what Behr and Minns say—which I doubt in any case, for the reason I gave.

    2. You write:

    What is the principled way of distinguishing the true IP from the various alternatives? In the absence of a principled way of making the distinction, your identification of the FPOF seems just as ad hoc as Owen’s and Halyburton’s. For, although they identify a different FPOF, their explanation of the Christian’s receiving the scriptures with faith divine and supernatural is other respects closely parallel to your explanation for assenting to the FPOF as you understand it.

    Not having read Owen and Halyburton, I can’t comment on how closely their way of identifying the FPOF “parallels” mine. But I will say this: the issue is not whether Scripture is in fact a component of the FPOF, or even whether it can be identified as such with the divine gift of faith. Nobody here denies either of those two claims. The issue is twofold: how can it be so identified, and how can it be interpreted in a way that allows us to make and apply the distinction we agree needs to be made? My argument has been that, absent ecclesial infallibility, it cannot be so identified or interpreted in a way that preserves said distinction. If the authors you mention, or any others, have a rebuttal to that argument, please present it in summary form so that I can reply to it.

    In the meantime, I can answer the question you started with. The “principle” for locating the correct IP is to find one that allows us to make and apply a consistent distinction between articles of faith, which are inerrant, and theological opinions, which are not. We agree that the inspiration and inerrancy of the biblical canon is an article of faith; we disagree about how to identify the canon as such and how to identify, more generally, what counts as an article of faith. My argument is that, absent ecclesial infallibility, there is no principled way to do either.

    Under this same heading, you further write:

    Now, it may be that Owen and Halyburton cannot make good on their claims about which doctrines are formally implied by scripture. Actually, I would be inclined to agree there, inasmuch as on some matters I side with the Anglicans over against the Puritans and the Scots Presbyterians. Nonetheless, whether the latter are correct or not about what scripture teaches is a separate issue from whether they can coherently make the assent to scripture itself that they profess to make. What renders their assent to scripture incoherent, as opposed to being merely too ad hoc for your tastes? (Emphasis added)

    I do not claim that anybody’s “assent to Scripture” is “incoherent,” if by ‘assent to Scripture’ you mean the belief that it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. What I argue is that, absent ecclesial infallibility, such an assent cannot amount to more than a theological opinion, so that those who believe otherwise are in no position to depict their assent as an article of faith, as distinct from a theological opinion. By contrast, it was and is by the authority of what I recognize as “the Church” that the canon is to be identified as such, and as inspired and inerrant. That’s a key difference between what you take the FPOF to be as a Protestant, and what I take it to be as a Catholic.

    3. You write:

    With respect to reasonableness, Sproul’s position on (a) doesn’t look categorically different from yours; if you can get by with a fallible identification of the FPOF, why can’t he? The heart of your objection seems to lie in (b) and (b’), and I think you may be weakening your case by issuing too strong a charge over (a).

    I don’t think you’re observing a necessary distinction. It’s one thing to use fallible arguments to support one’s identification of something-or-other as the FPOF; we all do that, including yours truly, if we’re thinking at all about how the assent of faith is to be shown reasonable, not just fideistic. That is not in dispute. But it’s another thing altogether what one actually comes to identify as the FPOF. I argue that, if one’s putative FPOF does not include the Church as infallible interpreter of the two basic components, Scripture and Tradition, then one just doesn’t have a principled way to distinguish between the doctrinal content of divine revelation itself, which is allegedly transmitted by those sources, and human opinions about how they are to be interpreted for the purpose. Accordingly, the FPOF must be thought to include such an interpreter if it is to qualify as an FPOF at all.

    4. You write:

    Additionally, since you have brought it up, yes, I do believe it is scandalous for the Roman Catholic Magisterium to teach what it does in Munificentissimus Deus, paragraphs 44 and 45. To tell someone that he has fallen away completely from the divine and catholic faith because he follows St. Epiphanius on the Assumption seems rather unreasonable to me. It should be clear, however, that I do not say this on a whim, but rather, that I speak from a considered position on the nature of apostolic tradition. It is on the merits of that position relative to yours that I would prefer your readers to focus.

    I share your preference for discussing, in more general terms, “the nature of apostolic tradition.” But I think it would aid such a discussion if I clear up a few misconceptions that I find in that paragraph.

    Pius XII’s phrase “let him knowthat he fallen away completely from the divine and catholic faith” was a substitute for ‘let him be anathema’ (cf. Gal 1:9), the formula had accompanied every single dogmatic definition produced by councils and popes prior to then. I don’t think it can fairly be said that the former, rightly understood, is more “scandalous” than the latter. How is it rightly understood?

    If somebody were to assert, categorically: “The Virgin Mary was not assumed bodily into heaven; her body rotted in the ground, and anybody who says otherwise is delusional,” they would have indeed fallen away completely from the divine and catholic faith, because they are contraposing to the authority of the Magisterium and the Catholic sensus fidelium a claim that they cannot know to be true, and are thereby rejecting the authority of the Church contumaciously. That’s what Pius XII’s formula means. But that’s not what St. Epiphanius did, anymore than that’s what St. Thomas Aquinas did when he doubted the Immaculate Conception. Epiphanius simply pointed out that the Assumption is not stated in Scripture or deducible therefrom, which is true. He may have thought that that was reason enough to reject it, though I can’t infer that from his writings; but I’m sure you’re aware that the “Dormition” of Mary, which is essentially the same doctrine as the Assumption, was being widely celebrated in the East not long after Epiphanius wrote. The doctrine of the Assumption is accordingly no mere invention of the 20th-century Magisterium. It’s at least 1,500 years old, and must have had some basis in Tradition, else the Eastern or the Western church would have discouraged it as a mere pious fancy. So unless one assumes a conception of apostolic tradition that is incompatible with Catholicism’s, there’s nothing scandalous about what Pius XII said. That’s why it’s more useful to discuss the nature of apostolic tradition generally, which is part of what we’re doing.

    5. You wrote:

    I think you’re confounding epistemic authority with authority of jurisdiction. We’ve discussed the law analogy before, but again, because our constitutional tradition is public, any reasonably informed citizen can in principle see for himself when the Supreme Court is right and when it is wrong. The Court has no authority as an epistemic arbiter; its authority is one of jurisdiction, viz. having the power to deliver enforceable rulings in legal controversies. The authority of bishops in doctrinal controversies is, as Protestants conceive it, similar to the authority of the Court. The bishops render decisions that are enforceable within their communion, and thus have real authority, but their authority does not include privileged insight into the tradition.

    As I thought I had made clear already, I do not hold that the Magisterium has “privileged insight” into the deposit of faith. But it does not follow that, in that case, its authority is merely an “authority of jurisdiction,” which is how confessional Protestants conceive of the interpretive authority of “the Church,” and which is only a disciplinary authority rather than a truly doctrinal authority. The Magisterium’s specifically epistemic authority consists not in its being granted greater “insight” than that of Christians who reject it, but in its being divinely preserved from error when teaching with its full authority, so that the faithful are thereby equipped to recognize the difference between articles of faith and theological opinions.

    Best,
    Mike

  98. Mark S (#92):

    You asked:

    Can we ever have more than opinions about whether the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true?

    As I implied above in my reply to John, a distinction needs to be made here. When we are adducing arguments for accepting the Magisterium’s claims for itself, what we’re doing is trying to show how assent to those claims is reasonable. Such arguments, like all arguments in theology, can only be made fallibly, even when they are good arguments. But it does not follow that one’s actual assent to said claims can only be an opinion. For if said claims are true independently of what makes them seem reasonable, then assent to those claims is assent to divine revelation, not human opinion, because the truth of the claim itself is divinely guaranteed, apart from whatever grounds we might see for accepting it.

    Now John’s objection is that the same could be said of assent to Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, without relying on the Catholic Magisterium, so that there is no relevant epistemic difference between the Catholic version of the FPOF and the conservative-Protestant version. That’s a more sophisticated version of the tu quoque argument than we usually hear, partly because it is true, even on the Catholic version of the FPOF, that assent to whatever counts as the biblical canon is assent to what is, objectively, an article of faith. But the relevant epistemic difference between the two is that the Catholic IP, unlike the Protestant, includes in its FPOF a factor explaining how to identify the biblical canon, why the canonical list is an article of faith, and why its inspiration and inerrancy is also an article of faith, as distinct from a theological opinion.

    Best,
    Mike

  99. Mike,
    I grant that the Magisterium’s claims for itself may be true independent of any reasons why it may seem reasonable to believe them. But, even if they are true, I don’t see how one can know that assent to them is assent to divine revelation and not an opinion. Can you help here?
    I follow your arguments about the reasons to prefer the Catholic IP for those who are, as you said, in the faith business. Maybe I’m just pushing the argument back into the question of whether we can ever have more than opinions about the truth of the faith business. I’m feeling a little confused, but your article on comments on this site have been a big help to me, so I appreciate your time and patience in addressing my questions.

    Mark

  100. Mark:

    I guess I’m a bit “confused” here too, because I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking. Are you asking whether we need to know that the object of our religious assent is divine revelation, in order to have faith in it as distinct from merely an opinion about what it is?

    Best,
    Mike

  101. Mike (re: 83),

    You’re saying, in effect, that the persistence of across-the-board controversy is a reason to deny that there’s an infallible interpreter.

    No, this is not what I wanted to convey. I’m saying that because there are controversies and differences of perspective between interpreters of Scriptures. this no more calls for an infallible interpreter than do controversies and differences of perspective on any other ancient text where there may be serious disputes. But just as much I’m getting at whether or not the data really fits your paradigm. Paradigms are not meant to be adopted and then never questioned, they are meant to be tested to see if they do indeed explain the data in the set.

    With people like Mathison and Oberman, you’re assuming that a truly normative way of understanding the concept of Tradition can be adequately identified just by a study of the early sources—in this case, the ECFs in general—so that as we go on to study the development of that concept later, we are in a position to see whose development adheres to the norm.

    You are speaking as if there is absolutely no way to judge what the ECF’s thought about revelation and whether there is any evidence that would enable us to say whether they believed that there was any body of received tradition which could be accorded the same level of certainty and normatively as Scripture. The idea behind a paradigm is not to assume a paradigm in isolation from the data, but rather to formulate a paradigm that explains the data at hand. So on Mathison and Oberman’s work they go through the writings of the various ECF’s and show that there was no body of oral or written tradition on par with Scripture and that the heretics like the Gnostics were wrong not because they rejected the authority of the Church but because they twisted the meaning of Scripture. When we get to the fourth and fifth centuries there were a few theologians who said some things that sounded like they were suggesting a two-source theory of revelation. One of these was Basil and the canon lawyers of the 12th century seized on Basil as their first example of evidence for a body of revelation on par with Scripture. But you are speaking as if whatever Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc wrote was too enigmatic and mysterious to understand and we have to posit this Catholic IP at the outset and then we can fit all of the data into this paradigm which has been formulated from whatever philosophical principles you judge to be relevant. The Protestant IP on the other hand looks at the data first and then proposes an IP which is then further tested by later data. This kind of process is like the analysis of any other ancient text and we don’t find skeptics telling us that such a process will only yield “opinions” about what the author of the text in question believed. And to anticipate an objection you often give, no we are not suggesting that the study of theology is merely an academic exercise. It is rather an exercise guided by His Spirit through the ministerial work of the Church as that Church has been defined in Scriptures. But you can read the ECF’s for yourself, they are really not so mysterious. The 12th century Scholastics who got their hooks into Basil were correct that there was nobody before this time that could be used to defend the two-source theory that became such a driving force in developing later RCC dogma. So the question that is the focus of sola Scriptura is over which Fathers were correct in their assessment of revelation. The Catholic solution of eliminating the discussion at the outset by positing an IP that has only one possible outcome does not seem to be a reasoiable way to proceeed.

    I reply with another question: by what means would you come to know what level of certainty God intended?

    We know that we can have certainty about what God has spoken through His Word, this is just a definitional matter – God cannot lie. The question then becomes 1) whether it is necessary to have another source of revelation that also has this same level of certainty, and 2) did the Church after the time of the Apostles give any evidence that they believed such a thing. The answer to both questions is no from we can see and what we are asking our Catholic friends is to provide some sort of rationale for positions such an added source of infallible revelation. This is why I asked the question very early on toe Bryan and Neal about whether the pronouncements of Nicea would have been rejected then or in later generations if there was no understanding that such pronouncements were stated infallibly. From the answers I get back it seems that nobody can tell me why Nicea needed to be infallible in order to be authoritative. So if there is no good philosophical or theological reason for positing such a theory of revelation in our IP and if there is no evidence that the early centuries of Christianity accepted such a theory then it would seem more reasonable to revert to an IP which does not rely on an infallible interpreter. Such an IP does not negate the regula fidei of the Early Church or the ministerial work of the Church in interpreting Scripture and tradition.

    If your methodology can yield only opinion….

    It seems to me that your critique here falls most heavily on the theologians of the Early Church who also did not see that the tradition they assimilated and communicated was infallible. But maybe you think this assessment of these ECF’s are not accurate and I would say great, then show me where Mathison, Oberman are wrong. Mathison quotes the EO scholar Georges Florovsky who summarizes the philosophy of revelation in the Early Church by saying that exegesis was, “the main, and probably the only, theological method, and the authority of Scriptures was sovereign and supreme.” Well was Florovsky wrong? If so, can we make this judgment by looking at what the ECF’s actually said or do we ignore their words in favor of an IP that makes their words moot? Anyway, let’s not talk about IP that is divorced from such analysis. Or at least tell me why you think that the writings of the ECF’s are so esoteric that our determination of them can only yield “opinion” if we don’t have an infallible interpreter to tell us what the ECF’s were actually saying.

  102. Ray (re: 88),

    I think that the main concern I have with your explanation is that it separates certainty from truth. You can be absolutely certain about something that is absolutely false. But what good is this certainty to the unbeliever if the object of the faith you present to him is not the object of faith laid out in Scriptures because the Catholic IP Mike presents does not allow for testing the paradigm by the words of Scripture or the the acts of the saints? It is this question that I am essentially asking Mike L.

    I agree with you about the the matter of how we should be saved is one of utmost importance and this is why the Reformation stressed the importance of justification in the 16th century disputes with the RCC scholars. But in the pre-Reformation and early Reformation years it was not so much that the Reformers disagreed with the RCC disputants, but rather they were concerned since the RCC had no substantive guidance for the laity on how they were to be justified. There was a mass of theories and opinions on justification, both on the grace/free will front as well as the faith/works front. Nobody since Carthage had dogmatically weighed in the matter and the questions that were being asked by the late Medieval theologians could not begin to be addressed by Carthage. The various Reformed confessions answer these important questions with create precision and coherence that even after Trent the RCC still could not answer with the same degree of exactitude that the Reformers could. And even to this day we get very different answers to the question from Catholics as to how we are saved. One of the reasons we have so many ex-Catholics coming to Evangelical churches is that they can find no answer to these questions in the RCC, or the answers they get depend on which priest they ask.

    On your dialogue I would point out that in 99.9+% of these kinds of discussions the unbeliever does not delve into the problems of epistemological certainty and such things never enter the mind. Now I would agree that this could happen and my response would be that just with folks who are wedded to other humanistic philosophies they are not going to accept the gospel until they get over it. It’s not that God’s Word does not speak clearly enough since countless thousands of people from all walks of life are drawn through the words of Protestant evangelist every day.

  103. Mike (#97):

    I’m very grateful for your reply. I think we’ve carried the discussion about as far as it needs to go. After this comment, I will bow out, borrowing a line from St. Augustine: Harum autem duarum sententiarum quae sit probabilior, eligat lector.

    1. One of my proximate criteria for theological truth is, “What would St. Irenaeus say?” If we apply that criterion to the Magisterium as presented by Vatican II, I don’t believe the results are favorable to the council or to your IP. Now, I recognize that you disagree with me, not only about the outcome of the test, but also about the possible implications of any such test. For, you believe Roman Catholic claims about the Magisterium satisfy the criterion; and even if they didn’t, you believe that to make Irenaeus’ approach to tradition normative for the Church would be begging the question. That’s fine. I think it’s common sense that to disagree with Irenaeus on the nature of tradition would be pretty devastating for anyone who professes to be catholic. But if anyone reading this thinks otherwise, or else, thinks that Irenaeus’ approach to tradition is compatible with your IP, so be it.

    2. Owen and Halyburton present the scriptures as what you call the FPOF. Having identified the scriptures, albeit fallibly as human beings, they profess to make an assent of divine faith to them. Of course, it may be that they cannot get much doctrinal traction out of the bible… My comments about these two divines haven’t touched on (b) and (b’); rather, the comments have focused on (a), the upshot being that if even you can only fallibly identify your FPOF, it is a little strange for you to allege that Sproul’s fallible canon is a problem, since the scriptures he receives are his FPOF. Incidentally, although I can’t speak for Owen and Halyburton, I don’t myself believe the canon of scripture is an article of faith; in fact, viewing the biblical canon as dogma seems a latecomer in church history. In my IP, the scriptures are part of the public tradition, and as such, they are more a datum than a doctrine (cf. how Irenaeus defends there being four gospels, by making what Behr calls an “after the fact” argument). Now, I recognize you believe it is question begging for me to hold that normative apostolic tradition is adequately identifiable in the sources. Naturally, I think my position is reasonable enough, and I would recommend that anyone interested in it consult Herman Ridderbos’ Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures. However, if anyone reading this comment disagrees with me, that’s fine. After all, I’m not sure I could persuade him to change his mind.

    3. This was mostly covered in 2. But to go further, I think your criticism of Sproul’s fallible canon requires that you posit a principled way to show that your own identification of the FPOF itself is more than a theological opinion. If you were to drop the criticism of Sproul, then the need would become less pressing. Anyhow, this is a place where I think it’s important to consider what Dr. Witt has said. In my paraphrase, the obligation to believe the catholic faith comes from this, that it is true, and that, the tradition being public, we are in a position to see that it is true. That is, the obligation comes from the intelligibility and accessibility of the object of belief. So, much as I think you are confusing epistemic authority with an authority of jurisdiction, I also think you are confusing proximate criteria for right belief with the ultimate criterion. In my IP, no organ of the church possesses de jure infallibility, such that when it issues a definition (under the appropriate circumstances), the Christian can know ipso facto that it what defines is true. Now, reception by the faithful across time and across the world seems to me a powerful token of truth. For that reason, I believe the Nicene Creed (apart from the filioque) is de facto infallible. But, when it comes to what we should say about people who reject the true decision of an ecumenical council, and who break communion over the issue, I believe the trouble with them lies in their being mistaken about the tradition and their having broken communion on false grounds. In that respect, my outlook towards people like the Oriental Orthodox seems to differ from yours. For, whereas you try to look at the reasonableness of their IP, I try to look at how far their teaching corresponds to the public tradition from the apostles. And whereas I see common ground enough for robust discussion of the doctrinal issues behind the schism, you seem to deny that there is much common ground, and instead frame the debate in terms of questions about authority.

    4. The objection was not to the phrasing, which in MD is standard fare, but to the definition itself. I have never denied the Assumption; what I deny is that it is or can be dogma. For, with regard to the Blessed Virgin’s end, I believe it is reasonable to suspend judgment, as St. Epiphanius appears to have done, because there is no historical tradition from the apostles that speaks to what happened. But, since talking about the development of doctrine is apparently verboten, that’s the most I can say.

    5. In so far as the Magisterium has defined dogmas which are not traceable to the apostles in the public tradition, it must possess some form of privileged insight into the depositum. That’s the thrust of the dilemma I have posed in the past. As regards the Bodily Assumption of Mary, what the public tradition supplies is points of departure for speculation. Speculation is not necessarily unprofitable, and the Church can more or less warmly recommend its fruits, provided the fruits don’t contradict what the apostles taught. As I have argued before, however, speculation is insufficient for the Assumption to be dogma, because whereas possible types of the Assumption are found in public tradition, the antitype is not. This is where I would ordinarily advert to St. Irenaeus’ argument against the gnostics, for it was the latter who claimed that the scriptures contained types of things necessary to be believed but not otherwise traceable to the apostles in public tradition. But, since to say more would take us into the development of doctrine, I must leave the issue alone.

    Well, that’s it for me here. Thanks for the patient and charitable spirit you have kept up in our conversations, and please feel free to have the last word.

    Blessings in Christ,

    John

  104. Mike,
    Are you asking whether we need to know that the object of our religious assent is divine revelation, in order to have faith in it as distinct from merely an opinion about what it is?
    Yes, that is what I’m asking. I thought that your criticism of the Protestant IP is that there is no principled way from within this IP to distinguish divine revelation from opinion. Thus, the Protestant cannot know that the object of his assent is divine revelation and not opinion. Yet, when talking about arguments for the Magisterium, you seem to say that assent to fallible arguments about the magisterium are not opinions if the magisterium is true. But, given your criticism of the Protestant IP, how can one have more than an opinion about the magisterium when the arguments for it are fallible, as you say?
    Thanks for your patience.
    Mark

  105. To: Dr. Liccione @ #30

    Thanks for the response, Dr. L. And I apologize for the delay. My travel schedule sometimes requires it.

    If, as you state, that Scripture requires the Magisterium and Tradition working conjunctively, then, by definition none of these is “norma normans”. Now you reject that, but it seems to me that you are just engaging in semantics, which is certainly your right. “Norma normans” means something and it seems that it means a sole norm about which nothing else can norm.

    Now you may well mean – and I’m sure you really do – that what you refer to as the “Word of God” as constituted by Magisterium, Tradition and Scripture is the real norma normans, but that’s not what you said in your essay.

    Peace.

  106. To: Dozie @ 31

    Hi Dozie,

    When you say, “Personally, I accept the Christian Scripture only on the basis of the testimony of the Catholic Church” you are certainly free to do that. But you should be aware that that is certainly not an apostolic notion. (And, ironically, it’s a non-Augustinian one, too!)

    Of course, it would be interesting to hear your definition of what, exactly, you think is the Christian Scripture. I suspect that you, like Dr. Liccione, think that is only the New Testament. (Dr. Liccione said in his essay that Tradition is older than Scripture so he must mean only the NT. What is older than Genesis 1?) But that is not what the Apostles thought and they could not accept the Scriptures on the basis of the Roman Catholic Church since a.) the RCC had not yet come into existence and b.) even if you argue it had, it’s canon – as Dr. L. notes – had not yet been defined. Given that Christ Himself referred to the Scriptures – and held people to account on their authority – how did He know what they were?

    But the OT provides a specific proscription against your approach.

    “‘How can you say, “We are wise,
       for we have the law of the LORD,”
    when actually the lying pen of the scribes
       has handled it falsely? Jeremiah 8:8

    The Scriptures that Christ knew say specifically that you should NOT trust the church (the Scribes were part of the “church” of their day) because they might handle it falsely. By contrast , the writer of Proverbs tells us that “Every word of God is flawless” (Pr. 30:5). Which is the surer standard?

    And knowledge of, and certainty about, the Scriptures or anything else don’t come as the result of an autonomous effort by man. Christ told Peter that the knowledge Peter had about Christ’s very nature was given to him “by God”. Christ said that His people will all be “taught by God” (John 6:45, and that mirrors Isaiah 54:13).

    And that of course, is what makes the Scripture the true and unequivocal norma normans. Because it is God’s work imparted to His people. It is not some people figuring it out on their own.

    Peace.

  107. Constantine asks: “What is older than Genesis 1?”

    What you are doing is confusing Genesis 1, the scripture verse with Genesis 1, the event. One could say that the “church man” who wrote Genesis 1 is older than the scripted verse (if you actually believe the bible was not thrown down from the sky). Similarly, the rest of your response is replete with confused notions of what the scriptures say about the Church and other things.

  108. Constantine:

    “What is older than Genesis 1″?

    You aren’t saying that Genesis 1 was written by Adam are you? : ) So, there must have been a Tradition that pre-dated the writing of Genesis? (of course) In fact, we know that book of Job comes before Genesis.

    If I were Protestant (and I was a little more than two years ago) your example of St. Peter would confuse me, since “it’s God’s work imparted to His people…not some people figuring it out on their own.” YES! That’s right, as your scriptural example evidences, he gave us St. Peter, both in this moment, but even more telling in the beginning of the book of Acts, when St. Peter dogmatically defined the scripture passage in Joel, this is what the prophet meant when he said, “I will pour out my spirit…” Just like in the beginning of Christ’s ministry he sat on the seat of Moses and declared “this is what this means,…the good news to the poor” (Matt 4), St. Peter in the beginning of the life of the Church does the same. And he will continue to do the same until Christ returns since Christ gave him, and no one else (at least according to scripture) the keys of heaven.

    I guess you can tell me those scriptures don’t mean that, but then wouldn’t that just lead us back to “people figuring it out on their own” (in this case you)?

    God speed on your journey

  109. John (#103):

    Thanks for that gracious bow-out. I think you have indeed raised the fundamental question, which I would put as this: is “the apostolic tradition” sufficiently perspicuous in itself to obviate the need for an infallible Magisterium to distinguish between articles of faith and theological opinions? To my mind, the history of doctrine, and of theology generally, justified answering that question in the negative. We could have that discussion here, and I’d prefer that we do. But I understand your reluctance to do so.

    When the time comes on this site to post and debate something about development of doctrine, the needed discussion will doubtless occur.

    Best,
    Mike

  110. Constantine (#105):

    You wrote:

    “Norma normans” means something and it seems that it means a sole norm about which nothing else can norm. Now you may well mean – and I’m sure you really do – that what you refer to as the “Word of God” as constituted by Magisterium, Tradition and Scripture is the real norma normans, but that’s not what you said in your essay.

    No, I don’t mean what you’re sure I mean. To me, norma normans means what you say it means. What we disagree about is the meaning of what you say and what the Catholic Church says.

    As per Vatican II, I hold that Scripture constitutes “the Word of God” along with Tradition, of which Scripture is the most normative written expression. But the Magisterium is not a third “source” contributing to the content of the Word of God; it is only the “authentic” interpreter thereof. As such, it belongs to the FPOF along with Scripture and Tradition. On that picture, Scripture is indeed the “un-normed” norm because it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, so that the true meaning of what it says is the norm for what is said or done on the part of the other two components of the FPOF, which in turn are not the norm for it. But the other two component of the FPOF are needed both for recognizing Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God and for discerning the true meaning of what Scripture says. This is a major reason why the three components of the FPOF are such that “none can stand without the others.” But once we’ve utilized the other two components of the FPOF for those purposes, Scripture alone is seen as the norma normans, because the true meaning of what it says, as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, is the criterion by which what the others say is measured. That does not mean that the others may say only what Scripture says, or what can be logically deduced therefrom; it means that what the others say must cohere, logically and otherwise, with what Scripture says.

    That’s what I mean. If that doesn’t yield what you believe to be the true meaning of norma normans, that only goes to show you’re not Catholic, not that I don’t understand the concept of norma normans or have changed my mind about it.

    Best,
    Mike

  111. Dr. Liccione,

    If I may ask a couple of questions about your essay….

    1.You state, “the Church affirms extra-scriptural Tradition as another “source,” older than and concurrent with Scripture, from which we receive the Word of God, Tradition does not convey any revealed truth that is not “somehow” contained in Scripture.”

    a)How is it logically possible for tradition to be “older than” Scripture and yet not contain anything not in Scripture. Doesn’t that mean that “Tradition” was empty at its origin?

    b)Can you please provide an example of a Tradition that is older than the Scripture?

    2.In your article entitled “Of what use is “the Vincentian Canon”?” you write, “The authority of the Magisterium to interpret the deposit of faith in an authentic, binding, and definitive manner was already, itself, understood to belong to the deposit of faith.” Would you please elaborate on your conception of the constitution of the “Magisterium” at the time of St. Vincent?

    Thank you.

    Peace.

  112. Mark (#104):

    OK, so you’re asking this question: Do we need to know that the object of our religious assent is divine revelation, in order to have faith in it as distinct from merely an opinion about what it is? My answer, in good scholastic fashion, is distinguo.

    The answer is yes in that, if we assent to the articles of faith, we know the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith, which accurately expresses divine revelation; thus we know divine revelation as expressed propositionally. But the answer is no in that our assent to such an expression is an assent of faith, not of knowledge. Our assent to divine revelation would yield knowledge, as distinct from faith, only if we had a reliable method, other than trusting the secondary authorities of the FPOF, for knowing that divine revelation, expressed propositionally, is true. But we don’t. Accordingly, although we do indeed know the doctrinal content of divine revelation by trusting those authorities, we cannot thereby know that said content is true by trusting those authorities. We can only have faith that it is true.

    You ask:

    But, given your criticism of the Protestant IP, how can one have more than an opinion about the magisterium when the arguments for it are fallible, as you say?

    Arguments that an infallible magisterium belongs to the FPOF are not strictly probative, and in that respect yield only the “opinion” that including such an authority in the FPOF is more reasonable than excluding it. But that doesn’t mean that what one assents to, partly on the basis of such an opinion, only gives us an opinion. Once we put faith in the FPOF as the Catholic Church understands it, we know what is, in fact, the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith, and thus divine revelation expressed propositionally. And that is not opinion. But we can only have faith, not knowledge, that said content is actually true. Yet such faith is not opinion, because its object is the divinely revealed truth, not a human opinion.

    Best,
    Mike

  113. Constantine (#111):

    You ask:

    (a) How is it logically possible for tradition to be “older than” Scripture and yet not contain anything not in Scripture. Doesn’t that mean that “Tradition” was empty at its origin?

    Your first question is a question that I pose myself to those theologians who hold the “material-sufficiency” view of Scripture. The answer depends on what ‘contain’ is taken to mean. If, by saying that Scripture “contains” everything Tradition does, one means that everything explicitly asserted in Tradition is explicitly asserted in Scripture, then it would be false to say that Scripture contains everything that Tradition does. But if one means that Scripture can be so interpreted that everything “handed down” by extra-scriptural Tradition has some corroborative counterpart in Scripture, then it would be true to say that Scripture “contains” everything Tradition does. I’m inclined to accept the latter idea of material sufficiency, because I believe that it reflects the way Jesus interpreted “Scripture” for his disciples.

    To your second question, I would answer simply “no.” Scripture is not a “source” transmitting divine revelation independently of Tradition. It is, rather, the most normative written expression of Tradition. What was, and is, “handed down” to us by God through his people, the old Israel and the new Israel, the Church, is older and wider than Scripture, which merely records it. Yet such a record is not “sufficient” to replace Tradition as a source of knowledge of revealed truth, because Scripture can only be rightly interpreted in light of the Tradition it records.

    That should suffice as answer to your 1(b), but I know it won’t, so I’ll say a bit more. Well before any book of the Old Testament was written, the Jews had an oral tradition. That tradition was, in part, what got recorded in Scripture. But it is a fact that there was and still is a vast “tradition” that not only pre-dated but runs concurrently with Scripture, some of which has been recorded extra-scripturally in the Talmud. That is highly useful to Christians as well as to Jews, because it supplies a vast reservoir both of interpretations of Scripture and of other things “handed down” that help us interpret Scripture. The same goes, mutatis mutandis, for the New Testament. It grew out of the oral tradition coming from Jesus through the Apostles, but does not include explicit verbal sanction for everything that developed in the post-apostolic Church. Thus Christian “Tradition” includes not only what Jewish tradition did, but everything handed down from Jesus that is not recorded in Scripture, and that runs concurrently with Scripture.

    You also ask:

    2. In your article entitled “Of what use is “the Vincentian Canon”?” you write, “The authority of the Magisterium to interpret the deposit of faith in an authentic, binding, and definitive manner was already, itself, understood to belong to the deposit of faith.” Would you please elaborate on your conception of the constitution of the “Magisterium” at the time of St. Vincent?

    I took for granted there that the account of ecclesial authority one finds in St. Vincent was the generally accepted account, not an aberration. If you read what other Church Fathers of the time said about the authority of the Church, and the things which the fifth-century Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon said about the same, I think you can verify that for yourself.

    Best,
    Mike

  114. Andrew (#101):

    You wrote:

    I’m saying that because there are controversies and differences of perspective between interpreters of Scriptures. this no more calls for an infallible interpreter than do controversies and differences of perspective on any other ancient text where there may be serious disputes.

    That statement makes no sense to me. You’re saying that “because” there are controversies about the meaning of Scripture, there is no more need for an infallible interpreter to resolve those controversies than there is for resolving controversies about the meaning of any other old text. That inference is just a non-sequitur. I should think it far more reasonable to hold the opposite: “because” there are controversies about what the inspired, inerrant Word of God means, there is a need to resolve at least the major ones with the same degree of authority today that Jesus Christ himself, the primordial Word, has. And that would call for an infallible interpreter. Your reasoning, such as it is, would leave everything to opinion.

    Everything else you say is vitiated by that elementary logical error. If we’re supposed to resolve controversies about the meaning of the written Word, or even the centuries-old controversy about what should be included in the written Word, by the methods you suggest, then we can attain only opinions about what it is and what it means. That’s why I said you’re just a liberal Protestant waiting to become what he is.

    Best,
    Mike

  115. Oops, I forgot to close the blockquote. Having a bad day. Thanks for your indulgence. I’m outta here till tomorrow.

  116. Andrew,

    But what good is this certainty to the unbeliever if the object of the faith you present to him is not the object of faith laid out in Scriptures because the Catholic IP Mike presents does not allow for testing the paradigm by the words of Scripture or the the acts of the saints?

    But whoever “tests” the paradigm by scripture or the acts of the saints has already rejected Mike’s proposed paradigm in a question-begging way. Personal “testing” by one’s own scriptural or historical exegesis is THE VERY THING AT ISSUE. That is already to commit to solo individualism. It is a commitment to decide what is true or false in matters of doctrine based on one’s own evaluation. This ongoing discussion between you and Mike, myself, and others about the “need for infallibility” has traversed many threads now. From all I can tell, the bottom line comes down to this: either recognize some God-instituted authority (RCC or EO) as providing for us the “de fide” content of divine revelation; or else refuse to give up final, ultimate, interpretive authority and place one’s self in the judgment seat concerning all things scriptural/historical/theological. Once one admits that sola reduces (epistemically) to solo, that is what we’re left with.

    You think we do wrong by cashing in our interpretive trump card at the door of the Catholic Church – that we have too much faith (who needs infallibility etc, etc etc)! We think that you do wrong by insisting that you retain your right to judge the Church’s teaching according to your own study of scripture and history – you believe too little and are left only with your own opinions. That’s basically what we each keep saying to each other. We see the Catholic Church standing there for 20 centuries, claiming to be the full visible dimension of Christ’s kingdom across temporal space and time. Moreover, she offers an IP which synthesizes the massive amounts of scriptural, patristic, historical and ecclesial data in a way that makes a whole lot of sense (at least to us). Given as much, and given the raw complexity and quantity of the data, as well as the obvious risk of getting exactly the interpretation out of the data that one’s biases dictate; it makes sense to defer to her judgment, rather than making it up on our own by marshalling data and scholars, or whatever, to support our own homemade synthesis.

    You obviously can’t bring yourself to do that because you are sure – just sure – that Rome has gone off the rails doctrinally; and you can go find a host of scholars who work the data in various ways which make you feel secure in that assessment. But for every scholar who builds an anti-Catholic exegetical/historical meta narrative out of the data sources (justifying rejection of Rome); there is another – equally competent scholar – who can build a pro-Catholic meta-narrative out of the same data sources (lending strength to the Magisterium’s claims). Its really just a choice; either the Church trumps you or you trump the Church. I don’t trust my own abilities that much, and given the competing scholarly assessments, I prefer to allow the Church to trump my personal evaluation. You will probably always think I am making some sort of fideistic leap and abdicating my responsibility to “look for myself”; and I will probably always say that you are setting yourself up as the final arbiter of all things theological, failing to take your own exegetical and historical-interpretive limitations seriously enough.

    But in the pre-Reformation and early Reformation years it was not so much that the Reformers disagreed with the RCC disputants, but rather they were concerned since the RCC had no substantive guidance for the laity on how they were to be justified. There was a mass of theories and opinions on justification, both on the grace/free will front as well as the faith/works front. Nobody since Carthage had dogmatically weighed in the matter and the questions that were being asked by the late Medieval theologians could not begin to be addressed by Carthage.

    To the degree that what you say here is true (and that degree is quite debatable), it is because the Catholic / EO understanding of the means of salvation is sacramental and ontological and not essentially propositional. The sacramental life of the Church (the Mysteries) was understood as the practical/tangible vehicle by which ordinary Christian’s ordinarily partook of the transformative Grace of Christ. That grace was operative for God’s people, entirely independent of whether detailed theological explanations of its mechanics had been clarified or not. The key thing was that the work of the Incarnation was alive and available in the visible Church (which is the extension of the Incarnation – the mystical body of Christ). The Reformation was deformative soteriologically, primarily because it de-emphasized the visible, corporate, and sacramental while elevating the invisible, individual and propositional.

    The emphasis on propositional clarity, or even the great need for clarity, about the propositional side of “how” salvation works, only becomes necessary when one has significantly reduced the role and importance of a historically visible Church endowed with mysterious, grace-giving, sacraments. Besides, if the Reformers found themselves confronted with multiple options as to how to express the mechanics of salvation; what business did they have taking it upon themselves to arbitrarily decide which of those options must be normative? I have read Calvin and Luther extensively, and their writings do not comport with the picture you paint. Their presentation strikes me as very two dimensional – “We’ve got it right and Rome has got it wrong. If fact Rome has got it so wrong that its worth sundering the Church over”. If there were really so many live options as you claim, why would they have not expressed more hesitation about the “obvious” – “just-so” reading of St. Paul (which now, after all this time, non-Catholic folks like NT Wright are beginning to challenge)?

    Now I would agree that this could happen and my response would be that just with folks who are wedded to other humanistic philosophies they are not going to accept the gospel until they get over it. It’s not that God’s Word does not speak clearly enough since countless thousands of people from all walks of life are drawn through the words of Protestant evangelist every day.

    For all the “countless thousands” that come to respond to Evangelical preaching (or Catholic, or Orthodox or whatever), there are countless millions more that are defecting from Christianity altogether (in all its forms, Catholic, Reformed, whatever). The West is NOT winning the conversion war, even if it sometimes wins an occasional battle. A large part of the reason is because Christianity is no longer seen as intellectually credible by the culture at large. And the reason it is not seen as credible is not just because of big, bad, humanistic philosophies or perennial human sin (though those are certainly part of the problem). A large part of the problem is also the splintering within Christianity which plays right into the notion that it’s all just a matter of opinion, from the denomination you choose, to the food you eat. That attitude pervades the culture at a fundamental level and filters through to the psyche in many different ways. But its net effect is to neuter the persuasive force of Christianity as a viable world view. That is why Christ prayed that we may all be one: “so the world may know that the Father has sent the Son”.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  117. Liccione,

    Italian: anche se avevo deciso di non intervenire più, sono stato a rimuginare la questione, e vorrei sottoporti la mia riflessione.

    English translation: Even though I had decided not to intervene further, I’ve been mulling a question, and I would like to [submit] my reflection.

    Italian: Immaginiamo un alieno che capita sul pianeta Terra. Dopo un po’ di tempo s’interessa del cristianesimo e ne rimane affascinato. Scopre, però, che lungi dall’essere uniti, i cristiani sono divisi in numerosissime fazioni. Decide, nonostante la scoraggiante mole, di mettersi di buzzo buono a studiare tutti i documenti considerati dai cristiani significativi per la loro religione nel modo più imparziale possibile. Si accorge però che a seconda del Paradigma Interpretativo che adotta i dati studiati possono essere interpretati in modo molto diverso. Inoltre legge che i cattolici accusano i protestanti di avere un Paradigma Interpretativo in cui l’individuo diventa in ultima istanza l’autorità ultima in questioni interpretative. E gli si pone un dilemma: la scelta del Paradigma Interpretativo condizionerà significativamente il risultato della mia ricerca. Ora, come faccio a scegliere un Paradigma Interpretativo senza essere accusato dai cattolici di porre me stesso come autorità ultima (cioè diventare un “Solo” paradigmaticamente parlando)?

    English translation: Imagine that an alien happens [to come to] planet Earth. After some time, he becomes interested in Christianity and becomes fascinated. He discovers, however, that far from being united, Christians are divided into numerous factions. He decides, in spite of the daunting size, to [make a careful] study of all the documents that Christians consider relevant to their religion, and be as impartial as possible. He notices, however, that according to the interpretative paradigm that one adopts, the data studied can be interpreted in very different ways. Also he reads that Catholics accuse Protestants of having an interpretive paradigm in which the individual becomes ultimately the final authority in questions of interpretation. And it poses a dilemma: the choice of interpretative paradigm will affect significantly the result of my research. Now, how do I choose an interpretive paradigm without being accused by the Catholics of making myself the ultimate authority (i.e. becoming a “Solo,” paradigmatically speaking)?

    Italian: Il nostro buon alieno viene assillato anche da altre domande: Il Paradigma Interpretativo condiziona l’interpretazione del testo, ma in qualche modo, il testo può contenere indicazioni sul Paradigma da adottare? C’è in qualche modo un feed-back tra Testo e Paradigma? Oppure, essendo il Paradigma completamente esterno al testo, non ci sono vie di comunicazione? E nel caso in cui ci fossero, sarebbero inevitabilmente circolari e quindi con un grave vizio di forma?

    Essendo l’individuo l’unico soggetto che alla fine della fiera sceglie (consapevolmente o meno) il proprio Paradigma Interpretativo, non è dopo tutto l’individuo l’autorità ultima in questione interpretative? Se il nostro buon alieno leggesse le tue interessantissime considerazioni, non si renderebbe conto che il suo scopo ultimo è quello di incoraggiare il lettore a scegliere un particolare Paradigma (quello cattolico) e che in fondo questo vuol dire ammettere che l’individuo è in fin dei conti il giudice ultimo in questioni interpretative?

    English translation: Our good alien is beset by other questions: The interpretive paradigm affects the interpretation of the text, but somehow, does the text include indications of which paradigm is to be taken? Is there somehow a feed-back from Text and Paradigm? Or, is the paradigm completely outside the text, such that there is no way of communication [between text and paradigm]? And if that is the case, is this inevitably circular and therefore a serious procedural defect?

    Since the individual is the only person who chooses to ‘end the show’ (consciously or not) by choosing his interpretive paradigm [i.e. given that the individual is the only one who can choose his interpretive paradigm], is not the individual after all the ultimate authority in the matter of interpretation? If our good alien reads about your interesting considerations, does he not realize that your ultimate aim is to encourage the reader to choose a particular paradigm (the Catholic) and basically this means admitting that the individual is ultimately the final judge in matters of interpretation?

  118. Luis:

    Just as you had decided “not to intervene” further, but felt you should, so I’ve decided to reply yet again, even though I had said I wouldn’t return here till tomorrow. I do so because you have now repeated essentially the same objection three times in the course of this thread, despite my having rebutted it both in my essay and in my replies to you and others. It’s time to put this thing to rest.

    That objection is what we call on this site the tu quoque argument (TQA), which has been restated and rebutted in many different forms on this site almost since it started. Very briefly, the TQA may be summarized as follows. If the uncommitted inquirer chooses which IP to adopt as the one that seems more reasonable to him, then he cannot help ending up as his own “ultimate interpretive authority”, because he’s the one who decides for himself which interpretation of the data is the most reasonable; therefore, the only IP one can rationally adopt is the Protestant IP. Your latest comment restates that argument in the form of a question:

    If our good alien reads about your interesting considerations, does he not realize that your ultimate aim is to encourage the reader to choose a particular paradigm (the Catholic) and basically this means admitting that the individual is ultimately the final judge in matters of interpretation?

    The answer to your question is, of course, “no.” The difference between choosing the Catholic IP and choosing the Protestant IP does not lie in the methodology by which one comes to make the choice–your hypothetical “alien” has observed the methodological similarity between the two—but rather in the nature of what is chosen. To choose the Protestant IP is indeed to end up making oneself the ultimate interpretive authority. But choosing the Catholic IP means choosing to accept the Magisterium as the ultimate interpretive authority, so that when one’s interpretation of Scripture and/or Tradition conflicts with the Magisterium’s, one submits one’s intellect and will to the Magisterium’s. That difference in the nature of what is chosen is often unclear to non-Catholics because their habits of thought and talk are not alert to some ambiguities of terms.

    One ambiguity is about ‘choice’. There is a sense in which, whatever one freely chooses in any area of life, it is oneself who is the ultimate authority for making the choice. For it is oneself, and nobody else, who is responsible for the choice, by virtue of acting freely on one’s reasons for making the choice. It does not follow, however, that making a free choice means rejecting any higher authority, either in general or in the case of interpretive authorities. For the choice can be, precisely, a choice to submit oneself to a higher authority. (Failure to understand that is typical of modernity, and indeed of “post-modernity,” which is just modernity feeling cynical about itself.) That’s what the Catholic does in freely choosing to be Catholic. Now the conservative Protestant believes he is doing something similar, namely choosing to submit himself to the higher authority of “Scripture” or “the apostolic tradition,” and even in some cases, something he calls “the Church.” And in some cases, he is doing that sincerely. But ultimately, he reserves to himself the right to determine which interpretations are and are not “scriptural” or “apostolic,” even after he’s made the initial choice to “submit” to something he calls “the Church.” That is precisely what makes Protestantism fundamentally different from and incompatible with Catholicism. What the conservative Protestant calls “submission” to an interpretive authority is only provisional, not permanent, and is therefore no submission at all. There’s always an escape clause.

    One such ambiguities are cleared up, the basic difference between choosing the Catholic IP and choosing the Protestant IP emerges clearly, and the TQA is exposed as the fallacy of ambiguity it is.

    Best,
    Mike

  119. Luis, (re: #117)

    In addition to Mike’s reply, you can find my reply to the tu quoque objection here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  120. Ray (#116):

    I just had to say that your reply to Andrew is brilliant. Thank you.

    Best,
    Mike

  121. Ray (#116)

    I’ll second Mike’s commendation. In fact, noticing what you said here:

    “A large part of the reason is because Christianity is no longer seen as intellectually credible by the culture at large. And the reason it is not seen as credible is not just because of big, bad, humanistic philosophies or perennial human sin (though those are certainly part of the problem). A large part of the problem is also the splintering within Christianity which plays right into the notion that it’s all just a matter of opinion, from the denomination you choose, to the food you eat. That attitude pervades the culture at a fundamental level and filters through to the psyche in many different ways. But its net effect is to neuter the persuasive force of Christianity as a viable world view. ”

    I made this observation BEFORE I ever considered becoming Catholic. It was very disturbing. The fact that the worldview of my religion was working in tandem with (to use your words) “big, bad humanistic philosophies” and “perennial human sin” to promote an attitude of “make it up as you go”–truth grounded squarely between someone’s ears–scared me half to death (I just had my first child). I had to find a place where they would be safe (my children) from the impending moral train-wreck. The problem was the steering system had been compromised by a virus called sola scriptura.

    We’re Catholic now (all 6 of us).

  122. Italian: Chiedo scusa se per tutti gli altri la verità logica della tua risposta è evidente, ma non posso esimermi dal rispondere secondo la mia (limitata) comprensione dell’argomento.

    English: I apologize if the logical truth of your answer is obvious to everyone else, but I must respond according to my (limited) understanding of the topic.

    You wrote:

    If the uncommitted inquirer chooses which IP to adopt as the one that seems more reasonable to him, then he cannot help ending up as his own “ultimate interpretive authority”, because he’s the one who decides for himself which interpretation of the data is the most reasonable; therefore, the only IP one can rationally adopt is the Protestant IP

    Italian: Se il nostro allieno assume un paradigma protestante per il solo fatto di porsi il problema della diversità di paradigmi, allora perché ne stiamo discutendo? Lo voglia o meno il nostro alieno deve decidere. E siccome deve decidere LUI, la scelta deve sembrare ragionevole a LUI. Nessun altro può decidere per lui. E la decisione implica necessariamente la scelta di un paradigma. Molti convertiti al Cattolicesimo sono persone che sono state convinte dal paradigma cattolico di autorità perché a loro (a chi altro se no?) è sembrato più ragionevole.

    English translation: If our alien assumes a Protestant paradigm for the sole reason of addressing the problem of the diversity of paradigms, then why are we are discussing [it]? Like it or not, our alien must decide. And since HE has to decide, the choice must seem reasonable to HIM. No one else can decide for him. And the decision necessarily implies the choice of a paradigm. Many converts to Catholicism are people who have been convinced by the Catholic paradigm of authority because to them (who else if not?) it seemed more reasonable.

    The difference between choosing the Catholic IP and choosing the Protestant IP does not lie in the methodology by which one comes to make the choice–your hypothetical “alien” has observed the methodological similarity between the two—but rather in the nature of what is chosen. To choose the Protestant IP is indeed to end up making oneself the ultimate interpretive authority. But choosing the Catholic IP means choosing to accept the Magisterium as the ultimate interpretive authority, so that when one’s interpretation of Scripture and/or Tradition conflicts with the Magisterium’s, one submits one’s intellect and will to the Magisterium’s. That difference in the nature of what is chosen is often unclear to non-Catholics because their habits of thought and talk are not alert to some ambiguities of terms

    Italian: Accettare il Magistero come autorità ultima presuppone aver già scelto un paradigma. Per sottoporre la propria volontà al Magistero prima bisogna aver accettato che il paradigma interpretativo cattolico sia quello più ragionevole. La scelta di paradigma è ineludibile. Decidere in questo caso, qualunque sia la decisione, implica sempre una scelta di paradigma.

    English translation: To accept the Magisterium as the ultimate authority assumes you have already chosen a paradigm. To submit your will to the Magisterium you must first have accepted that the Catholic interpretative paradigm is the most reasonable. The choice of paradigm is inescapable. To decide in this case, whatever the decision, always involves a choice of paradigm.

    It does not follow, however, that making a free choice means rejecting any higher authority, either in general or in the case of interpretive authorities. For the choice can be, precisely, a choice to submit oneself to a higher authority. (Failure to understand that is typical of modernity, and indeed of “post-modernity,” which is just modernity feeling cynical about itself.)

    Italian: Nessuno discute che si può scegliere di sottomettersi a un’autorità (un inciso, anche il modo di concepire l’autorità è condizionata dal paradigma scelto). Quello che sostengo è che per sottomettersi a un’autorità PRIMA bisogna DECIDERE di sottomettervisi. E per decidere bisogna scegliere un paradigma che faccia possibile quella sottomissione. Non posso sottomettermi al Magistero in un vacuum. Non posso sottomettermi al Magistero se non ho accettato prima il paradigma cattolico di autorità, perché per accettare il Magistero dovrò configurare i dati a mia disposizione in un certo modo e non in un altro, e questo lo posso fare solo se accetto il paradigma cattolico di autorità prima di sottomettermi al Magistero. Come posso sottomettermi al Magistero se non conosco il paradigma interpretativo che lo rende possibile?

    English: Nobody disputes that you can choose to submit to an authority (an aside, even the way we think about the authority is conditioned by the paradigm chosen). What I advocate is that to submit to an authority we must first decide to whom to submit. And to decide it is necessary to choose a paradigm that makes possible the submission. I cannot submit myself to the Magisterium in a vacuum. I cannot submit myself to the Magisterium if I have not first accepted the Catholic paradigm of authority, because to accept the Magisterium, I will have to accept the configuration of the data available to me in a certain way and not in another, and I can do this only if I accept the paradigm of Catholic authority first before submitting to the Magisterium. How do I submit myself to the Magisterium if I do not know the interpretative paradigm that makes it possible?

  123. Mike L said That statement makes no sense to me. You’re saying that “because” there are controversies about the meaning of Scripture, there is no more need for an infallible interpreter to resolve those controversies than there is for resolving controversies about the meaning of any other old text. That inference is just a non-sequitur.

    Mike (re: 114),

    Let me try to draw this out a little more for you. My point is firstly there is no more necessity to draw a distinction between what is to be known about the Scriptures and what is mere opinion than there is to make such a distinction about any other ancient text. What if I tried to make a distinction between what the actual message of Plato’s Republic and mere opinion about the meaning of The Republic? To me this point makes no sense. But then neither does your same point about the object of our faith and mere opinions about our faith. Now often Catholics will point out the controversies among Protestants over the interpretation of Scripture, and while I think they are making much too much of such controversies, I don’t see that there is any more of a problem interpreting Scripture as there is in interpreting any other ancient text. In other words solving the problem of theological controversy by creating an infallible interpreter just gives us one more position in the range of interpretive possibilities. Additionally, we ought to be even more confident of our interpretation of Scriptures than the interpretation of other ancient texts because God’s Spirit is working through the process via the mediation of the Church.

    Everything else you say is vitiated by that elementary logical error. If we’re supposed to resolve controversies about the meaning of the written Word, or even the centuries-old controversy about what should be included in the written Word, by the methods you suggest, then we can attain only opinions about what it is and what it means. That’s why I said you’re just a liberal Protestant waiting to become what he is.

    This does not begin to answer my points, but I will assume that you are just being overly hurried here since you apparently ran out of time. So again firstly, your paradigm completely ignores any of the data that ought to be part of the formation of a paradigm that explicates the data of Scripture and that of the writings of the Early Church. The obvious question we Protestants immediately ask about the Catholic IP was whether it was an IP that was shared in any way by the Christians of the early centuries of the Church. If not, then from my standpoint it’s back to the drawing board. If your answer is that we must posit this Catholic IP regardless of what the Early Church thought and believed then all I can say is that you are using “paradigm” as a way to force the data of the history of the Church into a procrustean bed of your own imagination. The simple fact is that God did not need an infallible interpreter to accomplish His will (as I believe you have conceded) and continuing to insist on such an IP only further confirms our suspicions that you are trying to define away anything that does not agree with the Medieval Scholastic version of certainty. Mathison and Oberman spend a great deal of time in their original works going through the philosophy of revelation of the ECF’s as expressed in the original texts as well as commented on in the secondary literature. Now why on earth can we not go through such analyses together without one of us trying to trump the other with a magic IP card that obviates all discussion about the actual IP of the Early Church?

    Secondly, paradigms are meant to be analyzed once they have been formulated rather than used to mold the data to one’s own prejudices. The question we would like to ask is if we posit the Catholic IP to explain certain data does it fit? And here your judgment on that question is no better than mine. Just repeating this IP as if it is gospel itself does not get us any further. My perception is that your position is that the definition of your IP eliminates any such discussion since in your mind the whole Christian theological system blows up if the Catholic IP is refuted.

    Thirdly, you don’t seem to be responding my contention that the pronouncements of Nicea would still have been authoritative minus any understanding that they were being pronounced infallibly. This is again key to the sola scriptura debate since if the Church can pronounce a decision authoritatively without it being infallible then there is no other source of infallible revelation and we are left with sola scriptura as the Church’s final bar of authority. As Mathison and Oberman point out (and Florovsky confirms) Scriptures at this time was the only source on infallible revelation. But I fear that you will again revert to quoting me the Catholic IP as if this principle is the gospel and the regula fidei, end of story.

  124. Ray (re: 116),

    But whoever “tests” the paradigm by scripture or the acts of the saints has already rejected Mike’s proposed paradigm in a question-begging wayPersonal “testing” by one’s own scriptural or historical exegesis is THE VERY THING AT ISSUE. .

    Please first see my comments to Mike L above in this regards. I’m assuming from your comments that you are not just telling me that my “testing” is bad while yours is OK since of course we both have assumptions we bring to the scriptural and historical studies that you refer to. It is for this reason that we cannot just trade bits and pieces of data as proof texts from Scripture and tradition. There needs to be some type of IP that gives us a framework for interpreting this data. But the opposite error of this type of proof texting is adopting a paradigm without any attempt to fit the data to the paradigm. This is what seems to be happening with Mike L’s model. He seems to have no interest in working through the data of the early centuries of Christianity to see if the Early Church Fathers actually share his assumptions about revelation. There is in fact nothing from the ECF’s (certainly up until Basil) which would lead us to think they held to some infallible standard beyond Scripture. But Mike L’s model posits such a standard whether one existed in the minds of the ECF’s or not as a way of distinguishing “the doctrinal content of divine revelation itself from human opinions about how to interpret the “sources” alleged to transmit it.” The epistemological flaw here is assuming that anything we do not know infallibly is reduced to “human opinion.” Do I really need to demonstrate why this is fallacious? It is just this kind of comment which has prompted responses from Protestants that such thinking divorces epistemology from the real world. In this unreal world it seems that we need to know something infallibility in order for it to be distinguished from “mere opinion.”

    That is already to commit to solo individualism. It is a commitment to decide what is true or false in matters of doctrine based on one’s own evaluation. This ongoing discussion between you and Mike, myself, and others about the “need for infallibility” has traversed many threads now. From all I can tell, the bottom line comes down to this: either recognize some God-instituted authority (RCC or EO) as providing for us the “de fide” content of divine revelation; or else refuse to give up final, ultimate, interpretive authority and place one’s self in the judgment seat concerning all things scriptural/historical/theological. Once one admits that sola reduces (epistemically) to solo, that is what we’re left with.

    But surely you see that I’m not giving up on “God-instituted authority,” but rather I am pointing out that the Catholic version of infallible authority judged to be so by human standards was not shared by the theologians of the Early Church and from an epistemological standpoint only pushes the problem one step away. That is, how do we interpret this new “infallible” authority which judges the infallible Scriptures? This is just the problem when deal with Cantate Domino and other such “infallible” statements – now that you have an “infallible” statement, how do you interpret it in the context of the Church today?

    Given as much, and given the raw complexity and quantity of the data, as well as the obvious risk of getting exactly the interpretation out of the data that one’s biases dictate; it makes sense to defer to her judgment, rather than making it up on our own by marshalling data and scholars, or whatever, to support our own homemade synthesis.

    You are here making the epistemological mistake that rejecting the “infallible” judgment of the RCC is equivalent to “making it up on our own.” But no we would argue, words and phrases of Scripture have distinct meaning and we can interpret the words of Scripture through the power of the Spirit without trying to say that the Church’s judgment on certain matters rises to the same level of certainty as the God who wrote the Scriptures. But you have this mistaken idea that once we take away ecclesiastic infallibility we are left with “mere opinion.” But where do we get this idea? It’s just something that is fashioned out of nothing from what I can see. It’s certainly not true in any other area of human thought but for some reason seems to be so in the world of Roman Catholic theology. You have drawn the conclusion that if we give up on this human infallibility that we will inevitably left with a system where no truth can be derived. Now why you come to this conclusion since it is not true in any other area of human thought I don’t know. From my perspective as I look at the various Protestant confessions, I am just amazed at how much unity has been achieved in such a short amount of history. Have you ever studied the Reformed confessions that were formulated by different groups of theologians in different times and in different localities? But the irony here is that there is much more unity in these confessions than anything like Trent which was itself a latecomer to the historical scene with respect to the various Protestant doctrinal statements of faith we have.

    Its really just a choice; either the Church trumps you or you trump the Church.

    Well of course the Church trumps me, but again we have to consider whether this critical element of the RCC, that of possessing infallible judgment under certain conditions, is part of the deposit of the faith. I’m not setting myself up the “final arbiter” of theological matters, but rather pointing out that your concept of an infallible Church is historically flawed. And the Church does not crumble away to nothing because we reject the notion that she is infallible in her own right (as the RCC defines this). It just means that the Medieval and modern RCC epistemological assumptions about the Church are flawed with respect to infallibility.

    I don’t trust my own abilities that much, and given the competing scholarly assessments, I prefer to allow the Church to trump my personal evaluation.

    I agree with you here. But then we don’t need to accord infallibility in any ecclesiastical statement for this to be true.

    Andrew: But in the pre-Reformation and early Reformation years it was not so much that the Reformers disagreed with the RCC disputants, but rather they were concerned since the RCC had no substantive guidance for the laity on how they were to be justified. There was a mass of theories and opinions on justification, both on the grace/free will front as well as the faith/works front. Nobody since Carthage had dogmatically weighed in the matter and the questions that were being asked by the late Medieval theologians could not begin to be addressed by Carthage.

    Ray: To the degree that what you say here is true (and that degree is quite debatable), it is because the Catholic / EO understanding of the means of salvation is sacramental and ontological and not essentially propositional.

    But the statements of Trent were indeed propositional, but they were not sufficient for even many Catholic clergy to understand what exactly the RCC theologians were arguing for as the essential elements of their faith with respect to salvation in general and justification in particular. Everything was a “mystery” as you say for the average lay person and the very clear and precise doctrinal statements from the Protestant confessions and the clear preaching from the Scriptures on these matters drove countless thousands of people into Protestant communions.

  125. Ray: I don’t trust my own abilities that much, and given the competing scholarly assessments, I prefer to allow the Church to trump my personal evaluation.

    Andrew: I agree with you here. But then we don’t need to accord infallibility in any ecclesiastical statement for this to be true.

    Andrew,
    Exactly whose words do you take as the Church’s, when allowing the Church’s evaluation to trump your own? Take a few questions that the Church might evaluate and provide you a clear answer on: (1) Is Christ consubstantial with the Father? (2) Was Mary perpetually a virgin? (3) Is it morally permissible to destroy human embryos to harvest stem cells?

    Follow-on question: Is it possible (even in principle) for anyone’s later evaluations to trump these evaluations? If so, exactly whose evaluations might be able to do so?

    I ask because I want to understand exactly whom you submit to, when submitting to the Church; and how permanent/unchangeable are the articles of faith that result from this submission.

    In Christ,
    Nathaniel

  126. Ray #116

    I don’t trust my own abilities that much, and given the competing scholarly assessments, I prefer to allow the Church to trump my personal evaluation

    Italian: Sì, ma ti sei fidato delle tue abilità di valutazione per decidere a chi dovevi affidarti, o no?

    English translation: Yes, but you trusted your skills of assessment to decide who you had to rely on, or not?

  127. Luis,

    If all paradigms were equal simply because of the fact that all people have to choose a paradigm, then even obviously stupid paradigms would have just as much likelihood of being correct as ones that anyone would agree are much better.

    There is no point in reiterating that everyone must choose a paradigm. The question is: are there ever objective reasons for choosing one paradigm over another. So, will you tell us: do you believe that there can ever be objective reasons to choose one paradigm over another? Do you believe that such reasons might include: self-consistency; the ability to use the paradigm consistently to make distinctions between de fide truths and mere opinions; the ability to make a non-ad hoc distinction between canonical scriptures and non-canonical early texts?

    Most people, when they think about it, believe that there are objective reasons for choosing one paradigm over another. I believe most people of FAITH would consider a paradigm that allows us to distinguish — using within-paradigm reasoning, not mere ad hoc special pleading — between de fide truths and mere theological opinions to be rationally preferable to a paradigm that cannot make such a distinction. People without faith would find such a distinction meaningless. But if we are to believe anything that cannot be scientifically proved from our sources (in other words, if we are to believe anything by faith) then presumably we want to know what those things to be believed by faith are. Obviously, the only ways to know which things are de fide and which things are mere opinions is a personal revelation from God or a revelation transmitted to you conditional on believing in a paradigm that admits for such transmission. If you know of another way, please let me know! And if you know a way in which it makes sense to believe in religion without distinguishing between those truths that we know through science and those truths which we hold by faith, please let me know.

    In short, I detect behind your questions the belief that the truths of religion are all more or less provable by reason and science, and that the relative strength which which we hold these (potential) truths should correspond with what we’ve “proven” through our reason. If that is what you believe, then you are not at the stage yet to be comparing paradigms based on their ability to self-consistently transmit truths of revelation (faith) to you. You need to first decide whether there are such things as truths of faith as opposed to truths known simply by reason.

    I’ll reiterate again: if you really believe that the fact that everyone must choose a paradigm renders all paradigms equal, then you must believe that even silly and self-contradictory paradigms are equally likely to be true as self-consistent ones. I think you must not believe that. So, in that case, do you or do you not believe that a paradigm in which the set of truths to be believed by faith is cleanly distinguished from theological opinions is more self-consistent then a paradigm in which everyone acts like they believe some truths by faith, but they have no non-contradictory means other than a personal revelation from God to distinguish between the truths they hold by faith and everything else they believe? Because using reason to prove truths of faith is contradictory.

    Using reason to choose a paradigm in which truths of faith may be distinguished from opinions is not self-contradictory. But then relying on reason alone within the paradigm to make such a distinction is self-contradictory because it leaves no room for faith at all; unless you are going to claim that the choice of paradigm itself was an act of faith. But if even the choice of paradigm was an act of faith, then everything is an act of faith, and there’s no room for reason at all.

    If we are going to avoid being ad hoc Protestants who believe in a particular canon of scripture that no single early Christian or early council believed (see the article here on the canon that proves this claim) or being self-contradictory Protestants who act as if that this or that peculiar doctrine of scriptural interpretation of this or that reformed figure is de fide even though our paradigm admits for no such pronouncements, then we need to see the benefits of a paradigm that allows to avoid ad hoc canons and self-contradictory behavior.

    Kirk

  128. Andrew (re: #123)

    You wrote:

    In other words solving the problem of theological controversy by creating an infallible interpreter just gives us one more position in the range of interpretive possibilities.

    Consider 2 Chron. 18:4-7:

    And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.” 5Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king.” 6But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” 7And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.”

    If you had been Ahab’s adviser, then at this moment in the conversation you could have pointed out to both of them that consulting a genuine prophet of God would not resolve the question of what ought to be done; it would only provide one more opinion concerning the range of future courses of action.

    It is the sort of claim one might expect to hear from C.S. Lewis’s “Episcopal ghost” in The Great Divorce. His religious rationalism is atheism that remains unaware of itself as such.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  129. Nathaniel,

    Concerning submissions to the Church, the most immediate spiritual authority in all of our lives is supposed to be the local church. It is the elders/bishops of our local congregation that we are commanded to submit to according the epistles written to Timothy/Titus, but elsewhere in Scriptures also. The average layperson is supposed to be utilizing the authority structure of the local congregation as that body which interprets for him the will of the Church. The layperson is not really supposed to be striking out on his own, so as to speak, but rather submitting to the will of the communion he has promised to submit to. Of course the inherent problem here for both Protestant and Catholic communities is that local congregations can run the gamut from the very liberal to the hyper conservative. From my perspective Catholicism no less than Protestantism has the problem of liberal and pagan congregations doing whatever they want to and leading congregants down a path that has nothing to do with the historic Christian faith. But the short answer to your question is that it is meant to be the local congregation as such is defined in Scriptures which ought to take the will of the Church to the people.

    But the specific examples you list are generally not decided at the local level and are matters that become part of the collective judgment of the Church. For the Protestants this has historically been the family of Reformed/Evangelical congregations that are in communion with each other at some level. This of course is not entirely equivalent to the formal hierarchical system of Rome but certainly on such matters that you ask about there is a communion of congregations that goes well beyond just denomination boundaries. So on your #1, yes there was never any reason to dispute the judgment of the Early Church’s conclusion at to what Scripture taught concerning the relationship of the Father to the Son. The case was made over and over again from the Scriptures and none of the Protestant communions at the Reformation had any reason to argue with their conclusions from Scripture. Your #2 is a somewhat different matter in that the conclusions that the Medieval RCC came to did not arise from specifically exegetical concerns but rather an ascetic philosophy towards sexuality and the body that had more in common with Neoplatonic than Christian spirituality. On #3, to my knowledge the conservative Protestant denominations have sided with the conservatives in the RCC on this matter against the liberals of both Protestant and Catholic varieties. If life begins at conception and if ending human life is the prerogative of God alone then we have no right to take such authority into our won hands. I think we can make a solid case for this from Scripture as well as Church tradition on this matter.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “anyone’s later evaluations.” Are you asking whether personal judgment can ever trump that of the ecclesiastical communion that the person has promised to submit to?

  130. Kirk #127,

    “If all paradigms were equal simply because of the fact that all people have to choose a paradigm, then even obviously stupid paradigms would have just as much likelihood of being correct as ones that anyone would agree are much better”

    Italian: È ovvio che non tutti i paradigmi hanno lo stesso valore. Ma quando parli di “paradigma stupido” sei tu a decidere che quel paradigma è stupido. Se per un’altra persona non è stupido, dovrei comunque discuterne con lei.

    English translation: It is obvious that not all paradigms have the same value. But when you say “stupid paradigm,” it is up to you to decide that that paradigm is stupid. If for another person it is not stupid, I should still discuss it with him.

    There is no point in reiterating that everyone must choose a paradigm. The question is: are there ever objective reasons for choosing one paradigm over another. So, will you tell us: do you believe that there can ever be objective reasons to choose one paradigm over another? Do you believe that such reasons might include: self-consistency; the ability to use the paradigm consistently to make distinctions between de fide truths and mere opinions; the ability to make a non-ad hoc distinction between canonical scriptures and non-canonical early texts?”

    Italian: Credo che ci siano criteri oggettivi per valutare la bontà di un paradigma. Un paradigma inconsistente o autocontradittorio è ovviamente invalido.

    English translation: I think there are objective criteria for evaluating the goodness of a paradigm. An inconsistent or self-contradicting paradigm is obviously invalid.

    Italian: Per quanto riguarda “the ability to use the paradigm consistently to make distinctions between de fide truths and mere opinions” è appunto il cuore del dibattito con Mathison. Secondo i difensori della “Sola Scriptura” il loro paradigma interpretativo permette di fare tale distinzione senza necessariamente ricorrere a un’autorità infallibile. Cross et al. difendono il contrario (“Sola” collapses into “Solo” in assenza di autorità infallibile). Io credo sinceramente che sia una questione complessa e non facilmente decidibile.

    English translation: Regarding “the ability to use the paradigm consistently to make distinctions between de fide truths and mere opinions,” is just the heart of the debate with Mathison. According to the defenders of “Sola Scriptura” their interpretive paradigm allows you to make that distinction without necessarily resorting to an infallible authority. Cross et al. defend the contrary (“Sola” collapses into “Solo” in the absence of infallible authority). I sincerely believe that it is a complex question and not easy to decide.

    “Most people, when they think about it, believe that there are objective reasons for choosing one paradigm over another. I believe most people of FAITH would consider a paradigm that allows us to distinguish — using within-paradigm reasoning, not mere ad hoc special pleading — between de fide truths and mere theological opinions to be rationally preferable to a paradigm that cannot make such a distinction. People without faith would find such a distinction meaningless. But if we are to believe anything that cannot be scientifically proved from our sources (in other words, if we are to believe anything by faith) then presumably we want to know what those things to be believed by faith are. Obviously, the only ways to know which things are de fide and which things are mere opinions is a personal revelation from God or a revelation transmitted to you conditional on believing in a paradigm that admits for such transmission. If you know of another way, please let me know! And if you know a way in which it makes sense to believe in religion without distinguishing between those truths that we know through science and those truths which we hold by faith, please let me know”

    Italian: La possibilità che dà il paradigma cattolico di distinguerein modo infallibile tra verità de fide ed opinioni è la ragione principale adotta da Cross et al. per difendere il loro paradigma contro Mathison, ma per credere in Dio o per essere cristiani non neccessariamente bisogna adottare il paradigma cattolico. Se, ad esempio, Mathison avesse ragione, tale distinzione si potrebbe fare, anche se non in modo infallibile.
    Se la verità storica potesse essere dimostrata “scientificamente” avremmo tutti i dati al posto giusto e il paradigma giusto. Ma siccome non è così, ci ritroviamo con dei paradigmi contrastanti . C’est la vie! :)

    English translation: The possibility that the Catholic paradigm gives an infallible way to distinguish bewteen de fide truth and opinion is the main reason for adopting from Cross et al. to defend their paradigm against Mathison; but to believe in God or to live as Christians it is not necessary to adopt the Catholic paradigm. If, for example, Mathison was right, that distinction could be made, though not infallibly. If the historical truth could be demonstrated “scientifically,” we would have all the data in the right place and right paradigm. But since it is not so, we are left with conflicting paradigms. C’est la vie!

    “In short, I detect behind your questions the belief that the truths of religion are all more or less provable by reason and science, and that the relative strength which which we hold these (potential) truths should correspond with what we’ve “proven” through our reason”

    Italian: No, non è questo che credo. La risurrezione di Gesù non può essere provata scientificamente, ma non è affatto irrazionale credere in essa. Comunque non dimenticarti che è la ragione a permetterci di dialogare in modo intelligibile. :)

    English translation: No, this is not what I think. The resurrection of Jesus cannot be proven scientifically, but it is not irrational to believe in it. However, do not forget that the reason is to allow us to communicate in an intelligible way.

    “If that is what you believe, then you are not at the stage yet to be comparing paradigms based on their ability to self-consistently transmit truths of revelation (faith) to you. You need to first decide whether there are such things as truths of faith as opposed to truths known simply by reason”

    Italian: La verità di fede non si oppongono alle verità che ci vengono dalla ragione. Le verità di fede non possono essere conosciute dalla sola ragione, per questo appunto Dio si è rivelato.

    English translation: The truths of faith are not opposed to the truths that come from reason. The truths of faith can not be known by reason alone, [which is] precisely why God has revealed them.

    “I’ll reiterate again: if you really believe that the fact that everyone must choose a paradigm renders all paradigms equal, then you must believe that even silly and self-contradictory paradigms are equally likely to be true as self-consistent ones”

    Italian: Come ho detto prima, penso che ci siano criteri oggettivi (consistenza logica, ad esempio) per valutare la bontà di un paradigma. Ma spesso, come in questo caso, si hanno due paradigmi non stupidi e ognuno ha le sue buone ragioni per essere sostenuto.

    English translation: As I said before, I think there are objective criteria (logical consistency, for example) to assess the quality of a paradigm. But often, as in this case, there are two paradigms that are not stupid, and each has good reasons to be supported.

    “I think you must not believe that. So, in that case, do you or do you not believe that a paradigm in which the set of truths to be believed by faith is cleanly distinguished from theological opinions is more self-consistent then a paradigm in which everyone acts like they believe some truths by faith, but they have no non-contradictory means other than a personal revelation from God to distinguish between the truths they hold by faith and everything else they believe? Because using reason to prove truths of faith is contradictory”

    Italian: La tua domanda assume di avere ragione in partenza, perché presuppone che il paradigma del Sola Scriptura non distingue tra verità di fede e opinioni. Invece, secondo i suoi difensori, lo fa. La diferenza è che nel paradigma cattolico la distinzione viene fatta in modo infallibile e nel protestante questa distinzione la fa un’autorità che non si proclama infallibile. La questione è: questa distinzione deve essere fatta in modo infallibile perché sia valida? È questo, a mio parere, il nodo del dibattito.

    English translation: Your question assumes you are right at the start [i.e. from the outset], because it assumes that the paradigm of Sola Scriptura does not distinguish between the truths of faith and opinions. On the other hand, according to its defenders, it does. The difference is that in the Catholic paradigm the distinction is made between the infallible way and the Protestant authority which makes no claim to be infallible. The question is, does this distinction need to be made in an infallible way in order to be valid? This is, in my opinion, the crux of the debate.

    “Using reason to choose a paradigm in which truths of faith may be distinguished from opinions is not self-contradictory. But then relying on reason alone within the paradigm to make such a distinction is self-contradictory because it leaves no room for faith at all; unless you are going to claim that the choice of paradigm itself was an act of faith. But if even the choice of paradigm was an act of faith, then everything is an act of faith, and there’s no room for reason at all”

    Italian: Non so se ho capito bene. In ogni caso, l’accettare un dato paradigma cristiano presuppone ovviamente la fede, altrimenti non sarebbe cristiano. Siamo “in the faith bussines”, come dice Liccione. Comunque io non vedo nessuna dicotomia tra fede e ragione, neanche all’interno del paradigma cattolico. La retta ragione lascia sempre spazio alla fede, non pensi? Ci vuole la ragione per determinare se un paradigma è “stupido” :)

    English translation: I do not know if I understood correctly. In any case, the acceptance of a particular Christian paradigm presupposes faith, of course; otherwise it would not be Christian. We are “in the faith business,” as Liccione said. However I see no dichotomy between faith and reason, even within the Catholic paradigm. The right reason always leaves room for faith, don’t you think? It takes reason to determine whether a paradigm is “stupid.” :)

  131. Andrew #129

    Which local church should I join, commit to and submit to? I don’t want to strike out on my own, so I need you to fallibly tell me which church I should join (I’ve checked the back of my Bible twice and there are no directions on this one). At yellowpages.com I get 1,068 to choose from in my area so it looks like I shouldn’t have any problem finding one. I’ve google mapped it and there are about 5 within the same exact driving distance, a few right next to each other, so I’ve kind of ruled out going to the closest one. Plus, the closest church is LDS which kind of scares me…hmmm, who says they aren’t Christian? I have a friend who says he’s “felt the spirit” at one of their services. They read the Bible too!

    My immortal soul is waiting…

  132. Luis,

    It seems that all of our mis-fires of communication may not be the English-Italian, but our fundamentally different notions of skepticism about the intellect acquiring knowledge of an object that is not mediated by our projected paradigm onto the object. Following your line of reasoning we might ask the alien, “What paradigm did the alien have that caused it to decide that Christianity was interesting?” What a priori assumptions is the aliening bringing to the table that make the Catholic IP more compelling than the Protestant IP?

    A summary critique of your objection would be: Just because knowledge is personal doesn’t mean it’s subjective. Read Longergan’s “Insight” or Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge-Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy” to cover the topic more thoroughly than we can here. Why does someone study biology versus theology? Of course the act of getting to the world of real objects is a personal decision, but the fact that it is a personal decision doesn’t exclude the possibility that I can obtain to a knowledge that is beyond opinion. In this case, we are saying that Christ, his Church, and how he established it is a real object we can obtain to (Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium) and that our knowledge of it correspond to reality in compelling ways; not just “I like it!”. However, if you want to argue that all matters non-scientific can only obtain to that type of knowledge is fine, and you have that right, but I’m not sure that this forum is a good way to “sneak it in” if that is in fact what you are trying to do.

    I’ve really tried to come up with another explanation for your insistence despite Bryan and Mike’s diligent replies and copious writings on the matter but have had no luck.

  133. Andrew,

    I’m not sure what you mean by “anyone’s later evaluations.” Are you asking whether personal judgment can ever trump that of the ecclesiastical communion that the person has promised to submit to?

    I guess I really mean “anyone” in “anyone’s later evaluations.” Could the elders/bishops of the local congregation either reverse themselves, or could different elders (say at the same church 40 years later, or at your new church when you move across the country) hold up a contrary article to one held up here and now? (Sounds like the answer to that is “yes”, since “local congregations can run the gamut…”) Could the “collective judgment” of conservative Protestant denominations evolve over time (even centuries) to the point of a reversal? And if an individual discovers a new-but-unavoidable (to himself/herself) reading of St. Paul that conflicts with a truth as locally proclaimed, is he/she ever justified in playing that as a trump card?

    What I’m trying to get at is: How authoritative is authoritative? Is it always just “authoritative until…” or “authoritative except…”?

    On #3 [embryo destruction for stem cells], to my knowledge the conservative Protestant denominations have sided with the conservatives in the RCC on this matter against the liberals of both Protestant and Catholic varieties.

    How would you know whether such a consensus is authoritative? At what stage is submission of the faithful required?

    Vivat Jesus.
    Nathaniel

    p.s. Many thanks to everyone at Called to Communion: writers, guest contributors, regular commentors — what a joy and blessing for a lifelong Catholic like me. Reading along has been good philosophy training, too :)

  134. Luis,

    There are lots of reasons for believing in the Catholic Church that have nothing to do with the superior self-consistency of the Catholic paradigm in distinguishing de fide truths from opinions. But one reason, as Michael has noted, is that the Catholic paradigm can make such a distinction.

    If there is no infallible interpretation of scripture, then how does anything other than an excerpt from scripture count as part of the _divinely revealed_ deposit of faith? If there are no infallible interpretations, then the only sentences that I can speak that count as part of the deposit of faith are sentences plucked directly out of scripture.

    But it is impossible to be a Christian and really live as if only such excerpts from scripture are infallibly true. The protestants excommunicate people for lots of beliefs that cannot be obviously or definitively shown to be worthy of such excommunication from scripture alone. They stake their own salvation and others’ on doctrines which are not only not excerpts from scripture, but were not believed for the first 1600 years of Christianity.

    How do they obtain such certainty about the essential truth of statements that are not excerpts from scripture? They obtain them by pretending that these statements are obvious and clear deductions that can be reasoned-out by combining various excerpts from scripture. But you cannot possibly believe, Luis, that sola fide and sola scriptura are both obvious deductions from scripture (If you do believe that this is a possibility, spending some time reading Bryan’s and others’ discussions of the relevant passages from scripture should suffice to see that intelligent people can disagree with the reformers’ novel interpretations of these passages, to say the least).

    So, it is only a non-Protestant paradigm that admits for infallible pronouncements on the correct interpretation of scripture that allows for a divinely revealed deposit of faith that is rich enough to do what such a deposit needs to do in the lives of any group of Christians.

    The protestants reveal this necessity every time they excommunicate people from their small churches for doctrinal beliefs that are nowhere rejected explicitly in scripture. They reveal by their own actions that you can’t have a self-consistent paradigm that denies that any sentences that aren’t excerpts from scripture are infallible, and yet allows a body of Christians that follow the paradigm to function as Churches naturally do.

    Do you see the inconsistency that I am driving at? And do you see how the Catholic Church does not suffer from this inconsistency?

    Finally, please believe that there are weighty historical reasons for believing in the Catholic Church. Thinking about self-consistency is not the only point here.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  135. Brent (re:131),

    I would guess that you would run into the same problem in visiting Protestant congregations at random than you would Catholic ones. That is, in terms of the belief systems of the clergy and laity that attend the Catholic congregations you can find most anything you want. It reminds me again of the convert from Catholicism I referred to earlier who said, after attending many Catholic congregations, that Catholicism is like the Buddhism of the West since it has absorbed such a great many things. That does not mean we don’t run across conservative Catholisc of the sort that seems to post on these blogs, but in real life it seems to be a relatively rare occasion.

    So given this, how would you start to give similar advice to the Protestant turning Catholic?

  136. Nathaniel (re: 133),

    I guess I really mean “anyone” in “anyone’s later evaluations.” Could the elders/bishops of the local congregation either reverse themselves, or could different elders (say at the same church 40 years later, or at your new church when you move across the country) hold up a contrary article to one held up here and now?

    Yes, sure that could happen. Doesn’t it happen in all religions? Doesn’t it happen in Catholicism? Assuming you are a conservative sort of Catholic, what would you do if your congregation went liberal?

    And if an individual discovers a new-but-unavoidable (to himself/herself) reading of St. Paul that conflicts with a truth as locally proclaimed, is he/she ever justified in playing that as a trump card.

    And as a variant of the question above, what happens if you, knowing what you do now, come across Catholic leaders in a congregation or wherever else, who tell you something you are sure not to be true based on your understanding of the deposit of the faith. What then? Can your knowledge ever trump the judgment of a given set of priests or bishops? I think this is an apropos question for you since Catholicism is hardly a monolithic movement, is it?

    [Concerning your question on embryos], How would you know whether such a consensus is authoritative? At what stage is submission of the faithful required?

    Generally these kinds of applications issues are not considered part of the system of Reformed dogmatic theology that comprises the central concerns of the Christian faith. So in Reformed theology I don’t know that you can speak of “consensus” on these kinds of issues in the same formal sense that you can over let’s say a Christological doctrine. But I think it would be interesting to find out what the consensus was of clergy and laity who took the conservative position on this issue in Reformed and Catholic congregations. My sense is that you would find the greater pro-life consensus among Reformed congregations. What do you think?

  137. Andrew (re: #135),

    As I have explained before, the term ‘conservative Catholic’ is inaccurate and misleading. It imposes Protestant assumptions on Catholic doctrine and ecclesiology, and as a result misrepresents them.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  138. Andrew #35,

    Since I don’t know which Protestant church to join, I would recommend joining the local Catholic Church, seek to understand the teachings of The Church (not your local parishes interpretation; we have copious documents to help you do that-Papal encyclicals, CCC, etc.), ask Jesus in the Blessed sacrament “is that you?” and, if needed in your parish, seek to reform it from the inside in the spirit of unity and charity and through the intercession of St. Francis de Sales or another’s patronage you may choose.

    However, what you will find once you enter (unless you are only going to count New England, USA parishes) is a great many, holy, devout people who love the Church. And, as Bryan has noted there are orthodox Catholics and there are hetero-dox Catholics, and then there are heterodox schismatics (no “conservative Catholics”). I know, Andrew, evangelizaton starts at home (Catholic Church) but isn’t it a lot more exciting working to reform the Bride of Christ than my own local “version of myself” congregation? The Church: Saints and sinners and everything in between (it’s our slogan!).

    Peace to you in your journey.

  139. Luis,

    Luis wrote:

    Yes, but you trusted your skills of assessment to decide who you had to rely on, or not?

    Indeed, and Catholics need not deny that fact. Nevertheless, that does not lead to the type of epistemic parity you think it does. I have addressed this concern before, so I will here recount my response to your very understandable concern with a bit of additional development:

    PROTESTANT OBJECTION: Even if solo or sola scriptura devolve into private interpretation it does not matter for the sake of this argument. The Catholic, also, must make a private fallible determination that the Catholic Church is who she claims she is. In both systems the person is not taken out of the loop. Hence, you too “tu quoque” [the Catholic] are stuck in subjectivism. Albeit it at an earlier stage and only at that stage.

    KEEPING THE BIGGER PICTURE IN VIEW:
    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 know 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.

    ANSWERING THE “tu quoque” OBJECTION:
    Nevertheless, your insight is well taken; namely, that the person 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 person 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 does not even propose the possibility of a mechanism which might achieve that all-important distinction, since its mechanism of choice just is “private judgment” by definition (i.e. all Protestant churches explicitly deny that they or anyone else can ever speak to doctrinal matters infallibly). 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 (as I just explained). 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, or to Protestant churches in general; churches which cannot, even in theory, solve the larger orthodoxy/heterodoxy problem in the first place. Hence, just as there are good historical reasons and motives of credibility for believing (making an assent of faith) in Christ’s personal claim to speak with Divine authority (as opposed to the claims of a David Koresh who has no miraculous or historical street cred to back up his claim); so too there are good historical reasons (motives of credibility) for believing (making an assent of faith) in the claim of the Catholic Church as being authorized by Christ to continue speaking with His Divine authority through space and time. I note that neither the claims of Christ, nor the claims of the Catholic Church are rationally demonstrable (in the way that 2+2=4); however both claims are quite “reasonable”.

    Again, part of what motivates one to accept the reasonable (though not mathematically demonstrable) claims of Christ about His own Divine authority, as opposed to the teachings of say a Confucius, is that the former claims that His teaching is Divine revelation and gives some objective signs to support that claim; whereas the later doesn’t even bother to make the claim. Hence, ALONG WITH THE HISTORICAL MOTIVES OF CREDIBILITY, the claims of Christ, IF true, offer the possibility of sure knowledge about life’s ultimate questions. Confucius by contrast, doesn’t make the same kind of Divine authority claim that Christ does. Likewise, part of what motivates one to accept the reasonable (though not mathematically demonstrable) claims of the Catholic Church about her own Divine authority grant, as opposed to the teachings of a local Protestant church, is that the former claims that her definitive teachings are Divinely protected from error and can point to some motives of credibility to support her authority claim; whereas the later doesn’t even bother to make the claim. Hence, ALONG WITH THE HISTORICAL MOTIVES OF CREDIBILITY, the claims of he Catholic Church IF true, offer one the possibility of sure knowledge about life’s ultimate questions. The local Protestant church by contrast, besides lacking any similar historical motives of credibility, doesn’t even purport to provide the same kind of certainty (i.e. they admit that all of their teachings are potentially fallible).

    It is crucial to remember that articles of faith such as the Trinitarian nature of God, the hypostatic union of human nature and Divine nature in Christ, the nature and mechanics of justification, etc.; are all truths which IN PRINCIPLE are beyond the capacity of the human intellect to know on its own. These truths, by their very nature must be revealed, AND ACCEPTED on the basis of someone (not merely a book which just pushes the issue back by requiring an authoritative interpretation) claiming to speak with Divine authority. If you had lived during Jesus’ earthly ministry you would have heard him give all sorts of interpretations of OT scriptures which were hotly contested by the scholarly class of His day. Rather than ask his followers to go to the original sources or consult the best scholarship to see if His message and ministry was plausibly consistent with the Law and the Prophets; He instead spoke with authority and offered visible signs to confirm his message, the greatest of these, of course, being His resurrection. Likewise, after the resurrection we hear of Jesus opening up the scriptures (OT) to the men on the road to Emmaus by showing how everything in the Law and the Prophets pointed to Himself. The men’s hearts “burn within them” because they see the harmony of the interpretive narrative that Jesus paints for them, and they rejoice after becoming aware that their traveling companion was Jesus (after the breaking of the bread). The point is this; during Jesus own life time, what He asked from His followers was faith in His own claims to be the Messiah, the Son God. Once one came to accept that identification, then after that point, WHATEVER he taught was ipso facto binding and authoritative.

    This is why Jesus’ most poignant question to His disciples is not “how plausible do you find my interpretation of the Old Testament and the history of Israel?”; but rather, “WHO do you say that I am?”. Jesus teaches all kinds of things which are utterly beyond the reach of unaided reason (that He is the Son of God, that He will go to prepare a place for us, that He is the judge of the World, that there is no marriage in heaven, etc, etc, etc.). Though Christ’s interpretation of the Law and the Prophets as it relates to what is binding and what is not, and how they both point to himself, is a quite plausible interpretive narrative; it was certainly not seen that way by all the scholars of His day. The Scribes and Pharisees very much contested His teaching. However, for the disciples, their acceptance of Christ’s interpretative paradigm was based on their personal conviction that Christ’s claims for Himself were true – NOT on their subsequent right and duty to go search the OT scriptures for themselves and potentially decide that their own interpretation did or did not match up with His. This is why, when Jesus in John 6 begins teaching a VERY difficult doctrine (of dubious exegetical veracity in the minds of the crowd), the multitudes walk away. The disciples then turn to Jesus and enter into an exchange that goes to the heart of this discussion:

    . . . his disciples, hearing it, said: “This saying is hard; and who can hear it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: “Does this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that believe not.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that did not believe and who he was that would betray him.

    Notice here that the issue is the assent of faith in WHO Jesus is – in His authority – which must serve as the basis for acceptance of His teaching, NOT, some individual exegetical assessment that Jesus’ teaching lined up with the OT. Of course, many could not bring themselves to make the assent and so we read:

    After this, many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him. Then Jesus said to the twelve: “Will you also go away”?

    On behalf of the twelve, Peter answers with the voice of faith; humbling himself to accept Jesus teaching no matter how much it went against the grain of his own thinking BECAUSE he had come to believe that Christ spoke with Divine authority. Once he had made that assent, his IP could go no further. He renounced his “right” to hold each of Jesus’ teachings hostage to his own assessment of OT texts or history. Thus, we read:

    And Simon Peter answered him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

    The Catholic approach to the Divine authority claims of the Catholic Church is much like the approach of the disciples to the Divine authority claims of Christ Himself. Just as the later renounced their right to hold Jesus teaching in the dock once they recognized who He was; so too, the Catholic Christian renounces his right to hold the Church’s definitive teachings in the dock once he comes to recognize that she is the mystical body of Christ, speaking with her Head’s own authority. In both cases, an initial, fallible, assessment of the claims results in an assent of faith to a Divine Authority; an Authority whose definitive doctrinal deliverances are thereafter accepted as binding. The Protestant Christian, by rejecting the living authority of the Church in favor of a text-only data source (when he does so consciously), always holds most all articles of faith in the dock of his or her own evaluative court. As a Catholic sees things, that’s the difference between faith and opinion with regard to the revealed doctrines.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  140. Italian: Ho letto con molto interesse “The Tu Quoque” (ma non ho letto i commenti). In effetti se lo avessi letto prima, i miei interventi qua avrebbero avuto un’impostazione diversa. Ci sono molte cose interessanti che tralascio per concentrarmi sull’aspetto che a me interessa di più.
    Non ho nessun scopo polemico, solo volontà di accertarmi di aver capito bene il ragionamento dell’articolo.

    Ecco la mia versione sintetica:

    “Ciò che costituisce la differenza tra il diventare cattolico e il diventare protestante è la natura dell’oggetto scoperto, nel senso che essendo la Chiesa Cattolica la depositaria della verità, scoprire la verità è, nella sua natura, diverso da scoprire una semplice interpretazione umana”

    Se questo è il suco del discorso, mi sembra evidente che l’argomentazione presupponga la verità della Chiesa Cattolica, e dunque sia valido per coloro che sono convinti che la Chiesa Cattolica sia la depositaria della verità.

    “Scoprire la verità, a causa della natura della verità stessa, è diverso da scoprire un’interpretazione falsa” Sarebbe questa una riformulazione valida? Nel senso che se, per ipotesi (faccio un esempio assurdo), i Testimoni di Geova fossero i depositari della verità l’argomento sarebbe applicabile a loro?

    Mi piacerebbe poter editare i miei interventi ma non so come farlo.

    English translation: I read with great interest “The Tu Quoque” (but I have not read the comments). In fact if I had read it before, my work here would have a different setting. There are many interesting things that I omit to concentrate on what interests me more. I have no purpose to be controversial; I only want to make sure I understand the reasoning of the article.

    Here’s my short version:

    “What constitutes the difference between becoming Catholic and becoming Protestant is the nature of the object found in the sense that the Catholic Church as the custodian of the truth, discovers what the truth is, and that is different in nature from discovering a simple human interpretation.”

    If this is the essence of the article, it seems clear that the argument presupposes the truth of the Catholic Church, and therefore is valid for those who are convinced that the Catholic Church is the repository of truth.

    “Discovering the truth, because of the nature of truth itself, is different from discovering a false interpretation” would this would be a good rewording? In the sense that if, theoretically (I do a ridiculous example), the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the guardians of truth, the argument would apply to them?

    I wish I could edit my posts but I do not know how to do it.

  141. Ray Stamper, K. Doran e Brent,

    Italian: grazie delle vostre risposte. Quando (e se) avrò tempo vi risponderò. In ogni caso, come ho avuto modo di verificare, una risposta precipitata è la peggiore delle risposte. Non avevo mai partecipato a un foro di queste caratteristiche ed è veramente impegnativo. Solo il week-end posso dedicare più tempo alla lettura e alla riflessione dei commenti. Tenete conto inoltre che io impiego il doppio (probabilmente di più) del tempo rispetto a voi per capire ed interpretare i testi in inglese. Per me la lingua è il primo ostacolo ed è possibile che tante sfumature mi sfuggano. Quindi vi chiedo pazienza e comprensione :)

    English translation: thank you for your answers. When (and if) I get time I’ll reply. In any case, so far as I have been able to verify, the excessive haste of my responses has made them worse. I have never participated in a forum for these characteristics and it is very challenging. I can spend more time reading and considering these comments only on weekends. Please note that I take twice (probably more) as much time as you to understand and interpret the texts in English. For me, language is the first hurdle and it is possible that many nuances escape me. So I ask you for patience and understanding.

  142. -TU QUOQUE

    Bryan Cross dice:

    “there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the locus of “ultimate interpretive authority:” sola scriptura, no less than solo scriptura, entails that the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture”

    Italian: Sola Scriptura collapses into Solo perché il locus dell’ultima autorità interpretativa è l’individuo.

    English translation: Sola Scriptura collapses into Solo because the locus of final interpretive authority is the individual.

    Cross dice ancora:

    “The Catholic position does not suffer from this circularity, because ‘Church’ is not defined in terms of “gospel,” but in terms of apostolic succession, involving an unbroken line of authorizations extending down from the Apostles. Just as Christ authorized and sent the Apostles to preach and teach in His Name, and govern His Church, so the Apostles, by the laying on of their hands, appointed bishops as their successors, and by this mystery handed on to them the divine authority to preach and teach and govern the Church. And these men also, in the same way authorized other men to succeed them to preach and teach the gospel and govern Christ’s Church. Only those having the succession from the Apostles are divinely authorized to preach and teach and govern Christ’s Church. For that reason, the Church is defined not by the gospel (as determined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture)”

    Italian: La posizione cattolica è ugualmente circolare perché il locus dell’autorità interpretativa ultima è sempre l’individuo. Chi decide che la Chiesa deve essere definita in termini di successione apostolica? È sempre l’individuo. È l’individuo che, in ultima analisi, decide sempre quali sono i criteri più validi in base ai quali definire la vera Chiesa. Per diventare cattolico si devono prendere decisioni riguardo ai criteri definitori più validi per prendere la decisione di quale sia la vera Chiesa. E infatti la scelta di questi criteri è decisiva nella decisione finale. Una volta deciso che la successione apostolica è il criterio definitorio della Chiesa, la strada verso il Cattolicesimo è quasi fatta.
    In fondo, decidere qual è la vera Chiesa equivale a definire cos’è la vera Chiesa. La decisione finale di diventare cattolico/protestante/ortodosso o altro dipenderà quindi dal criterio (o dai criteri) che l’individuo sceglie per elaborare la sua definizione. E il locus dell’autorità finale nell’elaborazione di quel criterio è sempre l’individuo.

    English translation:

    The Catholic position is just as circular, because the locus of the ultimate interpretive authority is always the individual. Who decides that the Church must be defined in terms of apostolic succession? It is always the individual. It is the individual who ultimately decides what criteria are always the most valid basis of defining the true Church. To become a Catholic comes down to making decisions about the longer valid definitional criteria for making a decision about which is the true Church. Indeed, the choice of criteria is crucial to the final decision. Once you have decided that the apostolic succession is the defining criterion of the Church, the way Catholicism is almost done.

    After all, to decide what is the true Church is tantamount to defining what the true Church. The final decision to become Catholic / Protestant / Orthodox or other therefore depend on the criterion (or criteria) that the individual chooses to develop its definition. And the locus of the final drafting of that policy is always the individual.

  143. Luis,

    I recommend that you read (or re-read) the post titled “The Tu Quoque,” because your objection is directly answered in that post. (And please put further comments about the tu quoque under that post.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  144. Michael Liccione:

    Just a quick note of appreciation from a Protestant reader. For what it’s worth, I found your identification and discussion of the issues that you raise to be clear and hopefully helpful to the ongoing discussion. Thanks.

  145. Bryan #143
    Bryan, you’re right.
    Here I’m off topic.
    I just posted my reply in “The Tu quoque” article, with new and interesting (I hope) elements.

  146. Great post, great post… I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading it.

    I am someone who is struggling with where I belong in Christendom and I think parts IV and V address the concern I have. I just don’t have a very good grasp on philosophy (to be honest)… is there a “For Dummies” version of your argument somewhere? :)

    I keep thinking I understand it, but as soon as I walk away from the computer screen I can’t rebuild the case in my head.

    Thanks all!

  147. Michael @ #146
    (here’s a shorter version of Michael’s argument-Mike, if I do it injustice please correct me)

    Conservative Protestants and Catholics assume that there is (A) a definitive/objective “deposit of faith” and (B) the material object of faith is God

    1) Protestant and Catholic interpretive paradigms (IP’s) handle “underdetermined” data differently and this data by nature requires an IP (non-self evident/obviating)

    2) According to the Protestant IP, one must going to the ancient texts, especially Scripture and make the correct inferences

    3) Further, once we learn all the possible statements that can be inductively and deductively gotten to from #2, we have all we must believe and anything beyond that is deception

    4) The Catholic IP says this begs the question because you still do not have an authoritative ground for the conclusions of #2 or the closing of #2 at #3, and as such you have opinion which isn’t safeguarded from error

    5) The Catholic IP includes a Magisterium which is the “college” of bishops in communion with the bishop in Rome, who by a charism of the Holy Spirit is protected from error

    6) The Magisterium is the interpreter but also protector of the deposit of faith found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition

    7) Those things which do not contradict with Scripture form one “deposit of faith” (thus something could be known beyond point #3 in the Protestant IP)

    8) Since a confessional Protestant considers both Tradition (Church Fathers, creeds, Confessions) and a concept of “The Church”, it leaves open the question, “How does one identify church?”

    9) Since a Protestant IP goes to Scripture alone (sola scripture; #2), he/she must construct a concept of church that is rationally unassailable as “the group of people that hold to #2 under the conditions of #3

    10) However, we can contend that despite this positions promise, history has proven that learned and rational men do not agree on what #2 is under the conditions of #3

    11) This conflict is rationally unavoidable

    12) The Catholic is not in the same position because he does not hold to #2, nor does he claim that the Catholic IP is rationally unassailable, but only that within a Catholic IP the Magisterium’s claim is reasonable enough

    13) The Protestant claim is a stronger claim than the Catholic claim but presents a number of serious problems that it can only resolve by recourse to fallible arguments which contradicts #2/3

    14) Thus, it is more reasonable to adopt a Catholic IP if one assumes A and B because “if the Catholic Magisterium’s claims” for itself are true then we have judgments that are secured by divine authority.

    15) This does not show the “if” claim is true, but it does demonstrate that determining the definitive deposit of faith is possible under the Catholic IP (principled not out of nowhere) but is not under the Protestant IP because of what the IP requires (rational unassailability)

    Peace to you on your journey.

  148. Brent:

    As we say in New York: “Not too shabby”! I don’t see much point here in trying to clean up the logical form of your summary, which would be a purely technical matter. But I think it would be useful to add a bit about the standard Protestant response, which is also the response some Orthodox make, to that argument, and what the Catholic rejoinder needs to be.

    The standard reply is a sophisticated version of the tu quoque, which is that the Catholic IP (CIP) can, itself, only be justified by the sort of means used by the Protestant/Eastern IP (PEIP), and is thus an instance of special pleading. That is, in order to argue that an infallible certifier and interpreter of the sources does in fact belong to the FPOF, we need to examine Scripture and Tradition to see if that can be inferred therefrom, and if it can’t be, then the CIP suffers from the very defect it attributes to the PEIP. The proper rejoinder is that, since the CIP does not require that any disputed article of faith be so inferable, it does not require that the existence of an infallible certifier and interpreter, as part of the FPOF, needs to or even can be so inferred. The argument for the CIP is, rather, philosophical: absent an ecclesial authority such as the CIP posits, it cannot be the case that the content and the normativity of Scripture and Tradition are more than matters of opinion, and hence not even they could form part of the FPOF.

    Best,
    Mike

    Best,
    Mike

  149. Mike,

    What would you say to Protestant who argues that there is nothing in scripture that isn’t obviating? I think this is the argument you get from a lot in the sola crowd. They reject premise 1, or rather the necessity for an IP. A kind of “we hold these truths to be self-evident” view of Christian dogma. Further, what if they try to escape the rational unassailability problem by just denying it as such a claiming a type of RC reasonableness thesis? (e.g., “anyone can see it”) I think you have spoken to this before (presuppositionalism) but I wasn’t sure how it would effect your argument here.

    Regards,

    Brent

  150. Hi Mike,

    Before I give a more detailed reply to your post, please clarify what exactly is the proximate, formal object of faith ? Is it the teaching authority ? Doctrinal content of the “deposit of faith” ? Both ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  151. Eric (#150):

    Sorry I didn’t notice your question before. The answer is simple.

    Consider the following passage in my article:

    The main difference between Catholicism and conservative Protestantism as a whole is… about the proximate, “formal” object of faith. In other words, the two represent different answers to the question: Just which ensemble of secondary authorities must we trust, and in what relationship with each other, in order to reliably identify all and only what the primary object of faith wants us to believe, namely the deposit of faith? (Emphasis added.)

    For the conservative Protestant, then, the FPOF is Scripture alone. For the Catholic, it is Tradition-Scripture-Magisterium, where “none can stand without the others” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum §10).

    Best,
    Mike

  152. Brent (#149):

    In effect, the reply you’re positing for “the Protestant” is that Scripture requires no interpretation. Mathison does not believe that, nor do most Protestant theologians. The few who do believe it are refuted by both the history and the inherent exigencies of reading the text.

    Best,
    Mike

  153. Mike,

    I would like to concentrate on section I and see how much progress we can make. Using customary catholic theological language as a bases of agreement is my goal.

    I. Our two basic assumptions should not be contested, but they do require some supplements and more precision (without wrangling over words). Here are some key points in catholic theology that I understand.

    Object of Faith:
    I. Formal
    A. Quod – Primary object of faith is God as Prime Truth.
    B. Quo – The motive for believing is Prime Truth speaking, or the authority of God revealing.

    II. Material
    A. All that God has revealed
    a. primarily, Himself (uncreated truth)
    b. secondarily, anything other than Himself (created truth)

    You wrote:
    The main difference between Catholicism and conservative Protestantism as a whole is not about that, but about the proximate, “formal” object of faith.

    Reply:
    This point needs further clarification. Anything formal pertaining to the object of faith is specifically related to uncreated truth alone. If you mean to say “those truths of the deposit that are articulated and proposed for divine and catholic faith”, then it seems the main difference is the “secondary material” object of faith. Perhaps you mean the proximate rule of faith that “formalizes” the material in the sources of revelation, especially a source like sacred tradition ?

    You wrote:
    Just which ensemble of secondary authorities must we trust, and in what relationship with each other, in order to reliably identify all and only what the primary object of faith wants us to believe, namely the deposit of faith?

    R:
    The trustworthiness of a secondary authority is measured after we determine how and what we
    know concerning the formal motive of faith. I have embraced reformed protestantism with presuppositional leanings, so determining how we know the formal motive is capital. As long as the “ensemble” includes sources of revelation, church teaching, and the magisterium, then confusion remains about which is formal or material. Applying “authority” to any of these would be on account of the formal motive (Quo) of faith, so I see great danger if someone thinks a secondary authority is a formal object of faith. The prime credibles, God as revealer and first truth revealed are known through reason, supplemented by faith, prior to any consideration of secondary authorities. Even those truths said to be specific to the order of grace, known by faith, are brought forward for reason to judge their non-contradictory status compared with accepted canons of reason. Again, all of this takes place prior to secondary authorities. Are you limiting the deposit of faith to those specific truths known only to faith ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  154. Eric:

    What you’ve presented, without quotation or citation, as the relevant points of Catholic theology are actually compatible with what I said. How?

    I notice that, under “Formal,” you do not distinguish between “primary or secondary” or, to use my terms, “ultimate and proximate.” The primary or ultimate formal object of faith is as you say. The secondary or proximate formal object of faith is that ensemble of secondary authorities which present to us what the primary or ultimate formal object, i.e. God as “Prime” or “First” Truth, wants us to believe, which is presented under your “Material.”

    With that verbal issue out of the way, I turn what you say next:

    Anything formal pertaining to the object of faith is specifically related to uncreated truth alone. If you mean to say “those truths of the deposit that are articulated and proposed for divine and catholic faith”, then it seems the main difference is the “secondary material” object of faith. Perhaps you mean the proximate rule of faith that “formalizes” the material in the sources of revelation, especially a source like sacred tradition ?

    You’ve almost got my meaning, but not quite. Contrary to your first sentence, what I call the “proximate” formal object of faith comprises the “created” vehicles by which (quo) we apprehend what God as First Truth presents to us with his authority. On the Catholic understanding, those vehicles are Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium; it is the content thereof which belongs to the material object of faith. So assuming I understand it aright, your last question above should be answered in the affirmative, save that “rule” of faith is too narrow a term for what I’m talking about.

    I have real trouble, however, with a few things you say next. First:

    As long as the “ensemble” includes sources of revelation, church teaching, and the magisterium, then confusion remains about which is formal or material.

    I’ve made myself clear about how I use the formal-material distinction. I don’t think there’s any confusion.

    Second:

    The prime credibles, God as revealer and first truth revealed are known through reason, supplemented by faith, prior to any consideration of secondary authorities. Even those truths said to be specific to the order of grace, known by faith, are brought forward for reason to judge their non-contradictory status compared with accepted canons of reason. Again, all of this takes place prior to secondary authorities.

    That God as First Truth has in fact revealed himself to us is, itself, a object for the assent of faith. Though reason can play a role in helping us make that assent, and often does, it cannot establish the fact of revelation on its own, which I presume is why you say “supplemented by faith.” But for those of us who did not experience the Christ-event directly, there can be no (“material”) object for the assent of faith which is not presented through the vehicles constituting what I call the formal, proximate object of faith. As the “secondary authorities,” those vehicles contain and transmit the content to which we assent. So it’s just false to say that we can or should recognize the fact of divine revelation “prior to any consideration of secondary authorities.” It is precisely by putting trust in those authorities that we have an object for the assent of faith in God as First Truth. The role of reason in facilitating faith is to provide good reason, though not necessitating reason, for trusting said authorities.

    Finally, you ask:

    Are you limiting the deposit of faith to those specific truths known only to faith?

    No. Some of what’s contained in the deposit of faith can be known by reason alone, such as the existence of God as Creator, the fact that there is only one God, and other points. But as St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us, rather few people are fully equipped to achieve such knowledge by philosophical reasoning alone, and even those who manage it do so only with some “admixture of error.” And so it was fitting for our salvation that even certain truths knowable by reason are presented to humanity as objects for the assent of faith, thus belonging to the “deposit of faith.”

    Best,
    Mike

  155. Michael, how do you define the “fact of revelation?” Depending on how you define that term, I might take serious issue with your claim that that reason cannot establish the fact of Revelation on its own.

  156. Brian:

    I meant this, which I also said: “That God as First Truth has in fact revealed himself to us is, itself, a object for the assent of faith.” I said that for two reasons.

    First, if reason alone could establish that God as First Truth has revealed himself to us, that fact would not be an object for the assent of faith. Second, said fact must be an object for the assent of faith, because we who have not experienced the Christ-event directly can only apprehend public revelation by putting our trust in the formal, proximate object of faith, namely Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium. The FPOF is what presents the content of revelation to us for our assent, and we can have no awareness of the fact of revelation without knowing its content, at least in broad terms.

    Best,
    Mike

  157. Michael (#156)

    …we who have not experienced the Christ-event directly …

    It seems to me that even if we had experienced the Christ event directly, we would still have to have faith that He is the Christ, would we not? The same motives of credibility – strengthened by the witnessing His miracles and so forth – would, nevertheless, not have driven us to an undeniable knowledge. The possibility of other, albeit far-fetched, explanations – like unknown natural laws, for example – would have been available.

    Or am I wrong?

    jj

  158. JJ:

    Of course those who experienced the Christ-event directly needed faith. But their faith needed no “proximate” object, for they experienced the “ultimate” object directly. We who “have not seen, but believe” must rely on the FPOF.

    Best,
    Mike

  159. I want to be careful, here. It could be that I am missing some subtlety in your definition that is throwing me.

    Bryan Cross, in the comments thread to Episode 4 – Faith and Revealed Truth, recommended to me an essay by Rev. George D Smith. Here is what Rev. Smith has to written on this topic:

    The human mind, then, is able to learn with certainty the existence of God;
    is able, by the proper investigation of the facts, to conclude that Christ
    is the bearer of a divine message, that he founded an infallible Church for
    the purpose of propagating that message; and finally, by the process
    indicated in apologetics, to conclude that the Catholic Church is that
    divinely appointed teacher of revelation. These things, I say, can be known
    and proved, and by those who have the requisite leisure, opportunity and
    ability, are actually known and proved with all the scientific certainty of
    which the subject is patient. The preambles of faith, therefore, rest upon
    the solid ground of human reason.

    But while the human mind can satisfy itself by rational demonstration of
    the existence of God, and by historical investigation of the “fact of
    revelation,” it remains true that for a great proportion of the human race
    such a process of scientific demonstration is a practical impossibility.

    So do you disagree with Smith on what reason can establish? If so, do you have any Magisterial statements in mind, or is your disagreement philosophical?

  160. Brian,

    I think Fr. Smith goes a tad too far in the direction of rationalism, in that his language all but eliminates the distinction between the assent of reason and that of faith. Of course I don’t deny that, in principle, a person directly acquainted with the full extent and depth of the “motives of credibility” would have more than reason enough to conclude what Fr. Smith says can be concluded. But the fact is that nobody who did not directly experience the public revelation in Jesus Christ is in a position to learn the full extent and depth of the motives of credibility. Hence, for those of us who have not “seen” but “believe,” the most reason can do in practice is show that putting trust in the FPOF is reasonable–not that it is rationally necessitated. That’s what I take Cardinal Newman’s position to have been.

    Bryan Cross and I may well end up disagreeing somewhat about this matter, but I do not believe that anything binding on the conscience of Catholics is at stake in such a disagreement.

    Best,
    Mike

  161. Michael (#158)

    Thanks, Michael. OK, I see what you mean now.

    jj

  162. Michael, (re: #160)

    In my opinion Fr. Smith preserves the distinction between the assent of reason and that of faith, though I recognize that that is not clear from the passage Brian quoted. I do not know whether you and I disagree on this question of the evidential character of the motives of credibility. We have discussed this before in the “Son of a tu quoque” thread (see my comments #12, #23, and #37 there). Of course I agree with you that the motives of credibility do not make faith in Christ and the Church “rationally necessitated.” The motives of credibility do not rationally necessitate the act of faith.

    But I think the word ‘reasonable’ is too weak to capture sufficiently what the Church teaches about the evidential character of the motives of credibility in relation to the act of faith. That’s because x making assent to y reasonable does not entail that x makes one morally culpable for disbelieving y. Yet for those who know adequately the motives of credibility, disbelief is morally culpable, and the culpability is not only a resistance to actual grace, but at the level of reason as well. It is not that reason gives us a coin flip between two reasonable options (believing or disbelieving), and then actual grace makes us culpable for choosing against the motives of credibility. The motives of credibility as known by reason make us morally culpable for disbelieving Christ and His Church, and for resisting the actual grace given by which we could make the assent of faith.

    That moral culpability at the level of reason for disbelieving the motives of credibility is not only true of eye-witnesses (e.g. Pharaoh, the Pharisees, etc.) but also for all subsequent generations who have sufficient access to the motives of credibility, and who either refuse to investigate them further, or who upon investigating them refuse to believe the testimony of Christ and His Church. What the Church teaches about the motives of credibility and their relation to the assent of faith does not apply only to the eye-witnesses, but also to all subsequent generations. So I think it is not true that the culpability for disbelief in light of the motives of credibility applied only to the eye-witnesses, and that for all subsequent generations belief is reasonable while disbelief too is intellectually reasonable or non-culpable even for those who have full access to the motives of credibility as they can be known to non-eyewitnesses.

    That’s why though I agree that the motives of credibility make the act of faith reasonable, I think the term ‘reasonable’ is too weak to capture adequately their evidential character in relation to the act of faith, because the motives of credibility do more than make the act of faith reasonable; they make those who know adequately the motives of credibility morally culpable if they refuse to believe or to investigate them further. And the possibility of knowing them adequately is not limited only to the eye-witness generations.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  163. Brian,

    You quoted Fr. Smith as follows:

    But while the human mind can satisfy itself by rational demonstration of
    the existence of God, and by historical investigation of the “fact of
    revelation,” it remains true that for a great proportion of the human race
    such a process of scientific demonstration is a practical impossibility.

    I too think Fr. Smith could have been more precise here. Every science has a subject matter, a methodology and a set of first principles. The proof of God’s existence occurs as an a posteriori conclusion to a line of reasoning within the philosophy of nature which entails strict demonstration; because the principles, premises and discursive steps leading to that conclusion rest upon ontological truths (form/matter, act/potency, causality, etc); which are necessarily true if we would save the very intelligibility of our sensate experience of the external world. In other words, the only way in which the proof for God’s existence does not go through, is on pain of sacrificing the intelligibility of changeable being itself. This is the sense is which the proof of God’s existence is called a strict demonstration (obviously, for those willing to countenance a fundamentally unintelligible world, such a proof will be no proof at all – but that is a large pill to swallow, as it renders the one holding such a position intellectually irrelevant).

    However, the principles, premises, and discursive steps which underwrite a historical conclusion are not such that their denial would undermine the very intelligibility of the external world. The reason for that, and another way of making my general point, is to note that history is not technically a science, in the strict Aristotelian sense, because it does not treat of the universal (as does the reasoning leading to the proof of God’s existence). History can achieve a high degree of certainty based on a concurrence of probabilities such that a conclusion reached is eminently reasonable, to the point of supporting a subjective certainty which would make it un-reasonable to reject. This I take to be the situation with respect to the motives of credibility.

    Given as much, I think it is mistake to lump the proof of God’s existence in with the historical motives of credibility. The two belong to two distinct sciences (history being a “science” only in a loose sense from an Aristotelian POV as explained above). One treats of the universal, the other treats of particulars. Therefore, the relative force of their conclusions differs also. The former achieves strict demonstration (on pain of unintelligibility), the other can achieve high probability through concurrence, leading to reasonable certitude, but not strict demonstration. Therefore, the force of the conclusion that God exists qualitatively differs from the force of a conclusion to any one or more motives of credibility.

    Hope that helps,

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  164. Gentlemen,

    I just noticed Bryan’s response. Within it, he wrote:

    But I think the word ‘reasonable’ is too weak to capture sufficiently what the Church teaches about the evidential character of the motives of credibility in relation to the act of faith. That’s because x making assent to y reasonable does not entail that x makes one morally culpable for disbelieving y. Yet for those who know adequately the motives of credibility, disbelief is morally culpable, and the culpability is not only a resistance to actual grace, but at the level of reason as well. It is not that reason gives us a coin flip between two reasonable options (believing or disbelieving), and then actual grace makes us culpable for choosing against the motives of credibility. The motives of credibility as known by reason make us morally culpable for disbelieving Christ and His Church, and for resisting the actual grace given by which we could make the assent of faith.

    I simply want to note that I entirely agree with this, and believe that what I wrote is entirely compatible with it. The force of concurrent probabilities which underwite the motives of credibility are strong enough to warrant a rational certitude – for those who are aware of the arguments – such that rejection of the historical evidence would entail culpability at the level of reason, and not only the level of faith; even if such conclusions are not strict demonstrations in the Aristotelian sense. It is not as though moral culpability only attaches to the rejection of a strict demonstration (though of course is attaches to this as well).

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  165. Bryan,

    What does “rationally necessitate” mean?

    On the one hand, theologians say that faith is not the result of philosophical and historical argument, yet, on the other, they say that the fact of Revelation can be known with certainty prior to the assent of faith. It is a fact that could be reached by any person after examining the motives of credibility. If that’s true, it seems to rationally “necessitate” faith. Or am I misunderstanding the term?

  166. Bryan (#162):

    You wrote:

    …though I agree that the motives of credibility make the act of faith reasonable, I think the term ‘reasonable’ is too weak to capture adequately their evidential character in relation to the act of faith, because the motives of credibility do more than make the act of faith reasonable; they make those who know adequately the motives of credibility morally culpable if they refuse to believe or to investigate them further. And the possibility of knowing them adequately is not limited only to the eye-witness generations. [Emphasis added]

    You’re right that ‘reasonable’ is too weak. I should have said what I’ve often argued, i.e. that making the assent of faith in God through the Catholic Church can be shown to more reasonable than not making it, given an adequate knowledge of the motives of credibility. What we might disagree about, however, is what constitutes “adequate” knowledge.

    This is the crux of the matter. I’ve already claimed, in effect, that those who were not eyewitnesses to public revelation can never know “the full extent and depth” of the motives of credibility (the MCs). We must rely to a great extent on apostolic testimony and authoritative teaching, so that the MCs apply proximately to them, thus affording us only probabilistic arguments whose strength is not exactly patent. Here I shall go further: I find no evidence that, generally speaking, people do have an adequate knowledge of the motives of credibility (the MCs) without already having accepted the gift of faith to some degree, thus enabling them to interpret the MCs in the correct light. Assuming, of course, that many people have actually been exposed to enough of the MCs to make the assent of faith objectively more reasonable than the alternative, I think it remains the case that, for people without the gift of faith, there are always other ways of interpreting the relevant data that make enough sense to them to seem more reasonable than the Catholic way. That holds not just for the difference between the Catholic IP and Protestant ones; I believe it held even for many who encountered Jesus as he walked on Earth, witnessed his miracles, and felt the authority of his teaching.

    From this point of view, people who have been adequately exposed to the MCs, but who do not make the assent of faith, are morally culpable only if they have received the grace of faith but have voluntarily rejected it. I’m morally certain there are such people, but I’m equally sure there are more people who, though exposed to enough of the MCs objectively speaking, suffer from an involuntary blindness to them. Certainly that’s true of many non-Catholics, and I’d even say that’s true of some Catholics, who seem almost impervious to the treasures of their faith. Some may be impervious because, for reasons of their own, they choose not to pay due attention; if so, they are culpable for their lack of faith. But many, I’m sure, have just never had the beauty and power of the truth made clear to them. It is not they, but rather those who should have been leading them to Christ through the Church, who are culpable. And the same would hold a fortiori for many non-Catholics who, though aware of Catholicism’s existence and claims, see no great reason to embrace them.

    In sum, though there are doubtless people who are morally culpable for not making the assent of faith on the basis of the evidence available to them, there are many others who, through no fault of their own, don’t see such evidence even though it’s there and suffices objectively. I think that’s assumed by Lumen Gentium§14-15.

    Best,
    Mike

  167. Mike,

    One small quibble. You wrote:

    I’ve already claimed, in effect, that those who were not eyewitnesses to public revelation can never know “the full extent and depth” of the motives of credibility (the MCs). We must rely to a great extent on apostolic testimony and authoritative teaching, so that the MCs apply proximately to them, thus affording us only probabilistic arguments whose strength is not exactly patent.

    While I agree that there would certainly be an advantage to being an eyewitness to the life of Christ with regspect to many of the motives of credibility for embracing Christianity generally; I don’t think the MCs related to the “Christ-event(s)” constitute all of the MC’s that there are (not that you claimed they were). But, I would go further and argue that those MC’s are in some ways not the most relevant MC’s with respect to the claims of the Catholic Church in particular. When one looks at some of the MC’s listed in Vatican I, one finds an appeal to post-apostolic MC’s regarding the spread, longevity and constancy in teaching of the Church through time, which are arguably clearer to you and I, who can look back on 20 centuries of Church history, than they could possibly have been to an eyewitness of the Christ-event(s).

    Indeed, the post-apostolic growth and development of the Church considered in relation to the pre-Christ-event prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom and its spread throughout the earth, and gathering in of every nation, constitute a rather strong MC that is more evident from our point in history than it could possibly have been in the first century. Basically, I don’t think all the MC’s which underwrite the claims of the Catholic Church are ncessarily bound up with what MC’s might have been available to an eyewitness of the Christ events. The very existence of the Catholic Chuch in the 21st century (and continuously in every century prior) still organized around the successors to Peter and the Apostles; when considered in conjunction with some other datums (such as pre-Incarnational messianic-kingdom prophetic texts as well as NT references such as “You are Peter and upon this rock and the gates of hell . . .”) is a sort of real-time MC of which we are eyewitnesse in a way that those in the 1st century were not. So perhaps they did not have all the advantages.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  168. Well Ray, we do have some epistemic advantages over the apostolic Church. But I think you’d agree that knowing Jesus in the flesh, before and after the Resurrection, gave some people singular advantages of their own. History and development of doctrine are all very well, but there’s nothing like being a firsthand witness to public revelation. Surely you’d agree?

    Best,
    Mike

  169. Mike,

    I gotta disagree with you on this point(#168). I’ve always personally interpreted the puctuation of the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus with the statement of “if they do not believe the Law and the Prophets they will not believe even if someone who rises from the dead” to indicate that the Pharisees unwillingness to accept the Law and the Prophets (contrary to their claims, but explicitly stated by Jesus in John’s Gospel) was proven when they stubbornly refused to believe in the resurrection. It seems to me the Jews of that day had similar motives of credibility in regards to the Law and the Prophets as we currently do in regards to the New Testament. So even with tremendous MC’s, they still disbelieved. The same is actually true in an even more dramatic fashion of the generation of Israelites who left Exodus. All of which brings me to the point of emphatically agreeing with this statement you made:

    “Here I shall go further: I find no evidence that, generally speaking, people do have an adequate knowledge of the motives of credibility (the MCs) without already having accepted the gift of faith to some degree, thus enabling them to interpret the MCs in the correct light.”

    So even seeing someone rise from the dead, without first having the gift of faith witnessed in the belief in the written Word, results in essentially refusal to believe what is seen. Of course Lewis described this elaborately in his opening salvo in “Miracles”

  170. Jeremiah, why should I have faith in the written Word?

  171. Mike,

    Yes, I agree. Being a firsthand witness to public revelation would be rather nice in a skeptical age like our own!

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  172. Brian,

    Flip Mike’s statement:

    “Here I shall go further: I find no evidence that, generally speaking, people do have an adequate knowledge of the motives of credibility (the MCs) without already having accepted the gift of faith to some degree, thus enabling them to interpret the MCs in the correct light.”

    on its head for a postive statement on why people believe. Essentially God’s Spirit releases faith on our heart to respond to “Motives of Credibility”, (i.e. evidence) and believe His Word. That evidence may be very thin. The quantity of evidence is, in my opinion, relatively irrelevant. (Thus my disagreement with both Ray and Mike on this point.) The story of the two Russion officers and the “creator of the oposable thumb” told by Richard Wurmbrand is among many anecdotes illustrating this. For those who may be unfamiliar the story, Richard records that he met two Russian army officers who were married to each other. The officers were stationed as part of the occupying army in Romania (Wurmbrand’s country) They related to Richard that one day they engaged each other in a discussion regarding the wonder of the opposable thumb. They concluded that it was too wonderful of a feature to have been an accident and must have been created. They began to pray to the “creator of the opposable thumb”. It was shortly after this they met Richard Wurmbrand who, using this point of faith introduced them to Christianity. So in the story the motive of credibility is the opposable thumb. Obviously the Holy Spirit released faith into their hearts one day regarding this feature to draw them to him.

    Hope this helps.

  173. Jeremiah,

    You wrote:

    The quantity of evidence is, in my opinion, relatively irrelevant. (Thus my disagreement with both Ray and Mike on this point.)

    I would say that the problem here is that you are pointing to two extremes. Yes. it is true that some people are so hard-hearted or attached to position or wealth, or whatever, that they can and will look at any MC – even the dead being raised – and still reject whatever message is supposed to be supported or authenticated by the MC (such as Christ’s claim to to be the Son of God or what have you). It is also true that there are people for whom very little in the way of substantiated evidence is necessary in order for them to respond to the grace that God sends their way, leading to faith (as in your opposable thumbs example).

    But, most people fall in between these two extremes, and I think that is a good thing. Obviously its good not to be hard-hearted, but it is also good not to go too far in the opposite direction, otherwise one ends up moving closer to a position of fideism where one believes “just because” – a raw free-floating choice, and that ultimately shows a low regard for truth. There is a reason why God gave the law and the prophets, and the miracles of Christ and the apostles and the resurrection and the Church, etc., and that is because – generally speaking – God works with, and not against, the nature He gave us. He works with our reason in leading us to faith, rather than undermining that original gift by requiring a choice regarding ultimate questions based on no reasons at all – or else asking us to spread His message without being able to offer any supporting reasons as to why anyone should think it true.

    In fact, I would argue that one of the terrible mistakes of many modern Christians (I would say it is even an epidemic) for which the world suffers today, is the massive retreat which so many religious people have made into a more or less pronounced fideism with repect to the grounds of religious faith. Basically, I think most people are in the middle. I am a man in the middle, and that is why I do think that the amount of evidence is relevant, even if more or less of it need be comprehended by this or that soul in order to arrive at faith.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  174. Mike (re: # 154),

    The catholic theology I offered can be found tabulated on pg. 51, The Theological Virtues I by Garrigou-Lagrange, Herder. Why do you distinguish ultimate from proximate when He does not ?

    You wrote:
    So assuming I understand it aright, your last question above should be answered in the affirmative, save that “rule” of faith is too narrow a term for what I’m talking about.

    R:
    In terms of defining revealed truths, the formal-material distinction is legitimate and easily discernible within the vehicle-content relation of Catholic secondary authorities. I am not contesting the use of the word “formal” in this case. The vehicle, particularly the magisterium, may be a condition for proposing revealed truths and fostering subjective faith, but it cannot be a formal object of faith. This belongs to God alone. Presenting a proximate formal object, reinforced with words like “trust”, has the appearance of idolatry.

    You wrote:
    That God as First Truth has in fact revealed himself to us is, itself, a object for the assent of faith.

    R:
    Formal or material object ?

    You wrote:
    So it’s just false to say that we can or should recognize the fact of divine revelation “prior to any consideration of secondary authorities.”

    R:
    Put the faith-reason relation aside for a moment. If the operation of the omnipotent God, through miracles and prophecies, constitutes divine facts, then is it just to say that the God of the facts is a fact ? Could we say His immanence in power is a fact ? Here is my reply to the charge of falsehood:

    1. The formal and primary material object of faith are one in God. God as first truth (quod), through His authority (quo), manifests (materializes) Himself in God as content and fact. This is something like God, following His own revealed law, swears an oath on Himself who cannot be deceived or lie.

    2. If #1 is true, then we have recognized the fact of divine revelation prior to any consideration of secondary authorities.

    3. The power and divine attributes of God, clearly seen from what was created, are the same as those operating in divine facts. Fine, maybe one thing about faith and reason. The faith-reason distinction is just for many reasons, but cannot be absolute in the dualistic sense.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  175. Jeremiah:

    I second Ray’s comment.

    Best,
    Mike

  176. Ray and Mike,

    That is the best response on that issue I’ve gotten, thanks. I do have a question I’ve been thinking about today about this. There are the motives of credibility and there is the movement of GOD’s Spirit releasing faith in my heart, but what about the paradigm through which I interpret the evidence? It seems this has a place to play in the dance, but I’m not sure what it is. In John 3, the comment by Jesus was “all who do evil hate the light and do not come into the light so that their deeds may not be exposed.” Which seems to indicate to me that the disposition to either hate or love the light provides a paradigm or presupposition through which the events in the world are interpreted.

  177. I have a lot of question on the theology of divine faith that I would like to ask, but I will let this thread get back on-topic.

  178. Eric (#174):

    You asked:

    The catholic theology I offered can be found tabulated on pg. 51, The Theological Virtues I by Garrigou-Lagrange, Herder. Why do you distinguish ultimate from proximate when He does not?

    Because I believe such a distinction to be necessary and correct.

    You wrote:

    The vehicle, particularly the magisterium, may be a condition for proposing revealed truths and fostering subjective faith, but it cannot be a formal object of faith. This belongs to God alone. Presenting a proximate formal object, reinforced with words like “trust”, has the appearance of idolatry.

    In order to identify what is divinely revealed, and thus is being presented to us with divine authority (quod), one must identify how, i.e. that by which (quo), God presents it for our assent of faith. The Apostles, and those others of the apostolic church who experienced Jesus directly, had the singular advantage of getting divine revelation direct from the source. But even they, following Jesus’ example, relied to some extent on what had been “handed down” from the Old Testament, chiefly Scripture; and once Jesus had ascended into Heaven, the Apostles and those they appointed for the purpose just were the Magisterium. And so those who became Christians after the period of public revelation ended with the last Apostle’s death must be able to count on Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium, which come from God, as vehicles conveying the content of divine revelation with divine authority. That’s what makes those things, collectively, the FPOF, which we must be able to count on as fulfilling their purpose. That’s what I mean by claiming that we must “trust” them. You might not like my terminology; but the fact I’m referring to is unavoidable.

    You write:

    The formal and primary material object of faith are one in God. God as first truth (quod), through His authority (quo), manifests (materializes) Himself in God as content and fact. This is something like God, following His own revealed law, swears an oath on Himself who cannot be deceived or lie.
    2. If #1 is true, then we have recognized the fact of divine revelation prior to any consideration of secondary authorities.

    I reply that (1) is correct, but the inference you make in (2) is unwarranted. (1) must presuppose that we have already identified the content of divine revelation; for we cannot apprehend that divine revelation has occurred as a matter of fact without having identified, at least in broad terms, what has been revealed. And we cannot identify the content of divine revelation without recourse to the vehicles presenting it to us with divine authority. Together, those vehicle constitute the FPOF.

    You write:

    The power and divine attributes of God, clearly seen from what was created, are the same as those operating in divine facts. Fine, maybe one thing about faith and reason. The faith-reason distinction is just for many reasons, but cannot be absolute in the dualistic sense.

    You’re alluding to Romans 1, which in turn is referring to what can be known about God by natural reason, and thus as a matter of “general” revelation, apart from “special” revelation, which can only be apprehended by faith. Of course it’s true that the same God that can be known by natural reason can also be apprehended by faith, and there’s some overlap between the two. But reason and faith, though related to a degree, are different modes of cognition. So we get to know God by both means, but in different ways.

    Best,
    Mike

  179. Jeremiah (#176):

    You concluded:

    …the disposition to either hate or love the light provides a paradigm or presupposition through which the events in the world are interpreted.

    That, I believe, is inaccurate. The disposition in question is, precisely, what disposes a person to interpret divine things correctly; but the correct IP exists independently of peoples’ dispositions. So the dispositions don’t provide the correct IP; they simply enable people to apprehend and use it.

    Best,
    Mike

  180. Mike (re: # 178):

    Well, I did promise to avoid wrangling over words. The FPOF will stand as a necessary part of your position.

    Lagrange makes some relevant points here on pg. 72:
    To say that the infallibility of the church is presupposed to revelation and then to claim that it is established by revelation is needlessly confusing. Revelation is prior to the Church, being the formal motive in the act of faith. Revelation is the quo; the Church is quod. Its infallibility is a truth revealed. For this reason we believe in the holy Catholic Church. [God did the revealing, God "who can neither deceive nor can be deceived."]

    What the Church does in expounding revelations is thereafter only an instrumental means of making revelation known- a condition sine qua non , indeed- but it is not productive of revelation, nor contributory in any degree to the essence or nature of revelation, nor to the intrinsic operation or habit expressed in the simple word credo-” I believe.”

    You wrote:
    I reply that (1) is correct, but the inference you make in (2) is unwarranted.

    R:
    I concede that the inference in (2) is unwarranted. Here is the argument restated:

    1. The formal and primary material object of faith are one in God. God as first truth (quod), through His authority (quo), manifests (materializes) Himself in God as content and fact.
    2. If #1 is true, then we have recognized the fact of divine revelation prior to any consideration of secondary authorities.

    You said it best in section I:
    Second, the ultimate “material” object of faith is God. That is to say, what we have faith in when we make the assent of faith is ultimately a who: God, as revealed in and through Jesus Christ.

    The argument shows that God, as a material object, is content of divine revelation without recourse to the vehicles. In addition, it is the principle material object. We know God immediately as His image and God always has direct access to regenerate a heart unto faith. Also, this is prior to a person’s discursive reasoning. Suppression of the truth, in unrighteousness, presupposes knowledge of God as truth.

    You wrote:
    Of course it’s true that the same God that can be known by natural reason can also be apprehended by faith, and there’s some overlap between the two. But reason and faith, though related to a degree, are different modes of cognition. So we get to know God by both means, but in different ways.

    R:
    Just why do I need authority or faith if the Catholic IP can be shown to be more reasonable without them ?
    Distinguishing Divine revelation from human opinion is an expression of the faith-reason distinction. These two ways of knowing God in the Catholic IP form one fountainhead for every argument in this post.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  181. Eric (#180):

    You quoted Garrigou-Lagrange:

    To say that the infallibility of the church is presupposed to revelation and then to claim that it is established by revelation is needlessly confusing. Revelation is prior to the Church, being the formal motive in the act of faith. Revelation is the quo; the Church is quod. Its infallibility is a truth revealed. For this reason we believe in the holy Catholic Church. [God did the revealing, God "who can neither deceive nor can be deceived."]

    Well, I’ve read a good deal of RGL too, and I can assure you that, if you think his position is incompatible with my own, you’re construing him out of context. In the passage above, he is speaking of the fact that the nature and role of the Church belongs to the content of divine revelation, which they most definitely do. But that does not mean, nor does it follow, that we can receive and understand divine revelation without the teaching authority of the Church, i.e. the Magisterium, which revelation tells us also tells us about.

    On the Catholic schema, Scripture and Tradition transmit divine revelation to us, with the Magisterium being not its originator but rather its sole authentic interpreter. Thus the Second Vatican Council:

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

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

    It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. [Dei Verbum §10 (1965); footnotes omitted.]

    So, while the Church belongs to the quod of divine revelation, inasmuch as revelation tells us about the Church, the Magisterium as an aspect of the Church is also quo, i.e. that “by which” we properly apprehend and interpret divine revelation, including that part of revelation which tells us about the Church herself. Both points are fully compatible with each other. Please stop pressing your false dichotomy. RGL would not have approved.

    You write:

    What the Church does in expounding revelations is thereafter only an instrumental means of making revelation known- a condition sine qua non , indeed- but it is not productive of revelation, nor contributory in any degree to the essence or nature of revelation, nor to the intrinsic operation or habit expressed in the simple word credo-” I believe.”

    Everything in that last paragraph is true except the last phrase, which does not follow. The “intrinsic operation or habit” you refer to is the virtue of faith; and on a Catholic understanding, the virtue of faith cannot take root and flourish without the believer’s relying, directly or indirectly, on the Magisterium to interpret the content of divine revelation. So the Magisterium is most definitely “contributory” to the virtue of faith.

    You write:

    1. The formal and primary material object of faith are one in God. God as first truth (quod), through His authority (quo), manifests (materializes) Himself in God as content and fact.

    2. If #1 is true, then we have recognized the fact of divine revelation prior to any consideration of secondary authorities

    ….The argument shows that God, as a material object, is content of divine revelation without recourse to the vehicles. In addition, it is the principle material object. We know God immediately as His image and God always has direct access to regenerate a heart unto faith. Also, this is prior to a person’s discursive reasoning.

    Here, you are no longer expounding what you (mistakenly) believe to be the Catholic position, but asserting your own. But I must say that I have a hard time believing that you believe what you say.

    The “vehicles” of divine revelation I’ve repeatedly been referring to (as the FPOF) are Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. Leaving the latter two aside for the moment, are you really prepared to say, as a Reformed believer, that we can apprehend the deposit of faith, which contains what God has revealed, not only without Tradition and the Magisterium, but also without Scripture? Even if it were true, as a matter of philosophically discernible fact, that we “know God immediately as His image”–for which I find no evidence whatsoever—not even God can “regenerate a heart unto faith” without presenting something to the believer as an object for her assent of faith. For most of us who, unlike St. Paul, are not vouchsafed private revelation direct from Christ, that object is, precisely, the public, divine revelation transmitted to us by what’s been handed down from Christ and the Apostles in Scripture and Tradition. Even private revelation must be measured against that.

    If you don’t know and believe all that, then you have a religion of your own which is not historic Christianity.

    You ask:

    Just why do I need authority or faith if the Catholic IP can be shown to be more reasonable without them?

    The “Catholic IP” is a paradigm for interpreting the data, and thus the content, of divine revelation. Transmitted to us by Scripture and Tradition, that content calls for the assent of faith. The Catholic IP presents and invokes that authority which is said content’s “sole authentic intepreter,” as well as a datum of that same content, and it does so in order to to facilitate the assent of faith. So if and when the Catholic IP is shown to be “more reasonable” than the conservative-Protestant IP I described in my post, then it’s more reasonable to accept than to reject the authority it presents and invokes for the purpose of facilitating the assent of faith. Far from dispensing with authority and faith, therefore, the Catholic IP shows how they are properly related to each other. Reason thus does not dispense with trusting authority, or with the virtue of faith. It shows why those are reasonable, without being necessitated by reason.

    Best,
    Mike

  182. Mike (re: #181),

    At first I did not know what you meant by “proximate formal”. Do you believe with infused faith IN the magisterium as a formal motive of faith ? If you do, then pressing must continue because this is not catholic teaching as I understand it. Please corroborate from magisterial or theological sources to help change my mind. If not, then I can see how you distinguish the (quo) of God and (quo) of the Church in objective formulation of the deposit.

    You wrote:
    Everything in that last paragraph is true except the last phrase, which does not follow. The “intrinsic operation or habit” you refer to is the virtue of faith; and on a Catholic understanding, the virtue of faith cannot take root and flourish without the believer’s relying, directly or indirectly, on the Magisterium to interpret the content of divine revelation. So the Magisterium is most definitely “contributory” to the virtue of faith.

    R:
    It would be unfair to comment on this because you attributed a paragraph of RGL to me.

    You wrote:
    Leaving the latter two aside for the moment, are you really prepared to say, as a Reformed believer, that we can apprehend the deposit of faith, which contains what God has revealed, not only without Tradition and the Magisterium, but also without Scripture?

    R:
    Yes, but not the entire material deposit. My argument shows that one apprehendable material object in the deposit is accessible by faith prior to the vehicles. It is the primary material object we call Uncreated Truth. If you wish to say that the primary and secondary material objects are not separated in this way, then let’s discuss it. One truth taught by catholic theology, in the order of grace, is that God is first truth revealing and first truth revealed. Faith apprehends this truth prior to the magisterium and the magisterium’s proposal of it. God proposes this truth immediately or mediately, according to His will, during the initial infusion of faith.

    Assuming either IP, this material truth “God is first truth revealing and the first truth revealed” is not explicitedly stated this way in the sources of revelation. It is presupposed by the original revelation communicators and drawn out by the recipients destined to transmit and propagate. We have a good and necessary consequence on our hands. Our good and necessary consequence is, in reality, the presuppositional foundation for identifying any secondary material revelation. This truth precedes and follows from the sources of revelation. What exactly qualifies as sources will be indentified and determined by faith (and the Holy Spirit’s witness).

    Assuming the Protestant IP, my essential contention centers on this truth as identifiable and expressible without infallibility. With God placed as the primary datum of the material order, we now have the criterialogical rudiments to begin answering the famous and ominous question; How do you distinguish divine revelation from human opinion ? My faith-reason criticisms of catholic theology must be exposed. I completely agree that one must locate authoritative extra-special revelation to help answer the question. Turning not to the magisterium, but to concomitants in “natural revelation”, is what the Protestant IP does. We have a change of venue that places a check on the Swiss Guard.

    I have a simple argument:
    The Catholic IP depends on the Protestant IP to give a more reasonable account for the intelligibility of human opinion (reason and logic) in contingent experience (facts). One IP is more reasonable when there is dependency to give a rational account. Since the CIP depends on PIP, then the PIP is more reasonable.

    Three things are accomplished:
    1. The PIP provides a more reasonable account in the immediate knowledge of God (natural revelation) and mediated knowledge of God in Christ (special revelation in the scriptures). This God is first and uncreated truth.

    2. The provision distinguishes divine revelation from human opinion without sacrificing either. Distinguishing, by presupposing the scriptures, shows the necessity of scripture as highest authority in the PIP. The argument shows how the PIP is more reasonable without infallibility. The catholic secondary authorities approved a less reasonable account in the faith-reason distinction, supposedly using the gift of infallibility (see Vatican I).

    3. All thoughts are taken captive in Christ by presenting the absolute authority of God revealing. No neutrality or compromise with the autonomous Godless presuppositions of unbelievers in apologetics. Man cannot exhaustively comprehend everything in realty. Since everything was created by God and reveals His glory, then man requires authority to comprehend anything. Man is always a covenant keeper or breaker in principle.

    You wrote:
    Far from dispensing with authority and faith, therefore, the Catholic IP shows how they are properly related to each other. Reason thus does not dispense with trusting authority, or with the virtue of faith. It shows why those are reasonable, without being necessitated by reason.

    R:
    I can’t unpack it at this time, but here is a relevant quote from Cornelius Van Til:

    The Reformation therefore rejected the idea of the correlativity between reason subjecting itself wholly to revelation and revelation being quite in accord with reason. For the false ideal of a rationalistic system made correlative to the false ideal of independent, irrational individuality, it substituted the biblical notion of God attesting himself clearly to men who are as creatures analogous to him in thought and being and who, as sinners, need to be unmistakably challenged by a revelation that cannot be confused with the speculations of the autonomous man. The declarative function of the church must therefore be ministerialis rather than magisterialis. – A Christian Theory of Knowledge, P&R, pgs.166 & 167

    Thanks,
    Eric

  183. Dr. Liccione,

    Here are some objections I have with your article.

    “If said claims are true, then there is a principled as opposed to an ad hoc way to distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions about how to identify it in the sources.” I take from this that if the Roman Catholic claims concerning apostolic succession are true and it is the “Church” established by Christ, then its claims concerning the deposit of faith are true. This, you claim, gives the individual the requisite certainty in such matters. An individual using the Protestant IP must construct the requisite certainty through inferential reasoning with the “early sources.” The Protestant IP is really just “solo” scriptura and produces many contradictory interpretations, as one would expect. Thus this IP makes certainty unlikely and only produces “human opinion.” In the end, you claim that the Roman Catholic Church’s claims about itself only have to be reasonable and the Protestant’s claim about the deposit of faith must be rationally unassailable, which means that Protestants have much more to prove.

    My contention is that neither the Roman Catholic IP nor the Protestants IP can create epistemic certainty in an individual in the way you’ve described them. Let’s grant that if the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself are true, then it secures infallibility in the determination of the deposit of faith. In this debate, though, we are dealing with epistemological warrant and justification of individuals, not merely propositions as the one I’ve granted. When you state that the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself are reasonable you’re saying that the claims are not certain, but only within the realm of respectable opinion. This means that the Catholic cannot be certain concerning the claims the Catholic Church makes concerning itself, namely, that it is the true Church, established by Christ. This necessarily uncertain belief is the basis for the belief in the infallibility of the Church’s declaration of the deposit of faith. As you said, the good Catholic convert properly sought the true Church first and then the deposit of faith. So, for the individual, the basis for the belief in the infallibility of the declared deposit of faith is a necessarily uncertain belief. I count it as a principle of epistemology that if the foundational belief of secondary beliefs is uncertain, then, no matter its secure logical connection with the secondary beliefs, the secondary beliefs are equally uncertain. Individual epistemic certainty in the infallibility of the Church’s determination of the deposit of faith is relative to one’s certainty concerning of the Church’s claims to itself. So then the degree of epistemic justification an individual possesses for belief in the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself necessarily determines the epistemic justification an individual possesses for the belief that the Catholic Church has infallibly declared the deposit of faith. Therefore, the individual is in no position to hold the determined deposit of faith with certainty because he is in no position to claim with absolute certainty that the Catholic Church‘s claims concerning itself are true. Even if I grant that the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself are reasonable, the fact that these claims are uncertain to the individual means that the Catholic Church does not have a “principled as opposed to an ad hoc way to distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions” to the individual. The basis of the “principled way” is fallible human opinion, making the whole Catholic system of determining the formal object of faith a fallible human opinion. Thus the determined objected of faith is ultimately uncertain to the individual. The question then reduces to this: Which IP produces more certainty? But that question undermines your entire thesis.

    This shows that both the Catholic and the Protestant must be uncertain concerning the deposit of faith, the former indirectly and the latter directly. Their uncertainty might not be equal, but they are both, nonetheless, uncertain concerning the deposit of faith. So I think the focus should be, then, the objects of their uncertainty. In other words, the Catholic needs to show that the claims for apostolic succession are more reasonable than the Protestant view of the deposit of faith. Interestingly (and convenient for me) you claim that what undermines the Protestant IP is that it has produced many differing interpretations. Well, if this debate properly concerns which object of uncertainty is more reasonable and one way to show uncertainty is to cite many differences of opinion, then vast differences of opinion concerning the early church, apostolic succession, and all others issues concerning the Catholic Church’s claims for itself subject the Catholic to the same trouble as the Protestant. As a result of this, the Catholic and Protestant are not only uncertain, it seems that they are closer by degree in uncertainty than first thought.

    Given this, there is an important sense in which the Protestant position is superior to the Catholics. If I’m correct in saying that the issue is reduced to the objects of each one’s uncertainty, then the Protestant unity in the narrow understanding of the Gospel for almost 500 years, in a highly decentralized ecclesiology, shows that there is something natural to it from individual interpretation. The fact that the idea that Christ’s merit being the sole ground of salvation by faith alone (and the even more persistent rejection of the Catholic view of merit) has endured throughout the centuries among Protestants is evidence that when Scripture is freed from councils, popes, and dictum the “learned and unlearned” come to the same fundamental conclusion concerning the Gospel. This is remarkable, astounding and miraculous unity. The unity of essential doctrine among Protestants is nothing short of a miracle, which supports its claim of being the Church.

    The object of Catholic uncertainty is the early church and whether it supports such an institution. With this as the object of uncertainty, the Catholic is left without any unity among those interpreting the early church. There is a wide diversity of opinions. They have to contend with Traditional Protestants, Apostolic Protestants, Anglo-Catholics, Orthodox Christianity, Mormons and others. When this situation is compared with the conservative Protestant situation, where those freed from councils, popes and dictum have come out with great unity in essential doctrine, the Catholic position looks more disputed and, therefore, less certain. Thus Protestantism appears more certain and more reasonable.

    Moving on a bit. Your requirement that Protestants must make “rationally unassailable inferences from Scripture” is simplistic. In my theological tradition (Traditional Reformed), I think we would call that accurate, but imprecise. I agree that certainty seems to be necessary, but how that certainty is attained is not merely through externally justifiable inferences accessible to all. The historical Protestant position is not simply that anyone can read Scripture and understand its plain meaning to the point of certainty, but that those who are born again, illuminated, and have “ears to hear” can attain an understanding and certainty of essential doctrine. Failing to recognize this doctrine is not necessarily a matter of ignorance and being willfully irrational, but of truth being inaccessible due to sin. The Gospel is plain to those whom God chooses to reveal it. Scripture is plain, but that plainness is inaccessible due to sin. Some Protestants may argue this differently, but this is my understanding of the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning the doctrine of perspicuity.

    Moving on further, I would like to know the following from you: What principled way of distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion did the Israelite use, before the great Magisterium, to interpret what are thought to be the sources transmitting divine revelation? What Hebrew pope-like figure stamped the seal of approval on Jeremiah and Isaiah? It seems to me that, following your own line of reasoning, the Israelites did not have any intellectual option. Or, to use your words, they would have to establish a “rationally unassailable set of inferences from Scripture.” In what way did they have a principled way of distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion?

    Though I disagree with this article, I found it well-written and challenging.

    Stephen Wolfe

  184. Eric (#181):

    You write:

    Do you believe with infused faith IN the magisterium as a formal motive of faith ? If you do, then pressing must continue because this is not catholic teaching as I understand it. Please corroborate from magisterial or theological sources to help change my mind. If not, then I can see how you distinguish the (quo) of God and (quo) of the Church in objective formulation of the deposit.

    As I’ve been trying, but apparently failing, to make clear to you, I hold that the Magisterium is a formal but secondary or proximate object (not motive) of faith, inasmuch as it is partly by trusting the divinely instituted Magisterium that we are able to grasp what God reveals to us for the assent of faith through Tradition and Scripture. So, it is by trusting the Magisterium for that purpose that we know the formal, primary or ultimate object for the assent of faith. I don’t think there’s any good purpose to be served by your repeated attempts to get me to fit that into the schema of a particular theologian who has no magisterial authority. If you want a reference to the primary magisterial treatment of the topic of faith, I suggest you study the decree of the First Vatican Council on the topic. I assent to that decree with the virtue of faith.

    You write:

    My argument shows that one apprehendable material object in the deposit is accessible by faith prior to the vehicles. It is the primary material object we call Uncreated Truth. If you wish to say that the primary and secondary material objects are not separated in this way, then let’s discuss it.

    Your argument shows nothing of the kind because, as I implied in my previous comment, you have offered no evidence to support your conclusion. For my part, I hold that the existence of God himself as Uncreated Truth can be known in the natural light of reason alone “from the things he has made.” But that which God reveals to us for the assent of faith can only be assented to as such by the formal means that he has chosen, and that thus bear the stamp of his authority.

    You write:

    One truth taught by catholic theology, in the order of grace, is that God is first truth revealing and first truth revealed. Faith apprehends this truth prior to the magisterium and the magisterium’s proposal of it. God proposes this truth immediately or mediately, according to His will, during the initial infusion of faith.

    You keep getting this issue backwards. Whatever truth is taught by “catholic theology, in the order of grace” takes for granted our knowing the content of that which is proposed to us for the assent of infused faith. And that content is ordinarily transmitted to us through “the vehicles.” It is of course possible for God to bypass all that and reveal the same, substantive content directly to individuals. But you offer no evidence that such has occurred, and even if it has, it can command assent of faith only insofar as its content conforms with what’s God has proposed, with his authority, through the vehicles he has chosen.

    You write:

    Assuming either IP, this material truth “God is first truth revealing and the first truth revealed” is not explicitedly stated this way in the sources of revelation. It is presupposed by the original revelation communicators and drawn out by the recipients destined to transmit and propagate.

    Insofar as I understand that, it is correct, and fully compatible with what I’ve been saying. But since I don’t understand your next paragraph, I shall skip it for this:

    I have a simple argument. The Catholic IP depends on the Protestant IP to give a more reasonable account for the intelligibility of human opinion (reason and logic) in contingent experience (facts). One IP is more reasonable when there is dependency to give a rational account. Since the CIP depends on PIP, then the PIP is more reasonable.

    That argument is useless for your purpose unless and until you establish the truth of its first premise. But you won’t be able to make the attempt until you confront how I actually characterize the (conservative) Protestant IP in my article. You have not done that. You have indeed noted that both IPs depend on reason to show they are reasonable–which is a truism–but you have gratuitously assumed that the Protestant IP’s dispensing with infallibility, in favor of evidence gathered by reason alone, makes it more reasonable. That’s exactly what I argued against in my article.

    You write:

    Distinguishing, by presupposing the scriptures, shows the necessity of scripture as highest authority in the PIP.

    That’s just an elementary logical error. For any proposition P, “presupposing” that P is true does not show that P is true, or that P’s logical consequences are truths. Since I and most Christians–Protestants included–are not presuppositionalists, you need an argument showing both why we ought to be and that we ought to share your particular presuppositions.

    As far as I can tell, the only argumentative strategy open to a presuppositionalist is to show that systems of thought not sharing his presuppositions are logically untenable. I am aware that Van Til and his followers try to do that, but I’ve never been impressed with the results.

    Best,
    Mike

  185. #183 Stephen Wolfe”

    I know that you addressed Dr. Liccione but I would like to chime in because I also get what you are saying because I have wrestled with it too.

    You said: “The historical Protestant position is not simply that anyone can read Scripture and understand its plain meaning to the point of certainty, but that those who are born again, illuminated, and have “ears to hear” can attain an understanding and certainty of essential doctrine.”

    You are starting off by placing yourself within the camp of knowers because you and those with whom you agree all believe themselves to have a correct understanding of scripture. You cannot begin with “Reformed Protestants” have correctly understood the Apostle Paul and can articulate what the “true gospel” is without begging the question. As long as you have epistemic certainty working for you within your IP, you will not feel the matrix :) But if you ask yourself, “Well, how do I know that Luther was illuminated by the Holy Spirit, when scripture is clear enough on “the essentials” BUT there were many others who disagreed?”
    Do you assume that he and those who were convinced as he was, were the new possessors of the visible church on earth?
    Now, say because you can operate in the comforting knowledge that Luther was illumined by the Holy Spirit being one who was truly born again because he uncovered again”the gospel” and is the rightful heir of everything that is necessary and salvitic, would it not be extremely important that everyone in Protestatism agreed with every doctrine and dogma of the magisterial Reformers that was essential to salvation? I began to think that it was very important to find out what actually counted as essential. The first thing I looked at was the differing view of the Lord’s Supper just among Reformers, and I realized that as long as I “believed” that my Calvinist view was the correct view, I was comfortable and confident, but when I could step into the Lutheran view even though I didn’t hold it, I lost my certainty. There is another view out there on the Horizon and it is one that Catholics and EO’s share, so how was I to have a principled way to rule out their agreed on view when those within the Reformed tradition differed and wasn’t even what it was at the primitive stages of the Reformation?

    You also said: ” Failing to recognize this doctrine is not necessarily a matter of ignorance and being willfully irrational, but of truth being inaccessible due to sin. The Gospel is plain to those whom God chooses to reveal it. Scripture is plain, but that plainness is inaccessible due to sin. Some Protestants may argue this differently, but this is my understanding of the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning the doctrine of perspicuity. ”

    When a Christian, Protestant or Catholic,confesses to the Lord Jesus Christ that they are guilty before God and they ask Him to forgive their sin, the scriptures should suddenly become clear to both camps, but unfortuately that is not the case because there is still tremendous disagreement over doctrines that are considered so important that they have divided for nearly 500 yrs. How do you explain it but to presuppose that you are in the church that the gates of hell will not prevail against. You see, if Jesus made that promise he meant that the true church would be protected from heresy. As long as you live comfortably within the Reformed framework including the WCF, then you are resting in a magesterium that claims to be only ministerial.

    Blessings,
    Alicia

  186. Alicia, I appreciate your comments. Here’s my reply.

    “But if you ask yourself, “Well, how do I know that Luther was illuminated by the Holy Spirit, when scripture is clear enough on “the essentials” BUT there were many others who disagreed?”

    And

    “Now, say because you can operate in the comforting knowledge that Luther was illumined by the Holy Spirit being one who was truly born again because he uncovered again”the gospel” and is the rightful heir of everything that is necessary and salvitic, would it not be extremely important that everyone in Protestatism agreed with every doctrine and dogma of the magisterial Reformers that was essential to salvation?”

    I do not consider Luther to be the “heir of everything that is necessary and salvific.” I just think that he interpreted the narrow Gospel correctly from the Scriptures. I have no requirement to follow the rest of his teachings just because he formally started the Reformation. A member of the invisible Protestant Church (and by that I mean a regenerated child of God) is one who believes in the essentials of the faith, not one who is correct in all the deposit of faith. So a Lutheran can believe in consubstantiation and a Presbyterian can believe in a spiritual presence and a Baptist can believe it’s purely symbolic. One’s view concerning the Lord’s Supper is not essential doctrine. The reason the early reformers argued about it so much is because many of them saw it as central to corporate worship (e.g., Calvin), so the argument was not that it is essential, but that it is very important. For example, Calvin had a close writing relationship with Melanchthon and they argued about this subject, but neither condemned the other. The Protestant Church has always held to this statement: ” In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.” Even though Whitefield and Wesley had a fierce debate over the doctrines of grace, after Whitefield died Wesley said this: “Let my last end be like his!” How many of you join in this wish? Perhaps there are few of you who do not, even in this numerous congregation! And O that this wish may rest upon your minds! — that it may not die away till your souls also are lodged “where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest!” The unity of the Protestant Church, a remarkable unity, is in the essentials. These essentials allowed Wesley to say “Let my last end be like his!”

    My reasons for thinking that illuminating grace is required to see the plain teaching of Scripture is based on Jesus’ teachings (which I think we can all say is plain in this area). Jesus criticized Nicodemus for failing to see Jesus’ coming, mission, and ministry in the Old Testament. He says, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things?” (John 3: 10). Later, he tells Peter, “”Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Mt. 16:17). He also said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Jesus also said, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Mt. 11:15). Paul also argued that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

    These verses show that some “get it” and “hear it” and “see it”, and it requires a spiritual transformation and illumination. Someone can be learned, as was Nicodemus, and still not get it. But what I find as interesting is that when the Scripture is released from councils, popes and dictum the result is an unexpected unity on essentials. There are dissenters within, but, for the most part, conservative Protestants have been hesitant to condemn each other because “in Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty.” The fact that there is this startling unity doesn’t externally prove that the Protestant church is the true Church, but it does counter the claim that differences fatally dilute Protestant unity.

    If I misunderstood your post, please explain further.

    Stephen

  187. Stephen (#186),

    The problem is, no historical branch of Protestantism is willing to extend that courtesy to Rome or any of the Eastern Churches on the doctrine of the Eucharist. We all profess belief in the Real Presence, that the bread and wine are truly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body and Blood, yet we are condemned for this and for many other traditional doctrines and practices of Christianity by the Reformers and their spiritual descendants as holding to vain superstition.

    I must ask, how do you establish what is and is not essential? By what authority did the Reformers decide that the Real Presence was not essential in the face of over a millennium and a half of teaching to the contrary? By what authority do you, personally, say it is not essential?

    There is no Protestant Church; a purely invisible Church is no Church at all.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  188. Stephen (#183):

    Thanks for commenting. The major difficulty I have with your comment comes at the beginning. You start by quoting me thus:

    “If [the Magisterium's claims for itself] are true, then there is a principled as opposed to an ad hoc way to distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions about how to identify it in the sources.”

    From that, you infer:

    I take from this that if the Roman Catholic claims concerning apostolic succession are true and it is the “Church” established by Christ, then its claims concerning the deposit of faith are true. This, you claim, gives the individual the requisite certainty in such matters.I take from this that if the Roman Catholic claims concerning apostolic succession are true and it is the “Church” established by Christ, then its claims concerning the deposit of faith are true. This, you claim, gives the individual the requisite certainty in such matters. An individual using the Protestant IP must construct the requisite certainty through inferential reasoning with the “early sources.” The Protestant IP is really just “solo” scriptura and produces many contradictory interpretations, as one would expect. Thus this IP makes certainty unlikely and only produces “human opinion.” In the end, you claim that the Roman Catholic Church’s claims about itself only have to be reasonable and the Protestant’s claim about the deposit of faith must be rationally unassailable, which means that Protestants have much more to prove.

    But that way of characterizing my argument, and its aim, is far too broad, so that the bulk of your subsequent argument is misdirected. For that reason, instead of replying to your argument in detail, I shall first correct your misimpression so that we may focus the discussion where it belongs. Once that focus is secured, we can debate my actual position.

    What I mean by the phrase ‘the formal, proximate object of faith’ (FPOF) is the “ensemble of secondary authorities,” trust in which is what enables us to identify what the ultimate object of faith, God, wants us to believe: the deposit of faith (DF). Part of my argument is that unless we recognize, as part of the FPOF, a living, divinely established, and infallible magisterium, we can have only opinions about how to identify and interpret those other parts of the FPOF which actually contain the DF, namely Scripture and Tradition. Opinions, of course, are not divine revelation, and assent to opinions is not the assent of faith. So before we can even begin to talk about how one can be “certain” that the DF is actually true, one must be able to distinguish it, as a fit object for the assent of faith, from what is only a fit object for the assent of opinion. The upshot of my argument is that the Catholic IP enables us to make such a distinction in a principled way, while no Protestant IP, whether conservative or liberal, can do so. That of course does not prove that the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true; all it does is supply what I take to be a good reason to believe they are, assuming one is committed to holding that what’s fit for the assent of faith is distinguishable, in a principled way, from what’s fit only for the assent of opinion. Nor, of course, does my argument require presupposing or establishing that Catholicism is true in order to formulate said reason. Accordingly, when you characterize my argument as about how a given individual can attain “certainty” that the DF is true, you’re not only giving short shrift to my more basic point, but you’re actually introducing a red herring. My argument is only about how one can identify and interpret the DF as an object for the assent of faith to begin with, apart from the question whether the DF is also true. How much “certainty” a given individual might attain about whether the DF so understood is true is a separate matter, which depends on the extent to which the individual freely accepts and cooperates with the gift of faith.

    That said, you do make a positive claim of your own that I find rather curious. Thus:

    The historical Protestant position is not simply that anyone can read Scripture and understand its plain meaning to the point of certainty, but that those who are born again, illuminated, and have “ears to hear” can attain an understanding and certainty of essential doctrine. Failing to recognize this doctrine is not necessarily a matter of ignorance and being willfully irrational, but of truth being inaccessible due to sin. The Gospel is plain to those whom God chooses to reveal it. Scripture is plain, but that plainness is inaccessible due to sin. Some Protestants may argue this differently, but this is my understanding of the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning the doctrine of perspicuity.

    I agree that enlightening grace is necessary for understanding the meaning and assenting to the truth of what’s contained in the DF. But we disagree about the means by which that grace operates. Thus I have two problems with the above paragraph.

    For one, it seems to me that, if some people can’t see what’s “plain” because of “sin,” then they just are being “willfully irrational”–unless by the term ‘sin’ you mean something quite different from what I do. Worse, it turns out that, on your account–which you admit is by no means that of all Protestants–the perspicuity of Scripture is irrelevant. If the meaning of Scripture is only manifest to those to whom God chooses to reveal it, and not otherwise manifest, then it simply does not matter how clear or unclear Scripture may be in itself. Whether Scripture be altogether perspicuous, or only partially so, or not at all, what the Spirit himself makes clear is clear, and what he does not is not. The doctrine of Scriptural perspicuity thus does no work for you. But of course, that leaves altogether open the question whom among us the Spirit enlightens as to the meaning and truth of Scripture, including “the narrow view of the Gospel.” You can’t answer that question by pointing to any alleged consensus among Protestants about how to interpret Scripture, unless you’ve already established on other grounds that such a consensus has divine authority, as opposed to that of human opinion. Good luck with that.

    Thus I am unmoved when you write:

    …the Protestant unity in the narrow understanding of the Gospel for almost 500 years, in a highly decentralized ecclesiology, shows that there is something natural to it from individual interpretation. The fact that the idea that Christ’s merit being the sole ground of salvation by faith alone (and the even more persistent rejection of the Catholic view of merit) has endured throughout the centuries among Protestants is evidence that when Scripture is freed from councils, popes, and dictum the “learned and unlearned” come to the same fundamental conclusion concerning the Gospel. This is remarkable, astounding and miraculous unity. The unity of essential doctrine among Protestants is nothing short of a miracle, which supports its claim of being the Church.

    The only “unity” I see in conservative Protestantism about “the narrow view of the Gospel” is negative, encapsulated in that little word “alone.” Catholic doctrine also holds that all merit comes ultimately from Christ, and that salvation is by faith. But that Catholic Church also teaches, with James, that faith without works is dead, and thus not salvific; for “even the demons believe, and tremble.” And most Protestants would agree; only a minority, mostly among the Reformed and “once-saved-always-saved” evangelicals, hold that what we do has no role at all in our salvation. Of course nearly all Protestants hold that we cannot “earn” our salvation by “works,” even those of love. But Catholicism agrees that we cannot earn our salvation; all we can do is cooperate with vivifying divine grace, so that our works, which have no salvific value in themselves, can become means by which, as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). So when Trent speaks of “merit,” it is speaking only of God’s crowning of his own gifts, made available to us by the merits of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most Protestants, I have found, do not understand that.

    Though many Protestants reject such synergism, that rejection is a purely negative idea arising from monergism. And monergism is certainly not the consensus of the visible Church prior to the Reformation; as Alistair McGrath has recently noted, with the concurrence of of N. T. Wright, it’s a “pure theological novum.” All you’re doing is presenting a distinctively Reformed view of salvation as if it were the consensus of “Protestants,” when it isn’t even that, still less the understanding of “the Church”–unless of course you want to define “the Church” as that invisible set of the elect who happen to agree with you, in which case my response is that you and the Reformed have no authority whatsoever to make such a stipulation, which is purely a matter of opinion.

    You also write:

    I would like to know the following from you: What principled way of distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion did the Israelite use, before the great Magisterium, to interpret what are thought to be the sources transmitting divine revelation? What Hebrew pope-like figure stamped the seal of approval on Jeremiah and Isaiah? It seems to me that, following your own line of reasoning, the Israelites did not have any intellectual option. Or, to use your words, they would have to establish a “rationally unassailable set of inferences from Scripture.” In what way did they have a principled way of distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion?

    This is by no means the first time I’ve faced that line of questioning. In response, I suggest you follow the interaction of myself and other CTC authors with Prof. R. F. White on the same subject, starting here at #730 and continuing to #744.

    Finally, you write: “Though I disagree with this article, I found it well-written and challenging.” Thanks for that. I hope we can continue a fruitful exchange.

    Best,
    Mike

  189. Stephen, I also recommend to you Jason Stellman’s new post here at CTC. You might want to register some of your objections there as well.

  190. Stephen (#183),

    The object of Catholic uncertainty is the early church and whether it supports such an institution. With this as the object of uncertainty, the Catholic is left without any unity among those interpreting the early church. There is a wide diversity of opinions. They have to contend with Traditional Protestants, Apostolic Protestants, Anglo-Catholics, Orthodox Christianity, Mormons and others. When this situation is compared with the conservative Protestant situation, where those freed from councils, popes and dictum have come out with great unity in essential doctrine, the Catholic position looks more disputed and, therefore, less certain. Thus Protestantism appears more certain and more reasonable.

    I think you overstate both the unity among conservative Protestants and the disunity among the ancient Churches (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Assyrian Church of the East). As Mike pointed out, Protestantism is defined by negativity, five of them. This shows in the extreme variance of what those five ‘solas’ actually mean to the various sects of Protestantism ranging from Lutheranism to Calvinism to Evangelicalism (not that there is even one view characteristic to all) to the Anabaptists. Confessional Lutheran and Reformed denominations even practice closed communion towards each other and others outside their denominations. On the other hand, we have institutional disunity with the other ancient Churches, but we share the same Faith: apostolic succession, seven sacraments, belief in the Real Presence, belief in a visible Church, devotion to Mary and the saints, prayer for the dead, etc. Most of our differences are due to historical and cultural problems in addition to ecclesiological concerns (the role of the Bishop of Rome; we all agree he’s special, but the question is: in what way and to what extent?). As for whether the Filioque is really a problem, that varies even among the Eastern Orthodox.

    Who are Apostolic Protestants and why are they important? I’ve never heard of them.

    Anglo-Catholics aren’t really a problem as, to my knowledge, they don’t claim to be the one, true Church. Besides, they’re not really Protestants, anyway; they believe everything the Catholic Church teaches (minus, perhaps, papal infallibility), but aren’t in communion with Rome. Even Anglicanism as a whole only claims to be part of the Church, not the Church herself.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

    I’m not sure why you bring up Mormons. I don’t see how they’re relevant to this discussion at all.

  191. Dr. Liccione et al., thank you for the comments and clarification. I have to insist that my argument is not a red herring. It shows the logical result of your (Dr. Liccione’s) argument. It’s “broad” because there are broad implications to your argument that, I think, are not favorable to your position in general.

    You say that through the Catholic IP that one is “able to distinguish…identify and interpret” the DF. I understand that this ability to distinguish is like a mechanism to determine the DF. It is a proper means to determine the DF and I agree with that, in a theoretical sense. But while the Catholic may have a mechanism of distinguishing, he is only certain of the effectiveness of the mechanism relative to his level of certainty in his selection of the Roman Catholic Church as the true Church. So I think you’re just presenting propositions, while avoiding epistemology. It’s like making the following claim: If Guru Mike states that his declarations are infallible and he knows the secrets to the universe, then by joining his commune you’ll have access to the secrets of the universe. The proposition is valid as far as it goes, which is also the extent of your argument. But the degree of uncertainty one has concerning Mike’s claim to infallibility determines the degree of one’s certainty in the effectiveness of joining his commune to learn the secrets of the universe. I’m not saying that the Roman Catholic Church is like some new-age spirituality; I think it is reasonable. My point is that what you’re calling a red herring is really just taking your proposition to its epistemological conclusion. The Catholic IP, as a proposition, provides a means or mechanism to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion, but for the individual this means or mechanism cannot be considered perfectly reliable because its reliability is linked to how certain one is concerning the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself. One’s conscious understanding of the fallibility of his human opinion concerning the Catholic Church’s claims for itself must cause him to equally consider the potential fallibility of the mechanism itself and its reliability to determine the DF. This means that the Catholic cannot be certain of the determined DF. This doesn’t mean that the Roman Catholic IP is necessarily unreliable, but it means that the individual cannot know for certain whether or not the means and mechanism is actually reliable to accurately produce the DF. Given this, your whole argument does little but reaffirm Catholic doctrine (through propositions) while providing no epistemic assurance for the individual that he knows the DF. And for this reason, the argument does little.

    This is why I locate the issue with both sides’ “object of uncertainty.” In order for the Catholic IP to produce the type of results that you want it to, the Catholic must have the same epistemic requirement that you claim the Protestants must have. Only with “rationally unassailable” certainty concerning the Catholic Church’s claims for itself can one have certainty that its mechanism of distinguishing the DF is reliable and that the resulting DF is true. The problem you’ve identified with the Protestant is just a few steps further back for the Catholic. Both are in the same situation. Both require a “rationally unassailable set of inferences,” one from Scripture and the other from the “early sources.”

    The extent of the disunity of the “ancient churches” (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Assyrian Church of the East) is not relevant. The point is that there are choices. And if I’m correct that Roman Catholics must have just as much certainty concerning their choice for Roman Catholicism as the Protestant must have concerning his interpretation of Scripture, then it seems unlikely that such certainty can be attained because there are other reasonable choices. This puts the Roman Catholic in the same situation as Protestants. We should also add to the list of choices Mormons and Apostolic Protestants. I add Mormonism to this list because they have a unique understanding of apostolic succession, namely, that there ought to have been an apostolic succession but there was the “Great Apostasy” and the “formation of that great and abominable church” (see 1 Nephi 13:26). Their view is that the succession was restored through Joseph Smith. What I call “Apostolic Protestants” are Protestants who believe in some form of either present-day apostles or apostolic succession (some Baptists have believed in this).

    I figured that I would see many objections on the claim that there is remarkable unity among conservatives Protestants. I think everyone needs to realize that I am assuming unity among conservative Protestants, which I think is both appropriate and consistent with Dr. Liccione’s article. I think Dr. Liccicone’s discussion of the disunity of Protestant theology is a misunderstanding of Protestant theology. The once-save-always-saved (perseverance of the saints) is not, nor has any adherent (except possibly some Calvinists in the now dead non-Lordship salvation movement from DTS) ever suggested that “what we do has no role at all in our salvation.” Calvinists have always said that people are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. This means that works are a result of being the “workmanship” of Christ (Eph. 2:10). But this has little to do with the fundamental unity of the narrow Gospel. Arminians and Calvinists believe in the same fundamental narrow Gospel. I also think that the debate between synergism and monergism is irrelevant. This is a debate concerning cooperative and non-cooperative grace. Arminians and Calvinists still debate this, but the differences don’t affect unity in the narrow Gospel. As I mentioned previously, as fierce as the debate was between Whitefield and Wesley, they still looked upon each as brothers in the Gospel. I’m glad these issues were brought up here because it highlights the fundamental unity that not only I’m identifying, but that the disputers recognized themselves. Regardless whether the phrase “justification by faith alone” is “negative” it has endured, almost universally, since the release of the Scriptures from popes and councils. And what people basically mean by that has endured as well.

    On to the perspicuity issue. Conservative Protestants understand perspicuity in varying ways and I can’t say with certainty that my opinion is the prevailing view. Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Luther, rightly, said, “If you speak of the internal clarity, no man perceives one iota of what is in the Scriptures unless he has the Spirit of God” (Bondage of the Will). And here’s the WCF: “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.” I think the key to understanding perspicuity is the last phrase of the WCF, Paul’s comparison of cognitive inabilities of the “natural” man, and Luther’s requirement that the Spirit of God is with a person. The “learned and unlearned” can sufficiently understand the essential doctrines by use of the “ordinary means,” that is, preaching, reading, and hearing Scripture. Every person has the cognitive ability to understand the necessary doctrines for salvation through the presentation of Scripture alone when the Spirit of God restores their cognitive ability to recognize Scripture’s plain teaching concerning what is necessary for salvation. Scripture’s teaching is plain in itself and it is only recognized as such after a restoration of cognitive spiritual ability. This restoration of cognitive ability does not mean that the restored individual perfectly understands complex issues, such as the relationship between the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant, the doctrine of election, or any other non-essential doctrine. My view is not that Scripture is plain to all apart from the work of grace, but that Scripture alone is sufficient enough to communicate the necessary knowledge for salvation (i.e., the Gospel) on those restored to see its plain teaching on the subject. Calvin said, concerning 1 Cor. 2:14, “The Spirit of God, from whom the doctrine of the gospel comes, is its only true interpreter, to open it up to us. Hence in judging of it, men’s minds must of necessity be in blindness until they are enlightened by the Spirit of God. It is from the Spirit of God, it is true, that we have that feeble spark of reason which we all enjoy; but at present we are speaking of that special discovery of heavenly wisdom which God vouchsafes to his sons alone.”

    In this way, the individual reaches the “rationally unassailable” conclusion that Dr. Liccione has required of the Protestant. He has been restored by God and recognizes the plain teaching of Scripture concerning what is necessary for salvation. Dr. Liccione says that this “leaves altogether open the question whom among us the Spirit enlightens as to the meaning and truth of Scripture, including “’the narrow view of the Gospel.’” But the enlightened or restored person, who cannot demonstrate this enlightenment and restoration effectively to the natural man, does not have to question who’s enlightened and restored. He (or she) is enlightened and restored and he knows it. And if this is the way God chose to spread his kingdom, then we would expect to see great unity among essential doctrine, believed through the use of Scripture alone, spread throughout the world. And that is exactly what we see around the world in the (conservative) Protestant Church. This consensus doesn’t in itself imply divine authority, but it fits what one would expect if God chose to work through Scripture alone.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments.

    Stephen Wolfe

  192. Stephen,

    I will defer to Mike on the whole, but you said:

    One’s conscious understanding of the fallibility of his human opinion concerning the Catholic Church’s claims for itself must cause him to equally consider the potential fallibility of the mechanism itself and its reliability to determine the DF.

    This is a form of skepticism. I reject it. The reason being is that it can work this way too:

    1. Because I am fallible I cannot be certain
    2. Jesus said he was God
    3. Therefore (from 1), I can never be certain of this claim

    Also, I reject your notion of the “narrow view of the Gospel”. You dismiss, with a mere hand waving, the importance of Eucharistic doctrine. If the Gospel is not linked to the Eucharist, for which those who do not “eat His flesh and drink His blood” do not have eternal life (as the Good Lord said), then I’m afraid in your case Occam’s razor has gone Jeffersonian on the Bible. Moreover, I reject this idea that the “enlightened” will agree with you — for that is exactly what your argument can be reduced to, and its a “No True Scotsman fallacy”:

    1. True Christians believe the “narrow Gospel”
    2. Aaron does not believe the “narrow Gospel”
    3. Therefore, Aaron is not a true Christian

    Of course, you only posit this because you are a ‘true Christian’. I would love to see someone make this argument and be a part of #2 — while also convinced of being a Christian. Then, I might look at it a second time.

    Of course, like in math, the less there is on the denominator, the more one can agree with in the numerator. What you describe is no the unity of truth, but the necessary unity of redaction. You fail to appreciate the theological distinction of just say Arminianism and Calvinism. Moreover, consider the interpretive agreement you are after. Think of any text at any time in history. Can you agree that there is a “narrow message” that most everyone can agree on in almost any book for which we could also compare the polymorphous interpretations of the “less narrow message”?

  193. Stephen (#191),

    One’s conscious understanding of the fallibility of his human opinion concerning the Catholic Church’s claims for itself must cause him to equally consider the potential fallibility of the mechanism itself and its reliability to determine the DF.

    By this logic, God is exists only as much as we have the ability to infallibly know He is there. False. A blind man can only apprehend a ship by touch, but even if he cannot touch that ship, it does not mean the ship does not exist. The Catholic IP, if true, is much greater epistemologically than the Protestant IP because we have a living system of authority that can rule infallibly on the nature of the Deposit of Faith.

    You can’t say that Protestants have unity when the ancient Churches do not. The ancient Churches share much of their theology, and where we differ is often in areas of desirable variety but not affecting the substance of the Faith. Protestants, however, are unified by a negative: that they’re not Roman. I do not agree that Calvinists and Arminians understand sola fide even in the same way as to have unity of Faith, and neither is the Lutheran understanding of baptismal regeneration compatible with the Evangelical understanding of it as a symbol. Baptists even condemn paedobaptism, which Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans, Methodists, etc. practice. For you to say that there are choices amongst us but not amongst you is silly.

    Any denomination that posits a Great Apostasy and that apostolic succession had to be recovered, says Christ lied when He promised that the Gates of Hades would not prevail against the Church. I cannot consider them a serious option.

    The fact that people who are wrong are wrong uniformly (in this case, they’re not even that) does not make them right or point to divine guidance.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  194. Brent (#192) and Garrison (#193)

    I think you both misunderstand my primary argument or perhaps it isn’t clear enough. You have to focus on the epistemic position of the individual. I fully agree that if the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself are true, then it has accurately declared the deposit of faith (DF). My point, though, is that the individual cannot know with certainty that it truly is the DF because his foundational belief in the Catholic Church is fallible and mere human opinion. The Catholic Church may have perfectly identified the DF, but the individual cannot know this with certainty. Let me say that again. The Catholic Church might have everything right, but no one can know with any certainty that it is right. So one cannot be certain that the declared DF is the actual DF. This is fatal to Dr. Liccione’s argument. He claims that the Catholic IP is superior because it provides a mechanism to infallibly declare the DF. Theoretically, it is superior, just as the Mormon Church is superior because it makes similar magisterial claims. Guru Mike’s infallibility is theoretically superior as well. But while it may be theoretically superior, to the fallible human, it is not superior because he cannot have certainty that the determined DF is the actual DF. The theoretical superiority breaks down when it encounters fallible humanity.

    I cannot see how I’m advocating skepticism. I’m not saying that because you can’t have certainty that you can’t know anything. I’m saying that the probability of one’s foundational belief determines the ultimate probability of all secondary beliefs. So the probability that the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself are true determines to the individual the probability that the mechanism for determining the DF is reliable. If the individual must consider the reliability of the Magisterium as probable, then the determined DF is merely probable (and I stress, again, probable to the individual).

    I do not dismiss of the importance of Eucharistic Doctrine. I’ll say first that I doubt that the verse you cite exhaustively refers to the actual Lord’s Supper ceremony. It likely refers primarily to the salvation through this broken flesh and his shed blood and secondarily refers to the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of the thing signified. Secondly, while there may be disagreement about the Lord’s Supper in Protestantism, when a Protestant Church performs it, the church performs the actual true ceremony, whatever it may be. This might be a bit confusing. My point is that if the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, as I think and Presbyterians think it is, and a Baptist church performs the ceremony thinking it is a mere memorial, it is still a means of grace to that Baptist church regardless of their belief that it isn’t. The unity of Protestantism concerning the Lord’s Supper is that it is at least a memorial ceremony, that it is a corporate ceremony, and that it ought to be only for members of the covenant community. To meet these requirements is to sufficiently meet the intent of the ceremony and receive the associated grace. Also, I agree that the Lord’s Supper is linked to the Gospel, but the link is that it is the sign and seal of the thing signified.

    I keep saying that the Protestants have had remarkable unity concerning the narrow Gospel for over 500 years, but then everyone throws out paedobaptism and baptismal regeneration, and supposed fatal differences between Arminians and Calvinists. You’re missing my point. These issues are real differences, but they do not affect the unity of the narrow Gospel. Luther believed in baptism regeneration (as did Calvin and the WCF states it as well) and he believed that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. So I can’t see why brining that up even matters. There are nuances to Protestant theology and I get the sense no one here understands this. The Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists and the later Remonstrants eventually came to terms with each other and we have been calling each other brothers in the Gospel for centuries now. And we all have the same basic understanding of the narrow Gospel. This is our unity.

    The idea that Protestantism is merely “not catholic” is very simplistic. Are atheists Protestants? (Perhaps they are, considering they’re” anonymous Christians”). Still, there is an element of truth to the claim, but the prevailing Protestantism has distinct positive characteristics. When I speak of conservative Protestants, I speak of those who identify with the five solas. You can call a Protestant any non-Catholic, but that’s terribly imprecise. We all know what Protestantism is, even if, like porn, you only know it when you see it.

    “For you to say that there are choices amongst us but not amongst you is silly.” I never said that Protestants don’t have choices. I’m not sure how you came to that conclusion.

    “Of course, you only posit this because you are a ‘true Christian’. I would love to see someone make this argument and be a part of #2 — while also convinced of being a Christian.”

    If a person has a properly basic belief in God and someone comes to him and says, “I have a properly basic belief in the spaghetti monster,” does the theist have to somehow dispense his properly basic belief? Someone who knows something that is externally incommunicable does not have to dispense with the belief just because another has a contradictory claim that is alleged knowledge that is externally incommunicable. The same goes with the “spiritual man” talking with the “natural man.” My claim concerning incommunicable spiritual knowledge is thoroughly biblical.

    Good discussion, though I feel like I’ve walked into a Catholic Apologist convention.

    Stephen

  195. Stephen (#194),

    You said:

    The Catholic Church might have everything right, but no one can know with any certainty that it is right. So one cannot be certain that the declared DF is the actual DF.

    Then we can have no certainty about anything, including the Scriptures and Christ Himself. If this is true, atheism and agnosticism win. This is not just fatal to our argument, but to yours as well.

    You said:

    I’m saying that the probability of one’s foundational belief determines the ultimate probability of all secondary beliefs.

    Then you reduce the Faith to probability. Catholicism still beats Protestantism at those odds because we have a 50/50 chance of having the entire Faith, whereas the Protestant can only be as certain on the whole Faith as they are in each individual book of the Bible plus each individual doctrine (even if you’re only counting the five solas), which drastically reduces the chances of getting it all right. God is still God and the Church is still the Church regardless of whether I acknowledge them as such, therefore I believe probability is a terrible basis for Faith.

    You said:

    I’ll say first that I doubt that the verse you cite exhaustively refers to the actual Lord’s Supper ceremony. It likely refers primarily to the salvation through this broken flesh and his shed blood and secondarily refers to the Lord’s Supper.

    The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” John 6:52-58

    Also the fact that Jesus says at the Last Supper: “This is my Body… This is my Blood.” Regardless, Luther would strongly dispute what you say. Your exposition of the various strains of thought in Protestantism on this and salvation is to reduce truth to the lowest common denominator. I doubt a Lutheran would appreciate that. Also, by saying that the Eucharistic doctrine is not essential in favor of a “narrow Gospel” and by reducing what it is to merely the lowest common denominator *is* dismissing its importance. The fact that it is only celebrated monthly or quarterly (if that much) in much of Evangelicalism speaks to its lack of importance for them. If we’re going to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, whose data gets included? Do we include Arius, Nestorius, Tertullian (after his fall to heresy)? Do we give everyone one vote or apportion it by denomination? The point is, you can’t have unity in the Faith if you don’t actually believe the same thing.

    Secondly, while there may be disagreement about the Lord’s Supper in Protestantism, when a Protestant Church performs it, the church performs the actual true ceremony, whatever it may be.

    You do not have a true Eucharist and you do not partake of it with the Church throughout the ages in heaven and on earth because you deny the mystical reality that is the Body and Blood. If you do not agree as to what the Eucharist is, you have no common Faith; that is what the Church Fathers have consistently taught.

    The Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of the thing signified.

    We agree it is a sign, but we deny it is only such.

    I keep saying that the Protestants have had remarkable unity concerning the narrow Gospel for over 500 years, but then everyone throws out paedobaptism and baptismal regeneration, and supposed fatal differences between Arminians and Calvinists.

    What is this narrow Gospel? I’ve never heard of such a thing and I want to know what the basis for it is. Is it sola fide? Arminians and Calvinists only agree on the phrase itself, not what it means. That is not unity. The fact that Baptists and other Protestants condemn paedobaptism and baptismal regeneration while Lutherans and the Reformed practice and believe in it, is also not unity in any meaningful sense. They’re not nuances; they’re flat contradictions.

    The idea that Protestantism is merely “not catholic” is very simplistic.

    You’re not understanding my criticism: I don’t define you by the fact that you’re not Catholic, you do. The fact that what unites conservative Protestants are the five solas proves my point: you’re united around a negative, which is not being Catholic.

    My claim concerning incommunicable spiritual knowledge is thoroughly biblical.

    That sounds very Gnostic, actually. We do not deal in secret knowledge but public revelation. It also sounds extremely uncharitable to posit you have spiritual knowledge we don’t.

    Good discussion, though I feel like I’ve walked into a Catholic Apologist convention.

    You did come to a Catholic apologetics website… ;)

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  196. I can’t respond for a couple days, but let me say a few words on what I mean by the “narrow Gospel.” It is the essential component of the “broad Gospel” that explains salvation. This basic component is forensic justification by faith alone. Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Whitefield and almost every conservative Protestant group believes(ed) in it. This is the unity of the Protestant church. I know this deserves further explanation, but it may explain my previous comments. More to follow…

  197. Stephen,

    What is your reply to this part of my comment:

    Of course, like in math, the less there is on the denominator, the more one can agree with in the numerator. What you describe is not the unity of truth, but the necessary unity of redaction…Moreover, consider the interpretive agreement you are after. Think of any text at any time in history. Can you agree that there is a “narrow message” that most everyone can agree on in almost any book for which we could also compare the polymorphous interpretations of the “less narrow message”?

  198. Stephen (#191):

    While I much appreciate the civil and charitable tone of your comments, they strike me as one of the most egregious examples of question-begging I’ve ever encountered on this site. How?

    You grant that the Catholic IP “…is a proper means to determine the DF and I agree with that, in a theoretical sense.” But you go on to argue that such a means gives the Catholic no epistemic purchase:

    In order for the Catholic IP to produce the type of results that you want it to, the Catholic must have the same epistemic requirement that you claim the Protestants must have. Only with “rationally unassailable” certainty concerning the Catholic Church’s claims for itself can one have certainty that its mechanism of distinguishing the DF is reliable and that the resulting DF is true. The problem you’ve identified with the Protestant is just a few steps further back for the Catholic. Both are in the same situation. Both require a “rationally unassailable set of inferences,” one from Scripture and the other from the “early sources.”

    Perhaps you didn’t notice that, in my article, I explained why the Catholic IP not only does not enjoy “rationally unassailable” arguments in its favor, but does not require them. All that’s needed, for the purpose of providing good reasons for making the assent of faith to the Magisterium’s claims for itself, is that the reasons be “rationally preferable” to the main alternatives. Moreover, I summed up the equivalent of your above argument myself in the second paragraph of Section V, even making it a bit stronger before rebutting it. Instead of showing what’s wrong with my argument, however, you essentially restate the one I rebutted. I believe that’s because you haven’t taken in my overall case.

    For one thing, you haven’t attended to how I frame and deploy the distinction between what is apprehended only by faith and what can be known by reason alone–a distinction inherent in both the Catholic IP (CIP) and the conservative-Protestant IP (CPIP). I hold that neither the CIP nor the CPIP, deployed for the purpose of identifying the deposit of faith (DF) for the assent of faith, can be secured with “certainty” by reason alone. If they could be, then what God proposes for our assent by special revelation–expressible as the DF–could be irrefutably identified and understood by reason alone from a dataset available to all, and thus would not be an object for the assent of faith. And that result would be incompatible with not only with the notion of an interpretive paradigm, but also with that of special divine revelation itself. So, arguments for making the assent of faith–whether Catholic or Protestant–are always fallible and never wholly demonstrative. All they could supply is “reason enough” to make the assent of faith. But it does not thereby follow that we can’t reliably distinguish the DF, as an object for the assent of faith, from human opinion about what belongs in it and how to interpret it. Nor do you believe it does follow–as the lengthy passage I quote from you below indicates. All that follows is that faith is necessary for deploying the distinction reliably, even as the assent of faith must also be reasonable. What you reject, rather, is my thesis that the CIP’s means of deploying the distinction in question is more reasonable than the CPIP’s. You argue instead that your version of the CPIP’s is more reasonable.

    As we’ve seen, one of your arguments to that effect is that the CIP is of little use unless it first be established that the claims of the Magisterium for itself are true. But all that shows is that the CIP fails to proceed as the CPIP does: by examining “the sources”–whichever sources are considered pertinent–and drawing what are thought to be rationally unassailable inferences from them. To object that the CIP doesn’t proceed like the CPIP is simply to beg the question. And as I’ve already explained, your objection doesn’t even address my argument. Since the Magisterium’s claims for itself are only offered as themselves belonging to the DF, they cannot be proven true by reason alone from the sources–again, whichever sources are considered relevant. All I claim can be shown is that the CIP, which entails said claims, is a more reasonable way of identifying and interpreting the sources than the CPIP–a way which you yourself admit is, at least, reasonable.

    To be sure, one positive reason you offer for favoring the CPIP is the “remarkable unity” among conservative Protestants about “the narrow Gospel.” But as Garrison points out–and as I see confirmed in your own comments–the only clear agreement on exactly how to formulate the narrow Gospel consists in the negations of Catholic teaching implied by the five solas. That indeed is what makes “the narrow Gospel” a narrow thing. To point out that Protestants agree that Catholicism gets the relevant topics wrong is only to point out that they are Protestants–which is hardly evidence that the CPIP is more reasonable than the CIP.

    More importantly, you argue (I’ve added the emphasis):

    My view is not that Scripture is plain to all apart from the work of grace, but that Scripture alone is sufficient enough to communicate the necessary knowledge for salvation (i.e., the Gospel) on those restored to see its plain teaching on the subject. Calvin said, concerning 1 Cor. 2:14, “The Spirit of God, from whom the doctrine of the gospel comes, is its only true interpreter, to open it up to us. Hence in judging of it, men’s minds must of necessity be in blindness until they are enlightened by the Spirit of God. It is from the Spirit of God, it is true, that we have that feeble spark of reason which we all enjoy; but at present we are speaking of that special discovery of heavenly wisdom which God vouchsafes to his sons alone.”

    In this way, the individual reaches the “rationally unassailable” conclusion that Dr. Liccione has required of the Protestant. He has been restored by God and recognizes the plain teaching of Scripture concerning what is necessary for salvation. Dr. Liccione says that this “leaves altogether open the question whom among us the Spirit enlightens as to the meaning and truth of Scripture, including “’the narrow view of the Gospel.’” But the enlightened or restored person, who cannot demonstrate this enlightenment and restoration effectively to the natural man, does not have to question who’s enlightened and restored. He (or she) is enlightened and restored and he knows it.

    Very well then: Either Protestants who consider themselves “enlightened and restored” claim the gift of infallibility in their grasp of the DF–at least under certain conditions–or they do not. If they do not, then they cannot plausibly claim to “know” that their way of identifying and interpreting the DF (in the Bible or anywhere else) is anything more than their opinion. For coming to grasp the DF as an object of faith is not the same as coming to “know” facts by reason; for the latter’s sake, authority is dispensable in principle and does not require infallibility, yet the former cannot dispense with divine and thus infallible authority if it is to be anything more than opinion. But if “enlightened and restored” Protestants do claim the gift of infallibility under certain conditions, presumably by the power of the Spirit, that claim cannot be shown to be more reasonable than the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to the same effect. Why? Because the only evidence that could justify their claim is, on your own showing, inaccessible to anybody but themselves. How in the name of God can such an argument show that the CPIP of the allegedly “enlightened and restored” is more reasonable than the CIP–never mind showing it to be “rationally unassailable”? On your account, the CPIP is rationally unassailable only in the sense that no amount of reasoning can dislodge the conviction that we, the divinely enlightened and restored, have got it right like nobody else. But being enlightened and restored by God (when one is in that blessed state) is not a product of reasoning. Rather, it brings the gift of faith, whose acceptance no amount of reasoning can compel. So the CIP is not rationally unassailable, if by that phrase is meant what I mean, i.e. demonstrated by reason alone.

    For purposes of this debate, then, the question worth addressing is not who has “certainty”–which is often a matter of degree, and always a byproduct of faith rather than a precondition for it–but rather which IP can be shown, by admittedly fallible human reasoning, to more suitable for distinguishing the DF from human opinion, and thus more reasonable. Your argument against the CIP is not that it is unreasonable, but that the claims of the Magisterium for itself cannot be established by reason with certainty, even as they must be. But I’ve shown that they needn’t, because they cannot–any more than the CPIP as a hermeneutic can be, and any more than the claims you make on behalf of the “enlightened and restored.”

    You might think that leaves us exchanging ’tis and ‘taint about my thesis. After all, I could just as well assert that only the enlightened and restored can “see” the truth of Catholicism in the sources; yet nothing I could say would prove that, any more than anything you could say would disprove it. What is gratuitously asserted can be gratuitously denied. But we needn’t and shouldn’t go down that road. What’s necessary is to debate the case I’ve actually presented, without begging the question.

    Best,
    Mike

  199. Bryan,

    You’ll have to forgive me for the time gap between your last post on this thread about which I’m asking a question, and this somewhat belated reply. I have had this question formulating for a few days, and another comment you made just today on another thread seemed an especially good jumping off point for posing the question; so I’ll go ahead and try to formulate my query:

    On post 162. of this thread, you said the following about the Catholic motives of credibility and their relation to reason:

    I think the word ‘reasonable’ is too weak to capture sufficiently what the Church teaches about the evidential character of the motives of credibility in relation to the act of faith…for those who know adequately the motives of credibility, disbelief is morally culpable, and the culpability is not only a resistance to actual grace, but at the level of reason as well…The motives of credibility as known by reason make us morally culpable for disbelieving Christ and His Church, and for resisting the actual grace given by which we could make the assent of faith.

    However, referring to the Protestant notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, you said today in comment 115 on the thread, “Some Thoughts Concerning Michael Horton’s Three Recent Articles”:

    The difficulty for Reformed theology, as others have pointed out, is that given the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, it follows that Reformed pastors or seminarians who become Catholic must be either ignorant, stupid or evil. But on account of their training and experience, they can’t be ignorant or stupid. Therefore they must be evil. And the way they are assumed to be evil takes the form of assuming that their motives are something less than love for the truth above all things. In this case, it is assuming that their motives are to be fashionable, cool, edgy, or part of a fad.

    The difficulty is that your reasoning in the latter quote, while cogent, raises the possibility of conflict with your statements regarding the motives of credibility in the first quotation. You have stated that the Catholic motives of credibility, when sufficiently known, are enough to render unbelief morally culpable. This would seem to necessitate that the motives of credibility clearly and strongly support the Catholic faith, such that, although faith will involve going beyond reason, yet on the flipside, the motives of credibility support Catholicism to the degree that unbelief will to some extent involve going against reason. After all, if unbelief did not involve going against reason to any significant degree, then we would be left with Pascal’s position of faith being a coin-toss in the face of intractable and evenly balanced reasons for belief and unbelief – a position which you expressly repudiated in the abovementioned comment 162.

    Indeed, this would seem to unavoidably create a direct analogy between the Reformed notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, and the Catholic view of the motives of credibility. The Reformed believe that Scripture is sufficiently clear that all things necessary for salvation may be understood from it by any honest and diligent readers. You believe, if I do not mistake your position, that the motives of credibility are sufficiently clear and strong in supporting the Catholic faith that any rejection of the Catholic faith that includes a knowledge of these motives is culpable – and therefore, it could be fairly said that in the view you’ve articulated, the motives of credibility are perspicuous in their support of Catholicism. Certainly at some point the analogy breaks down, but it would seem that at the crux of the matter, your view of the motives of credibility faces precisely the same dilemma you have articulated for the Reformed view of perspicuity. After all, if the motives of credibility, when adequately known, render unbelief unreasonable and therefore culpable, does this not imply that any properly informed person who rejects Catholicism must be understood, on your view, as being either ignorant, stupid, or evil? The resemblance between your articulation of the Reformed view of Catholic converts as being somehow evil and the traditional Catholic view of those who leave or reject the faith is striking: you point out that many Reformed believers have assumed that conversions to the Catholic faith must be precipitated by evil motives, motives which are, as you said, “something less than a love for the truth above all things.” Yet is this not precisely the view that Catholicism has traditionally taken of those who, like Renan or Voltaire, reject the Catholic faith in favor of another viewpoint? The Church has, to her credit, taken a more conciliatory view in the past century towards those who leave or fail to accept the faith, but it is undeniable that traditionally speaking, the Catholic view was that informed rejection of Catholicism had to be backed by less than savory motives.

    Thus, in brief, my objection to your position on the motives of credibility is that it faces the force of your own dilemma for Reformed Christians and perspicuity of Scripture. And because I am in agreement with you that the Reformed position crumbles under this dilemma, I find it difficult to agree that the motives of credibility are anything like strong enough to always render unbelief morally culpable. The many fine and even brilliant minds who have embraced the Catholic faith are plain evidence that the motives of credibility permit a rational embrace of the faith. But the many equally briliant and talented individuals who have examined the same motives of credibility and found them wanting are an equally eloquent testimony that the motives by no means require such an embrace.

    Spencer

  200. Hello Spencer, (re: #199)

    You wrote:

    The difficulty is that your reasoning in the latter quote, while cogent, raises the possibility of conflict with your statements regarding the motives of credibility in the first quotation. You have stated that the Catholic motives of credibility, when sufficiently known, are enough to render unbelief morally culpable. This would seem to necessitate that the motives of credibility clearly and strongly support the Catholic faith, such that, although faith will involve going beyond reason, yet on the flipside, the motives of credibility support Catholicism to the degree that unbelief will to some extent involve going against reason.

    Disbelief in Christ and the Church is culpable only when the motives of credibility are sufficiently known.

    After all, if unbelief did not involve going against reason to any significant degree, then we would be left with Pascal’s position of faith being a coin-toss in the face of intractable and evenly balanced reasons for belief and unbelief – a position which you expressly repudiated in the abovementioned comment 162.

    Correct.

    Indeed, this would seem to unavoidably create a direct analogy between the Reformed notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, and the Catholic view of the motives of credibility. The Reformed believe that Scripture is sufficiently clear that all things necessary for salvation may be understood from it by any honest and diligent readers. You believe, if I do not mistake your position, that the motives of credibility are sufficiently clear and strong in supporting the Catholic faith that any rejection of the Catholic faith that includes a knowledge of these motives is culpable – and therefore, it could be fairly said that in the view you’ve articulated, the motives of credibility are perspicuous in their support of Catholicism.

    I don’t think that conclusion follows. That the motives of credibility clearly indicate that Christ is from God and that the Catholic Church is the Church He founded, does not translate into “the motives of credibility are clear” or “the motives of credibility are self-evident” or “the motives of credibility are perspicuous.” The degree of self-evidence of the motives of credibility is not the same as the strength of the evidence afforded by the motives of credibility for Christ being from God and the Catholic Church being the Church He founded.

    Certainly at some point the analogy breaks down, but it would seem that at the crux of the matter, your view of the motives of credibility faces precisely the same dilemma you have articulated for the Reformed view of perspicuity. After all, if the motives of credibility, when adequately known, render unbelief unreasonable and therefore culpable, does this not imply that any properly informed person who rejects Catholicism must be understood, on your view, as being either ignorant, stupid, or evil?

    Yes. One difference is that I’m not forced to say of any particular person that his reason is the ‘evil’ horn of that trilemma.

    The resemblance between your articulation of the Reformed view of Catholic converts as being somehow evil and the traditional Catholic view of those who leave or reject the faith is striking: you point out that many Reformed believers have assumed that conversions to the Catholic faith must be precipitated by evil motives, motives which are, as you said, “something less than a love for the truth above all things.” Yet is this not precisely the view that Catholicism has traditionally taken of those who, like Renan or Voltaire, reject the Catholic faith in favor of another viewpoint?

    With the possible exception of Judas, the Church has not designated any particular person as being in hell. In my own opinion, people like Renan and Voltaire were very poorly catechized, especially in their understanding of the content and relation of true philosophy, science, and sacred theology. That does not mean that they were not in any way epistemically culpable. Whether they culpably rejected the truth, or were culpably ignorant, or whether their rejection of Christ and His Church was not culpable, or some degree of these, is something God will reveal on Judgment Day, when the secrets of men’s hearts will be revealed.

    The Church has, to her credit, taken a more conciliatory view in the past century towards those who leave or fail to accept the faith, but it is undeniable that traditionally speaking, the Catholic view was that informed rejection of Catholicism had to be backed by less than savory motives.

    That is still the position of the Church, even as stated in the Catechism: “Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC 846) Why can they not be saved? Not because of ignorance or unintelligence, but because of pride and disobedience, acting against what they know to be true. But, the rejection has to be “informed,” and not merely partially informed, but adequately informed.

    Thus, in brief, my objection to your position on the motives of credibility is that it faces the force of your own dilemma for Reformed Christians and perspicuity of Scripture.

    The difference is that the motives of credibility are not perspicuous, as Scripture is claimed to be perspicuous. The motives of credibility are accessible to reason without the supernatural light of faith, but they have to be taught and explained and defended. By contrast, according to WCF I.8, “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.”

    And because I am in agreement with you that the Reformed position crumbles under this dilemma, I find it difficult to agree that the motives of credibility are anything like strong enough to always render unbelief morally culpable. The many fine and even brilliant minds who have embraced the Catholic faith are plain evidence that the motives of credibility permit a rational embrace of the faith. But the many equally briliant and talented individuals who have examined the same motives of credibility and found them wanting are an equally eloquent testimony that the motives by no means require such an embrace.

    For that last sentence, the two remaining horns of the trilemma (since these persons are described as brilliant) don’t allow us to conclude that the motives of credibility, when fully grasped, do not show us that Christ is from God and that the Catholic Church is the Church He founded, because we cannot see into the mind of a person and know that he or she has attained a sufficiently informed grasp of the motives of credibility to be intellectually culpable for rejecting the truth concerning which the motives of credibility testify.

    In short, the Reformed claim concerning the perspicuity of Scripture is a stronger epistemic claim regarding Scripture’s self-evident / self-interpreting character than is the Catholic claim concerning the motives of credibility.

    By the way, your questions/objections are always superb. I always appreciate the care and thoughtfulness you put into them.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  201. Michael (# 191)

    I’ll try using these fancy text commands.

    I’ve gone from a red herring to begging the question. Next I’ll strive for a Reductio ad Hitlerum. But in all seriousness, I didn’t beg the question. I clearly argued that the mechanism of the Catholic Church to determine the DF cannot be known to be reliable if one’s assent to faith is based on fallible reason alone. In other words, it does not follow that a fallible assent to faith permits one to think that the means of determining the DF is reliable. If it might not be reliable, then it might only be producing human opinion. So while it might be theoretically producing the actual DF, no one can know it as it knows itself, namely, that it’s infallible. If a person cannot know that it’s infallible, then the IP breaks down as useful. The foundational belief establishes the degree of certainty possible for all secondary beliefs. Without certainty that the Catholic Church is the true Church, it cannot be known whether or not the determined DF is the actual DF or if it is mere ecclesiastical human opinion. For this reason and this reason alone, I said that the Catholic must have a set of rationally unassailable set of inferences for the assent of faith in order to establish epistemic certainty that the determined DF is more than just ecclesiastical human opinion. This is not begging the question. I’m offering you the only way to salvage what I think is faulty reasoning.

    Let‘s go back to Guru Mike. Prior to joining the commune the seeker is desperate to learn the secrets of the universe and he surveys the options and finds that Guru Mike is part of a long-standing heritage of well known and respected Gurus. This seems reason enough for him to join the commune to sit under Guru Mike’s infallible teaching. The problem, though, is that the new convert cannot be sure that Mike’s teaching is divine or merely Mike’s opinion because he cannot be sure that Mike’s long-standing heritage is actually connected somehow to the secrets of the universe. So the new convert cannot know, with certainty, that the secrets reveals are real secrets of the universe or just human opinion. Guru Mike may be the real deal, but the new convert cannot know with certainty that being part this commune is a reliable way of learning the secrets of the universe. The Catholic is in the same position.

    You said:

    Perhaps you didn’t notice that, in my article, I explained why the Catholic IP not only does not enjoy “rationally unassailable” arguments in its favor, but does not require them. All that’s needed, for the purpose of providing good reasons for making the assent of faith to the Magisterium’s claims for itself, is that the reasons be “rationally preferable” to the main alternatives. Moreover, I summed up the equivalent of your above argument myself in the second paragraph of Section V, even making it a bit stronger before rebutting it. Instead of showing what’s wrong with my argument, however, you essentially restate the one I rebutted. I believe that’s because you haven’t taken in my overall case.

    If you look back at your Section V, you’ll see that you didn’t rebut my claim. You rebutted the claim that the Catholic IP doesn’t require “rationally unassailable” claims because the mechanism for determining the DF is reliable. But that isn’t my argument. What I’m saying is that, because you claim that one only needs reason enough, the mechanism or means of determining the DF cannot be known to be perfectly reliable. And, for that reason, a person cannot know whether or not it’s the actual DF or if it’s just human opinion. That is showing what’s wrong with your argument. As I said above, the reason I said that the Catholic IP needs modification and requires rationally unassailable inferences is because it is necessary for one to be certain that he has received the actual DF and not human opinion. It’s not begging the question; it’s salvaging your argument.

    But all that shows is that the CIP fails to proceed as the CPIP does: by examining “the sources”–whichever sources are considered pertinent–and drawing what are thought to be rationally unassailable inferences from them.

    This seems like the only reply that Catholics can offer on this website. I show you that “reasonable enough” is not enough and you say, “well, it’s not enough for you.” I will reply to this shortly. But, first, notice that you don’t actually deal with the argument. Even if it does apply to me or Protestantism in general, this doesn’t magically put you in the clear.

    To be sure, one positive reason you offer for favoring the CPIP is the “remarkable unity” among conservative Protestants about “the narrow Gospel.” But as Garrison points out–and as I see confirmed in your own comments–the only clear agreement on exactly how to formulate the narrow Gospel consists in the negations of Catholic teaching implied by the five solas. That indeed is what makes “the narrow Gospel” a narrow thing. To point out that Protestants agree that Catholicism gets the relevant topics wrong is only to point out that they are Protestants–which is hardly evidence that the CPIP is more reasonable than the CIP.

    I assumed, wrongly, that forensic justification was understood on a “Reformation meets Rome” website. The narrow Gospel – what Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Arminius, Grotius, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley and almost every other post-reformation church believed in – is that at the moment of saving belief/faith/trust in Christ’s sacrifice one is declared justified, righteous and vindicated. The person is utterly reconciled before God and has eternal peace with him from that moment on. Belief in forensic justification is not a negation. Hopefully, this will dispel the myth that historical Protestantism is mere negation.

    This unity on forensic justification constitutes a real unity in the Protestant Church. When someone believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and is saved (Acts 16:31) there is a restored relationship with God (Roman 5:1). This restoration is based on salvation through forensic justification. The invisible church is all those who are justified before God. If you don’t like using “church” in this subject, then think of it as the true Bride of Christ. My opinion is that it is better to call it the “eschatological church.” Apart from what you want to call it, the vertical relationship establishes the horizontal. This unity, while not being entirely visible, is, nonetheless, real.

    For coming to grasp the DF as an object of faith is not the same as coming to “know” facts by reason

    I disagree with this faith/reason distinction. Faith, as it was in the OT and in the NT, is faith in the promises of God, promises that are known. That’s why God communicates through covenants. By reason people learn the promises of God and by faith they trust that God will fulfill them. This is thoroughly biblical. The OT believers knew the Mosaic Covenant and by faith they trusted that God would fulfill his promises. The Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 demonstrates this as well. So I think you’re wrong about this. To know a relational fact of God requires faith that God will relationally fulfill that fact. Didn’t Peter, who knew Christ, saw his miracles and resurrection, and received the Holy Spirit also require faith? He had reason enough to believe everything Christ said, but he still had faith in Christ’s promises.

    But if “enlightened and restored” Protestants do claim the gift of infallibility under certain conditions, presumably by the power of the Spirit, that claim cannot be shown to be more reasonable than the Catholic Magisterium’s claim to the same effect. Why? Because the only evidence that could justify their claim is, on your own showing, inaccessible to anybody but themselves.

    My point is not that the reason for belief is communicable to the “natural man” (see my later post for a further explanation of this). My point is that the system itself is more reasonable than the Catholic IP, given that I’m correct that it is faulty and requires initial certainty. The concept of having restored reason is biblical and found clearly in the Gospels and Paul’s thought. I demonstrated this in a later post. It has also been almost universally accepted among post-reformation churches (even Arminians believe in total depravity). So it seems that it is more reasonable as a system than the Catholic IP, if I’m correct that it’s faulty. And this leads to your next statement.

    But being enlightened and restored by God (when one is in that blessed state) is not a product of reasoning. Rather, it brings the gift of faith, whose acceptance no amount of reasoning can compel. So the CIP is not rationally unassailable, if by that phrase is meant what I mean, i.e. demonstrated by reason alone.

    If you read my later post, you would understand why your comments here are a mischaracterization of my view. My argument is the same as Scripture’s. Reason is restored. There isn’t simply a “gift of faith.” The “natural man” cannot understand spiritual things because his reason is distorted by sin. As I said before, reason is restored in order to understand the truth and then faith is employed in order to trust that God will fulfill his promises and covenants, promises and covenants that one knows by reason alone (but always by grace). I also quote Luther and Calvin to demonstrate that this concept isn’t new. This is standard Calvinism: the idea that God regenerates someone’s whole person to bring him to the truth by Scripture alone. Dismissing this idea is to dismiss the Reformation before it even meets Rome.

    For purposes of this debate, then, the question worth addressing is not who has “certainty”–which is often a matter of degree, and always a byproduct of faith rather than a precondition for it–but rather which IP can be shown, by admittedly fallible human reasoning, to more suitable for distinguishing the DF from human opinion, and thus more reasonable.

    The certainty issue is worth addressing because it is something your argument needs to address. Without certainty the Catholics means of distinguishing the DF from human opinion cannot be known to be reliable and, therefore, no one can know, including yourself, whether or not you believe in the actual DF or human opinion.

    After all, I could just as well assert that only the enlightened and restored can “see” the truth of Catholicism in the sources; yet nothing I could say would prove that, any more than anything you could say would disprove it.

    You can assert it, just as Calvinists (and Lutherans) have since the beginning. It hasn’t stopped them from giving reasons for their faith (and being the means of great awakenings), that God will regenerate the one with whom they’re conversing. Those with the Gospel are commanded to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt. 3:15) even though “only God gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7).

    Stephen

  202. Stephen,

    I’ve been enjoying the interchange between you and Michael. I want to approach the issue from a different angle. I think I understand your reasoning regarding the Catholic IP (a variation of “a river cannot rise higher than its source”). As a Reformed Protestant evaluating the claims of the RCC, I can personally attest to the concept that a decision to submit to a given authority (Scripture alone versus RCC magisterium etc) is based not on rationally unassailable arguments, but on the very fallible process of study, thought, prayer, and discernment.

    I want to understand a little better how you believe the CPIP works to define orthodoxy on both doctrinal and moral issues. I think we would agree that to whichever authority we decide to submit, it must provide some mechanism for distinguishing the truth from error, orthodoxy from heresy, and schism from unity; and in such a way that the resulting definition of orthodoxy is recognizable to all believers and binding on all believers.

    Let me provide a concrete example that I have used in posts on a few other threads (this example is not hypothetical, but actual for me and my wife). If my wife and I are trying to discern the truth about the practice of contraception and sterilization, how would we go about is using the CPIP? If there is a lack of consensus amongst conservative Protestants (both modern and historical), can we assume that it is a nonessential moral issue and simply pray about it and decide for ourselves?

    Another example: if I read the Bible prayerfully and decide that forensic justification is not the clear teaching of the New Testament, have I embraced heretical soteriology? How would I know and who would make that judgement?

    Finally, if one of my elders breaks off from our church to start his own church (e.g. over women’s ordination or creationism etc), how do I know if he is legitimately forming a new denomination or committing the sin of schism?

    I know these may be too many questions all at once, but as a relatively untrained layman, I want to understand how the Protestant model “works” in these situations, or in what way I am misunderstanding the necessity and role of authority. Again, I think I understand your argument as to why the CIP can’t rise above the level of fallible opinion, but then how does the CPIP rise above this level. If neither do, aren’t we sliding toward agnosticism or doctrinal relativism?

    Burton

  203. Burton (# 202)

    I think that is a legitimate question. Even if one’s reason is restored, how does he know that he knows? I don’t want to overstate my case here. But I think there is a degree of internal witness by the Holy Spirit that assures one’s knowledge of the forensic justification (or simply, the Gospel). Much of this witnessing by the Spirit is fine-tuning self-knowledge. For instance, my knowledge of my sin tells me that the only way that I could be justified before God is by undeserved declaration. This confirms the clear biblical logic requiring a substitutionary atonement: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:6-7). But “he LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6). But as Paul said: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Ro. 3:23-24) and that he “justifies the ungodly” (Ro. 4:5).

    Belief in God is properly basic; I believe in God as a foundation. This belief requires no external justification for epistemic warrant. But I’m also innately aware of sin and falling short of his holy standard. The Scriptures reveal Christ as the agent of reconciliation. I cannot help but see his sacrifice as substitutionary and, therefore, providing forensic justification. This is not only logical and biblical, but also experienced. I realize that this explanation may seem wanting in many respects. John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge God discusses this better than I can. My point is that knowing that God declares sinners justified is based on self-knowledge, biblical clarity, and knowledge of God.

    Moving away from how do you know that you know, I want to present a summation of my basic points throughout this entire discussion.

    I’ve noticed that there is a difference between what it means to be a convert to Roman Catholicism and what it means to be a convert to Protestantism. To become a Catholic you are submitting to an ecclesiastical authority and accepting its prescribed deposit of faith. In this sense, the whole “deposit of faith” (subject to further innovation) is believed by submission. Thus unity among Catholics is based on all having assented to the same extensive and determined deposit of faith.

    But to become a Protestant (of the conservative type, which is what I mean from here on), one only needs to accept the Gospel. Specifically, they need to believe in what I’ve been calling the “narrow Gospel”: forensic justification. This might seem odd to Catholics, but the basis is, as I mentioned in my previous post, that forensic justification is the root of one’s reconciled relationship with God. It is the vertical relationship that establishes the horizontal. “Since we have been justified by faith, we (plural) have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro. 5:1; cf. Ro. 5:2-11; 6:1-14). Protestants also argue that the visible congregation or assembly (ecclesia) contains some who will ultimately be not saved. Some are truly justified and some are not. This concept is confirmed by numerous passages that speak of those in the earthly (or historical) church who are not part of the eschatological church (1 John 2:19-20; Matthew 7:21-23; Romans 9:6; 2 Peter 2; WCF Ch. 25).

    So this concept of an invisible or eschatological church is very biblical and, when taken with the rest of revelation, suggests that those not in the eschatological church were those not justified by faith and, thus, did not have peace with God. This means that there is a present-but-not-yet unity that isn’t truly visible and that this unity is based on saving faith in the work of Christ as a substitute for the sinner to be declared righteous before God and vindicated.

    The differences between a Catholic and Protestant view of unity is important. When a seeker is trying to determine which church to join, the decision is not between Romans Catholicism and a mess of Protestant churches. The choice is really between Roman Catholicism and forensic justification. It is simply begging the question to say that Protestantism is not an intellectual option because the diversity of doctrinal disagreements leaves the seeker without assurance that they are part of Christ’s church. Being part of Christ’s church, in Protestantism, is accepting forensic justification. Protestants have universally accepted this doctrine since the Reformation and this fact does more than establish some abstract unity, as if it’s some inconsequential doctrine. This doctrine is the basis of horizontal unity. That which establishes unity is universally accepted. So when Scripture was released from popes and councils it produced astounding unity in the basic doctrine of salvation and Christian unity.

    This is the reason why I’ve stated multiple times that Arminians and Calvinists, Presbyterians and Baptists, and cessationists and non-cessationists all have unity in the Gospel. This is why Spurgeon could say the following concerning Arminianism: “But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley” (A Defense of Calvinism).

    When viewed in this light, the choice for a seeker is between an “ancient church” (all the churches claiming apostolic succession) and one universally held unifying doctrine from Scripture. As I’ve shown in my previous posts, the former cannot guarantee certainty that the doctrine received is the actual deposit of faith. From the perspective of a seeker, the latter seems like it cannot provide epistemic assurance either. The question is, what is more reasonable? All the options seem reasonable. At this point, Dr. Liccione’s argument is already bust. But let’s explore, briefly, which option is more reasonable.

    If we take the New Testament epistles as, at the minimum, letters to be read or heard and understood by all (Col. 4:16), then this would imply that the letters are intelligible to people. Notice also that Paul wrote various letters to the people of the churches, not just the leaders (Eph. 1:1,2; Col. 1:1,2; especially, Phil. 1:1). Again, this implies that the letters are intelligible to people. The quick reply by Catholics is that this has proven not to be true in Protestantism where almost every passage has disagreements in meaning. In my experience as a Calvinist in many places dominated by Arminians, we had great unity in our understanding of Scripture. Obviously, there are disagreements on key passages, but we could talk with general unity on most of the Bible. I’m not saying that this unity was like our unity in forensic justification. But there was a general unity on most verses. For instance, when we would come to a passage such as John 6:44 (“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”) we all agreed on a general principle that God must restore the sinner from total depravity to at least a point of neutrality towards the Gospel. I had similar experiences with other passages in the Bible. True, there are some passages on which we completely disagree. But in my experience we can usually agree on another level. And this fits well with Peter’s description of Paul’s letter as being “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).

    At the bare minimum, though, we would expect, if God actually left us intelligible revelation, that his people would be united on some fundamental point of theology. We would expect that what is necessary for salvation is plain and persistently taught as he builds his church. This very thing happened when Scripture was freed from councils and popes, even in a highly decentralized environment. Those who take Scripture as an intelligible authority in itself universally acknowledged the theology that unifies and saves.

    The seeker could also choose one of the “ancient churches.” This is quite the choice. The person has to try to decipher which body, each of which claims to be the true successor to the primitive church, is the Church of God. How one can determine this clearly from the complete “early sources” is beyond me. Such an undertaking is far less clear than Scripture. Determining which church is the Church of God from the complete “early sources” seems impossible or, at the very least, so unlikely that one can never be confident that the doctrine their ecclesiastical authority of choice has determined is accurate. To choose Rome is to choose one of many. But to choose Protestantism is to choose forensic justification.

    Now it may seem that I’m avoiding the fact that Protestantism permits “private judgment” on the interpretation of Scripture and, therefore, there really isn’t one option when choosing a Protestant position. First, one should notice that this hasn’t been a problem practically. Those who choose Protestantism recognize forensic justification in Scripture. Second, Protestants hold to the principle of ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda. Its basic idea is that change is possible and not necessarily bad or heretical, but it must be done with care and with significant justification. Tradition is not to be exalted, but it is to be respected. So private judgment gives way to respect for past Protestant thinkers. It’s an acknowledgement that the Spirit worked in their time as well. What is important to note is that Protestants used semper reformanda in many ways, from baptism to speaking in tongues, but they have almost never used it concerning forensic justification.

    Obviously, a complete defense of my Protestant faith will take much more that what I’ve given here. But this is a start. I look forward to objections.

    Stephen

  204. Bryan,

    I appreciate your reply – thinking about what you’ve said has caused me to revise my initial objection somewhat. I am as yet unpersuaded that the objection fails, but I do think you have highlighted a problem in my reasoning: in the previous post, as you pointed out, I failed to make the distinction between the clearness of the motives of credibility in themselves, and the clearness with which they point to the truth of the Catholic faith once sufficiently known. Since the first is not identical with the second, it can certainly be held without inconsistency that the motives of credibility, if sufficiently known, make unbelief unreasonable and thus morally culpable, and yet that the motives of credibility themselves lack universal perspicuity – in other words, sufficient knowledge of the motives of credibility makes the realization that Catholicism is true quite simple, but the acquisition of the sufficient knowledge itself may not be so simple. And because that sufficient knowledge is not itself immediately clear to all, we cannot know whether another person posssess such knowledge, and thus do not face the “ignorant, stupid, or evil” trilemma with any individual person’s rejection of Catholicism. Up to this point, I would agree with you, and thus have to revise my objection.

    You then wrote:

    For that last sentence, the two remaining horns of the trilemma (since these persons are described as brilliant) don’t allow us to conclude that the motives of credibility, when fully grasped, do not show us that Christ is from God and that the Catholic Church is the Church He founded, because we cannot see into the mind of a person and know that he or she has attained a sufficiently informed grasp of the motives of credibility to be intellectually culpable for rejecting the truth concerning which the motives of credibility testify.

    This is definitely a legimitate point – we cannot see into a person’s mind to check for ourselvse whether he or she has attained an adequate understanding of the motives of credibility, such that rejection of Catholicism is culpable. However, I would have to respectfully disagree at this point with the conclusion you draw – that the trilemma cannot be applied since we are unable to confirm for certain whether a person has sufficient knowledge of the motives of credibility. While it is true that we lack access to other people’s minds, this by no means stops us from drawing (within the bounds of charity) fair conclusions about their knowledge, in religious matters or otherwise.

    Borrowing an example from philosophy and game theory, there are two schools of thought about Newcomb’s Paradox – one thinks that the rational decision is to take both boxes, while the other thinks that it is best to take two boxes. The unusual thing about this paradox is that people tend to be more or less evenly divided about which decision a person should make, and this in spite of the philosophical dialogue/debate that has surrounded the puzzle for years. Suppose, then, that we are intuitively convinced that one ought to choose both boxes in Newcomb’s Paradox, a conviction which is then further solidified by a study of the arguments available to both sides, in which the two-box arguments appear solid and resistant to assault, while the one-box arguments appear weak. If we then come across another person who is a one-boxer, we might at first think that he is unfamiliar with the arguments, which seem so convincing to us. However, if we observe this person’s reasonings about the paradox and watch him repeatedly articulate the best two-box arguments in the clearest terms and explain the assumptions behind the intuitions in favor of two-boxing, while remaining convinced of the one-box position, I think it is clear that we would be perfectly reasonable in believing that (whatever the reason for his failure to agree with us) he possessed an adequate grasp of the two-box arguments. Even though we are unable to actually read his mind to confirm this for certain, the more we hear him talking through the nuances and main points of the arguments, the more warrant we have for thinking he understands them as well as we do, even if we cannot directly confirm this.

    I would submit that the same situation arises in the case of the motives of credibility. True, we cannot see into a person’s mind to be sure that he grasps them with good enough understanding that the truth of Catholicism should be manifest if they do, in fact, make Catholicism clearly true. But if someone demonstrates a strong familiarity and high-level engagement with the motives of credibility, surely we are as justified on that basis in inferring that he possesses a sufficient knowledge of the motives of credibility – regardless of whether he fails to convert. To take a few relevant cases, Alvin Plantinga (Reformed Christian) and Graham Oppy (atheist), both at the top of their field (philosophy of religion), have written sophisticated critiques of natural theology (God and Other Minds and Arguing about Gods, respectively), discussing the traditional arguments for the existence of God and why they find them unconvincing. And on the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, while some writers such as Arnold Lunn and Fr. Ronald Knox have published discussions of the evidence for the resurrection and found it convincing, others like Charles Foster (a Christian, incidentally), Robert Price, and Richard Carrier have written equally well-informed and cogent works on why they find the historical evidence wanting. While we cannot always make a good inference about the level of someone’s understanding of a particular subject, yet in the above-mentioned cases, it would seem to be at best an excessive modesty to refrain from concluding that these authors have acquired an understanding of the motives of credibility that is every bit as good, if not superior to, the knowledge that Catholic converts possess.

    With all of that said, in brief, my revised objection is this: in a number of cases of people who reject Catholicism or are simply unpersuaded by traditional Catholic apologetics, we have good reason to think that they possess a solid understanding of the motives of credibility. In light of their failure to be convinced, then, we are faced with the trilemma of thinking they are ignorant, stupid, or evil. If none of these seem to apply, then we must conclude that the motives of credibility, even when grasped with sufficient knowledge, do not clearly indicate the truth fo Catholicism. Yet we do possess uncontroversial instances of people who 1) have sufficient knowledge of the motives, 2) fail to accept them as convincing, and 3) are not liable to the trilemma – for instance, Blaise Pascal, whose sanctity no one questions, nevertheless rejected the traditional arguments of natural theology and held that reason could not adjudicate on whether there is a God. Therefore, the motives of credibility do not seem to make the truth of Catholicism obvious to all people of good will, even when properly understood.

    By the way, your questions/objections are always superb. I always appreciate the care and thoughtfulness you put into them.

    Thank you very much, I really appreciate that you would say that. The same exactly should be said for you – your writings, whether in comments or the blog articles themselves, are always excellent models of charity and clear thought on these issues. I thoroughly enjoy reading what you have to say!

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  205. Stephen,

    Just a short comment. Recently, a famous British poet left atheism for Christianity. While contemplating the existence of the human soul, she abandoned her atheism and writes about her conversion to Christianity: (source):

    Her turmoil ended abruptly one afternoon when she stepped into a local Catholic Church.

    “Just one day, I was in tears and said to this icon of Christ, ‘If you’re there, then you have to help me.’ And, this thing happened which is very hard to explain, but I felt as if I was being physically lifted up and my tears stopped, and I felt this presence.”

    She described the sensation as “utterly tangible,” so much so that from then on she “knew that life was devoted to Christ. There was nothing else.”

    Her journey into the Catholic Church quickly followed.

    “I realized that there was only one Church and the way to be closest to Christ was to be a Catholic, because it’s the Eucharist and taking Communion.”

    Even the demons believe there is one God and tremble. The Catholic faith means that we not only believe, but that we pick up our cross and follow after Him. We don’t submit ourselves to an ecclesial body instead of believing. We believe and, in turn, we join His Church. It is a cross, but the fact that Jesus founded a Church is part of the Good News.

    Alleluia!

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  206. Stephen,

    I must know, on what basis and on what authority do you assert that it is only the belief in the forensic imputation of righteousness is the only doctrine necessary for Christian unity? Also, on what basis and authority do you assert the existence of this “narrow Gospel” in opposition to unity in the full Gospel?

    It should be noted that Catholics do believe in an invisible Church, but we also believe that one cannot set it in contradistinction to the visible Church. If the Church is only invisible, then Christ did not come in the flesh because the Church is the Body of Christ.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  207. Stephen,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’d like to try to summarize your position to distill it down to its underlying principle. Please correct me if I am misrepresenting your argument.

    If we have access to Scripture, unfettered by an intervening human authority (councils and popes),
    then by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit we will recognize the clear teaching that the Gospel
    is equivalent to forensic justification, and we will submit ourself to this truth. This forms the basis for our
    unity with others who have been similarly illumined by the Spirit. Othodoxy, then, is belief in forensic
    justification and heresy is any other soteriology (which, by definition, in some way interposes man’s works
    as having a role is his justification and it is therefore no longer by grace).

    Is this accurate?

    Burton

  208. Stephen (#201):

    I’ve been working on a reply to your comment, but I’ve been having to do it in dribs and drabs between work on my paid research commitments. It is now shaping up to be at least 3,000 words. So at this point I’ve decided to rework it into a new article, which of course will require editing and further augmentation for the purpose. Please be patient.

    Best,
    Mike

  209. Mike (# 208),

    I hope that you would read my comments on #203. I think that it sums up what I’m getting at (though I recognize now that calling your argument “bust” is a bit presumptuous). I don’t want to distance myself from the “restored reason” argument, because I believe that there is biblical support for such a position. But in the second part of #203 I try to form an argument for Protestantism apart from that idea. I do not think that the two ideas contradict, but after some reflection I agree with you that it just ends up being a story session of competing incommunicable claims. I hope that we can continue the discussion apart from that claim, unless you think that refuting it serves some greater purpose.

    I appreciate your time and patience in this discussion, knowing that your knowledge, skills, and precision on these matters far outweigh mine.

    Stephen

  210. Spencer, (re: #204)

    You wrote:

    But if someone demonstrates a strong familiarity and high-level engagement with the motives of credibility, surely we are as justified on that basis in inferring that he possesses a sufficient knowledge of the motives of credibility – regardless of whether he fails to convert.

    It is one thing to demonstrate “strong familiarity and high-level engagement” with something, but it is quite another to understand it. Implicit in your claim is a conception of understanding and rationality that I do not hold. And the examples you cite only confirm this. The modern notion flattens the world to facts or states of affairs, made more explicit in Frege, Wittgenstein, Russell. Those having the same facts are then thought to be equally knowledgeable. But there is an older way of conceiving of what it means to understand, a way in which understanding is an intellectual virtue, and is of principles. Principles are not merely facts, but are deeper, not self-evident, or equally self-evident to all. They are, as St. Thomas says, self-evident only to the wise. The discovery of these principles requires formation and immersion within a tradition and practice.

    The opening chapters in Plantinga’s God and Other Minds provide a good example of someone trained in the analytic tradition, and without having been formed and shaped within the Thomistic tradition [he wrote this in the late 1960s], attempting to evaluate arguments that are fully intelligible only after such a formation within that tradition. His criticisms of the traditional arguments show that he does not fully understand the philosophical tradition in which they stand, and upon which they depend. His criticisms also show that he does not realize that they depend on this philosophical tradition, because he thinks he can evaluate the arguments quite apart from immersion within and formation by this tradition. His approach, in this respect, exemplifies the modern way of conceiving of arguments as consisting of [alleged] facts that are equally accessible to all persons, and do not depend upon formation within a tradition for their intelligibility or cognitive apprehension.

    And the situation is similar in the cases of the other examples you cite. Merely demonstrating “strong familiarity and high-level engagement” with the motives of credibility does not entail that a person truly understands them. David Hume showed a “strong familiarity and high-level engagement” with the motives of credibility, but he did not truly understand them because he was handicapped by a philosophical paradigm resulting from a reasoning mistake much further ‘upstream’ in his thought. So even though I may encounter persons showing “strong familiarity and high-level engagement” with the motives of credibility and yet rejecting Christ and the Church, I cannot with certainty therefore conclude that they are rejecting the truth they know.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  211. Burton (#207),

    That’s a good summary. Let me try to summarize and bring together my flow of thought as concisely as I can.

    The RCC’s claim that it is the true Church of Jesus Christ is a reasonable claim. But what I’m arguing, contrary to Michael, is that since the claim is only a reasonable claim and not an unassailable claim, the Catholic cannot be certain that the received doctrine is the actual deposit of faith, for it’s possible that it’s merely ecclesiastical human opinion. If the basis of his belief in the RCC is a fallible choice, then he cannot be certain that the RCC’s means of determining the deposit of faith is reliable. This means that the Catholic cannot be certain that he has the deposit of faith. His certainty is relative to his reasons for the “assent of faith.”

    But in Michael’s argument he claims that Protestants must make a “rationally unassailable” set of inferences that provides them the “requisite certainty” that they have the deposit of faith. But given what I stated above, this isn’t fair to the Protestant. Why is the Catholic entitled to uncertainty concerning his received deposit of faith when the Protestant is not? If the Catholic has at least some reason to doubt, why can’t the Protestant also have some reason to doubt? My point is that the Protestant can have reason enough to be Protestant just as the Catholic has reason enough to be Catholic.

    And the Protestant does have reason enough to be Protestant and more. As I argued, conservative Protestants, throughout all of post-reformation history, have believed in a doctrine that both secures individual salvation and establishes horizontal unity between all Christians: forensic justification. This unity is the basis of the Church. So when Scripture was released from popes and councils, it naturally produced remarkable unity on the central doctrine, even in a highly decentralized environment.

    Choosing between the RCC and Protestantism is a choice between competing claims of apostolic succession and a universally believed doctrine that both unifies and saves. To choose Rome is to choose against many other perfectly reasonable “ancient churches” all claiming apostolic succession. But to choose Protestantism is to choose one point of theology. So in the category of apostolic succession there are many different, mutually exclusive, views. While in the category of Sola Scriptura, there is only one Church based on one universally held doctrine that unifies and saves.

    Just taking the Bible as literature, it seems to imply that it is meant to be understood and that it has everything necessary for individual salvation. I cited a few verses in support of this. So it seems that all churches claiming that Scripture isn’t clear on all things necessary for salvation have the burden of proof. But it turns out that Scripture is clear or at least universally interpreted the same concerning the basis of salvation. I suppose that all people for 500 years could be wrong, but again the burden of proof is on the person to show otherwise. Based on this, I conclude that Protestantism is a reasonable position and even more reasonable than Catholicism.

    This is where my comments on restored reason come in. Protestantism is reasonable, but this only provides a degree of certainty and cannot prevent pensive doubting. Certainty comes and goes, but the highest moments of certainty occur when self-knowledge encounters Scripture (Ro. 7) and biblical clarity. An innate awareness of sin and one’s inability to save himself leads the Christian back to God’s declarative grace to salvation.

    I hope that this summary provides some clarity. Let me know if you have any thoughts, corrections, or questions.

    Stephen

  212. Stephen (re: #183),

    You wrote:

    My contention is that neither the Roman Catholic IP nor the Protestants IP can create epistemic certainty in an individual in the way you’ve described them. … This means that the Catholic cannot be certain concerning the claims the Catholic Church makes concerning itself, namely, that it is the true Church, established by Christ. This necessarily uncertain belief is the basis for the belief in the infallibility of the Church’s declaration of the deposit of faith. … So, for the individual, the basis for the belief in the infallibility of the declared deposit of faith is a necessarily uncertain belief. I count it as a principle of epistemology that if the foundational belief of secondary beliefs is uncertain, then, no matter its secure logical connection with the secondary beliefs, the secondary beliefs are equally uncertain. Individual epistemic certainty in the infallibility of the Church’s determination of the deposit of faith is relative to one’s certainty concerning of the Church’s claims to itself. So then the degree of epistemic justification an individual possesses for belief in the Catholic Church’s claims concerning itself necessarily determines the epistemic justification an individual possesses for the belief that the Catholic Church has infallibly declared the deposit of faith. Therefore, the individual is in no position to hold the determined deposit of faith with certainty because he is in no position to claim with absolute certainty that the Catholic Church‘s claims concerning itself are true.

    See comment #77 in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” thread, where I explain why the certainty of faith does not reduce to the certainty attainable by unaided human reason concerning the motives of credibility.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  213. Stephen (#211),

    I must repeat my protestation that you have yet to give grounds for us to believe your assertion that this “narrow Gospel” is the only doctrine that must bind the whole Church together. You have not shown from Scripture or from Church history that this has ever been believed, so you cannot possibly claim that this doctrine (forensic imputation of righteousness) is universally believed when no one didso before the Reformers.

    You were the one who originally laid on us the charge that we must have unassailable proof that those in communion with Rome are the Church or it is not the Church. You cannot, then, cry foul when we turn it on you and question your stance with the same charge.

    But it turns out that Scripture is clear or at least universally interpreted the same concerning the basis of salvation. I suppose that all people for 500 years could be wrong, but again the burden of proof is on the person to show otherwise. Based on this, I conclude that Protestantism is a reasonable position and even more reasonable than Catholicism.

    If people did not interpret Scripture in this way before the Reformers, you cannot make the claim that it is universal. I can turn your assertion on its head like this: I suppose that all people for 2000 years could be wrong, but again the burden of proof is on the person to show otherwise. Your premise is wrong, therefore you conclusion is wrong.

    Contrary to your straw man, neither Rome nor any of the other Churches to which you disparagingly attach “ancient” in scare quotes holds that apostolic succession is the only doctrine necessary to ensure unity of Faith. We believe in the whole Gospel and that we are bound to it in its entirety, not in some five century old novum.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  214. Bryan (#212),

    I think that Peter G. dealt effectively with your argument. But I’ll wait until Michael comments because I assume that his argument will be similar.

    Stephen

  215. Stephen (re: #214),

    I would like to read Michael’s response as well, but you need to know that his response to your criticism is not the only possible one.

    Regarding the theology of divine faith, there are several authoritative teachings which no Catholic can dispute. There is, however, some diversity in just how to resolve some of the “difficulties” that these teachings present. You have perceived one of these difficulties: How does the certainty of faith not reduce to the certainty one has in the motives of credibility? Different theologians give different answers.

    The answers given by Aquinas, Suarez, de Lugo, and Billot seem to have emerged as the most acceptable to orthodoxy. So far, I am more persuaded by the theology of Aquinas and Billot, but Michael seems to be more influenced by the schools of Suarez and de Lugo.

  216. Stephen,

    Thanks again for your summary. That’s helpful.

    In my original post I asked a few questions (actually more than a few!), so let me try to distill my own thoughts. I asked how the conservative Protestant IP or rule of faith works to define orthodoxy versus heresy, and unity versus schism. Can I fill in the blank by assuming that your rule of faith is belief in forensic justification? I’m not sure how this works. I may be using terms incorrectly, but I am using IP and rule of faith to mean the principle by which one determines that which is true doctrine and that which is false or heretical. Is this how you understand these terms? If so, how does the doctrine of forensic justification work as a principle by which you define orthodoxy? It seems that you start with the assumption that this doctrine is orthodox and the basis for unity without ever describing the principle by which you arrived at this conclusion. Also if unity is defined as the bond of communion between those who believe in forensic justification, then how is heresy different from schism according to your IP?

    I am also a bit leery about the notion of completely divorcing the Bible from councils. Would this not require that we allow for a variety of doctrinal viewpoints on the nature of the Trinity? (I’m thinking about the Trinitarian dogma laid down at the Council of Nicea.)

    Burton

  217. Brian (#215):

    I think you’re mischaracterizing my view on the relationship between the motives of credibility and the assent of faith. As a Dominican, I’m actually pretty close Aquinas’ on that subject, and I believe Billot is wrong to hold that the assent of faith must be based on consideration of the MCs in order to be rationally justified. But as I’ve been maniacally busy for several days, and will be for several more, I’m just going to have to leave things at that for now.

    Best,
    Mike

  218. Stephen #214,

    I participated in the thread with Peter G., and interacted with him myself. I am wondering in what way you think Peter G. dealt with Bryan’s argument. I have read the entire exchange from the comment Bryan linked all the way to the end, and it is abundantly clear that Peter G. simply left the discussion after being pressed by Bryan for a simple definition of terms in order to proceed with the dialouge. I am not trying to be contentious, but I am having a really difficult time seeing where Peter G. offeres anything even remotely close to a response to Bryan’s argument.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  219. All,

    I appreciate this dialogue; however, I’m not in a position right now to respond to 5 or 6 people at once. I will respond and comment on this site sporadically, but I can’t continue commenting at this rate.

    Thank you for the discussion.

    Stephen

    Deus ex sola fide justificat. ~Jerome

  220. Michael (re: #217),

    You are probably right. I am still trying to get a handle on what your theology of divine faith actually is and how it fits with the various arguments by prominent theologians. So far, what you have written resembles (to me, anyway) the opinions of Suarez and de Lugo, both of whom hold to a somewhat weaker view of the MCs. When you do get around to posting your article, maybe we’ll discuss it more. In any case, I will be resurrecting the Reason and Faith Podcast thread sometime.

  221. Burton (#216),

    The Council of Nicea actually did little to end the debate on Trinitarian doctrine as the subsequent 100-year theological mess demonstrated. Even the Council of Chalcedon failed to satisfy many in the East. Also, it’s clear that councils can be both annulled (e.g., the Second Council of Ephesus) and incredibly deceptive, political, and fixed (e.g., the Third General Council). Councils are reliable only as far as they conform to Scripture. They have just as much authority as the Westminster Confession. Also, what are you to do if a subject isn’t canonized via a council? To my knowledge, the RCC never had any specific dictum on soteriology until Trent or even the canon of Scripture.

    Stephen

    Stephen

  222. Burton (#216),

    One more thing I forgot to mention. Councils can also be wrong. In the last 100 years, new evidence (Bazaar of Heracleides) proves that Nestorius was actually orthodox or at least had views within the acceptable limits of orthodoxy. The reason he was condemned is because Cyril hated his reservations on calling Mary theotokos and thus reducing the Eucharist to “cannibalism.” Nestorius thought is sounded like turning Mary into a goddess. Nestorius was condemned by the First Council of Ephesus in 431 for his alleged Christology. JND Kelly (patristic scholar) says this: “When we try to assess the character of Nestorius’s teaching, one thing which is absolutely clear is that he was not a Nestorian in the classic sense of the word” (Early Christian Doctrines pg. 316).

    Stephen

  223. Stephen,

    So are you saying that Trinitarian dogma as defined at Nicea is up for debate? Do you use any means other than Scripture when you decide which councils have erred and which correctly define orthodoxy and heresy? Also, would you mind addressing the questions I asked in the bulk of my post #216(paragraph one).

    Thanks

  224. Burton (#223),

    There is nothing other than Scripture. If you read church history, you’ll see that it doesn’t support reliable apostolic succession anywhere near the degree that the RCC and Orthodox churches claim it does. There was little transmission of tradition, but only doctrinal development. Theology on baptism was a mess and penance looked nothing like it does today in the RCC. Original sin was denied by many key Fathers (before Pelagius). The Nicean understanding of the Trinity has no representation before Tertullian. The Christology of Chalcedon has little to no representation either. The councils were not declarative of apostolic tradition; they were political and theological victories among rivals (Cyril vs Nestorius is one example). Every side during the Christology debates after Nicea claimed to represent the apostolic tradition. It’s not reliable. It fits what we see in the NT: doctrinal corruption occurs quickly even after the Apostles appoint the leaders. John, in the 90s, is chastising churches for their corruption of doctrine. How, for instance, can Corinth in the 50s have corruption within only a few years after Paul left them, but Corinth in 150 has the perfect apostolic faith? The church at Corinth in the 50s was part of the Church just as the church at Corinth in the 150s was part of the Church. Why, then, should we think that it has perfect doctrine in 150 when it didn’t in 50?

    “Tradition” isn’t reliable. Councils aren’t reliable. Popes aren’t reliable. The only deposit of faith we have is Scripture. Scripture assumes itself to be intelligible. So with a respect for Protestant tradition and diligence we pursue the truth. And as I’ve said before, this has produced belief in the doctrine that saves and unifies. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro. 5:1) who “justifies the ungodly” (Ro. 4:5). We are individually justified prior to entering the church and justification is the basis of our solidarity. Those who have follow Scripture’s claims for itself, that it is intelligible, have almost universally adopted forensic justification. Even NT Wright (who someone else cites in a different article) believes that God declares his people vindicated forensically. He even uses the old Protestant court room imagery to describe it. It is a bit different understanding, but as arch-Calvinist John Piper once said concerning NT Wright’s understanding of the Gospel, “it’s not a false gospel, but it is confusing gospel.” If you understand the distinction, you’ll notice that Piper is acknowledging solidarity with NT Wright that he would never claim with Roman Catholics.

    Once you see this doctrine in Scripture (which is plain), then self-knowledge of sin (Ro. 7) will confirm its truth to you.

    Stephen

  225. Stephen,

    1. If, as you say, “Tradition” isn’t reliable,” AND
    2. Scripture was Tradition before it was written down, THEN
    3. Scripture is not reliable

    Just because something comes in the form of tradition — as apposed to being written down — does not mean it is ipso facto unreliable. You would agree that the Holy Spirit preserved the Traditions that were written down in Scripture. Therefore, you disagree with the axiom “Tradition isn’t reliable” — despite just writing it. However, it seems that you would, with just a flip of the wrist, toss aside all the other teachings of Christ that were a part of the Apostolic Tradition. How do we know they exist? Because from East to West, the Christians of every century who could afford a quill, ink and the time (even pre-Nicene Christians who did not believe in the “narrow gospel”!), talked about them. In fact, the Divine Liturgy (its practice from East to West, North to South, across cultures, all coordinated without email or fax machines I’ll have you) can only be explained by it as such. In other words, there is no good reason to believe the theory of a cross-cultural collusion aimed at novelty, when a much better explanation is that all the cultures were authentically representing what they had received from the Apostles — the very thing they were dying for.

    That said, Scripture also has something to say about it:

    I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. -1 Cor 11:2 (notice that his letter is referencing what he had previously “delivered”)

    So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. -2 Thess 2:15

    Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. -2 Thess 3:6

    What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

    Peace to you on your journey

  226. Stephen (#224):

    As promised, I am working on a new CTC article dealing with the epistemology of faith, including your own. But in the meantime I just cannot let certain claims of yours pass without comment.

    You write:

    There is nothing other than Scripture. If you read church history, you’ll see that it doesn’t support reliable apostolic succession anywhere near the degree that the RCC and Orthodox churches claim it does. There was little transmission of tradition, but only doctrinal development.

    I shall leave to others the rather extraordinary string of assertions you offer as evidence for that claim. There are other points to consider.

    As Brent has just argued, if the record shows that “tradition” and the teaching authority of the early Church are unreliable, then the record shows that Scripture is too. Confining ourselves simply to the NT, the books thereof draw on and, in part, record an already existing “tradition” in the Church. And what eventually coalesced as the NT canon was recognized as such by the Church because the leaders of the Church, who understood themselves as the successors of the Apostles, deemed its contents to be authentically apostolic. So if a study of “church history” shows tradition and apostolic succession to be unreliable, then you cannot cite either the authorship of the NT books or the process of canon formation to ground belief in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. I realize that some Reformed epistemologists, presumably including you, treat that belief as “properly basic,” but I’ll get to that rather ad hoc idea in my upcoming article.

    In the meantime you’re left with saying things like this, in your next paragraph: “Scripture assumes itself to be intelligible” and (b) “Those who have follow Scripture’s claims for itself, that it is intelligible, have almost universally adopted forensic justification.” Now that first claim is simply a category mistake. Of course we can all agree that Scripture is “intelligible” to a a degree; but if by ‘Scripture’ you mean the Protestant canon–or even the Catholic/Orthodox canon–then Scripture cannot “assume” or “claim” itself to be intelligible. For assumptions and claims are made by the authors of books, not by the books themselves; all books “do” is contain what their authors write. But the none of the biblical authors could have assumed that the canon is anything at all–because the canon was not formed and understood as such when those authors were writing. And we don’t even know whether the authors of the NT books considered the Septuagint canon of the OT, as distinct from the Muratorian canon, to be “the” canon of the OT. We have no evidence that the question even arose until well after the Apostles had all died.

    Accordingly, it does your case no good to claim that those who find Scripture intelligible all agree that belief in “forensic justification” is the basis for the unity of the Church. For one thing, all Christians find the canon intelligible to a degree, but hardly any hold that it is altogether perspicuous, and the majority of Christians do not agree that forensic justification as conservative Protestants understand it is a scriptural doctrine. Christians who have considered the matter do largely agree that God in his mercy declares Christians righteous–which is the basic meaning of ‘forensic justification’–but there has never been agreement, even among Protestants, that such righteousness is only imputed rather than also infused. The evidence from the early Church suggests that latter, which is why St. Athanasius could assert, as an interpretation of both Scripture and Tradition, that “God became man so that man could become god.” That’s a perfectly legitimate way of interpreting the biblical claim that we are to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), which both the Orthodox and Catholic churches have always treated as implying infused righteousness. As Alister McGrath has argued, the notion of merely imputed righteousness is a “pure theological novum.”

    Finally, you conclude:

    Once you see this doctrine in Scripture (which is plain), then self-knowledge of sin (Ro. 7) will confirm its truth to you.

    Well, I can’t count how many times I’ve read Romans 7, and believed it in my heart, but I don’t “see” what you say is “plain” there. That’s because I read that chapter in the overall context of the NT. Are you seriously prepared to argue that, because I don’t agree that righteousness is merely imputed rather than also infused, I’m just another sinner whose intellect is so corrupt that he can’t see what’s plain on its face? Do you not realize that anybody can play that game on behalf of their own construal, including not only Catholics and Orthodox but also Protestants y0u’d dismiss as mere liberals? It gets nobody anywhere. It is not to be taken seriously as an argument.

    Best,
    Mike

  227. Stephen, (re: #224)

    I agree with what Brent and Michael wrote above, but I think more can be said in reply to your comment. You wrote:

    There is nothing other than Scripture. If you read church history, you’ll see that it doesn’t support reliable apostolic succession anywhere near the degree that the RCC and Orthodox churches claim it does.

    In order to support this claim, such that it doesn’t amount to a mere hand-waving assertion, you’ll need to show “the degree” that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox claim that Church history supports “reliable apostolic succession,” and then show how Church history does not support apostolic succession to that degree.

    There was little transmission of tradition, but only doctrinal development.

    Again, this is mere hand-waving. What is your evidence that there was “little transmission of tradition”? Mere assertions are unhelpful here.

    Theology on baptism was a mess and penance looked nothing like it does today in the RCC.

    Mess? There was unanimous agreement concerning baptismal regeneration, as I showed in “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.” Moreover, the changes in the rite of the sacrament of confession have not been changes to its essence, but only in the manner in which it is carried out. Here’s a photo of an Orthodox priest hearing a confession:

    Catholic priests generally do not hear confessions in this posture, but it is the same sacrament.

    Original sin was denied by many key Fathers (before Pelagius).

    Such as…? See here for a list of Fathers who taught original sin. And why would they be in consensus regarding both (a) baptismal regeneration [see "here], and (b) infant baptism [see comments #116, #118, and #120 in the "Have You Been Born Again" thread] if they didn’t believe in original sin?

    The Nicean understanding of the Trinity has no representation before Tertullian.

    This is such an ambiguous claim as to be misleading. Of course the specific formulation developed at Nicea did not previously enjoy widespread representation. That’s precisely why a council was needed. But the essence of the doctrine of the Trinity was already there in the Tradition (both written and unwritten), and this was brought out and made explicit by the bishops at the Council of Nicea.

    The Christology of Chalcedon has little to no representation either.

    Again, you’re conflating the formulation of a doctrine, and the essence of doctrine. The essence was already there. It wasn’t pulled out of a hat at these councils. The orthodox doctrine was implicit already in what was believed about the deity of Christ and the incarnation, and in the liturgical and eucharistic practice of the Church. Christ had to be both God and man, preserving both natures, and yet one. All that was already there, at least implicitly. The council drew out these implications, in order to oppose heretical positions that threatened the orthodox doctrine.

    The councils were not declarative of apostolic tradition; they were political and theological victories among rivals (Cyril vs Nestorius is one example).

    Your mere assertion presupposes that the Holy Spirit is hamstrung in fulfilling His task of preserving the Apostolic Tradition and leading and guiding the Church into all truth if political factors or theological rivalries are involved. But what is the justification for that presupposition? It is a theological presupposition you are bringing to the table, not from the Tradition, but from outside the Tradition.

    Every side during the Christology debates after Nicea claimed to represent the apostolic tradition. It’s not reliable.

    Just because heretics claim to ‘represent’ Apostolic Tradition does not mean that Apostolic Tradition is unreliable, or that they in fact represent Apostolic Tradition. So it is not safe to infer that Apostolic Tradition is unreliable, from the fact that imposters can rise up and claim to hold Apostolic Tradition. That’s exactly what happened in the second century in the gnostics, and St. Irenaeus took them to the mat in his Against Heresies. He did not concede that Apostolic Tradition is unreliable. Precisely the opposite! He affirmed the reliability of Apostolic Tradition, and argued that it was to be found in the apostolic churches, through the succession of bishops from the Apostles.

    It fits what we see in the NT: doctrinal corruption occurs quickly even after the Apostles appoint the leaders. John, in the 90s, is chastising churches for their corruption of doctrine. How, for instance, can Corinth in the 50s have corruption within only a few years after Paul left them, but Corinth in 150 has the perfect apostolic faith? The church at Corinth in the 50s was part of the Church just as the church at Corinth in the 150s was part of the Church. Why, then, should we think that it has perfect doctrine in 150 when it didn’t in 50?

    Corruption in relation to what standard? Your statement is self-contradictory. “Doctrinal corruption” can be recognized as such by Apostles and Church Fathers only if orthodoxy is still known and practiced. You are offering speculation based on unjustified extrapolation. Your argument goes like this. If there were doctrinal problems in the 50s, how much more would there be doctrinal problems in the 150s. But that argument presupposes ecclesial deism. The theological assumptions you are bringing to the patristic data are entirely determining the conclusion you draw.

    “Tradition” isn’t reliable. Councils aren’t reliable. Popes aren’t reliable. The only deposit of faith we have is Scripture.

    Again, these are mere hand-waving assertions.

    Scripture assumes itself to be intelligible. So with a respect for Protestant tradition and diligence we pursue the truth.

    So in one breath you assert that tradition is not reliable, and in the next breath you express respect for Protestant tradition. If it is unreliable, then why ought we to respect it?

    I understand that it is your opinion that “Scripture assumes itself to be intelligible.” But, how would you know if it didn’t? That is, if Scripture in fact required both the Tradition and the Magisterium in order to function properly such that Christians can be truly united in one faith, in the same sacraments, and in the same ecclesial Body, how would you know? How many more centuries of continual fragmentation and schism among persons believing and studying the Bible without a magisterium would be required to falsify the thesis that Scripture is sufficiently self-interpreting that no magisterium is required to maintain the unity for which Christ infallibly prayed in John 17? How many more centuries of Christians disagreeing about which books belong to the canon would it take to falsify the thesis that the canon is “self-authenticating” such that no magisterium is necessary in order to know which books belong to the canon?

    And as I’ve said before, this has produced belief in the doctrine that saves and unifies. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro. 5:1) who “justifies the ungodly” (Ro. 4:5). We are individually justified prior to entering the church and justification is the basis of our solidarity. Those who have follow Scripture’s claims for itself, that it is intelligible, have almost universally adopted forensic justification.

    Is forensic justification the only essential of the faith or are there more? If there are more, please list each of them. If they are essential, then you must know them all if you believe you are saved, so listing them out shouldn’t be a problem for you.

    Justification can be forensic without being extra nos. God can declare us righteous by directly making us righteous through the immediate infusion of agape. And that is the Catholic understanding of justification (see, for example, my recent post “Imputation and Paradigms: A Reply to Nicholas Batzig.”)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  228. This appears to be the correct location for this comment.

    Michael Liccione (372), you wrote this in another comment thread:

    I’m saying: “The reason why you have no [basis for making a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion] is that you see [certain churchs' claim to be divinely commissioned through apostolic succession] as merely as one more opinion on an epistemic par with others.”

    I’ve added the [square brackets] there to set off the nature of your claim.

    There are all kinds of things balled up here, and no doubt they are clarified in other places. I just haven’t had the opportunity to look at them all in one place. If some of my questions below get answered some place, I’ll be happy to look in other places.

    You have challenged me to respond to the philosophical questions you have, and so here I am.

    The first thing to ask is the question, What is “divine revelation”? I’m going to assume for the sake of discussion that we believe in the same God, and so proving “who” God is shouldn’t be much of an issue. Although, we may disagree on “what God would do, or how he would do things in any given situation”.

    In that way, we certainly differ even on what is “divine revelation”. In this respect, your citation of Dei Verbum should be analyzed.

    Also, we need to look at the definition of the word “church”. We need to arrive at an adequate definition of “church”.

    What is “a church”? What is “the church”?

    What specifically was this “divine commission?” How do you know specifically what it was? When did it occur? If it was an “epistemologically superior” claim, how is it that certain individuals walked away from that claim without a full and complete understanding of it? After all, Christ is God. Did he just leave them with “hints” that they forgot to pass along? Or the promise that (John 16:13) that the Holy Spirit would come in and “fill in the gaps” later?

    Then, Here is what we are dealing with when we say “epistemology”. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources?

    How is it that the mere “claim to be divinely commissioned” entails “epistemological superiority”? What are the limits of that?

    Mike, according to your account, the specific claim, by some churches “to be divinely commissioned through apostolic succession” is a claim that’s epistemologically superior to the claim that other churches make.

    You say in this article,

    if said claims are true, then there is a principled as opposed to an ad hoc way to distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions about how to identify it in the sources. And that is the way in which the Catholic can distinguish the assent of faith from that of opinion.

    But so what? The claim itself does not bear the kind of entailment that is placed on it. Where is the entailment that “there is a principle as opposed to an ad hoc way” to “distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions”.

    There is, in fact, no entailment that there be “a formal proximate object of faith”. There may well be instances in which “faith” and “human opinion” not only coincide, but coincide in a fairly co-extensive way.

    As I asked, when you call the Liccione kids off the street, “get out of the traffic or your could get hurt”, there is no entailment that you define “the formal proximate object” of your entire family set of rules, in order to make that particular command authoritative.

    And second, if you say, “come to your own Birthday Party”, there is similarly no entailment for a “formal proximate object” to make “the good news” of a Birthday Party any less clear in the child’s mind.

    I say these things in defense of the “Protestant IP”. If God can speak to Adam, and if Eve can misunderstand, and God permits this [there is no entailment for a “formal, proximate object of faith”], then God can speak through a larger Scripture, and still, there is no entailment for a “formal proximate object of faith” in the church age, either.

    Neither you nor your colleagues has done an adequate job of explaining this [and in fact, I think you go beyond what Roman Catholicism actually claims in this; your own claims do not fully coincide with official Roman Catholic claims.

    Here, too, are areas where I think that neither you nor any of your colleagues here has done an adequate job of explaining things:

    1. If the Roman Catholic Church makes some claim to “divine institution”, then, it assumes upon itself a burden of proof to show clearly and explicitly where this “divine institution” occurred, how it applies to (a) Rome and (b) the papacy, and again, it must do so explicitly, and why anyone might be thus bound by it. Not to do so clearly and explicitly is grounds for rejection of the claim.

    Note that this “burden of proof” is not fulfilled by showing, as you seem to do, that the Roman Catholic claim is neater, tidier, than “the Protestant IP”. That may make it seem more secure for those who are seeking epistemological security. But God does not seem to supply such security.

    If He does, I don’t see it, and you need to show it to me.

    2. This particular burden of proof, on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, means that Keith Mathison’s very long article examining (and rejecting) those claimswas a worthwhile exercise.

    If the Roman Catholic explanations in support of this “divine institution” do not hold up to scrutiny [of the Scriptural kind or the historical kind, or in fact, of any kind of scrutiny that we can place upon it], then no amount of perceived confusion in the Protestant world can fix those claims to authority. And yet, the shape of the argument coming from this side is “Protestantism is in a disarray, therefore Roman Catholic claims are correct”.

    What you seem to do in this article is to put the “epistemological claims” of Protestants and [some subset of Roman Catholics, but not the official Roman Catholic Church] on the table, side-by-side. Such a side-by-side comparison may constitute an apparent act of “fairness”. But this is no way to prove the validity of Roman Catholic claims.

    3. The claim here is that the mere “claim to be divinely commissioned through apostolic succession” is somehow epistemologically superior to other claims.

    But I’ve seen this “claim” in practice. And the “practice” is that, when there is an “apparent contradiction” in Roman claims, the “apparent contradiction” exists only in my mind; it does not exist in reality”. Thus, there is always an explanation [or an excuse] offered. The Roman Magisterium is always right in everything it says.

    I refuse to engage in this kind of make-believe, in defense of an institution that has so clearly been corrupt in the history of its existence, at every level. Christ’s claim “you can tell a tree by its fruit” is a guarantee of a kind of epistemological “test” that can be made against a “tree”. It is no accident that Newman’s comparison (and Bryan’s comparison) involves a “tree” with “branches”.

    We can understand the “Roman Catholic” tree by the “fruit” that it produces – as evidence of corruption.

  229. Michael Liccione, you said in comment 403 in the other thread:

    (1) The Catholic IP is preferable to the Protestant IP because the former, unlike the latter, supplies a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions.

    I’m sure your “argument” for this may be found somewhere. But what is it that makes it “preferable”? Preferable to yourself, maybe, because you want Rome’s views to come out on top, and this seems to me to be just a fancy way of stacking the deck.

    Is this “IP” preferable to God? When has God ever outlined that this is preferable?

    In speaking of God’s immutability, Bavinck writes, “God is as immutable in his knowing, willing, and decreeing, as he is in his being” (Vol 2 pg 154). Citing Augustine, he writes:

    The essence of God by which he is what he is, possesses nothing changeable, neither in eternity, nor in truthfulness, nor in will (The Trinity, IV).

    And citing Confessions:

    For even as you totally are, so do you alone totally know, for you immutably are, and you know immutably, and you will immutably. Your essence knows and wills immutably, and your knowledge is and wills immutably, and your will is and knows immutably. (Confessions, XIII, 16)

    He continues, “Neither creation, nor revelation, nor incarnation (affects, etc.) brought about any change in God. No new plan ever arose in God. In God there was always one single immutable will. He notes that this immutability as one of the incommunicable attributes of God is not questioned by the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutherans, nor Reformed theologians.

    Furthermore, as Steve Hays has said elsewhere, “Christianity is a revealed religion… Only God knows his own mind. We lack direct access to the mind of God. Intentions are hidden. We don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us. That’s not something we can intuit or infer from the natural order.”

    In the “35,000 foot view” model, John Currid, in his Genesis commentary (Vol 1) is able to make the statement that “Genesis 3:15 is Messianic. And the identity of the said descendant is clear from genealogies such as Luke 3 … Genesis 3 is the prophecy that God will send a redeemer to crush the enemy. Jesus is the seed who is descended from Eve and went to do battle against Satan. The remainder of Scripture is an unfolding of the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. Redemption is promised in this one verse, and the Bible traces the development of that redemptive theme.

    God is consistent in time. In his plan, in his will, in his method of revelation, God is unchanging. And when we perceive something different, such as the movement between the “old covenant” and the “new covenant”, we see, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, the old was merely “copies of the heavenly things”. Christ himself revealed “the heavenly things themselves” (Hebrews 9:23)

    It is in that way that He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3).

    Where, then, in Revelation [“we don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us”] does God posit, even in some “implicit, seed form” that having “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions” is “preferable”.

    I’ve cited Beale’s work on Adam, but Beale continues to show that God’s command to Adam continued through to the Patriarchs, then to Moses, where it was written down. Same set of commands:

    To Adam:

    And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    To Noah:

    “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. … And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”

    To Abraham:

    “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. … I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.

    He says the same to Isaac, and Jacob, and repeatedly to the nation of Israel:

    And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.

    He traces this same phenomenon all through the OT. And even though history continued to occur, and prophets continued to speak, the “living voice”, so to speak, faded away, superseded by what was written, and what was written was authoritative.

    God expects his command to be obeyed, without providing “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions”. He doesn’t use the precise wording every time, but his intention nevertheless is never said to be in question. (Even though “people interpret it wrongly”).

    Where, in all of Old Testament history, does the immutable God provide the model for the “IP” which you say is preferable?

    Over at Reformation21, Scott Oliphant is working through the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). At Chapter 1.4, he writes

    iv. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

    One of the first things that must be firmly embedded in our minds, both as Christians and consequently as biblical apologists, is the absolute self-attesting authority of Scripture. It is generally agreed that, if any section of the Westminster Confession of Faith was more carefully crafted than another, it was the section that deals with Holy Scripture. You can, no doubt, understand some of the reasons for that, particularly in the face of opposition from Roman Catholicism. The Confession is concerned, particularly in section four of chapter one, to show that it is in Scripture’s authority that we see its divinity and inspiration represented.

    Notice first of all, that the divines are interested here in the authority of Scripture. And the intent of the paragraph is to set out for us the ground or reason why the Scriptures are authoritative, and thus why they ought to be believed and obeyed. They set out, very clearly, that the authority of Scripture does not, in any way, rest on the Church or its councils. Rather, its authority rests on its author, God, and is to be received because it is His Word. This is sometimes called the autopiston of Scripture, translated as self-attesting, or self-authenticating. What does that mean?

    It does not mean self-evident. Self-authentication is an objective attribute, whereas self-evident refers more specifically to the knowing agent. It therefore does not mean that revelation as self-authenticated compels agreement. That which is self-authenticating can be denied. It does mean that it needs no other authority as confirmation in order to be justified and absolutely authoritative in what it says. This does not mean that nothing else attends that authority; there are other evidences, which the next section makes clear. What it does mean is that nothing else whatsoever is needed, nor is there anything else that is able to supersede this ground, in order for Scripture to be deemed authoritative. This is, at least in part, what God means when he says, in Isaiah 55, that His Word, simply by going out, will accomplish what He desires. This is the case because of what God’s Word is in itself. It always goes out with authority, because it carries His own authority with it.

    That, in a nutshell, is how “God’s word” works. It works. As the author of Hebrews writes, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

    The word of God requires no “interpretive paradigm”. God expects that his word is (a) active and (b) understood by those whom he has created to receive it.

  230. John Bugay.

    Of course God is immutable. But how does God’s immutability provide the conservative Protestant interpretive paradigm a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions?

    You suggest that God speaks to everybody through scripture the same way that He spoke to Adam and Abraham but you don’t bother to explain how it is that Christians using the Protestant IP cannot agree on foundational Christian doctrines such as baptism or election.

    I asked you in the ‘Visible Church’ thread about how you account for the existence of Arminians in your “God is immutable and 2 + 2 = 4″ explanation of why the Protestant IP is superior. You didn’t answer me then. Maybe you’ll answer me know. As it stands you keep repeating yourself but when we try to drill down and examine the 500 year result of the Protestant IP, you don’t seem to want to go there.

    Recently another interlocutor claimed that there is no church (at all) and that there is no Trinity. You and he share the same IP. He argued that we should search the scriptures and God would speak to us as God spoke to him. You argue that we should search the scriptures and that God will speak to us. How does one look at both of your particularly beliefs about what scripture teaches and determine which one is divine revelation (if either) and which one is mere human theological opinion?
    .

  231. John (#229):

    I’m pleased to see you trying to address what I take to be the basic epistemological issue between Catholicism and Protestantism. In my opinion, understanding and addressing that issue accurately is the only way for the uncommitted inquirer to decide between them without begging the question.

    You have correctly identified and quoted my central thesis:

    The Catholic IP is preferable to the Protestant IP because the former, unlike the latter, supplies a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions.

    Let ‘CPD’ designate that thesis. The first point you make in reply to PD is:

    I’m sure your “argument” for this may be found somewhere. But what is it that makes it “preferable”? Preferable to yourself, maybe, because you want Rome’s views to come out on top, and this seems to me to be just a fancy way of stacking the deck.

    I have indeed argued for CPD in many places, the most pertinent of which are Sections IV and V of the article at the top of this thread.

    There I describe the difference between the Catholic interpretive paradigm (‘CIP’) and the conservative-Protestant IP (‘CPIP’), to which latter I have always taken you to adhere. I explain why any theology must rely on some-or-other IP, and I proceed on the assumption that any theological IP needs some sort of principled distinction between authentic expressions of divine revelation as such and merely human opinions about it. I then argue, in effect, that the CIP’s candidate for such a distinction can be successfully deployed for the purpose stated, whereas the CPIP’s candidate cannot, and thus is only an ad hoc distinction. If my argument is sound, then the neutral inquirer has reason enough to prefer Catholicism to Protestantism as a way of understanding and professing the Christian “faith once delivered to the holy ones.” Of course that by no means suffices to show that Catholicism is actually true as opposed to, say, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormonism, Islam, or even atheism. Showing that would be a far bigger task involving additional sorts of considerations. Indeed it would be the work of a lifetime. And even then, no amount of argumentation can compel the assent of faith in the authority and teaching of the Catholic Church–or, for that matter, in any other purportedly “revealed” religion’s authority and teaching.

    Your next move is to pose a pair of questions:

    Is this “IP” preferable to God? When has God ever outlined that this is preferable?

    If I am correct that every religion and theology contains an IP and that none can dispense with using one, then the first question cannot be answered without first comparing pairs IPs, and then determining which is the more reasonable one to adopt, thus supplying one good reason to profess the religion containing the rationally preferable IP. That can be done with the CIP and the CPIP as I’ve already done, and it can also be done with the CIP and Eastern-Orthodox IP in a way I have not yet exhibited on this site. The CIP is more reasonable than the CPIP for the reason I’ve given, but I would argue that the CIP is more reasonable than the EOIP for a somewhat different sort of reason. The CIP and the EOIP differ not about whether something called “the” Church is infallible under certain conditions, but about what those conditions are and how to identify them; thus, comparing and assessing those two IPs involves determining which of their two respective accounts of infallibility-conditions is the more reasonable. But in no case of comparing IPs can we adopt a standpoint from which it could be said, independently of any particular IP, which one “God” prefers. For if any religion and theology requires using an IP, then we cannot reliably say, without using some-or-other IP, what God prefers in general. Hence your second question cannot be answered from a standpoint that would or could dispense with any IP. It can only be answered from within some-or-other IP.

    Accordingly, the rest of your comment proceeds to describe what amounts to a version of the CPIP, by means of your quotation from Scott Oliphant. I shall now focus on the part most pertinent to comparing the CPIP with the CIP, and show that what looks like an argument from Oliphant does not actually address the fundamental issue at all.

    Concerning the “self-authenticating” nature of Scripture, its autopiston, he writes:

    It does not mean self-evident. Self-authentication is an objective attribute, whereas self-evident refers more specifically to the knowing agent. It therefore does not mean that revelation as self-authenticated compels agreement. That which is self-authenticating can be denied. It does mean that it needs no other authority as confirmation in order to be justified and absolutely authoritative in what it says. This does not mean that nothing else attends that authority; there are other evidences, which the next section makes clear. What it does mean is that nothing else whatsoever is needed, nor is there anything else that is able to supersede this ground, in order for Scripture to be deemed authoritative. This is, at least in part, what God means when he says, in Isaiah 55, that His Word, simply by going out, will accomplish what He desires. This is the case because of what God’s Word is in itself. It always goes out with authority, because it carries His own authority with it.

    The problem with that centers on Oliphant’s statement that “nothing else whatsoever is needed, nor is there anything else that is able to supersede this ground, in order for Scripture to be deemed authoritative.” It can certainly be shown that, just by reading and meditating on Scripture, one could reasonably come to believe that Scripture is “authoritative,” in the sense that it the word of God with a claim on our faith and obedience. And that has in fact been shown by any number of people. But citing Scripture alone, or one’s reaction to Scripture alone, would by no means show that such a belief is itself anything more than an opinion. After all, the writings comprised by the biblical canon–whichever canon is the correct one, about which there is some disagreement–were produced by men, gathered together in a canon by men, and presented in that form by men as divinely inspired and thus inerrant. So whatever argument there may be for accepting Scripture as authoritative in the sense indicated would have to involve showing why the claim that the biblical canon is the inspired and inerrant word of God, not merely the word of men, is more than just an opinion, but is itself the “word of God,” in the sense of being an authentic expression of divine revelation. Arguing to that effect by relying only on Scripture would just beg the question. One must also show why the men who wrote, gathered together, and handed Scripture down to us as they did should be trusted, with the assent of faith, as divinely sanctioned authorities themselves. If one does not produce such an additional argument, then one will not have shown why the belief that Scripture contains the word of God, as distinct from mere accounts of what some men have said and done about God, is itself the word of God. One will have failed to show that such a belief is anything more than an opinion.

    Now, since the CPIP rules out claiming that any post-apostolic human authorities are infallible, it cannot show why those who wrote, gathered together, and handed the Bible down to us are to be trusted with the assent of faith, as distinct from just giving their opinions by so doing. I realize, of course, that on the CPIP, the authors of Scripture are seen as infallible when writing Scripture, by virtue of being divinely inspired. But if there are no people after them who are themselves granted the gift of infallibility by some other means, then the affirmation that the human authors of Scripture were divinely inspired and thus infallible can, itself, only be made fallibly. Thus it can only be held and taught as an opinion. And what is held and taught as an opinion has simply not been shown to be much more than that: an authentic expression of divine revelation.

    Given as much, I conclude that Oliphant’s argument, while worthwhile in the sense I’ve already indicated, does not actually address the fundamental question: What principled basis is there for distinguishing authentic expressions of divine revelation as such from merely human opinions about how to identify and interpret divine revelation? The only way the CPIP can answer that question, it seems to me, is to show that the claim that the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant does not require support from an assent of faith made in any human authorities, but can be shown to be knowledge, not itself an article of faith. If that were to be shown, then it will have been shown that theology is like natural science, wherein even though most of us normally rely on authority, we can dispense with such reliance in principle, because anybody with the requisite intellectual capacity can verify claims for himself using the same systematic methods the experts do, and thereby acquire knowledge. But for the reasons I explained in my article at the top of this thread, I don’t believe the CPIP can do that.

    Best,
    Mike

  232. Mike,

    I appreciate the extensive response to mathison.

    I have a couple of questions of my own:

    1) is it not true that simply to assert something as being true, no matter how convenient, does not necessarily mean that the assertion is true?

    2) to avoid the rejected tion of your assertion that the church of Rome has the authority to interpret what is from man or from God, you must alleviate the burden of proof by proving the catholic church is in such authority.

    3) Jesus seems to pray for peters conversion and restoration of faith as a condition for confirming his brethren, and this would include moral purity, then how can we justify the function of the popes to strengthen the brethren if they have been worldy and denying christ in their works.

    It seems to me that the catholic IP only serves to enable the neutral inquirer with an absolute way of distinguishing divinity from opinion. But how does this parallel the way Paul describes neutral inquirers come to know the truth (1 cor 1-2). ?
    It seems the Spirit of God is responsible to grant one to know the gospel through the preaching of the gospel. To the question of diversity, I believe that if papal power was not so strong in the natural society, if the scriptures were apt to be read and interpreted by each individual during 400-1500 , if there was no physical threat to ones life as he taught what he interpreted, if there was just as much access to learn as there is now back then I think just as much diversity would have existed then as there is now. The catholic IP would then be a small opinion throughout this time period given these conditions

  233. seeker (#232):

    You ask:

    1) is it not true that simply to assert something as being true, no matter how convenient, does not necessarily mean that the assertion is true?

    Of course. Do you think I’m unaware of that? Or are you just making a statement by means of a rhetorical question?

    You also ask:

    to avoid the rejected tion of your assertion that the church of Rome has the authority to interpret what is from man or from God, you must alleviate the burden of proof by proving the catholic church is in such authority.

    Nowhere in my article did I “assert” what you say I did. In Sections IV and V, I argued that the CIP is rationally preferable to the CPIP. But as I wrote in the previous comment I posted in this thread:

    Of course that by no means suffices to show that Catholicism is actually true as opposed to, say, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormonism, Islam, or even atheism. Showing that would be a far bigger task involving additional sorts of considerations. Indeed it would be the work of a lifetime. And even then, no amount of argumentation can compel the assent of faith in the authority and teaching of the Catholic Church–or, for that matter, in any other purportedly “revealed” religion’s authority and teaching.

    You also ask:

    Jesus seems to pray for peters conversion and restoration of faith as a condition for confirming his brethren, and this would include moral purity, then how can we justify the function of the popes to strengthen the brethren if they have been worldy and denying christ in their works.

    It should be evident that no individual can reliably “confirm” the faith of others if he lacks faith himself. That’s why Jesus made his prayer–successfully, as things turned out. But the premise of your question is not what I just said is evident. The real premise of your question neither follows from that nor is true. And its inclusion makes your question a loaded question.

    Having, exhibiting, and spreading the gift of faith does not entail “moral purity,” if by that you mean being without sin. The only people who are without sin are in heaven; while they walked the Earth, neither Peter nor any of the other apostles were without sin. Hence, being without sin cannot be a necessary condition of exercising leadership in the Church.

    Of course, all you might mean by ‘moral purity’ here is enough virtue to make one credible to regular folks as a leader in the Church. Many popes have had just that; some have not. But even those who have not were not thereby depriving themselves of the right and duty to teach the truth entrusted to them. Since they did not invent the truth they were supposed to be teaching, their vices and their corresponding lack of personal credibility were irrelevant to the credibility of the truth whose preservation and handing-on had been entrusted to them. In fact, they stood judged by that very truth.

    You ask:

    It seems to me that the catholic IP only serves to enable the neutral inquirer with an absolute way of distinguishing divinity from opinion. But how does this parallel the way Paul describes neutral inquirers come to know the truth (1 cor 1-2).?

    I don’t think those two chapters are addressing “the neutral inquirer.” Nor do I think they are particularly relevant to the broader issue I’ve been addressing. An interpretation of them which I find sound can be found at the bottom of this page: http://www.nccbuscc.org/bible/1corinthians//.

    You write:

    It seems the Spirit of God is responsible to grant one to know the gospel through the preaching of the gospel

    I agree. But that doesn’t begin to address the issue.

    You write:

    To the question of diversity, I believe that if papal power was not so strong in the natural society, if the scriptures were apt to be read and interpreted by each individual during 400-1500 , if there was no physical threat to ones life as he taught what he interpreted, if there was just as much access to learn as there is now back then I think just as much diversity would have existed then as there is now. The catholic IP would then be a small opinion throughout this time period given these conditions

    There have always been dissidents and heresies in the Church–even at the height of papal temporal power. And the number of them at any given time has nothing to do with the question how we are to recognize the difference between orthodoxy and heresy amid “diversity”–of which there is a great deal today. Indeed, another way of stating the issue I’ve broached is what principled means there might be for distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy. I’ve described and compared how the CIP and the CPIP can be used to answer that question, and I have argued that the CIP’s is rationally preferable, precisely because it offers a principled as opposed to a merely ad hoc distinction between authentic expressions of divine revelation and merely human opinions. If that is the case, then we have one good reason to believe that Catholicism is true. And if Catholicism is true, then what the Catholic Church teaches with her full authority is not a matter of opinion–no matter how many people happen, at any given time, to hold opinions incompatible with Catholicism.

    Best,
    Mike

  234. Mike,

    I understand what you are saying. You are not asserting the truth of roman catholicism in it’s totality, you are introducing it’s interpretive principle and it’s elements of authority so as to demonstrate one of the many reasons, which others are not mentioned, that Roman Catholicism is true. If anything has been clear, it has been this.

    I was simply affirming that this does not hereby prove roman catholicism, such would be a circular argument, but neither was this the premise, body, or conclusion of your argument. Understood.

    In fact, it is because that you are not arguing for the total truth of Roman Catholicism that I am able to affirm the validity of your argument concerning the Catholic Interpretive Principle while at the same time not submitting to the authority of the Catholic Church, because they are distinguishable, yet connected.

    Simply because this interpretive principle does offer a better (or absolute) way of making a distinction between what is a human opinion and what is divine revelation, does not in turn make the interpretive principle a must-have pre-requisite for someone to believe in something that is in fact divine revelation. This is evident in the faith of the Old Testament Patriarchs, the Canonicity of the Old Testament, the faith of the prophets, the faith of the disciples, the faith of the growing Church recorded in Acts, etc,etc.

    In other words, the Apostles were not going around teaching that the gospel is true simply because WE say it is true and WE are the ones who carry the claim of an interpretive principle by which comes the bold claim of divine authoritative pronouncements. Not even Jesus expected people to first know an interpretive principle by which to judge that the Old Testaments Scriptures were authoritative and affirmative on the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow: (Luke 24:25-27) ” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”. Jesus in not here posing their mistaking which Magesterium they should have believed. The fault of these people were not that they trusted in the wrong group of leaders (in fact Jesus taught to listen and do whatever the Pharisees told them from the the chair of Moses, but this is no way implied their infallibility, nor did it mean the disciples were forbidding from locating the heresy in their teaching and lives), rather the problem with these people was their slowness to believe and foolishness. Jesus appealed to the normal human senses and actually holds these people accountable because of it. The same logic that one uses in affirming that all human beings are accountable to God on the day of judgement because all human beings were given enough grace (Rom 1:1-18) in order to know God and learn to repent, thus legitimizing the judgement of God in sending them to hell, is the same logic implied here when Jesus holds these people responsible for understanding the Scriptures.

    The apostles, including Paul, appealed to the simple reason of the masses, pointing them to the Scriptures and arguing from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, that the Christ had to suffer. Now this is not to say all apostolic teaching was in the OT Canon, of course there was the teaching of Jesus given to the apostles, and whom the apostles deposited in the apostolic churches. When someone came to faith in Jesus, the apostles did not say “Oh praise God! They have come to accept the Catholic Interpretive Principle” (not trying to be funny, just for explanatory purposes), but rather they saw that the Holy Spirit had opened the mind and hearts of these people to believe in Jesus.

    Now how did they understand their own authority? When the council was held in Jerusalem, the simple solution was not magical, as to suppose an automatic divine revelation from the college of apostles and elders. Rather reason, logic, memory, history, the Scriptures, and the evidence of conversion were all used as vehicles driving the thinking of this council; and when the time came to make a final decision, no appeals to infallible teachings SIMPLY AS SOMETHING THAT FLOWS AUTOMATICALLY were made. There was rather —> ARGUMENTS. Arguments appeal to human senses, which implies there was the freedom to think. Was there a need for an authoritative declaration? Absolutely! Was this founded on infallibility? No, rather it was founded on the collective argumentation which was also based off of real historical evidence and the testimony of Scripture which all had access to.

    Now, to point out the diversity of opinion and the variety of interpretations and the thousands and thousands of denominations,etc,etc, is is no way automatically proving that the one organization which has one set of beliefs and holds to an authoritative interpretive principle (in the magesterium) has got it all right. There is still the responsiblity of people, under God, to know and believe the Scriptures.

    Now, to give a bit of info about myself, I do not accept sola Scriptura. However, I also do not see the permanency of infallibility in the apostolic succession. In the first place, Anglicans have a good argument of Apostolic succession, and yet they rigorously reject the modern Vaticanal claims to Papal Infallibility. The Eastern Orthodox claim Apostolic Succession, and many (some more than you may think) call the Pope a heretic, they simply do not accept the modern Vaticanal teachings. The Church worldwide in the first 4 centuries hardly was conscious of Papal Infallibility (something one can only subscribe to with an accept despite the vagueness of the development of doctrine theories). Almost all the bishops that we have writings of claim that the episcopate was one and held together in unity among-st all the bishops. Clement of Rome nowhere appeals to the specific authority which modern Catholic apologists say he had or implied he had. The simply is no evidence to match the modern day Vaticanal claims. The phrase “presiding in love” hardly implies them either. The writings of Cyprian on the episcopate are interesting, he does mention the leadership of the chair of Peter as of divine origin, but then does not live out this teaching in his life when he disagrees, which makes on wonder if he was delivered the teaching on the chair of Peter from his Cathechizers or from some new teaching that was coming from Stephen. Tertullian is the most difficult of the Roman Catholics to make any sense of, because even in his orthodox period, there is no consciousness of the Papacy, something as essential as this should have been fundamental from Pentacost onward. Ambrose says “What is said of Peter is said to the Apostles” and “All we bishops have in the blessed Apostle Peter received the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. There is no doubt that arguments were put in favor for the divinity of the Bishop’s Chair in Rome, and there is no doubt that this was the conviction of a great many. But this idea of a universal bishop who has authority over all christians in the world, creates quite a divide in the faith of the church of the first 1,000 years and the modern day Vaticanal teachings. No reference to development theories can make a traceable line from seed to tree….at least in many minds.

  235. Mike,

    What are your thoughts on the neutral inquirer’s IP ? It seems there is an IP that deploys right reason for determination. If this is the case, then how can the inquirer be neutral when his IP shares common traits with the CIP ? Let me try to explain.

    Any and every IP comprehends a certain relationship between reason and revelation (natural or supernatural). Since the CIP is no exception, then it is easy to see your argument as an example of how reason is consonant with revelation and assent. After the inquirer allows himself to be carried to the threshold of assent, he discovers an unconscious commitment to the CIP that existed before assenting. He is not merely determining which IP is rationally preferable. On the contrary, he is participating in the CIP to make the determination.

    Take “thinking with assent” as an adequate definition of believing. Clearly, you are asking the inquirer to think
    rationally about a certain kind of relationship between reason and revelation. We are witnessing the CIP at work through your request to think ! This is what I admire about your approach. Does it end here ? No, the thinking must see an object of assent. On the one hand, the inquirer who prefers the CPIP is consigned to some form of rationalism rejected by CIP. His error keeps him from rising higher. On the other hand, a preference for the CIP allows him to retain rational thinking without depending entirely upon it. Assenting to the CIP is to acknowledge a principle common to all authoritarian models not found in CPIP.

    Why should the inquirer implicitly trust right reason to make any determination about principles related to CIP ? The CIP deals with objects of assent. How is he fit to know or see reason consonant with revelation and assent ? Is he not participating in the CIP to help determine this ? Undoubtedly, to answer these questions will require reliance on a certain IP.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  236. Dear Eric Ybarra,

    You write:

    “The Church worldwide in the first 4 centuries hardly was conscious of Papal Infallibility (something one can only subscribe to with an accept despite the vagueness of the development of doctrine theories).”

    How do you know this? Do you have direct evidence that the Church worldwide from 30AD – 430AD was hardly conscious of Papal Infallibility? The paragraph you write in explanation of your claim doesn’t contain direct evidence. It only contains the indirect evidence of arguments from silence, on the order of: “when the fathers had a chance to say something about papal infallibility, they said something else instead.”

    There are two important reasons why this type of argument is unconvincing to Catholics.

    (1) First, the arguments from silence which you have made are all made on the part of the data set that is least conducive to arguments from silence: the period from 30AD – 380AD. During this period, the data set of Christianity is quite sparse. In particular, almost all of the letters of the bishops of Rome during this period have been lost. In our collections of patristic letters that have survived, we will usually have one portion of one person’s side of one conversation, without the rest of the context to understand what their whole point of view was. Such a small portion of the data has survived, that arguments from silence usually don’t work during this period.

    Just to see what kind of poor conclusions one can make from arguments from silence applied to small samples of the data, try taking a random sample of paragraphs from the Catholic Catechism of today. There are 2865 paragraphs of the Catholic Catechism. How many of them provide direct evidence of papal infallibility? Do a search on this website (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm) and see for yourself how many paragraphs refer to papal infallibility. Now, if you took a 1% random sample of 29 of the 2865 paragraphs, what are the chances that this sample would include a reference to papal infallibility? How big would the sample have to be in order to make it more likely than not that a sample would include one of the few paragraphs that directly assert or imply papal infallibility?

    The exercise above shows conclusively that a small sample of the modern Catholic Catechism would not tend to demonstrate the existence of papal infallibility either. But we all know that the Catholic Church of today believes in papal infallibility. So that means that an argument from silence on a small sample of the modern Catholic Catechism would teach us the falsehood that the modern Catholic Church doesn’t believe in papal infallibility either! Do you see why arguments from silence applied to small samples are not a reliable way to discern what a group of Christians believe or do not believe?

    (2) The second reason that Catholics don’t find the kind of argument you are raising persuasive is that it turns out there is direct evidence for worldwide binding papal authority in the first four centuries, just as you have requested. The data set of christian antiquity gets much richer once Theodosius took control in 379AD. That means that we can look with more reliability about what people believed about subtle doctrines such as the details of ecclesiology. In particular, we finally start getting some surviving letters of popes during this period.

    One of the first popes whose writings we can examine in detail is Pope Innocent I, pope from 401AD to 12 March 417AD. During the Pelgian controversy, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to Augustine and other African Bishops in which he stated the following:

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

    Here we see that Pope Innocent I claims several things:
    (a) that a divine decree and not a human sentence, gave the Bishop of Rome his authority
    (b) that this authority was worldwide
    (c) that this authority was doctrinal, and
    (d) that this authority had the power to overturn the judgments of other patriarchs (he implicitly overturned the Bishop of Jerusalem’s past judgment).
    Pope Innocent goes on to write:

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

    Here Pope Innocent emphasizes that:
    (e) the authority he is asserting is ancient (and thus would extend before the period of rich data and into the period of sparse data in the earlier history of the church),
    (f) that whenever questions of the faith are discussed, they ought to be brought to the attention of this authority, and
    (g) he commences to excommunicate those who disagree with his doctrinal claim.
    Now, if this is not some kind of version of papal infallibility, I don’t know what is. It is certainly a claim to a very binding worldwide doctrinal authority of divine origin and ancient practice. And it is within the first four centuries.
    Did anyone agree with Innocent? In fact, lots of people did. In the rich data set of the early 400sAD, we can even find explicit agreements. Here is an explicit agreement from no other than St. Augustine himself:

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

    So, it turns out that in the first four centuries that: (1) there is no direct evidence for the claim that Christians were ignorant of papal infallibility or papal doctrinal authority in general; (2) the indirect evidence in favor of that claim is not reliable because it consists of arguments from silence on small samples; and (3) there is direct evidence for the contrary claim that plenty of Christians were quite aware of a binding worldwide doctrinal authority of the Bishop of Rome.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  237. Erick (#234):

    Addressing me, you write:

    …it is because that you are not arguing for the total truth of Roman Catholicism that I am able to affirm the validity of your argument concerning the Catholic Interpretive Principle while at the same time not submitting to the authority of the Catholic Church, because they are distinguishable, yet connected.

    Thank you for understanding and appreciating my argument. A reading of the several threads where it’s discussed shows that a surprising number of participants do not.

    You then note:

    Simply because this interpretive principle does offer a better (or absolute) way of making a distinction between what is a human opinion and what is divine revelation, does not in turn make the interpretive principle a must-have pre-requisite for someone to believe in something that is in fact divine revelation.

    Quite so. I have added the bold emphasis to highlight the distinction you invoke, because it is quite an important one to observe in the context of ecumenical dialogue. Neither I nor any other CTC writer claims that Protestants as such cannot believe what are in fact expressions of divine revelation. My argument is only that, given what’s characteristic of their family of IPs, Protestants as such cannot, even in principle, distinguish such expressions in a principled way from mere statements of human opinion. That failure militates against making the assent of divine faith as distinct from that of opinion. Thus, if and when a Protestant has received and accepted the gift of divine faith, that is in spite of his IP, not in part through it.

    The rest of your comment, though, strikes me mostly as a rather neat set of exercises in begging the question. In terms of length, the main part of what you’ve done there is interpret data from Scripture and the early Church, and conclude that the Magisterium’s self-understanding lacks sufficient warrant in that data. But as I’ve pointed out before to several Protestant interlocutors of mine, making a case against the CIP by means of such a procedure relies on a salient assumption of the CPIP itself, and thus begs the question. The assumption in question is that, in order to justify any doctrinal claim, one must show that the claim is either explicitly made in the data from Scripture and the early Church or is logically inferable therefrom (either deductively or inductively), such that no contrary inference would be rationally warranted. But of course, the CIP does not make that assumption and is in fact committed to rejecting it. So, part of what’s at issue between the CIP and the CPIP is whether said assumption should be made. One cannot address that question simply by making the assumption and proceeding accordingly. To exhibit that difficulty, I shall briefly show how it presents itself first in your scriptural paragraph, and then in your final paragraph.

    I suppose for argument’s sake that Scripture, interpreted in isolation from Tradition and the Magisterium, contains no clear parallel to the Magisterium’s existence and self-understanding, and does not even posit something like that as necessary for the assent of faith. On the CIP, that is not a problem, for the CIP is not meant to apply to the process of receiving the public, once-for-all revelation in Jesus Christ on the part of those who directly experienced it–which process is what Scripture, on both the CIP and the CPIP, records for us. The CIP is meant to apply to those of us who, living after the apostolic age, can ordinarily receive that revelation only through its vehicles of transmission: Scripture and Tradition. Admittedly, if one adopts the CIP, one is committing oneself to interpreting scriptural data so as to show how the Magisterium’s existence and self-understanding makes sense, and is thus at least rationally plausible, given such data. On the CIP, one must do that because Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are “so linked…that none can stand without the others” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum §10). But that’s part of what Catholic theologians do, and several CTC writers have done that sort of thing in articles posted on this very site. So the mere fact that Scripture interpreted by means of a different IP does not supply sufficient warrant for the Magisterium’s claims for itself is neither here nor there. To make any progress discussing the scriptural basis for those claims, one must first address the question which IP is rationally preferable in general for the purpose of distinguishing between authentic expressions of divine revelation and merely human opinions. Since you’ve already conceded that the CIP is rationally preferable for just that purpose, your scriptural arguments not only beg the question, but also highlight the difficulty you yourself face.

    In your last paragraph, you cite Clement of Rome and Tertullian and imply, correctly, that the Magisterium’s claims for itself cannot be logically inferred from what they say. But the sort of difficulty you face with scriptural interpretation poses itself for basically the same reason when you interpret data from the early Church. As I pointed out to another commenter in this thread, the CPIP assumes that, to justify any given ecclesiology, one must show that it is either explicitly set forth in the written sources from the early Church that have come down to us, or can be logically inferred from those sources taken as a whole. But that is the same sort of assumption you made in the case of scriptural interpretation, and your making it in this case poses the same difficulty for you that it did in the scriptural case. On the CIP, what’s normative in the early non-scriptural sources is what the Magisterium takes as normative, in the sense in which the Magisterium takes it as normative. Given as much, a case against Catholic ecclesiology that doesn’t just beg the question would have independently justify the salient assumption of the CPIP, and thus show that the CIP is not rationally warranted. But your concession to the CIP precludes doing that.

    To be sure, you’ve also made two points in your last paragraph that I have not addressed so far. The first and less important is that there are rationally plausible non-sola-scriptura ecclesiologies, such as the Anglican and the Eastern-Orthodox, which are incompatible with the Catholic. Like the Catholic, both those ecclesiologies posit tradition and the teaching authority of something called “the Church” as necessary for our identifying and receiving divine revelation as such. So in order to defend Catholic ecclesiology against the other two, the advocate of the CIP must show that the CIP is rationally preferable to the IPs on which the other two respectively rely.

    I can easily do that in the case of Anglican ecclesiology. For one thing, there really is no one ecclesiology one can call “the” Anglican one; for another, even if one takes the one implicit in the Thirty-Nine Articles as normative for Anglicans, the most that yields is a “branch theory” of the Church, which faces a severe difficulty of its own that even many Anglicans are forced to acknowledge. On any Anglican ecclesiology, there is no one visible church or communion of such churches that can be said to be “the” Church Christ founded. So Anglican ecclesiology does not even offer a candidate for the role the Magisterium plays in the Catholic IP. For that reason, Anglican ecclesiology ultimately faces the same sort of difficulty that the CPIP does.

    In the case of EO ecclesiology, my article’s last paragraph indicated that I had not yet addressed the issue between it and the Catholic. Unlike Anglican ecclesiology, EO ecclesiology does identify some visible communion of churches as “the” Church Christ founded–namely, that of the EO itself–and thus relevantly resembles the Catholic, at least to a degree. But in #231, I at least adumbrated how I’d evaluate the EOIP against the CIP:

    …the CIP is more reasonable than the EOIP for a somewhat different sort of reason. The CIP and the EOIP differ not about whether something called “the” Church is infallible under certain conditions, but about what those conditions are and how to identify them; thus, comparing and assessing those two IPs involves determining which of their two respective accounts of infallibility-conditions is the more reasonable.

    Though I’ve yet to make the case here at CTC in much detail, I’d argue that the CIP is rationally preferable to the EOIP because, unlike the former, the latter lacks a clear, consistent, and principled account of how to determine when “the” Church–regardless of which communion is the Church–is teaching with her full authority and thus infallibly. Or, to the extent the EOIP can accommodate such an account, it reduces to that of the CPIP. Of course, I’ve heard EOs say that that only seems to be a disadvantage to one who is already committed to the CIP. But that is simply false. The neutral inquirer can and should make a determination here that doesn’t beg the question by relying on either the CIP or the EOIP, and there is no basis for making such a determination other than the one I’ve already described.

    Now I readily grant that EO ecclesiology is at least rationally plausible given scriptural and patristic-era data. But the CIP does not require showing that alternative ecclesiologies are rationally implausible simply given such data. All that’s required for making a case for Catholic ecclesiology over against the EO is to show that the CIP contains a better basis than other IPs for making a principled distinction between expressions of divine revelation as such and merely human opinions about what counts as such expressions. I’ve already shown that in the case of the CPIP, and I’ve now said something substantive about how it can be done in the other cases you’ve brought up.

    The second and more important point you make–or, I should say, ‘suggest’–in your last paragraph is that one consequence of adopting the CIP is committing oneself to a view of the development of doctrine (DD) that strikes many of the uncommitted as dodgy. That is true. It is also irrelevant. Here’s why.

    The CIP neither says nor requires that the only legitimate form of DD involves showing that a proposed article of faith is logically inferable from whatever sources are deemed relevant. Since that’s a requirement only in the CPIP, positing such a requirement for the CIP would beg the question. For reasons I have yet to elaborate formally at CTC, the CIP requires two things pertinent to DD: (1) Legitimate DD cannot yield doctrines that are logically incompatible with what’s already been taught by the Magisterium with its full authority; (2) Legitimate DD must yield doctrines that at least make sense given the relevant sources and readily cohere with those sources, even if such doctrines are not logically necessitated by those sources. Now (1) can be and has been shown to be satisfied by Catholic doctrine. As to (2), in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine (available free online), John Henry Newman supplied some important criteria that must be met if one is show i>how a given such doctrine makes sense given such data. Though far from complete, Newman’s account shows that the criteria called for by (2) on the CIP are far from arbitrary. Further work, which I am planning to do myself, should refine and augment Newman’s account so as to show that the full range and application of the needed sort of criteria only bolster the CIP by comparison with its competitors.

    Best,
    Mike

  238. I have seen reference in several comments, starting, I think, with Mike Liccione’s, to the ‘neutral enquirer.’ If this is off-topic, I apologise; drop this query. But it seems to me that, in reality, there can be no such thing as a truly neutral enquirer. For a man to enquire about the Catholic faith seems to me already to presuppose some interest. Indeed, in my experience, for the most part, only those ever become Christians at all (from having been non-Christians – I mean, in adulthood) who have, for one reason or another, come as very definitely engaged enquirers. To be sure, the engagement is often, initially, hostile – but … neutral??

    I think this is quite important at a practical level. My Reformed friends have often accused me of becoming a Catholic because I wanted it to be so. I am able to answer that, in a way, that is quite true. Until I saw the beauty and attractiveness of the Catholic faith – on many of the grounds that Mike and others have argued – I had no real motive for my enquiry at all. I cannot have become a Catholic simply because it is beautiful; I had to be convinced that it is true. Nevertheless, my enquiry only began once I was definitely no longer neutral.

    Would appreciate comment. As I said, maybe this is off-topic. Maybe there is another post that addresses the very topic – would like to know!

    jj

  239. JJ (#238):

    In the sense in which you’re using the phrase ‘neutral inquirer’, there is indeed no truly neutral inquirer. But that’s not the sense in which I’m using the phrase. I’m talking about the inquirer whose philosophical premises, whatever they may be, are themselves logically neutral with respect to competing theological IPs. You might or might not have once been in that position yourself, but that’s not relevant to the issue as I’ve framed it. How my use of ‘neutral inquirer’ plays out will, I hope, become a bit clearer to you in the reply I’m about to give to Eric’s #235.

    Best,
    Mike

  240. Dear K. Doran,

    I really appreciate the quotes that you have set forth. I have skimmed through it and accept your argument. As I still am not at the point of accepting the permanency of the application of papal infallibility (though one can argue quite persuasively from the idea that it is the very office of Peter having revelation from God in heaven that grounds the stability of the Church from the force of the gates of hell, which must in turn exist until the parousia). I am aware that the Church had developed into the wide consensus and consciousness of Papal infallibility, and at that as a divine institution from Christ, and to be quite honest the term “developed” can only be used because we are limited with what discussions and affirmations were going on through voices during the first 3 centuries, as you said).

    It stands possible that Papal infallibility could have come from the mouth of the apostle Peter to Clement. We must remind ourselves that we are indeed working from the collection of writings that have been preserved and translated for us.

    However, grant this, it is still an uneasy conclusion given to the “talk” of the apostolic fathers from the earliest points of time. Tertullian speaks of valid churches (and thus a valid eucharist) which do not have a bishop in apostolic succession, but yet are in truth no less apostolic because of it’s equivalent doctrine as the apostolic churches (Prescription against Heretics Chapter 32). Tertullian’s apparent lack of understanding on the Papacy from the petrine texts (Matthew 16; 18) demonstrates this was no fundamental dogma which was coming out of the mouth of the Catechizers (I believe he was taught in Rome). Yes, Tertullian was a bit of a rough edge rebel, especially towards the end, but psychologically he does not present himself as a stupid and insincere man. He would not have outright rejected a fundamental dogma of catholic teaching during his orthodox days. Clement (1st) really does not provide us with enough evidence to affirm what many try to affirm from this simple letter. There are plenty of other explanations (though the RC one is one of the stronger ones).

    Given some of the many Anglican books written on the issue of the papacy quite strongly showing how the early church was conscious of an equal shareholding of one episcopate still leaves me weary of accepting later pronouncements of dogma concerning the single bishop of Rome. But prayerfully, this conviction will come as strong as it is in you.

  241. Eric (#235):

    You wrote:

    Take “thinking with assent” as an adequate definition of believing. Clearly, you are asking the inquirer to think rationally about a certain kind of relationship between reason and revelation. We are witnessing the CIP at work through your request to think ! This is what I admire about your approach.

    Thank you. That shows you’re open to understanding my arguments and weighing them fairly.

    You argue:

    Any and every IP comprehends a certain relationship between reason and revelation (natural or supernatural). Since the CIP is no exception, then it is easy to see your argument as an example of how reason is consonant with revelation and assent. After the inquirer allows himself to be carried to the threshold of assent, he discovers an unconscious commitment to the CIP that existed before assenting. He is not merely determining which IP is rationally preferable. On the contrary, he is participating in the CIP to make the determination.

    If I understand you correctly, the challenge you’re posing for me is as follows. Given how I’ve framed the terms of the conflict between the CIP and the CPIP, the allegedly “neutral inquirer” (NE) can only judge between them by implicitly relying on an account of the reason-revelation relationship that is specific to the CIP. If that’s the case, then my approach permits no truly neutral inquirer. Because it stacks the deck in favor of the CIP, even my putative NE would just be covertly begging the question in favor of the CIP. If that is indeed the challenge you pose for me, my reply follows.

    The NE I’m talking about need not assume there is such a thing as divine revelation or that we can in fact distinguish, in a principled way, between authentic expressions of it and merely human opinions. Rather, he is open to the possibility that there is such a thing as divine revelation, and his philosophical premises are neutral with respect to particular theological IPs, including the CIP. On my account of his situation, however, he assumes that, if there turns out to be no principled way to make the necessary distinction, then he has no good reason to believe there is such a thing as divine revelation even if, as a matter of fact, there is such a thing. I don’t believe that assumption is particularly controversial. Accordingly, my argument is precisely that, upon comparing the CIP and the CPIP with each other, he will find that the former has a principled way of making the necessary distinction successfully, and that the latter’s candidate for doing the same–which you call “rationalism”–does not. But that would not suffice to show that the CIP’s way of doing what’s necessary is the only or the best way; all it does is rule out the CPIP’s, but there remain other ways to consider after all, such as Eastern Orthodoxy’s or Mormonism’s. That is why your objection–i.e., that the putative NE can only prefer the CIP to the CPIP by covertly assuming the CIP’s way of relating reason and faith to each other–fails. What the NE has so far concluded is that, all other things being equal, the CPIP falls short against the CIP, because the CPIP’s rationalism is not plausible. But the CIP’s is only one way of conceiving the faith-reason relationship; there remain other ways to consider for purposes of determining which version of revealed religion is actually true.

    Now if you don’t think I’ve successfully met your challenge, please explain why so that we can focus more narrowly on what you take to be the core difficulty.

    Best,
    Mike

  242. Mike Liccione,

    Thank you for responding pertinently to the points at which the weight stresses the most.

    The problem I see with this CIP is that it lacks the need for the mind of a human being. For instance, let’s just say the wizard in the Wizard of Oz is “all-knowing” but not always “all-revealing”. Whenever there is a time where one needs to know something, his attention is called and his authority is invoked and he speaks the truth on a particular subject and this person leaves with infallible truth to believe. In a sense, the Wizard is operating as the infallible truth-giver and the person who hears him has received infallible truth. And let’s just say this Wizard is available at any time:) lol. This resembles the principle that you are posing here with the Catholic Interpretive Principle (in a very unparalleled way).

    The Roman Catholic Magesterium (in conjunction with the ex cathedra pronouncement of the Pope) claims for itself this sort of Wizard function in the story I have put in the above paragraph. When in time of need, this authority is invoked and the case is settled. God speaks through Peter and Peter speaks through the Pope. There are a few stops and turns on the way but it’s source of authority and information is unilaterally (though not directly) from God.

    Well, this alleviates the mind(s) of the human being(s) from being accountable to anything besides itself (setting aside the source of authority being God). If God speaks through me, and there is no visible way to prove that God speaks through me, then my claim to infallibility is not subject to any question (in reality). And this mechanism for revelation is quite appropriate. If this mechanism were true, it’s demands for submission are infallible and binding (in reality) but it really cannot prove itself to the watching world.

    Now, let’s throw on a different lens.

    My problem with this is that I do not see this in practice in Jesus or the 12 apostles in the way they express themselves in the writings of the NT. For instance, Jesus provides miracles so that men might know he was sent from the Father, and therefore he is to be believed. Now, God could have held Israel accountable anyway because Moses did write of a coming prophet who would speak for God and that if anyone does not listen to him they would be cut off from the people. But the authority of this text from God is not “simply” invoked as the cause for accountability. No, no, no….Jesus comes with miraculous testimony to prove the validity of his claims. You have the opening of heaven and the voice of God through the sky when Jesus was baptized with John the Baptist. You have his countless miracles of healing, creating food, coins, large amounts of fish, walking on water, and finally his resurrection from the dead. Do you see how Jesus is working? He is appealing to satisfy the normal human mind to have a firm foundation on which to believe His revelation. And it is no wonder why the qualifications for apostolic authority were eye witness (the normal mode of a human being to have sufficient reason to believe something) experiences of his baptism by John at the Jordan River unto the time of his resurrection appearances. If the Catholic Interpretive Principle were true at this point, then none of these exercises were necessary. The authority of Christ could have been given to the apostles behind closed doors, apart from any miraculous testimony, and they could have been sent off with the Catholic Interpretive Principle and have conducted a very unsuccessful ministry.

    Human beings interact a certain way, and God knows this. Therefore the CIP is not acceptable now, even as it was then. There must be a reason to believe something, and that reason has to be graspable from the normal senses.

    Simply to appeal to the mass diversity of opinion and interpretation of Scripture in no way contradicts the way God risks his revelation with fallible creatures. Paul took the risk of Timothy’s fallibility and yet still entrusted to him the mission that He received from Christ and taught Timothy the way of being a faithful minister of Christ was to continue to teach what he had heard from Paul in conjunction with the readable Holy Scriptures.

    Unfortunately, we have have many unfaithful men at work in the mission of Christ. There is no doubt about this. Their lives attest to it. If Paul were here today, he would seek out those people who, when he looks into their lives and faith, they resemble Christ Jesus, not simply someone who has been elected flesh to flesh in an unbroken succession from the apostles.

    Let’s give this another try with a simple supposition.

    Let’s suppose that St. Peter was kidnapped from Rome, but he elected Clement as the remaining Bishop of Rome to be his active successor. St. Peter is kidnapped and taken to South Africa. So far as the Church in Rome knows, Peter is dead. 40 years go by and Clement writes his epistle to Corinth where he addresses the commissioning will of the apostles, namely, that upon their death other men should succeed to their ministry; and the process continuing. Let’s just say Peter does not die in South Africa and is in fact still alive. Let’s just say Peter makes it back to Rome, and let’s just say Clement has died and his successor in in place. Let’s also just say that Clement’s successor begins to teach heresy and is caught in fornication and is deposed from office and someone from the congregation (who is not given any holy orders by another bishop) takes the position of being Bishop because of his life and doctrine and then appoints a bishop to succeed himself, so on and so forth. If Peter miraculously returns years later, is he going to think that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church? Even if the doctrine has remained the same from Christ?

  243. Michael (#239
    OK, thanks, Mike. Understand, now. I wonder if anyone has written a post on CtC regarding this kind of non-neutrality – I mean, the preparation – usually providential, I suppose, I mean the history of one’s life, but also what I think the Church teaches about the action of the Spirit in a person’s heart before the gift of faith, that leads a person to being what you might call a motivated enquirer.

    jj

  244. Erick (#242):

    You write:

    The Roman Catholic Magesterium (in conjunction with the ex cathedra pronouncement of the Pope) claims for itself this sort of Wizard function in the story I have put in the above paragraph. When in time of need, this authority is invoked and the case is settled. God speaks through Peter and Peter speaks through the Pope. There are a few stops and turns on the way but it’s source of authority and information is unilaterally (though not directly) from God.

    Well, this alleviates the mind(s) of the human being(s) from being accountable to anything besides itself (setting aside the source of authority being God). If God speaks through me, and there is no visible way to prove that God speaks through me, then my claim to infallibility is not subject to any question (in reality). And this mechanism for revelation is quite appropriate. If this mechanism were true, it’s demands for submission are infallible and binding (in reality) but it really cannot prove itself to the watching world.

    I find that pair of paragraphs rather strange. On the one hand, you seem to object to the CIP on the ground that it relieves the human mind of “being accountable to anything besides” the Magisterium itself, the “Wizard of Oz.” On the other hand, you admit that “this mechanism for revelation is quite appropriate.” So are you saying that what makes this “mechanism” appropriate for its purpose is the very thing that makes it objectionable? That would be a sensible position for somebody to take if they were trying to argue that we just can’t identify divine revelation as such, as distinct from our own opinions. But that’s clearly not what you’re trying to argue. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting you, but so far I don’t get it.

    In any case, it is false to say that the Magisterium is accountable to nobody but itself. Those who exercise the Magisterium’s full authority must exercise it only about matters of faith and morals, and thus only about the “word of God” already given to the Magisterium and everybody else through Scripture and Tradition. Thus the Magisterium may not invent or expand the subject matter to which its authority pertains. Accordingly, what it teaches as de fide, and thus with its full authority, must be such that it can plausibly be presented as at least materially present in the fixed, once-for-all deposit of faith (DF). The Magisterium therefore must always take care not to introduce any theological novum which would not cohere with the DF already received as divine revelation by itself and the rest of the Church. Nor may it teach with its full authority on matters which don’t belong to the DF at all. If and when it were to attempt that, it would be going beyond its authority. And indeed, some who exercise the Magisterium have made just such attempts. Their teaching was rightly rejected by the Church, either at once or over time.

    For the reasons just given, the paragraph in which you describe how the New Testament presents how Jesus “works” would be inapposite even if it were true, which I doubt. It is also question-begging for reason I gave in my previous comment: The CIP does not set forth normative criteria for how divine revelation was presented to and experienced by its direct recipients. It applies only to those of us in the post-apostolic age who are to apprehend divine revelation indirectly, through the DF handed down to us in Scripture and Tradition.

    To be sure, you follow up that paragraph with this one:

    Human beings interact a certain way, and God knows this. Therefore the CIP is not acceptable now, even as it was then. There must be a reason to believe something, and that reason has to be graspable from the normal senses.

    But your ‘therefore’ introduces a conclusion that does not follow. There are reasons to believe that Catholicism is true, and there ought to be if we are to avoid that fideism which the Magisterium itself condemned at Vatican I. I have supplied a few of those reasons, but there are many others comprised by what’s called “the motives of credibility.” Some of them can be learned partly through the senses, but none can learned by such means alone, because the subject matter is divine revelation, which the “normal senses” do not suffice, even in principle, to identify. That’s why Jesus said to Peter: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…”

    You write:

    Simply to appeal to the mass diversity of opinion and interpretation of Scripture in no way contradicts the way God risks his revelation with fallible creatures. Paul took the risk of Timothy’s fallibility and yet still entrusted to him the mission that He received from Christ and taught Timothy the way of being a faithful minister of Christ was to continue to teach what he had heard from Paul in conjunction with the readable Holy Scriptures.

    First, neither I nor any other Catholic writer limits himself to such an “appeal.” Second, even on the CIP, no bishop is considered individually infallible save the bishop of Rome, and even then, only under certain conditions by divine gift. So the fact that Timothy was fallible is not a counterexample to the CIP.

    Finally, you write:

    Let’s suppose that St. Peter was kidnapped from Rome, but he elected Clement as the remaining Bishop of Rome to be his active successor. St. Peter is kidnapped and taken to South Africa. So far as the Church in Rome knows, Peter is dead. 40 years go by and Clement writes his epistle to Corinth where he addresses the commissioning will of the apostles, namely, that upon their death other men should succeed to their ministry; and the process continuing. Let’s just say Peter does not die in South Africa and is in fact still alive. Let’s just say Peter makes it back to Rome, and let’s just say Clement has died and his successor in in place. Let’s also just say that Clement’s successor begins to teach heresy and is caught in fornication and is deposed from office and someone from the congregation (who is not given any holy orders by another bishop) takes the position of being Bishop because of his life and doctrine and then appoints a bishop to succeed himself, so on and so forth. If Peter miraculously returns years later, is he going to think that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church? Even if the doctrine has remained the same from Christ?

    That you could imagine such a purely hypothetical scenario poses a problem for the CIP mystifies me. On the CIP, the “gates of hell” would have prevailed against the Church only if a pope were to teach heresy under the alleged infallibility conditions specified by Vatican I. Since your scenario is fictional and hypothetical, however, there is no way to answer the question whether such a case of papal teaching occurred under it–for we have no reason to believe it presents any fact-of-the-matter at all about anything that actually occurred.

    Now I do of course grant that it is logically possible that the Catholic Magisterium’s for itself are false. Perhaps that’s the point your scenario is designed to illustrate. But the fact that the CIP cannot rule out such a possibility is not a defect of the CIP. It is logically possible that the world came into existence five minutes ago with all the features it actually had five minutes ago, but there’s no reason to believe it did, and the fact that we can’t rule out the possibility is not even a reason to question our normal assumption that it did not. Likewise for the CIP.

    Best,
    Mike

  245. I guess I did not explain myself clearly.

    The bottom line I am trying to reach is that the neutral inquirer shouldn’t be convinced of the truth of Christianity because of it’s interpretive principle. This interpretive principle sure does help a person understand more clearly the origins of the Church and the contemporary authority of the Church, but it is not a blind acceptance; it can never be. To impose the binding necessity of faith on the sole fact of a communities IP is not right, in my understanding. But, I really do not think you are even saying this, unless you correct me.

    Let’s get more relevant. I agree with your article about how there is really no difference, even if there is a thicker buffer to create more organization, between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. I really do not know how these men can argue the essential difference. It seems to me pretty elementary.

    Having said that, I wish to speak a bit now on the issue of infallibility. The definition of infallibility is simply the inability to err or be wrong. The Catholic Church has done well to make clear that this function of “infallibility” is in operation only in certain strict conditions, and therefore is not to be thought of as a continuous action from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy. Some of the conditions for this infallible operation is the Pope must be speaking Ex Cathedra in Ecumenical Council, All Bishops attending, etc,etc…. It has even been said that this “infallible” operation has not been in action or “turned on” many times, but in a few instances (you may correct me if I am wrong).

    Is there any Scriptural warrant for this idea?

    I have heard Catholics Apologists cite Matthew 18 on how the binding of the church is honored and bound in heaven, and thus the church must be free from error for how can heaven ratify a decision that is able to err and be wrong. Similarly, I have heard Catholics apologists cite 1 Timothy 3:15 where Paul describes the church as the pillar and bulwark of the truth. How can the Church be fallible if it is the ground of the truth?

    The reasoning goes like this.

    However, I question this. For when Jesus says “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” is something he sees as a normal action in any case of dispute between a sinning brother and an offended brother. This kind of situation is 1) normal, 2) local, 3) common. The binding power here seems to be more extensive and having wider application than the small place of the conditions of the papal infallibility. If indeed the “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” is a creed to infallibility, why would Jesus attribute it to the common problem of sinning brethren? And how could this be only in operation a few times throughout the centuries if Jesus saw this as a common practical matter? Moreover, when Paul describes the Church as the pillar and ground of the truth, he is specifically referring to the local community where Timothy is presiding. If you read the verse, he tells Timothy to conduct himself worthily in the household of God, which is the Church…the pillar and ground of the truth, and therefore somehow this function of being pillar and ground of the truth must have an application to the small situation of the Ephesian Church, not specifically and exclusively the Roman Magesterium. If indeed this function of being pillar and ground of the truth is another creed to infallibility, and if indeed Paul attributes it to Ephesus (which logically than can be attributed to any local church), then why do Catholic Apologists cite these verses to apply exclusively to the conditions of infallibility specifically and exclusively in Rome ?

  246. Erick (#245):

    You write:

    To impose the binding necessity of faith on the sole fact of a communities IP is not right, in my understanding. But, I really do not think you are even saying this…

    Indeed I am not saying that. I’m only saying that the utility of the CIP’s “principled distinction” for its purpose, and the CPIP’s corresponding lack of such a principled distinction, makes the CIP rationally preferable to the CPIP. That in turn is only one reason to believe that Catholicism is true; it is by no means sufficient reason. I’m glad we understand each other.

    You write:

    I agree with your article about how there is really no difference, even if there is a thicker buffer to create more organization, between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. I really do not know how these men can argue the essential difference. It seems to me pretty elementary.

    This is as good an opportunity as any for me to clarify something about my critique of Mathison. From within his version of the CPIP, Mathison can indeed maintain the sola-solo distinction. My criticism is that the distinction is only ad hoc, not principled. That’s because its application in practice puts the individual believer back in the “solo” position.

    You write:

    The Catholic Church has done well to make clear that this function of “infallibility” is in operation only in certain strict conditions, and therefore is not to be thought of as a continuous action from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy. Some of the conditions for this infallible operation is the Pope must be speaking Ex Cathedra in Ecumenical Council, All Bishops attending, etc,etc…. It has even been said that this “infallible” operation has not been in action or “turned on” many times, but in a few instances (you may correct me if I am wrong).

    Since it’s very important to be accurate about this, I shall say a bit more about the CIP’s infallibility-conditions.

    There have been cases in which popes have unilaterally taught ex cathedra. The most recent was Pope Pius XII’s definition of the Assumption, issued in 1950. But such cases are relatively few. The vast majority of cases of papal ex cathedra teaching are not unilateral. They consist of papal ratifications of dogmatic canons issued by general councils meant to bind the the whole Church. Those canons are typically appended to chapters of decrees. By such means, dogmatic definitions, whether unilateral or collective, must explicitly manifest themselves as such in order to count as dogmas. And they typically do. Whether purely papal or conciliar, such definitions are exercises of the “extraordinary magisterium” of the Church, and thus require the assent of faith from all believers. All are set forth infallibly.

    That said, ecclesial infallibility is not limited to papal infallibility. Vatican I’s definition of the latter clearly says that, when a pope teaches ex cathedra and thus infallibly, he is exercising “that infallibility which Christ willed his Church to enjoy in matters of faith and morals.” Papal infallibility is just a special case of that. There’s also the infallibility of the college of bishops as a whole. So what about that wider case?

    In Lumen Gentium, Vatican II says:

    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.

    You ask:

    Is there any Scriptural warrant for this idea?

    and proceed to an exegesis of several NT passages that questions the scriptural warrant for ecclesial infallibility.

    I was hoping that, after reading something I addressed to you in #237, you’d realize that such a procedure simply begs the question. But apparently you do not. So let me first quote the relevant passage from #237:

    I grant for argument’s sake that Scripture, interpreted in isolation from Tradition and the Magisterium, contains no clear parallel to the Magisterium’s existence and self-understanding, and does not even posit something like that as necessary for the assent of faith. On the CIP, that is not a problem, for the CIP is not meant to apply to the process of receiving the public, once-for-all revelation in Jesus Christ on the part of those who directly experienced it–which process is what Scripture, on both the CIP and the CPIP, records for us. The CIP is meant to apply to those of us who, living after the apostolic age, can ordinarily receive that revelation only through its vehicles of transmission: Scripture and Tradition. Admittedly, if one adopts the CIP, one is committing oneself to interpreting scriptural data so as to show how the Magisterium’s existence and self-understanding makes sense, and is thus at least rationally plausible, given such data. On the CIP, one must do that because Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are “so linked…that none can stand without the others” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum §10). But that’s part of what Catholic theologians do, and several CTC writers have done that sort of thing in articles posted on this very site. So the mere fact that Scripture interpreted by means of a different IP does not supply sufficient warrant for the Magisterium’s claims for itself is neither here nor there. To make any progress discussing the scriptural basis for those claims, one must first address the question which IP is rationally preferable in general for the purpose of distinguishing between authentic expressions of divine revelation and merely human opinions. Since you’ve already conceded that the CIP is rationally preferable for just that purpose, your scriptural arguments not only beg the question, but also highlight the difficulty you yourself face.

    Now, what you’ve done with your question and your follow-up exegesis is the very thing I described in the first sentence of the above-quoted paragraph of mine. Thus I readily grant that “Scripture, interpreted in isolation from Tradition and the Magisterium, contains no clear parallel to the Magisterium’s existence and self-understanding…” But the pertinent question at issue between the CIP and the CPIP is whether Scripture ought to be interpreted in isolation from Tradition and the Magisterium. In the next two paragraphs, I shall explain how that issue arises in the present case.

    As an advocate of the CIP, I would argue that Scripture can only be interpreted reliably in light of Tradition and the Magisterium. Thus from the CIP’s standpoint, we take a verse such as Luke 10:16 and interpret 1 Timothy 3:15 in light of it, so as to supply some “scriptural warrant” for the Magisterium’s self-understanding. And it makes sense to do so. In Luke 10:16, Jesus addresses the Twelve as a group thus: “He who hears you hears me; he who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me.” Now consider 1 Timothy 3:15. As you say, it applies to the church at Ephesus. But given Luke 10:16, it would be merely arbitrary to deny that 1 Timothy 3:15 applies to every local church. Hence, it’s more reasonable to believe that it applies to every local church. If so, then it’s reasonable to believe that it applies to the communion of such churches, which just is “the” Church as a whole. Thus, it’s reasonable to interpret the NT, in light of these and other passages, as implying a magisterium for the Church as a whole.

    Does that “prove” that the Magisterium’s self-understanding has adequate scriptural warrant? Not really. All it shows that it makes a certain amount of sense to interpret Scripture as adumbrating the Magisterium’s self-understanding. So now the question becomes: Why should we interpret Scripture that way, as opposed to your way? My way makes sense within the CIP, and yours makes sense within the CPIP. So the only way to adjudicate between our interpretations is to determine first which IP is the more reasonable in general. If one leaves that determination aside, while criticizing one IP from the other’s standpoint, one just begs the question. That’s what you’ve done with your interpretation, and that’s what I’d be doing with mine if I had not first argued for the general superiority of the CIP over the CPIP. But you have not argued for the general superiority of the CPIP over the CIP; you have in fact conceded that latter’s general superiority. So your exegesis not only begs the question; it also runs counter to your own answer!

    Best,
    Mike

  247. I really do not see how Christ would have left these questions up to theological acrobatics for the mind. When Jesus taught the 12 apostles on the “binding and loosing” within a simple situation of 1 person who is in sin, he was not expected this to be understood in a way that meticulously, with a high intellectual complexity, be referring to some ELSE than the local Bishop, which is exactly what Jesus had in mind. There has to be a lot of intellectual back flipping, a rearranging of final authority, an alleviation of normal human reading comprehension, and a blind submission to a higher voice to remove the authority of binding and loosing (which is the creed to infallibility) from the local bishops.

    Surely, to think that when Jesus said “tell it to the Church” he actually intended to mean the Magesterium which exists in the physical locale of Rome, with the Papal authorization, is simply just retarding the mind from it’s natural and God-given capacity to make sense of clear and simple communication. And since Catholics wish to argue absolute freedom from error in the words “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”, but yet not attribute such a function to the local church, despite the fact that this is what Jesus is referring to, they are simply running into a logical problem. To find a way, philosophically and logically, to fuse together God’s authority with a community in profession of the CIP so as to force someone to accept that 2+2 does not equal 4, is simply dishonesty and is really not a true submission of one’s heart.

    If God said, “Go and sin no more”, and then to have a interpretive community say that this means “Go and sin all the more” with the self-justification of God’s contemporary authority in conjunction with the ability to be equipped with the CIP is simply not acceptable by any honest standards. To submit to such a thing out of “obedience” to God is not true submission to God.

    I really do not accept your rejection of explanation with regard to the words of Christ because of the distinctive methods of receiving truth (the CPIP and the CIP). To throw away the atmosphere of argumentation, logic, reason, evidence, corroboration, etc,etc…..with the expectation that one doing so is submitting to God is a crazy position.

    Again, I remain someone who does not accept sola or solo scriptura. But at the same time, to reject Scripture for the sake unity, for the sake of one’s self-confession of not being able to read and understand the scripture, and to do this out of way to please God is simply not a corner for me to rest in.

    The problem still stands unaddressed. The creed to infallibility “Pillar and Ground of the Truth” and “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” have smaller issues and widers applications than the modern Vaticanal applications suppose. This is merely evident in the fact that Paul attribute this description of Ephesus, and Timothy, which is not Rome nor the successor of St. Peter.

  248. Dear Erick Ybarra,

    You wrote in #240:

    I really appreciate the quotes that you have set forth. I have skimmed through it and accept your argument.

    You’re welcome. I’m sorry I didn’t write a few weeks ago when you posed a similar question.

    You wrote:

    As I still am not at the point of accepting the permanency of the application of papal infallibility (though one can argue quite persuasively from the idea that it is the very office of Peter having revelation from God in heaven that grounds the stability of the Church from the force of the gates of hell, which must in turn exist until the parousia). I am aware that the Church had developed into the wide consensus and consciousness of Papal infallibility, and at that as a divine institution from Christ, and to be quite honest the term “developed” can only be used because we are limited with what discussions and affirmations were going on through voices during the first 3 centuries, as you said).

    Yes, this is an excellent point, and one that cannot be emphasized enough. I indeed disagree with Newman somewhat about the historical evidence for development, since some of that historical evidence is merely poor arguments from silence on the sparse early data. We don’t have sufficient data to overturn Innocent I’s claim that papal authority was quite as ancient as he claimed. Indeed, given the forcefulness of the few papal actions we have preserved from the early years, and given the lack of uproar over Innocent’s claims (and actual wide approbation of them), Innocent’s claim of antiquity seems more likely than not.

    It stands possible that Papal infallibility could have come from the mouth of the apostle Peter to Clement. We must remind ourselves that we are indeed working from the collection of writings that have been preserved and translated for us.

    Indeed, although I think that they wouldn’t have used the term infallibility, and I’m not sure that Clement is the key figure here (he’s just a guy whose letter we happen to have preserved, not necessarily more or less important a transmitter of doctrine in his own time for that).

    You wrote:

    However, grant this, it is still an uneasy conclusion given to the “talk” of the apostolic fathers from the earliest points of time. Tertullian speaks of valid churches (and thus a valid eucharist) which do not have a bishop in apostolic succession, but yet are in truth no less apostolic because of it’s equivalent doctrine as the apostolic churches (Prescription against Heretics Chapter 32).

    I’m not sure what point you were making with this one, but it seems that you are saying that Tertullian justifies the idea of bishops whose line of ordination does not extend to the apostles, and that this means something for papal authority. Let’s take a look at what Tertullian wrote in Chapter 32 of Prescription against Heretics. He wrote:

    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.

    Here Tertullian says that some churches were founded at a much later date, and so their first bishops were neither apostles nor “apostolic men.” It seems that the phrase “apostolic men” refers to those “who continued steadfast with the apostles,” or, in other words, one of the apostolic fathers who knew the apostles themselves. It does not appear that the phrase “apostolic men” means “anyone who was ordained by someone who was ordained by someone who . . . was ordained by the apostles.” I can’t find anything in the passage which suggests that it means the latter. So I see this passage as merely stating that some churches had a recent origin, and a first bishop who was temporally removed from the apostolic age, but since they can verify their doctrine with the apostolic churches, they can be sure of their doctrine as well. It doesn’t say anything about the lines of ordination starting with a non-apostle.

    You wrote:

    Tertullian’s apparent lack of understanding on the Papacy from the petrine texts (Matthew 16; 18) demonstrates this was no fundamental dogma which was coming out of the mouth of the Catechizers (I believe he was taught in Rome).

    A few points are important here.
    (1) By my reading, most of the times that the fathers assert or claim or accede to papal authority, they make no explicit scriptural reference at all. They talk about tradition, and divine ordinance, etc, etc. But I don’t recall them usually making explicit scriptural references.
    (2) When they do make explicit scriptural references, the ones I am most familiar with are when they say that Jesus prayed for Peter (singular, look at the Greek) so that Peter (singular) could confirm the brethren. This notion of one person having the role of confirming the brethren seems to have been the most common early scriptural reference for papal authority in the documents that have survived and I have read.
    (3) By my memory, individual fathers frequently claim multiple and distinct conclusions that can be drawn from any given scriptural text. If that is the case, then why should a father who says “text A implies X,” mean that we know that this father also believes that “text A does not imply Y.” Unless X and Y are contradictory, this seems like a bad inference to draw.
    Given (1), (2), and (3), Catholics are not usually swayed by the fact that fathers frequently drew meanings from Matthew 16:18 that had nothing to do with papal authority. Given (1), (2), and (3), we shouldn’t expect the fathers to have papal authority on their minds every time that they read Matthew 16:18. Of course, it would be scandalous if the fathers never adopted the modern Catholic reading. But you know that they often did. So this is really a wash.

    Yes, Tertullian was a bit of a rough edge rebel, especially towards the end, but psychologically he does not present himself as a stupid and insincere man. He would not have outright rejected a fundamental dogma of catholic teaching during his orthodox days.

    I agree. But, fortunately for the Catholic case, Tertullian provides no direct evidence against Papal authority from his orthodox days. So, this just reinforces the Catholic point.

    You wrote:

    Clement (1st) really does not provide us with enough evidence to affirm what many try to affirm from this simple letter. There are plenty of other explanations (though the RC one is one of the stronger ones).

    I agree completely. Clement is overdone by some Catholic apologists, and it would be better if they merely said that Clement is strongly consistent with the Catholic view, rather than that he provides enough direct evidence by himself to establish it.

    You wrote:

    Given some of the many Anglican books written on the issue of the papacy quite strongly showing how the early church was conscious of an equal shareholding of one episcopate still leaves me weary of accepting later pronouncements of dogma concerning the single bishop of Rome.

    Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the Anglican divines were not always intellectually honest in their assessments of the papal evidence. It is sad to have to say that, but here is an example. You recall the quotes from Innocent I that I quoted above. Without a doubt Innocent claims a level of papal authority that goes beyond what Anglicans would prefer. The great Anglican scholar Dr. William Bright called them “Swelling words these, which it would have been impossible for Inocent to verify : the “Fathers” had never made any such decree, and if “this one rescript contains the teaching of the Vatican Council entire,” that teaching rests — as indeed we have already seen — on apocryphal history. The plain English of the matter is that Innocent, in true Roman fashion, was interpreting an application as broadly as suited him, and adding a broad assertion to match. But did the African bishops commit themselves to these statements by the mere fact of not challenging them?”

    Well, in fact, St. Augustine and St. Alypius did commit themselves to these statements, not by the mere fact of not challenging them, but by specifically and directly accepting them in the letter I quoted in comment #236 above. This is devastating for Bright’s claims, and makes any guesswork about what Augustine would have thought about Innocent’s letters not only silly but invidious.

    Given that the Anglican anti-papal writers are not entirely forthright about the evidence, it is necessary to have an antidote to their convoluted and assumption-filled histories. That antidote is Dom John Chapman. Chapman was a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, during a time when this conversion meant the heavy loss of everything of worldly import in England. He had nothing to gain, and everything to lose from converting to the Catholic Church; that is, he had nothing to gain except Jesus Christ, and everything to lose except Heaven. He wrote extensive replies to the faulty Anglican arguments, and some of these are collected in his book “Studies on the Early Papacy.”
    Also important are his books “The first eight general councils and papal infallibility,” and “Bishop Gore and the Catholic Claims.”

    You wrote:

    But prayerfully, this conviction will come as strong as it is in you.

    Pray, read Chapman, and be at peace.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  249. Erick (#247):

    You wrote:

    I really do not accept your rejection of explanation with regard to the words of Christ because of the distinctive methods of receiving truth (the CPIP and the CIP). To throw away the atmosphere of argumentation, logic, reason, evidence, corroboration, etc,etc…..with the expectation that one doing so is submitting to God is a crazy position.

    I take that to mean you’re asserting that I’m tossing “argumentation, logic, reason, evidence, corroboration” out the window. If that is what you are asserting, your assertion is absurd.

    I have carefully argued that no theology can dispense with an IP. I have carefully defined the difference between the CIP and the CPIP. I have given arguments, using “logic” and “reason,” for preferring the CIP to the CPIP. I have further argued that deciding between those two IPs is necessary for adjudicating disputes about how to interpret Scripture. Not only have you not rebutted my definitions and arguments; a few comments back, you even accepted my conclusion that the CIP is rationally preferable to the CPIP–presumably because you followed and accepted my argument to that effect. So how can you now possibly say that I’m tossing all reason aside?

    I suspect what you’re getting at is that leaving exegetical disagreements to be resolved ultimately by authority, rather than ongoing rational debate, is “a crazy position.” But that’s just a rather hyperbolic way of claiming that the CPIP is rationally preferable to the CIP. Notice, however, that you have offered no argument for that claim; instead, you had already accepted the opposite claim. Yet now you call a natural consequence of that opposite claim “crazy.” If anybody is being unreasonable, it is you, not I.

    It would behoove you to reel back to where you think my arguments went wrong–if you can find such a place–rather than just dismiss their consequences as crazy. If you can’t or won’t do that, then I’m afraid we have nothing further to talk about.

    Best,
    Mike

  250. I apologize if I implied that you were jettisoning logic and reason. This is not what I mean.

    However, you can apply logical principles and good reason with the most amazing philosophical truths and end up believing something that is completely false as a reality; despite it’s truth in theory or imagination. For instance, if you have 5 unicorns and add another 5 unicorns, how many unicorns do you have? 10 Unicorns. Logical, reasonable, preferable, but at the same time a completely unreal, and therefore not true.

    The convenience that is embedded into the Catholic IP certainly poses a logical and reasonable way of distinguishing truth. But it still remains unproven as a reality. Because argumentation that is logical and fictitiously true (see the unicorn example) can at the same time be completely unreal and therefore not true, the mechanism of the CIP has to be brought into this extended question.

    If it is more convenient, I am extending your argument for the CIP and bringing into the judgement seat; unless you would like to use philosphy, logic, and reason to eradicate our ability to do that as well:). But grant it for this moment, how can we justify the Papacy as an institution of God when it’s theology and it’s publication are of later times than the apostles?

    For instance, you can beautifully use the CIP to demonstrate one more reason to believe in the Catholic Church, but what if Paul were standing right next to you still shaking his head at the doctrine which is being taught?

    Now, instead of throwing away this hypothetical situation as something unknowable and ridiculous to consider given the limits of the CPIP, consider the real question is how can we be rational to believe that the Papacy is a valid authority by not just being drawn in by the convenience of it’s interpretive principle.

  251. Mike (re:#241)

    You understand my challenge correctly. I don’t wish to say there is question begging, but it does seem to be tailored towards NE’s with Realist assumptions. In fact, I think CIP is preferable to the CPIP based on your reply AND if the following are granted.

    (1) NE holds some ontic / epistemic form of realism.
    (2) NE is not any kind of theist or positive atheist.
    (3) NE may be an agnostic and does not realize it.
    (4) NE assumes he does not already possess knowledge of any DR

    Remaining difficulty:
    #4 prevents NE from considering, in a neutral way, the relevant logical possibility THAT he has knowledge of some or any DR in his situation. Admitting the possible existence and possible knowability of DR includes the possibility THAT he already knows any or some DR. Considering arguments about HOW this can be will not require NE’s assent to any theological IP. If it turns out there is no principled way to know that he has knowledge of any DR, then he has no good reason to think he can have knowledge of DR in advance.

    Here are some positive features of any argument trying to show the principled way:

    (1) affirms thinking and reasoning
    (2) seeks a good reason to avoid fideism
    (3) logically neutral to competing theological IPs
    (4) keeps the argument at the epistemic level without assuming DR’s existence is true
    (5) does not logically exclude all IPs from all DR considerations

    Formulating a new argument seems premature if you think no arguments will accomplish my ends.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  252. Erick (#250):

    You write:

    The convenience that is embedded into the Catholic IP certainly poses a logical and reasonable way of distinguishing truth. But it still remains unproven as a reality. Because argumentation that is logical and fictitiously true (see the unicorn example) can at the same time be completely unreal and therefore not true, the mechanism of the CIP has to be brought into this extended question

    I’m not altogether certain what you’re after here. Surely you don’t want to claim that, before I may cite the CIP’s rational utility as a reason to believe that Catholicism is true, I must first show that Catholicism is true. That would just be getting things backwards. It’s important to explain why before I get to what I suspect you mean.

    As a general matter of logic, a reason to believe a conclusion functions as a premise in an argument for that conclusion. I have offered the CIP’s rational superiority to competing Christian IPs as one premise in what should and would be a much wider argument that Catholicism is true. If I were to dispense with that claim as a premise, I could offer it only as a further inference from a prior conclusion that Catholicism is true. But given that no theological endeavor can dispense with an IP at all, I would perforce be using the CIP to supply the premises of my argument that Catholicism is true. That would leave me open to the charge of begging the question. And that charge would be correct. For I’d be garnering my premises by interpreting the raw data of the relevant sources in terms of the CIP, without first having shown that the CIP is the best to use for purposes of interpreting the data to begin with. Hence, I can only develop a case that Catholicism is true by first showing that the CIP is rationally preferable to competing Christian IPs. And that’s what I’ve been doing. That’s where I have to start in order to avoid begging the question.

    You probably know that; at any rate, I have no doubt you’d object that I’m begging the question if I didn’t proceed as I do. Given as much, I suspect you mean only that the rational superiority of the CIP is by no means reason enough to believe that Catholicism is true. But of course, I’ve often said the same myself. Yet there are two things to remember about mounting a broader case that Catholicism is true.

    First, no amount of argumentation, no matter how good, can suffice to prove that any given revealed religion is true. For in the very nature of the case, divine revelation shows and tells us things that we cannot discover by reason alone. So whatever set of reasons there may be to believe that there is such a thing as divine revelation, and to believe that such-and-such a religion conveys it, cannot suffice to prove that those beliefs are true. It can only give us enough reason to justify trusting some set of authorities purporting to embody that divine authority by which revelation is given to us. So, determining which revealed religion is true is a matter of determining what reasons there are for trusting one proposed set of authorities over others.

    Second and accordingly, when the inquirer’s question is which version of Christianity is true–and that’s basically the question here–what we need to determine is whose preferred set of authorities most merits the kind of trust that would qualify as an assent of faith. That’s because, leaving aside all specific exegetical and doctrinal disputes, the three main versions of Christianity–Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy–differ chiefly in how they identify and interrelate the secondary authorities supposedly conveying the primary authority of God to us. And that’s where all my talk of IPs comes in. Given that all theologies rely on IPs, the question whose account of secondary authorities should be adopted cannot be adequately addressed without addressing the prior question which among the corresponding IPs does the best job of distinguishing divine revelation as such from merely human opinions. And that’s just another way of explaining why I proceed as I do.

    With all that on the table, I proceed to your latest challenge:

    If it is more convenient, I am extending your argument for the CIP and bringing into the judgement seat; unless you would like to use philosphy, logic, and reason to eradicate our ability to do that as well:). But grant it for this moment, how can we justify the Papacy as an institution of God when it’s theology and it’s publication are of later times than the apostles?

    For instance, you can beautifully use the CIP to demonstrate one more reason to believe in the Catholic Church, but what if Paul were standing right next to you still shaking his head at the doctrine which is being taught?

    If I ever get the privilege of meeting St. Paul in the next life, I’d love to hear what he thinks about issues that cause me concern. But as a Catholic, I’m not worried about what he might say about the Magisterium. For given that I’ve made the assent of faith in the Magisterium’s claims for itself, I cannot see what it teaches with its full authority as a matter of opinion at all. I see all that as an authentic expression of divine revelation. And that’s just what it means to make an assent of faith, rather than an assent of opinion that would be merely provisional. And I have every reason to believe that God wants from us an assent of faith, not of opinion. There’s nothing provisional about the assent of faith. So I don’t make my assent conditional on what St. Paul might or might not say to me. I could not do so consistently with making an assent of faith.

    What I’m more concerned about is your assumption that, in order to justify trusting some set of secondary authorities with an assent of faith, one must show that those authorities are either explicitly identified as such in sources deemed “apostolic,” or can be identified as such via some set of inferences from such sources. That, it seems to me, is the key assumption motivating your question “how can we justify the Papacy as an institution of God when it’s theology and it’s publication are of later times than the apostles?” But before I explain why I don’t share the assumption behind your question, I want to note another problem with the question itself: its vagueness.

    From how you word your question, it’s unclear what, exactly, about the papacy you believe requires justification. Do you think the idea that the Church of Christ has a single, overall visible leader calls for justification? If so, why? If not, do you think the problem is that Catholicism treats the bishop of Rome as that leader? If so, why not the bishop of Rome? Given the historical facts K. Doran relates, the latest of which are roughly 1,500 years old, it’s hard to see who else that leader could be. Or is your issue chiefly with the dogma of papal infallibility? If that’s your issue, you can’t even consider it fairly without first tackling the more general notion of ecclesial infallibility. That’s an idea that Catholicism and Orthodoxy have in common; they differ only in how they define the conditions on ecclesial infallibility and in how they recognize when such conditions are satisfied. If you reject even ecclesial infallibility, I would argue, then you no longer have a set of authorities capable of distinguishing, in a principled way, between divine revelation and human opinion. And if, for that reason, you accept ecclesial infallibility, you need to explain why you are neither Catholic nor Orthodox. So a good deal hinges on what, exactly, you think requires justification, and why.

    Still more important, however, is the assumption I see behind your question. That assumption expresses the sort of justification you require, whatever the specific ideas you may think require justification themselves. For reasons I’ve explained before, however, that assumption is characteristic of the CPIP. And as you know, I reject the CPIP as inherently inadequate for its purpose. So even if you clarify your question, so that I know exactly what you think requires justification, I would still not agree with you about what sort of justification is required.

    That’s the issue we need to focus on if we’re going to make any headway. Why should anybody accept the IP-specific assumption behind your question to begin with? I sure don’t.

    Best,
    Mike

  253. Mike,

    Understood perfectly. You argument for the CIP is confessedly a reason among reasons which lead up to rationally concluding the truth of roman catholicism. Take away the CIP, it does not remove the truth or the right of claims that are inherent to roman catholicism. And I would add now, because I did not before, that I wish to come into full agreement with the Papacy and it’s jurisdiction over the world, as it is a symbol and function for unity and the preservation of the tradition of the apostles. There is no doubt that many things that are essential to the Papacy are extremely attractive to me. But at the same time, barriers remain at the present which I pray will come down, and this is what grounds my attempt to engage in conversation.

    As you said finely, there is no way to prove any religion’s divinity with the limitations that are placed on us as human beings. I am glad that you affirm this. There are many out there who think that Christianity must be proven in the same way we can prove anything scientifically. It simply is not like that. After all, Jesus told the apostles at the moment of doubt in St. Thomas, “blessed is he who believes and has not seen”. The miraculous can never be outsourced in framing our perspective of the truth of Christianity. In fact, it really is a miracle that I believe in Jesus Christ, of this I am aware. And because I am aware of this, it would be inconsistent for me to try and verify, at the cost of accepting or rejection, the absolute natural evidence which furnishes absolute proof.

    That being said, to your question about 1 leader over the whole world of Christendom I now turn to. To be honest, I cannot affirm that there is one visible leader of Christendom. I hope to affirm this, but as I said before, I lack the conviction of this element, despite my fellowship with you in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    The first Christian apologists understood the sequential nature of the Father’s commission as a way that eliminates doctrinal development (of course in my present opinion). The Father commissioned Jesus. Jesus is the Father’s Emissary and Proto-Apostle under the authority of the Father. The Apostles were commissioned by Jesus, who was commissioned by the Father, and they were then the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father bestowed upon Christ the full knowledge of the gospel. Christ delivered to the apostles the full knowledge of the gospel. The Apostles then “deposited” this faith into the churches they found. To use the language of Tertullian, these apostolic churches were the depositories containing the message of the Apostles, and thus the message of Jesus Christ, and thus the knowledge of the Father.

    Given, not only this unbroken sequence, but also the equal measure of revelation given from the Father to Christ to the apostles and finally to the churches militates against the theory of doctrinal development. Now, before I am imputed as a fool, I do not hereby mean that there is no “development” at all. Of course, as time moves forward, there is going to be organic growth, but the doctrine cannot somehow “evolve” into something greater or more explanatory than it was when Jesus taught the apostles and the apostles taught the Churches.

    Now, the doctrine of the Papacy is, according to it’s claim, a fundamental and essential function to the life of the Catholic Church (and I mean the world-wide Church of Christ). It teaches that in the universal and one episcopate, there is one man whom God has designated to be the visible and vicarious authority of Christ to mediate the Shepherding and Leading of our Lord Jesus Christ. To separate oneself from such a headship is to no doubt separate oneself from Christ (at least visibly). This one man is arrayed in the successors of St. Peter, and such succession propagates and perpetuates this vicarious Shepherding of Christ until the end of time. This doctrine of the Papacy, if true, is as essential to the life of the Church as is the identity of Jesus Himself.

    This teaching, in my fallible opinion, must have origination with Christ and the apostles in order for one to submit to it as submitting to God. I cannot see how this doctrine has “development”. First, the principle elements of 1) the unique role of vicariously holding the Shepherding authority of Christ in the unique line of st. Peter’s successors and 2) that this would be the fixed and inflexible standard until the end of time are just too high a claim on the world of humanity if it did not have it’s origination with Christ and the apostles. Secondly, these 2 elements are of such a nature that there cannot be prior development before them. They are irreducibly minimized, in my opinion.

    This, no doubt, remains to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks in my acceptance of roman catholicism. It is not so much the idea of the Papacy (which for some is the cause of stumbling), but it is the origin of authority, you could said. So why should there not be one visible leader for the Church? I do not say there should not be, but I question the origin of such a design itself.

    Lastly, what reasons are there to prefer the availability of a principled way of distinguishing divine revelation and human opinion? What if God, wishing to keep His own secrets to himself, choosing to work through fallible human beings to accomplish his own ends? What if God chose to perpetuate his gospel in the world without having that pricinpled distinction? I could already suspect that you might grant this hypothetical scenario, but then pose the question of why then should I believe in anything……(unless im mistaken)

  254. K. Doran 236:

    Erick Ybarra said:

    “The Church worldwide in the first 4 centuries hardly was conscious of Papal Infallibility (something one can only subscribe to with an accept despite the vagueness of the development of doctrine theories).”

    To which you responded:

    How do you know this? Do you have direct evidence that the Church worldwide from 30AD – 430AD was hardly conscious of Papal Infallibility? The paragraph you write in explanation of your claim doesn’t contain direct evidence. It only contains the indirect evidence of arguments from silence, on the order of: “when the fathers had a chance to say something about papal infallibility, they said something else instead.”

    You say this is an argument from silence, but there are two very wrong things going on here.

    First, when you ask for “direct evidence”, you are asking for direct evidence to prove a negative. You, and Rome, are making the positive claim for “papal infallibility” [no less for an early papacy]. At what point is it your responsibility to stop simply assuming this happened, and to actually explain how it came about?

    Second, regarding the “argument from silence”, I noted in a comment in another comment thread that with respect to history, there are clear instances in which a lack of a factual information about a thing indeed does indicate that nothing at all genuinely exists on a topic. In that case, a supposed “argument from silence” is a valid one.

    For example, in response to my citation from Tertullian’s total silence on the Assumption of Mary in a volume dedicated, in an otherwise comprehensive way, to the Resurrection of the Dead, Michael Liccione called it “an argument from silence”, but with respect to historical method, Gilbert Garraghan (A Guide to Historical Method, 1946, p. 149), notes that there if two conditions are met, an “argument from silence” is a valid argument.

    Those two conditions are: ”the writer[s] whose silence is invoked would certainly have known about it; [and] knowing it, he would under the circumstances certainly have made mention of it. When these two conditions are fulfilled, the argument from silence proves its point with moral certainty.”

    Thus, your claim here fails:

    the arguments from silence which you have made are all made on the part of the data set that is least conducive to arguments from silence: the period from 30AD – 380AD. During this period, the data set of Christianity is quite sparse. In particular, almost all of the letters of the bishops of Rome during this period have been lost. In our collections of patristic letters that have survived, we will usually have one portion of one person’s side of one conversation, without the rest of the context to understand what their whole point of view was. Such a small portion of the data has survived, that arguments from silence usually don’t work during this period.

    This is a “low-information response” if ever there was one. J.P. Migne, a Roman Catholic writer of the 18th century, reproduced virtually every piece of writing from an early church writer, and the sum total from the period you specify, 30AD – 380AD, fills several hundred volumes, in both original Latin and Greek. Here they are in case you want to look for them:

    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2009/04/migne-latin-patrology-index-page.html

    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2009/04/migne-greek-patrology-index-page.html

    Aside from this, there is a wealth of non-Christian information about the period. The New Testament Scholar Craig Evans has put out a 500-page book just simply providing an overview of the literature from that period which is available. It is a 500-page bibliography of the different versions of the Old Testament (translations, manuscripts, overviews of textual criticisms, etc.) Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls are catalogued, contemporary writers like Philo and Josephus, the Targums, Rabbinic literature, The New Testament (for which we have many hundreds of manuscripts from this era – all evidence not only of the texts themselves, but of the spread of the texts based on locations, and various nuances of traditions among the different areas), second- and third-century Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the early church fathers, the Gnostic writings, other Greco-Roman authors, other archaeological evidence.

    Among all these thousands of catalogued sources, for you to say “almost all of the letters of the bishops of Rome during this period have been lost”.

    I will rather say, no letters of bishops of Rome during this period were produced.

    And it will be impossible for you to argue that they were all destroyed in persecutions. I’ve also discussed elsewhere an elaborate industry for the reproduction and distribution of letters. If letters were destroyed in Rome, there certainly would have been copies of them sent to various parts of the empire, and if the bishops of Rome had any kind of stature at all during this period (as you say), they would have been the MOST valuable kinds of literature to be kept.

    Instead, we have “crickets chirping” from that quarter. Even though, if these men (even existed, much less wrote anything), their writing would have been known and cited and copied.

    How do I know that’s the case?

    In their work The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger describe an early Christianity that “was economically and socially average—representing a variety of different [economic] classes—and had a relatively sophisticated literary culture that was committed from its earliest days to the texts of the Jewish scripture as it sought to produce and copy texts of its own” (pg 186).

    In more than a dozen pages, they describe “a dizzying amount of literary traffic”, in the production and reproduction of books and letters and letter collections, including New Testament works, but also of early Christian writers like Clement and Ignatius and Hermas. In fact, The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 140) writes a Clement in Rome during that period:

    And so, you will write two little books, sending one to Clement and one to Grapte. Clement will send his to the foreign cities, for that is his commission. But, Grapte will admonish the widows and orphans. And you will read yours in the city [of Rome], with the presbyters who lead the church.

    In fact, Clement here is referred to as an “ecclesiastical publisher”, “a standing provision in the Roman church for duplicating and distributing texts to Christian communities elsewhere”.

    If such a thing as “letters of the bishops of Rome during this period”, they would have been copied and circulated. If you choose to call this “an argument from silence”, it meets Garraghan’s historical conditions: this is not just an individual, but a system, an industry, that both was in a position to know of these letters, and would certainly have produced some evidence of them.

    As further evidence of this claim, note in Kruger’s work Canon Revisited:

    one area of study that has been regularly (and unfortunately) overlooked by canonical scholars, at least until recent years, is the study of the New Testament manuscripts themselves. While the content of early Christian texts has been carefully studied, the actual vehicleof these early Christian texts has been ignored as if it were a disposable husk that could be separated from its content and discarded.

    Kruger spends a chapter of his book arguing “that the ‘husks’ in question hold tremendous potential in helping us to understand” not only the origins of the New Testament canon, but other documents as well.

    Things like the type of materials they were produced on, the locations where they were found (which are elaborately documented, as I mentioned), variations in handwriting, types of ink, the size of the manuscripts – all are direct evidence of the “dizzying amount of literary traffic” in early Christian circles.

    That there were no “letters of the bishops of Rome during this period” because there were no bishops of Rome is no fallacy. It is a valid description of the condition of the church of Rome during that period.

    Your citation of a fifth century writer, on the other hand, provides very little “evidence” that “there is direct evidence for the contrary claim that plenty of Christians were quite aware of a binding worldwide doctrinal authority of the Bishop of Rome”. It was a new phenomenon at that time.

    Your claim is a shining example of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

    Further, your claim here that:

    Pope Innocent I claims several things:
    (a) that a divine decree and not a human sentence, gave the Bishop of Rome his authority
    (b) that this authority was worldwide
    (c) that this authority was doctrinal, and
    (d) that this authority had the power to overturn the judgments of other patriarchs (he implicitly overturned the Bishop of Jerusalem’s past judgment).

    is categorically denied by the current Patriarch of Moscow:

    The bishop of Rome did not exercise any direct jurisdiction in the East in spite of the fact that in some cases Eastern hierarchs appealed to him as arbiter in theological disputes. These appeals were not systematic and can in no way be interpreted in the sense that the bishop of Rome was seen in the East as the supreme authority in the whole Universal Church.

    This is a notion, as I’ve written in the past, that was confirmed by the Vatican’s official historian of the first three centuries, Archbishop Roland Minnerath:

    The East never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West. It never accepted that the protos in the universal church could claim to be the unique successor or vicar of Peter. So the East assumed that the synodal constitution of the church would be jeopardized by the very existence of a Petrine office with potentially universal competencies in the government of the church.

    It is a shame that such things as these are, as you say, “unconvincing to Catholics”. I don’t see how this sort of detail makes your “IP” in any way “preferable”.

  255. Erick Ybarra,

    You wrote to Michael:

    how can we be rational to believe that the Papacy is a valid authority by not just being drawn in by the convenience of it’s interpretive principle.

    I think that one can rationally believe that the Papacy is a valid authority by noting that the evidence for it is better than the evidence against it. The evidence against it tends to be indirect, or come from arguments from silence on small samples, while the evidence for it tends to be direct and emerge from large and detailed samples.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  256. John Bugay,

    This is Mike’s thread, so he may want to cut off this discussion before it spins completely out of context of his philosophical point. But I certainly disagree with everything you have said.

    You wrote:

    First, when you ask for “direct evidence”, you are asking for direct evidence to prove a negative.

    False. It is easy to have direct evidence that the papacy had no worldwide doctrinal authority. All you need is someone to say that “no bishop is allowed to tell any other bishop what to do.” As a matter of fact, there are a few people who said that, including Cyprian. But, unfortunately for your case, Cyprian spent a lot of time telling other Bishops what to do, as well as asking the Bishop of Rome to tell other Bishops what to do. So, as I have always found, the direct evidence in your favor is belied by other evidence from the party in question. But the material point is that you are quite mistaken that it is impossible by definition to provide direct evidence against the papacy.

    You, and Rome, are making the positive claim for “papal infallibility” [no less for an early papacy]. At what point is it your responsibility to stop simply assuming this happened, and to actually explain how it came about?

    I am confused. Innocent’s words and actions amply demonstrate that the pope had a worldwide binding doctrinal authority during his era. I have presented a large amount of evidence to that effect. The only thing that I assumed is that people meant what they said, in the absence of equally strong evidence to the contrary. This seems a safe assumption.

    You wrote:

    Second, regarding the “argument from silence”, I noted in a comment in another comment thread that with respect to history, there are clear instances in which a lack of a factual information about a thing indeed does indicate that nothing at all genuinely exists on a topic. In that case, a supposed “argument from silence” is a valid one.

    For example, in response to my citation from Tertullian’s total silence on the Assumption of Mary in a volume dedicated, in an otherwise comprehensive way, to the Resurrection of the Dead, Michael Liccione called it “an argument from silence” . . .

    You seem to have missed my response to your comment in that thread (comment 340).

    You wrote:

    This is a “low-information response” if ever there was one. J.P. Migne, a Roman Catholic writer of the 18th century, reproduced virtually every piece of writing from an early church writer, and the sum total from the period you specify, 30AD – 380AD, fills several hundred volumes, in both original Latin and Greek. Here they are in case you want to look for them:

    (1) First of all, you are being rude.

    (2) Second, you are unfortunately quite wrong about the time period of our data set. Migne’s collections cover a much vaster time period than 30AD-380AD. Look at the following link, and consider:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrologia_Graeca

    The 300 years between Pentacost and Nicea cover 16 volumes in the Greek collection. This is roughly one volume per 20 year period, with large periods in which nothing is written. The total number of authors seems to be about 30, or one every ten years. The plurality of these volumes are simply scriptural commentaries by Origen. So we have even less data from these 300 years than the 16 volumes would indicate.

    The 75 years from Nicea through 399AD cover 28 volumes, most of which seem to be dedicated to the late 300s, as I indicated originally.

    The 100 years from 400AD to 499AD cover about 40 volumes.

    So this just proves my point. There is a lot more data after Theodosius than before him.

    (3) Third, to reemphasize, the point is not that we don’t have any interesting data from the first 350 years after Pentecost, but rather that the data set gets much much larger once Theodosius comes around. That means that the subtlety of the questions which we can answer gets much much greater (or, to put it negatively, the subtlety of the questions we can answer gets much much worse the earlier we go).

    You wrote:

    Among all these thousands of catalogued sources, for you to say “almost all of the letters of the bishops of Rome during this period have been lost”. I will rather say, no letters of bishops of Rome during this period were produced.

    John, following this statement, you write a lot of words to try to persuade me that any patristic writings which are not in our collections were simply never written. I think you can’t really believe that, so I am going to skip over the arguments you write in favor of that belief. Instead, I will just make three points. If these three points do not settle this part of the discussion for you, perhaps we can discuss your opinions about the importance of Christian literary culture and how this proves that any important letters would have been preserved another time.

    (1) Consider the direct evidence in favor of the belief that the fathers wrote lots of things which weren’t preserved. The direct evidence comes from citations of these works by ancient authors, and the inconvenient fact that these works cannot be found today. For instance:

    Irenaeus: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08130b.htm

    Tertullian: http://www.tertullian.org/works_lost.htm

    Origen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origen#Exegetical_writings

    The list goes on. . .

    (2) Consider the many references to papal letters which do not currently exist in our collections, references which are easily found in Irenaeus, Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine, and the existing papal letters themselves.

    (3) Consider common sense. There are years and years and popes and popes for whom we have no letters preserved. Do you really believe that for decades the bishops of a major city did not write any letters, even when we know they had personal secretaries to help them do just that? How do you think they communicated with everyone, even within their own city? They couldn’t send legates everywhere!

    You wrote:

    Your citation of a fifth century writer, on the other hand, provides very little “evidence” that “there is direct evidence for the contrary claim that plenty of Christians were quite aware of a binding worldwide doctrinal authority of the Bishop of Rome”. It was a new phenomenon at that time.
    Your claim is a shining example of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

    The extant collection of papal letters doesn’t really get going until the late 300s and early 400s. So we don’t know what the popes were writing in 310AD, or even really in 350AD, much less in 280AD. But as soon as the papal letters in our data set get going, we immediately see the claim that the Bishops of Rome had always had a binding worldwide doctrinal authority.

    Contemporaneously, we see an enormous amount of direct evidence that contemporaries of Innocent backed his claims up:

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

    Finally, if Innocent’s claims were true, we would expect the handful of pre-late-300s papal actions that have been preserved to be at least consistent with popes having the belief that they had a binding worldwide doctrinal authority. And, of course, Victor, and Stephen, and Julius, and Damasus all took actions that are consistent with that belief. With Innocent, we finally have enough ancillary data to firmly test the hypothesis of what authority he believed he had, and what authority others were willing to accede that he had. In none of the previous examples of papal actions do we have sufficient data to test this hypothesis, nor do I claim that we do. But in all of the previous cases the data we do have is consistent with Innocent’s claim.

    Since Innocent’s claim cannot be falsified by the earlier data, it is more likely to be true than not. To make it less likely to be true than not, you would need to produce direct evidence from an earlier time period that contradicts it. But no such direct evidence exists. All you have is inadequate arguments from silence on an early data set that primarily consists of Origen’s commentaries on scripture, and in which a vast number of known works (to say nothing of unknown works) have been lost forever.

    Finally, you say that the Patriarch of Moscow and Archbishop Roland Minnerath don’t believe that Eastern Bishops consistently acceded to a binding worldwide doctrinal authority of the sort that Innocent I claimed. Well, that’s too bad for them. But here, I think, we should see what the evidence says on its own merits, because we are all smart enough to do so. Read the Condemnation of Pelagianism chapter in Studies on the Early Papacy, and ask yourself whether there is evidence that the eastern bishops rejected the Bishop of Rome’s doctrinal claims during the Pelagian controversy, during this first period in which the data set is rich enough to test subtle hypotheses about ecclesiology, while the Church was united around the world, and while the emperors were taking a break from interfering with the Catholic hierarchy.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  257. Eric (#251):

    Assuming I understand them correctly, I have no major difficulty with the five requirements you stipulate for the sort of argument I want to make. I do, however, have difficulties with a few of your other formulations.

    You write:

    In fact, I think CIP is preferable to the CPIP based on your reply AND if the following are granted.

    (1) NE holds some ontic / epistemic form of realism.
    (2) NE is not any kind of theist or positive atheist.
    (3) NE may be an agnostic and does not realize it.
    (4) NE assumes he does not already possess knowledge of any DR.

    I believe (4) is misformulated. It is possible to have “knowledge” of divine revelation insofar as one knows the content of ideas that have been variously proposed as DR. The NE can and ought to acquire compendious knowledge in that sense if he doesn’t already have it. If he does that, then on my account, he will have knowledge of some proposal which does in fact express DR, even if he doesn’t know that it actually expresses DR. So (4) should read:

    (4*) The NE must assume that he doesn’t know which among the various proposals whose content he knows is the true, or truest, proposal. He need only assume that one of them is the true or truest proposal.

    Accordingly, my other difficulty is with how you formulate what you take to be the difficulty. Thus:

    #4 prevents NE from considering, in a neutral way, the relevant logical possibility THAT he has knowledge of some or any DR in his situation. Admitting the possible existence and possible knowability of DR includes the possibility THAT he already knows any or some DR. Considering arguments about HOW this can be will not require NE’s assent to any theological IP. If it turns out there is no principled way to know that he has knowledge of any DR, then he has no good reason to think he can have knowledge of DR in advance.

    If we substitute (4*) for (4), much of what you see as the difficulty evaporates. But assuming I understand it correctly, I disagree with your assertion that “[c]onsidering arguments about HOW this can be will not require NE’s assent to any theological IP.” The NE cannot dispense with any and all theological IPs in considering whether he knows what is in fact DR, as distinct from knowing the content of various proposed candidates for DR. For whichever the best IP may be, that’s precisely the one which will enable him to identify DR as such, as distinct from the content of what is proposed as DR. And if he makes that identification successfully using the best IP, what he has gained is not knowledge that some allegedly revealed religion is true, but only reason enough to make the assent of faith in the FPOF of one such religion in particular.

    Best,
    Mike

  258. The very fact that certain people defied the authority of the Papacy shows that it was not a doctrine that was of authoritative traditions. For instance, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Eusebius were all people who were trying to follow the one Lord Jesus and the one gospel message that had been handed down. If the Papacy was of Christic origin (from Christ) and of apostolic origin then it was have from the very beginning been heralded as the carrier of Christ’s authority. In this case, if anyone defied the bishop of Rome, he did so to the detriment of his/her soul. Well, the very fact that Cyprian, Tertullian, and Eusebius all were practically insubmissive to the “papacy” (at one point in their life), this shows that such a doctrine was not heralded.

    Do not kid yourself, the doctrine of the Papacy, if true, is right there next to the importance of the gospel message itself. Since the Papacy is Christ working visibly on earth, it is just as important as the gospel message itself, and thus it would have been something immediately proclaimed as binding and requiring universal submission. But history shows us that bishops were not catechized to believe this as a dogma of faith.

  259. Erick (#253, #258):

    I shall focus mainly on what I take to be your distinct, substantive arguments in each of those two comments. But first, there’s a need to clear up what seems to be your misunderstanding of my position.

    In #253, you start with this:

    Understood perfectly. You argument for the CIP is confessedly a reason among reasons which lead up to rationally concluding the truth of roman catholicism. Take away the CIP, it does not remove the truth or the right of claims that are inherent to roman catholicism.

    The last sentence in that paragraph misrepresents my position. One cannot “take away the CIP” without taking Catholicism off the table. For the CIP is inherent in Catholicism; it is no mere invention of mine for the purpose of arguing for Catholicism. That is precisely why, if the CIP is rationally preferable to competing Christian IPs, it constitutes one good reason to believe that Catholicism is true. That reason does not go away once one cites further reasons to believe that Catholicism is true. Indeed, as I see it, that reason is the first that must be given, so that the others can be given without begging the question. And so it must remain.

    You write:

    To be honest, I cannot affirm that there is one visible leader of Christendom. I hope to affirm this, but as I said before, I lack the conviction of this element, despite my fellowship with you in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    The first Christian apologists understood the sequential nature of the Father’s commission as a way that eliminates doctrinal development (of course in my present opinion)…

    and you proceed to explain what you mean by that. You then conclude:

    …I do not hereby mean that there is no “development” at all. Of course, as time moves forward, there is going to be organic growth, but the doctrine cannot somehow “evolve” into something greater or more explanatory than it was when Jesus taught the apostles and the apostles taught the Churches.

    There are two serious difficulties with that. I shall begin with the less important.

    It is not clear why you say, or even what you mean by saying, that the “organic growth” in which legitimate DD consists nevertheless precludes doctrines’ “evolving” into “something greater or more explanatory than it was when Jesus taught the apostles and the apostles taught the Churches.” On my account of DD, which resembles and refines Newman’s, the latter’s “evolution” is pretty much what the former’s “growth” consists in. Thus the organic growth of legitimate DD, by making the fixed, once-for-all deposit of faith (DF) more precise and explicit in certain respects, supplies us with expressions of divine revelation which are “more explanatory” than what the relevant sources had already supplied, and in just that sense; are "greater" than what the relevant sources had already supplied. On such account, of course, legitimate DD does not thereby add to the DF; it only manifests the DF better than before in conjunction with what came before, typically by way of resolving interpretive controversies about what came before. So your approach to DD cannot simply be taken for granted; you need to show that it's rationally preferable to mine. But you have not done that. You have simply taken it for granted as a premise.

    The second difficulty with your approach is even more serious. To the extent I understand it, your approach to DD seems characteristic of the CPIP. I explained why in Section IV of my article. So if you want to make an argument for your approach to DD, you first need to have established the rationality superiority of the CPIP to the CIP. But you have not done that either, and it isn't even clear that you see any need to do so. You're still just marching on your spot.

    Now, such criticisms need to be met before we can usefully discuss the Catholic doctrine of the papacy in particular. So rather than consider your specific objections to that doctrine, I shall move on to what I take to be your next substantive argument.

    You write:

    …what reasons are there to prefer the availability of a principled way of distinguishing divine revelation and human opinion? What if God, wishing to keep His own secrets to himself, choosing to work through fallible human beings to accomplish his own ends? What if God chose to perpetuate his gospel in the world without having that pricinpled distinction? I could already suspect that you might grant this hypothetical scenario, but then pose the question of why then should I believe in anything……(unless im mistaken)

    Let’s be more precise here. If there’s no reason to believe that God supplies us with a principled means of distinguishing between his revelation and human opinions, then there’s no reason to believe that there is such a thing as divine revelation at all. That’s because, if we can’t distinguish in a principled way between revelation and opinion, we can’t reliably identify anything in particular as divine revelation, even if something-or-other actually is divine revelation. We can only identify our opinions on the topic. I’ve met Protestants who are willing to go there, but it’s pretty clear to me that you’re not one of them. So let’s not go there, OK?

    In #258, you write:

    The very fact that certain people defied the authority of the Papacy shows that it was not a doctrine that was of authoritative traditions.

    That’s just a non-sequitur. From the fact that “certain people defied the authority of the Papacy,” it does not follow that the papacy lacked the authority it claims. It does not even follow that, as you say in your final paragraph, “history shows us that bishops were not catechized to believe this as a dogma of faith.” All that follows is that some people, for reasons of their own, did not acknowledge that authority. Zoom out for a moment: The fact is that there’s hardly any doctrine of historic Christianity that every baptized Christian leader affirms and none denies. Does that mean that no such doctrine is authoritative? Of course not. I rest my case.

    I want to close by reminding you that it’s no good obsessing about the papacy until we’ve dealt with the basic epistemological issues I’ve been outlining in this comment and this thread, starting with my article itself. Please confine yourself to those for the time being.

    Best,
    Mike

  260. Erick,

    you wrote:

    But history shows us that bishops were not catechized to believe this as a dogma of faith.

    You are trying to use unclear evidence to overturn clear evidence. The authors you cite don’t provide clear evidence against papal authority or against the catechesis of papal authority. They provide muddy evidence against papal authority.

    Tertullian became a heretic. Heretics have always had to reject papal authority as part of the bargain. If he was orthodox, and in communion with the Bishop of Rome as well as the rest of the Church, and still rejected papal authority, that would be good evidence. But, unfortunately for the anti-papal case, that’s not the evidence we have.

    Cyprian was so angry at Pope Stephen’s actions that he made the outrageous claim that no bishop could tell another bishop what to do. Unfortunately for Cyprian, we have enough of his letters and actions preserved to see him repeatedly telling other Bishops what to do, as well as asking the Bishop of Rome to tell other Bishops what to do. So he obviously contradicted himself. The simplest way that I can see to fix the contradiction for him is to suppose that he thinks that no Bishop could tell another Bishop what to do in matters of discipline, but that Bishops could potentially tell other Bishops what to do in matters of faith. But in that case, he doesn’t provide any evidence against the Pope’s claims to final worldwide doctrinal authority.

    Finally, Cyprian is just one man, the pope’s letters that he was so upset about haven’t been preserved, and we don’t know how the baptism issue got settled, except for the fact that it was settled in the pope’s favor, and not in Cyprian’s. If you compare this ambiguity to the mountain of clear evidence from the Pelagian controversy, it is hard for me to see how Cyprian’s obviously self-contradictory stance and almost complete lack of ancillary documentation is supposed to overturn the clear evidence from 150 years later.

    If the only data from antiquity that existed were the portion of Cyprian’s works we now have, we just wouldn’t be able to say much about the authority of the papacy one way or another. We can’t use this ambiguity to overturn clear evidence.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  261. Michael Liccione, in this comment, I’ll be responding to your comment 231 here, but I’ll likely be ranging to other places to take into account some of the other things you’ve said, such as when you refer me to Sections IV and V above.

    I’m pleased to see you trying to address what I take to be the basic epistemological issue between Catholicism and Protestantism. In my opinion, understanding and addressing that issue accurately is the only way for the uncommitted inquirer to decide between them without begging the question.

    I’ve been responding to these issues all along, although I’ve not been doing it in the same words that you are using. What you are doing is clouding the primary epistemological issue in a more formal-sounding language, which tends to give some “intellectual grounding” where there is none.

    What you call “begging the question” here with remarkable ease, is in reality, taking the Apostles at their own words. As Paul says to the Roman Governor Festus, in his trial defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26:26), “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.”

    As a book-end to my comment from the other thread on Adam and Eve (citing Beale) and later following his argument through the Old Testament, the “IP” that God wants you to use, is to rely on your own eyes and ears and understanding. (See Acts

    The “IP” that God wants humans to employ is also clearly stated in the Scriptures, from Isaiah 6:9–10, related here from Acts 28:27, but which is also the most highly-quoted passage of the Old Testament found in the New Testament:

    For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed;
    lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
    and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.

    What, in this case, is “the formal proximate object of faith”?

    The Lutherans have a good way of discerning this. Where, precisely, is the locus of activity? Is it in God? Or is it in the human?

    The human “sees”, “hears”, and “understands”, but it is God who heals. This is how the interaction between God and man takes place. This is what God intends. This is the easy yoke, the light burden of Matthew 11:30.

    At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    The proper role of the human being is not to “identify infallibly the formal proximate object of faith”. There is no need for a “formal proximate object of faith”. We have “Christ alone”.

    “Christ alone” “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature”. Further, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power”. He is the One, who, when we “turn”, he “heals”. Notice the division of labor there. “Turn”, “repent”. “take my yoke”, “and learn from me”.

    Do you suppose that He won’t, in his time, give all things? That he won’t give all knowledge?

    To whom is he talking? He is not talking just to his disciples here. He is talking to “the crowds” (Matt 11:7).

    The kind of discernment you are looking for, a way to “[reliably identify] the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion,” does not at all appear to be a part of the “interpretive paradigm” that Jesus tells “the crowds” to employ, and nor does Paul employ the need to [or tell the king to have] “a principled way to reliably identify the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion”.

    I’m wondering why you even need to posit this kind of concept? Actually, I don’t wonder. I know why you need to obfuscate what is otherwise an appeal to “the CPIP”, which simply holds that “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.”

    You write:

    I explain why any theology must rely on some-or-other IP, and I proceed on the assumption that any theological IP needs some sort of principled distinction between authentic expressions of divine revelation as such and merely human opinions about it.

    Two things here: you “proceed on the assumption”, but why do you assume this? I’ve asked several times. Where is it posited that anyone “needs” this “principled distinction”?

    Second, building upon that question, the Protestant IP, as I have explained over and over again, is the equivalent to the “IP” that God “assumes”, for Adam, for the Patriarchs, for Israel, and as Jesus instructed, and as Paul employed it. If relying on “a due use of the ordinary means”.

    You are looking at a result – “Protestants can’t agree on “x”, therefore the IP is bad.

    But that misses the fact that God has created 7 billion human beings and counted, each of whom looks upon “Christ alone”, has his or her own lives, understandings, and prejudices. But I still maintain, using a “due use of ordinary means”, that if each of these 7 billion individuals would “turn” [in the God-given capacity which is not beyond each one’s means], God himself would “heal”.

    I then argue, in effect, that the CIP’s candidate for such a distinction can be successfully deployed for the purpose stated, whereas the CPIP’s candidate cannot, and thus is only an ad hoc distinction.

    In fact, it is precisely your “CIP” which, in and of itself, is an ad hoc creation, developed by you specifically for the purpose of permitting “the Catholic faith” to appear to have some rational basis, when in fact, it is “the Catholic faith” which “developed” along historical lines that are incredibly ad hoc, in and of themselves.

    It’s true, “the Catholic faith” retains some memories of Scriptural doctrines such as Christ’s resurrection (of which you say that no “infallible proclamation” has ever been made), and early Scriptural guidelines that were adopted in the first four councils (Trinity, Christology).

    But the uniquely Roman Catholic doctrines themselves all developed in a variety of ad hoc ways – the papacy came out of nowhere, the Marian doctrines and dogmas have a variety of origins in spurious and even heretical sources; “Transubstantiation” is nowhere found in the early church, but is peculiarly added on in 12th century; the Council of Trent is even more ad hoc and peculiar still.

    If I am correct that every religion and theology contains an IP and that none can dispense with using one, then the first question cannot be answered without first comparing pairs IPs, and then determining which is the more reasonable one to adopt, thus supplying one good reason to profess the religion containing the rationally preferable IP.

    Why do you need to “compare pairs of IPs” to see what is “preferable”? How is your own “preference” here not simply ad hoc?

    Your methodology of comparing one IP vs another, and finding it “preferable”, is perfectly useful when you compare the “Green Men On Mars IP” (GMOMIP) vs the “Blue Men On Mars IP” (BMOMIP). Of course the GMOMIP is preferable to the BMOMIP for a host of reasons which I shall not get into here, but let me just say that, it seems a travesty to dismiss the BMOMIP, which relies on an analysis of the most plentiful elements on Mars (Oxygen and Silicon), which most naturally would lead to Blue Men on Mars, rather than the older (if less scientific) GMOMIP. There are, in fact, no elements on Mars (copper is not plentiful, for example) that would lead to the development of Green Men on Mars.

    Given that Christianity is a “revealed” religion, that God is hidden and what we know about him is only what he “reveals” of himself (and that revelation finds its fullest what It is more reasonable to adopt the “IP”.

    I’ve argued elsewhere that you need to determine first of all whether an “IP” in and of itself yields a truthful result. Various IPs rather yield varying degrees of truth. They yield varying degrees of

    Even your own “CIP” only yields “divine protection from error under certain conditions”. Presumably there is no “divine protection from error” throughout the rest of the “CIP”, and that is what we see, in instances which you claim to be “the tu quoque” – but look at those “certain conditions” – look at what those “certain conditions” have yielded: most egregiously, they have yielded (according to most, but not all, Roman Catholic accounts), “infallibility” that Mary was conceived “immaculately”, that she was “assumed body and soul into heaven”, and that the pope is also “infallible” when he makes ex cathedra pronouncements (and as I’ve also mentioned,

    So, “under certain conditions”, you know (probably) three things with “divine protection from error”.

    But (a) these three things can only be said to be “implicitly” found in Scripture, if at all (and I maintain they are not), and (b) they are not only “divinely protected from error” but they are such in the same unfalsifiable way that I might say “there are no blue men on Mars, only green men”. One might say, “oh, but we’ve sent robot rovers there and they find no evidence of green men on mars.” To which, the true believer replies “Oh, but they’re underground. Give me two pieces of evidence that says they’re not underground”. The presence of robot rovers on Mars, and the evidence they’ve found, is “not incompatible in any way” with the infallible, unfalsifiable doctrine that there are blue men underground on Mars.

    Some may laugh, and you may scoff, but this is precisely what having a discussion with you is like.

    You then move on to Scott Oliphint:

    citing Scripture alone, or one’s reaction to Scripture alone, would by no means show that such a belief is itself anything more than an opinion. After all, the writings comprised by the biblical canon–whichever canon is the correct one, about which there is some disagreement–were produced by men, gathered together in a canon by men, and presented in that form by men as divinely inspired and thus inerrant. So whatever argument there may be for accepting Scripture as authoritative in the sense indicated would have to involve showing why the claim that the biblical canon is the inspired and inerrant word of God, not merely the word of men, is more than just an opinion, but is itself the “word of God,” in the sense of being an authentic expression of divine revelation.

    And thus you fall upon that last corrupt bastion of Roman Catholic apologetics, “the Canon question”:

    One must also show why the men who wrote, gathered together, and handed Scripture down to us as they did should be trusted, with the assent of faith, as divinely sanctioned authorities themselves. If one does not produce such an additional argument, then one will not have shown why the belief that Scripture contains the word of God, as distinct from mere accounts of what some men have said and done about God, is itself the word of God. One will have failed to show that such a belief is anything more than an opinion.

    Now, since the CPIP rules out claiming that any post-apostolic human authorities are infallible, it cannot show why those who wrote, gathered together, and handed the Bible down to us are to be trusted with the assent of faith, as distinct from just giving their opinions by so doing. I realize, of course, that on the CPIP, the authors of Scripture are seen as infallible when writing Scripture, by virtue of being divinely inspired. But if there are no people after them who are themselves granted the gift of infallibility by some other means, then the affirmation that the human authors of Scripture were divinely inspired and thus infallible can, itself, only be made fallibly. Thus it can only be held and taught as an opinion. And what is held and taught as an opinion has simply not been shown to be much more than that: an authentic expression of divine revelation.

    Why must one also show this? Certainly, it is preferable to you, but what’s “preferable” is precisely where the ad hoc, human opinion comes into play. If you take Paul’s words – the observer, any observer, “knows about these things” (Romans 1), because, as he says, “I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.”

    God speaking to Adam and Eve was not “done in a corner”. God speaking to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses (who wrote these things down) were not done in a corner. The history of Israel, from Joshua, through the writer of Judges, to Samuel, Kings, the Chronicler, the prophets – none of this was “done in a corner”. There was certainly, to your eyes, anyway, “no principled basis is there for distinguishing authentic expressions of divine revelation as such from merely human opinions about how to identify and interpret divine revelation”

    Just the scrolls, faithfully added to as God’s revelation was perceived, and the faithful copying of those Scriptures. The Jews had no “inspired table of contents”. They just faithfully copied those scrolls and toted them around. That was “sufficient”.

    As evidence of this “sufficiency”, note that Jesus frequently asked, “What did Moses command you?” He said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” He said, Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.” Without the use of an infallibly-produced “table of contents”, Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” With no “inspired table of contents, “he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’”

    Everything.

    So, in the light of this, why do you posit the need for “people after them who are themselves granted the gift of infallibility by some other means”?

    With respect to the New Testament, Michael Kruger has Michael Kruger has argued thoroughly and incisively to the effect that conservative Protestants do in fact have “a rational basis (i.e., intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon”.

    He argues this on the same grounds: that these writings are “self-attesting” in the sense that these writings have “divine qualities” (in the same sense that Jesus said, “my sheep hear my voice”. As I’ve said repeatedly, God made human beings to have receptor that was capable of hearing His voice; which would resonate within them when they heard it). But that is not his only argument. He also notes that these writings, and only these writings, have “Apostolic origins”. And we know this for a number of reasons – they were the only writings extant from that time period; they were held and cherished and read among the churches from the very beginning. Any other writings said to be “authoritative” were checked against these conditions – apostolic authorization, held from the beginning – the individuals in question merely had to be “faithful”, not “infallible”.

    Kruger’s case is intellectually airtight. It by far is “principled” enough to give believers the assurance that the words contained within those 27 books is without question “the formal proximate object of faith”.

    This does not preclude, as wise individuals through history have always maintained, the need for leadership, the need for instruction. But this need is “ministerial”, not “Magisterial”.

    The right question, as per the Lutherans (as I mentioned it above), is not “who can give me the right interpretation?” The right question is, “Where, precisely, is the locus of activity? Is it in God? Or is it in the human?”

    There is the principled distinction.

  262. John (261)

    I have been following your writing on and off and notice that you keep appealing to the same thing,

    “God made human beings to have receptor that was capable of hearing His voice; which would resonate within them when they heard it”

    Doesn’t every faith group…..or to keep it narrow……doesn’t every denomination say that they rightly hear His voice? How do you know that you are one of those who pray, read the scriptures yet are in a faith group that has some erroneous doctrine? What makes you a better interpreter than say, N.T. Wright?

    But that is not his only argument. He also notes that these writings, and only these writings, have “Apostolic origins”. And we know this for a number of reasons – they were the only writings extant from that time period; they were held and cherished and read among the churches from the very beginning. Any other writings said to be “authoritative” were checked against these conditions – apostolic authorization, held from the beginning – the individuals in question merely had to be “faithful”, not “infallible”.

    Every religion cherishes its divine oracles, and seek to obey it (or should if they really believe that it is God’s instruction to man). But again, looking out among denominations, how does one determine who is being faithful to their religion’s interpretation?

    I was reading 1 Macc.2:52-60 this morning, and I still wrestle with the idea that maybe it isn’t really infallible holy writing. You see, once you put yourself in as a neutral observer, you would have no way to determine what is or isn’t inspired writing, unless you can put some kind of epistemic security in those who have made that decision for you. To tell the truth, I was reading that portion and I found myself asking if Luther wanted Macc. thrown out in order to fulfill his own schema or if the Catholic Church makes that claim about Luther to fulfill its own. But, at some point in order to remain even a Christian, one has to rest in the interpretive authority of some locus.

    Call me desperately seeking if you want, but please think about my next question. If I were to walk away from the RCC today would the Holy Spirit have me to go to Calvary Chapel? Would I lack anything that an interpretive, authoritative body possessed if I went there instead of back to my old Dutch Reformed denomination?

    Please answer me this.

    Sincerely,
    Susan

  263. John,

    I appreciate some of your reasoning here. I too am presently a protestant, but seriously considering the Catholic Church. But some questions I would have for you, is who has the final say on issues that are close to essential in the Christian religion, such as whether infant baptism actually effects something more than a visible inclusion into the grace of God, or if the water in baptism has sacramental power, or if the bread and wine in the celebration of the Eucharist actually does something essential, or what kind of authority do church leaders have and where does it derive from?

    For instance, what if there is a church led by a Pastor who had just wanted to start a church, had been frustrated with many of the “easy-believism” churches he had been trained in, and “felt” called to start a church. He went through to lead a very authoritarian form of church leadership, where submission to the clergy was submission to God. Excommunication was something had happened often, and the methods of restoration were 1 year of absolute non-church attendance, solitude, bible studies/prayers, and contemplation on sin in the confines outside of Church, in order to prove your repentance to the elders. Alot of the members were suffering from the non-assurance of salvation because of a hard emphasis on self-denial, repentance, absolute obedience to Christ, etc,etc. And then let’s say that hypothetically, The Pastor ends up, after 15 years, being arrested and charged with some very sick and immoral crimes (they have not sentenced him yet), the Church simply votes in 1 of the leaders to the be Senior Pastor, who has the same emphasis on CHurch discipline and excluding oneself from other churches, etc,etc,etc.

    This kind of environment, extremely calvinistic, extremely baptistic, makes itself a sort of Papacy for the local congregation. It did so because the Elders saw that the “Church” has divine authority given to it from Christ. Jesus taught the highest court of appeals was the “church” (Matthew 18). Hebrews tells us to “submit and obey those who rule over us” (Heb 13). There is no question that Christ has given authority over to the Church (whatever that might be).

    Can just anyone study the bible really well, and then start a church? And then impute to themselves the authority spoken of in Matthew 18? Binding and Loosing powers come down to any man at any time, so far as they know the Scriptures and love God and want to start a church?

  264. Susan 262, you asked:

    doesn’t every denomination say that they rightly hear His voice?

    This isn’t about “denominations”, this is about you and Christ.

    The “receptor” theme is the notion that God doesn’t create us without the capacity to hear Him in His Word. It is an a fortiori argument on the theme of natural law, using Romans 1:18–20 as its basis:

    The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    The argument is made then, if “what may be known about God is plain” in “general revelation”, that is, in nature, “that if natural revelation is acknowledged to be of divine origin and authority without the support of the church, then why shouldn’t special revelation also be acknowledged to have divine origin and authority without the support of the church, especially since the latter is much clearer than the former, and is given by God a higher priority and authority than natural revelation?”

    See this post at Green Baggins:

    From Natural Revelation to Special Revelation.

    You asked:

    What makes you a better interpreter than say, N.T. Wright?

    I don’t have to be. But folks like D.A. Carson or G.K. Beale are better. Wright is the one out there trying to justify the “new thing” (the “new” perspective on Paul). But what he’s not is an expert on Luther.

    He’s also written quite critically of Trent, and so he’s no real friend to Roman Catholics either.

    If you can spare the cash, check out Beale’s work A New Testament Biblical Theology. But if you don’t, you can also get the gist of what he’s saying in this video series:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-D_3HMNx7iY

    You asked:

    If I were to walk away from the RCC today would the Holy Spirit have me to go to Calvary Chapel? Would I lack anything that an interpretive, authoritative body possessed if I went there instead of back to my old Dutch Reformed denomination?

    Consider what Carl Trueman has to say:

    If possible, work towards making sure your church’s doctrinal standard is one of the historic creeds or confessions. We live in an age where, whatever the rhetoric, evangelicalism has its agenda set by individual churches and parachurch groups who write their own doctrinal bases. That is not theologically obnoxious in itself: many such bases are quite orthodox, if somewhat minimal. It is arguably a bit odd: it is hard to imagine the automobile industry being run by groups who keep redesigning the wheel and claiming it as a major breakthrough, after all. And, of course, it does nothing to fuel respect for biblically normed historical confessional and ecclesiastical tradition. So, if you have the choice, try to define your church in terms of something historic,..

    Of course Trueman is writing largely for pastors and seminarians, but I think, over the coming years, with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming up, you’ll see more and more evangelical churches taking his advice and looking at the historical confessions.

    I very much love Reformed theology. If you notice many of the arguments here about Calvin, the complaint isn’t that he isn’t Biblical; it’s that he isn’t Roman Catholic.

    There is a writer at my Reformation500 blog named Andrew, who has made the trip out of Roman Catholicism and into Lutheranism. From what I’ve seen, Lutheran worship is very similar to that of the Medieval church. You might feel comfortable there. Look him up if you have questions.

  265. Erick, see the Carl Trueman link I posted in response to Susan. Also, take a look at Luther’s writings. And if you’re inclined to listen to some of the negative press that Luther gets, look at James Swan’s blog. He’s responded I think to every Luther naysayer in history.

    In recommending the historic churches that came out of the Reformation, I obviously don’t condone anyone studying the Bible and then starting a church. But that speaks to a lack of education rather than a lack of “infallibility”.

  266. Susan 262: Here’s N.T. Wright on the Council of Trent:

    Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transsubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get something actually done.

    In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer, at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational, communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical.

  267. This is my first comment on CTC, as to a small historical point.

    John Bugay (#291) cites Michael Liccione’s comment that no infallible proclamation of Christ’s resurrection has ever been made.

    However, Christ’s resurrection was solemnly and hence infallibly proclaimed in the Nicene Creeds promulagated by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea I (325), Constantinople I (381), and Chalcedon (451).

  268. John.

    Susan asked, “If I were to walk away from the RCC today would the Holy Spirit have me to go to Calvary Chapel? Would I lack anything that an interpretive, authoritative body possessed if I went there instead of back to my old Dutch Reformed denomination?”

    You responded by quoting Carl Trueman who argues to seek out a church with historical creeds. Amen! If we’re looking for historical creeds than eventually we’ll all end up in Rome.

  269. Sean 268, he’s talking about the Protestant confessions as much as anything else. Those roads don’t lead to Rome.

  270. But Luther calvin both sought to reinvent the wheel. What piece of literature before them do they agree with?

  271. John B (#264)

    This isn’t about “denominations”, this is about you and Christ.

    The “receptor” theme is the notion that God doesn’t create us without the capacity to hear Him in His Word. It is an a fortiori argument on the theme of natural law, using Romans 1:18–20 as its basis…

    I don’t see how this helps me to know which of us is right and which is suppressing the truth by his wickedness. I believe God’s Voice has told me the Catholic Church is His Body and men can be saved only through it; you believe – well, you don’t believe that! Is one of us suppressing the truth by his wickedness, therefore?

    jj

  272. Mike (re:#257),

    I accept (4*)’s formulation. NE may be disposed to rejecting CPIP when we examine the passions, and not just the rational side.

    (1) NE is ignorant of what is in fact DR.
    (2) CPIP has no principled way to distinguish DR and human opinion.
    (3) If no principled way, then no knowledge of what is in fact DR.
    (4) CPIP leaves its users ignorant of what is in fact DR.
    (5) If NE is afraid of remaining ignorant, then he is disposed to rejecting CPIP.
    (6) CIP provides a good reason to begin alleviating the fear.

    NE should continue to dig below the surface of (4*)’s assumption. Why is he ignorant ? NE lacks the formal aspect relative to theological IPs. I think it is logically possible that NE has knowledge of some or any DR content and knows that it is DR. Ignorance may be explained as a symptom of genuine self-deception. His claim of ignorance may be a denial of knowing. What about the formal aspect ? NE need not assume the form / content distinction contained in your reply. Openness to DR includes some level of openness to different ontic / epistemic theories.

    You wrote:
    The NE cannot dispense with any and all theological IPs in considering whether he knows what is in fact DR, as distinct from knowing the content of various proposed candidates for DR.

    Response:
    Theological IPs have certain ontic / epistemic assumptions for how someone can know DR. NE can isolate the assumptions for consideration without adopting a particular IP. If he could not do this, then all attempts to consider ideas or concepts of DR (or any theological object) would require IPs. He can perform certain screening processes without using any IP.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  273. John Thayer Jenson, you asked in Comment 271:

    I don’t see how this helps me to know which of us is right and which is suppressing the truth by his wickedness. I believe God’s Voice has told me the Catholic Church is His Body and men can be saved only through it; you believe – well, you don’t believe that! Is one of us suppressing the truth by his wickedness, therefore?

    I’ll give you just two examples of how this might work. First, see comment #18 of the Green Baggins thread I mentioned to Susan, From Natural Revelation to Special Revelation:

    [Question]: Is [the Church’s] structure established by Christ or by the vote of human beings?

    [Response]: 1 Timothy 3:1ff, among other passages, gives us the divine structure of the church, and human beings didn’t vote on that God-given structure. That structure says that the “bishop must be…” while the history of [Roman Catholicism] demonstrates to us that the “bishop need not be…” in terms of what is prerequisite for that office.

    Not only is there an explanation for why “the bishop need not be…”, but on top of that you have also superimposed a papacy, and you especially have all kinds of explanations for why “the pope need not be…” In this case, the “…” lists all kinds of, really, divinely-structured guidelines such as “be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”.

    Now, I know that you have “an explanation” for all of that – for if popes and bishops do not qualify, then the “unbroken succession” goes out the window, and Roman Catholicism is very clearly shown not to be what it says it is.

    In that vein, it seems especially clear to me that the Roman Catholic system is “suppressing the truth by wickedness” – the irony of it is that you allow for what we call “wicked popes” by this method!

    But really, the way you asked the question is, “which of us is right and which is suppressing the truth by his wickedness?”

    [I’ve put up a blog post that has images illustrating what I am saying in the following section. Images wouldn’t reproduce here, but I’d recommend that you take a look at the images as they illustrate very well what I am saying in what follows.]

    The answer, of course, is that given by the Bereans (Acts 17), “they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” This, too, is the same response given by Francis Turretin, who (vol 3, page 2), actually seemed to complain that his opponents would not actually discuss the facts, but “to this day … (although they are anything but the true church of Christ) still boast of their having alone the name of the church and do not blush to display the standard of that which they dispose. In this manner, hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church, they think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them concerning the various and most destructive errors introduced into the heavenly doctrine”.

    Turretin’s response to that was to compare “the way of the authority of the church” with “discussion and examination of doctrine”. He cites Matthew 28:19, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them …” on “the necessity of a preceding instruction and knowledge”, as well as Acts 2:41, “they were added to the church who had been taught before by the apostles”; “the Samaritans who believed were baptized” (Acts 8:12). As well, he cites Paul (“test all things and hold fast to what is good”) and John (“try the spirits”). “Surely this could not be said if this examination were either impossible or dangerous to them”, meaning, to the individual members. (See Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol 2, pgs 1–6 for this complete discussion).

    Thus, “examination of faith and knowledge [of doctrines] ought to precede knowledge of [authority of] the church”. And if “the Church” is teaching things that are not just simply deviating slightly from the Scriptures, but blatantly teaching things that are opposite (“a bishop must be…”), well, then, what are we to make of their so-called “authority”? The answer is to conclude that it’s a false authority! (And you’ve got to admit, there are also plenty of warnings about false authority, of “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, etc., in the New Testament.

    The charts here represent another a fortiori argument, here is how Roman “interpretation” (that is, “what the Magisterium says”) outstrips, “suppresses Scriptural truth by its wickedness”.

    The first image here represents “Scriptural theology”. The items in the list, the Doctrine of Scripture, Doctrine of God, The Trinity, Doctrine of Christ, etc, are taken from standard Systematic Theologies – On these things, I hope, it may be seen that there is no controversy, for it may be said, for example, that Aquinas and others, too, followed this pattern.

    The second chart shows how “the churches of the Reformation” viewed these things. On balance, they retained this “Scriptural theology”, while differing, as I’ve said, on what I’ve called “adiaphora (from the Greek ἀδιάφορα “indifferent things”). Now, to be sure, to some people these things do not seem to be “indifferent”, but from God’s perspective, the method of the practice of these things is indifferent. For example, on the topic of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “do this”, he didn’t say “develop an Aristotelian viewpoint of how this happens and make it the dogma”. This is why I say, “from God’s viewpoint, it is indifferent”.

    [There is a theological distinction outlined by Herman Bavinck in his “Reformed Dogmatics” vol 1, in which he discussed the difference between the Scriptures quoad se [in themselves] and the Scriptures quoad nos [as they have to do with us]. As one writer asked, “are [these] identical with one another and perfectly correspond at every single point? Is content and expression, essence and form, God’s absolute truth and the Church’s assimilation into her consciousness, confession, cultural language and ideas, articulation, and proclamation identical at every point?” (cf. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:30-32). I would, in fact, commend all of Bavinck’s Vol 1 (“Prolegomena” to you as an excellent example of what a “Conservative Protestant IP” looks like when someone has taken the time to think through all the ramifications of it.)]

    At any rate, the other two charts here show the relationship of how Scripture supposedly is augmented by “tradition”, but when “tradition” stops meaning “what the church has always practiced” and begins meaning “Tradition” as the current Roman Catholic Church defines it, then the kind of distortion occurs that is shown in the fourth chart. This is my understanding of how it is Roman Catholic Doctrine that “suppresses the truth by wickedness”.

  274. John Bugay # 269.

    I know. I was being ironic. Or, trying to be ironic. The fact is that your answer to Susan’s question amounts to, “Carl Trueman, who I agree, with says that we should look for Reformed churches so therefore you should look for a Reformed Church.” That is just you restating that you think Reformed confessional Protestantism is the best/most biblical. If a Calvary Chapel person were in this discussion they could have just as easily quoted another Calvary Chapel person, “…you should go with the Calvary Chapel.”

    She might correct me if I am wrong here but it seems that Susan is not asking you which church you think is the ‘most biblical.’ She does not want your opinion on why a Reformed Church might be superior to the Calvary Chapel. She wants to know how you determine which church is more faithful to God’s word. Posting a quote from a man that you agree with does not answer that question.

    Here is the issue: Within your paradigm you are unable to provide Susan with any principled distinction between the interpretations of Holy Scripture given in a Reformed Church versus that given at the Calvary Chapel (or any other Protestant church that does not align itself with Reformed confessions). What you’ve been arguing is that God speaks to us directly therefore….REFORMED CONFESSIONALISM! All that does is tell us that you think Reformed Protestantism is the best. It does not tell us why one should believe that Reformed Protestantism is any truer than a Southern Baptist Arminian Church or a Methodist Church. The whole issue is how we determine which doctrines are mere human theological opinions and which are divine revelation.

    The Catholic Church provides a principled distinction, one which was cited by even the earliest fathers of the Church and one which jumps off the pages of the councils that settled church doctrine in the early centuries for the universal church. What is the distinction? The distinction is that the Catholic Church has received a charism of truth, according to the pleasure of God, with the succession of the bishops.

    And this is what we’ve been arguing all along, John.

  275. John ,
    I understand where you are coming from.

    Some things to consider in our inspection of roman Catholicism. Do you think that Jesus was looking for those moral qualities which are prerequisite for the person desiring to be a bishop? I would assume so because all the 12 were pastors of the church (1 peter 5). Yet Judas was a great sinner. But his office was not destroyed. His authority to perform to perfomiracles and exorcism was not squelches. And even after his demise his office was still valid. At which sin did he lose office e?

  276. Sean patrick

    Just out of curiosity , I would like to know which early church father believed in this principled distinction? It would be helpful to know

  277. John Bugay,

    Along a similar line as Sean’s reply to you in #274, an Arminian Baptist friend told me, many years ago, that he couldn’t understand why all Christians didn’t just follow “simple, basic, Baptist Christianity”– meaning, from what I could tell, the interpretation(s) of the Bible taught by his local church, and by the branch of the Baptist faith into which he was born, and in which he was raised by his parents.

    Many conservative Lutherans also wonder why more Christians do not see, from the Bible, that, as a Lutheran told me recently in a combox, “the Church of the Wittenberg door is the historic Christian Church.” (meaning, the historic Lutheran church, with the strict Law/Gospel distinction underlining all of its exegesis)

    Some of my old Reformed Baptist friends wonder why more people (including most of their fellow professing Christians!) do not see that the Bible “clearly teaches” Reformed Baptist thinking. Of course, being five-point Calvinists, Reformed Baptists can at least explain *non-Christians’* failure to see R.B. thinking from the Bible by saying that they are all *obviously* blinded to the truth and in hateful rebellion against God… but that doesn’t explain the overwhelming number of Christians who also reject much of R.B. thought, and who do so *from* the Bible!

    In light of all the above, I do not find your arguments persuasive, as to your contention that Reformed Confessionalism is the fullest expression of Biblical Christianity– and I did once believe *that very idea* to be the objective truth, *when* I took my own personal interpretation of the Bible to necessarily be that which the Holy Spirit had “clearly” illuminated for me (regardless of what the early Church Fathers taught from Scripture and Tradition).

    The question, for me, is, why *should* I find your contention about Reformed Confessionalism persuasive, when so many Protestants disagree, *from Scripture*, with key parts of Reformed Confessional thinking, and when both the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy taught, *from Scripture*, things contrary to Lutheran and Calvinistic thinking– long, long, long before Luther and Calvin ever existed to personally interpret the Bible, as contrary to mind of the Church, in the first place?

  278. # 276.

    Many fathers wrote clearly and forcefully about apostolic succession of the bishops against various heretics that had no such succession. We’ve documented some of them on Called to Communion.

    For instance, St. Irenaeus writes:

    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.

    Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions 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 tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (44.Adv. haer. III.3.)

    Check out this article that documents some more.

    I also recommend Scripture Catholic.

  279. With respect to this thread, I find that Reformed Protestants (I’m a Hooker/Andrewes type reformed Anglican myself) typically neglect the rather obvious meaning of 2 Timothy 3:14 (in their eagerness to get to veres 15-16): “knowing from whom you learned it.” Saving knowledge of the truth begins with “where” you hear the truth from others, not where you read the truth in your private search for proof-texts from the Bible. Whereas Reformed Protestants typically start with a book, the Pastoral letters start with accredited teachers in the right community. And that community passes on “the faith” (4:7) through the mechanism of apostolic succession (1:6, 13; 2:1-2), which stands in contrast with the method of those who “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (4:3). How do you know where the Gospel is being preached? Go where you find pastors who are successors to the apostles. That at least is a necessary starting point.

  280. John and Sean,

    Sean has understood me. John you are not seeing the weight of my dilemma. If you keep giving me different Reformed theologians I see that you have haulted your first advice….

    ” It isn’t about denominations. It’s about you and Christ”

    As you have tried to present in your “Adam hears God” analogy.

    You see, you left that advice behind when you gave me Carl Trueman, who advised pastors of, I assume, independant bible churches to ” If possible, work towards making sure your church’s doctrinal standard is one of the historic creeds or confessions.”
    But, wouldn’t Carl Trueman also want these individual churches to adopt only those confessions that the Reformed hold to? So I see that in one way he understands that to avoid doctrinal error and to stay orthodox to everything that it wholy Christian that these independent bible churches and parachurch organizations ought never have tried to go it alone……..they could really be deceiving folks by departing from ancient formalizations. But it looks very ironic to me that he goes on to speak of evangelicalism as having a maverick spiritual climate because they obnoxiously, and according to their own agenda, write “their own doctrinal bases”.

    So when you tell me that NT Wright isn’t as good a theologian because he is doing something “new”, you aren’t really telling me anything. He doesn’t like Rome and he doesn’t believe that Paul teaches forensic justification. He holds the middle way and likes the Monarchy, I guess. But show me how you