Tradition I and Sola Fide

Mar 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Articles

Readers of this website are by now thoroughly familiar with Keith Mathison’s book The Shape of Sola Scriptura. His thesis has already received ample criticism (see articles by Cross & Judisch, Liccione, and Judisch), and I do not wish to add to that particular discussion. In this post, I would like instead to grant Mathison his thesis for the sake of argument and then ask, “Given the doctrine of authority proposed by Mathison, do we have good reason to believe that the Reformation interpretation of Scripture is substantially correct?” In other words, if we follow Mathison’s suggestions about the authority of Church and tradition does this lead us to other characteristic Reformation doctrines (sola fide, imputed righteousness, etc.)? If not, what are the implications for Mathison’s doctrine of Scripture and for Protestantism more broadly?

Lippi's The Doctors of the Church
The Doctors of the Church
Fra Filippo Lippi c. 1437
Accademina Albertina, Turin

Contents:
Introduction
Tradition I and the Doctrine of Salvation
One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins
The Council of Nicaea (325)
For us Men and for our Salvation
Augustine and Justification
Protestants and the Problem of the First Four Centuries
Conclusion

Introduction

Mathison endorses what he takes to be the Patristic and Reformation doctrine of authority, which he refers to as “Tradition I.” Under this theory, the Fathers and Reformers affirmed the primacy of Scripture, but not the primacy of the individual interpreter. He explains:

Tradition I asserts that Scripture is the sole source of revelation; that it is the only infallible, final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it is to be interpreted in and by the Church; and that it is to be interpreted according to the regula fidei . . . If ‘tradition” is understood as the regula fidei, then sola scriptura does not assume the Bible can be understood apart from “tradition.”1

I dispute Mathison’s claim that the Fathers embraced only Tradition I. However, as a student of the Reformation I completely accept Mathison’s contention that the early Protestant theologians held a much higher view of Church and tradition than what is common among evangelicals today. In defense of his Eucharistic doctrine, for example, Luther could boldly proclaim:

The witness of the entire holy Christian church (even if we had nothing else) should be enough for us to maintain this doctrine and neither to listen to nor tolerate any sectarian objections. For it is dangerous and terrible to hear or believe anything contrary to the common witness, faith, and doctrine which the entire holy Christian church has maintained from the beginning until now—for more than 1500 years throughout all the world.2

The point I wish to examine in this post is the implication of this doctrine of authority for the chief article of the Reformation (Justification by Faith Alone, “JBFA”).

Tradition I and the Doctrine of Salvation

Mathison tells us to interpret Scripture in light of the 2nd century regula fidei, which eventually found written expression in the ecumenical creeds of Nicaea (A.D., 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Chalcedon (A.D. 451).3 He also gives favorable mention to the Apostles Creed, its predecessor the Old Roman Symbol, and to the Vincentian canon (quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus).4 We must discern if these sources shed any light on the Articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (the article on which the Church stands or falls).

There are two articles in the creeds which bear upon our inquiry. In his account of the Rule, Irenaeus confesses that Christ “became incarnate for our salvation.”5 This phrase is retained in the Eastern creeds, and eventually is incorporated at Constantinople as the familiar “for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven.” The second article is the phrase “in the remission of sins” included in the Old Roman Symbol and the Apostles’ Creed. Cyprian (d. 257) knows the phrase as “remission of sins through the Church.”6 Constantinople, together with other Eastern Symbols, connects this article to baptism in the confession “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” The question before us is how these articles, common to Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox alike, bear upon the principal dispute between Catholics and Protestants.

Mathison himself admits that Protestants cannot simply insist on the basis of Scripture that their interpretation of these articles is the correct one. That would be precisely the kind of private and partisan hermeneutics that he wishes to avoid. If Protestants wish to correct Roman “errors,” he argues, they must do so with reference to the Patristic testimony and the consensus of the Church:

Rome’s aberrations [sic] must be measured against the ancient rule of faith to which she claims adherence. Her errant doctrines and practices must be demonstrated to be inconsistent with these foundational doctrines. Unfortunately the difficult practical reality we face in the present state of the Church, with all of the division that has occurred, is that the Church has not spoken as a completely unified body since at least the eleventh century.7

Mathison seems to suggest that our disagreements over salvation cannot be resolved since “the Church has not spoken as a completely unified body since at least the eleventh century.” However, he seems to ignore the fact that each of our two articles was the subject of extensive discussion in antiquity and that something very like a consensus seems to have been reached in each case. Jaroslav Pelikan once remarked that the doctrine of the means of grace developed earlier than the doctrine of grace itself.8 For the sake of convenience, therefore, I shall begin with the article on “One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins.”

One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins

The greatest internal controversy over salvation in the early church dealt with the problem of post-baptismal sin. The earliest apologists taught a doctrine of Christian perfection that provided for the complete remission of sin in baptism, but that left little room for lapses thereafter.9 The practical challenges to this doctrine led shortly to allowing for but one instance of post-baptismal penance and absolution.10 Debate raged, however, about whether or not this penance could be allowed for any and all sins, or only for lesser faults. The most famous opponents in this debate were Tertullian and Pope Callistus (d. 223). The Pope held that absolution should be granted even to adulterers. This enraged the puritanical Tertullian, who eventually left the Catholic Church.11

The conflict was revisited in the 3rd century because of the Decian Persecution (249-251). The Church was wracked over what to do with the penitents who had lapsed during the persecution. There were three main positions. The rigorist camp held that repentance should not be permitted to the lapsed. Eventually, this position came to be associated with the Anti-Pope Novatian. There was a “popular” party (not in the sense of a numerical majority, but rather appealing to sentiments of popular devotion) which wished to grant absolution on the basis of the indulgence of the Martyrs and Confessors. Finally, there was the ecclesiastical party, most closely associated with St. Cyprian, that allowed repentance for the lapsed, but demanded that this be administered through the Bishop and not through the Martyrs and Confessors. It is to this conflict that we owe the ultimate consensus in the Church on the means of forgiveness. The letters and treatises of St. Cyprian are our primary witness to the conflict.

The theology of the dispute is not difficult to grasp, and there were remarkable areas of agreement even between the rival camps. All sides agreed that grave sins after baptism seriously imperiled one’s eternal salvation. All sides agreed that the Church, through her sacraments, is the normative means for obtaining forgiveness and grace. And between the popular and ecclesiastical parties, there was substantial agreement that the intercession of the martyrs and confessors was efficacious in reconciling the penitent to God and the Church. What emerged as the official theology, and what was endorsed in the Canons of the Nicaean Council, can be summarized as follows:

  • Grave sin is incompatible with membership in the church.12
  • There is no salvation outside the church. Perseverance in the Church is the only guarantor of salvation.13
  • Readmission to fellowship in the Church after grave sin can be granted only after fitting penance.14
  • Penance not only reconciles the believer to the Church, but also makes satisfaction to God for the offense of sin.15
  • Granting absolution does not create an incentive to sin, because the threat of purgatory still provides an incentive for righteous living.16
  • Absolution is the prerogative of the bishop, and this power is not limited to any particular class of sins.17
  • Viaticum, understood as the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood and presumed necessary for salvation, should be made available to penitents in danger of death.18
  • The intercession of martyrs and confessors is efficacious in reconciling the sinner to God and the Church.19

Cyprian, himself, clearly sees this theology as embodied in the Creed:

But, moreover, the very interrogation which is put in baptism is a witness of the truth. For when we say, Do you believe in eternal life and remission of sins through the holy Church? we mean that remission of sins is not granted except in the Church, and that among heretics, where there is no Church, sins cannot be put away.20

The Council of Nicaea (325)

The Arian controversy may have provided the occasion for the Council of Nicaea, but it did not exhaust the Council’s scope. Twenty canons have come down to us from the council and several of them treat the theology and practice of the Church’s liturgy and its penitential regime. They impose rules for excommunication, penance, and readmission to prayers and, ultimately, to communion. They provide instructions for reconciling the “Novatianists.” They also shed light on the Church’s Eucharistic theology, and its importance for understanding the doctrine of repentance and salvation. A few citations are in order.

Canon 13 is perhaps the most interesting. It addresses the case of those who have been excluded from communion while they do penance for sins. It reads as follows:

Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum. But, if any one should be restored to health again who has received the communion when his life was despaired of, let him remain among those who communicate in prayers only. But in general, and in the case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, give it him.21

The historian of the council, Eusebius of Caesarea, recounts a story from Dionysius of Alexandria that leaves little doubt about the significance of the canon:

There was with us a certain Serapion, an aged believer who had lived for a long time blamelessly, but had fallen in the trial. He besought often, but no one gave heed to him, because he had sacrificed. But he became sick, and for three successive days continued speechless and senseless. Having recovered somewhat on the fourth day he sent for his daughter’s son, and said, How long do you detain me, my child? I beseech you, make haste, and absolve me speedily. Call one of the presbyters to me. And when he had said this, he became again speechless. And the boy ran to the presbyter. But it was night and he was sick, and therefore unable to come. But as I had commanded that persons at the point of death, if they requested it, and especially if they had asked for it previously, should receive remission, that they might depart with a good hope, he gave the boy a small portion of the Eucharist, telling him to soak it and let the drops fall into the old man’s mouth. The boy returned with it, and as he drew near, before he entered, Serapion again arousing, said, ‘You have come, my child, and the presbyter could not come; but do quickly what he directed, and let me depart.’ Then the boy soaked it and dropped it into his mouth. And when he had swallowed a little, immediately he gave up the ghost. Is it not evident that he was preserved and his life continued till he was absolved, and, his sin having been blotted out, he could be acknowledged for the many good deeds which he had done?22

Canon 18 addresses an unrelated issue, namely, the proper procedure for administering communion during the liturgy. However, the language is highly significant for understanding why viaticum was presumed necessary for salvation. It seems that some deacons were administering the sacrament to priests. The council fathers were outraged because “neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer.

Two points are worthy of note. First, the Council Fathers identified the Eucharist as “The Body of Christ.” Second, they recognized that the Eucharistic rite was a sacrifice. The word “offer” (Latin, offero; Greek, προσφέρω) is clearly a sacrificial term (compare Hebrews 10:11 in Greek and the Latin vulgate).

From the text of the creed, it is clear that the Nicene Fathers, like the Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, associated forgiveness with baptism. It is clear from the canons, moreover, that they followed St. Cyprian in their understanding of post-baptismal sin. They imposed penance on the lapsed as a condition for forgiveness and communion, and that they presumed that communion with the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood was necessary for salvation.

For us Men and for our Salvation

How did the Church Fathers understand the phrase, “For us Men and for our Salvation?” As we have seen, this phrase enters the creeds of the Church very early, in the “Rule of Truth” proposed by Irenaeus in A.D. 190. The context here is the Gnostic denial that Jesus Christ was truly flesh, truly God, and truly one with the God of the Old Testament. Fortunately, Irenaeus wrote extensively about the work of redemption and the nature of salvation, and even if later theologians speculated freely about the atonement, they all share basic Irenaean ideas.23

As early as A.D. 110 Ignatius of Antioch had written that the Eucharist was the “the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live forever in Jesus Christ,” and he castigated the Docetists “who confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ.”24 Ignatius’s statement that salvation is transmitted through contact with the Body of Christ is the first hint of what would later be called the “physical theory” of the atonement. Irenaeus will echo Ignatius, explaining simply that Jesus became “what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”25 Athanasius, in turn, the chief proponent of Nicene Orthodoxy, will follow Irenaeus in the early fourth century with his famous phrase, “For He was made man that we might be made God.”26

The rather simple idea shared by all these fathers is that union with Christ (through the sacraments) supernaturally transforms the believer. In the work of redemption, God was “perfecting man after the image and likeness of God.”27 Irenaeus explains, “He furnished us . . . with salvation, so that what we had lost in Adam – namely, to be in the image and likeness of God – that we might recover in Jesus.”28 To employ a more technical vocabulary, Irenaeus holds to an infusion rather than an imputation of righteousness.

Like the apologists, Irenaeus knows nothing of a salvation that leaves one simul iustus et peccator, nor does he know anything of justification by faith alone. On the contrary, He makes plain that God confers immortality “on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments.”29 He explains, “The Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified.” The moral demands of the New Covenant, for Irenaeus, are even greater than those of the old.30

At the time of the Nicene Council, Athanasius will follow the exact same line of reasoning. Indeed, his interest in the Arian controversy was not purely speculative or metaphysical. It was profoundly soteriological.31 He insisted on the divinity of the Son precisely to guarantee this infusion of righteousness. In his Discourses against the Arians, the saint explains that a redemption that leaves man in actual sin is no redemption at all. He argues that God could have simply forgiven sin without imparting this moral renovation, but that would have been absurd:

If God had but spoken, because it was in His power, and so the curse had been undone, the power had been shown of Him who gave the word, but man had become such as Adam was before the transgression, having received grace from without, and not having it united to the body; (for he was such when he was placed in Paradise) nay, perhaps had become worse, because he had learned to transgress. Such then being his condition, had he been seduced by the serpent, there had been fresh need for God to give command and undo the curse; and thus the need had become interminable, and men had remained under guilt not less than before, as being enslaved to sin; and, ever sinning, would have ever needed one to pardon them, and had never become free, being in themselves flesh, and ever worsted by the Law because of the infirmity of the flesh.32

Augustine and Justification

Until Augustine and the Pelagian controversy in the 5th century, the Church Fathers rarely spoke of justification. Augustine was the first to articulate a comprehensive account of Christian salvation in terms of this Pauline concept. However, this does not mean that Augustine broke from earlier tradition. On the contrary, he took for granted the church’s liturgical, disciplinary, and sacramental tradition and he expressed his doctrines in light of that tradition.

Augustine knew of the Novatianists and he condemned them for denying “that the church can forgive all sins.”33 Furthermore, in his Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, Augustine explains the article “On the remission of sins” completely in light of the Church’s sacramental and liturgical tradition:

You have [this article of] the Creed perfectly in you when you receive Baptism . . . When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. . . For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. . . Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice. In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance.34

When Augustine does expound the meaning of justification, he does so in a way fully consistent with this tradition. He insists that faith alone does not save, and that those in the church who commit gross sins must “wash it away in penitence,” or “redeem it by almsgiving.”35 Furthermore, Augustine defines justification as simply “being made just.” Once again, it is a question of infusion and not of imputation.36

Protestants and the Problem of the First Four Centuries

The evidence that the early church fathers did not hold JBFA is fairly straightforward and uncontroversial. Leading Protestant historians have conceded this for well over a century. Thus, the Protestant McGrath can write, “The first centuries of the western theological tradition appear to be characterized by a ‘works-righteousness’ approach to justification . . . The pre-Augustinian theological tradition is practically of one voice in asserting the freedom of the human will . . . The Protestant understanding of the nature of justification thus represents a theological novum.”37 T.F. Torrance similarly complains, “The plain fact is that the Church of the Apostolic Fathers has but a very feeble understanding of the great truths of the Gospel [sic].”38 And finally, the legendary Harnack concludes: “The moralistic view, in which eternal life is the wages and reward of a perfect moral life . . . took the place of first importance at a very early period.”39

How do Protestant apologists deal with the embarrassing absence of their chief article from the earliest years of the Christian tradition? McGrath, to take one example, suggests that this fact “has little theological significance today, given current thinking on the nature of the development of doctrine.”40 Mathison seems to take a similar position. His book contains an extended discussion on whether or not the Roman Catholic communion can be considered a “true church.” It is astonishing that he never mentions the topic of justification in this context. This is in stark contrast to other Reformed apologists, like R.C. Sproul, who consider the doctrine the sine qua non of a “true church.”41

Mathison argues that by the rule of Tradition I, Protestants cannot simply anathematize Catholics for disagreeing with Protestant interpretations of Scripture (presumably including disagreements over the doctrine of justification). This would be an instance of the very kind of private theological opinion-mongering that he wishes to avoid. On the contrary, Mathison explains:

Rome has veered way off course doctrinally, but if Tradition I (sola scriptura) is true, then Rome’s interpretation cannot be measured only against another branch’s interpretation of Scripture . . . we cannot simply assert that our communion is the correct branch because our communion’s interpretation of Scripture comes closest to our interpretation of Scripture.42

Mathison, like McGrath, seems to want to place JBFA within the category of disputed questions that were not settled by the early Church. Given that the Church today “does not speak with one voice,” (as Mathison sees it) this supposedly absolves him of the responsibility of proving JBFA on the basis of Tradition I.

I see two problems with the Mathison/McGrath approach. The first is that both writers dismiss the very substantial body of evidence that the early church did have a clear doctrine of salvation. It is true that no ecumenical council formally defined the doctrine of justification until Trent, but it is false to assert that the church lacked a consensus on the nature of redemption or the means of grace. The creeds and canons address these issues, and the fathers commented on the relevant articles. Although the Fathers rarely employed the term ‘justification,’ they wrote extensively on sin, forgiveness, redemption, and the conditions of eternal life.

The second problem with the Mathison/McGrath approach is that it leaves JBFA within the realm of private theological opinion, and not dogma. If I accept the Mathison/McGrath account of doctrinal development and authority, then there is no body competent to adjudicate the dispute between Catholics and Protestants over the nature of salvation. At best, JBFA is one possible interpretation of Scripture but clearly not one that can be demonstrated on the basis of Tradition I.

Conclusion

Keith Mathison has urged us to unite around the Ecumenical Creeds and the consensus of the Church (defined as all those who hold the Ecumenical Creeds). He claims that this gives the only authoritative interpretation of Scripture, the ultimate authority. In this post, I have asked whether or not this view of religious authority can contribute to our understanding of the Reformation doctrine of salvation.

When I consider the creeds, councils, and the regula fidei, I find that they are replete with soteriology. They address the nature of redemption and the means of grace. Moreover, they are situated in a historical context that is full of discussion of these issues. The Fathers of the Church explained the meaning of the creed, and ruled and legislated on the basis of that explanation.

The Fathers held that salvation is a moral renovation through union with the Body of Christ. They held that continuing sacramental communion with that Body is necessary for salvation. They held that baptism effects the remission of all past sins. They taught that post-baptismal sin threatens that salvation, and must be atoned for through penance. They held that faith without works cannot justify. They embodied these convictions in their canons, creeds, preaching, and discipline. Protestant historians have discovered this as well as Catholics.

Faced with this evidence, it seems to me, the Protestant who respects “Tradition I” has three choices. First, he can give up the Protestant doctrine of salvation, acknowledging that Tradition I does not support it. Second, he can attempt to argue (as Mathison seems to) that Tradition I is silent on JBFA. Unfortunately, this seems to be a case of special pleading and involves a very narrow and ad hoc construal of Tradition I. Furthermore, it commits the Protestant to the position that JBFA is at best private opinion and not dogma. Finally, he could try to demonstrate JBFA on the basis of Tradition I – a hard sell, I think.

  1. Keith Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2001), 299. []
  2. WA 30iii, 552. Cited in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 334. []
  3. Mathison, Shape, 337. []
  4. Mathison , Shape, 26, 43-46. []
  5. Cited in John Leith, ed. Creeds of the Chruches: a Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1982), 21. []
  6. Epistle 69.2. All citations from the Fathers taken from the Schaaf edition, publically available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/. []
  7. Mathison, Shape, 334. []
  8. Jaroslav Pelikan, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 155. []
  9. Ignatius to the Ephesians 14:2 “No man who professes faith sins.”

    Tertullian, Apology 21: “Christians alone are without sin because they expect eternal punishment for sin.”

    Hermas 4.31.1-6: “For the one who has received forgiveness of sins ought never to sin again, but to live in purity.”

    2.12.3: “Now I say to you, If you do not keep them [the commandments], but neglect them, you will not be saved, nor your children, nor your house, since you have already determined for yourself that these commandments cannot be kept by man.”

    2 Clement :“What assurance do we have of entering the kingdom of God if we fail to keep our baptism pure and undefiled? Or who will be our advocate, if we are not found to have holy and righteous works?”

    Tertullian (On Repentance, 5): “That the repentance which, being shown us and commanded us through God’s grace, recalls us to grace with the Lord, when once learned and undertaken by us ought never afterward to be cancelled by repetition of sin.”

    Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 2:13): “He, then, who has received the forgiveness of sins ought to sin no more.”

    “If one should escape the superfluity of riches, and the difficulty they interpose in the way of life, and be able to enjoy the eternal good things; but should happen, either from ignorance or involuntary circumstances, after the seal and redemption, to fall into sins or transgressions so as to be quite carried away; such a man is entirely rejected by God. . . of past sins, then, God gives; but of future, each one gives to himself.”

    Justin Martyr (Apology, 61,65): I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ . . . As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water . . . [We] may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed. [Emphasis mine] . . .

    But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. [Emphasis mine]. []

  10. Only one more opportunity

    Hermas : Mandate 4:31:1-6: “But the Lord, however, who is exceedingly merciful, had mercy on his creation and established this opportunity for repentance…But I am warning you,’ he said, ‘if, after this great and holy call, anyone is tempted by the devil and sins, he has one opportunity for repentance. But if he sins repeatedly and repents, it is of no use for such a person, for he will scarcely live.” Cited in R.A. Baker, “’Second Repentance’ in the Early Church:

    The Influence of The Shepherd of Hermas.” http://www.churchhistory101.com/docs/Hermas-2ndRepentance.pdf

    Tertullian (Penance 7,9): “Although the gate of forgiveness has been shut and fastened up with the bar of baptism, has permitted it still to stand somewhat open. In the vestibule He has stationed the second repentance for opening to such as knock: but now once for all, because now for the second time; but never more because the last time it had been in vain.” . . . “It commands (the penitent) to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in mourning, to lay his spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe treatment the sins which he has committed; moreover, to know no food and drink but such as is plain—not for the stomach’s sake, to wit, but the soul’s; for the most part, however, to feed prayers on fastings, to groan, to weep and make outcries unto the Lord your God; to bow before the feet of the presbyters, and kneel to God’s dear ones; to enjoin on all the brethren to be ambassadors to bear his deprecatory supplication (before God). . . . stand in the stead of God’s indignation, and by temporal mortification (I will not say frustrate, but) expunge eternal punishments.”

    Clement (Strom. 2:13):” And the Lord, knowing the heart, and foreknowing the future, foresaw both the fickleness of man and the craft and subtlety of the devil from the first…Accordingly, being very merciful, He has vouchsafed, in the case of those who, though in faith, fall into any transgression, a second repentance; so that should any one be tempted after his calling, overcome by force and fraud, he may receive still a repentance.” Cited in Baker, “2nd Repentance.” []

  11. Tertullian’s dispute with the Pope (On Purity, 19): “It is a fact that there are some sins which beset us every day and to which we all are tempted. For who will not, as it may chance, fall into unrighteous anger and continue this even beyond sundown, or even strike another or, out of easy habit, curse another, or swear rashly, or violate his pledged faith, or tell a lie through shame or the compulsion of circumstances? In the management of affairs, in the performance of duties, in commercial transactions, while eating, looking, listening — how often we are tempted!

    So much so that if there were no pardon in such cases, no one would be saved. For these sins, then, pardon is granted through Christ who intercedes with the Father. But there are also sins quite different from these, graver and deadly, which cannot be pardoned: murder, idolatry, injustice, apostasy, blasphemy; yes, and also adultery and fornication and any other violation of the temple of God. For these Christ will not intercede with the Father a second time.” Cited in Baker, “2nd Repentance.”

    (On Modesty, 1): “In opposition to this (modesty), could I not have acted the dissembler? I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus — that is, the bishop of bishops — issues an edict: I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication. O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, Good deed! And where shall this liberality be posted up? On the very spot, I suppose, on the very gates of the sensual appetites, beneath the very titles of the sensual appetites. There is the place for promulgating such repentance, where the delinquency itself shall haunt. There is the place to read the pardon, where entrance shall be made under the hope thereof. But it is in the church that this (edict) is read, and in the church that it is pronounced; and (the church) is a virgin! Far, far from Christ’s betrothed be such a proclamation! She, the true, the modest, the saintly, shall be free from stain even of her ears. She has none to whom to make such a promise; and if she have had, she does not make it; since even the earthly temple of God can sooner have been called by the Lord a den of robbers, than of adulterers and fornicators.” []

  12. Epistles, 9. []
  13. Epistles 51.17. See also his famous treatise De unitate ecclesiae, especially c.21-23. []
  14. Epistle 29. []
  15. De lapsis 16 says that penance appeases God for the offense of sin. See also Epistle 29.3: The lapsed “by due honour for God’s priest should draw forth upon themselves the divine mercy.” Epistle 51.18 “[God] will then ratify what shall have been here determined by us.” []
  16. Epistle 51.21: It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to becleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence ofGod at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord.” []
  17. Epistle 51.21. []
  18. Epistle 53: “should undergo a long and full repentance; and if the risk of sickness should be urgent, should receive peace on the very point of death. For it was not right, neither did the love of the Father nor divine mercy allow, that the Church should be closed to those that knock, or the help of the hope of salvation be denied to those who mourn and entreat, so that when they pass from this world, they should be dismissed to their Lord without communion and peace; since He Himself who gave the law, that things which were bound on earth should also be bound in heaven, allowed, moreover, that things might be loosed there which were here first loosed in the Church.” []
  19. De lapsis 17: “We believe, indeed, that the merits of martyrs and the works of the righteous are of great avail with the Judge.” See also Epistles 9,10,12,and 13. []
  20. Epistle 69.2. []
  21. For Greek and Latin texts and commentary, see Canons of Nicea. []
  22. Eccl. Hist., VI.44. []
  23. J.N.D. Kelly remarks, “Running through almost all the patristic attempts to explain the redemption there is one grand theme which, we suggest, provides the clue to the fathers’ understanding of the work of Christ. This is none other than the ancient idea of recapitulation which Irenaeus derived from Saint Paul.” Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper, 1978), 376. []
  24. Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians, 20, Letter to the Smyrneans, 7. []
  25. Book 5, preface. []
  26. De incarnatione, 54,3. []
  27. Ireneaus, Adv. Haer. 5.21.2. []
  28. Adv. Haer., 3.18.1. []
  29. Adv. Haer., 1.10. []
  30. Adv. Haer., 4.13.1. []
  31. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 243, 284. []
  32. Discourses against the Arians, 2.21.68. []
  33. De agone christiano, 30.32. []
  34. C. 15-16. []
  35. Enchiridion, 67. For Augustine’s contention that faith without works does not justify, see also De Fide et Operibus, PL 40: 14.21. []
  36. De spiritu et littera, 15: “It is by God’s gift, through the help of the Spirit, that a man is justified . . . It is not, therefore, by the law, nor is it by their own will, that they are justified; but they are justified freely by His grace — not that it is wrought without our will; but our will is by the law shown to be weak, that grace may heal its infirmity; and that our healed will may fulfill the law.”

    (De spiritu et lit, 45): “For what else does the phrase being justified signify than being made righteous—by Him, of course, who justifies the ungodly man, that he may become a godly one instead?”

    (To Simplician 1.13): “Grace justifies so that he who is justified may live justly. Grace, therefore, comes first, then good works.” The translation is that of John H. S. Burleigh, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Edinburgh and was published in Augustine: Earlier Writings, Volume VI of the Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953.)

    (On grace and free will, 6.13): “Thus, it is necessary for a man that he should be not only justified when unrighteous by the grace of God—that is, be changed from unholiness to righteousness—when he is requited with good for his evil; but that, even after he has become justified by faith, grace should accompany him on his way, and he should lean upon it, lest he fall.

    (On grace and Free will, 6.15): “If, indeed, they so understand our merits as to acknowledge them, too, to be the gifts of God, then their opinion would not deserve reprobation . . . It is His own gifts that God crowns, not your merits,— if, at least, your merits are of your own self, not of Him. If, indeed, they are such, they are evil; and God does not crown them; but if they are good, they are God’s gifts . . . then, your good merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts.” []

  37. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 34,215. []
  38. T.F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Edinburgh, 1948). []
  39. Adolph von Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. Neil Buchanan (London, 1894) ,I: 170. []
  40. McGrath, Iustitia, 218. []
  41. See R.C. Sproul’s book Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999). []
  42. Mathison, Shape, 334. []
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  1. Excellent, David. Yet I think you left out one option for Protestants that some take: the mass apostasy theory.

    Adherents of that view, which I’m sure most of us have heard at some point, admit that

    The Fathers held that salvation is a moral renovation through union with the Body of Christ. They held that continuing sacramental communion with that Body is necessary for salvation. They held that baptism effects the remission of all past sins. They taught that post-baptismal sin threatens that salvation, and must be atoned for through penance. They held that faith without works cannot justify. They embodied these convictions in their canons, creeds, preaching, and discipline. Protestant historians have discovered this as well as Catholics

    and yet insist that, in that case, the Fathers were apostates from the true Faith, which can and ought to be discovered by a Spirit-guided reading of Scripture alone. This throws overboard both Tradition and any alleged authority in the post-apostolic church until Luther and/or Calvin re-discovered the truth of Scripture and refounded “the Church” accordingly. I realize that isn’t Mathison’s view, or that view of many Reformed believers. But it is the view of some, and of many evangelicals.

    Then again, maybe you omitted that option because it’s just going “solo,” thus giving the game away. Just sayin’.

    Best,
    Mike

  2. Dr. Anders,

    Thanks for an informative post. What do you make of the consensus on justification reached at Regensburg in 1541? Luther rejected it afterwards, as did the conservative majority at Rome. Calvin, however, felt able to support it, and thus found himself agreeing with Contarini, Pole, and the other so-called “Spirituali” on the nature of justification.

    I bring up Regensburg not because I favor it (though, like Tony Lane, I do), but because it seems to me that there are more options than the Tridentine soteriology and the sola fide of today’s evangelicals. Hooker and Andrewes held a rather nuanced position, essentially Contarini’s. Besides people like them, there was the outcast Lutheran Osiander, whose rejection of created grace may have positioned him closer to the East than either mainstream protestantism or official Catholicism was.

    Grace and Peace,
    John

  3. Michael,

    Thanks for the reply. In this post, I was only addressing those who respect “Tradition I,” and therefore cannot admit any mass apostasy theory – at least not prior to Chalcedon.

    Of course, I understand that Mathison’s position (and Anglo-Catholics, Confessional Piepkornian Lutherans, Mercersberg Reformed Protestants, etc.) represents a small minority of today’s Protestant world. To the extent that they even raise the question, most protestants probably hold to some eschatological interpretation of the data. Mass apostasy is one. McGrath’s rather rarefied form of development is another. The Reformers themselves held very strongly to an apocalyptic interpretation of the Roman See.

    When I was wrestling with these issues personally, I came to the view that either Catholicism or Atheism had to be true. All the various Protestant theories ran so contrary to Scripture and logic that they had to be ruled out. The apostles and prophets wrote that the whole of human history and, in fact, all of creation looked forward to the coming kingdom of God. It was to be a mountain that filled the whole earth, the nations would stream to it to hear the word of the Lord, Jew/Gentile, heaven and earth would be reconciled in Christ, all things would be made new, the gates of Hell would not prevail, etc. etc. I could not square this glorious picture with the theory that the Kingdom of God couldn’t last for 50 years. What kind of Church or gospel is so weak and tenuous that it cannot even be communicated to one generation subsequent to the apostles?
    -David

  4. John,

    Thanks for your remarks. One point of Mathison’s work is that my own personal view of these matters is not very important. I tend to agree with him. I want to know what the Church holds, and my private theological musing are only so much scaffolding helping me construct some sort of internal picture to make sense of the Church’s pronouncements. That being said, I’ll share some of them.

    I think that McGrath has offered a very helpful distinction in his book Iustitia Dei. He suggests that we must distinguish the biblical concept of justification from the Christian doctrine of justification. The latter is much broader and scope, incorporates more data (beyond the Pauline), and has come to encompass a sort of systematic theology of salvation.

    My own view of justification was strongly shaped by the “New Perspectives on Paul,” especially N.T. Wright. As I understand it, there is a very narrow sense in which justification is by faith alone if justification is understood to mean incorporation in the Body of Christ, the Church. However, if justification is understood in light of the much broader question, “How can the sinner be reconciled to God and attain eternal salvation?” then obviously it is not by faith alone. Augustine and the Council of Trent are using this broader signification.

    Personally, I find the narrow and broad constructions perfectly compatible (which is why I am a Catholic). Abbot Vonier has written a marvelous book entitled The Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist. I don’t have it in front of me at the moment, but as I recall, there is a section at the beginning where he discusses the role of faith in the Christian life and he points out (on the basis of St. Thomas) that while mortal sin does imperil one’s eternal salvation, it does not remove one from membership in the Church militant. Only formal apostasy can do that. Faith is the condition of membership in the church and of access to the sacramental means of grace. Perseverance and holiness of life are the conditions of eternal salvation. And, of course, faith, perseverance, and holiness are only effected through the grace of God.

    -David

  5. @Dr. Anders,

    This is a very fascinating article that you wrote. There was something about it though that was gnawing on my brain all day and then the light bulb turned on.

    It seems to me that the position that you are attributing to Mathison is this: JBFA is not contained within the original kerygma of the Church (and is contrary to the original kerygma), but it can, and is, the meaning of the bible as uncovered by the development of doctrine.

    This is essentially Fr. Raymond Brown’s position on scripture — what the bible meant (generation 1) need not be and is not the same thing as what the bible means (generation current) because the meaning of the bible is dependent upon the zeitgeist’s hermenutic.

    Thus, with Mathison, like Fr. Brown, you have this post enlightenment Kantian/Humian thing going on that allows for lack of JBFA not being present in the original kerygma because the legitimate understanding of scripture is not what it meant, but what it means according to the presently accepted hermeneutic. Thus what is “biblical” is not about what is actually in the bible but what is in accordance with the hermeneutic.

    Mathison though, tries to lock down the hermeneutic so it is not fully progressive by tying it to the Ecumenical Creeds and the Reformation doctrines, but I do not think that is fully successful as, as you have pointed out, the Ecumenical Creeds meant very different things to their authors than what a Reformed individual would accept as being true, and further because the Reformation did not offer one position but rather several that diverged at fundamental levels thus preventing the formation of a Protestant Church and yet futher still it is quite arguable that Mathison’s position is not that of the original Calvinists, being that, as others on this board have argued, the original Reformed position was closer to the solo scriptura position in contrast with the sola scriptura position of the Lutherans and even greater reliance on external normans by the Anglican Church prior to its Protestantization under Elizabeth I.

    Essentially though, I think that what Mathison is going for is a “Tradition Reformed” which allows him to respect “Tradition I” but reject what it meant by replacing its “meant-ing” by the meaning given to one via “Tradition R” hermeneutic. If I get where Mathison is going with everything, he thinks this is legitimate because he thinks this is what Catholics do — there is a “Tradition Medieval/Trent” which allows Catholics to respect “Tradition I” but reject what it meant by replacing its “meant-ing” by the meaning given to one via “Tradition Medieval/Trent” hermeneutic.

    This is not an uncommon position for Protestants to take (it is also not essentially different than the progressivist position which argues for “Tradition Current” as the hermeneutical lens). The large problem with it is that it renders reality inaccessible (we only understand the world through a Kantian framework and not directly) and it renders Christianity ahistorical and reduces the Gospel to a myth derived from the hermeneutic — the Jesus who existed in history doesn’t matter (because he is also inaccessible) but the Jesus constructed by the hermeneutic is the one who is to believed in and worshiped.

    I think though in the last analysis is that JBFA is a messy sell not because of the historical continuity problems but because basically one has to sell a philosophy (not a hard sell because people buy philosophies all the time) because salvation comes down to whether or not one accepts a philosophy or not (the whole theory of election and reprobation and how the Spirit works in this philosophy cannot negate that everything hinges upon a cognitive affirmation of the Reformed philosophy). Justification by grace through faith which worketh in love is a rather straight forward sell because it is not about a philosophy but rather a way of life — if you want salvation, live out your lives as these people (saints and martyrs) have by conforming their lives to the life of Jesus.

  6. Dr. Anders,

    Thanks for your comment. We agree about the need to distinguish narrower and wider senses of justification. Cardinal Contarini saw this need better than most of his contemporaries did, which is one reason why I find his approach congenial.

    N.T. Wright is great, though I’m not altogether on board with the New Perspective. It’s interesting that Wright’s basic criticism of Trent, viz. “Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large,” is at one with what the better reformed scholars of the past century (e.g. Vos, Ridderbos, Gaffin) would say. Their point doesn’t seem controversial in itself. Roman Catholic theologians can grant that Trent’s presentation of soteriology is incomplete, while holding that nothing it formally taught was erroneous. I don’t think that’s enough to smooth over all the differences on justification, but recent ecumenical work has done much to show that the differences are more technical than usually supposed.

    Best,
    John

  7. David,

    Thanks for taking a crack at the Tradition I discussion from Mathison. This is to my mind a truly important discussion between Catholic and Protestant.

    Most of your discussion centers on a discussion of specific doctrines which you claim were held by the Early Church but have been rejected by Protestantism, and although not stated explicitly, it seems that you are implying that Protestants are basically rejecting early tradition (Tradition 1 in the Mathison schema) which they are claiming to uphold in principle. Is that the gist of it?

    I would first note that in the discussion of Tradition 1 and sola scriptura we been focusing on the general interpretive frameworks that Catholicism and Protestantism adopt before digging down into the specific applications of these paradigms to whatever doctrine of interest. But of course we cannot dwell entirely on theory and so the applications are important. The specific applications I was using were firstly the formulations of the Trinitarian pronouncements at Nicea which of course we Protestants accept and secondly the dogmas concerning papal infallibility which we clearly reject. It seems to us that the first of these examples is clearly supported by the beliefs and writings of the theologians of the Early Church while the second has no basis in these same beliefs and writings. You have your own set of examples and some of these it would seem to me make your case much better than others. The justification example is a good example of how messy such arguments from the Early Church get since there was such little consensus on matters of justification from the Catholic side right up until Trent. The theologians of the Late Middle Ages read the same ECF’s we read today and yet there was little consensus either on the grace/free will front or the faith/works front. JBFA was not commonly accepted and yet it was not specifically rejected by any dogmatic statements and there were theologians particularly in the universities of the Late Middle Ages who came very close to formulating theologies of justification that sounded like what the Protestant Reformers were saying. But who could blame them since the specific debates over justification were turning on the hermeneutic concepts and exegesis of Greek phrases that had not been part of any theological discourse in the first 1500 years of the Church. Anyway, point being that there were plenty of debates between Protestant and Catholic in the age leading up to the Reformation because there was little dogmatic consensus one way or another, and thus it just does not help to go to the early centuries of Christianity for any resolution.

    But on a more general and more paradigmatic note, the assumption that your essay seems to accept uncritically is that if we can find something in the theology of the Early Church then it ought to be accepted as revealed by God to the Church as part of the deposit of faith. But this is not necessarily an assumption that we are willing to accept. You might make the case that the Early Church was close to the apostolic era and therefore the theologians of this era were more closely plugged into the theology of the Apostles. But then on the other hand, as in the example of justification, the Early Church was the Church in her infancy, and like all other infants there was quite a bit of growing up to do. It’s my observation that Catholicism adopts somewhat uncritically this first assumption concerning the beliefs of the Early Church while Protestantism relies more on the second. Now we can go back and forth on which assumption makes more sense, but I just wanted to point out this assumption in your work and observe that you were adopting it seemingly uncritically. The discussion of these paradigmatic concerns are key to the understanding the conflicts between Protestant and Catholic and need to be discussed before we get to the specific examples of what we can say about the fidelity of a given doctrine to the historic Christian faith.

    The specific paradigmatic concern that Mathison and Oberman raise in his original works is that of Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 and whether there was a case to be made from the beliefs of the theologians of the Early Church that there is something we can call Tradition 2 in the writings of the early theologians of Christianity. “Tradition 1” is the case where the tradition of the Church is absolutely necessary to the understanding of the Christian faith, but no specific pronouncement from the Church, councils, or pope ever rises to the level of certainty as Scripture. In “Tradition 2” the case is made that at certain times and places the Church is justified in proclaiming given doctrines with the same level of certainty as Scripture. There is no question that Tradition 2 wins out in the RCC of the High Middle Ages although as Mathison points out there is little to recommend it in the writings of the early theologians of Christianity. From the Protestant perspective, Tradition 2 is not something which is part of the deposit of the faith, but is rather a philosophical gloss on the writings of the writings of the Early Church. In the Roman Catholic schema it is justified not because it can be derived from the writings of the Early Church but rather it is a philosophical resolution to a problem that later dogmatic theologians saw which is how to bring finality to certain doctrinal discussions which were perceived to be central to the historic Christian faith. The Protestant position is that this later philosophical gloss was not just unjustified from the perspective of Scripture and early tradition, but further that it was downright antithetical to this early tradition. Anyway, the contribution of Mathison and Oberman is to analyze the concept of Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 in the light of the writings of the ECF’s. My observation is that for Catholics the reality of what Oberman calls “Tradition 2” is an assumption they bring to their work rather than something to be analyzed in its own right.

    So that’s the paradigmatic concerns of the Protestants as they touch on the philosophy of tradition and revelation. Mathison’s discussions are sort of a prolegomena to any future theological discussion on what we can and cannot learn from the teachings of the theologians of the Early Church. If Mathison is correct, and the understanding of these early theologians would actually argue against such an understanding of dogmatic theology which would seek to place “irreformable” and “infallible” stamps on certain dogmas, this raises the question for the Catholic theologian as to how such an understanding of tradition is to be justified as a development from earlier understandings of tradition.

    If these paradigmatic questions are left unanswered the specific applications from the tradition of the Church that Protestants and Catholics make are not going to make much sense.

  8. ok guys,

    This might be slightly off topic, but I have been endeavoring to read the ecumenical councils and it does not take long to find canons which are not being adhered to by anyone. Indeed they apparently were disregarded shortly after being adopted.

    I was under the impression that the councils were binding. How is it that certain canons were dropped like hot rocks? Namely I’m thinking of the Nicene I canon stating that Bishops and Presbyters should stay in the cities in which they were ordained. This is one that I am personally VERY much in favor of, for reasons that are probably irrelevant, but nonetheless, it seems as if I’m getting a double story. On one hand there is the glorious tale of a Magistereum that infallibly interprets the Word of GOD. On the other hand, no one apparently listens when she does….

    Am I just confused as to the actual authority of these councils?

  9. @Jeremiah

    Quick answer for off topic question. Language changes over time and becomes clarified. What Canon 15 is getting at is that should be understood that clerics need to stay where they were installed and do not have the ability to, on their own whim, reassign themselves to another church/diocese or accumulate geographic area under their own control, or going about offering the sacraments publicly wherever they want to. The canon is still maintained and enforced and you can find how it is fleshed out in the modern code of canon law.

  10. Jeremiah (#8),

    This is surely off-topic, so perhaps we’d better not pursue it further in this forum. But here’s the quick answer as I understand it: disciplinary canons (such as the Nicene one to which you refer) are neither immutable nor irreformable.

    TC

  11. Nathan B (#5):

    You wrote:

    It seems to me that the position that you are attributing to Mathison is this: JBFA is not contained within the original kerygma of the Church (and is contrary to the original kerygma), but it can, and is, the meaning of the bible as uncovered by the development of doctrine.

    I’m not sure Mathison would agree that such is his position, but I do agree that it’s the most plausible argument confessional Protestants could make on the question of justification, given the state of the historical data as Dr. Anders has exhibited it. Now if such an approach involves the philosophical problem you suggest, i.e.:

    The large problem with it is that it renders reality inaccessible (we only understand the world through a Kantian framework and not directly) and it renders Christianity ahistorical and reduces the Gospel to a myth derived from the hermeneutic — the Jesus who existed in history doesn’t matter (because he is also inaccessible) but the Jesus constructed by the hermeneutic is the one who is to believed in and worshiped.

    then of course we can have no access to the “real” content of divine revelation, as distinct from what one’s IP filters and shapes, which thus replaces the deposit of faith with a human construct. I suspect that it is a dim awareness of such a consequence that causes Mathison to criticize the Catholic IP as he does. Such a position would entail not only that no presentation of the data of revelation could be neutral with respect to theological IPs, but that there is no philosophical standpoint from which we can compare and assess competing theological IPs. If so, that would explain why Mathison thinks one “can see” the sola-solo distinction only from within the right IP to begin with, which of course is not the Catholic IP. That attitude is characteristic of the various forms of “presuppositionalism.”

    But I don’t believe that acknowledging DD, whether on a Catholic or a Protestant model, needs to have that result. I for one have no use for presuppositionalism because it permits no middle way between rationalism and fideism. One either presents one’s set of presuppositions as rationally unavoidable, a là van Til and Bahnsen, or one adopts them simply because they facilitate further beliefs one happens to hold in any case, which is radically question-begging. Neither is persuasive, either in theory or as fleshed out. More important still, neither manifests the virtue of faith. But if presuppositionalism is unacceptable, then some alternative must be, else we cannot know the doctrinal content of divine revelation as such, as both the Catholic and the conservative Protestant believe we can.

    That alternative would have to supply a way to assess doctrinal developments that is neither rationalistic nor question-begging, and that yields a set of doctrines which are genuine articles of faith, not just interpretive opinions. The only way to locate such an alternative is to look, philosophically, for a theological IP that, while rationally avoidable, illuminates and synthesizes the data of revelation so as to permit a principled distinction between articles of faith and theological opinions. My argument is that the Catholic IP is that IP.

    Best,
    Mike

  12. Nathan (#5),

    Thank you very much for your remarks. I just want to note that Mathison does not directly address the question I am raising (the status of JBFA vis-a-vis Tradition I). I am trying to infer or anticipate his response. Your points about his post-Kantian hermeneutic are interesting. I dont’ know what he would say. I expect that he really does want some specific doctrinal content tied to Tradition I, but that he would limit this to Trinitarian dogma. I have suggested that this is a bit ad hoc.

    Andrew (#7),

    Thank you also for your remarks.
    You said, “the assumption that your essay seems to accept uncritically is that if we can find something in the theology of the Early Church then it ought to be accepted as revealed by God to the Church as part of the deposit of faith.”

    I don’t think I said that at all. If I was unclear about this, then I apologize. I certainly don’t hold that position.

    What I was trying to do was determine if there was anything like a consensus of the fathers on soteriological questions. Although there were clearly many loose ends, I think there were some remarkable areas of agreement (infused grace, penance for mortal sin, absolution conveyed by the Church). I also wanted to show that when discussion of justification begins, that it takes place within the settled context of the church’s liturgical and disciplinary regime.

    You seem to think (like McGrath and, I presume, Mathison) that the question of justification was wide open until the Reformation era. I have suggested that this was not the case, medieval debates notwithstanding. But even if you are correct, doesn’t this turn sola fide into private theological opinion, and not dogma (if we assume Mathison’s notion of doctrinal authority)?

    Thanks again,

    David

  13. Jeremiah,

    Not everything promulgated in an ecumenical council is infallible (technically the word is irreformable since only a person can be “infallible”); only that which is taught “definitively”. Hence, many/most councils take up matters of faith and morals which require a definitive decision as well as merely disciplinary matters of concern at the time that are not irreformable (such as local vs roaming clergy policies). You can understand why an event as substantial (and in the past very difficult to organize) as an ecumenical gathering of bishops would be the natural venue to address both kinds of concerns (permenat/definitive and temporary/disciplinary). The key to a teaching being “irreformable” is that it is taught definitively. Here are a couple quotes which might help you from the Catholic Encyclopedia (BTW, go to newadvent(dot)org where you have access to the entire encyclopedia. Type in “general councils” and you will find most everything you want to know):

    The subject matter of infallibility, or supreme judicial authority, is found in the definitions and decrees of councils, and in them alone, to the exclusion of the theological, scientific, or historical reasons upon which they are built up. These represent too much of the human element, of transient mentalities, of personal interests to claim the promise of infallibility made to the Church as a whole; it is the sense of the unchanging Church that is infallible, not the sense of individual churchmen of any age or excellence, and that sense finds expression only in the conclusions of the council approved by the pope. Decisions referring to dogma were called in the East diatyposeis (constitutions, statutes); those concerned with discipline were termed kanones (canons, rules), often with the addition of tes eutaxias (of discipline, or good order). The expressions thesmoi and horoi apply to both, and the short formulae of condemnation were known as anathematismoi (anathemas).

    But before being bound to give such an assent, the believer has a right to be certain that the teaching in question is definitive (since only definitive teaching is infallible); and the means by which the definitive intention, whether of a council or of the pope, may be recognized have been stated above. It need only be added here that not everything in a conciliar or papal pronouncement, in which some doctrine is defined, is to be treated as definitive and infallible. For example, in the lengthy Bull of Pius IX defining the Immaculate Conception the strictly definitive and infallible portion is comprised in a sentence or two; and the same is true in many cases in regard to conciliar decisions. The merely argumentative and justificatory statements embodied in definitive judgments, however true and authoritative they may be, are not covered by the guarantee of infallibility which attaches to the strictly definitive sentences — unless, indeed, their infallibility has been previously or subsequently established by an independent decision.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  14. @ Mike #11

    Very well put and much to chew on there, so I will gnaw for a while but while I am, this:

    I agree that it is the most plausible argument for confessional Protestants to make though I have never read an argument for JFBA being a development of doctrine that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot because of the problem of DD creating external and independent normas to scripture. You also get sheer theological craziness such as suggesting that Paul (read as saying JBFA) is a doctrinal development from what is laid down in the Gospels where Jesus is quite strongly presented as teaching a moral belief system were one is justified based on ones works. Thus the Pauline Jesus is the real Jesus not the Gospel Jesus (which really is to say that the real Jesus is not accessable but only a mythic IP Jesus.)

    That just underscores the problem of Protestantims creating a mythic Jesus derived from the hermeneutic. That is why you have the quest for the historical Jesus arising out Protestantism because they lost Him (if they looked at the Church they would find Him both in his Mystical Body and His Eucharistic Presence, but the Historical Jesus types went off to do higher textual criticism and archeology. This is also why SS is not plausable — you cannot find Jesus by reading a book alone and if you try to do such you only windup talking to your a priori presupositions and creating a mythic jesus that fits the IP)

    I have no use for presuppositionalism either — I have to remember to save what you wrote off for my own files.

    It seems to me that the whole IP debate really is one over epistemology.

    How does man know the external world beyond his own mind?

    Can man know the external world beyond his own mind?

    For the Reformed, the answer is that man cannot know because he is fallen and disordered in all his facilities and he can only accept a set of presuppositions, an IP, and only the elect will be so elected to select the right IP. (which is just gnosticism)

    That really is the theological underpinning for Mathison thinking that one “can see” the sola-solo distinction only from within the right IP to begin with, as you put it. While your position for a solution is correct and quite well thought out, I don’t see it as being acceptable to Mathison or other Reformed protestants so long as they hold to the metaphysics and anthropology that makes TULIP run. Get rid of the gnosticism and then move in the heavy Philosophical artillery.

    Let me hold some of my thoughts Mike and ask a question to have you look philosophically at the same problem from a different circumstance. (I wish I had your training) How would you philosophically break someone from holding onto Kantia/Humian metaphysics where reality is uneaccessable and everything is about frameworks, hermeneutics, and IPs?

  15. Andrew (#7):

    Thank you for that substantive response to Dr. Anders’ article. It allows the discussion to move forward.

    Criticizing David, you wrote:

    …the assumption that your essay seems to accept uncritically is that if we can find something in the theology of the Early Church then it ought to be accepted as revealed by God to the Church as part of the deposit of faith. But this is not necessarily an assumption that we are willing to accept. You might make the case that the Early Church was close to the apostolic era and therefore the theologians of this era were more closely plugged into the theology of the Apostles. But then on the other hand, as in the example of justification, the Early Church was the Church in her infancy, and like all other infants there was quite a bit of growing up to do. It’s my observation that Catholicism adopts somewhat uncritically this first assumption concerning the beliefs of the Early Church while Protestantism relies more on the second.

    Now I can’t speak for David, but I don’t think he’s at all made the assumption you ascribe to him, let alone adopted it “uncritically.” His argument does not rely on any premise to the effect that, for any theological belief B, if we find B somewhere in the ECFs, then B must belong to the deposit of faith. Rather, he’s arguing that, as a matter of fact, the treatment of justification we find in the ECFs is more like the Catholic than the Reformed doctrine. Of course that does not prove that the Catholic doctrine is de fide. What it shows is that the Catholic doctrine, as defined at Trent, resembles the beliefs of the ECFs more than the Reformed. If so, then the Catholic doctrine at defined at Trent is a more authentic development of early Christian thinking than the Reformed.

    It seems to me that you yourself admit DD in general, and disagree with the Catholic Church only on how it is to be authenticated. E.g., in the above paragraph, you remark that “the Early Church was the Church in her infancy, and like all other infants there was quite a bit of growing up to do.” So the only question is what, from a doctrinal point of view, constitutes “growing up” as opposed to retrogression or meretriciousness. With that understood, I find the following passage from your comment highly instructive:

    There is no question that Tradition 2 wins out in the RCC of the High Middle Ages although as Mathison points out there is little to recommend it in the writings of the early theologians of Christianity. From the Protestant perspective, Tradition 2 is not something which is part of the deposit of the faith, but is rather a philosophical gloss on the writings of the writings of the Early Church. In the Roman Catholic schema it is justified not because it can be derived from the writings of the Early Church but rather it is a philosophical resolution to a problem that later dogmatic theologians saw which is how to bring finality to certain doctrinal discussions which were perceived to be central to the historic Christian faith. The Protestant position is that this later philosophical gloss was not just unjustified from the perspective of Scripture and early tradition, but further that it was downright antithetical to this early tradition.

    The most striking thing in that passage is its implicit contrast with what you said about the doctrine of justification. On your account, the doctrine of justification (whether on a Catholic or a Protestant formulation), is a development that could not be strictly deduced from the early sources, and yet a Protestant doctrine of justification is authentic and legitimate. Now I agree with the claim that the doctrine had to be a development, though of course, as a Catholic, I disagree about which version of the doctrine is authentic and legitimate. I agree with David, not you. Yet if it’s OK for the doctrine of justification to be an authentic development beyond what we can find in the early sources, why is it not OK for the doctrine of tradition to be that too? Why must we rest content with what the ECFs said about the relation of Scripture to Tradition, but not rest content with what they said about justification?

    Your answer would seem to be that the developed Protestant doctrine of justification you prefer (whatever that is) is compatible with what the ECFs said about justification, whereas the developed Catholic doctrine about the Scripture-Tradition relation is incompatible with what the ECFs said about that relation. Now if David is right about the historical data, the first part of your answer is at least questionable. And I’d say that the second part is questionable too.

    According to the Protestant scholar Cynthia Nielson, with whom I agree on this,

    The bottom line is that according to Oberman, the Council of Trent clearly teaches a two-sources theory in its admission that all doctrinal truths are not found in Scripture. Tradition is a second source that “by adding its own substance complements Holy Scripture. The gradually eroded connection between explicit and implicit truths has been snapped; the exegetical tradition has been transformed into Tradition II” (p. 288).

    But that conclusion of Oberman’s relies on a fallacy of ambiguity, and thus does not follow from what Trent said on the matter. It is true that, from what Trent says, it follows that not everything “handed down” by Tradition is explicitly stated in or deducible from Scripture. Hence, according to Trent, Scripture is not formally sufficient for supplying the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith. But so what? There was no consensus patrum that Scripture is formally sufficient. There was of course a consensus patrum that Scripture is materially sufficient, which was also Aquinas’ view, and remains an acceptable opinion for Catholics to hold. And the ECFs held that much, to be sure. What took place at Trent, however, and contra Oberman, was not a negation but a development of the concept of material sufficiency. On that view, Scripture could be materially sufficient in the sense that any normative datum of extra-scriptural Tradition finds a corroborative counterpart in Scripture, even though neither need be logically deducible from the other. Accordingly, Trent did not contradict the ECFs on the material sufficiency of Scripture; it merely refined the concept of material sufficiency, along the lines of St. Basil and the early-medieval Latin canonists. That was a development. Neither Mathison nor Oberman showed that it is an illegitimate development. And given your stance on justification, you’re in no position to say that the Tridentine development was illegitimate simply because it was a development.

    You seem instead to want to say that the Tridentine development on the Scripture-Tradition relation was illegitimate because it was incompatible with what the ECFs thought. Thus the former was incompatible with the latter because it elevated some of the deliverances of Tradition and the Magisterium to the same level of certainty as Scripture. But that won’t wash. Why? Because you have cited no irreformable doctrine to the effect that whatever the ECFs thought about meta-doctrine is de fide. In fact, you’ve taken David to task for making precisely such an assumption on the matter of justification, even though, in fact, he made no such assumption. Accordingly, I conclude that your position is ad hoc special pleading.

    Best,
    Mike

  16. Nathan (#14):

    You asked:

    How would you philosophically break someone from holding onto Kantia/Humian metaphysics where reality is uneaccessable and everything is about frameworks, hermeneutics, and IPs?

    That is a HUGE question that can’t be settled in a combox. Here I shall restrict myself to two points.

    First, Kantian epistemology is ultimately incompatible with holding that the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith tells us what God has revealed, as distinct from telling us what some people have thought God has revealed. I take it that is uncontroversial around here. I have found that it’s also uncontroversial among non-Christian philosophers, including Kant specialists, one of whom I studied under in grad school. For Kant, the ideas of God, free will, and the immortality of the soul are “regulative ideas of practical reason,” and anything beyond that is either sentiment or opinion. That approach is a version of liberal Protestantism, which is not surprising, since Kant was a Pietist.

    Second, Kant offered his epistemology as a way of breaking the impasse between rationalism, such as that of Leibniz and Wolff, and empiricism, such as that of Hume and other British thinkers. Kant’s approach was better than either, but it left a veil between the human mind and reality, thus corrupting the very concept of truth. The only way to rip aside the Kantian veil is to reject the premises that make either rationalism or empiricism plausible to begin with. I believe one can do that only with an Aristotelian-Thomistic epistemology. That kind of epistemology was rejected at the dawn of modern science because it assumes the reality of formal and final causes, which had no place in the sort of science that birthed then. But that state of affairs needn’t and shouldn’t be permanent. The work of Catholic natural philosophers such as Stanley Jaki and William Wallace shows why.

    Best,
    Mike

  17. @ Dr. Anders #12

    I gathered there was a bit of inferring. I would expect Mather’s to offer a quick flurry of denials to the remarks about his post Kantian hermeneutic. I think though it is quite common in the Reformed world to be running on post Kantian hermeneutics.

    The largest problem with trying to limit Tradition I to the Trinitarian aspects is that it is impossible. The Trinitarian dogmas are not stand alone things: they are fully entwined with, arise from, and loop back upon the early soteriology and liturgy. Protestants want to view things piece meal, but the Creed is a baptismal formula and it cannot be separated from the concepts of infused justification at baptism and ongoing justification through faith and works.

    I think where Protestants go wrong is that they are looking for specific doctrinal statements that spell out exactly what is believed and that is Tradition 1. When you look at the historical record you have divergent views (which Andrew takes as being “wide open” positions) around a matrix of accepted thought (infused grace, penance for mortal sin, absolution conveyed by the Church as you point out). All these writings and positions though not Tradition I. Tradition I is the liturgical event. It is the reflection upon this and the striving to answer the question “what is going on in the liturgy” “what is the Church that makes this event possible” that produces the writings of the Church Fathers, the creeds, and the councils. This is why the Magisterium serves and is the authentic interpretator of scripture and tradition but cannot create new scripture or new traditions — it simply guards, reflects upon, clarifies, deepens, and passes on full and intact that which the Church has had from the very begining.

  18. Nathan, (re: #14)

    You wrote:

    How does man know the external world beyond his own mind?

    Can man know the external world beyond his own mind?

    You can see my response to those questions in “Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective,” and especially in the combox there.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. To all:

    Thank you for indulging me in an off topic inquiry. Your answers are fine….for now.. still got a lot of those councils to read.

    Andrew:

    Your discussion is getting better. You still continue to exhibit the same division of mind which I pointed out in that other thread. Dr. Liccione points it out again in a more charitable fashion in the paragraph starting with “The most striking thing in that passage is its implicit contrast with what you said about the doctrine of justification….”

    Mr. Anders:

    I found this to be a very fascinating article. Largely because of the path that I have followed to this point in my life. Much of my theology has converged on the RC positions. That is where I am. How I got there is another matter.

    My epistemic (as I have explained elsewhere) has been significantly close to the RC epistemic, the key difference being the object of my trust. Nonetheless, experientially I would say that you do get what I understand as the classical reformed positions by a solo/sola (i.e. the right to withdraw consent is reserved) methodology. Luther’s statement is telling:

    “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”

    His statement is fairly stunning from the perspective that its all about “I” its not about “We”.

    Incidentally, a guy I once knew who had been an addict and was involved in NA, AA etc. made the comment that “I don’t listen to myself anymore, my best thinking is what’s screwed me up.” So I think conscience is a treacherous guide, to say the least.

    If you reject the “I” and determine that it will ALWAYS be about “We”, you eventually converge with the historic Church in some fashion.

    I think you can logically show that
    “I” => JBFA
    and
    “We” => JBGTF

    I’m not a logician so I’ll leave it to Neal or one of you philosophy guys to flesh that out, but it seems like it wouldn’t be too hard.

    For me personally it was through submitting to the study disciplines that “those who have rule over you” had given me that I came to the conclusion one day that if Grace is “The divine influence upon the heart as reflected upwards into life” and Hamartano “is to be without a portion” then Grace was about GOD working in me to change me and Sin was to be ontologically without this portion and it wasn’t about an action. My spiritual overseers confirmed this. When I lifted my head and looked around I also realized the reformed guys disagreed, severely. I also discovered, to my surprise, that the Catholic guys had this concept in pretty much everything they believed.

    So I know personal anecdotes don’t make an argument. But my eperience parallels this argument in a sense. And its on topic this time. Three cheers for me!

    Hope this helps

  20. Mike (re: 15),

    Now I can’t speak for David, but I don’t think he’s at all made the assumption you ascribe to him, let alone adopted it “uncritically.” His argument does not rely on any premise to the effect that, for any theological belief B, if we find B somewhere in the ECFs, then B must belong to the deposit of faith.

    David brings up a number of examples that he raises to demonstrate that there is more of a connection between the theology of the Early Church and Catholicism than there is with Protestantism. The first point I was making is that the specific connection between the theology of the Early Church and that of the respective theologies of Catholics and Protestants at the time of the Reformation was not the point that Mathison was getting at when he used Oberman’s term “Tradition 1.” “Tradition 1” describes something of the conceptual framework that the ECF’s employed in their work. The idea here is not to go doctrine by doctrine to determine whether or not the theology of the ECF’s in more closely approximated in the theology of modern Protestantism or modern Catholicism. For one reason such an approach ignores the paradigmatic concerns that are at issue and also assumes something about the normativity of the belief systems of the ECF’s.. David is appealing to the beliefs of the history of the Church in a way that Protestants would not, and I’m firstly just pointing this out. I’m not saying at this point that it’s bad or good, only that he is assuming something about the importance of the beliefs of the ECF’s that we would think should not be assumed. The question to be addressed is what should we make of the fact that a majority of ECF’s held to a certain theological position. David does not answer this or even raise it as an issue between Protestant and Catholic but merely proceeds with his comparison as if there was no paradigmatic difference between our communions.

    The most striking thing in that passage is its implicit contrast with what you said about the doctrine of justification. On your account, the doctrine of justification (whether on a Catholic or a Protestant formulation), is a development that could not be strictly deduced from the early sources, and yet a Protestant doctrine of justification is authentic and legitimate. Now I agree with the claim that the doctrine had to be a development, though of course, as a Catholic, I disagree about which version of the doctrine is authentic and legitimate. I agree with David, not you. Yet if it’s OK for the doctrine of justification to be an authentic development beyond what we can find in the early sources, why is it not OK for the doctrine of tradition to be that too? Why must we rest content with what the ECFs said about the relation of Scripture to Tradition, but not rest content with what they said about justification?

    One of the things I told David was that some of his examples were better than others. The problem with the case of justification, like so many others that Catholics tend to bring up, is that there is very little that can be determined from an analysis of the ECF’s. Part of my reason for saying this is that both Catholic (as well as Protestant) theologians at the time of the early Reformation read the same ECF’s but came to very different conclusions on the correct understanding of justification. There was in fact little guidance from the Early Church and the little there was there could not possibly answer the sorts of questions that were being posed by the theologians of the Later Medieval and Reformation eras. So my contention is that we cannot always derive a theology from the writings of the Early Church even if we can agree on a general methodology for such a derivation. In the case of justification the debates between Protestant and Catholics centered on hermeneutical and exegetical matters that were just not at issue in the Early Church. The debates between Catholic and Protestant in the 15th and 16th centuries turned largely on exegetical matters which the ECF’s never dreamed of.

    But that conclusion of Oberman’s relies on a fallacy of ambiguity, and thus does not follow from what Trent said on the matter. It is true that, from what Trent says, it follows that not everything “handed down” by Tradition is explicitly stated in or deducible from Scripture. Hence, according to Trent, Scripture is not formally sufficient for supplying the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith. But so what? There was no consensus patrum that Scripture isformally sufficient.

    The argument that the Scriptures are not formally sufficient is basically what David is arguing for in his Sola Scriptura vs. the Magisterium article, right? From what I can tell of the Catholic argument against the formal sufficiency of Scripture, I agree with it. But I don’t see that in general that the Catholic apologists are arguing for the same thing we are when we speak of formal sufficiency. Anyway, what Mathison/Oberman are arguing for does not really touch on the material/formal sufficiency issue that I can see. What they are looking at is whether what is handed down by tradition ever is be considered to have the same level of certainty as Scriptures. Scriptures are of course the foundational norm, but the question then comes whether any counciliar or papal pronouncement should ever be considered to be of equivalent certainty. The answer that Trent gave was obviously yes. Mathison argues that the answer that the Early Church gave was essentially no and he brings the writings of a number of ECF’s to bear on the issue and then further looks at the debate that the 12th century canon lawyers had over this issue. Until the 12th century there was no consensus on this paradigmatic issue and the question that the Protestants asked was whether the Medieval theologians were correct given what the ECF’s said (or did not say) about it.

    You seem instead to want to say that the Tridentine development on the Scripture-Tradition relation was illegitimate because it was incompatible with what the ECFs thought. Thus the former was incompatible with the latter because it elevated some of the deliverances of Tradition and the Magisterium to the same level of certainty as Scripture. But that won’t wash. Why? Because you have cited no irreformable doctrine to the effect that whatever the ECFs thought about meta-doctrine is de fide.

    You refer to an “irreformable doctrine” in the conext of ECF’s but this is anachronistic. I am arguing that there was no ”irreformable doctrine” in the Early Church in the sense that this term was used by later RCC theologians. The question at hand is whether or not there was evidence that any of the early theologians would have allowed for any dogma to be placed on the same level as Scripture. That is, would they have allowed for anything outside of Scripture itself to be considered infallible or irreformable. The only way to get such an idea out of the ECF’s is to demonstrate that they believed that there were made doctrines which rose to the same level of normativity as Scripture. Mathison IMO demonstrates just the opposite.

  21. AndrewM.,

    I am astounded. In all the philosophical threads, you wax historical. When we turn (again) to the data of history, you wax philosophical. On the one hand, you say, Let us lay aside our paradigms and turn to the ECFs themselves to see what they thought about infallible sources of doctrine. On the other hand, when we turn to the ECFs to see what they thought about justification, you say:

    Anyway, point being that there were plenty of debates between Protestant and Catholic in the age leading up to the Reformation because there was little dogmatic consensus one way or another, and thus it just does not help to go to the early centuries of Christianity for any resolution….

    The discussion of these paradigmatic concerns are key to the understanding the conflicts between Protestant and Catholic and need to be discussed before we get to the specific examples of what we can say about the fidelity of a given doctrine to the historic Christian faith.

    You tell us both that it is important, in the debate about authority, to turn to the ECFs, and that it is unhelpful, in the debate about justification, to turn to the ECFs. Of course, we all want to have our cake and eat it too, but things are not like that.

  22. Andrew P,

    I am astounded. In all the philosophical threads, you wax historical. When we turn (again) to the data of history, you wax philosophical.

    Why juxtapose the historical with the philosophical? These approaches are complimentary and intertwined.

    On the one hand, you say, Let us lay aside our paradigms and turn to the ECFs themselves to see what they thought about infallible sources of doctrine.

    No, I’m not saying to lay aside paradigmatic issues, I’m saying on this matter of Tradition 1/Tradition 2 or one-source/two-source (or whatever else you want to call it) let’s look to the ECF’s and determine whether they shared the same paradigmatic outlook as the RCC theologians of the High and Late Middle Ages. And if they don’t let’s ask why not.

    Now when we get into analyzing the specific dogmas that Protestants and Catholics are interested in we have to realize that the ECF’s will be much more helpful with some of these than others. Let’s say we are interested in the specific number in sacraments of the Christian faith. This was a matter that the Scholastics weighed in on heavily and if we want to know the rationale for the position that there are seven distinct sacraments in the Christian faith we can go to the speculative dogmatic theology of the Scholastics. But we are not going to get much help in this regards from the ECF’s. There was just no consensus and the earlier Church Fathers are all over the map on this issue. On the other hand, to pick another example, if we want to know about dogmatic statements concerning the relationship of the natures of Christ then we can go to the early fathers profitably and get reasoned arguments from them on the consensus among these fathers. So on justification, I am pointing out that the ECF’s will only be so much help in determining a dogmatic position. If there had been a tightly reasoned consensus on justification then we would not find the staggering range of opinions of the matter when we get to the Late Middle Ages.

  23. Andrew M.,

    Regarding your second paragraph, I refer folks to this comment in the thread following Neal’s most recent article.

    Concerning “specific dogmas,” the nature of Church authority in matters of doctrine is a specific theological dogma, one that the early Church did not directly address or define, so to preclude future debate. As we know, the doctrinal authority of the Church is ordinarily most fully expressed in an Ecumenical Council. But there was no Ecumenical Council between 49 AD (Jerusalem) and 325 AD (Nicea). So we might very well expect the data from this period, concerning the authority of the Church, to be under-determinative. That does not mean that there will be nothing relevant to discuss. I am sure that we would all be happy to examine particular bits of evidence to the effect that the ECFs’ understanding of Church authority is incompatible with the understanding that has since become more explicit in the Catholic Church.

    But here is the thing: If it would be profitable to consult the ECFs on the specific doctrinal issue of ecclesial authority, even if they do not directly address the specific points of contention that emerged later, such as the authority of an Ecumenical Council (how could they?), then it might be helpful to consult the ECFs on the specific doctrinal issue of justification, even though they do not directly address the specific points of contention that emerged later. As David has aptly shown, the ECFs did address many issues that are very relevant to later disputes about the nature of salvation, including justification. Much of what they say, as attested in this article, seems to be incompatible with the Protestant doctrine, while it seems to be quite compatible with the dogmas of Trent.

    It seems to me that the ECFs are far less ambiguous on the nature of salvation then they are on the nature of ecclesial authority. But in either case, there does not appear to be “a tightly reasoned consensus” that would preclude future differences of opinion. I call to witness your allusions to the differences of opinion regarding Church authority.

    For the life of me, although you have repeatedly appealed to the Fathers in one connection (authority), I cannot tell why you would appeal to them at all. When you surmise that they agree with you on a point of doctrine, their testimony counts for something. When you think that they disagree with you on a point of doctrine, their testimony counts for little. But in that case, you might as well just appeal to your personal interpretation of Scripture, since that seems to be doing all of the final adjudicating in matters of doctrine.

  24. Andrew M.

    You wrote (20):

    “the specific connection between the theology of the Early Church and that of the respective theologies of Catholics and Protestants at the time of the Reformation was not the point that Mathison was getting at when he used Oberman’s term “Tradition 1.” “Tradition 1″ describes something of the conceptual framework that the ECF’s employed in their work. The idea here is not to go doctrine by doctrine to determine whether or not the theology of the ECF’s in more closely approximated in the theology of modern Protestantism or modern Catholicism.”

    Yes, I understand that. Mathison did not want to address all the issues in dispute between Catholics and Protestants. He simply wanted to identify what he takes to be the proper framework for adjudicating these disputes. What I wanted to do, however, was take up Mathison’s suggestion. This article is not about whether or not Tradition I is the proper framework. I said, “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Mathison is correct. Tradition I is the proper framework for understanding the doctrine of the Church. If that is the case, can Tradition I tell us anything about sola fide.”

    Now, I ask you, if we are not allowed to go “doctrine by doctrine” to determine what the Christian faith is, then of what possible use is Tradition I? Tradition I either addresses the justification issue, or it does not. If it does, lets’ find out what Tradition I tells us. If it doesn’t, then let’s concede that JBFA is merely private theological opinion, not de fide, not an article of faith, and not something to separate over.

    -David

  25. Andrew M (#20):

    In addition to seconding what Andrew P just said in #24, I want to inspect more closely your account of what the debate is really about.

    As best I can tell amid the backing and filling, you see the issue as this:

    Anyway, what Mathison/Oberman are arguing for does not really touch on the material/formal sufficiency issue that I can see. What they are looking at is whether what is handed down by tradition ever is be considered to have the same level of certainty as Scriptures. Scriptures are of course the foundational norm, but the question then comes whether any counciliar or papal pronouncement should ever be considered to be of equivalent certainty. The answer that Trent gave was obviously yes. Mathison argues that the answer that the Early Church gave was essentially no and he brings the writings of a number of ECF’s to bear on the issue and then further looks at the debate that the 12th century canon lawyers had over this issue. Until the 12th century there was no consensus on this paradigmatic issue and the question that the Protestants asked was whether the Medieval theologians were correct given what the ECF’s said (or did not say) about it.

    That is confirmed by what you say in your last paragraph (emphasis added):

    The question at hand is whether or not there was evidence that any of the early theologians would have allowed for any dogma to be placed on the same level as Scripture. That is, would they have allowed for anything outside of Scripture itself to be considered infallible or irreformable. The only way to get such an idea out of the ECF’s is to demonstrate that they believed that there were made doctrines which rose to the same level of normativity as Scripture. Mathison IMO demonstrates just the opposite.

    Actually, there are three separate questions here:

    (1) Did the ECFs see any ecclesiastical pronouncement as having “the same level of certainty as Scripture”?
    (2) At what point in the development of Catholic doctrine did the answer become “yes”?
    (3) How is the development cited in (2) to be evaluated?

    As to (1), I gladly grant that the answer is “no.” The reason is simple: as Andrew Preslar has already implied, the question itself could not yet have arisen. That’s easy to see when we’re dealing with pre-Nicene period, which I take to be the period covered by the “early” Church fathers. During that time, no doctrine had yet been propounded as de fide by any agency that saw itself as binding the whole Church to a doctrine. So there just was no ecclesiastical pronouncement about which the ECFs could have reasonably asked the question you pose.

    Ah, you will ask, but what about the ecumenical councils themselves, and the Church fathers instrumental in their dogmatic rulings? How did the latter see the former?

    It is often forgotten that, during the 4th century, it was not yet determined whether what we now call the first two “ecumenical” councils were, in fact, binding on the whole Church. About the turmoil and intrigue that ensued upon Nicaea I, Dom John Chapman wrote:

    Up to this point the troubles had been only in the East. It is to be noticed that no ecclesiastical law yet existed with regard to the trial of Bishops. A synod like that of Tyre had no jurisdiction over a Patriarch of Alexandria; it was, from the Church’s point of view, a purely moral force. But the Emperor had looked upon synods as ecclesiastical juries, and had punished with the secular arm the secular offences of which the deposed Bishops were unrighteously convicted. The Eusebian party further use the imperial power to thrust Arian Bishops into the Sees which they had made vacant. But they were well aware they were no en regle. It is for this reason that we find them the first to appeal to the Pope. If they could persuade Julius and the Western Church to believe the charges brought against the victims of their slanders they would have right as well as might on their side.

    So St. Athanasius, at that time Patriarch of Alexandria, assembled a council there to appeal to Pope Julius I. The “Eusebians” or “semi-Arians” also made such an appeal. Over the next several decades, during which Athanasius was twice exiled from his see by emperors whose ears the Arians or semi-Arians had caught, similar appeals were made to Rome by groups of bishops from all parties. Rome consistently sided with the Nicenes, the only exception being the fearful silence of Pope Liberius following the Arian councils of Rimini and Sirmium in 359, which were larger and more “representative” than Nicaea had been, and were backed by Emperor Constantius II. It was of those councils that St. Jerome later wrote: “The world groaned to find itself Arian.” Of course, Liberius annulled their decrees almost as soon as Constantius died. Even so, that didn’t mean that Nicaea I itself was now generally understood as binding on the whole Church. That took another several generations, and three more ecumenical councils, to sink in.

    For example, the second council that eventually came to be considered “ecumenical” was that of Constantinople in 381, at which the major force was the Church father St. Gregory Nazianzus. A purely Eastern affair, the council and its work satisfied hardly anybody at the time, including the very-much-Nicene Gregory, even though it produced the creed which became the standard for both East and West. The council’s decrees, and creed, were duly enforced by the Nicene, Eastern emperor Theodosius. But Rome did not even hear of it at first, and did not formally confirm it as binding on the whole Church until well over a century later.

    Speaking more broadly, it wasn’t really until the mid-fifth century, with the Oriental-Orthodox schisms that had ensued on Ephesus and Chalcedon, that the question whether conciliar decrees enjoyed the “same level of certainty” as Scripture was even raised. Why? Because it wasn’t clear to anybody until then whether the binding force of general councils on Christians, as distinct from local synods, was only juridical, due to imperial enforcement, or also epistemic, due to the nature of the ecclesiastical authority with which they were propounded. At that point, we’re well past the “early” church fathers. So even though the answer to (1) is “no,” that is irrelevant.

    We are now in a position to address (2). If appeal to the ECFs is idle for the reason stated, how can (2) be answered?

    Well, from the 4th century until the Photian schism in the 9th century, it was generally understood in the East as well as the West that the approval of the See of Rome was at least necessary for a council’s dogmatic decrees to bind the whole Church de fide, as distinct from binding merely as a matter of civil jurisdiction. By the time of the “seventh” ecumenical council in 787, it was also generally understood that the Church could not err when teaching with her full authority, where the manifestation of that authority was understood to be the dogmatic rulings of ecumenical councils. Now the consensus about Roman authority’s role in all that broke down when the East-West schism, precipitated by many factors, became doctrinally definitive with the filioque dispute. And that event raised a problem for Catholic theologians and canonists.

    Thus, if Rome really had, and retained, the authority once generally acknowledged by consensus, that wasn’t because papal doctrinal authority derived from the traditional orthodoxy of old Rome, as though the criteria for determining orthodoxy could be established and applied independently of Rome’s rulings. If said criteria could be established and applied independently of papal authority, then the East was right and Rome was in schism from “the Church.” Instead, the Latins reasoned, if universal papal authority still obtained at all, that could only be because the pope, like the ecumenical councils that needed his ratification, could not err when exercising his full doctrinal authority. In other words, the pope was not chief bishop, with universal jurisdiction, because he was orthodox, which is what the East had thought for centuries before the Photian schism; rather, he was orthodox because, as the successor of Peter enjoying Peter’s divinely given authority as chief apostle, the pope’s “faith could not fail.” He was infallible when exercising his full teaching authority for the whole Church.

    Now you seem to want to dismiss that sort of reasoning as “philosophical.” To a degree, of course, it was philosophical. But that didn’t mean the premises weren’t rooted in history. The argument was that either the papacy never really had, by divine dispensation, the degree of authority it had once exercised de facto, or it always had that authority, and thus had it even now, for the reason given. That argument was fully compatible with what the West had always acknowledged as papal authority, and with what the East had once acknowledged as papal authority. So papal infallibility was not a mere ad hoc hypothesis; it was, rather, the only way to explain how any ecumenical council’s dogmatic decrees could bind de fide, not as a matter of civil jurisdiction. And if the pope was infallible in the understood conditions, then his doctrinal rulings enjoyed the same level of certainty as inspired Scripture, even though not themselves inspired, and even when they were unilateral.

    That brings us to (3). The above-described process could be evaluated as“illegitimate” only if reasoning that started with precedent,, but went beyond precedent, is itself illegitimate. Nothing that you, Mathison, or Oberman have said have shown that it was illegitimate for that or any other reason. As reasoning of that form, it’s no different from the sort of reasoning about justification that took several more centuries to come to fruition.

    Best,
    Mike

  26. David Anders: Abbot Vonier has written a marvelous book entitled The Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist. I don’t have it in front of me at the moment, but as I recall, there is a section at the beginning where he discusses the role of faith in the Christian life and he points out (on the basis of St. Thomas) that while mortal sin does imperil one’s eternal salvation, it does not remove one from membership in the Church militant. Only formal apostasy can do that. Faith is the condition of membership in the church and of access to the sacramental means of grace. Perseverance and holiness of life are the conditions of eternal salvation. And, of course, faith, perseverance, and holiness are only effected through the grace of God.

    I also don’t have a book in front of me – Bishop Morrow’s classic catechism, My Catholic Faith. So I will attempt to paraphrase what Bishop Morrow says in his catechism, where I believe that he mentions that there are four ways that one may lose membership in the church: apostasy, heresy, schism, and excommunication.

    In regards to excommunication, I believe that there are two ways that one may incur excommunication from the church, formal excommunication, and automatic excommunication or latae sententiae excommunication. The Code of Canon law states that the sins of apostasy, heresy and schism all incur the penalty of automatic excommunication from the church:

    Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

    It is also possible to lose membership in the church through mortal sin. For example, the sin of procuring an abortion incurs the penalty of automatic excommunication from the church:

    Canon 1398: “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

    You are right, however, in that not all all mortal sin entails the loss of membership in the Church. For example, a man may commit the sin of adultery while not denying the moral doctrine of the church that adultery is a mortal sin. To paraphrase Bishop Morrow, the adulterous Catholic has not lost his faith, nor has he lost membership in the church, but as long as he is unrepentant for the sin of adultery, he is united to the church through faith but not through charity. The unrepentant adulterer is united to the body of the church but not the soul of the church. Thus it is quite possible to have faith, be united to the body of the church, and still be damned because of unrepentance for mortal sin. Hence, faith that is not united to love cannot save.

    I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Cor. 13:2

    Which, I think affirms your main point:

    However, if justification is understood in light of the much broader question, “How can the sinner be reconciled to God and attain eternal salvation?” then obviously it is not by faith alone.

  27. Mateo (26),

    Helpful clarification. Thank you.

    -David

  28. @ Mateo #26

    Just to clarify — that is really just loss of membership in the visable Church. A baptised individual outside of the bounds of the visable Church is still united in some manner to Christ and thus the Church. This is due to the nature of baptism causing a once and forever ontological change in the individual. Even in hell, a Christian is still a Christian in his very nature and as such retains some aspect of “Church” with in him. cf 2 Tim 2:13 Thus once part of the Church is is not truly possible to escape her and return to what one was before. It is akin to attempting to stop being human.

    But of course being invisably bound to the Church only orders one to being bound visably for it is in the visable that one finds the fullness of being “Church”. One cannot simply have faith and expect salvation, one must live that faith out through charity and seek to be united in communion with the Mystical Body of Christ.

  29. Mike (re: 25),

    Actually, there are three separate questions here:
    (1) Did the ECFs see any ecclesiastical pronouncement as having “the same level of certainty as Scripture”?
    (2) At what point in the development of Catholic doctrine did the answer become “yes”?
    (3) How is the development cited in (2) to be evaluated?

    You have summarized the essential issues here as well as anyone has on CTC, thanks!

    As to (1), I gladly grant that the answer is “no.” The reason is simple: as Andrew Preslar has already implied, the question itself could not yet have arisen. That’s easy to see when we’re dealing with pre-Nicene period, which I take to be the period covered by the “early” Church fathers. During that time, no doctrine had yet been propounded as de fide by any agency that saw itself as binding the whole Church to a doctrine. So there just was no ecclesiastical pronouncement about which the ECFs could have reasonably asked the question you pose.

    I disagree, there were ecclesiastical pronouncements that they could have had such questions about. I think a better way to say it is that there was no reason for these early theologians to ever worry that their pronouncements could not be authoritative, even on essential matters of faith and practice, without their pronouncements being made infallibly. There was nothing which they termed de fide, that was a later term. But there were foundational doctrines that the Church weighed in on. It is Mathison’s job to demonstrate that given what the Early Fathers said about tradition and the regula fidei, there is no reason for us to think that anything in the tradition of the Church could have possibly risen to the level of certainty and normativity of Scripture. It’s not that they did not consider the possibility; they just took a position that was different than what the later RCC theologians of the Middle Ages did. After going through what a number of these Fathers said about tradition, Mathison summarizes the position by using the EO scholar Georges Florovsky who says that exegesis was “the main, and probably the only theological method, and the authority of Scriptures was sovereign and supreme.” So it’s not that there was no subject matter that the Fathers could have asked my question #1 about, but rather that there was just no reason to think that ANY pronouncement, outside of Scripture, needed to be pronounced infallibly in order to be authoritative.

    I agree generally with your discussion of the ecumenical councils and the fact that nobody was sure what level of certainty ought to be accorded to their pronouncements. The fact that so many theologians in the times leading up to the Reformation saw no reason to accord infallible or irreformable status to the pronouncements of the ecumenical councils would seem to underscore my point that there was very good rationale for rejecting the concept of ecclesiastical infallibility as a prerequisite for ecclesiastical authority. So there ought to be a very good case as to why the Catholic theologians of the Middle Ages reversed previous consensus and this, as you point out, is question #2.

    And your answer to #2 is to appeal to the intercessory work of the Bishop of Rome and to make his pronouncement irreformably binding of the all faithful Christians. It would seem to me that this resolution is problematic on more than one front. The EO theologians generally read the same early theologians as the West does but came to entirely different conclusions. And there is no way that any EO theologian would agree with your assessment that the Roman See’s consent was necessary for a council’s dogmatic pronouncement to bind the Church. As I’m sure you must know, the title “first among equals” given to the Bishop of Rome was purely titular and to this day, the EO insistence on an autocephalous episcopacy is incompatible with the Bishop of Rome having binding authority outside of his jurisdiction.

    But even within the RCC, the opinion that papal authority was a proper development from previous centuries understanding of the authority of the Bishop of Rome was countered by voices within Rome who had read the same Fathers and were equally convinced that papal infallibility was an entirely improper interpretation of that history. In the 14th century when John XXII argued against the Franciscans on this matter his position was not just that papal infallibility was wrong but that it was a preposterous suggestion. Overall, you are not going to be able to solve the differences of opinion on the binding authority of the councils by positing an equally or perhaps more controversial claim utilizing the binding authority of the Bishop of Rome. If there is no way to substantiate a doctrine of papal infallibility from the history of the Church then I do not think we should try to posit one if there are other options available to us.

    That brings us to (3). The above-described process could be evaluated as“illegitimate” only if reasoning that started with precedent,, but went beyond precedent, is itself illegitimate. Nothing that you, Mathison, or Oberman have said have shown that it was illegitimate for that or any other reason. As reasoning of that form, it’s no different from the sort of reasoning about justification that took several more centuries to come to fruition.

    From what I can see Mike, you are starting with the end of history and trying to work backwards. For you there is no way to deduce a doctrine of tradition starting from the Apostolic and Sub-Apostolic Church because, as you state, there is no doctrine that had been pronounced as de fide in the Early Church. So when I start from the beginning of history and note that the paradigmatic assumptions formed from the Middle Ages to the present were not shared by the theologians of the Early Church you say that there is nothing from the Early Church could show your IP to be illegitimate. But then there is no way that I could POSSIBLY demonstrate that anything from the Early Church brought later RCC concepts of tradition into question, could I? As stated before, your position is unfalsifiable. What I am trying to bring into question is something that is inextricably intertwined with your whole interpretative framework by which you look at the history of the Church. You dismiss everything from Mathison as “irrelevant” based ultimately on notions of papal infallibility that were not even matters of consensus as late as the 14th century. But all such analysis is “irrelevant,” isn’t it? You start with papal infallibility as part of your IP in an attempt to establish proper authority and everything else previously in the history of the Church gets judged through this lens.

    For me it still comes back to the thing I asked Byran and Neal in their original critique of Mathison. Given that there was no understanding in the Early Church of tradition being pronounced infallibly and irreformably (which you have conceded) how could the Church of this age speak authoritatively? If ever there was a foundational Christian truth (something later termed de fide) it would be the relationship of members of the Trinity as summarized at Nicea. The congregations of Christianity recognized the summary at Nicea to be authoritative even though nobody at that time ever even dreamed that the theologians of that age were saying something that approximated infallibility. You are trying to posit general ecclesiastical infallibility and guarantee it with papal infallibility, but why go down this road if authority can be established without such appeals?

    David/Andrew P – Sorry, I’ve run out of time and I’m not getting to answer specifically what you asked me above, but hopefully I’m generally answering it in my answer to Mike above.

  30. Andrew (#29):

    You wrote:

    I disagree, there were ecclesiastical pronouncements that they could have had such questions about. I think a better way to say it is that there was no reason for these early theologians to ever worry that their pronouncements could not be authoritative, even on essential matters of faith and practice, without their pronouncements being made infallibly.

    There are two ambiguities in that. First, which pre-Nicene “ecclesiastical pronouncements” do you have in mind? As far as I know, no formal ecclesiastical pronouncements before Nicaea were generally understood to bind the whole Church. If so, then of course no pre-Nicene pronouncement could have been thought to enjoy the same epistemic status as Scripture, which itself was understood to bind the whole Church. So it’s just idle chatter to say that the ECFs didn’t think any such pronouncement enjoyed the same epistemic status as Scripture. You have presented nothing that might have qualified, in their minds or ours, as a candidate for such a comparison to begin with.

    Second, I was quite clear that the explicit positing of ecclesial infallibility did not come until centuries after the ECFs. But if the developmental account I gave is roughly correct, that doesn’t matter. Your argument, in fact, relies on a fallacy of ambiguity between the concept of infallibility and the formal statement of infallibility. It’s quite possible that the former was always applied implicitly without being explicitly recognized as such till much later—which is what authentic “ development” consists in, and which you recognize in the case of justification. (No, I’m not letting you off the hook about that.) So, for the reasons I gave in my previous comment, the whole Mathison/Oberman approach to the Scripture-Tradition relation just kicks the can down the road.

    It is Mathison’s job to demonstrate that given what the Early Fathers said about tradition and the regula fidei, there is no reason for us to think that anything in the tradition of the Church could have possibly risen to the level of certainty and normativity of Scripture. It’s not that they did not consider the possibility; they just took a position that was different than what the later RCC theologians of the Middle Ages did.

    .

    Here, the ambiguity is about the word ‘tradition’. It was the tradition of the first few generations of the Church to read certain writings aloud at liturgies. That helped lead to its becoming the tradition of the Church, well before Nicaea, to present a subset of such writings as divinely inspired and thus inerrant. But if no aspect of “tradition” was even thought to rise to “the same level of certainty as Scripture,” then the tradition about what counted as inspired Scripture could not have been thought to be as certain as inspired Scripture. Accordingly, if it had been thought that the Church could thus be wrong about which books can’t be wrong, then the epistemic status of what she counted as inspired Scripture would have been open to question even then—a result that would have rendered useless the ECFs conception of Scripture’s authority. Since it was by no means useless, the best explanation for how they viewed the epistemic status of Scripture is that they thought the Church’s judgment about what counts as Scripture was divinely protected from error. But in that case, at least one element of “tradition” does have the same epistemic status as Scripture. And if one aspect can, why not others? For the reason I’ve already given, the ECFs didn’t raise that question, but that doesn’t mean it could never be raised or shouldn’t have been raised. Eventually, it was raised, and answered in roughly the way I recounted.

    The problem here, as I’ve implied, is that the Mathison/Oberman approach is ambiguous about ‘tradition’. What you guys mean by that word is not whatever is “handed down” in the Church as normative—which is what the word generally means—but rather what got presented as normative interpretations of Scripture. Now if one stipulatively defines ‘tradition’ that way, then it at least makes sense to say that no interpretations of Scripture could be inerrant, and thus as certain as Scripture, even though I believe such a statement is incorrect. And one reason I say it’s incorrect is that it’s a purely ad hoc position. It studiously avoids the question whether the ECFs thought the Church’s certification of Scripture as such was, itself, inerrant. If indeed they thought it was, then there’s nothing to rule out the Church’s coming to see certain interpretations of Scripture as inerrant too, such as the creeds—ECFs or no ECFs.

    And your answer to #2 is to appeal to the intercessory work of the Bishop of Rome and to make his pronouncement irreformably binding of the all faithful Christians. It would seem to me that this resolution is problematic on more than one front. The EO theologians generally read the same early theologians as the West does but came to entirely different conclusions.

    Of course EO theologians do that. They come to the data with an IP that is different from the Catholic, but is not unreasonable, especially since it admits and requires ecclesial infallibility in some form. But it cannot be reasonably denied that, for centuries during the first millennium, the Bishop of Rome’s approval of conciliar dogmatic rulings was considered necessary for those to bind the whole Church. Of course, and as the Orthodox never hesitate to point out, it does not follow that such rulings were ever considered sufficient, as well as necessary, to bind the whole Church. But so what? My developmental account needn’t demonstrate that the East ever did think them sufficient. My account only requires that the development of the Catholic IP was rooted in what had been a common premise—not that such a premise suffices by itself to establish the Catholic IP as an account of previous history.

    Overall, you are not going to be able to solve the differences of opinion on the binding authority of the councils by positing an equally or perhaps more controversial claim utilizing the binding authority of the Bishop of Rome. If there is no way to substantiate a doctrine of papal infallibility from the history of the Church then I do not think we should try to posit one if there are other options available to us.

    The Catholic IP does not require that “differences of opinion” about papal infallibility, even when popes had that difference of opinion, had to be resolved by argumentation from the sources, prior to dogmatic definition. There’s a very good reason for that. If major disputes about doctrine, including meta-doctrine, could be definitively resolved by argumentation alone, then only an academic magisterium, not a charismatic magisterium, would be necessary for establishing Church teaching as authoritative. But even you have admitted before that “grace,” in both the teachers and the learners, is necessary for recognizing the true doctrine as such. So an academic magisterium could never in principle suffice for settling major doctrinal or meta-doctrinal disputes. The only issue is where the charisma certum veritatis objectively resides, which is not a matter that can be settled just by argumentation from “sources” preserved in common, and thus by an academic magisterium. Thus, that issue cannot, even in principle, be resolved in the manner you criticize the Catholic IP for failing to resolve it in. And so the Catholic IP’s failure to resolve it that way is not a defect.

    …you say that there is nothing from the Early Church could show your IP to be illegitimate. But then there is no way that I could POSSIBLY demonstrate that anything from the Early Church brought later RCC concepts of tradition into question, could I? As stated before, your position is unfalsifiable. What I am trying to bring into question is something that is inextricably intertwined with your whole interpretative framework by which you look at the history of the Church. You dismiss everything from Mathison as “irrelevant” based ultimately on notions of papal infallibility that were not even matters of consensus as late as the 14th century. But all such analysis is “irrelevant,” isn’t it? You start with papal infallibility as part of your IP in an attempt to establish proper authority and everything else previously in the history of the Church gets judged through this lens.

    What’s really “irrelevant” on my account is not what the ECFs said, but your very way of framing the issue in that passage. On my account of meta-doctrine, the ECFs are indeed relevant, but not in themselves dispositive. On the question of justification, you say the same yourself. Given as much, the issue worth discussing is how in general to justify the development of doctrine and meta-doctrine from the sources, including the ECFs, even granted that no such justification can be demonstrative in itself. That certainly treats as relevant what they say, but it does not make dispositive what they say. My argument is that the Catholic IP makes sense as a way of showing how ecclesiastical pronouncements understood to bind the whole Church can, in fact, do so with more than just the force of civilly enforced opinions. So I needn’t assume the superiority of the Catholic IP in order to argue that it’s an authentic development of meta-doctrine. Rather, I argue that it is, and I do so in the way I’ve just said. You have addressed that argument not by showing that the Catholic IP makes no sense of what it’s supposed to make sense of, but by counterposing other IPs to it, namely the Protestant and the Orthodox. That is radically question-begging, and thus irrelevant. As I’ve said over and over again, what’s needed here is to compare competing IPs philosophically, as ways of explaining how doctrine can bind with more than the force of opinion, given the common assumption that some doctrines are “authoritative.” You can’t begin to address that question merely by telling me that there are ways of answering that question which are different from the Catholic. I knew that already, and it only introduces the question at hand, rather than contributing to its resolution.

    Given that there was no understanding in the Early Church of tradition being pronounced infallibly and irreformably (which you have conceded) how could the Church of this age speak authoritatively? If ever there was a foundational Christian truth (something later termed de fide) it would be the relationship of members of the Trinity as summarized at Nicea. The congregations of Christianity recognized the summary at Nicea to be authoritative even though nobody at that time ever even dreamed that the theologians of that age were saying something that approximated infallibility. You are trying to posit general ecclesiastical infallibility and guarantee it with papal infallibility, but why go down this road if authority can be established without such appeals?

    Now that’s relevant. But I have not “conceded” that “there was no understanding in the Early Church of tradition being pronounced infallibly and irreformably.” What I’ve conceded is that, before Nicaea, there was no ecclesiastical pronouncement, beyond the formation and recognition of the biblical canon, about which the question of its being binding on the whole Church could have been fairly raised. But that leaves open the question how the early church understood the epistemic status of the canon’s content and certification. I argue that my account makes more sense of how they did so than the Mathison/Oberman account.

    I find it very strange that you say “If ever there was a foundational Christian truth (something later termed de fide) it would be the relationship of members of the Trinity as summarized at Nicea.” That council and creed were necessary only because the doctrine they propounded was not generally understood as “foundational” at the time. Some of us see it that way retrospectively, but that is the result of an authentic development of doctrine which not everybody who considers themselves Christian sees as such. In fact, even on your account, only Scripture was foundational, even for Nicaea. The issue at that council was how to adjudicate between competing interpretations of Scripture. And Nicaea’s way of doing it was not, at first, accepted as authoritative by the Eastern churches, as distinct from Rome. It took over a century for that to happen, and the culmination of the process, i.e. Ephesus and Chalcedon, precipitated schisms in the East that persist to this day. My argument is that, absent ecclesial infallibility, there is no way to show that Nicene-Chalcedonian orthodoxy is anything more than the opinion that historically prevailed among the Byzantines and the Romans. That’s why the councils recognized as “ecumenical” by both Catholics and Orthodox came to be seen by both communions as infallible in their dogmatic rulings. In the Catholic Church, papal infallibility eventually came to be understood as the way to explain how that could be the case. You have said nothing to show that such a reasoning process was illegitimate.

    Best,
    Mike

  31. Andrew M,
    I was really interested in how you would answer David Anders in #24. I know you said you sort of ran short on time and that you hoped your most recent comment answered it, but at least for me, it did not. Could you take a crack at meeting his question head on? Particularly answering it with his conceding of Tradition I for sake of argument in mind.

    Thanks!

    -David Meyer

  32. Mike,

    In your penultimate paragraph you said of my Trinitarian example “now that’s relevant” as if I’m finally brining up an example that is relevant to the discussion. But as I said this was the very first example I brought up right at the beginning of the comments section in Neal and Bryan’s original essay. And I’ve encouraged the Catholics to consider this and other such examples in these discussions. Without using the term de fide with the Medieval speculative baggage it brings to the table, there are things that are central to the Christian faith and things which are not. A Trinitarian understanding of God, Christ’s true humanity, and other such doctrines are central to the Christian faith. These are universal and sine qua non concepts to the Christian Church and it is these ecclesiastical pronouncements which I am speaking to.

    As far as I know, no formal ecclesiastical pronouncements before Nicaea were generally understood to bind the whole Church.

    The point is that they were universally accepted with the Church without any notion of infallibility as a guarantor. God had given the Church His Word which to use Florovsky’s term, “reigned supreme” in the Church. This Scripture was of course interpreted within and only within the regula fidei of the Church but the specific formulations on universal Christian truths were not themselves considered to rise to the same level of certainty of Scripture. But even lacking such a notion of infallibility these dogmas were still universally accepted by the Church (and they still are today even in communions that do not affirms any extra-biblical pronouncements to be infallible). The later Scholastic notion of infallibility was unnecessary and did not allow the Church to correct errors she had fallen into. But the point of the work of the Early Church within the Tradition 1 mindset was to show that the Church can affirm universal truths and, if they have reasoned correctly, they can be universally accepted by the Church. You want me to show something that qualifies as a de fide pronouncement from the Early Church, but as we both agree this was a later notion. And this is just the point – there were no such pronouncements because such Scholastic notions were utterly unnecessary for the Church to do her work. The bottom line for these foundational concepts of the Christian faith is this – There was a way to distinguish between “mere opinion” and the proper object of the Christian faith without any appeal to concepts of infallibility which came later in the history of the Church.

    You seem to think that I am not comparing IP’s in my previous replies but that is exactly what I have done and continue to do. If it is correct that 1) notions of infallibility are unnecessary to the work of the Church and 2) the Early Church did not employ them and 3) the later RCC did not solve anything by positing such a philosophy of tradition then the Protestant IP wins out, or so it would seem to me. But why do you think that I am not comparing IP’s by the reasoning that I am going through?

    Concerning your challenge in your last sentence for me to show that your reasoning is “illegitimate,” I had noted in my last reply that I did not think it was possible to show that your reasoning is illegitimate. Given the new and novel assumptions concerning certainty that some of the Scholastics brought to the medieval science of theology; I cannot show that your reasoning is illegitimate. I would say the same thing of the reasoning of the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ time. The solution in both cases is to trace the development of tradition from the beginning to see where if anywhere the Church has gone wrong. My contention is that your position is unfalsifiable. You will always have some way of explaining an apparent inconsistency from earlier tradition by imposing later concepts of tradition onto the earlier ones. Mathison and Oberman start with the opposite approach and weigh the later concepts of tradition in terms of the older ones.

    But was not your goal was to show that the Catholic IP was the most “reasonable.” Well, if we are looking for what is reasonable then we are likely not going to be able to prove that there is any obvious illegitimacy of either IP’s. I don’t think that the Catholic IP is absolutely impossible but that does not mean that it is to be favored.

    Your argument, in fact, relies on a fallacy of ambiguity between the concept of infallibility and the formal statement of infallibility.

    No, my argument rests on noting that universal principles of the Christian faith could be comprehended and accepted by the congregations of Christianity without any notion of infallibility and that at best the notion of infallibility was unnecessary. It seems to us that one of the things that the RCC strove for was to have universal acceptance of dogma even when there was no good reason from Scripture or earlier tradition to accept such dogma. But there is no ambiguity about the term or concept of “tradition.” I am just using “tradition” like Mathison and Oberman do when they speak of “Tradition 1.” This is different of course than the much later RCC concept of “Tradition 2” but it is not that I am being ambiguous and you are not, or that Tradition 1 is an ambiguous notion of tradition while Tradition 2 is not. They are just different understandings of the concept of tradition. Tradition 1 is a given from the writings from the Apostles onward. It is Tradition 2 which stands in the balance as I see it. Either these later notions that became associated with the speculative dogmatic tradition of the High Middles Ages and beyond was a proper development from earlier understandings of tradition or they were not.

    You try to use the canon of Scripture as an example of how the tradition of the Church operates but this does not work since the writing and the defining of the canon was a work of God not the Church. We have been through this one exhaustively here, but suffice it to say for now that the Church “received” (to us Athanasius’ term) the canon rather than defined it. The Word of God, both writing and collecting processes, was God’s work, and the Church was passive in it. She received the canon, but did not define it. As stated many times before, the canon would be infallible whether or not the Church was given any gift of infallibility in the process if God, who is infallible, worked through the process. The infallibility of the Church is an assumption that the RCC brings to its understanding of the canon rather than something which can be derived from it.

    So an academic magisterium could never in principle suffice for settling major doctrinal or meta-doctrinal disputes.

    As stated before I am not arguing for a purely academic teaching authority for the Church. The teaching authority of the Church is what the Early Church referred to as the regula fidei and analysis the Church did most be done in this context. The question is whether the Church in the 14th century did this analysis correctly or not. And again, I don’t think I’m going to be able to show that such reasoning was illegitimate although I think it is problematic for the Church to be infallibly defining herself as infallible. This would seem to be working the conclusions into the premises. But if you start with a Scholastic notion of infallibility and irreformability as the only mean to separate out the object of faith from opinion then it’s going to be difficult to show that ANYTHING that the RCC decides is illegitimate. But what I think I can do is as above, is try to show that firstly, the Early Church did not share the philosophy of tradition that the RCC later pronounced, secondly, the church did not need it to do her work, and thirdly, the RCC was not able to resolve anything later by utilizing these concepts. And this gets back to my very first thought experiment of comparing the Catholic vs Protestant IP in the case of the Trinitarian pronouncements. The point beside the obvious one that the Catholic IP was not shared by the Early Church was that the RCC after Trent was not in any better position to separate opinion from a description of the object of the Christian faith than the Early Church before anyone thought that such notions were necessary for the Church to do her job. Whether or not papal infallibility was a correct development from previous understandings of the authority of the Bishop or Rome, it cannot be denied that the Church was able to do her work even when she formally and forcefully denied papal infallibility. If then the Church could do her work when the theologians of the Church formally denied papal infallibility then what has the RCC gotten herself today by insisting that this doctrine is de fide?

  33. David Anders,

    David M certainly has a reasonable request that I answer your #24 since of course this is your thread!

    You said: Yes, I understand that. Mathison did not want to address all the issues in dispute between Catholics and Protestants. He simply wanted to identify what he takes to be the proper framework for adjudicating these disputes. What I wanted to do, however, was take up Mathison’s suggestion. This article is not about whether or not Tradition I is the proper framework. I said, “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Mathison is correct. Tradition I is the proper framework for understanding the doctrine of the Church. If that is the case, can Tradition I tell us anything about sola fide.”
    Now, I ask you, if we are not allowed to go “doctrine by doctrine” to determine what the Christian faith is, then of what possible use is Tradition I? Tradition I either addresses the justification issue, or it does not. If it does, lets’ find out what Tradition I tells us. If it doesn’t, then let’s concede that JBFA is merely private theological opinion, not de fide, not an article of faith, and not something to separate over.

    I did not want to complain about going doctrine by doctrine, but rather is going doctrine by doctrine without also comparing the respective philosophies of tradition. Now while the kind of analysis you are doing has value, it is leaving the Mathison/Oberman concept of Tradition 1 aside rather than using it as an operating assumption which is what I understand that you were trying to do. I don’t see how you were assuming Tradition 1 in your specific examples. Tradition 1 does not assume that the Early Church was correct in her understanding of various doctrines. In fact, it assumes that she could have been wrong in her understanding of a given doctrine, even when there was general consensus.

    On justification, I don’t see that the Protestant understanding of this doctrine is any more or less of an opinion than most anything else before Trent that was being proposed as a proper understanding of the Christian doctrine of justification. If you disagree with this, then what can you say definitely about the doctrine of justification before Trent that was not a matter of opinion? Yes, there were plenty of things you could point to from the ECF’s concerning their understanding of justification but there was precious little dogmatically defined on this doctrine before Trent. The core of the debate over justification turned on the correct exegesis of certain Greek texts and this kind of analysis just was not done in the West until after the Renaissance.

    The impact of Tradition 1 on justification would be to assume that no man-made formulation of the doctrine could be raised to the same level of normativity and certainty as Scripture on the issue. But by Trent the RCC had clearly graduated way beyond Tradition 1 to Tradition 2 where now, specific pronouncements of the Catholic Magisterium were accorded the same effective level of certainty as Scripture.

  34. Andrew (#32):

    I first want to recap the state of the question between us as I now see it. If the recap is correct, then the debate needs to focus on the philosophical question of the overall epistemic value of our respective IPs, rather than on the more specific question which IP is truer to history. For that latter question cannot be usefully addressed without first addressing the former.

    On my account, the best way to explain how ecclesial doctrine in general—including the doctrine that some-or-other canon is the inspired word of God, and thus inerrant—can yield authoritative articles of faith rather than provisional human opinions is to tell the story of how the Church of both East and West developed the doctrine of ecclesial infallibility. On that story, the West’s going on to develop the doctrine of specifically papal infallibility is just a further, explanatory stage in the same development. I claimed that you could not show that such a development was or is “illegitimate.” You have agreed that it cannot be shown illegitimate, but also insist that that fact is unimportant. On your view, what’s important is that the early church, as exemplified in the ECFs, saw no “need” to posit ecclesial infallibility in order to explain why either biblical inspiration and inerrancy or the creeds that summarized the central message of the canon are truly authoritative, not just provisional human opinions. My response was that the early church didn’t raise the question of ecclesial infallibility because she took for granted that she did not err either in how she identified the canon or in how she summarized its central message. I also argued, however, that question whether that could continue to be taken for granted needed to be raised, was in fact raised, and was eventually answered along the lines of the developmental story I told. Your latest response to that is to argue that I still haven’t shown that the answer in question was necessary, because it doesn’t logically follow from what the early church thought, and in fact wasn’t what the early church thought. My response to that is this: the answer I advocate doesn’t have to logically follow from what the early church thought in order to explain why what the early church thought managed to successfully distinguish truly binding articles of faith from theological opinion. And so here we are.

    If the debate is to move forward, you need to deal philosophically, not historically, with the response I’ve just given.

    Best,
    Mike

  35. Mike,

    I see a couple of inconsistencies that I would like you to explain. Firstly you say in your last comment that I need to deal philosophically, not historically, with what you’ve written. You said that in your previous post and I asked you to explain how I was not dealing with your responses philosophically. So I will ask it again. You said at the beginning of this most recent post:
    On my account, the best way to explain how ecclesial doctrine in general—including the doctrine that some-or-other canon is the inspired word of God, and thus inerrant—can yield authoritative articles of faith rather than provisional human opinions is to tell the story of how the Church of both East and West developed the doctrine of ecclesial infallibility.

    Right, this is what we are both doing as I see it. We are going through the history of the development of ecclesiastical approach to revelation. I am using individual doctrinal examples, but fundamentally what I am doing is analyzing the philosophy of revelation and more specifically the development of the philosophy of revelation in the West to see the differences between Early Church and later RCC philosophies on tradition and revelation, and then determining whether the later was properly connected with the earlier. But again, why do you think I am not looking at the philosophy of tradition? And take note of the three questions I asked concerning the philosophy of tradition. Is not a reasonable way of analyzing our respective IP’s?

    Secondly, in an earlier post you ask the question, Did the ECFs see any ecclesiastical pronouncement as having “the same level of certainty as Scripture”? and you answer it with an unqualified “no.” But then in this most recent post you say that the Church, took for granted that she did not err either in how she identified the canon or in how she summarized its central message. So first you want to say that there is nothing for the Early Church rising to the same level of certainty as Scripture (because you say there were no examples of de fide pronouncements) but now you say that the Church assumed she could not err (have the same level of certainty in her pronouncements as Scripture). So can you put this together for me?

    At this point it seems to me that I am still in a position that I cannot challenge your philosophy of tradition given the assumptions you bring to the table. Let me bring up again the aforementioned case of Trent’s understanding of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that during the Middle Ages, concerning the Deuteros, there were few theologians who are found to “unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity.” It further notes that the Tridentine Fathers took no note of the history of the acceptance or rejection of the Deuteros canonical status in the history of the Church. The conclusion seems to be that the tradition of the Church on this matter is what Trent said the tradition of the Church is irrespective of what previous theologians may have said or not said concerning the Deuteros. This kind of approach it seems to me characterizes the modern RCC approach of interpreting tradition. So now instead of look at the specific case of the Deuteros, if we look more generally at the philosophy of revelation or the philosophy of tradition ultimately adopted by the RCC, we get a similar kind of analysis. The Magisterium of the RCC is the final interpreter of what the Church has always (at least implicitly) believed concerning the philosophy of tradition, so even if it would seem that the Early Church adopted a philosophy of tradition antithetical to the later philosophy of tradition of the RCC, we must be mistaken because the Magisterium is the final interpreter of the tradition of the Church.

    Let me analogize the above to what happened with the Jews is the first century. The Sanhedrin was the final interpreter of the tradition of God’s people in their minds. The Jewish leaders were after all the demonstrated spiritual successors of Abraham, Isaac, etc and could trace their succession to these Patriarchs. They saw that it was their role to teach authoritative tradition to the people of Israel as their forefathers had from earliest times. Now given the assumption of the Sanhedrin there was little the Christians could say since the Pharisee’s understanding of the traditions of Israel were effectively normative. But of course Paul and others were successful at times at convincing some of these Jews that they were in error although most of the Jews dug their heals in and would not let go of the idea that they were the true children of Abraham based on their succession, end of story. Paul had no easy task and we know that he would often spend days in the synagogues working from the beginning of the tradition of Israel to demonstrate to the Jews that their later traditions were not proper developments of the older traditions. In order for the Jews to accept this they had to let go of the older tradition necessarily interpreting the older traditions approach. So now if we move into the specific case of the RCC’s interpretation of the older traditions of the Church we are in somewhat of an analogous situation. The Catholic historian/theologian starts with the position, either consciously or not, that, like in the case of the canonical approval of the Deuteros, whatever the current Magisterium says about previous tradition IS the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church. So from the Protestant standpoint it is the job of the apologist in regards to this question of the philosophy of tradition to demonstrate to the Catholic that the Early Church understanding of the issue does not support the later RCC one. But before he can do he has to get some sort of commitment to look at later RCC tradition through the lens of earlier Church tradition. This is what I was trying to do with my three question approach from the previous two posts. It seems like a reasonable way to compare respective IP’s to me, but it further seems to me that if you start with the assumption that current philosophy of tradition must be the final interpreter of that of the Early Church then we at the end of the discussion. And we may be, and at that time we may have to say that the only thing to do at this point is to have the matter judged by the theologically and philosophically uncommitted inquirer that you mentioned earlier.

  36. Andrew (33)

    You wrote:

    Tradition 1 does not assume that the Early Church was correct in her understanding of various doctrines. In fact, it assumes that she could have been wrong in her understanding of a given doctrine, even when there was general consensus . . . The impact of Tradition 1 on justification would be to assume that no man-made formulation of the doctrine could be raised to the same level of normativity and certainty as Scripture on the issue.

    I wonder if you are really giving full credit to Mathison’s position. The way I read Mathison, it’s simply not true that the ECF could potentially be wrong on each and every doctrine.
    I think he has spelled out some areas of doctrine that are non-negotiable and has specified the consensus of the Church as the basis for that authority. Granted, he holds that consensus to be an authoritative interpretation of Scripture , the sole source of revelation, and not revelatory in its own right, but authoritative nonetheless. Do you disagree? How do you understand Mathison’s position?

    You said, “I don’t see how you were assuming Tradition 1 in your specific examples. ”

    Please note: I didn’t simply cherry-pick doctrines or Church fathers ad hoc. I tried to stick to Mathison’s frame of reference – the notion of the regula fidei, ecumenical creeds, and the consensus of the Church. I asked whether the authority of these sources could speak to soteriology. My argument is that two articles in the creed do speak to these issues, and I attempt to explain what the articles mean in the context of the creed and of the fathers who wrote the creed.

    You may think my argument fails. If so, please tell me how it fails. In your opinion, if we assume Tradition I, then how do we go about discerning the content of the faith with certainty? Or, perhaps you believe it is not possible to have certainty concerning the content of the faith? That everything is perpetually up for grabs, subject to the latest exegetical, revisionist arguments?

    And finally, I’m not clear on whether you think JBFA is an article of faith, or merely a private theological opinion. If an article of faith, then on what basis? Tradition I, your own exegesis, something else?

    Thanks,

    David

  37. @ Andrew McCallum

    I see where you are going with your argument (but also notice that there is a bit of a misunderstanding in it so that it doesn’t quite grasp the Catholic position).

    I am a convert to Catholicism, but my conversion is not due primarily to modern writings but to the writings of the Church Fathers. As such where you say

    The Catholic historian/theologian starts with the position, either consciously or not, that, like in the case of the canonical approval of the Deuteros, whatever the current Magisterium says about previous tradition IS the correct interpretation of the tradition of the Church.

    I would say that is not explicit or implicit in my starting position at all nor in many others that I have read.

    I would say also if you look at the construction of the arguments in, say Vatican II, that it is also not at all the position of the modern Magisterium. De Verbum, and Lumen Gentium, for example, do not approach the respective questions of “What is the Word of God” and “What is the Church” from an authoritarian “final authority” position but rather simply lays out what has been handed on so that it might be received by the current generation.

    When you say

    The Magisterium of the RCC is the final interpreter of what the Church has always (at least implicitly) believed concerning the philosophy of tradition

    there is a mistake in your understanding. The Magisterium is the authentic interpreter of scripture and tradition but that should not be confused with being the final interpreter. The Magisterium is bound by the content of revelation and serves it and safeguards it. Thus the Magisterium doesn’t act as “final interpreter” as if she was above scripture but rather as the authentic preacher of the truth’s of revelation. Let me put it this way: Revelation (scripture and tradition) determines what the Magisterium is and the Magisterium authentically preaches Revelation. Scripture and Tradition define what the Magisterium is and the Magisterium in turn gives the authentic interpretation.

    If you think that the Magisterium determines what is scripture and what is not scripture, then you have a bit of a misunderstanding in your understanding of Catholicism.

    So from the Protestant standpoint it is the job of the apologist in regards to this question of the philosophy of tradition to demonstrate to the Catholic that the Early Church understanding of the issue does not support the later RCC one.

    You are aware that for the Catholic apologist the first thing that one does is to show that the Protestant understanding of the issue is not supported by the understanding in the Early Church, right? As such there is a common approach going on here.

    What I want to do is to propose a way out of the dilemma that you are proposing by showing you how a Catholic apologist need not assume that whatever the current Magisterium says about the previous tradition IS the correct interpretation.

    All belief systems have the following pillars

    1.) Original kerygma of its founder.
    2.) Writings and oral tradition derived from the founder’s kerygma.
    3.) Liturgy and prayers based on the founder’s kerygma.
    4.) The cultic, cultural. and moral life of the followers of the religion’s founder.
    5.) The organizational leadership that maintains and passes the original kerygma from generation to generation after the death of the founder through teachings (written and oral).

    If you analyze any belief system according to those points, you will have a good understanding of how the system functions and you will be able to trace it through history and you will be able to make determinations of how authentic the religion is to its foundation.

    This method does not rely at all upon “What the Catholic Church currently teaches” and in fact doesn’t care. It simply is impartial and weighs each modern IP against the historical IP. This method furthermore doesn’t care if the historical IP is true or not. The data that it returns is, simply, is modern IP A closer to historical IP O than modern IP B.

    For example we can use this method to ask “Is the modern day PC USA closer to Calvin’s IP or is the OPC closer?”

    Likewise we can as it, “Is the modern Catholic view of the Eucharist is a sacrifice closer to the original IP than the modern Protestant view that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice?”

    If you keep going through basic questions like that (not picky theological / philosophical questions that are not addressed by earlier believers) it quickly becomes clear that the early Church is closer to the modern Catholic Church and that the modern Protestants are often not in the ballpark (the Protestant IP is often not a different way of explaining the same thing, (Example: the Neo-Platonism of the early Fathers and the Thomism of the later scholastics) but it really is an IP that explains something different. Example: Calvin’s idea that Jesus was punished for man’s sins has in mind a very different human anthropology and understanding of who God is, than the Catholic view.

    That the modern Catholic Church’s view is more congruent with the early Church than the Protestant view doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the early Church was wrong in its IP.

    But the Catholic apologist doesn’t need to answer this question, for in order for the Protestant to continue to hold to the Protestant IP and reject the early Church IP they have to resort to fideism/gnosticism and a dispensationalist ahistorical Christianity thereby rendering the Gospel to a myth. Thus the Catholic apologist wins the argument without the need to prove that the early Christians practiced authentic Christianity (thus avoiding your Sanhedrin dilemma).

  38. Andrew (#33) and David (#34):

    David wrote:

    The way I read Mathison, it’s simply not true that the ECF could potentially be wrong on each and every doctrine.

    That’s the way I read Mathison too. If that reading is correct, then there needs to be an explanation why the ECFs thought the Church could not err on some doctrine(s). But here’s the irony: if Andrew’s contrary reading is correct, then he’s just deprived himself of the best argument that we ought to take the ECF view as authoritative!

    Addressing me, Andrew wrote:

    So first you want to say that there is nothing for the Early Church rising to the same level of certainty as Scripture (because you say there were no examples of de fide pronouncements) but now you say that the Church assumed she could not err (have the same level of certainty in her pronouncements as Scripture). So can you put this together for me?

    I thought I already had “put it together” for you. How? By interpreting the ECF view of Scripture as saying that Scripture is inspired and inerrant, and then interpreting that very view as a doctrine they thought was, itself, inerrant. The doctrine of scriptural inspiration and inerrancy was not, of course, a de fide pronouncement of the sort that only arose with the first ecumenical council; but David Anders and I argue that it was a belief of the early church all the same. If so, then the belief of the ECFs that no ecclesiastical “pronouncement” so far rose to the same level of certainty as Scripture should be understood as entailing an ascription of inerrancy to the Church’s very view of Scripture, and thus as an ascription of infallibility to the Church in at least this one instance.

    Addressing me, Andrew also wrote:

    So from the Protestant standpoint it is the job of the apologist in regards to this question of the philosophy of tradition to demonstrate to the Catholic that the Early Church understanding of the issue does not support the later RCC one. But before he can do he has to get some sort of commitment to look at later RCC tradition through the lens of earlier Church tradition. This is what I was trying to do with my three question approach from the previous two posts. It seems like a reasonable way to compare respective IP’s to me, but it further seems to me that if you start with the assumption that current philosophy of tradition must be the final interpreter of that of the Early Church then we at the end of the discussion.

    For purposes of the present discussion, I do not “start with the assumption that current philosophy of tradition must be the final interpreter of that of the Early Church.” In fact, we agreed that “the early-Church understanding of “the philosophy of tradition” included no explicit affirmation of ecclesial infallibility. But I also argued that it included an implicit affirmation to that effect, in at least one instance, i.e. the doctrine of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. And I offered my story about the Catholic IP’s development of the concept of tradition as the best way to explain how the Church could have been thought of as infallible even by the ECFs, and later came to see herself that way more broadly. That the ECFs offered no such explanation is no evidence that the explanation does not apply or is not true.

    Best,
    Mike

  39. David,

    I wonder if you are really giving full credit to Mathison’s position. The way I read Mathison, it’s simply not true that the ECF could potentially be wrong on each and every doctrine.
    I think he has spelled out some areas of doctrine that are non-negotiable and has specified the consensus of the Church as the basis for that authority. Granted, he holds that consensus to be an authoritative interpretation of Scripture , the sole source of revelation, and not revelatory in its own right, but authoritative nonetheless. Do you disagree? How do you understand Mathison’s position?

    Yes, I agree. Mathison and the Reformed theologians as a whole will defend some matters as being non-negotiable and so central to the Christian faith that those who reject them reject the essence of the Christian faith. The question I was getting at, which I think what Mathison and Oberman address is whether the Church can rule and speak authoritatively on such matters without declaring them to be pronounced “infallibly” as such term was used later by the Medieval Church in its discussions of dogmatic hierarchies. For the RCC the concepts of infallibility and irreformability became central to the speculative dogmatic theology of the Scholastic era so that it was thought that without such concepts of certainty and normativity that the Church could never rule with finality without them. And this is the debate between Protestant and Catholic over which countless thousands of gallons have inked has be spilled – Can the Church speak authoritatively (on matters central to the faith) without utilizing these notions of certainty defined by the Medieval RCC? It is the contribution of Mathison and Oberman and others to demonstrate that the Church did speak authoritatively early on in her history without any notion of infallibility except of course when speaking of Scriptures (both in the writing and collecting of the sacred texts). In “Tradition 1” the Scripture “reigns supreme” and no formulation of tradition or Scripture by the Church rises to the same level of certainty and normativity as Scripture.

    So the obvious question that comes out of these discussions is whether there is finality in any sense for Protestants when speaking of the elements of the Christian faith that are of central importance. And the answer for us is “yes” although our Catholic friends want to tell us that in reality the answer is ‘no.” Here and in many other Catholic and Protestant blogs this horse has been beaten to death, but still gets kicked around the debate floor endlessly. I won’t begin to try to go through all of the aspects of the debate, but will only mention that the Mathison discussion on Tradition 1 is apropos here – If the Church did indeed speaking authoritatively on a doctrine of seminal importance to the Christian faith, and such doctrine was accepted by the congregations of Christendom without anyone ever thinking that the Church had been granted any gift of infallibility, then this should have educated future generations of theologians as they dwelled on matters of dogmatic certainty and authority.

    if we assume Tradition I, then how do we go about discerning the content of the faith with certainty? Or, perhaps you believe it is not possible to have certainty concerning the content of the faith? That everything is perpetually up for grabs, subject to the latest exegetical, revisionist arguments?

    So what you are asking in effect is can we discern the content of the Christian faith without a Scholastic notion of certainty. And the answer is “yes” and the examples from the Early Church as adduced as proof. And even today in Reformed and Evangelical communions we are not revising our understanding of the Trinity and other such doctrines. It is here we get into some what I consider rather tiresome debates with Catholics who tell us that since there is no final irreformable stamp on such doctrines are “up for grabs.” The fact that such doctrinal matters have never been a matter of contention within the Reformed communions seems to be beside the point. Of course there are liberal groups in Protestant denominations who have denied these central doctrines but there are also liberal groups within Catholicism who have done the same thing. It seems to us that the RCC notions of infallibility have not gotten it any further in brining finality to matters central to Christianity.

    So on soteriology, yes I agree that the Early Church did speak to the issue of justification. My point is that, except to provide a very general and very broad frame of reference, it did not speak to the specific soteriological issues that were being raised by theologians, within and without the RCC, during the era from the Late Middle Ages to Trent. The linguistic and hermeneutical tools that were utilized in the debates between Protestant and Catholic just were not available in the Early Church. And nobody in the Early Church tried to dogmatically define the precise relationships between faith and works, regeneration and justification, etc, etc as the Protestants and Catholics did in the 16th century in their respective confessional statements. JBFA was a matter of “opinion” in the late Middle Ages as were the various other “opinions” of that era. Once dogmatically defined in the respective Catholic and Protestant confessional statements, they were no longer just “opinions” (although this term is used differently with the RCC than it was among the Reformed). The difference of course was that the RCC put an “irreformable” stamp on her specific soteriological pronouncements. Whether placing such as a stamp on the confessional statements of Trent had any basis given the manner in which the Early Church formulated dogma is a matter that is taken up in the Tradition 1/Tradition 2 discussions.

  40. Dear Andrew M.

    The major thesis of this article is that the ECF and Councils (being the constituents of Tradition I) speak to the issue of justification in such a way as to rule out JBFA. You dispute that thesis.

    You concede that the ECF speak to soteriology broadly, but in a way so general as to be irrelevant for the 16th century debates. You write:

    “Nobody in the Early Church tried to dogmatically define the precise relationships between faith and works, regeneration and justification, etc, etc as the Protestants and Catholics did in the 16th century.”

    I have a few questions about this.
    The first is, “Really?”
    Didn’t Saint Augustine write his treatise De Fide et Operibus? Didn’t he make his plain his understanding of regeneration and justification?

    And didn’t the Synod of Orange offer a dogmatic definition of just these issues?
    That the grace of justification is received through baptism? Of the necessity and merit of good works? of the freedom of the will? The denial of double predestination? Of God’s initiative and providence in all grace?

    Orange:

    According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema. We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him.”

    Secondly – Even if I were to concede your point that the ECF was rather vague on these issues, do you really think ECF soteriology can accomodate JBFA? I didn’t want to get dragged into a hermeneutical debate about the meaning of terms, so I deliberately avoided too much discussion of Augustine’s doctrine of justification. I though it was much more fruitful to look at all of the preconditions for that doctrine – such as the church’s penitential regime.
    It seems to me that the Church’s doctrine on sacramental absolution (in baptism and penance), satisfaction, merit, and the transfer of merit, eucharist, and viaticum is highly relevant to medieval and modern debates on justification. It’s not general at all. It’s highly specific: if you sin gravely, you are excluded from the church and sacraments and, presumably, from salvation, unless you do penance and receive ecclesiastical absolution. In fact, these doctrines are so relevant that they form the context for Luther’s earliest reflections on JBFA. He was deeply concerned to find out what constituted perfect contrition and attrition, what were the conditions of absolution, how to determine if he were in a state of grace, etc.

    You have not addressed any of this in your response.

    Also – I think you misconstrue my question about certainty. I’m not insisting on any particular scholastic category. I was simply asking the practical question about how you go about doing dogmatics. I think you answered this when you said that a consensus of the ECF should “educate” future theologians.

    However, I’m still puzzled about your opinions on the status of JBFA. You say it is no longer opinion since respective communions have defined this dogma. But when Mathison addresses areas of dispute between Catholics and Protestants (without mentioning JBFA specifically), he suggests that these are precisely mere opinions because they lack the note of consensus.

    So, is JBFA a dogma of the faith? And, if so, what makes it a dogma? I’m not trying to sneak in infallibility or irreformability here. I’m really still trying to stick to Mathison’s categories. Based on Mathison’s criteria, is JBFA a dogma? An assured part of the deposit of faith, in the same way that the Trinity is?

    And finally, I would strongly take issue with your contention that the Reformed Churches have held fast to a stable body of dogma. In fact, If you consider the congregational tradition to be within the Reformed fold, even the Trinity is up for grabs. I know of one prominent evangelical theologian who admits privately that most protestants today are Nestorian. On whose authority would you exclude Arminius from the Reformed fold? And when it comes to ecclesiology? !!!

    thanks,

    David

  41. Good article here, David. Thank you for it.

    There is no doubt that Scripture speaks of the righteousness of faith, and so I’m grateful that you take seriously that one can, in the narrow sense, be justified by faith (#4). I think an offshoot of this discussion is that it helpfully reminds the reader (whether Catholic or Protestant or . . .) that justification≠salvation. There’s a whole lot more to the package of salvation than that one plank.

    I did wonder, however, if you inadvertently equivocated the two by carrying the discussion from the sacraments, which are no doubt essential to salvation, to the doctrine of justification. Correct if I’m wrong, but the late Middle Ages saw a shift and an equivocation in that the sacraments became the mediators of justification proper. This is where Luther’s NEIN! comes in, if not Contarini’s non esattamente.

  42. If what you say is true then what about Jesus and why was HE crucified on the cross for our sins if we still have to make up for what we have done in our lives? Wasn’t His sacrifice enough? What about true repentance and turning from the sins we commit. It can’t be on us to do the good even though we might really try hard. We need the Lord’s mercy and Grace and Love and forgiveness and to trust in that even though we fall short every day. It has to be a reliance on Jesus and His finished work on the cross. People are people and do sin, we miss the mark. Faith alone has to enter in and where does that faith come from, the Word of God, no place else. There can be no other way. We can live holy lives as much as possible but still have to trust and rely on the Lord’s work that He has done for us on a daily basis with a thankful and gracious heart. Thank You

  43. Ed,

    You need to understand this article argues that these doctrines of justification are historical and meet Keith Mathison’s definition of tradition that is solid and trustworthy. What he calls Tradition 1. Whether these doctrines are logical or biblical is really another topic.

    Penance is not where we “make up for what we have done in our lives.” That is not the Catholic teaching. We agree that only Jesus does that. The topic is big. Maybe start with this link if you want to dig into it.

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/03/biblical-overview-on-penance-purgatory.html

  44. Ed,

    We have also discussed the subject of penance in “St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance.” The most essential thing to understand with regard to answering your question about penance is the two-fold violation of justice in every sin, as explained at that link.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. How does the views of the early church fathers fit with the seven churches of asia – that is if you assume these churches not only represent a TYPE of church but a prophecy of in general of the church AGES. Eg the catholic church – the thyatiran age- is commended by Jesus except for those who tolerate the Jezebel spirit.
    Also the church of Philadelphia which came out of Sardis (protestant church) is the most commended – this is understood to be the wesleyen , spurgeon etc era . Note that these Philadelphians did not generaly follow some key doctrines of the catholic church.
    But both types of churches are commended although differ in some key dogmas.
    The end times Laodecian church is “spewed” out except they repent of their lukewarmness.

    I assume that philadelphian churches did not a whole accept the real presence (I do)

  46. […] nos imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, first articulated by Martin Luther, is a theological novum not found in any Christian theology of salvation prior to the […]

  47. […] nosimputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, first articulated by Martin Luther, is a theological novum not found in any Christian theology of salvation prior to the […]