The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins

May 25th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Articles

Yesterday (May 24) was the feast day of St. Vincent of Lérins, a soldier who became a monk at the monastery in Lérins, and wrote his famous Commonitory in AD 434, three years after the third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus, and seventeen years before the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Because Protestants generally accept both those councils, St. Vincent’s Commonitory provides a window into Catholic thought during a period treated by Protestants as still orthodox, prior to any ‘great apostasy.’

Because St. Vincent writes in the time period between the two councils, one cannot non-arbitrarily accept those two councils while dismissing St. Vincent’s work as a product of some great apostasy. St. Vincent is a strong advocate of the indefectibility of the Church, and of the importance of interpreting Scripture under the authority of the Church and her universal tradition. Here I present an overview of his Commonitory, and examine the fundamental truths he communicates in it, particularly with a view to their contribution toward the reconciliation of Protestants and the Catholic Church.

St. Honorat: The island of Lérins on which St. Vincent wrote his Commonitory in AD 434.

Outline
I. Purpose of his Commonitory
A. A Response to the Subtle Craftiness of the New Heretics
B. St. Vincent’s Prescription against Heresies and Schisms: Scripture and Tradition
II. An Objection: What about the Sufficiency of Scripture?
III. The Identity and Authority of the Tradition and Magisterium
A. The Tradition
B. The Magisterium
1. General Councils
2. The Apostolic See
3. The Authority of the Church
IV. The Indefectibility of the Church
V. Schisms, Heresies, and their Antidote
A. In the Event of Schism and Heresy
B. The Cause of Heresies and Schisms
1. Cause: Wicked Novelty Subverting Well-Established Antiquity
2. Why does God permit them?
C. The Antidote: Interpret Scripture within and according to the Church
VI. The Development of Doctrine
VII. The Implications for Protestant-Catholic Reconciliation

I. Purpose of his Commonitory
A. A Response to the Subtle Craftiness of the New Heretics

At the beginning of his work, St. Vincent explains his purpose for writing it. Having attained time for studying and writing after entering the monastery, and having discerned the need of the time in which he lived, he set out to record what his forefathers in the faith had handed down to him and his fellow Catholics, and committed to their keeping. (p. 1, 3)1 “It is most necessary,” he writes, “that I should put down in writing the things which I have truthfully received from the holy Fathers.” (p. 1) Hence the title of his work is the Commonitory, or Remembrancer. (p. 3) He does not lay out all the doctrines he had been taught. Rather, he provides the rule he had received, by which the truth of the Catholic faith can be distinguished from the falsehood of heresy. (p. 4) In this way, he addresses the second-order question (“By what rule do we rightly distinguish orthodoxy from heresy?”) that underlies the first-order questions (“Which doctrines are orthodox and which are heretical?”). He does this because of the prevalence of heresies and schism in his time: “the subtle craftiness of new heretics calls for no ordinary care and attention.” (p. 2)

B. St. Vincent’s Prescription against Heresies and Schism: Scripture and Tradition

According to St. Vincent, “to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, … fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.” (p. 4) In other words, the rule by which we can distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy, is found in the authority of Scripture and Tradition. But this immediately raises two questions: Scripture as interpreted by whom? And which tradition? St. Vincent recognizes those questions, and the purpose of the rest of his Commonitory is to answer them. But first he considers and responds to an objection.

II. An Objection: What about the Sufficiency of Scripture?

St. Vincent anticipates an objection in the form of a question:

Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? (p. 5)

This question is a very important question with respect to Protestant-Catholic reconciliation, because the answer to the question bears directly on whether we must submit our interpretation to that of the Magisterium, or whether we can and must hold the Magisterium to our interpretation of Scripture. If we can and must hold the Magisterium to our own interpretation of Scripture, then Protestants can be justified in separating from the Catholic Church in protest until the Magisterium conforms to their interpretation of Scripture. But if we must submit our interpretation of Scripture to that of the Magisterium, then Protestants were not justified in placing their own interpretation of Scripture above that of the Magisterium, and are obliged before God in humility and repentance to be reconciled to the Catholic Church and submit to her teaching authority.

St. Vincent then provides the answer to his question:

For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. (p. 5)

His point is that because of the depth of Scripture due to its divine quality, not all persons interpret it in the same sense. In fact, there are, according to St. Vincent, almost as many interpretations as there are interpreters. When these interpretations are contrary to those decreed by general councils or taught by the consent of the Church Fathers, they are invariably heretical, and St. Vincent provides a number of examples.

A bit later in his work he provides another example. He refers to Agripinnus, bishop of Carthage, who was the first to hold the belief that baptism ought to be repeated. (p. 16) This was “contrary to the divine canon, contrary to the rule of the universal Church, contrary to the customs and institutions of our ancestors.” (p. 16) Regarding this belief that baptism ought to be repeated, St. Vincent asks whether this novelty had Scriptural support. Yes, according to St. Vincent it had “weighty support in Scripture,” but with this qualification: “only interpreted in a novel and perverse sense.” (p. 17) Of course Agripinnus and those who followed him in this belief did not think they were giving Scripture a perverse or distorted sense. They were interpreting it, presumably, according to what they believed that it truly taught. But they were deceived, claims St. Vincent, because they did not interpret it according to the tradition of the Church.

In other words, we shouldn’t expect heretics to avoid Scripture; we should expect heretics to make vigorous and copious use of Scripture. If Scripture could reasonably be read in only one sense, we would expect heretics to avoid Scripture. But because Scripture can be read in many senses, then we should expect heretics to appeal to Scripture to defend their heretical beliefs, and to presuppose (or state explicitly) that Magisterial authority is not necessary in order to interpret Scripture rightly.

St. Vincent writes:

Here, possibly, some one may ask, Do heretics also appeal to Scripture? They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture—through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old. (p. 64)

The plentiful use of Scripture by heretics to support their heretical claims demonstrates the need for interpretive authority in the Church. What the faithful must look for is not a mere appeal to Scripture, since any heretic can do that. The faithful must look to those whom Christ authorized to provide the authentic interpretation of Scripture for the members of His Body. St. Vincent points to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” (Mt. 7:15) What is the sheep’s clothing that the false prophets use to disguise themselves? According to St. Vincent, the sheep’s clothing is the words of Scripture that the heretics wrap themselves in, to steal upon the unsuspecting sheep. He writes,

What is meant by sheep’s clothing? What but the words which prophets and apostles with the guilelessness of sheep wove beforehand as fleeces, for that immaculate Lamb which takes away the sin of the world? What are the ravening wolves? What but the savage and rabid glosses of heretics, who continually infest the Church’s folds, and tear in pieces the flock of Christ wherever they are able? But that they may with more successful guile steal upon the unsuspecting sheep, retaining the ferocity of the wolf, they put off his appearance, and wrap themselves, so to say, in the language of the Divine Law, as in a fleece, so that one, having felt the softness of wool, may have no dread of the wolf’s fangs. (p. 66)

St. Vincent explains that St. Paul also refers to such persons in his second letter to the Corinthians, where he writes, “For of this sort are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:12) They transform themselves into apostles of Christ [i.e. make themselves out to appear as though they are apostles of Christ, when in fact they are not] by arrogating to themselves the right to interpret Scripture as they see fit, rather than under the authority of the Church in accordance with the Tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles. (p. 67) St. Vincent writes:

Therefore, according to the authority of the Apostle Paul, as often as either false apostles or false teachers cite passages from the Divine Law, by means of which, misinterpreted, they seek to prop up their own errors, there is no doubt that they are following the cunning devices of their father, which assuredly he would never have devised, but that he knew that where he could fraudulently and by stealth introduce error, there is no easier way of effecting his impious purpose than by pretending the authority of Holy Scripture. (p. 67)

Here St. Vincent shows from Scripture that the Devil quoted Scripture, and because the sons do what their father does, so the Devil’s followers likewise will quote Scripture. Hence St. Vincent writes:

[W]e may be assured beyond doubt, when we find people alleging passages from the Apostles or Prophets against the Catholic Faith, that the Devil speaks through their mouths. For as then the Head spoke to the Head, so now also the members speak to the members, the members of the Devil to the members of Christ, misbelievers to believers, sacrilegious to religious, in one word, Heretics to Catholics. (p. 68)

Just as the head of the “sons of the evil one” (Mt. 13:38) spoke to the Head of the “sons of the Kingdom” (Mt. 13:38), so the sons of the evil one will speak in the same way to the sons of the Kingdom. Thus, just as the Devil appealed to Scripture to tempt Jesus, so the heretics appeal to Scripture in their attempt to lead Catholics away from the true faith of the Church. St. Vincent sees this implied in the very nature of the narrative of Satan’s attempt to get Jesus to cast Himself down from the Temple. This, he says, characterizes the attempt by heretics to get Catholics to cast themselves down from “the doctrine and tradition of that sublime Church, which is imagined to be nothing less than the very temple of God.” (p. 69) If we ask the heretics what grounds they have for their belief, they respond, like Satan himself, by appealing to the Scriptures, interpreted according to their own novel interpretation, not interpreted according to the doctrine and teaching of the Church.

In a rather well-known passage, he writes:

And if one should ask one of the heretics who gives this advice, How do you prove? What ground have you, for saying, that I ought to cast away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church? He has the answer ready, For it is written; and immediately he produces a thousand testimonies, a thousand examples, a thousand authorities from the Law, from the Psalms, from the apostles, from the Prophets, by means of which, interpreted on a new and wrong principle, the unhappy soul may be precipitated from the height of Catholic truth to the lowest abyss of heresy. Then, with the accompanying promises, the heretics are wont marvellously to beguile the incautious. For they dare to teach and promise, that in their church, that is, in the conventicle of their communion, there is a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God, so that whosoever pertain to their number, without any labour, without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock, have such a dispensation from God, that, borne up by angel hands, that is, preserved by the protection of angels, it is impossible they should ever dash their feet against a stone, that is, that they should ever be offended. (p. 69)

The heretics cast away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church because of their preference for their own interpretation of Scripture, by which, wrongly interpreted, they fall from Catholic truth into the darkness of heresy, and shipwreck their faith. To make their sect more attractive, they use Scripture to teach that in their sect, there is some greater benefit than what is available in the Catholic Church. The greater benefit can be something such as the impossibility of sinning or losing salvation.

In his summary toward the end of his Commonitory, St. Vincent writes in more detail about the two ways in which it has always been the custom of Catholics to prove the true faith:

We said above, that it has always been the custom of Catholics, and still is, to prove the true faith in these two ways; first by the authority of the Divine Canon, and next by the tradition of the Catholic Church. Not that the Canon alone does not of itself suffice for every question, but seeing that the more part, interpreting the divine words according to their own persuasion, take up various erroneous opinions, it is therefore necessary that the interpretation of divine Scripture should be ruled according to the one standard of the Church’s belief, especially in those articles on which the foundations of all Catholic doctrine rest. (p. 76)

When he includes the tradition of the Church, he wants to make sure his reader understands that he is not saying that Scripture is not sufficient to answer such questions. However, the nature of the sufficiency he is affirming is about Scripture itself. The reason why, according to St. Vincent, we need the tradition of the Catholic Church in addition to Scripture, is because of human weakness, namely, that apart from a divinely established interpretive authority guarding and preserving a divinely given tradition, people interpret Scripture according to their own persuasion. Therefore, the rule for the interpretation of Scripture must be the tradition of the Church, by which and in which Scripture is authentically interpreted. In other words, the standard for the right interpretation of Scripture is the Church’s doctrine, not one’s own opinion. To use one’s own interpretation as the standard by which to judge the doctrine of the Church is to fall into the underlying error of the heretics, who approach Scripture apart from the teaching and tradition of the Church, and so arrive at novel interpretations by which they criticize the Church and deceive some of her sheep.

III. The Identity and Authority of the Tradition and Magisterium
A. The Tradition

According to St. Vincent, to avoid heresy and schism we should hold firmly to the following two authoritative lights: the decisions of authoritative councils, and the opinions of the holy Fathers. (p. 77) So in what sense is the “Tradition of the Catholic Church” (p. 4) authoritative, and how do we identify it? St. Vincent provides us with his famous rule, also known as the “Vincentian canon:”

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. (p. 6)

The Vincentian canon is summarized as quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all). This is the very nature of catholicity, and catholicity is one of the four marks of the Church (i.e. “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”). The utility of the Vincentian canon depends on the Church being visible, such that there is a clear distinction between those in the Church and those not. Otherwise, we would not know who to include in the ‘everywhere, always, and all.’ The Vincentian canon also carries with it an implicit affirmation of the indefectibility of the visible Church (and thus a denial of ecclesial deism). In order for the Tradition held everywhere in the Church, in all times of the Church’s history, and by all in the Church, to have divine authority, it must be the case not only that this Tradition is divine revelation, but also that this Tradition is divinely protected and preserved in the Church.

St. Vincent draws this from the letters of St. Paul. Speaking of Galatians 1.8, he writes, “But what he [i.e. St. Paul] means is: Even if that were to happen which cannot happen — if any one, be he who he may, attempt to alter the faith once for all delivered, let him be accursed.” (p. 22) It means that “it is unlawful for all to receive any other gospel than that which the Catholic Church preaches everywhere.” (p. 24) According to St. Vincent, Galatians 1:8 entails that we have to trace the gospel down through the generations, from the Apostles to the present. The two possible methodological errors related to this verse are: (1) assuming blindly that the [heretical] sect one is presently in is the bearer of the Apostolic tradition, and thereby following what is, in actuality, a novel interpretation that arose in a previous generation, and in which one was raised, and (2) failing to trace the Apostolic Tradition down through the generations, but instead assuming that one’s own interpretation of Scripture is what the Apostles handed down, and thereby introducing what is in fact a novel interpretation.

Toward the end of his Commonitory, St. Vincent summarizes his point concerning the authority of Tradition:

We said likewise, that in the Church itself regard must be had to the consentient voice of universality equally with that of antiquity, lest we either be torn from the integrity of unity and carried away to schism, or be precipitated from the religion of antiquity into heretical novelties. We said, further, that in this same ecclesiastical antiquity two points are very carefully and earnestly to be held in view by those who would keep clear of heresy: first, they should ascertain whether any decision has been given in ancient times as to the matter in question by the whole priesthood of the Catholic Church, with the authority of a General Council: and, secondly, if some new question should arise on which no such decision has been given, they should then have recourse to the opinions of the holy Fathers, of those at least, who, each in his own time and place, remaining in the unity of communion and of the faith, were accepted as approved masters; and whatsoever these may be found to have held, with one mind and with one consent, this ought to be accounted the true and Catholic doctrine of the Church, without any doubt or scruple. (p. 77)

We find the true and Catholic doctrine of the Church in the Church, either by what has been decided by the authority of the Church in a General Council, or, if no decision has been made in a General Council concerning the question, in what has been held universally in the Church, especially in the Church Fathers. This is how we avoid being carried away into schism or heretical novelties.

B. The Magisterium
1. General Councils

Throughout the Commonitory we see St. Vincent refer to the authority of General Councils:

But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few. (p. 8)

A bit later he writes:

Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,— this, and nothing else—she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name. (p. 59)

Here St. Vincent shows us what a General Council does. It does not fabricate novel teaching. Rather, typically in response to challenges from heretics, it clarifies and makes explicit what had always been believed, even if previously held in a simple or inchoate fashion. In other words, a General Council serves as an instrument in the authentic development of doctrine. Moreover, a General Council puts to writing what had previously been handed down only by [oral] tradition. So, the decisions and decrees of a General Council are a way to know what is the oral Tradition that has been passed down from the Apostles.2

Toward the end of the Commonitory he repeatedly refers to the authority of General Councils:

[I]n antiquity itself in like manner, to the temerity of one or of a very few they must prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of a Universal Council, or if there be no such, then, what is next best, they must follow the consentient belief of many and great masters. Which rule having been faithfully, soberly, and scrupulously observed, we shall with little difficulty detect the noxious errors of heretics as they arise. (p. 70)

But it is now time to bring forward the exemplification which we promised, where and how the sentences of the holy Fathers have been collected together, so that in accordance with them, by the decree and authority of a council, the rule of the Church’s faith may be settled. (p. 75)

[F]irst, they should ascertain whether any decision has been given in ancient times as to the matter in question by the whole priesthood of the Catholic Church, with the authority of a General Council. (p. 77)

According to St. Vincent, a General Council settles questions or disputes concerning what does and does not belong to the rule of the Church’s faith. If the Church has spoken on a question through a General Council, there is no need to search the Fathers; the question is no longer uncertain or up in the air, because the Church’s decision is authoritative and binding. If a heresy has already been condemned by a General Council, then we should treat such heresies “as having been already of old convicted and condemned by universal councils of the Catholic Priesthood.” (p. 71) That could be the case only if General Councils are authoritative and binding.

2. The Apostolic See

In St. Vincent’s Commonitory we see an awareness of the authoritative primacy of the Apostolic See. In the early part of his work, in seeking to provide an example of resisting heresy by holding fast to what had been received from the Apostles, St. Vincent makes use of the example of Pope St. Stephen (254 – 257) in resisting the heretical doctrine concerning the iteration of baptism (see Section II, above):

Examples there are without number: but to be brief, we will take one, and that, in preference to others, from the Apostolic See, so that it may be clearer than day to every one with how great energy, with how great zeal, with how great earnestness, the blessed successors of the blessed apostles have constantly defended the integrity of the religion which they have once received. (p. 15)

… When then all men protested against the novelty [introduced by Agripinnus], and the priesthood everywhere, each as his zeal prompted him, opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith. In fine, in an epistle sent at the time to Africa, he laid down this rule: Let there be no innovation— nothing but what has been handed down. For that holy and prudent man well knew that true piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us. (p. 16)

St. Vincent notes that Pope St. Stephen was himself “the foremost” of his colleagues in the priesthood (i.e. the college of bishops). He excelled all the other bishops in “the authority of his place.” St. Vincent is speaking not of political authority or charismatic authority, but of the ecclesial authority of the Apostolic See, the place where saints Peter and Paul laid down their lives and handed down their apostolic authority. This See has greater authority than any of the others, and according to St. Vincent, Pope St. Stephen was aware that he, in virtue of being the bishop of the Apostolic See and a “successor of the blessed apostles,” excelled all the other bishops in ecclesial authority.

Later in his Commonitory St. Vincent again refers to the authoritative primacy of the bishop of Rome. In speaking of the authorities gathered at the Council of Ephesus, he writes:

And lest Greece or the East should seem to stand alone, to prove that the Western and Latin world also have always held the same belief, there were read in the Council certain Epistles of St. Felix, martyr, and St. Julius, both bishops of Rome. And that not only the Head, but the other parts, of the world also might bear witness to the judgment of the council, there was added from the South the most blessed Cyprian, bishop of Carthage and martyr, and from the North St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan.” (p. 79)

Notice what St. Vincent says about Popes St. Felix (269-274) and St. Julius (337-352); they are the “the Head,” in contrast to the bishops of the East and of Africa and of northern Italy.

In the closing paragraphs of his Commonitory, St. Vincent again refers to the authority of the Apostolic See. He writes:

The foregoing would be enough and very much more than enough, to crush and annihilate every profane novelty. But yet that nothing might be wanting to such completeness of proof, we added, at the close, the twofold authority of the Apostolic See, first, that of holy Pope Sixtus, the venerable prelate who now adorns the Roman Church; and secondly that of his predecessor, Pope Celestine of blessed memory, which same we think it necessary to insert here also. (p. 84)

St. Vincent then explains that Pope St. Sixtus III (432-440) wrote a letter to the bishop of Antioch regarding the doctrine taught by Nestorius (bishop of Constantinople). In the letter Pope St. Sixtus enjoined the bishop of Antioch to “Let no license be allowed to novelty, because it is not fit that any addition should be made to antiquity. Let not the clear faith and belief of our forefathers be fouled by any muddy admixture.” (p. 84) Likewise, St. Vincent shows the authority of Pope St. Celestine (422-430) by recounting how Pope St. Celestine wrote an epistle to the priests of France “charging them with connivance with error, in that by their silence they failed in their duty to the ancient faith, and allowed profane novelties to spring up.” (p. 85) He exhorted them to rebuke those introducing such novelties. This, according to St. Vincent, was the “sentence” [i.e. authoritative decision] of Pope St. Celestine, (p. 85).

Whoever then gainsays these Apostolic and Catholic determinations, first of all necessarily insults the memory of holy Celestine, who decreed that novelty should cease to assail antiquity; and in the next place sets at naught the decision of holy Sixtus, whose sentence was, Let no license be allowed to novelty, since it is not fit that any addition be made to antiquity. (p. 86)

According to St. Vincent, popes St. Celestine and St. Sixtus did not merely give opinions; they “decreed” and provided “decisions.” To go against them is to go against “Apostolic and Catholic determinations.” In these excerpts we see in St. Vincent’s writing a clear awareness of the authoritative primacy of the Apostolic See and its bishop, having succession from the blessed apostles.

3. Authority of the Church

More generally throughout the Commonitory we find St. Vincent referring to the authority of the Church:

An important fact truly, useful to be learned, and necessary to be remembered, and to be illustrated and enforced again and again, by example upon example, in order that all true Catholics may understand that it behooves them with the Church to receive Teachers, not with Teachers to desert the faith of the Church.” (p. 42)

Which teachers should we receive? Only those teachers who are “with the Church.” We must never follow teachers to desert the faith of the Church. Such a prescription would be worthless if “the Church” were defined only by way of teachers, and without a visible principle of unity, since every teacher would, by simply redefining ‘Church,’ claim to be part of the Church. Any heresy or schism throughout the history of the Church could have claimed to be part of the universal Church, and some did. The Arians could have done so. So could the Nestorians or the Donatists or the Marcionites or the Monophysites. But, in each case, it would have been a false claim, because by their rejection of the Church’s decision concerning their specific heresy (or in the Donatist case by their visible separation from communion with the Catholic Church) they were no longer in communion with the successor of St. Peter and with all those in communion with the Apostolic See. The standard of orthodoxy and unity was not their own interpretation of Scripture, but was instead the faith of and full communion with the one holding the keys of the Kingdom.

For St. Vincent, the Church is a “placid and good mother,” (p. 50) and we are to hold “the entire doctrine of the Church.” (p. 50) Whoever gainsays the decisions of the Church and her councils:

despises as vile and worthless the whole Church of Christ, and its doctors, apostles, and prophets, and especially the blessed Apostle Paul: he despises the Church, in that she has never failed in loyalty to the duty of cherishing and preserving the faith once for all delivered to her; he despises St. Paul, who wrote, O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you, shunning profane novelties of words; (1 Timothy 6:20) and again, if any man preach unto you other than you have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:9) (p. 86)

For St. Vincent, the authority of the Church and her Magisterium is testified to in St. Paul’s words, when he urges St. Timothy to shun profane novelties, and when he exhorts the Galatian Christians not to accept or receive anything other than what they had already received. The Church keeps these Pauline admonitions, and therefore to despise the teaching of the Church is to despise even St. Paul. He writes,”Who is the Timothy of today, but either generally the Universal Church, or in particular, the whole body of The Prelacy, whom it behooves either themselves to possess or to communicate to others a complete knowledge of religion?” (p. 53) Here again, is an implicit rejection of the possibility of ecclesial deism, as I explain in the following section.

Our duty as Catholics, according to St. Vincent, is to be willing to die in the faith of the holy Fathers:

[I]t is incumbent on all Catholics who are anxious to approve themselves genuine sons of Mother Church, to adhere henceforward to the holy faith of the holy Fathers, to be wedded to it, to die in it; but as to the profane novelties of profane men— to detest them, abhor them, oppose them, give them no quarter. (p. 86)

This admonition is based not only on the promises of Christ concerning the indefectibility of the Church, but also on an understanding of the mystical union of Christ and His Church such that staying with the Church is staying with Christ, and believing what the Church teaches, because of its authority from Christ, is the way in which faith in Christ is expressed. For St. Vincent, submitting to the Church is submitting to Christ. We believe Christ through what the Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.3

IV. The Indefectibility of the Church

In explaining St. Paul’s exhortion to St. Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:20, St. Vincent writes:

Shun profane novelties, he says. He does not say shun antiquity. But he plainly points to what ought to follow by the rule of contrary. For if novelty is to be shunned, antiquity is to be held fast; if novelty is profane, antiquity is sacred. … For you may hear some of these same doctors say, Come, O silly wretches, who go by the name of Catholics, come and learn the true faith, which no one but ourselves is acquainted with, which same has lain hid these many ages, but has recently been revealed and made manifest. But learn it by stealth and in secret, for you will be delighted with it. Moreover, when you have learned it, teach it furtively, that the world may not hear, that the Church may not know. For there are but few to whom it is granted to receive the secret of so great a mystery. Are not these the words of that harlot who, in the proverbs of Solomon, calls to the passengers who go right on their ways, Whoso is simple let him turn in hither. And as for them that are void of understanding, she exhorts them saying: Drink stolen waters, for they are sweet, and eat bread in secret for it is pleasant.” (p. 52)

What does St. Paul mean in telling St. Timothy to shun profane novelties? According to St. Vincent, one implication of St. Paul’s injunction is that we must avoid the error of ecclesial deism. St. Vincent writes:

Profane novelties of words. What words are these? Such as have nothing sacred, nothing religious, words utterly remote from the inmost sanctuary of the Church which is the temple of God. Profane novelties of words, that is, of doctrines, subjects, opinions, such as are contrary to antiquity and the faith of the olden time. Which if they be received, it follows necessarily that the faith of the blessed fathers is violated either in whole, or at all events in great part; it follows necessarily that all the faithful of all ages, all the saints, the chaste, the continent, the virgins, all the clergy, Deacons and Priests, so many thousands of Confessors, so vast an army of martyrs, such multitudes of cities and of peoples, so many islands, provinces, kings, tribes, kingdoms, nations, in a word, almost the whole earth, incorporated in Christ the Head, through the Catholic faith, have been ignorant for so long a tract of time, have been mistaken, have blasphemed, have not known what to believe, what to confess. (p. 61)

St. Vincent argues that what follows from St. Paul’s injunction that we shun profane novelties is that we hold fast to antiquity as sacred. But for St. Vincent this does not mean that only the writings of the Apostles are sacred or authoritative, and that we can contravene the writings of the Church Fathers. He describes a situation in which a heretic urges a Catholic to “come and learn the true faith” which no one has known for many ages, but which he and his heretical sect have rediscovered. The very notion that the truth could have departed from the visible Church is a rejection not only of the Church, but of the teaching that the Church herself has received and diligently preserved. For St. Vincent, the problem underlying the embrace of profane novelties is an embrace of ecclesial deism, which leads to abandoning the ancient faith. St. Vincent is not opposed to novelty-by-way-of-development, since he explicitly affirms that as I argue in section VI below. That would be what we might call ‘sacred novelty,’ the result of genuine organic growth in the understanding of the deposit of faith, and thus a making explicit now of what had always been present implicitly. Profane novelty, by contrast, does not have its origin in the sacred deposit, but somewhere else, words “utterly removed from the inmost sanctuary of the Church,” and contrary to the ancient faith. To embrace a profane novelty is to accuse the whole of all the saints and doctors who have proceeded oneself of ignorance at best, or of blasphemous rejection of the truth. Such a notion is preposterous for St. Vincent in its arrogance and unbelief. He writes:

Lest any one perchance should rashly think the holy and Catholic consent of these blessed fathers to be despised, the Apostle says, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, God has placed some in the Church, first Apostles, (1 Cor. 12:27-28) of whom himself was one; secondly Prophets, such as Agabus, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles; (Acts 11:28) then doctors, who are now called Homilists, Expositors, whom the same apostle sometimes calls also Prophets, because by them the mysteries of the Prophets are opened to the people. Whosoever, therefore, shall despise these, who had their appointment of God in His Church in their several times and places, when they are unanimous in Christ, in the interpretation of some one point of Catholic doctrine, despises not man, but God, from whose unity in the truth, lest any one should vary, the same Apostle earnestly protests, I beseech you, brethren, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10 But if any one dissent from their unanimous decision, let him listen to the words of the same apostle, God is not the God of dissension but of peace; 1 Corinthians 14:33 that is, not of him who departs from the unity of consent, but of those who remain steadfast in the peace of consent: as, he continues, I teach in all Churches of the saints, that is, of Catholics, which churches are therefore churches of the saints, because they continue steadfast in the communion of the faith. (p.73)

St. Vincent claims from 1 Cor. 12:27-28 that whoever rejects the ecclesial authority of those persons in the Church whom God has placed in their office, whether Apostles, prophets, or doctors, despises not man, but God. To despise those who were appointed by God as teachers and preachers in His Church, when they are unanimous in Christ in the interpretation of some one point of Catholic doctrine, despises God because unity in the truth comes from God through the persons God has established in the various offices of His Church. To go against that unity and the divinely authorized persons by which it is preserved, is to go against God. That was true not only in the first generation of the Church, but in every succeeding generation, even to his own day. It is on the basis of the unity found through the divinely established Magisterium that St. Paul can exhort believers that there be no divisions among them. Such an exhortation would make no sense if the Magisterium itself could be divided, for there would be no principled way to resolve such divisions. The God who is a God of peace and order (1 Cor 14:33) has established a means by which peace and order is maintained perpetually in His Church, and divisions avoided (1 Cor. 1:10), until He returns. The means He has established, as we saw above, is not Scripture alone. Rather, God has established teaching and ruling offices in His Church, and an abiding Tradition, by which Scripture is to be understood, and questions and disputes are to be answered and resolved. Those who separate themselves from the unity, peace, and order that binds together the [particular] Churches of the saints (i.e. “of Catholics”) through the divinely appointed Magisterium of the Church, separate themselves from the God who has established this supernatural peace in His Church.

St. Vincent also quotes from the second epistle of St. John, in support of the indefectibility of the Church:

If anyone, says St. John, come to you and bring not this doctrine. What doctrine? What but the Catholic and universal doctrine, which has continued one and the same through the several successions of ages by the uncorrupt tradition of the truth and so will continue for ever – “Receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed, for he that bids him Godspeed communicates with him in his evil deeds.” (2 John 10) (p. 60)

According to St. Vincent, apostolicity is not determined by checking the teaching in question with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. In order to apply 2 John 10, we determine what is and is not the Apostles’ doctrine by comparing the teaching in question to what the Church has believed and taught through the successions of ages “and will continue forever.” St. Vincent’s belief that the apostolic doctrine will “continue forever” to be handed down uncorrupt in the Catholic Church indicates his belief that Christ had endowed His Church with indefectibility.

Writing just three years after the Ecumenical Council that condemned Nestorius, St. Vincent uses this incident as an example, pointing to Nestorius’ denial of ecclesial indefectibility in his belief that he [i.e. Nestorius] was the first and only one who rightly understood holy Scripture in this matter:

We inveighed also against the wicked presumption of Nestorius in boasting that he was the first and the only one who understood holy Scripture, and that all those teachers were ignorant, who before him had expounded the sacred oracles, forsooth, the whole body of priests, the whole body of Confessors and martyrs, of whom some had published commentaries upon the Law of God, others had agreed with them in their comments, or had acquiesced in them. In a word, he confidently asserted that the whole Church was even now in error, and always had been in error, in that, as it seemed to him, it had followed, and was following, ignorant and misguided teachers. (p. 83. cf. p. 86.)

Those present-day exegetes who approach Scripture without any recourse to the Church Fathers, or who think of the Church Fathers as benighted infants in comparison to themselves, have fallen into the sin of wicked presumption. Catholicity is the contrary of arrogance; the two cannot go together. We see the same stance in Martin Luther, who, like Nestorius, confidently asserted that the whole Church was even now in error, and had long been in error, in that, as it seemed to him, it had followed, and was following, ignorant and misguided teachers. To be Catholic is take the stance of St. John the Baptist, who says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (St. John 3:30) It is to take the stance of St. Mary, who said, “Be it done unto me according to Thy word,” (St. Luke 1:38) and “do whatever He tells you.” (St. John 2:5)

V. Schisms, Heresies, and their Antidote
A. In the Event of Schism and Heresy

St. Vincent’s purpose is to put to writing the rule by which we may know how to find and retain the truth in the face of schisms and heresies. He thus raises the following question: What ought we to do in the case of schism?

What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? (p. 7)

As an example, he describes the account of the Donatist schism, which had only recently been resolve in AD 411:

In the time of Donatus, from whom his followers were called Donatists, when great numbers in Africa were rushing headlong into their own mad error, and unmindful of their name, their religion, their profession, were preferring the sacrilegious temerity of one man before the Church of Christ, then they alone throughout Africa were safe within the sacred precincts of the Catholic faith, who, detesting the profane schism, continued in communion with the universal Church, leaving to posterity an illustrious example, how, and how well in future the soundness of the whole body should be preferred before the madness of one, or at most of a few. (p. 9)

St. Vincent’s general answer to the question, “What ought we do to in the event of schism?” is that we must detest schism, preferring the soundness of the whole body to the madness of one or of a few. (p. 9)

In case heresy has made its way into some few in the Church, we must prefer the decrees of an ancient General Council to the “rashness and ignorance of a few.” But if there has been no relevant decrees from a General Council, then we must consult the Tradition:

Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in various times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation. (p. 8)

If, however, some “novel contagion” seeks to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole (as in the case of the Arians, cf. p. 10),”then we must “cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.” (p. 7)

B. The Cause of Heresies and Schisms
1. Cause: Wicked Novelty Subverting Well-Established Antiquity

The general cause of heresy and schism, according to St. Vincent is “wicked novelty subverting well established antiquity.” (p. 11) Again, St. Vincent’s diagnosis is an indictment of ecclesial deism, because the nature of heresy is to “burst forth at a particular time, at a particular place, from a particular person.” (p. 62) That would not be the case if the whole of the Church, save for an elect few, could universally and simultaneously, even if gradually, sink into heresy. He writes:

Who ever originated a heresy that did not first dissever himself from the consentient agreement of the universality and antiquity of the Catholic Church? That this is so is demonstrated in the clearest way by examples. For who ever before that profane Pelagius attributed so much antecedent strength to Free-will, as to deny the necessity of God’s grace to aid it towards good in every single act? Who ever before his monstrous disciple Cœlestius denied that the whole human race is involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin? Who ever before sacrilegious Arius dared to rend asunder the unity of the Trinity? Who before impious Sabellius was so audacious as to confound the Trinity of the Unity? Who before cruellest Novatian represented God as cruel in that He had rather the wicked should die than that he should be converted and live? Who before Simon Magus, who was smitten by the apostle’s rebuke, and from whom that ancient sink of every thing vile has flowed by a secret continuous succession even to Priscillian of our own time, — who, I say, before this Simon Magus, dared to say that God, the Creator, is the author of evil, that is, of our wickednesses, impieties, flagitiousnesses, inasmuch as he asserts that He created with His own hands a human nature of such a description, that of its own motion, and by the impulse of its necessity-constrained will, it can do nothing else, can will nothing else, but sin, seeing that tossed to and fro, and set on fire by the furies of all sorts of vices, it is hurried away by unquenchable lust into the utmost extremes of baseness? (p. 62)

Through many illustrations, St. Vincent argues that heresy always has its source in novelty against the universal doctrine of the Church. Each heretic introduces something new, something previously unknown. Thus in principle, heresy can be distinguished from orthodoxy by the ‘profane novelty’ of the former. St. Vincent repeats this in the subsequent paragraph:

[I]t is an established law, in the case of almost all heresies, that they evermore delight in profane novelties, scorn the decisions of antiquity, and, through oppositions of science falsely so called, make shipwreck of the faith. On the other hand, it is the sure characteristic of Catholics to keep that which has been committed to their trust by the holy Fathers, to condemn profane novelties, and, in the apostle’s words, once and again repeated, to anathematize every one who preaches any other doctrine than that which has been received. (p. 63)

According to St. Vincent, heretics know that the novelty of heresy refutes it, and so they dress up their heresy under a name other than its own, and appeal to ancient writers to make it seem that they are not the first to hold this position:

[They] get hold often of the works of some ancient writer, not very clearly expressed, which, owing to the very obscurity of their own doctrine, have the appearance of agreeing with it, so that they get the credit of being neither the first nor the only persons who have held it. (p. 19)

He walks through the examples of Nestorius (p. 29), Photinus (p. 30), Apollinaris (p. 31), Origen (p. 43), and Tertullian (p. 46), to show in each case how their error was the result of advancing a profane novelty against the universal tradition of the Church.

2. Why does God permit them?

Why then does God permit some eminent men to become the authors of [heretical] novelty in the Church? (p. 27) St. Vincent’s answer: To try us.

That the Lord your God may try you; he says. And assuredly it is a great trial when one whom you believe to be a prophet, a disciple of prophets, a doctor and defender of the truth, whom you have folded to your breast with the utmost veneration and love, when such a one of a sudden secretly and furtively brings in noxious errors, which you can neither quickly detect, being held by the prestige of former authority, nor lightly think it right to condemn, being prevented by affection for your old master. (p. 28)

When a heretical teacher arises, then those under his influence are faced with a choice, “the Church’s authority drawing them one way, their Master’s influence the opposite.” (p. 31) This is a test allowed by God, to see whether we will in faith cling to the Church, or whether we are lovers of self, and so prefer our own reasoning to the faith offered to us by holy Mother Church. The true Catholic loves the Church above the authority of every man:

This being the case, he is the true and genuine Catholic who loves the truth of God, who loves the Church, who loves the Body of Christ, who esteems divine religion and the Catholic Faith above every thing, above the authority, above the regard, above the genius, above the eloquence, above the philosophy, of every man whatsoever; who sets light by all of these, and continuing steadfast and established in the faith, resolves that he will believe that, and that only, which he is sure the Catholic Church has held universally and from ancient time; but that whatsoever new and unheard-of doctrine he shall find to have been furtively introduced by some one or another, besides that of all, or contrary to that of all the saints, this, he will understand, does not pertain to religion, but is permitted as a trial, being instructed especially by the words of the blessed Apostle Paul, who writes thus in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, There must needs be heresies, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you: 1 Corinthians 2:9 as though he should say, This is the reason why the authors of Heresies are not immediately rooted up by God, namely, that they who are approved may be made manifest; that is, that it may be apparent of each individual, how tenacious and faithful and steadfast he is in his love of the Catholic faith. (p. 48)

According to St. Vincent, when St. Paul said that there must be heresies among us, that those who are approved may be made manifest among us, he was providing the reason why God allows such heresies to arise, so that our faith may be tested.

C. The Antidote: Interpret Scripture within and according to the Church

So, what is the antidote to heresies and schisms? St. Vincent points to the martyrs and confessors who suffered and died not for the sake of doctrines advanced by a small portion of the Body, but for the sake of the faith of the whole Body.

But in this divine virtue, as we may call it, exhibited by these Confessors, we must note especially that the defence which they then undertook in appealing to the Ancient Church, was the defence, not of a part, but of the whole body. For it was not right that men of such eminence should uphold with so huge an effort the vague and conflicting notions of one or two men, or should exert themselves in the defence of some ill-advised combination of some petty province; but adhering to the decrees and definitions of the universal priesthood of Holy Church, the heirs of Apostolic and Catholic truth, they chose rather to deliver up themselves than to betray the faith of universality and antiquity. (p. 14)

Why were they willing to die for the faith of the whole Body? Because the faith of universality and antiquity is necessarily the faith taught by the Apostles and thus by Christ. That is the faith of which we can have the certainty that comes from God, a faith for which we must be willing to lay down our lives.

How then, are Catholics to interpret Scripture, so as to avoid the errors and misinterpretations of the heretics? St. Vincent gives the following rule:

[T]hey must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent. And if at any time a part opposes itself to the whole, novelty to antiquity, the dissent of one or a few who are in error to the consent of all or at all events of the great majority of Catholics, then they must prefer the soundness of the whole to the corruption of a part; in which same whole they must prefer the religion of antiquity to the profaneness of novelty; and in antiquity itself in like manner, to the temerity of one or of a very few they must prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of a Universal Council, or if there be no such, then, what is next best, they must follow the consentient belief of many and great masters. Which rule having been faithfully, soberly, and scrupulously observed, we shall with little difficulty detect the noxious errors of heretics as they arise. (p. 70)

We must interpret Scripture according to the traditions of the Universal Church, and the rules of Catholic doctrine, preferring the soundness of the whole to the corruption of the part. Where the Church’s Magisterium in the Universal Councils has answered questions or defined doctrines, we must interpret Scripture in subordination to those Magisterial decisions. Where the Church has not offered Magisterial decisions, we must follow universality, antiquity, and consent, preferring the soundness of the whole to the corruption of a part. Again, this rule indicates St. Vincent’s belief in the indefectibility of the Church; otherwise, it would be possible for the part to be what is sound, and the whole to be corrupt.

Regarding older heresies, St. Vincent writes:

But heresies already widely diffused and of old standing are by no means to be thus dealt with, seeing that through lapse of time they have long had opportunity of corrupting the truth. And therefore, as to the more ancient schisms or heresies, we ought either to confute them, if need be, by the sole authority of the Scriptures, or at any rate, to shun them as having been already of old convicted and condemned by universal councils of the Catholic Priesthood. (p. 71)

Regarding new heresies, which have not yet been treated by a Magisterial decision, he urges that we examine the Church Fathers:

Therefore, as soon as the corruption of each mischievous error begins to break forth, and to defend itself by filching certain passages of Scripture, and expounding them fraudulently and deceitfully, immediately, the opinions of the ancients in the interpretation of the Canon are to be collected, whereby the novelty, and consequently the profaneness, whatever it may be, that arises, may both without any doubt be exposed, and without any tergiversation be condemned. But the opinions of those Fathers only are to be used for comparison, who living and teaching, holily, wisely, and with constancy, in the Catholic faith and communion, were counted worthy either to die in the faith of Christ, or to suffer death happily for Christ. Whom yet we are to believe in this condition, that that only is to be accounted indubitable, certain, established, which either all, or the more part, have supported and confirmed manifestly, frequently, persistently, in one and the same sense, forming, as it were, a consentient council of doctors, all receiving, holding, handing on the same doctrine. But whatsoever a teacher holds, other than all, or contrary to all, be he holy and learned, be he a bishop, be he a Confessor, be he a martyr, let that be regarded as a private fancy of his own, and be separated from the authority of common, public, general persuasion, lest, after the sacrilegious custom of heretics and schismatics, rejecting the ancient truth of the universal Creed, we follow, at the utmost peril of our eternal salvation, the newly devised error of one man. (p. 72)

When an allegedly novel teaching arises, and the Church has not yet offered a decision, we should examine the Church Fathers to see whether the teaching is in agreement with what they believed and taught, or whether it is contrary to it. What was believed and taught by all or most of the Fathers carries far greater weight than what was taught by only a few. And if a teacher holds a unique belief, then we should treat that as his own fancy, not as part of the authoritative Apostolic Tradition.

VI. The Development of Doctrine

What St. Vincent has said in his general rule might seem to preclude the possibility of the development of doctrine. But, that would be to misunderstand his rule, as forbidding every sort of novelty, when in fact his rule forbids only profane novelty, not developmental novelty. He devotes seven paragraphs to the nature of the development of doctrine. First, in his exposition of St. Paul’s injunction to St. Timothy, whom St. Vincent takes to represent the Magisterium of the Church, he writes:

Let that which formerly was believed, though imperfectly apprehended, as expounded by you be clearly understood. Let posterity welcome, understood through your exposition, what antiquity venerated without understanding. Yet teach still the same truths which you have learned, so that though you speak after a new fashion, what you speak may not be new. (p. 53)

Then, anticipating the objection that if we follow the Vincentian canon there will be no doctrinal progress, he writes:

But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning. (p. 54)

Of course the Vincentian canon disallows “alteration of the faith.” But genuine doctrinal development, according to St. Vincent, differs from “alteration of the faith.” Progress “enlarges” the subject, drawing out what is implicitly present, whereas “alteration” transforms it into something altogether different in “kind” (i.e. essence). This development is organic, like that of a growing physical body:

The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled. (p. 55)

In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits. (p. 56)

Just as a living body grows and develops, though it remains the same in kind, so the faith of the Church follows “the same laws of progress,” as the Church grows in her understanding and explication of it, realizing more fully what is latent within it, but never changing it in its essence, either by loss or addition. For St. Vincent, the faith is living, and so is the Body of Christ, the Church. Even the works of the saints are like seeds which are planted and grow in time, until later generations reap their harvest. He writes:

For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church’s field. It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of grain, should reap the counterfeit error of tares. This rather should be the result — there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last. From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind — wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensue in the character of the plant. There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles. God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam, darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection. For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties. (p. 57)

There will be change in the shape, configuration, and outward appearance over the course of genuine development, but there will be no change in the nature of the kind. What the Apostles and Fathers sowed, that is what we also should reap, in its developed form, smoothed and polished, but not changed (i.e. in essence), not maimed, and not mutilated. As the Church addresses heresies and gives further definiteness to the faith, the faith retains its completeness, its integrity, and its characteristic properties. The whole of the Catholic faith is dependent on all its parts, such that removing one element of the faith would destroy the whole; likewise, introducing novelty into the faith would corrupt the whole (p. 58)

But the Church of Christ preserves the faith, and develops the doctrine it has received:

But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view—if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined, to keep and guard it. Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,– this, and nothing else — she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name. (p. 59)

St. Vincent teaches that the Church is a “careful and watchful guardian” of the apostolic deposit, never changing anything in it, but only developing whatever has been left undeveloped, or polishing it further if it has already been developed. This developing of doctrine is what the Councils do as they respond to heresies and resolve doctrinal disputes, and this activity involves putting into writing for the sake of posterity what had been passed down from those of ancient times only by [oral] tradition.

VII. The Implications for Protestant-Catholic Reconciliation

St. Vincent’s Commonitory reveals the ecclesial and Catholic character of fifth century Christianity, between the third and fourth Ecumenical Councils. He shows why Scripture cannot be interpreted authentically apart from the authority of the Magisterium (Prelacy) of the Church and apart form the Tradition found in the Church Fathers. He indicates an implicit belief in the indefectibility of the Church, and a rejection of ecclesial deism. And that rejection of ecclesial deism corresponds to his explication of the doctrine of development, because the living and active Spirit of God always remains in the Body, the Church. Because St. Vincent provides a rule by which heresy and orthodoxy can be distinguished, his work is very important for providing the second-order means by which Christians divided from each other can seek reconcilation. His rule requires that we virtually return to the point of separation, and consider together which of our positions is the profane novelty and which is the authentic and authorized preservation or development of what had always and everywhere been believed by all. The authority of the Church and her Councils and the Apostolic See is part of that Tradition, as is the notion of the development of doctrine, which St. Vincent hands down in this work from those who handed it down to him. His rule turns us to the Tradition handed down by the Church Fathers, and to the decisions of the Magisterium, or even prior, to the pursuit of the identity of that Magisterial authority of which St. Vincent speaks.

St. Vincent, pray for us, that Christians divided from each other may be reconciled and united in the true and ancient faith Christ entrusted to His Church.

  1. All the references to St. Vincent’s Commonitory are to the paragraph numbers; see here for the full text. I will not be discussing here the secondary texts that treat St. Vincent’s work. My intention here is much less ambitious: to present and examine the fundamental points he is making, the lines of reasoning he uses, the principles he is assuming and the paradigm in which thinks. []
  2. That can be seen most clearly, in St. Vincent’s use of the example of the Council of Ephesus, concerning which he presents all the patristic witnesses brought to bear at that Council in defense of the Catholic position against Nestorius. See paragraphs 78-80. []
  3. See “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.” []
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  1. I appreciate the history lesson here, but I also noticed the Eastern Orthodox also celebrated this saint yesterday. If authority is so crucial as a second-order question, then how can you account for the Great Schism in light of the above? If both Catholics and Orthodox are celebrating this saint, what does that say about the indefectibility of the Church?

  2. Salvadore,

    The reason that the “Great Schism” was not a loss of unity as a mark of the Church (i.e. “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”) is not because that unity is invisible, but because schism is (or necessarily quickly becomes) schism from the Catholic Church, as I described briefly in “Branches or Schisms?.” Being in some kind of schism from the Church does not preclude the possibility of celebrating a Catholic saint. The Donatists still celebrated St. Cyprian, for example, during the time of their schism from the Catholic Church in the fourth century. The fact that Catholics and Orthodox both celebrate St. Vincent’s feast on May 24 is a sign of our prior union. These points of contact are to be cherished, because they impel us toward reunion. But the Catholic Church has retained all four marks of the Church, even when particular Churches have sadly departed from her. Our prayer is that God in His grace and mercy, would bring reconciliation, and would make us instruments in effecting that reconciliation, for His glory.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. lest we either be torn from the integrity of unity and carried away to schism, or be precipitated from the religion of antiquity into heretical novelties.

    This should be chilling to those who keep clamoring for the most “ancient-perfectest-original-languagest” liturgies to the point of schism.

  4. Tap (re#:3),

    Amen and amen.

  5. Because St. Vincent writes in the time period between the two councils, one cannot non-arbitrarily accept those two councils while dismissing St. Vincent’s work as a product of some great apostasy. St. Vincent is a strong advocate of the indefectibility of the Church, and of the importance of interpreting Scripture under the authority of the Church and her universal tradition.

    Even if you arbitrarily dismiss this work. You need to deal with the fact that it was read and accepted. If you believe, as some protestants do, that Sola Scriptura was pretty much accepted and practiced in the early church then it is not enough to just say St. Vincent was wrong. You need to explain why nobody back then said he was wrong. One can suppose a doctrine might be believed and never defined if there is nobody opposing it. But when somebody publishes an eloquent argument against Sola Scriptura and there is no response defending what is supposedly the widely accepted teaching of the church one has to wonder.

    Remember Sola Scriptura, if true, is a super-central doctrine. It tells Christians how to answer doctrinal questions. So every doctrine has to pass the Sola Scriptura test. That means every doctrine is subordinate or inferior to Sola Scriptura. So what should be the response from Christians when this super-central doctrine is contradicted? If they really were proto-protestants you would expect a firestorm of protest. It didn’t happen.

    The truth is that what St Vincent said was not so different from what St Irenaeus said. It was not a radical departure from what all of Christendom believed at that time.

  6. Bryan,

    Thanks for the great article. I read this with the recent Sola vs Solo articles fresh in my mind. Do you suppose that Mathison and company might lay claim to the writings of St. Vincent as supportive of the Sola position, i.e., Scripture must be interpreted through the rule of faith which consists of the early councils and writings of the Fathers?

    Burton

  7. Burton,

    Neal and I will address that when we publish our reply to Keith, but yes, I think that Keith and other similar-minded Reformed theologians might claim that St. Vincent supports a sola scriptura position. St. Vincent does argue that Scripture must be interpreted according to the decrees of the general councils and the tradition of the Fathers. But Protestantism departs from the rule of faith in a number of ways. For example, St. Vincent and every other Christian of his time believed that apostolic succession was part of the rule of faith. By contrast, Keith and all other Protestants reject apostolic succession. But this isn’t a minor thing. If apostolic succession is part of the rule of faith, then Protestant pastors do not have valid orders, and all Protestant celebrations of the Lord’s Supper are invalid, and there is no actual Eucharist in Protestant communities (see comment #311), and no Protestant community is even a Church (see here). Here’s another example. The Church Fathers clearly and universally teach baptismal regeneration; Keith and Reformed believers deny the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. But, given St. Vincent’s rule, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is part of the rule of faith. So even though Keith and company claim to interpret Scripture according to the rule of faith, they do so by arbitrarily stipulating what does (and does not) belong to the rule of faith, such that it allows their interpretation of Scripture. The problem, of course, is that the rule of faith can’t be fashioned or decided in an arbitrary, ad hoc way, such that any heretical group could claim to interpret Scripture according to the rule of faith. That wouldn’t be any rule at all; it would be only a pseudo-rule aimed at giving the appearance of legitimacy to what is, essentially, private interpretation. The rule of faith has to be determined in a principled way, as St. Vincent describes. And when we determine the rule of faith in the way St. Vincent describes, we find that Protestantism is in certain very important respects contrary to the rule of faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Bryan said:

    The rule of faith has to be determined in a principled way, as St. Vincent describes. And when we determine the rule of faith in the way St. Vincent describes, we find that Protestantism is in certain very important respects contrary to the rule of faith.

    This is part of the point I tried to make above. If the Orthodox and the Catholic appeal to Apostolic Succession, and to the consistent and catholic faith of the early fathers, then by what principled way does one determine which to join? Not to mention the other ancient churches. Perhaps this falls under the tu quoque, but I don’t intend it to. I’ll grant that the writings of the early church fathers display a faith far more in common with Orthodox or Catholic traditions, but if something as significant as earthly authority of divine origin is unresolved among ancient traditions, how can one either choose between them, or result in some sort of cafeteria Sacred Traditionalist of their own.

    As Perry Robinson commented on Mathison’s Reply, the major attacks to your Sola/Solo article do not assail the Orthodox position. But as a Catholic I have to assume you did not choose the Catholic Church over the Orthodox in the very ad hoc manner you criticize the Protestants for. I know this blog is focused on addressing the Reformed tradition, but it seems the division of those who appeal to Sacred Tradition is a major chink in your armor. Why not address head on how you can be Catholic over Orthodox in a principled manner? Or is this a fair tu quoque critique of your position?

    And to Perry (and the other Eastern Orthodox here), how do you appeal to the same epistemological hierarchy but identify a totally different interpretive authority to which you submit yourself?

    (If you’ve written about this elsewhere and I’ve missed it, please accept my apologies.)

  9. Quick follow-up as I quickly scanned the tu quoque article again…

    Even III.Q3 doesn’t actually address how one can principally choose between any of the competing claims to apostolic succession. Instead it argues that this cannot be used to assail the appeal to apostolic succession. While I might argue against that point, I’m less concerned with the direct tu quoque as I am with the second-order question about how one can principally choose between the ancient claims to apostolic succession — not as evidence or an argument or a proof of Protestant orthodoxy (i.e. the tu quoque), but rather to examine the epistemology within your own tradition.

  10. Great article Bryan,

    I am once again struck by the fact that St. Vincent’s lauded “canon” would be both unintelligible and useless as a guide to orthodoxy unless St. Vincent already possessed a very clear notion of Catholic ecclesiology, apostolic succession, etc. Looking closely at the excerpts depicted above, it is evident that his nascent ecclesiology serves as the implicit linch pin for the strength of his arguments and recommendations; the ability to distinguish orthodoxy from heterodoxy in the here and now, as well as the ability to distinguish legitimate future doctrinal developments from future distortions, depend on it. Holding firmly to that which has been believed “everywhere, always and by all” necessarily assumes that St. Vincent already has a clearly circumscribed notion of what counts as “everywhere” and “always” and “by all” in relation to orthodox doctrines of the Faith.

    I was struck by many of the key (linch pin) phrases which St. Vincent puts forward with little explanation, almost as if they were a matter of course for both himself and his readers – for example:

    “whole priesthood of the Catholic Church” – this makes no sense unless he already knows how to visibly/historically locate that priesthood.

    “adhering to the decrees and definitions of the universal priesthood of Holy Church, the heirs of Apostolic and Catholic truth” – again, what sense or utility in this crucial benchmark unless he already knows exactly who is included/excluded from this universal priesthood – unless he already knows who the heirs of Apostolic and Catholic truth are?

    “Traditions of the universal Church” – this makes no sense unless he already knows who/what counts as “the Church” or “universal Church”.

    “But the opinions of those Fathers only are to be used for comparison, who living and teaching, holily, wisely, and with constancy, in the Catholic faith and communion” – but St. Vincent must already know what/where the Catholic communion was and is found, in order for his recommendation to be meaningful/useful. How could one determine which Fathers taught in communion with the Catholic faith unless one already knew what tangibly constituted that communion?

    “General/Universal council” – he refers to this benchmark over and over again; yet, unless he already knows what constitutes any given council as “General/Universal” (and therefore authoritative and binding), his appeal to such a thing (a “General/Universal council”) cannot possibly be employed to do the crucial orthodoxy/heterodoxy dividing work that he envisions. What principle in St. Vincent’s thinking could possibly distinguish between the binding natures of various counciliar gatherings (after all, there were Arian dominated councils) other than an already clear and present notion of that ecclesial authority capable of designating a given council as “General/Universal” rather than merely parochial or even heretical? Clearly, the terms “General” and “Universal” are not meant to be so broadly construed as to encompass even the heretical sects, since the point of his discourse is to instruct the faithful concerning how to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy, sects from Catholicity.

    A very definite ecclesiology unergirds the entire thrust of St. Vincent’s appeal to universailty, antiquity and constancy – in fact his ecclesiology informs/frames the very nature of that appeal. Far from being the basis by which “the Church” or ecclesiology is determined; the “Vincentian Canon” is necessarily predicated upon a “given” historical/visible ecclesial reality that already exists and is taken for granted by both St. Vincent and his readers. This is why Keith Mathison’s “rule of faith” approach is wrong (and still amounts to a private construction) and why Blsd. John Henry Newman was right. The “bottom-line” issue that must be squarely addressed in Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant efforts toward reunion ultimately boils down to the role and nature of ecclesiology/apostolic succession (which itself ultimately centers on the role of the Petrine ministry). I am very much looking forward to Andrew Preslar’s “Apostolic Succession” article as well as your (and Neal’s) formal reply to Keith Mathison.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  11. Bryan,

    I am looking forward to your upcoming response to Mathison. In your comment, you highlight what I felt to be one of the weaknesses of Mathison’s response. If the Reformers were simply following the interpretive paradigm already established by the Church Fathers, then why the numerous significant differences in doctrine between the Fathers and the Reformers (most significantly on “that doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls”)? St Vincent’s rule would seem to place Luther and Zwingli and Calvin etc more firmly in the company of Nestorius or Donatus than St. Athanasius.

    This points to the central issue of many of the recent discussions at CTC: how do we define doctrine, and perhaps more to the point, how are schism and heresy recognized as such. St. Vincent clearly describes the universal and ancient collective teachings of the Fathers and the councils as the means of identifying heresy vs orthodoxy, but based on the numerous quotations represented in your article, I don’t see where he specifically promotes Apostolic succession for the same purpose, or that AS was explicitly part of his rule. I am not familiar with St. Vincent’s writings beyond what you presented, so perhaps there is some evidence for this that I haven’t seen.
    For the record, the recognition of the need for an authoritative Magisterium in distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy is largely what started me down the road to the RCC, though I’m not there yet! Many RCC apologists don’t deal fairly with the better Protestant positions on Sola Scriptura – one of the reasons I appreciate this site and its approach. I have been trying to fairly and objectively evaluate any concept of a “Protestant magisterium” as presented by people like Keith Mathison and Timothy George, and wearing my Reformed glasses I can see how they may take St. Vincent’s writings as supportive of their view on these matters. I think that on this point the Reformed Protestant and Eastern Orthodox share common ground, in that they place the locus of authority with those who uphold the Apostolic doctrine as taught in Scripture and passed down from the early councils. I know that this begs the question of who is faithfully transmitting Apostolic teaching and how can we know, but I suspect that will be thoroughly addressed in a future article.

    Burton

  12. Salvadore (re: #8,9)

    Your question is a very good question, exactly the question I would ask if I were in your epistemic shoes. But, I cannot answer it in a combox, because it needs its own book, and I don’t have the time to write that book right now. I will say that you are right that in coming to believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and that the Orthodox Churches (as separated from the Catholic Church) are not that Church, we did so in a principled manner, so this too is not subject to the tu quoque. (The tu quoque post was not intended to address this, i.e. how adjudicating between the Catholic and Orthodox claims is not subject to the tu quoque objection.) The short answer to your question is that there is incontrovertible evidence over the first millennium for the primacy of ecclesial authority of the Apostolic See, with respect to doctrine, schism, and the exercise of magisterial authority. The reason I pointed to the “Branches and Schisms” post is because it shows the schisms and heresies of the first millennium, such that this question about the touchstone of orthodoxy and unity is not a question that first arises in the eleventh century. To reach the point of saying that the Church at the seventh Ecumenical Council is the Church Christ founded, one must first have traced the Church forward from the first century, through numerous heresies and schisms. And in order to do that, one must see how the Church herself determined, for example, in the case of schism (e.g. the Novatian schism, or the Donatist schism) which group was in schism from the Church, and which was the Church. I hope to write about that (in some short posts) in the future. But, don’t hold your breath waiting for me to write anything. :-) I recommend that you utilize the nearest academic library, and acquire the books in the Papacy section of our “Suggested Reading,” especially those by Chapman, Giles, Lindsay, Allies, Rivington, Fortescue, Guarducci, and Soloviev. I know that is essentially punting, but, time-wise, I can’t do more right now. And, in my opinion, you would do better with those books in front of you, than reading my comments or posts on the internet.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. @Ray Stamper:

    I am once again struck by the fact that St. Vincent’s lauded “canon” would be both unintelligible and useless as a guide to orthodoxy unless St. Vincent already possessed a very clear notion of Catholic ecclesiology, apostolic succession, etc.

    And it seems to me that in fact Vincent’s quod ubique, quod semper… is essentially the same as Augustine’s securus judicat orbis terrarum, which was Newman’s “turn again, Dick Whittington” and brought him into the Church. The orbis terrarum must already be known, at least to a close approximation, for this to make sense.

    jj

  14. Burton,

    Greetings. I read in another comment that you know Greg Thompson. Is he still in Charlottesville? I remember he led RUF while I was studying at the University.

    Regarding your comment #11, like Bryan, I’d encourage you to read Vincent’s Commonitorium. It won’t take much beyond three or four hours out of your holiday weekend. As you read, you can think over the current post, as well as what Dr. Liccione has written about interpretive paradigms (e.g. here). To those ideas, there are four points I’d add, coming from the opposite perspective:

    1. It’s probable that Vincent wrote with a view to challenging the teaching of Augustine and Prosper on efficacious grace. In that particular respect, he’s closer to the Orthodox than to Protestants or Roman Catholics.

    2. The translation used in this post is a slightly modernized version of the standard one by Charles Abel Heurtley, a 19th century Anglican. Heurtley was the descendant of Huguenots who fled France. He was a committed protestant and a loyal churchman, who counted himself a small-c catholic. If you’re curious about baptismal regeneration, I’d recommend his sermons on The Union Between Christ and His People, which are a forgotten gem.

    3. With all respect to Bryan, I don’t see Catholicism’s Magisterium in the Commonitory. There’s no hint of communion with Rome as the ultimate criterion for determining who’s in schism; no strictly juridical criteria are provided for the recognition of councils; and the references to Rome imply only the primacy of honor that Protestants and Orthodox acknowledge the Roman see to have held in ancient times. When Vincent talks about guarding the deposit, he says it’s the task of the universal church in general, and of the whole body of the bishops in particular. He’s silent, meanwhile, about the role of any special Petrine office at Rome.

    4. The “progress” Vincent has in mind is the verbal restatement of what catholics have professed from the beginning. New forms of expression enable more Christians to understand and retain in memory more of the historic faith. This is not the “development of doctrine” which modern-day Roman Catholics embrace, and which both Orthodox and Protestants reject. It’s true Newman appeals to the Vincentian canon in his Essay, but his objection to a “Lesbian” application amounts to a bid to weaken Vincent’s rule. Bishop Bull speculated that Petavius had set out to do something similar; Heurtley’s translation actually includes a brief note about that.

    Anyhow, I’d be happy to discuss the topic at greater length. If you’re busy and can’t take it up now, please feel free to write me any time: l e c h a c a 1 [a t] a i m [d o t] c o m.

    Blessings in Christ,
    John

  15. John, (re: #14)

    You said, “like Bryan, I’d encourage you to read Vincent’s Commonitorium.” I didn’t “encourage” Burton to read anything; I have no evidence that he lacks the courage to read anything, or needs to be exhorted to do so.

    As for your claim about “efficacious grace,” within the Catholic Church there are various theological traditions regarding the nature of efficacious grace; St. Augustine’s is only one of them. His was never the only allowable position. The Orthodox notion regarding the efficacy of grace is fully within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy. So even if St. Vincent were challenging St. Augustine’s position on the nature of efficacious grace, that would in no way make him “closer to the Orthodox.” St. Vincent was a Catholic, in full communion with Pope St. Celestine I (422-432) and Pope St. Sixtus III (432-440).

    Regarding “small-c catholic,” there is no such thing as a “small-c catholic,” because there is no such thing as the “small-c catholic” Church. The term is an abstract concept, having no actual referent. It denies the visibility of the Church, as Tom and I argued in “Christ Founded a Visible Church,” and thus reduces the Church to an invisible entity to which even those in schism from the Church (e.g. Novatians, Donatists) could claim to be in full communion. Anyone can claim to be in full communion with an invisible entity. So this [“small-c catholic”] is a useful (though deceptive) term for schismatics and heretics, to make it seem that they are in full communion and orthodox, when in fact they have departed from the Catholic Church Christ founded, and rejected the faith she believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. St. Vincent is surely not talking about an invisible entity. In his references to the “Catholic Church” throughout his Commonitory he is talking about the Catholic Church, the definite and hierarchically organized body headed by the bishops who had recently met at the Council of Ephesus to condemn Nestorius. To attempt to appropriate St. Vincent in defense of a fictional “small-c catholic” Church is to misinterpret and misuse St. Vincent’s words.

    You assert that the progress St. Vincent has in mind in his teaching on development of doctrine is merely “verbal restatement of what catholics have professed from the beginning.” Setting aside the fact that there is no such thing as “catholics,” you are grossly misrepresenting St. Vincent’s teaching concerning the development of doctrine. His teaching on the development of doctrine is not that it is only “verbal restatement,” but that it is an ever-growing and deepening understanding of the deposit of faith, which of course is manifested in new terms. I have explained that in detail in VI. Development of Doctrine above. But, again, it is impossible for a mere abstraction such as “the catholic church” to grow in understanding, or to define or redefine any doctrine. So, not only is St. Vincent’s teaching concerning development of doctrine incompatible with the Church being “small-c catholic,” but even your semantic version of ‘development of doctrine’ as mere verbal restatement is likewise impossible if the Church is only “small-c catholic.”

    In March you said you belong to a presbyterian congregation, so presumably you reject apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, the sacrament of ordination, the episcopacy, the Real Presence, etc., all which were part of the universal tradition of which St. Vincent spoke, and are preserved to this day in the Catholic Church. If your position were in fact heretical according to St. Vincent’s rule, and you in fact were in schism from the Church to which St. Vincent refers, as determined by St. Vincent’s rule, nothing would be different. That’s nothing to be overlooked.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Good afternoon John and thanks for your article and response(s) Bryan. Bryan, you quoted St. Vincent:

    what antiquity venerated without understanding. Yet teach still the same truths which you have learned, so that though you speak after a new fashion, what you speak may not be new.

    AND

    Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged

    The importance of these statements cannot be overstated. They portends both a lack of perspicuity in the MPOF, the necessary anticipation of authentic development as both consonant and consistent with what is old but also the “real progress” of the Gospel. So, the Immaculate Conception and The Assumption develop out of the living Church’s meditation on the Theotokos–something antiquity venerated without fullunderstanding. The Church is indebted to her past but is ever making new, both in language and in understanding what She received. This, I think is where the tension lies. MPOF—–>living Church developing Her understanding of what can be known by Her gift—–>FPOF. And, it is precisely in the “enlarging” at step 2 that has all non-Catholic Christians squirming, but oddly not for this 5th century Saint. That fact I gather, looms large in the case for the CC being that Church which St. Vincent has as the object of his discussion.

    Peace to you all

  17. Bryan (#15):

    Briefly, following your paragraphs:

    1. Okay.

    2. Already known, and beside the point. It’s probable Vincent considered the teaching of Augustine and Prosper to be heretical innovation. I’ve many times heard Orthodox make similar assertions, but never Roman Catholics.

    3. I have discussed this with you in the past; no need to rehash it now.

    4. None of the passages you quote in section VI implies more than the verbal progress noted in my comment. Using a growth metaphor is hardly the same as teaching Newmanesque development of doctrine.

    5. Like the Royal Family, I move freely between Presbyterian and Anglican churches, depending on where I am living. Your litany of apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, sacramental ordination, episcopacy, and the real presence is too vague. I believe all those things, just not as you believe them.

    Pax Christi,
    John

  18. John,

    If I may, St. Vincent tells us who a Catholic is:

    [Chap.20]This being the case, he is the true and genuine Catholic who loves the truth of God, who loves theChurch, who loves the Body of Christ, who esteems divine religion and the Catholic Faith above every thing, above the authority, above the regard, above the genius, above the eloquence, above the philosophy…

    and regarding development he says:

    The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same.

    which reminds me of Newman quite a bit.

    Thus, I would argue that it is incumbent upon the dissenter from the Catholic faith to prove–and not the Church–that what she teaches is not in fact consonant with her younger version and that what we behold today is not a grown up, mature and glorious Bride. Ironically, it was never the bishop(s) who erred but the bishop all alone on the chair of his novel egoism soon to draw men and women into some sect whose name would always distinguish it from that which is universal. You have asked at many instances for us to demonstrate that principle that allows us to distinguish development from retrojection, however; what principle are you employing to judge the Church to have not grown up but rather mutated? Share with us, I beg, this principle so we too, in the spirit of St. Vincent, can discern between a grown boy and his impostor.

    Which primitive doctrine has been harmed by the Church’s doctrinal growth? I think nothing; nothing but man’s pride to not get his chance in the drama, to have no cathedra…and yet that is what we are left with by God’s providence, you and I not having apostolic succession and all

    and so:

    [Ch. 23] Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils

    And by Her Councils she continues to do so. And let it be a sign of contradiction that no other church has such councils and that many are no longer roused but rather excited to novelty by the heretics of the day.

    In Christ,

    Brent

  19. John: Like the Royal Family, I move freely between Presbyterian and Anglican churches, depending on where I am living.

    I am at a loss as to what that is supposed to mean. The “Anglican Church” is not a church, the “Anglican Church” is a name given by convention to a subset of Protestant communities. The so called “Anglican Church “ is a barely definable set of independent Protestant communities that is comprised of hundreds of different ‘churches’ that teach conflicting and irreconcilable doctrine. The same can be said of the “Presbyterian Church” – it is a barely definable set of independent Protestant communities that is comprised of hundreds of different ‘churches’ that teach conflicting and irreconcilable doctrine.

    A person seeking the church of Mathew 18:17 should be alarmed at the doctrinal chaos that reigns within the various Anglican ‘churches’ and Presbyterian ‘churches’. The sincere seeker of the truth would know one thing with absolute certainty – that because these various Anglican and Presbyterian ‘churches’ teach conflicting and irreconcilable doctrine, it logically follows that most of these ‘churches’ must be teaching at least some heresy. The person seeking the true church, needs to answer some questions before joining any Anglican or Presbyterian ‘church’. Why does doctrinal chaos exist within these ‘churches’, and is there even one Anglican or Presbyterian ‘church’ that teaches no heresy? I would really like to know how you answer those questions!

    John: Your litany of apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, sacramental ordination, episcopacy, and the real presence is too vague. I believe all those things, just not as you believe them.

    When Bryan speaks of “apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, sacramental ordination, episcopacy, and the real presence” I understand what he means because the doctrines concerning these things are not his personal interpretations of the scriptures, they are the doctrines of the Catholic Church, many of which are formally defined by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. When you say that you believe in “apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, sacramental ordination, episcopacy, and the real presence” I have no idea what you mean. I don’t know if what you believe is based on your idiosyncratic private interpretations of the Protestant bible, or if your beliefs are consistent with what is taught by some specific sect within the hundreds of Anglican and Presbyterian ‘churches’ that teach conflicting and irreconcilable doctrines about these things.

  20. John, (re: #17)

    Given your claim (in #14) that since St. Vincent was probably challenging the teaching of St. Augustine on efficacious grace he is “closer to the Orthodox than to Protestants or Romans Catholics,” it is not at all “beside the point” that such a challenge is fully within the pale of Catholic orthodoxy. It is not “beside the point” because your conclusion [i.e. that he is closer to Orthodoxy than to Catholicism] would follow only if denying St. Augustine’s view of efficacious grace were a departure from the pale of Catholic orthodoxy. He may have disagreed with St. Augustine’s notion of efficacious grace, but he never separated from the Catholic Church over the issue, or gave any hint that he would be willing to do so. There is no evidence to support your claim that St. Vincent was closer to Orthodoxy than to the Catholic Church.

    As for whether there is such a thing as a “small-c catholic Church,” you have never had an answer to my pointing out that there is no such thing. Yet, you continue, in subsequent discussions, to use this term as though it has a referent. This is a kind of fictionalism, in which a person uses a term that has no referent (e.g. unicorns), as though it has an actual referent, while presenting himself as speaking truly and not merely telling a fictional tale.

    Regarding development, I never brought up Newman here; you did. So claiming that St. Vincent’s position is not identical to Newman’s, doesn’t show that anything I said about St. Vincent is false. St. Vincent clearly speaks about an epistemic development from “that which formerly was believed, though imperfectly apprehended” to presently being more “clearly understood.” What “antiquity venerated without understanding” the later generations should strive to teach and preach such that it is understood. Whatever “antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary,” the Church is to “fashion and polish it,” “consolidate and strengthen it.” That’s not mere “verbal progress,” or “verbal restatement,” as though the Church merely chooses better words, but never deepens her understanding of the deposit.

    As for your claim that you believe apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, the sacrament of ordination, the episcopacy, and the Real Presence, but “just not as [I] believe them,” the problem I was raising is not that you don’t believe them as I believe them, but that you don’t believe them as St. Vincent and the whole Church of his time believed them. At the time of St. Vincent, for example, the whole Catholic Church believed that the Eucharist is a sacrifice; that’s why all the Churches had altars. They had believed this since the first century, as [Protestant scholar] J.N.D. Kelly points out, “The Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice from the closing decade of the first century, if not earlier.” Similarly, the whole Catholic Church of St. Vincent’s time believed that there is no Church without a bishop, and that no one could be a bishop without having been ordained by an Apostle or another bishop having succession from the Apostles. But if you belong to a presbyterian congregation, which denies (and does not practice) apostolic succession and has no bishop having sacramental orders from the Apostles, then you don’t believe what St. Vincent and the whole Catholic Church of his time believed about apostolic succession and about the episcopacy; nor do you believe what the whole of the Catholic Church of St. Vincent’s time believed about the Real Presence and about the Eucharistic sacrifice.

    To justify your divergence from the Fathers by saying that you don’t believe these doctrines as I believe them, is simply a red herring. You don’t believe them as the whole Church of St. Vincent’s time believed them. And therefore St. Vincent’s rule indicts your present position.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. John,

    Greetings from C’ville. Greg is our pastor at Trinity Presbyterian and a great blessing to our church community.

    A disclaimer or two: I have no formal training as a historian, philosopher, or theologian. My undergrad degree is in religion (Reformation history emphasis) and I almost went to seminary (went to medical school instead!). I enjoy reading the Fathers and have tried, along with my family (we homeschool), to deepen my understanding of logic and philosophy. These interests are what, in part, have brought me to a place of serious examination of my lifelong Protestant ecclesiological presuppositions.

    I approach the Fathers’ writings with caution, as I have seen many on all sides of these issues approach the data with such bias as to render their conclusions unhelpful at best. Of course, none of us can escape these biases entirely.

    If doctrine in any sense develops, and I think you would agree that it does (if not in the Newmanesque sense), then it is a fools errand to seek the faith fully articulated in the first centuries after Christ. It is for this reason that I do not see the lack of explicit mention of the Petrine office by St. Vincent as fatal to the RCC interpretation of his writings, and while I see how Mathison et. al. could interpret his writings as consistent with a certain view of Sola, I am not convinced that theirs is the best interpretation.

    Ironically, parts of your recent combox exchange with Bryan exemplify my reason for discomfort with the Protestant paradigm. He, assuming your allegiance to the Reformed view, pointed out that you likely reject many doctrines held by St. Vincent to be part of accepted Tradition. You responded that you have no such allegiance, that you accept all of the doctrines he named, but that you interpret them differently. Aren’t these types of varying interpretations the very stuff of schism and heresy throughout the ages? How, using the Protestant ecclesiological paradigm, do you distingush denominations from schisms from heresies?

    I am not asking this rhetorically. I think Mathison and other like-minded Protestant theologians are trying to provide a reasoned paradigm that does not end in the obvious circularity of the Solo position, but I find that their reasoning still seems to end up with a very well articulated, “my interpretation of Scripture as informed by the rule of faith versus your interpretation of Scripture informed by the rule of faith.”

    Burton

  22. Gents,

    Thanks for your replies; I hope you all enjoyed the weekend. I’m happy to discuss Vincent, but we’re doomed to mutual frustration if we treat of topics indiscriminately. Where Bryan has no time to write a book on the principled identification of the Catholic Church, I have no time to draft treatises on baptismal regeneration, etc. Though classical protestants admit trial by the fathers, a combox isn’t the right venue.

    Regarding the points in my original comment:

    1. Roman Catholics who disagree with Augustine seldom direct against his doctrine the vehemence Vincent appears to send its way in chapter 26. Cf. Heurtley’s notes on the passage.

    2,3. Where does Vincent imply that papal primacy amounts to more than the pope’s being primus inter pares?

    4. Verbal refinements result in greater understanding; they make it easier for individuals and whole communities to grasp and retain in mind what before was harder to apprehend. This improved exposition of the faith is the idea discussed in chapter 22:

    Let that which formerly was believed, though imperfectly apprehended, as expounded by thee be clearly understood. Let posterity welcome, understood through thy exposition, what antiquity venerated without understanding. Yet teach still the same truths which thou hast learnt, so that though thou speakest after a new fashion (nove), what thou speakest may not be new (nova).

    Chapter 23 presents the famous body analogy. Reginald Moxon’s old Cambridge edition of Vincent includes an important note (p. 90) on what “latent” means in the passage:

    V.’s idea of growth is confined to the unfolding of already existing parts, and so was in accordance with the general view of evolution held by all biologists until the triumph of ‘epigenesis’ in modern times. The old theory was that there is an actual, not merely a potential preformation of the mature organism in the germ.

    Likened to parts of the body, all genuine doctrines are actually present in the early days of the faith. They become larger, thus more easily seen, more easily defended, as time goes on. Nonetheless, they are already present–not just potentially, but in such wise as to be visible–even before the unfolding takes place.

    The conclusion of the chapter shows again that “development” consists of improved exposition:

    This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,—-this, and nothing else,—-she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

    That’s quite emphatic: Councils restate doctrines, with new language, new formulas serving as aids to understanding. There’s nothing here about councils eliminating ambiguity such that the truth can subsequently be known on matters where previously there was room for reasonable people to disagree about what the apostles taught.

    Incidentally, I noticed Dr. Liccione regards Vincent as holding with St. Irenaeus that doctrinal developments can be evaluated independently of ecclesiastical authority. He thus has Vincent aligned with Protestants, Orthodox, and old fashioned Catholics like Orestes Brownson on the key epistemological issue.

    Pax Christi,
    John

    PS Burton, I am reformed.

  23. John, (re: #22)

    You wrote:

    1. Roman Catholics who disagree with Augustine seldom direct against his doctrine the vehemence Vincent appears to send its way in chapter 26.

    Your claim is based on the entirely unsubstantiated assumption that chapter 26 is directed at St. Augustine directly, rather than against heretics in general.

    Verbal refinements result in greater understanding; they make it easier for individuals and whole communities to grasp and retain in mind what before was harder to apprehend.

    No one denied that. The question is not whether St. Vincent’s conception of development includes “verbal refinements,” but whether it reduces to “verbal refinements,” such that the Church as a whole does not penetrate more deeply into the deposit in her understanding of the faith, uncovering aspects that have been present implicitly but have not yet been made explicit. St. Vincent embraces “all possible progress” (p. 54), not just for individuals, but for “the whole Church,” (p. 54) in “intelligence (i.e. understanding), knowledge, and wisdom” (the three intellectual virtues) concerning the deposit of faith (p. 54), so long as the faith stays the same in kind, and is not altered. And everything in chapter 22 is fully compatible with that. And as I said in comment #20, St. Vincent himself speaks of development as a growth not just in language, but in understanding: “that which formerly was believed, though imperfectly apprehended” becomes more “clearly understood.” What “antiquity venerated without understanding” the later generations should strive to teach and preach such that it is understood. That’s not mere “verbal progress,” or “verbal restatement,” as though the Church merely chooses better words, but never deepens her understanding of the deposit.

    Likened to parts of the body, all genuine doctrines are actually present in the early days of the faith.

    No one denies that all genuine doctrine are actually present in the early days of the faith. All agree that all genuine doctrines are present in the deposit of faith, and have been present in the deposit since the deposit was given by the Apostles to the Church. But, as the Church grows in her understanding of the deposit by the aid and illumination of the Spirit, she continues to grow in her understanding of what has been implicit, and thus she continues to make explicit what has all along been implicitly present in the deposit.

    They become larger, thus more easily seen, more easily defended, as time goes on. Nonetheless, they are already present–not just potentially, but in such wise as to be visible–even before the unfolding takes place.

    Truths do not become larger; but they can become clearer, as the discovery of other truths makes these more apparent. And that is just what it means for a truth to be present implicitly but not explicitly in the deposit. Of course it is not initially invisible to one with eyes to see. But it may be initially invisible to the whole Church, because it is not just individuals who grow, but the whole Church which grows in its understanding.

    The conclusion of the chapter shows again that “development” consists of improved exposition:

    The conclusion of the chapter shows that development includes consigning to posterity in writing what had been received previously by tradition, and by designating an old article by the characteristic of a new name. But, it does not imply or entail that development reduces to those two things alone. When he says “this, and nothing else,” he is denying that Councils alter the deposit.

    Councils restate doctrines, with new language, new formulas serving as aids to understanding.

    No one denies that.

    There’s nothing here about councils eliminating ambiguity such that the truth can subsequently be known on matters where previously there was room for reasonable people to disagree about what the apostles taught.

    Of course St. Vincent does not say that development is such that prior to a particular development, “there was room for reasonable people to disagree about what the apostles taught.” My case has been from what St. Vincent does say, not what he doesn’t say.

    As for whether, for St. Vincent, doctrinal developments can be evaluated independently of ecclesiastical authority, Ray’s explanation in comment #10 above shows how St. Vincent’s rule presupposes knowledge of ecclesial authority. And I already addressed your appeal to Brownson, in comment #211 of “The Tu Quoque” post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. John,

    The questions and concerns I have raised would appear to be better attached to a different thread, perhaps one of the “Mathison’s response” essays. I understand and appreciate CTC’s desire to keep a given thread on topic. The thrust of Bryan’s essay (as I understand it) on St. Vincent is the nature of his rule as expressed in the Commonitory and its application to heresy and schism. My primary question does specifically involve the means of identifying schism and heresy using the Reformed understanding of authority and ecclesiology and how this relates to the Protestant concept of denominationalism. This question is related to the topic at hand, but may be a bit too tangential. If so, I will happily, albeit somewhat impatiently :) step out of the conversation at hand and wait for a thread that addresses this more directly.

    Peace,

    Burton

  25. Burton,

    The question (which is a second order question) about the means of identifying and distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy, and distinguishing between the Church and schisms from the Church, are on topic in this thread, because that’s precisely the question that St. Vincent is seeking to answer.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  26. Burton,

    Thanks. If you’d like to take up Bryan’s invitation in #25, I’d be happy to discuss your concerns.

    Bryan,

    Thanks for your reply. In regard to:

    1. You’re using the Heurtley translation, which includes an appendix about chapter 26. Compare the old Catholic Enclycopedia’s articles on Semipelagianism (“This booklet should probably be regarded as simply a ‘polemical treatise against Augustine'”), and on Vincent:

    He was a Semipelagian and so opposed to the doctrine of St. Augustine. It is believed now that he uses against Augustine his great principle: “what all men have at all times and everywhere believed must be regarded as true”. Living in a centre deeply imbued with Semipelagianism, Vincent’s writings show several points of doctrine akin to Casian or to Faustus of Riez, who became Abbot of Lérins at the time Vincent wrote his “Commonitorium”; he uses technical expressions similar to those employed by the Semipelagians against Augustine; but, as Benedict XIV observes, that happened before the controversy was decided by the Church.

    2,3. That Vincent speaks of the visible church doesn’t imply he shares your notion of the Roman see (or any other see) as principium unitatis. What’s the evidence he does?

    4. You write,

    St. Vincent himself speaks of development as a growth not just in language, but in understanding

    Verbal refinements facilitate understanding; that’s why they’re refinements, not idle rephrasings. They make it easier for individuals and whole communities to understand, and thus profit from, what could already be understood with more difficulty without their assistance.

    You also write,

    But, as the Church grows in her understanding of the deposit by the aid and illumination of the Spirit, she continues to grow in her understanding of what has been implicit, and thus she continues to make explicit what has all along been implicitly present in the deposit.

    Your notions of illumination and implicitness appear to trade on a modal ambiguity, as I noted in the other thread.

    Truths become larger in the sense that they become more easily seen and defended. They become more easily seen and defended through improved exposition.

    Your gloss on “this, and nothing else” looks strained to me. Vincent states three things conciliar decrees have sought; he limits their objects to those three, then expressly makes an exception for consigning beliefs to writing and using new terms.

    I linked to Brownson on Vincent; it makes no difference that he wasn’t part of the magisterium.

    Pax Christi,
    John

  27. John, (re: #26)

    Nothing in the Semipelagianism article shows that chapter 26 of the Commonitory means that St. Vincent believed that St. Augustine was a heretic. That’s because the premises in an argument are not necessarily the intention of the argument. I might construct an argument in which I criticize the methods of heretics, and claim that the devil speaks through them, with the intention of persuading others not to accept another person’s position, without believing that that other person is himself a heretic. Moreover, even a strong rejection of St. Augustine’s position on efficacious grace, prior to any magisterial decision by the Church regarding the issue (e.g. Second Orange), is fully compatible with Catholicism, and therefore does not support your assertion that St. Vincent was closer to Orthodoxy than to Catholicism.

    Verbal refinements facilitate understanding; that’s why they’re refinements, not idle rephrasings. They make it easier for individuals and whole communities to understand, and thus profit from, what could already be understood with more difficulty without their assistance.

    That’s fully compatible with what I wrote in the article.

    Your notions of illumination and implicitness appear to trade on a modal ambiguity, as I noted in the other thread.

    They don’t. Saying y clearly, and not saying x, is not “trading on a modal ambiguity.” If I didn’t say x, and you want to know my position on x, then just ask, instead of falsely accusing me of “trading on a modal ambiguity.” A notion does not “trade on an ambiguity;” only arguments can do so.

    Your gloss on “this, and nothing else” looks strained to me.

    That’s no evidence that it is not true. The rest of his section on development of doctrine provides the context in which to understand (and thus qualify) the “this, and nothing else.”

    I linked to Brownson on Vincent; it makes no difference that he wasn’t part of the magisterium.

    Actually, it does. Brownson’s opinion is just that, an opinion; it has no magisterial authority.

    Let’s try to avoid falling into argumentativeness. It would better, I think, to focus on the main point in dispute, if you think something I said in the article is false.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    Feast of the Visitation

  28. Bryan,

    Thanks. I have no desire to be argumentative, and haven’t accused you of anything. All I’ve done is respond to critiques of my initial comment, which was a short note addressed to Burton. So, to recap, following the order of points:

    1. With regard to the manner in which he appears to speak against Augustinianism, I do believe Vincent is closer to the Orthodox than to Roman Catholics or Protestants. I’ve offered reasons; if they don’t persuade you, so be it.

    2,3. Again, I mean no disrespect to you, but I don’t find Catholicism’s distinctive beliefs about the magisterium in the Commonitory. If you do, where do you find them?

    4. I still fail to see how I am “grossly misrepresenting” Vincent on doctrinal development. That was a rather serious allegation, which is why I’ve dwelt on it more than on the other points. What specifically does Vincent say that’s incompatible with what I’ve said? Also, have you answered my question from the other thread? (If so, my apologies, I must have missed it.)

    Pax Christi,
    John

  29. John,

    Regarding what you called (in #26) a “modal ambiguity,” in comment #220 of the other thread, you wrote:

    The reason is that the grace of “wisdom and insight” must be differentiated from the grace of revelation. From Brownson’s perspective, the former grace brings one actually to see what could be seen all along, even if it was not seen before. The latter enables one to see what in the past could not be seen. You nominally distinguish the two graces. If you reject the above characterization of how they differ, what do you believe is the principled difference between them?

    The grace of revelation is distinct from the grace of “wisdom and insight” regarding that revelation. But, it would be a mistake to assume that if one has any grace of “wisdom and insight” then one can see all there is to see regarding the deposit of faith. The greater the grace of illumination, the more one can see in the deposit. But it is not true that God gives all illuminating grace possible to each regenerate person such that each regenerate person can independently grasp all there is to know about the deposit of faith. In addition, grace builds upon grace. What is made explicit by the grace of illumination to one generation of the Church, becomes the starting point for the work of divine illumination in the next generation of the Church. Each generation stands on the shoulders, so to speak, of the generation that preceded it.

    The Catechism explains that revelation was completed with Christ and the Apostles, but that that revelation continues to be made explicit as the Church, aided by the Holy Spirit living in her, continues to grow in her understanding of the meaning and full significance of that divine revelation that was given to her through the Apostles:

    65: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2:

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

    66: “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries. (CCC 65-66)

    So, it would be an oversimplification to claim that if one has the grace of “wisdom and insight,” one must be able to see in the deposit all that the Church can ever know about the deposit. Knowledge of supernatural truths, like knowledge of natural truths, is a matter of degree. And that is also why it is false that if, for example, the second century Church couldn’t see x in the deposit of faith, then (a) the twentieth century Church cannot see x in the deposit, and (b) if the twentieth century Church claims to see x in the deposit, it is an illusion or an illegitimate accretion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  30. Bryan,

    Thanks. What’s unclear to me is the sense in which you believe developed doctrines to have been present implicitly in apostolic tradition. Somehow or other these implicit truths, having been revealed before the death of the last apostle, were passed down from the apostles through public tradition; just how is the question.

    You write,

    The grace of revelation is distinct from the grace of “wisdom and insight” regarding that revelation. But, it would be a mistake to assume that if one has any grace of “wisdom and insight” then one can see all there is to see regarding the deposit of faith.

    If we replace “can” with “will,” then I agree with your statement.

    Earlier you wrote,

    And that is just what it means for a truth to be present implicitly but not explicitly in the deposit. Of course it is not initially invisible to one with eyes to see. But it may be initially invisible to the whole Church, because it is not just individuals who grow, but the whole Church which grows in its understanding.

    If we replace “invisible to” with “unseen by,” then I again agree.

    The difficulty with your modal qualifiers is that they imply a truth can at once be both revealed to a subject and invisible to him. It makes sense to say that a truth revealed to a subject can go unseen by him; he may never direct his gaze to it, so to speak. To say, however, that a truth revealed to a subject is invisible to him seems to imply a cognitive or perceptual defect in the subject.

    Pax Christi,
    John

  31. John, (re: #28)

    You wrote:

    With regard to the manner in which he appears to speak against Augustinianism, I do believe Vincent is closer to the Orthodox than to Roman Catholics or Protestants. I’ve offered reasons; if they don’t persuade you, so be it.

    That subjectivizes the question. Whether the reasons “persuade me” is entirely irrelevant, and whether you believe them, is entirely irrelevant, because nothing about me or about you is any evidence for or against your claim. I’ve shown that the reasons you’ve offered so far are not good reasons, and do not justify your claim, because they are equally compatible with the falsity of your claim.

    2,3. Again, I mean no disrespect to you, but I don’t find Catholicism’s distinctive beliefs about the magisterium in the Commonitory. If you do, where do you find them?

    Please leave off the sophistical “I mean no disrespect to you.” Your not finding Catholicism’s distinctive beliefs about the magisterium in the Commonitory is in no way disrespectful to me, and your suggestion that it is, once again, subjectivizes the issue, by construing my position and argument not as one built on the evidence, but as a mere personal dictate, such that disagreeing with it disrespects my person. And it is sophistry to construe one’s interlocutor’s position which in fact is based on evidence and argumentation (even if that position is false), as though it is based instead on a personal dictate of one’s interlocutor. If you think that a position is not supported by the evidence for a position, then simply explain why the evidence doesn’t support the position. The general rule is: never construe appealing to the evidence as disrespectful to one’s interlocutor. Doing so implies that your interlocutor is more interested in maintaining his position by mere stipulation than in the truth of the matter. And that’s both uncharitable and sophistical.

    I never claimed that I find “Catholicism’s distinctive beliefs about the magisterium” in the Commonitory. Calling on a person to defend a claim he has not made, is, again, sophistical. If you don’t see the evidence for something I said in the article, then feel free to ask how I arrived at that conclusion. Or, if you think something I said in the article is false, feel free to show why it is false.

    You wrote:

    I still fail to see how I am “grossly misrepresenting” Vincent on doctrinal development.

    What you said in comment #14 misrepresents St. Vincent’s position on the development of doctrine. You wrote:

    The “progress” Vincent has in mind is the verbal restatement of what catholics have professed from the beginning. New forms of expression enable more Christians to understand and retain in memory more of the historic faith.

    Not only is there no such thing as “catholics,” for St. Vincent, as I explained in comment #15, but your construal of his teaching on development here reduces it to mere verbal restatement such that the Church as a whole does not come to see anything in the deposit she had not seen before, but only, by rewording and rephrasing her doctrines, improves her preaching and teaching, thereby allowing individual Christians to better understand and retain the Christian faith that has been fully and entirely explicit in all its dimensions to the Church as a whole from the time of the death of the last Apostle. According to this construal, nothing in the deposit is latent or implicit to the whole Church at any point in time, but only to some individual Christians who haven’t been well catechized. In this way your construal reduces St. Vincent’s doctrine of development to mere homiletical and pedagogical improvement, ruling out the possibility of any discovery within the deposit by the whole Church, or the making explicit by the Magisterium of what was previously to the whole Church only implicit within the deposit.

    But that’s not St. Vincent’s position on the development of doctrine, as can be seen in various statements he makes throughout his section on development of doctrine, but one is sufficient. He writes:

    The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress. (p. 54)

    It is not just individuals within the Church who increase in their knowledge of the deposit; “the whole Church” ought to increase in its knowledge of the deposit. The intelligence [i.e. the understanding], the knowledge, and the wisdom not just “of individuals,” but also “of all” ought to increase.

    In comment #30 you wrote:

    The difficulty with your modal qualifiers is that they imply a truth can at once be both revealed to a subject and invisible to him. It makes sense to say that a truth revealed to a subject can go unseen by him; he may never direct his gaze to it, so to speak. To say, however, that a truth revealed to a subject is invisible to him seems to imply a cognitive or perceptual defect in the subject.

    What was given to the Church in the deposit is not fundamentally a set of “clear and distinct ideas.” It was the First Truth, the Word of the Father, in whom is all truth. But He was clothed in flesh, and given to us as a Mystery, to be seen in His fullness only in the Beatific Vision. If there were no room for mystery in the deposit, this would be heaven now. But this is not heaven now, so there is mystery in the deposit. But mystery in the deposit is incompatible with the conception of the deposit as a set of clear and distinct ideas, i.e. a set of propositional simples. And your objection (just quoted) seems to be based on conceiving of the deposit as a set of clear and distinct ideas, in the form of propositional simples, whose meaning is exhausted in the conceptual relation between the simple subject and the simple predicate of each proposition. But the deposit is not fundamentally a set of clear and distinct ideas in the form of propositional simples; the deposit is the First Truth, Christ Himself. Yes, we know Him through the articles of faith, but even the articles are not “clear and distinct ideas;” they are inexhaustible treasures of wisdom, for through them we grasp the First Truth, veiled in a mystery until that Day.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    Feast of St. Justin Martyr

  32. John,

    To say, however, that a truth revealed to a subject is invisible to him seems to imply a cognitive or perceptual defect in the subject.

    Assuming by invisible we mean “unseen by”, couldn’t it imply a limited perceptual capacity (vs. a type of defect)? I’m thinking the historical-temporal. In other words, the Church that possesses the deposit of faith today is more perceptually privileged than the previous generation or as Bryan has put it, “Each generation stands on the shoulders, so to speak, of the generation that preceded it.” This perceptual privilege is both natural and supernatural in that the Magisterial grace of the Holy Spirit in the Church builds upon what the mind naturally understands in the course of time but super-aids it for the Divine purpose of teaching the Truth–not merely explicating what is possible by human reason.

    Cheers,

    Brent

  33. Brent,

    Good question. Since our capacities haven’t changed, I wouldn’t say we’re perceptually privileged. You’re right, though, that we’ve inherited benefits from our forebears in the faith. Through their labors, it’s easier for our generation to see and profit from truths which, though visible in the past, were harder to spot. Visibility is different from being seen; we see more, but we see nothing in the deposit today that wasn’t visible to the fathers.

    Bryan,

    Thanks. Whether my reasons persuade you is indeed irrelevant, for your not being persuaded doesn’t mean they’re not good reasons. ;) I’ve set forth reasons, and obviously I think they’re good ones. But, rather than go on endlessly debating them, I’m content to leave it for anyone reading along to decide for himself what to think of them.

    That, in fact, is what I’m going to do with regard to the rest of this exchange. My purpose in this thread has been modest. I wrote a short note addressed to Burton, which contained several points to which you objected. All I’ve done since then is respond to objections, and by now I’ve said enough. I don’t think I’ve been unreasonable, let alone sophistical, but that’s for others to judge.

    God bless,
    John

  34. John:

    I love St. Vincent. As far as I know, he was the first and only Father of the Church to entertain what is clearly a notion of development of doctrine (DD). And I agree with Bryan’s exposition of St. Vincent’s view of DD. Now, given that your thoughts about DD are scattered over many comments in several threads, and given also that you and I have debated DD for at least three years, I shall use this occasion to sum up your argument and what I believe to be wrong with it. I see little need at present to do a lengthy guest post for that purpose. The project I have in mind for myself, both for this site and for a book, is far broader than our disagreement. Here we can be content with a renewed point of departure pertinent to this thread.

    What you reject, I take it, is any notion of DD according to which distinctively Catholic doctrines can and should be considered authentic expressions of the apostolic deposit of faith, as distinct from theological opinions that could conceivably be true, but which no Christian should be obliged to profess as de fide. And your argument for that stance may be posed as a dilemma for the Catholic. Thus, putative articles of faith that are not rationally necessitated by the documented sources from the early Church–such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption–are either indistinguishable from new revelation or not comprised by the “public character” of apostolic tradition. The former is incompatible with the Magisterium’s claim to be expounding an already completed public revelation, and the latter renders the Magisterium’s claims for itself essentially arbitrary and esoteric, like those of the Gnostics for themselves (or, we might add today, the Mormons).

    But the force of such a dilemma depends on an epistemological assumption that Bryan and I reject. In just that sense, the assumption in question begs the question. Showing what the assumption is, and how it begs the questions, requires some background explanation for our readers’ benefit.

    Let ‘P’ stand for the statement ‘Apostolic tradition is perspicuous’, and let P mean that the entire content of the deposit of faith is either formally explicit in Scripture and Tradition or (somehow) rationally necessitated by what is formally explicit therein. That I take it, is what you mean by P, which you also believe to be true. Now, why believe P? Because, according to you, apostolic tradition is not only public and complete; its very publicity is logically dependent on its perspicuity, for the same reason that its knowablility as complete is so dependent. That “reason” I’m referring to is the assumption Bryan and I reject. Before I state it, though, it’s vital to get clear on the sense in which the Catholic as such would have to regard apostolic tradition as public and complete.

    Apostolic tradition is public in at least the following sense: any doctrine taught with the Church’s full authority, and thus as de fide, expresses some reality or set of realities contained in what Ratzinger and other theologians call the “Christ-event.” That event is what John the Baptist first announced, what began to unfold with the Annunciation, and what was preached by the Apostles in its integrity till the death of the last apostle. With varying degrees of explicitness, such realities were all made present to the Apostles in some-or-other fashion—by verbal communication, eyewitnessing of events, or both. And the complex event known as the Christ-event, of which the Apostles were witnesses, was public. Thus, each and every interconnected, supernatural reality revealed in and through the Christ-event obtained before the death of the last apostle, and was meant by God to come to be publicly known henceforth, starting with the witness and preaching of the Apostles. Call that public, interconnected set of realities, combined with the preaching that verbally expressed them, ‘the apostolic deposit’ of faith (AD), inasmuch as it’s that combination which is handed down to us by apostolic tradition.

    Now according to the Catholic as such, AD is not only public in the above-described sense but also complete. The “public, interconnected set of realities” revealed in and through the Christ-event was the decisive, once-for-all climax and fulfillment of the revelation whose prior unfolding is recorded in the Old Testament. That revelation was ultimately meant for humanity as a whole, so that “all could be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.” Thus any future “revelation” to humanity would only consist in facilitating deeper awareness of what was already given in, and transmitted by, AD. It would not consist in a further event to augment the supreme revelatory character of the Christ-event. This is why, even though most Catholics believe that private revelations have occurred, no Catholic is obliged to accept any particular private revelation with the assent of faith. What the Apostles “handed down” to us by their preaching and writing was that very set of realities, inasmuch as their preaching and writing was primarily about that set. And when added to that set, their preaching and writing express the complete AD.

    Notice that, on the above, Catholic account of AD’s publicity and completeness, it does not follow that the preaching and writing of the Apostles, which themselves are part of the complete AD, so expressed said realities that each of them was either explicitly described by apostolic preaching and writing or logically inferable therefrom. That is unsurprising, for there is more than one reasonable way to interpret the various data transmitting AD to us, and the interpretive authority of the Church is needed to sort out which among such interpretations is also true. Yet according to you, AD is not just fully “contained” in the Christ-event preached by the Apostles; the entirety of the Christ-event was expressed in the actual preaching of the Apostles, and Scripture in turn expresses AD’s doctrinal content as well as need be for us to know said content in its entirety. Accordingly, anybody could come to know the content of AD, as such and in its entirety, just by receiving and studying Scripture. That is the sense in which you seem to hold the thesis I’ve called ‘P’, i.e. that AD is perspicuous. Your position is of course logically equivalent to the Reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. You have argued that it’s also equivalent to what Irenaeus and other fathers of the Church held.

    Now I don’t want to dilate here on questions of patristic exegesis. Bryan’s post does that regarding St. Vincent, and you and I have done it before regarding other Fathers. But I do want to point out, as promised, where you’ve begged the question.

    It begs the question to hold, as you do, that the publicity and completeness of AD logically depends on Scripture’s being an epistemically sufficient expression of the realities comprised by the Christ-event. If Catholicism is true, then the expressions needed to secure the assent of faith to AD, as distinct from interpretive opinion, are those given by the triad: Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium, no one of which can be properly understood in isolation from the others. To argue, as you do, that the Catholic triad lands in the dilemma you pose is already to premise that the publicity and completeness of AD depends on the perspicuity of its most normative written component, i.e. Scripture. Why?

    On your account, the way to “know” AD is for the texts we both accept as “apostolic” to be such that any literate person of good will could make use of a reliable, publicly accessible method for understanding their full doctrinal content. With respect to the qualities of “reliability” and “accessibility,” such a method would be like the scientific method, even though the subject matter is radically different and the method itself is not experimental. Without such a method’s being sufficient as well as necessary, we would not be able to tell, with the surety of knowledge, the difference between faithful insight into AD and mere fanciful addition to it, so that we could not reasonably maintain that AD is both public and complete. But if the Catholic account of AD’s normative transmission is correct, we don’t need the surety of scientific method in order to tell the difference. For that purpose, we have the jointly reinforcing authorities of Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium, so that our knowledge of the content of the AD depends as much on faith as our conviction of its truth. Now as a Protestant of the Reformed tradition, you are not far from that view. Thus your beliefs regarding the apostolicity, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture depends on the tradition of something you’d call “the Church.” The difference is that you do not see the authority of anything called “the Church” as necessary for understanding, as distinct from identifying, , Scripture and whichever coordinate sources hand AD down to us. But your argument for that stance, namely the dilemma you pose for the Catholic, actually presupposes a view of AD’s publicity and completeness that the Catholic as such must reject. Hence, to point out that Catholic theological epistemology fails to meet your criteria is merely to beg the question.

    Now the Catholic view would be exposed as unreasonable anyhow if it could be shown that distinctively Catholic doctrines are logically incompatible with what the Church herself takes to be the normative sources. But you have never made such an argument, and for good reason. Such heresies as Gnosticism and Mormonism have been so exposed, not least because they themselves have insisted on the incompatibility at key points. The dispute you have with the Catholic Church is different. It’s over the question whether the authority of any body called “the Church” is needed for reliably identifying the content of AD. The Catholic Church says yes, and considers herself that church. You say no. The question whose view is the more reasonable cannot be fairly answered merely by showing that each fails the other’s tests. It can only be answered by discussing the relative merits of the tests themselves. As I’ve argued before, that is more a philosophical than a historical question.

    Best,
    Mike

  35. Bryan Cross: The grace of revelation is distinct from the grace of “wisdom and insight” regarding that revelation. But, it would be a mistake to assume that if one has any grace of “wisdom and insight” then one can see all there is to see regarding the deposit of faith.

    John: If we replace “can” with “will,” then I agree with your statement.

    That is a big change, and don’t believe it is merited. The grace of God that gave humanity the public revelation of the Word made flesh is, of course, not the same as the grace of the Sanctifying Gift of Wisdom. That said, the sanctifying gift of the Holy Spirit that gives members of the true church the insight into what is implicitly contained in the deposit of the faith is the Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge:

    [The Sanctifying Gift of] Knowledge is the gift that enables a person “to judge rightly concerning the truths of faith in accordance with their proper causes and the principles of revealed truth.” Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the human intellect makes correct judgments regarding earthly things and how they are related to eternal life and Christian perfection … the gift gives to the person a sense of faith, sensus fidei, meaning that the person has a divine instinct about whether or not something, like a devotion, is in accord with the faith even though he may never have had a formal theological education … St. Thomas taught that the Gift of Knowledge brings to perfection the virtue of faith …

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0451.html

    The reason why it is not merited for you, a Protestant, to change “can” with “will” is this: Protestants and Catholics are in the same “epistemic boat” as regards natural human reasoning but they are NOT in the same “epistemic boat” as Catholics as regards the spiritual understanding of what is implicitly contained in the deposit of faith.

    It cannot be denied that within Protestantism, the deposit of faith is understood in vastly contradictory and utterly irreconcilable ways. We can all know that truth through natural human reasoning. Now unless one wants to account for the doctrinal chaos within Protestantism as being the result of mass ignorance or premeditated deception on the part of Protestants, there must be some reason why doctrinal anarchy reigns within Protestantism. I believe that most Protestants are sincere people of good will (like most Muslims), and the reason why Protestants are lacking in the sensus fidei is because Protestants are lacking in the Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge. The deposit of faith is not understood through ordinary human reasoning, because spiritual things are understood through the Spirit.

    The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
    1 Cor 2:14-16

    Who has the mind of Christ? Those that have received the gifts of the Spirit of God. The Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge is bestowed upon those that receive a valid Sacrament of Baptism. Since many Protestants do receive a valid Sacrament of Baptism, it must be true that they also receive the the Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge to at least some degree. But the Seven Sanctifying Gifts of the Holy Spirit (of which Knowledge is one) are strengthened by the reception of a valid Sacrament of Confirmation, and no Protestant sect bestows a valid Sacrament of Confirmation since no Protestant sect has maintained Apostolic Succession. Furthermore the Sanctifying Gifts of the Holy Spirit weaken and die within the Christian when the Christian is cut off from the primary font of sanctifying grace, the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Since Protestants receive not a valid Sacrament of Confirmation, and since their spiritual lives are not fed and maintained by the reception of a valid Sacrament of the Eucharist, it is no wonder to me why Protestants have a defective sensus fidei. Protestants don’t understand what can only be spiritually understood, not because they are knaves or fools, but because they are unfortunate souls that have been cut off from their birthright by the sins of the “reformers”. Without a partaking of the sacramental life, Protestants are forever doomed to trying to understand spiritual things through mere human reasoning, and mere human reasoning is inadequate to the task. That is why I believe that the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox are not heretical to the degree that Protestants are heretics, even though the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox have been in schism with the Catholic Church far longer than the Protestants. The members of the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox do receive valid Sacraments, and that, in my opinion, is what keeps them from the doctrinal anarchy that reigns within Protestantism.

  36. Mike, why does the, triad’s being in the dilemma, require, the publicity and completeness being dependent on perspicuity? How, in the view you are expositing, does the idea that ‘AD depends on perspicuity’ (or AD”s being public and complete) supposed to lead to the triad’s dilemma?

    Also, John, you may answer the question, since it’s your argument that’s being discussed.

    Best,
    Mark

  37. Mike (#34):

    Thanks for your comment. I had meant to call it quits in this thread, but as you’ve offered a new point of departure, I’ll stay longer.

    You write,

    It begs the question to hold, as you do, that the publicity and completeness of AD logically depends on Scripture’s being an epistemically sufficient expression of the realities comprised by the Christ-event. If Catholicism is true, then the expressions needed to secure the assent of faith to AD, as distinct from interpretive opinion, are those given by the triad: Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium, no one of which can be properly understood in isolation from the others.

    Scripture’s being epistemically sufficient isn’t quite necessary for publicity and completeness; the partim-partim theory is compatible with both. Since the relationship of scripture and tradition is a secondary matter in the comparison of IPs, I’d prefer to set it aside for now, and to focus instead on the perspicuity of big-T Tradition, i.e., the conjunction of the OT and apostolic tradition, the latter both written (NT) and oral.

    So, the question between us turns on whether Tradition is insufficient apart from the Magisterium. This is where I’d agree with Orestes Brownson, who remarked, “The analogy to the civil judge in the application of the law is perfect.” The judge’s job is to apply the law by delivering an enforceable ruling in a controversy. In doing so, the judge interprets the law, but citizens don’t need his interpretation to know what the law is; the law is epistemically accessible to them apart from the judge’s ruling. Being epistemically accessible, it is public in a meaningful sense, for no one has privileged access to its contents.

    As the Judge is to the Law, so the Magisterium is to the Tradition. It’s when the analogy is denied that the dilemma crops up. Let’s suppose Tradition includes some dogmas which the faithful cannot reliably identify within in it independently of the Magisterium’s authoritative clarification. In that case, the bishops who exercise the Magisterium cannot reliably identify the dogmas, either, unless they are epistemically privileged relative to the faithful.

    We’ve gone over this before, of course, and I know you disagree. I’d like to pause here, though, for the benefit of anyone reading along. If you wouldn’t mind, it would be helpful if you could summarize your thoughts on how the analogy breaks down, and on why the dilemma is false.

    Mateo (#35):

    I was validly baptized and confirmed in the RCC, and received the eucharist at mass for years before becoming a protestant. Through the sacraments I’ve received countless blessings, but not the ability to perceive within apostolic tradition the dogmas unique to Catholicism. If they’re there, I honestly don’t see them, nor do the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox.

    Best,
    John

  38. Mark:

    If I understand your questions correctly, my answer would be: “They don’t.” It is only on John’s view that they do. I believe I explained why, but maybe you don’t think I did. Perhaps you could tell me where you see me fail to do so.

    Best,
    Mike

  39. John (#37):

    As a Catholic who religiously assents to Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, I believe I must disagree with Brownson the (amateur) theologian. If DV is correct, then neither the doctrinal content of the deposit of faith, nor the normativity of that content, can be reliably identified and understood apart from its being formed and borne by the Catholic Church and interpreted by her Magisterium.

    Nor do I agree with you that, given the Magisterium’s role as so expounded, the college of Catholic bishops must be “epistemically privileged” in its knowledge of said deposit. Although there is every reason to expect that the average bishop will have greater insight into the deposit of faith than the average lay person, there is no reason to believe that said college’s charism of infallibility, when exercised, requires such insight. To be divinely preserved from error under certain conditions does not logically require that one of those conditions be perfect, or even better-than-average, knowledge of the deposit of faith. All it requires is the requisite office exercised faithfully.

    Given my disagreements with both Brownson and you, therefore, I do not concede that you can even pose the dilemma in question without begging the question.

    Best,
    Mike

  40. John,

    You said:

    Since our capacities haven’t changed, I wouldn’t say we’re perceptually privileged.

    You and I can witness an event from different vantages, and thus our perceptions of the event will be different yet we will have the same capacities. The person who has the advantage of both of our perceptions, and, super-aided by grace, might have a position of greater perceptual privilege. This does not imply that we all are not beholding the same deposit, but what is implied is a growing in grace from glory to glory. To consider your statement another way:

    P1 We can have different perceptions
    P2 Some perceptions are better than others
    P3 A better perception does not necessarily imply different capacities
    C: One may have a privileged perception while still admitting we have the same capacities

    Further, it seems troublesome to demand that a Father “saw” it and for that to mean he “said it” or something to that effect. Then the deposit becomes a set of propositions as Mike has pointed out. The problem with this is how do you determine the [set]? Are we looking for a consensus among the Fathers? Is consensus going to be defined by everyone saying it [set] since they all could see the same thing? If not, where one Father is silent and another vocal what are we to think? We certainly cannot say that a lack of total consensus is equivalent to the deposit not possessing a certain dogma. No, but that leaves us in the most peculiar position.

    If silence does not negate the worthiness of a given dogma, what if the Fathers are completely silent on a topic? How can we then assume that they did not see it since silence does not necessitate the null position? It seems that we would need some type of other authority acting outside of this whole propositional pin-wheel. Who gets the job? Is it you? Me?

    I think the history of the Church brings this to bare in that there is such an authority and she exists in and with the Tradition and Scripture. Or to think about it another way:

    If the set of propositions of the AD cannot be determined by consensus nor can silence negate the validity of a value within the set, then the set must be determined ad hoc or it is determined by something extrinsic to the set since there is nothing in the set that is sufficient to be the cause of the set. This would not be the case if the AD consisted of only those things which the Fathers were in consensus regarding, but since it does not–and that even some Fathers erred at times–there must exist something outside of the set to determine the set. That’s you, me or the Church, and I’m withdrawing my name from the ballot.

    By the way, this is the same argument re-done regarding the “canon-question“.

    Your Separated Brother,

    Brent

  41. Mike (#39):

    Thanks. I haven’t presented Brownson as a spokesman for the RCC. He’s just an historical witness to the critique I am offering.

    If the bishops are not epistemically privileged, then at least sometimes they, like rest of the faithful, cannot reliably identify within apostolic tradition the beliefs which, in the exercise of the extraordinary Magisterium, they undertake solemnly to define as dogmas belonging to the AD. To be sure, it’s conceivable that the bishops should be divinely preserved from error even when defining beliefs which they themselves cannot reliably identify as apostolic. That seems, however, an undesirable foundation on which to build a theory of development.

    Best,
    John

  42. John, (re: #37)

    You wrote:

    Let’s suppose Tradition includes some dogmas which the faithful cannot reliably identify within it independently of the Magisterium’s authoritative clarification. In that case, the bishops who exercise the Magisterium cannot reliably identify the dogmas, either, unless they are epistemically privileged relative to the faithful.

    Gratuitous graces (ST I-II Q.111 a.4) are not the same as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everyone in a state of grace has the gifts of the Holy Spirit (some more, some less), but not everyone has the gratuitous graces. Gratuitous graces are given to the clergy at their ordination by the Holy Spirit, to equip them for their ministry. These gratuitous graces include faith, wisdom, and knowledge, so that the clergy may be able to teach the deposit to the faithful, for no one can teach what he does not know, and God never calls someone to an office without equipping him with the supernatural gifts needed to fulfill that office. That ordination gives a unique grace (more than just an increase in sanctifying grace) can be seen in St. Paul’s statement to St. Timothy, “I admonish you that you stir up the grace of God which is in you by the imposition of my hands.” (2 Tim 1:6)

    Of course God may choose to grant certain of the lay faithful with gratuitous graces if He wishes. But the gratuitous graces are not given to all, as the gifts of the Spirit are. Insofar as having the gratuitous graces counts as being “epistemically privileged” relative to the lay faithful, then yes, in that sense the clergy are epistemically privileged relative to the lay faithful. Your objection to this is that this entails that the deposit is not “public in any meaningful sense.” But that objection presupposes that if the lay faithful cannot know everything there is to know about the deposit, then the deposit is not “public in any meaningful sense.” That simply strong-arms the definition of the term ‘public’ in dictatorial fashion, by stipulating that either the term means what you say it means, or it has no meaning at all. When we use the term ‘public,’ we do not mean that everything about, say, a public person is knowable by us. We recognize that in public figures there is much more to them and about them that we don’t know and that we can’t know, but we don’t for that reason deny that they are public figures. And the same is true of the deposit. It is public, but that does not mean that the lay faithful (or even the Magisterium) can know everything there is to know about it, for the reason I gave in comment #31. So the two problems with your objection are first, that it presupposes a denial of the sacrament of Holy Orders (and what supernatural graces are given with it), and second, that it stipulates an idiosyncratic sense of the term ‘public.’

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Mike,

    My wording was not clear. I didn’t take it that you yourself endorsed that the one concept implied the other, but rather that you were explaining how on John’s view there is such an implication.

    I couldn’t quite see what John’s view, on your understanding and in your explanation, said about the details of this implication. There were some comments about how the Catholic IP does not work withing the idea that one can identify or understand the AD without the magisterium. This identifying/understanding of AD is, I’m guessing, supposed to be just the sort of thing that, if you cannot do it on your own without the magisterium, then the thing being identified/understood (or the process thereof) should not (on John’s view) be called ‘public’.

    [A] ‘AD depends on perspicuity’ (or AD”s being public and complete depends on perspicuity)
    [B] the triad is in a ‘dilemma’ (dont’ quite know exactly what this dilemma is)
    The idea was, I thought, ‘If A, then B’

    My question, was why is ‘If A, then B’ true (on John’s view)?

    Best,
    Mark

  44. John (#41):

    If the bishops are not epistemically privileged, then at least sometimes they, like rest of the faithful, cannot reliably identify within apostolic tradition the beliefs which, in the exercise of the extraordinary Magisterium, they undertake solemnly to define as dogmas belonging to the AD. To be sure, it’s conceivable that the bishops should be divinely preserved from error even when defining beliefs which they themselves cannot reliably identify as apostolic. That seems, however, an undesirable foundation on which to build a theory of development.

    Let’s flip that observation on its head. If there were a reliable, publicly accessible method by which anybody could in principle identify, as belonging to AD, all and only those doctrines which truly do so belong, then the Magisterium as the Catholic Church understands it would be epistemically unnecessary and serve only a disciplinary function. You’ve said so yourself many times before. But DD or no DD, you can’t expect a Catholic as such to accept that conclusion. If he does, he’s rejecting the Magisterium’s claims for itself, and thus ceases to be in full communion with the Catholic Church.

    That’s why it’s natural, indeed almost inevitable, for the Catholic to affirm DD as St Vincent does. Knowledge of AD is to some extent “natural” and can be gained just by reading Scripture and other works honored by the Church. But given both the origin and content of AD’s subject matter, knowledge of it is also supernatural, and thus cannot be reduced to a method that’s like the scientific method with respect to reliability and accessibility. Hence such knowledge is charismatic to a degree. The Catholic as such merely affirms that the relevant charism resides in a unique way in the episcopal college headed by the pope—not by virtue of superior scholarship, but by unmerited grace.

    As Bryan has just pointed out, much hinges here on how one defines ‘public’. The way the Church comes to ever-greater and more explicit knowledge of AD is not by a method that’s public in quite the way the scientific method is public, but public in the sense that the Holy Spirit operates observably over time in and through the joint meditations of the faithful and the bishops. Sometimes that process takes a long time to bear fruit. But when it does, its results are not logically retrojectible. Later instances of DD make sense in terms of what was already explicit in the earlier, but are not thereby logically necessitated by the earlier. DD about slavery is a very good example that most believers can appreciate, and I intend to publish an article about that quite soon.

    Best,
    Mike

  45. John,

    Brent (#40) and Mike (#34) flesh out my concerns regarding the Reformed IP and ecclesiology and its ability to distingush denomination from schism from heresy. In other words, is there something intrinsic to Scripture and the creeds that provides the means for any Christian to distinguish one from the other? If so, how does this manifest itself practically?

    Thanks for continuing the discussion,

    Burton

  46. Mark (#43):

    You’d do better to ask John what his argument is. I don’t always get it right. But as I understand it, the argument is not that complicated.

    Thus if, as the Catholic Church maintains, the authority of the Magisterium is necessary for identifying and interpreting AD reliably, then AD is not perspicuous enough in itself to enable the ordinary Christian to know, on his own, all and only its doctrinal content. Given as much, then either AD is complete but not fully public to anybody except the Magisterium, or AD is fully public but not complete without the Magisterium’s adding to it.

    I’m not sure that would make sense to you, but that’s the argument as I understand it.

    Best,
    Mike

  47. @mateo # 35

    It cannot be denied that within Protestantism, the deposit of faith is understood in vastly contradictory and utterly irreconcilable ways. We can all know that truth through natural human reasoning. Now unless one wants to account for the doctrinal chaos within Protestantism as being the result of mass ignorance or premeditated deception on the part of Protestants, there must be some reason why doctrinal anarchy reigns within Protestantism. I believe that most Protestants are sincere people of good will (like most Muslims), and the reason why Protestants are lacking in the sensus fidei is because Protestants are lacking in the Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge. The deposit of faith is not understood through ordinary human reasoning, because spiritual things are understood through the Spirit.

    I am going to have to disagree with you here. We cannot go about saying that the core content of the Faith is knowable only to those that have the Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge because that makes religion unverifiable. If truth is only known by the elect who have been so illuminated, it is impossible to distinguish between the illuminated and those who claim to be but are not actually illuminated. The system overtime eventually breaks down to religious relativism as it did historically following the Reformation.

    When we look at scripture, there is the literal and the spiritual meanings of scripture (with the spiritual being broken down into the typological, topological, and anagogical). The spiritual of course must be understood through the Spirit, but the literal is accessible through the light of unaided natural reason. The Bible is after all a work of human hands in human language according to human rules of rhetoric and literature. The problem as to why some people don’t understand scripture at the literal level is the same reason that some people don’t understand Shakespeare and have some insane neo-feminist understanding of the work: it is poor reading skills and trying to shoehorn the work through an unassociated hermeneutical lenses and metaphysical framework.

    When it comes to the doctrinal disunity in Protestantism, I don’t find that description to be useful because, as several discussions on C2C have pointed out, which you have been involved in, there is no single unifying doctrine that covers all Protestants let alone a larger deposit of faith. In addition there are large sectors of Protestantism that are non-doctrinal in their belief systems. It is better perhaps to speak to doctrinal disunity internally of specific branches of Protestantism. For example, we can discuss the doctrinal disunity between Presbyterians using their confessions as a baseline. After all they refer to themselves as the “split Ps”. It is important to also remember that Protestantism never was a unified belief system — it is not a many headed hydra but rather several distance belief systems that do not have a common Protestant source, even though they undoubtedly have influenced each other and have accepted this or that idea of the other. Calvin is not a Lutheran who broke away from Luther to start his own religion — he is his own origin.

    When it comes to the order of knowing things, we have to start with knowledge via our senses, our intellect, our humanity, and the tools of the created world. Anything else is just gnosticism. We have to affirm that our unaided reason can know things, even in the fallen state. Plato in the Apology shows that the gods of the State are not real, but he does this by showing not that the Greeks are “spiritually blind” but rather that their reasoning is not well thought out. I am not Protestant because I came to the conclusion that the various Protestant belief systems were philosophically untenable — they were internally contradictory and they externally didn’t correspond to the data of faith nor were they able to offer any predictions that could be verified. An example — imputed penal justification: when you flesh that out, it depicts a god that is both a monster and who is not worth worshiping even if it was true. Multiple non-Christian belief systems are preferable to that system, even if they are false. Historically that is why Arminiasm/Methodism arose — people realized that Calvin’s system produced a god that wasn’t worth worshiping and thus proposed a theology that, according to them, both better fit the data of scripture and indicated a god that was more worthy of worship than Calvin’s.

    Why does doctrinal anarchy reign within Protestantism? Garbage in garbage out. Bad philosophy doesn’t produce a system that corresponds to the world around us, it doesn’t make it more intelligible, it doesn’t make it predictable. Smart people realize that Protestantism produces garbage and so they, being smart rational people, adjust their philosophical presuppositions, run the data again, produce a new systematic theology and presto a new denominational fracture and split. You run the Protestant experiment long enough, eventually it will re-invent Catholicism all by itself. Just look at all the quazi Catholic Protestants out there now. Give them a few hundred more years and they will all be Catholic again.

  48. @John #37

    As the Judge is to the Law, so the Magisterium is to the Tradition. It’s when the analogy is denied that the dilemma crops up. Let’s suppose Tradition includes some dogmas which the faithful cannot reliably identify within in it independently of the Magisterium’s authoritative clarification. In that case, the bishops who exercise the Magisterium cannot reliably identify the dogmas, either, unless they are epistemically privileged relative to the faithful.

    Oh that is just a terrible analogy. Real lack of understanding of what the Magisterium and Tradition is by Brownson there.

    First, we cannot equate Tradition to Law, because Tradition is not a set of rules and regulation. Tradition is rather the Life of Christ — the common life of the faithful, that is handed from one generation to the next. The Magisterium is thus not a body of Judges that delineate between right and wrong but rather the servants of Tradition who principally and authentically communicate Tradition from one generation to the next.

    Lets look at the CCC

    77 “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.”35 Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”36
    78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”37 “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”38
    79 The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church – and through her in the world – leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.”39

    It is really important to understand that the Magisterium doesn’t delineate or “judge” al la the pagan goddess Themis, but rather the Magisterium authentically communicates and preaches the voice of the Spirit so that “he who hears you hears Me” is true for each generation. The magisterium are biblical judges, not pagan delineators. They are rather those who, through the Spirit, justify and bring the people to rightiousness by communicating the divine tzedakah of the Father unto them (which is Christ).

  49. Brent, Bryan, & Mark:

    Thanks for your comments. I’d like to write individual replies, but humanly speaking it’s hard to hold five conversations at once. Since Mike set out the new point of departure, I’ve written a reply to him; as it touches on some of your concerns as well, please feel free to respond.

    Mike (#44):

    Thanks again. The dilemma concerns how the bishops go about exercising the Magisterium when they solemnly define a doctrine which the faithful cannot reliably identify within apostolic tradition. As they deliberate over whether to define the doctrine, the bishops either can reliably identify it within apostolic tradition or they cannot. If they can, then they are epistemically privileged relative to the faithful (Horn 1). If they cannot, then they lack warrant enough responsibly to declare that the doctrine belongs to the AD (Horn 2).

    Newman opts for the first horn. Below he explains how the bishops can acquire warrant through a special grace:

    I conceive then that the Depositum is in such sense committed to the Church or to the Pope, that when the Pope sits in St. Peter’s chair, or when a Council of Fathers & doctors is collected round him, it is capable of being presented to their minds with that fullness and exactness, under the operation of supernatural grace, (so far forth and in such proportion of it as the occasion requires,) with which it habitually, not occasionally, resided in the minds of the Apostles;–a vision of it, not logical, and therefore consistent with errors in reasoning & of fact in the enunciation, after the manner of an intuition or an instinct. Nor do those enunciations become logical, because theologians afterwards can reduce them to their relations to other doctrines, or given them a position in the general system of theology. To such theologians they appear as deductions from the creed or formularized deposit, but in truth they are original parts of it, communicated per modum unius to the Apostles’ minds, & brought to light to the minds of the Fathers of the Council, under the temporary illumination of Divine Grace. [Letter to John Stanislas Flanagan, 15 Feb 1868]

    I once thought you approved of Newman’s thesis in this passage; indeed, you’ve quoted it at your blog, and though the comments are now gone, I seem to remember you defending it at the time against critiques by Chris Jones and Perry Robinson. In any event, whether you agreed with Newman’s explanation back in 2006 or not, you apparently don’t agree with it now. In March you wrote:

    The key move you make in that argument is to attack Newman’s way of explaining how the bishops have epistemic warrant for their definitions that the faithful lack. And I’m willing to concede your criticism of Newman’s explanation. But that is not a problem for the CIP, because the CIP does not require that Newman’s explanation be correct. There is an alternative—one which, I would argue, is the only one fully compatible with the CIP itself.

    The bishops needn’t be thought of as knowing more, by grace, than “the faithful,” so that they have a personal epistemic warrant for their definitions that are not available to the faithful in principle. In fact, they should not be thought of like that at all. E.g., the content of the distinctive Marian dogmas of Catholicism was believed by the sensus fidelium long before popes got round to defining them. That was true even of the perpetual virginity of Mary, defined as dogma by Constantinople II in 553. Rather, the bishops and/or the pope need be thought of only as divinely protected from error when collectively propounding doctrines as articles of faith binding the consciences of the faithful. That doesn’t require that the bishops and/or the pope know more of the content of the truth than the faithful can or do know in principle; rather, they are protected by grace from error when they require belief in propositions that many of “the faithful” already see as true. That’s the sense in which they have authority that the faithful as such lack. Now on the CIP, their authority in that sense is indeed epistemic. But that’s not because they know more of the content of the Faith than the faithful; it’s because, by exercising the gift of infallibility, they enable the faithful and themselves to know that the doctrines in question are not just rationally cogent opinions which might conceivably be wrong, but are objects of the assent of divine faith, and thus are inerrant.

    And that’s basically what you’ve stated in this thread. So, you are taking the bull by the horns, but unlike Newman, you’ve opted for Horn 2.

    Now, when the bishops solemnly define a doctrine which they cannot reliably identify within apostolic tradition, they act either responsibly or irresponsibly. And from one perspective, it’s irrelevant whether they act responsibly or not; for divine grace might prevent the bishops from erring even when, using their full authority, they irresponsibly declare that a doctrine belongs to the AD. As, however, it’s perverse for a theory to rely upon irresponsible conduct, you presumably believe the bishops can act responsibly in defining beliefs which they cannot reliably identify within the deposit. At least, that appears to be why you refer to the sensus fidelium, but I’m not sure. Would you mind elaborating on how the SF fits into your response to the dilemma? In particular, does it provide a reliable indirect method of identifying a teaching within apostolic tradition?

    As regards flipping the observation on its head, you seem to hold that magisterial infallibility becomes unnecessary if the Magisterium has no epistemic function. Maybe I’ve misunderstood your point, but that thesis is mistaken, inasmuch as Catholicism’s ecclesiology sorely needs infallibility even if the Magisterium is epistemically unnecessary. The reason is that, ex hypothesi, the faithful have a strict duty to be in communion with the bishop of Rome, and therefore have a strict duty to make the assent of faith to any beliefs the RCC’s Magisterium defines as de fide. Because it’s absurd to think there should be an obligation to make the assent of faith to what is not in truth de fide, Catholicism has a need for magisterial infallibility that is pressing even should Tradition be perspicuous.

    Burton (#45):

    Thanks, it’s an important question, I’m just not sure how to answer it in the confines of a combox. Could you be a little more specific? If you’re interested, I’ve discussed ecclesiology a bit with Bryan in the past; you can check out the archives of Principium Unitatis, e.g. this thread.

  50. John,

    What do you mean by “reliably identify”? Are you saying that identifying the Christian faith is a matter of warrant like knowing any other thing–religious or otherwise? What recourse do we have if I “see” the Immaculate Conception and you do not? Certainly you can understand this quandary as evidenced by your comments to Bryan about your own theological ‘vision’ (e.g., “if they don’t persuade you, so be it.”).

    Imagine a Church Council like that:

    Canon 3: If anyone says that….let him be persuaded if he may!

    Because it’s absurd to think there should be an obligation to make the assent of faith to what is not in truth de fide, Catholicism has a need for magisterial infallibility that is pressing even should Tradition be perspicuous.

    I added the bold for emphasis. The Catholic Magisterium is not necessitated by the possibility that the de fide of Catholicism might be what is not in truth de fide. That is royally begging the question. The analog of this argument might be that I do not need the Magisterium because I can see things in Catholicism that are not in the de fide. But, I’m imagining that of course is not your argument–although it is one of your points. Simply because one cannot see something doesn’t mean they are not obliged to hold to it–that is called the virtue of faith. I think we would both agree that creedal Christianity assumes that at the least.

    Which leads us all merrily back to my original argument. I can grant you that the Scripture is public, but that doesn’t get me the set (canon) nor the proper interpretation of how the various public propositions cohere. Equally, I can grant you that the Tradition is public, but that doesn’t help me to identify the set of propositions within the Tradition that are a part of the AD nor how the tradition is interpreted and by whom. Further, since within the Tradition and Scripture I do not see a cause qua Tradition or Scripture but in both Tradition and Scripture the Church–which is extrinsic to both–is identified as that cause, I’m bound, yes, to assent to that Church (which is to my comment #16).

    Yet many do not do just that, and as Bryan has so generously provided for us the witness of St. Optatus:

    …after the bond of peace has been broken, is brought into existence through passion, is nourished by hatred, is strengthened by envy and dissensions, so that the Catholic Mother is abandoned, whilst her unfilial children go forth outside and separate themselves from the root of Mother Church — cut off by the shears of their hatred — and wickedly depart in rebellion.

    .

    Ave Maria

  51. Brent,

    Identifying the contents of apostolic tradition is a matter of warrant; assenting to them is not, because the assent is not merely of an assent of the intellect.

    Someone’s failure to be persuaded by a reason doesn’t make it a bad one. That’s why it hasn’t bothered me that my reasons for point 1 in comment #14 don’t persuade Bryan.

    Developmentalists sometimes argue today, as they did in Brownson’s day, that magisterial infallibility becomes idle if it’s not needed for the epistemic function of authenticating developments. My response was that, given Catholicism’s ecclesiology, there is sufficient reason for magisterial infallibility even if it’s not needed to authenticate developments.

    Scripture doesn’t play a special role in my argument, which is about Tradition. If Tradition is public and Bob sees within it a dogma which Alice doesn’t see, it’s reasonable for Alice to ask Bob to provide an ostensio, i.e. a pointing out of where the dogma is to be seen.

    In Christ,
    John

  52. John:

    My argument has to do with who gets to identify the contents of the apostolic tradition. Regarding your request for Ostensio:

    St. Ephraim the Syrian (AD 306-373) wrote: “Thou and Thine mother are the only ones who are utterly beautiful in every way. For in Thee, O Lord, there is no stain, and in Your mother no stain” (ie. implying no actual sins or original sin). St. Ephraim continues with, “Mary and Eve were two people without guilt. Later one became the cause of our death, the other cause of our life.” (“Guilt” must mean the inherited taint of original sin on the soul, as well as actual sins. And Eve later did sin, thus obtaining guilt.)

    Also, St. Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-395) wrote about the Blessed Mother as “Mary without stain” (of sin). St. Ambrose (c. AD 430) wrote of Mary as, “..a virgin not only undefiled, but whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain.”

    St. Severus (d.538), Early Church Father and bishop of Antioch taught: “She (Mary) formed part of the human race and was of the same essence as we, although she was pure from all taint and immaculate.” St. Sophronius (AD 556-638), Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote “Many saints appeared before you, but none has been filled with grace as you, no one has been purified in advance as you have been.” St. John Damascene (c. 675 – c. 749 AD) wrote “Your immaculate body, which was preserved from all stain of sin, did not remain on the earth.” St. John’s key words of “all sin”
    must include original sin.

    From a lay Eastern Catholic’s work on the topic.

    OR

    This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one (Origen, Homily 1 [A.D. 244]).

    Christ did not live in a servile tent, but in His holy ark … and He preserved His mother as one who was blessed from head to foot, undefiled, even as He alone knew the manner of her conception and birth [Dionysius the Great of Alexandria, ca. A.D. 250].

    ergo

    We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.
    —Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854

    The Church (the who) has answered your question regarding the Theotokos.

    God bless,

    Brent

  53. John:

    Either I’ve misunderstood your argument once again, or I’m facing a moving target. The issues you’ve raised in your latest comment, though of course closely related to the ones I’ve been addressing, are also somewhat different. I’d appreciate a definitive statement from you of what you take the heart of the matter to be, aside from whether I’ve been interpreting you correctly or not. That way I’ve got one, primary thesis of yours to focus on.

    The dilemma you pose now is different from the one I was responding to. Thus you now write:

    The dilemma concerns how the bishops go about exercising the Magisterium when they solemnly define a doctrine which the faithful cannot reliably identify within apostolic tradition. As they deliberate over whether to define the doctrine, the bishops either can reliably identify it within apostolic tradition or they cannot. If they can, then they are epistemically privileged relative to the faithful (Horn 1). If they cannot, then they lack warrant enough responsibly to declare that the doctrine belongs to the AD (Horn 2).

    Of course I deny that the bishops, in general, are epistemically privileged over the faithful in the relevant sense. But that doesn’t mean, as you suggest, that I impale myself on Horn 2. The primary question at issue in the way you formulate the problem above seems to be how and when the bishops can have epistemic warrant for defining a given doctrine as de fide. (That question would presumably apply to the pope unilaterally as well, since on the Catholic scheme he can by himself, like the bishops in general council, issue such definitions to bind the whole Church.) As I now understand your argument, the question whether AD is broadly perspicuous or not—which is the question I focused on in my previous comment—is subsidiary to that primary question, and is actually not decisive for answering it. I would now respond to that primary question by showing that you’re introducing an ambiguity which obfuscates the way you beg the question while continuing to—well, beg the question.

    By saying that somebody has epistemic warrant for making a given claim P, one might mean that they have dutifully and successfully followed a reliable, publicly accessible method M for supporting P. (I could give different examples of that; but as this is not an Epistemology 101 lecture, I’ll assume that you and our readers don’t need them.) Now if that’s what you mean, then you need to premise the perspicuity of AD. For as I’ve been using that phrase, and as I understand you to have been using that phrase, a given dataset is perspicuous just in case its propositionally expressible content can be fully exhibited and understood by following some subject-specific M . If AD is perspicuous in that sense, then its full doctrinal content is knowable to the whole Church, and thus the bishops have—or at least can have—epistemic warrant for defining any item of that content as de fide. But given the way you’re now posing the primary question, the perspicuity of AD isn’t what you need to premise. Hence don’t seem to want to commit to the present, relatively narrow meaning of ‘epistemic warrant’ .

    Instead, you seem to be invoking a broader, more elastic notion of epistemic “responsibility” (ER), so that the bishops are warranted in defining a doctrine D just in case they are behaving with ER. Thus even though, by following some subject-specific M for supporting D, one is indeed behaving with ER, the converse does not hold: one needn’t support each and every D by following only one, specific M in order to behave with ER. Rather, the Magisterium’s ER in defining D will vary with whether, and if so how, D can be known to belong to AD. If D cannot, in principle, be known to belong to AD, then it is epistemically irresponsible for the Magisterium to define D. Conversely, if D can be known, at least in principle, to belong to AD, then those who exercise the Magisterium to bind the whole Church are behaving with ER in defining D just in case they find themselves in whatever epistemic state they need to find themselves in so as to “know” that D belongs to AD. But that state need not be, or result from, the use of any particular method that would call for AD’s being perspicuous.

    Now the passage you quote from Newman can be seen as a proposed description of how those who exercise magisterial authority over the whole Church can define a given D with ER—i.e., define D while while being in the right epistemic state, so that they “know” that D belongs to AD. I don’t recall what I said about that passage five years ago in a combox that no longer exists. But I can say that my difficulty with it now is not that I believe Newman’s description to be untrue—for all I know, it could well be true—but rather that, on the Catholic understanding of magisterial authority, we needn’t know his description to be true in order to be justified in rendering the assent of faith to D. In order to be justified in rendering such assent, we need only know what is being thus taught, and be antecedently justified in accepting the Magisterium’s general claims for itself. And that latter justification does not logically depend on knowing what epistemic state the bishops and/or the pope are in when they define any particular doctrine, so that we would, in effect, know what they know. If it did so depend, so that we could know independently of the Magisterium’s claims for itself that it’s justified in defining D, we wouldn’t need the Magisterium in order to know any item of AD, and thus AD as a whole. For AD would be perspicuous, and thus the Magisterium epistemically unnecessary—which of course Newman would have denied as a Catholic, just as I do.

    Now the passage I wrote last March, which you quote from me, takes a position that’s logically equivalent to what I’ve just said. To that position, you objection is this:

    Now, when the bishops solemnly define a doctrine which they cannot reliably identify within apostolic tradition, they act either responsibly or irresponsibly. And from one perspective, it’s irrelevant whether they act responsibly or not; for divine grace might prevent the bishops from erring even when, using their full authority, they irresponsibly declare that a doctrine belongs to the AD. As, however, it’s perverse for a theory to rely upon irresponsible conduct, you presumably believe the bishops can act responsibly in defining beliefs which they cannot reliably identify within the deposit. At least, that appears to be why you refer to the sensus fidelium, but I’m not sure. Would you mind elaborating on how the SF fits into your response to the dilemma? In particular, does it provide a reliable indirect method of identifying a teaching within apostolic tradition?

    Implicit in that argument is the assumption that ER entails knowing, by some means other than the unmerited grace of infallibility, that D belongs to AD. But that in turn requires that behaving with ER, and thus being in the right epistemic state to define D as de fide, involves following some intellectual method M whose content can be understood and applied while prescinding from ecclesial authority. The giveaway for that is your use of the phrase ‘reliably identify’. Whatever reliability may consist in concretely, it’s certainly a property of some method (such as the scientific method; but that’s not the only method). So at this point, we’re back to claiming that, for any doctrine D, the Magisterium has epistemic warrant for defining D as de fide just in case it follows the right method; and we’re justified in rendering assent to magisterial definitions just in case we can know that the definitions are epistemically warranted by the magisterial use of such a method. But the reliability of such a method for knowing the full content of AD is logically equivalent to the perspicuity of AD. Which brings us back to where we were before.,

    As I’ve implied before, that result radically begs the question. For its stated conditions on epistemic warrant are such that, if they obtain, then the Magisterium is epistemically unnecessary for knowing any item of AD. So as far as I can tell, your reformulation of the dilemma for me really doesn’t change what I see as that primary issue between us. Your arguments ultimately entail that the Magisterium’s claims for itself, based as they are on Scripture and Tradition, are justified only if AD is perspicuous in the sense I defined above. That in turn would render the Magisterium epistemically unnecessary.

    You seem to think that would not be a problem for Catholics, that we “need” to affirm magisterial infallibility even granted that AD is perspicuous. Thus, addressing me, you write:

    …you seem to hold that magisterial infallibility becomes unnecessary if the Magisterium has no epistemic function. Maybe I’ve misunderstood your point, but that thesis is mistaken, inasmuch as Catholicism’s ecclesiology sorely needs infallibility even if the Magisterium is epistemically unnecessary. The reason is that, ex hypothesi, the faithful have a strict duty to be in communion with the bishop of Rome, and therefore have a strict duty to make the assent of faith to any beliefs the RCC’s Magisterium defines as de fide. Because it’s absurd to think there should be an obligation to make the assent of faith to what is not in truth de fide, Catholicism has a need for magisterial infallibility that is pressing even should Tradition be perspicuous.

    That strikes me as getting things backward. I can illustrate what I mean by citing my own example.

    The reason I rejected Protestantism as a college student, thus reducing my options to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, is that it rejected ecclesial infallibility in principle. That, it seemed to me, reduced allegedly revealed religion to a matter of human opinion, for the reasons Newman gave. I concluded that, wherever something called “the Church” is to be found, that church must be divinely authorized to teach AD, in such wise that she is divinely protected from error when teaching some D as belonging to AD, and thus as de fide. That church would of course be “the” Church Christ founded; and for all I knew at the time, she might just as well be the EO communion as the Roman communion. Eventually I returned to the Roman communion, accepting her claim to be “the” Catholic Church spoken of by St. Vincent, because on several grounds it seemed to me more reasonable to believe that “the” Church could be spoken for definitively by one person sharing, by virtue of office, in the infallibility of the Church as a whole, than to believe that no one such person could so speak. For the latter option positively invited disputing which group of bishops, and when, spoke definitively for the whole Church. So to my mind, belief in papal infallibility is logically prior to accepting the obligation to remain in communion with the Roman bishop, inasmuch as I understood papal infallibility as the reason why it is so important to remain in communion with the Roman bishop.

    Historically, of course, it’s been the other way round. Catholics affirmed and accepted the obligation to remain in communion with the pope long before papal infallibility was even an explicit thesis, let alone a dogmatic definition. But to my mind, that practical obligation is best explained and justified by the Catholic doctrine of the magisterial infallibility—not the other way round. Yet there would be no reason to believe in magisterial infallibility itself if AD were perspicuous. For if AD were perspicuous, then we could and should know all we need to know about its doctrinal content just by mastering the appropriate epistemic method. In that way, we could all be epistemically responsible in the way you think we can and ought to be, and the papacy could either get on board or not.

    Best,
    Mike

  54. John,

    I will try to narrow and clarify my question. I am assuming that our Reformed ecclesiology does not necessitate but allows for the valid possibility of separate faith communities with varying interpretations of Scripture and AD. Some see these denominations as a positive (allows for different visible expressions of the invisible church) and others as a negative (regrettable but unavoidable division of the church because of sin). In the context of this ecclesiology, how would you identify a schism versus a denomination?

    As I read the Fathers, I see a universal recognition of the moral evil of schism, and the implication that schism can be readily identified as such. As a Reformed Protestant, I have a hard time coming up with a workable definition of schism that allows for the same. This forces me to consider the possibility that our ecclesiology, on this point, represents a radical departure from that of the early church. In your opinion, does a workable Protestant definition of schism exist? If so, can you lay it out for me :)

  55. Nathan: I am going to have to disagree with you here. We cannot go about saying that the core content of the Faith is knowable only to those that have the Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge because that makes religion unverifiable. … When we look at scripture, there is the literal and the spiritual meanings of scripture (with the spiritual being broken down into the typological, topological, and anagogical). The spiritual of course must be understood through the Spirit, but the literal is accessible through the light of unaided natural reason. The Bible is after all a work of human hands in human language according to human rules of rhetoric and literature.

    What do you mean by “core content of the Faith”? I could define the “core content” of the Christian faith (as opposed to say, the Buddhist faith) to be that which is divinely revealed. But I would still acknowledge that what is known by natural law is also at the core of Christianity (which is also true of Buddhism).

    Question for you: How do you know that the entire Catholic Bible is God-breathed (divinely inspired)? Using purely human reasoning, how would you show that to be true?

    Nathan: When it comes to the order of knowing things, we have to start with knowledge via our senses, our intellect, our humanity, and the tools of the created world. Anything else is just gnosticism. We have to affirm that our unaided reason can know things, even in the fallen state.

    I affirm that we can know things about the created reality in our fallen state by natural reasoning. (How else can we gain knowledge about the created reality?) . But I don’t know why you say that “anything else is just gnosticism.” There aren’t just two choices here, sensationalism or gnosticism.

    sensationalism,  in epistemology and psychology, a form of Empiricism that limits experience as a source of knowledge to sensation or sense perceptions.

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/534684/sensationalism

    Man, by his nature, is aware of two realities, the created reality and the uncreated spiritual reality. (If my memory is correct, “two realities” is a phrase I picked up from Mere Christianity). Man’s knowledge of the natural law is a knowledge of the uncreated spiritual reality. Man’s natural reason can be applied to what he knows through the natural law, and the natural law isn’t known through the senses, it is know through man’s conscience. To be clear, I am not arguing for “divine command” theory, which Bryan Cross defines as this:

    Twenty years ago, I believed what is called divine command theory.1 I had grown up thinking that right and wrong were based on divine commands, and could be known only by knowing divine commands. At that time, I did not understand that divine commands concerning ethics were based on the natures of things, and that we can know right and wrong by the natural power of reason.

    Reference CTC article: Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective

    We have by nature a knowledge of “the law of right and wrong”, and because of that, we can know right from wrong to a limited extent by exercising our fallen human reasoning. But for us to have perfectly formed consciences, we need grace and revelation in addition to the knowledge gained by a study of the philosophy of ethics (e.g. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics) :

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    1955 The “divine and natural” law shows man the way to follow so as to practice the good and attain his end. The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life. It hinges upon the desire for God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of all that is good, as well as upon the sense that the other is one’s equal. Its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue. …

    1960 The precepts of natural law are not perceived by everyone clearly and immediately. In the present situation sinful man needs grace and revelation so moral and religious truths may be known “by everyone with facility, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.” The natural law provides revealed law and grace with a foundation prepared by God and in accordance with the work of the Spirit.

    The “spiritual man” of 1 Cor 2:14-16 can have a perfectly formed conscience, because he has “grace and revelation” in addition to his fallen nature.

    Nathan: When we look at scripture, there is the literal and the spiritual meanings of scripture (with the spiritual being broken down into the typological, topological, and anagogical). The spiritual of course must be understood through the Spirit, but the literal is accessible through the light of unaided natural reason.

    I agree that the literal can be known by human reasoning unaided by grace. Take ths question: Is the person of Jesus a purely mythological figure or was there a Jesus that was a real human being that lived in a specific era of history? That question can be answered by studying the historical evidence, and grace isn’t necessary to arrive at the right answer. There are also spiritual truths in the Bible that can be known to be true because they correspond to what is known through the natural law. Which is why the CCC states that the “principal precepts [of the divine and natural law] are expressed in the Decalogue.”

    The spiritual reality that the “spiritual man” of 1 Cor 2:14-16 knows about through the gifts of the Spirit of God are divinely revealed realities that are NOT accessible through unaided natural reason. And it is these divinely revealed spiritual realities that the Protestants get wrong and cause them to preach heresy. The Protestants aren’t preaching heresy because they are knaves or fools, they are preaching heresy because they are lacking in the gifts of the Spirit of God.

    Nathan: Why does doctrinal anarchy reign within Protestantism? Garbage in garbage out.

    I am not so sure. Take the heresy of Arianism. I think that an intelligent Arian could pick certain verses from the whole of the divinely inspired scriptures as his “primary verses”, and then after he did that, he could interpret the rest of the scriptures to come up with a Christology that was “scriptural” and Arian. The problem with the Arian is not that he is acting as a knave or a fool when interpreting the Apostolic deposit. The problem with the Arian is that he not “listening to the church” of Matthew 18:17.

    Once, when arguing with modern day Arians (Jehovah Witnesses) I decided to look up what scriptural arguments the Fathers used to combat the heresy of Arianism. I was surprised to learn that the arguments against the Arians weren’t predominantly arguments from scriptures, but arguments more along the lines of we know which church we listen to, what church are you listening to? The Fathers would trace the lineage of the church they listened, and that is why we have lists of the first popes. Tracing Apostolic succession was how the Church Father’s answered to the Arians. It is the same argument that needs to be used against the Jehovah Witnesses, the Lutherans, the Calvinists …

    John: If Tradition is public and Bob sees within it a dogma which Alice doesn’t see, it’s reasonable for Alice to ask Bob to provide an ostensio, i.e. a pointing out of where the dogma is to be seen.

    What if Bob and Alice are arguing about the morality of embryonic stem cell research (a doctrine of morals). As a Protestant, what steps would you take to lead Alice and Bob to a formally defined conscience binding dogma that would settle the matter once and for all?

  56. Brent,

    The earliest quotes you have on Mary are from two men who lived probably 150 – 200 years after her death. They assert that she was “immaculate” or “preserved from the stain of all sin”, etc. My question to you is this – how did they know this? They didn’t know Mary personally. What sources did they give for these assertions? Did they claim to know someone who knew someone who knew Mary? Other than a simple assertion on their parts, what evidence do they have to back up this claim? Do they even claim to have any evidence? Or is this just theological speculation?

  57. John: I was validly baptized and confirmed in the RCC, and received the eucharist at mass for years before becoming a protestant.

    I too was validly baptized and confirmed in the RCC, and received the Eucharist at Mass for years before I left the Catholic Church. But I didn’t become a Protestant when I left the Church, I became an apostate. Only by the grace of God was I reconciled to the Church. Merely receiving valid sacraments does not ensure that it is impossible to fall from grace – ex opere operato, ex opere operantis.

    John: Through the sacraments I’ve received countless blessings, but not the ability to perceive within apostolic tradition the dogmas unique to Catholicism. If they’re there, I honestly don’t see them, nor do the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox.

    The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox don’t perceive within the Apostolic Tradition the doctrinal novelties of the Reformation either. So just because you perceive the doctrinal novelties of the Reformation within the Apostolic Tradition, does that mean that those novelties are, in fact, contained withing the Apostolic Tradition? IOW, how is the ordinary Christian supposed to know if your perceptions are orthodox or heterodox? To what temporal authority should Christians look to to determine whether a doctrine is, or is not, contained within the Apostolic Tradition?

    Burton: Brent (#40) and Mike (#34) flesh out my concerns regarding the Reformed IP and ecclesiology and its ability to distinguish denomination from schism from heresy. In other words, is there something intrinsic to Scripture and the creeds that provides the means for any Christian to distinguish one from the other? If so, how does this manifest itself practically?

    … As I read the Fathers, I see a universal recognition of the moral evil of schism, and the implication that schism can be readily identified as such. As a Reformed Protestant, I have a hard time coming up with a workable definition of schism that allows for the same. This forces me to consider the possibility that our ecclesiology, on this point, represents a radical departure from that of the early church. In your opinion, does a workable Protestant definition of schism exist?

    Good questions, but why would you put the creeds on par with Scripture? If one accepts the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura as being true, then the creeds have no more intrinsic authority than John Calvin’s or Mary Baker Eddy’s personal opinions about what constitutes the doctrines of the Christian faith.

    Michael Liccione : … as I understand it, [John’s] argument is not that complicated.

    Thus if, as the Catholic Church maintains, the authority of the Magisterium is necessary for identifying and interpreting AD reliably, then AD is not perspicuous enough in itself to enable the ordinary Christian to know, on his own, all and only its doctrinal content. Given as much, then either AD is complete but not fully public to anybody except the Magisterium, or AD is fully public but not complete without the Magisterium’s adding to it.

    Is the Apostolic Deposit so perspicuous that the “ordinary Christian” can perceive all that is implicit within the deposit of the faith “on his own”? If “on his own” means by natural human reasoning, then the answer is no, as is testified by the Scriptures:

    The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
    1 Cor 2:14-16

    It seems to me that John is arguing that natural human reasoning would, in principle, be sufficient to discover every doctrine contained withing the Apostolic Deposit. Since Catholics and Protestants are in the same “epistimic boat” as regards natural reasoning, it follows that a Protestant should be able to know what is contained withing the Apostolic Deposit without the Magisterium getting between the Protestant and his natural ability to reason. But that argument is wrong, because what is divinely revealed is understood by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit gives to whom He wills the supernatural gifts necessary to discern what is supernaturally revealed within the Apostolic Deposit.

    So the real question is what spiritual gifts must be given by the Holy Spirit to the “ordinary Christian” so that he or she might discern what is contained withing the deposit of faith. To those following this thread, Bryan Cross addresses that question:

    Gratuitous graces (ST I-II Q.111 a.4) are not the same as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everyone in a state of grace has the gifts of the Holy Spirit (some more, some less), but not everyone has the gratuitous graces. Gratuitous graces are given to the clergy at their ordination by the Holy Spirit, to equip them for their ministry. These gratuitous graces include faith, wisdom, and knowledge, so that the clergy may be able to teach the deposit to the faithful, for no one can teach what he does not know, and God never calls someone to an office without equipping him with the supernatural gifts needed to fulfill that office. That ordination gives a unique grace (more than just an increase in sanctifying grace) can be seen in St. Paul’s statement to St. Timothy, “I admonish you that you stir up the grace of God which is in you by the imposition of my hands.” (2 Tim 1:6)

    The Sanctifying Gift of the Holy Spirit are received and strengthened by those who receive valid Sacraments of Initiation. It is only because of these supernatural gifts that the “ordinary” Christian has the sensus fidelium. But possessing the supernatural gift of the sensus fidelium is not the same thing as having been given the charism of infallibility by the Holy Spirit. Scriptures testify that the charismatic gifts (gratuitous graces) are given by the Holy Spirit to whom He wills for the common good:

    Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
    to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 1 Cor 12:5-11

    God didn’t set up a situation where we could be Lone Ranger Christians without need of each other. Bryan’s point is important – not every “ordinary Christian” is called to receive the Sacrament of Ordination. Those who have been called to receive that Sacrament, however, are given special sacramental graces that equip them for their ministry. The teaching office of Christ’s Church (the Magisterium) is composed only of those members of the Body of Christ that have been validly ordained as bishops of Christ’s Church. Since only those who are vested with the authority of the teaching office that can formally define the doctrines of faith and morals of the Christian faith, it only makes sense that a charismatic gift of infallibility would only be given to those who are vested with authority in the teaching office. What would be the point in giving me the gift of infallibility when I am not vested with the authority to define doctrine for the whole church? It would make sense though, for the Holy Spirit to give me a supernatural gift of understanding so that when the Magisterium did formally define doctrine, I could understand the faith.

  58. @Steve G #56

    We can use better dates than those provided by Brent. Lets use the Council of Jerusalem as marking the date of Mary’s death. The is circa 50 AD. St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing the Letter to the Ephesians circa 110 AD and St. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew ca 155 contain good early examples of early Christian belief in the centrality of Mary in the divine plan of salvation.

    Some quick important points:

    1.) Dates are 60 / 105 years after Mary’s death. This is within the time of the living memory of the Apostles. If St. Ignatius and St. Justin Martyr were false teachers there would be plenty of evidence but none exists. Rather they stand historically as teachers of the Apostolic faith, while other early false teachers are clearly pointed out and have works written against them — for example Marcion of Sinope.

    2.) St. Ignatius of Antioch was a bishop and student/disciple of the Apostle John. His teaching is thus only once removed from direct Apostolic teaching. It also carries additional weight because Mary was with the Apostle John.

    3.) St. Justin Martyr’s work is also very important because it shows established Christian apologetics against Judaism. It indicates that the early Church saw Mary, and how the scriptures are fulfilled in Mary, as being very important to the evangelization of the Jews.

  59. Steve G,

    Good evening.

    how did they know this? They didn’t know Mary personally. What sources did they give for these assertions? Did they claim to know someone who knew someone who knew Mary? Other than a simple assertion on their parts, what evidence do they have to back up this claim? Do they even claim to have any evidence? Or is this just theological speculation?

    Theology is known by Divine Revelation, and specifically Christian theology finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ–the God-Man. Christian theology develops in the Church as She meditates on the riches of the mysteries of Christ given to her in the deposit of faith. Knowing Mary personally is not a requisite to know her theological significance just like it wouldn’t be the case for one to know Abraham, Isaac, Moses, et al. However, one must know the Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture–or what St. Paul says as those traditions which are oral and written. In addition, St. Paul teaches us that the ground and pillar of truth is the Church and, therefore; we must meditate upon Christian theology in and with the Church Christ established.

    These men’s witnesses to the truth, something they shared with Martin Luther, are grounded in the universal Christian understanding of the Theotokos (Mother of God), in her heavenly title as “Full of Grace” (Lk 1:28), the Biblical enmity between her and Satan (Gen 3:15), and as her role as the Arc of the New Covenant (Rev 11:19-12:2). Just to use St. Ephraim for example. He wrote commentaries on the entire Old and New Testaments, so I would imagine that he might have a number of scriptural arguments in mind as well as the received Holy Tradition.

    Since nowhere in St. Ephraim–the martyr’s writings do I see him mention that he is speculating I would imagine he is not since I can see what he is saying in scripture as could Martin Luther. Even more, the Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431 dogmatically declared Mary as “Theotokos” and all that is implied by the title. What is more complexing to me, is that someone almost 17 centuries later in the comforts of western society would read into the past such scandal and would seek not to learn from these saints whose blood was the seed of the Church. And that is what St. Vincent has in mind when writing just three years after the First Council of Ephesus (434):

    We may be assured beyond doubt, when we find people alleging passages from the Apostles or Prophets against the Catholic Faith, that the Devil speaks through their mouths. For as then the Head spoke to the Head, so now also the members speak to the members, the members of the Devil to the members of Christ, misbelievers to believers, sacrilegious to religious, in one word, Heretics to Catholics. (p. 68)

    And what I find, the longer I am Catholic (almost 3 years now), is that the more I meditate on Mary and grow in my love for her and understanding of her, I can only imagine one prince whose name I shall not mention who could conjure the attitudes and lack of affection I felt towards her as a protestant. No fault of my own, but nevertheless not Christian at all.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  60. Gents,

    The discussion about Mary’s Immaculate Conception should be either on Taylor’s thread:

    Mary Without Sin (Scripture and Tradition)

    or on mine:

    Mary’s Immaculate Conception.”

    This present thread is for discussing the article on St. Vincent of Lérins. Thanks!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  61. Brent (#52):

    Thanks. We really can’t go into details about the IC without derailing the thread. But to ask something germane to Mike’s comments: What did you intend the quotations to establish? That there is a “likely story” for the IC’s being true, or that the dogma of the IC actually belongs to apostolic tradition?

    Mike (#53):

    At the center of the dilemma are questions about the availability of warrant. I acknowledge it is not essential to your theory that the Magisterium act responsibly in practice; once a definition is made, its inerrancy is guaranteed by divine grace, whether the bishops (and/or pope) acted responsibly or not. The infallibility of the extraordinary Magisterium is in that sense ex opere operato. But whereas the Magisterium’s acting responsibly is not essential to the theory, its ability to act responsibly is. If, when authenticating developments, the Magisterium not only does not but cannot act responsibly, then your IP is unreasonable, and thus not rationally preferable.

    To be able to act responsibly in defining a given doctrine, the Magisterium must one way or another be able to have sufficient warrant to justify its definitively declaring the doctrine to be within the AD. The key question is, whence is this warrant available to it?

    You write,

    Implicit in that argument is the assumption that ER entails knowing, by some means other than the unmerited grace of infallibility, that D belongs to AD. But that in turn requires that behaving with ER, and thus being in the right epistemic state to define D as de fide, involves following some intellectual method M whose content can be understood and applied while prescinding from ecclesial authority.

    What exactly does the unmerited grace of infallibility do in this connection? Does it confer access to warrant not otherwise available, and without which the bishops (and/or pope) cannot know that D belongs to AD? If so, you’re back to Horn 1 with Newman, for the bishops (and/or pope) are by grace made epistemically privileged.

    Along the same lines, in the March quotation you wrote:

    Now on the CIP, their authority in that sense is indeed epistemic. But that’s not because they know more of the content of the Faith than the faithful; it’s because, by exercising the gift of infallibility, they enable the faithful and themselves to know that the doctrines in question are not just rationally cogent opinions which might conceivably be wrong, but are objects of the assent of divine faith, and thus are inerrant.

    The part placed in bold is unclear to me. By exercising the gift of infallibility, do the bishops enable themselves to know prior to their act of definition that D belongs to AD? Or do they learn as much only upon completing their act of definition, so that at the time they definitively assert D to belong to AD they cannot yet know this to be true?

    There’s more to say, but I don’t want to throw out too much at once. Thanks again for the dialogue.

    Burton (#54):

    Thanks for clarifying. Reformed classically see denominations in a negative light; in general, our ecclesiology calls for one particular church within a given territory. The Church is household of God; it is already united in one by baptism into Christ, and should at all times seek to realize this union through the experience of full communion. We see schisms as akin to divorce a mensa et thoro, i.e. legal separation without dissolution of the marriage bond. Neither schism nor divorce is desirable, but sometimes it is a painful necessity. When either happens, there ought to be a desire for and earnest effort towards reconciliation and the restoration of communion. In neither divorce nor schism is there an automatic test for who’s in the wrong; we don’t say the wife is always wrong to separate from the husband, nor we do we say that whichever body separates from communion with the Church of Rome (or another particular church) is necessarily in the wrong.

    That’s only a very quick sketch, but one thing I’d recommend is looking into the history of relations between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, and asking which, if either, left the Church in the aftermath of Chalcedon. Our ecclesiology has both still within the Church, much as spouses estranged but still married to each other remain in the same family.

  62. @Mateo #55

    What I mean by core content of the Faith is that basic content that we use when preaching the Gospel. How do we preach the Gospel? Do we simply put a bunch of stuff out there and then the Spirit simply illuminates those that He wills to illuminate and those that disagree are those that are not illuminated (and thus damned?). We don’t preach the Gospel at people but rather to people. Basic evangelization is done at a very personal level, often without words and by actions alone. We appeal to reason, to emotions, to experiences, to the commonality that is human existence, and to the world around us. We don’t pull the Mormon “pray about it and then you will agree with me” nonsense.

    What we must avoid is a separation between reason and faith/grace. Grace does not destroy reason/nature (as you find often in Protestantism). We do not say that Christianity is something that can be only accepted by the illuminated. We say that Christianity is accepted by reason and illumination, not by reason alone or illumination alone.

    Question for you: How do you know that the entire Catholic Bible is God-breathed (divinely inspired)? Using purely human reasoning, how would you show that to be true?

    Is that even an important core doctrine of the faith? But anyway, the way we know that the scriptures are God breathed is from knowing that the Church speaks with the voice of the Spirit. The idea of written works being “inspired” by the gods is not foreign to the thought of antiquity — for example Homer’s Odyssey opens Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of the man skilled in ways of contending…... Because the concept of inspiration is not limited to God’s Chosen People, it is neither a concept that originates from illumination nor does accepting a particular work as being inspired necessarily mandate illumination. (that is not to say that illumination isn’t involved just that we can get to the concept by seeing through the mirror darkly).

    Man, by his nature, is aware of two realities, the created reality and the uncreated spiritual reality. (If my memory is correct, “two realities” is a phrase I picked up from Mere Christianity).

    Depends on how you slice things. There is the created corporeal reality, created supernatural reality, and the uncreated reality of the divine essence. Add to that the real possibility of a multi-verse to muck up things for the created realities and add the divine omniscience of God to throw in all the possibilities of reality that could have been and will not be, as well as the Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres it is all a bit complex.

    As for being aware — I think that depends on how Platonic one is vs. how Aristotelian one is.

    I say anything else is just gnosticism because if we posit epistemology as having a starting point other than what we know by our created nature it is impossible to distinguish between an illumined person and a mad man. There are different ways in which we can talk about how knowledge gained through creation interacts with knowledge gained via the uncreated light of God (for example the neo-Platonism of the Fathers vs. the neo-Aristotelianism/Thomism of the later scholastics). For example, Reformed presuppositional theology is just dressed up gnosticism — only the illuminated epistemologically privileged elect know the truth about anything. Anything that comes from illumination cannot be verified with certitude because the divine light is not of this world — it is uncreated — and as such cannot be verified by created things.

    I am not arguing that there are only two choices…I am arguing that anything that bases epistemology on illumination is gnosticism.

    But for us to have perfectly formed consciences, we need grace and revelation in addition to the knowledge gained by a study of the philosophy of ethics

    Just so long as we are not making grace and revelation an essential component of human nature. The quote in CCC 1955 is really important …..The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding[reason] placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God has given this light or law at the creation.

    Notice also this aspect of 1960 which you gave The natural law provides revealed law and grace with a foundation prepared by God and in accordance with the work of the Spirit. This shows us that the epistemological starting point is the natural law, which is known by reason, and from there we progress to revealed law, grace, and illumination.

    When we read the scriptures we start with the literal understanding and from there move to the spiritual understanding. The literal is known by the light of natural reason — it can be known by illumination but need not be, but the light of natural reason will always show the meaning of the literal, when the light of natural reason is correctly applied. We do not start with the spiritual and then move to the literal. If the literal is not understood, then the spiritual cannot be understood. Let us go back to your question of why Protestantism is fractious — we know that they are not understanding the spiritual aspects correctly (many even deny that scripture has a spiritual meaning saying that it only has a literal) and the reason for this must be that the foundation is wrong — the literal is not being understood correctly. If a building’s stories that are in the clouds are crooked, it is because the foundation has been laid crooked. What allows us to understand the literal? The light of natural reason. Thus the understanding of reason is not correct for those who have a false understanding of spiritual things. Garbage in Garbage out.

    There are also spiritual truths in the Bible that can be known to be true because they correspond to what is known through the natural law. Which is why the CCC states that the “principal precepts [of the divine and natural law] are expressed in the Decalogue.”

    If you are meaning here that the principal precepts of the spiritual truth and natural truth are expressed in the Decalogue, the CCC doesn’t say this. What the CCC says is The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life. It hinges upon the desire for God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of all that is good, as well as upon the sense that the other is one’s equal. Its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue. This law is called “natural,” not in reference to the nature of irrational beings, but because reason which decrees it properly belongs to human nature

    The CCC is saying that the natural law’s principle precepts are expressed in the decalogue. The natural law is “divine” because its author is the Spirit who writes it upon the fabric of nature and upon the human heart, but what is being discussed in this section of the CCC is the natural law, not eternal law, revealed law, or civil and ecclesiastical laws.

    And it is these divinely revealed spiritual realities that the Protestants get wrong and cause them to preach heresy. The Protestants aren’t preaching heresy because they are knaves or fools, they are preaching heresy because they are lacking in the gifts of the Spirit of God

    I strongly disagree with this. Falsehood and untruth are not taught as truth because people lack spiritual gifts. Sin originates not from a lack of grace but from a disorder in the natural faculties. Basically what you are putting forth here is that that fallen man is fallen because he lacks grace, that is he is deprived and depraved and thus because he is lacking preaches heresy. Catholicism teaches that man is disordered and deformed in his fallen state, sin and untruth arise not from a lack of something (how can a creature cause something to arise from nothing?) but rather from a disordered application of something or a disordered attraction to something. An act of sin is simply an act that is not in accordance with the hierarchy of the good — it is not sin because it lacks supernatural grace.

    The origin of heresy is not because of the lack of illumination but it is because of the lack of proper reason. The proof of this is that you disprove heresies not by suggesting that they pray to be illuminated but by showing the flaws in their logic and rationality.

    I don’t find your Arianism example to be applicable. I don’t see how what you said shows that the garbage hermeneutic of the Arians wasn’t what caused their heresy.

  63. Mateo and Nathan B, let’s keep the conversation in this combox focused on this article. If you wish to discuss epistemology, then please discuss that on the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” thread. Thanks!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  64. John, (re: #61)

    You wrote:

    The Church is household of God; it is already united in one by baptism into Christ, and should at all times seek to realize this union through the experience of full communion.

    When you say ‘The Church,’ you are using the same word (i.e. ‘Church’) that Catholics use, but with a different sense. You are using it in the sense of “small-c catholic Church,” and I explained in comment #15 that this term (used in this sense) has no referent, like the term ‘unicorn’ has no referent. There is no single entity in the world to which this term refers. (I also explained this in “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.”)

    You wrote:

    We see schisms as akin to divorce a mensa et thoro, i.e. legal separation without dissolution of the marriage bond. Neither schism nor divorce is desirable, but sometimes it is a painful necessity. When either happens, there ought to be a desire for and earnest effort towards reconciliation and the restoration of communion. In neither divorce nor schism is there an automatic test for who’s in the wrong; we don’t say the wife is always wrong to separate from the husband, nor we do we say that whichever body separates from communion with the Church of Rome (or another particular church) is necessarily in the wrong.

    Notice that what is absent in your discussion of ‘schism’ is the concept of schism from the Church. You are talking only about ‘schism within.’ That is because, since the term ‘catholic Church’ has no referent, there is no such thing as schism from the “catholic Church,” short of absolute repudiation of the Christian faith. When the Church is treated as a mere abstraction, every division of any sort, can be conceptualized as a branch within the Church; nothing short of apostasy need by treated as a separation from the Church. (I have written about this in “Branches or Schisms?“)

    But this notion of the “small-c catholic Church” in which “schism from” the Church is impossible, is not what we find in the Church Fathers. We find instead the visible-Church ecclesiology described by St. Optatus. Over and over, that’s what we find. The Church did not respond to the Novatian schism by claiming that the Novatians were merely a “branching within” some invisible abstract “small-c catholic Church.” The Church saw the Novatians as schism from the Church. And likewise with the Donatists. Neither the Novatians nor the Donatists thought of the option of declaring themselves a branch within a “small-c catholic Church;” that idea was not available to them, because everyone knew that the Catholic Church is a visibly unified entity, and that visible unity is one of the four essential marks of the Church. (Tom Brown and I argued this in “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”) The visible unity of the Church follows from Christ’s incarnation; to construe the Church as an invisible abstraction is a kind of gnosticism, namely, an ecclesial docetism (cf. “Among You Stands One Whom You Do Not Know“)

    If a group of Christians were in schism from the Catholic Church Christ founded, but wanted to justify their schism from the Church, how could they try to do it? What might their justification for their schism from the Church look like? Either they would claim to be the Catholic Church (as in the case of the Novatians and Donatists) and claim that all others are apostate or in schism from the Church, or they would (without any authority) simply redefine the term ‘Church’ into an invisible abstraction so that in their minds they are merely a “branch within” the Church, not a schism from the Church. And that’s just what Protestants have done. They have, without any authority, redefined ‘the Church’ so that schism from the Church is impossible. In this redefinition, no one has the authority to determine authoritatively the criteria for being in or out of the “small-c catholic Church.” And for that reason, any group of persons who call themselves Christian, can claim to be a branch within this “small-c catholic Church.” You might wish to think some such groups are not within the “small-c catholic Church,” but since you have no more authority than do they, your conception of the “small-c catholic Church” has no more authority than does theirs. So the “small-c catholic Church” for you, is different than it is for them — because these are just different ideas in people’s minds; there is no actual entity in the real world to which the term “small-c catholic Church” refers. There is no actual small-c catholic Church in the real world that has the authority to excommunicate persons from itself (cf. Matthew 18:17-18). Each sect or denomination can only excommunicate people from itself; and that’s exactly what we would expect if all these sects and denominations were in schism from the Church.

    If a group of persons were actually in schism from the Church, and were attempting to justify their schism from the Church, one of the two possible ways they could attempt to justify their schism from the Church is exactly the one you have given.

    Pope Leo XIII wrote about the error of those who “conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church:”

    From this it follows that those who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error: as also are those who regard the Church as a human institution which claims a certain obedience in discipline and external duties, but which is without the perennial communication of the gifts of divine grace, and without all that which testifies by constant and undoubted signs to the existence of that life which is drawn from God. It is assuredly as impossible that the Church of Jesus Christ can be the one or the other, as that man should be a body alone or a soul alone. The connection and union of both elements is as absolutely necessary to the true Church as the intimate union of the soul and body is to human nature. The Church is not something dead: it is the body of Christ endowed with supernatural life. As Christ, the Head and Exemplar, is not wholly in His visible human nature, which Photinians and Nestorians assert, nor wholly in the invisible divine nature, as the Monophysites hold, but is one, from and in both natures, visible and invisible; so the mystical body of Christ is the true Church, only because its visible parts draw life and power from the supernatural gifts and other things whence spring their very nature and essence. But since the Church is such by divine will and constitution, such it must uniformly remain to the end of time. If it did not, then it would not have been founded as perpetual, and the end set before it would have been limited to some certain place and to some certain period of time; both of which are contrary to the truth. The union consequently of visible and invisible elements because it harmonizes with the natural order and by God’s will belongs to the very essence of the Church, must necessarily remain so long as the Church itself shall endure. Wherefore Chrysostom writes: “Secede not from the Church: for nothing is stronger than the Church. Thy hope is the Church; thy salvation is the Church; thy refuge is the Church. It is higher than the heavens and wider than the earth. It never grows old, but is ever full of vigour. Wherefore Holy Writ pointing to its strength and stability calls it a mountain” (Hom. De capto Eutropio, n. 6). (Satis Cognitum, 3)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  65. Bryan (#64):

    Is your family an invisible abstraction? Does it have a real referent? Who is its principium unitatis?

    Pax Christi,
    John

  66. John, (re: #65)

    You wrote:

    Is your family an invisible abstraction?

    No.

    Does it have a real referent?

    Yes.

    Who is its principium unitatis?

    I am.

    Again, regarding this notion of a “small-c catholic Church,” Taylor recently quoted Pope Pius XI, who wrote:

    We believe that those who call themselves Christians can do no other than believe that a Church, and that Church one, was established by Christ; but if it is further inquired of what nature according to the will of its Author it must be, then all do not agree. A good number of them, for example, deny that the Church of Christ must be visible and apparent, at least to such a degree that it appears as one body of faithful, agreeing in one and the same doctrine under one teaching authority and government; but, on the contrary, they understand a visible Church as nothing else than a Federation, composed of various communities of Christians, even though they adhere to different doctrines, which may even be incompatible one with another. Instead, Christ our Lord instituted His Church as a perfect society, external of its nature and perceptible to the senses, which should carry on in the future the work of the salvation of the human race, under the leadership of one head,[4] with an authority teaching by word of mouth,[5] and by the ministry of the sacraments, the founts of heavenly grace;[6] for which reason He attested by comparison the similarity of the Church to a kingdom,[7] to a house,[8] to a sheepfold,[9] and to a flock.[10] This Church, after being so wonderfully instituted, could not, on the removal by death of its Founder and of the Apostles who were the pioneers in propagating it, be entirely extinguished and cease to be, for to it was given the commandment to lead all men, without distinction of time or place, to eternal salvation: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations.”[11] In the continual carrying out of this task, will any element of strength and efficiency be wanting to the Church, when Christ Himself is perpetually present to it, according to His solemn promise: “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world?”[12] It follows then that the Church of Christ not only exists to-day and always, but is also exactly the same as it was in the time of the Apostles, unless we were to say, which God forbid, either that Christ our Lord could not effect His purpose, or that He erred when He asserted that the gates of hell should never prevail against it.[13]

    … For authors who favor this view are accustomed, times almost without number, to bring forward these words of Christ: “That they all may be one…. And there shall be one fold and one shepherd,”[14] with this signification however: that Christ Jesus merely expressed a desire and prayer, which still lacks its fulfillment. For they are of the opinion that the unity of faith and government, which is a note of the one true Church of Christ, has hardly up to the present time existed, and does not to-day exist. They consider that this unity may indeed be desired and that it may even be one day attained through the instrumentality of wills directed to a common end, but that meanwhile it can only be regarded as mere ideal. They add that the Church in itself, or of its nature, is divided into sections; that is to say, that it is made up of several churches or distinct communities, which still remain separate, and although having certain articles of doctrine in common, nevertheless disagree concerning the remainder; that these all enjoy the same rights; and that the Church was one and unique from, at the most, the apostolic age until the first Ecumenical Councils. Controversies therefore, they say, and longstanding differences of opinion which keep asunder till the present day the members of the Christian family, must be entirely put aside, and from the remaining doctrines a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief, and in the profession of which all may not only know but feel that they are brothers. The manifold churches or communities, if united in some kind of universal federation, would then be in a position to oppose strongly and with success the progress of irreligion. This, Venerable Brethren, is what is commonly said. (Mortalium Animos, 6-7)

    And Pope Pius XII taught the same in Mystici Corporis Christi:

    Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely “pneumatological” as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are untied by an invisible bond.

    …As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith.[18] And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered – so the Lord commands – as a heathen and a publican. [19] It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.

    … From what We have thus far written, and explained, Venerable Brethren, it is clear, We think, how grievously they err who arbitrarily claim that the Church is something hidden and invisible, as they also do who look upon her as a mere human institution possessing a certain disciplinary code and external ritual, but lacking power to communicate supernatural life.[120] On the contrary, as Christ, Head and Exemplar of the Church “is not complete, if only His visible human nature is considered…, or if only His divine, invisible nature…, but He is one through the union of both and one in both … so is it with His Mystical Body”[121] since the Word of God took unto Himself a human nature liable to sufferings, so that He might consecrate in His blood the visible Society founded by Him and “lead man back to things invisible under a visible rule.”[122]

    65. For this reason We deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who dream of an imaginary Church, a kind of society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which, somewhat contemptuously, they oppose another, which they call juridical. But this distinction which they introduce is false: for they fail to understand that the reason which led our Divine Redeemer to give to the community of man He founded the constitution of a Society, perfect of its kind and containing all the juridical and social elements – namely, that He might perpetuate on earth the saving work of Redemption,[123] – was also the reason why He willed it to be enriched with the heavenly gifts of the Paraclete. The Eternal Father indeed willed it to be the “kingdom of the Son of his predilection;”[124] but it was to be a real kingdom in which all believers should make Him the entire offering of their intellect and will,[125] and humbly and obediently model themselves on Him, Who for our sake “was made obedient unto death.”[126] There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other – as do the body and soul in man – and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,”[127] but also clearly commanded: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you;”[128] and again: “He that heareth you, heareth me.”[129] (Mystici Corporis Christi, 14, 22, 64-65)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  67. @ Bryan

    I don’t see how Mateo and my discussion isn’t germane to the topic that is going on back and forth between John and et. al. John and et. al. have been discussing how one knows the Apostolic Tradition, Mateo in #35 chimed in and said Protestants don’t understand what the Apostolic Tradition is, and are thus fractious and heretical, because they are not illuminated (specifically he stated its because they are lacking in the Sanctifying Gift of Knowledge and that the deposit of faith is not understood through ordinary human reasoning but through the spirit) and I jumped in to say that that is not why Protestants “have doctrinal anarchy” and produce heresy.

    Perhaps more specifically how this is germane to the topic is that I am arguing that the content of the Apostolic Tradition is known not from a foundation of illumination/grace (this is what Mateo suggests) but rather from a foundation of the light of natural reason which in turn grace perfects and elevates.

    How this relates to C2C overall is that in Reformed theology you have the idea that only the elect understand and know the content of the faith, because they have been so illuminated. This pops up in modern expression with Van Til’s presuppositional theology.

    BUT ANYWAY Would you be so kind as to clarify, for myself and for the thread, whether or not the Catholic faith teaches that the light of natural reason (not grace/illumination) is the foundation for how we know what is and what is not the content of the Apostolic Tradition?

  68. Nathan B., (re: #67)

    Protestants who through no fault of their own do not know that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ as necessary for salvation, and who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – may be in a state of grace. If being in a state of grace were sufficient for eliminating [material] heresy, all Protestants in a state of grace would immediately become Catholic. But that does not happen. And that’s because being in a state of grace is not sufficient for eliminating [material] heresy, or for providing the illumination to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy, or to distinguish the canon of Scripture from non-canonical books. This is why Christ established a Church, and placed within her a perpetual teaching authority, making her the pillar and ground of truth. It remains true to this day that those who listen to the Church, listen to Christ, but those who reject the Church, reject Christ, and reject the One who sent Christ. (cf. Luke 10:16)

    The primary reason why Protestantism is all over the map, theologically, is because Protestants are sheep without a shepherd, or more precisely, are sheep who have wandered away from the divinely established shepherds in Christ’s Church, and placed themselves under false shepherds who were not ordained by the Church (i.e. they did not enter the sheepfold by the door – Jn. 10:1), but who took the role to themselves (Heb 5:4), and who say what the sheep think they want to hear (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3 — I have written about this in “Ecclesial Consumerism“).

    Christ did not leave the deposit in a vault or chest, or drop it down like confetti from the sky on the public. He entrusted it to His Apostles, the way a baton is entrusted to a runner in a relay race. And the Apostles in turn entrusted it to their successors, and so on, to this day. It was never free-floating; it was always under the stewardship of divinely appointed men. To locate, identity and properly understand the deposit, one must locate and enter the Church, so that one may sit under that same teaching authority to which the deposit was divinely entrusted. (I have discussed this indirectly in “Tradition and the Lexicon.”) The teaching authority of Christ’s Church is the divinely established means by which the sheep of Christ’s flock are to know and understand the deposit. The Spirit of God works through this divinely established means to enlighten the minds of the faithful to know the truth about the revelation of Christ.

    The Protestant approach is generally to read Scripture, come up with an interpretation, and then identify as “the Church” that community of persons whose doctrine and practice most closely conforms to one’s interpretation. The Catholic approach is to find in the first century the Church Christ founded, trace it down through the centuries, enter it, and then learn from it what is the proper interpretation of Scripture. (See section V.A of our Solo Scriptura article.)

    Because the deposit is supernatural, it cannot be understood by the unaided natural mind. What is supernatural requires supernatural divine aid for interpretation and comprehension, because we are infinitely below it. Pope Gregory XVI wrote:

    It is the proud, or rather foolish, men who examine the mysteries of the faith which surpass all understanding with the faculties of the human mind, and rely on human reason, which by the condition of man’s nature is weak and infirm.” (Mirari Vos, 22)

    Special revelation is supernatural truth, which transcends our natural capacity to grasp. This is why man cannot recognize it or know it or understand it without the aid of grace, as St. Paul says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor 2:14) Because Scripture is supernatural in origin, it requires grace to be rightly understood. Scholarship alone, or human reason alone, is not sufficient to determine the meaning of Scripture. The notion that human reason alone is sufficient to identify and understand the deposit, is hermeneutical Pelagianism. If Scripture could be understood just like we can understand the writings of mere men, without the aid of divine grace, this would reduce Scripture to something merely natural, and not supernatural. It is precisely because Scripture is supernatural (i.e. having God as its primary Author), and revealing things that exceed the capacity of natural reason to grasp on its own, that we require divine aid in order to understand it rightly. Our need for divine aid in order to understand Scripture rightly is precisely because Scripture contains supernatural revelation, which is invisible or foolishness to the natural mind without grace from above. What is supernatural cannot be attained to by what is natural, without divine aid. That’s the very essence of the Pelagian error, i.e. to think that what is supernatural can be attained by what is merely natural, without supernatural aid.

    But not only do we need grace, we also need a divinely established (supernaturally empowered) teaching organ. We can see in this in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Christ could have established a Montanist system, in which at conversion, the whole deposit was infused into every person’s mind directly from heaven. But that’s not what He did. He established a Church in order (among other things) to give appointed men a share through participation in His own mission and work, as Teacher. This is what He charged to St. Peter in John 21:15-17, when He charged him three times to “feed My sheep.”

    Yet, we are not fideists. I explained the way in which Catholics are not fideists, in the Wilson vs. Hitchens post, especially in comment #66, where I discussed the motives of credibility. I also discussed this in comment #37 of Andrew’s “Son of a tu quoque” post.

    We have to hold both things at the same time, namely, (1) that fideism is false (through the motives of credibility we can by reason alone identify the divine authority of those bringing supernatural revelation), and (2) supernatural revelation cannot be grasped without supernatural grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  69. John (#61)

    You write:

    …whereas the Magisterium’s acting responsibly is not essential to the [Catholic] theory, its ability to act responsibly is. If, when authenticating developments, the Magisterium not only does not but cannot act responsibly, then your IP is unreasonable, and thus not rationally preferable.

    Well, yes. But of course, everything hinges on what it is to act with epistemic responsibility (ER) in this context. As I understand your position, ER here requires acting according to a reliable, publicly accessible method which, in just those respects, is like the scientific method. If that’s the case, then the Magisterium authenticates development “responsibly” just in case it follows a method that would actually render its role epistemically unnecessary. That stance, I have argued, begs the question against the Magisterium’s claims for itself. From the Catholic standpoint, all that’s required to show that magisterial definitions are “reasonable”, and thus epistemically “responsible”, is to show that they cohere with each other logically and make sense in terms of the analogia fidei. That stance is itself unreasonable only if there’s independent reason to believe that AD is perspicuous, in the sense I’ve specified before. Of course, showing what I’ve said is needed, which falls short of perspicuity, does not suffice to show that distinctively Catholic doctrines are logically necessitated by the sources for which we have extant documentation. But then again, that’s exactly why magisterial authority, as Catholics understand it, is epistemically necessary.

    That said, you seem to have put yourself in a rather poor position to argue that AD is perspicuous. Until now, I’d been assuming that you consider Scripture both materially sufficient and altogether perspicuous, given your claim that what the Apostles preached, they wrote—a claim which, in its strong sense, you attribute to St. Irenaeus. That, at any rate, was the standard view of the early Reformers. But now you seem to be allowing that extra-scriptural “Tradition” has content making a distinct contribution to AD, beyond merely that of mode of transmission; otherwise, why speak of “apostolic tradition,” as if doing so were more informative than speaking of inspired Scripture alone? But that choice immediately raises the question who gets to decide which traditions are to be accounted part of normative Tradition; for the boundaries of Tradition, if understood to convey more information than Scripture alone, are not as clear as those of Scripture, which is a fixed canon of writings. So, which is it? Or have I just misunderstood you once again? I’ve been finding you elusive lately, and it’s frustrating me.

    I’ll leave that aside for now. I wrote, and you quoted:

    Implicit in that argument is the assumption that ER entails knowing, by some means other than the unmerited grace of infallibility, that D belongs to AD. But that in turn requires that behaving with ER, and thus being in the right epistemic state to define D as de fide, involves following some intellectual method M whose content can be understood and applied while prescinding from ecclesial authority.

    And that’s the assumption I’ve criticized as question-begging. To that, your response is to try to press the putative dilemma anew:

    What exactly does the unmerited grace of infallibility do in this connection? Does it confer access to warrant not otherwise available, and without which the bishops (and/or pope) cannot know that D belongs to AD? If so, you’re back to Horn 1 with Newman, for the bishops (and/or pope) are by grace made epistemically privileged.

    Your question seems reasonable inasmuch as grace, in general, builds on nature rather than destroying it. So grace does indeed “add” something here. But there’s no reason to think that grace adds, to the sort of epistemic warrant we can acquire by means of natural reason, more warrant of the same sort. It adds the ability to perceive warrant of an altogether different sort, which I’ve called “making sense in terms of the analogia fidei.” Exactly what that amounts to cannot be established, or even adequately described, by any method resembling the scientific method with respect to reliability and publicity. Grace cannot add that kind of warrant. Why not?

    By way of analogy, ask yourself this: what, exactly, does the Holy Spirit’s gift of “wisdom” add to the cardinal, natural virtue of prudence? Clearly it adds something—something to do with the indwelling of the Trinity itself—but it’s impossible to give a general definition that would be helpful to everybody, or even to most people. All we can say is that some of the holy ones manifest that gift, which often builds upon natural gifts, but is neither reducible to nor wholly describable in terms of earthly practical wisdom, shrewdness, mastery of a craft, or anything else that can be developed and described systematically. The gift can only be recognized, affirmed, and utilized within the relevant community, by members who share the relevant, coordinate gifts of grace.

    The same goes, I suggest, for knowing “the true doctrine” as a member of that concretely identifiable community which is known as “the” Church Christ founded. Such knowledge has natural components: book-knowledge of Scripture, exposure to liturgy and pious traditions, the study of theology and ecclesial documents, and so forth. It’s important to acquire as much of that sort of knowledge as we can, consistently with our abilities and other duties, if only as the raw material grace is meant to build upon. But unless one has the gifts of the Spirit, through ordinary or extraordinary means, “getting” the true doctrine is quite a dodgy business. Such gifts of grace can and do build on nature, especially in those of us with the benefit of outstanding education; but it’s virtually impossible to say how they do so, except perhaps through prayer and poetry. Those don’t involve the sort of method you seem to require for “warrant” and “responsibility.”

    On the Catholic understanding, “getting” orthodoxy through grace as well as nature requires obedience to legitimate church authority, or at least a disposition to obey such authority. That’s what the Magisterium is for. Of course you can and do ask how the bishops who exercise the Magisteriium “get it” themselves. Thus:

    By exercising the gift of infallibility, do the bishops enable themselves to know prior to their act of definition that D belongs to AD? Or do they learn as much only upon completing their act of definition, so that at the time they definitively assert D to belong to AD they cannot yet know this to be true?

    I don’t know the answers to those questions. Yet from the Catholic standpoint, it’s not important to know the answers. In part the questions are about psychology, and the psychology of bishops-in-council, though bearing historical and even pastoral interest, is ultimately of no doctrinal interest. Their state of mind would only be of doctrinal interest if their orthodoxy depended chiefly on the academic quality of their deliberations. But it usually doesn’t, because academic ability is neither necessary nor sufficient for knowing what God reveals. Such knowledge chiefly depends on humility and obedience. One cannot exhibit those qualities if one supposes that one can judge how exactly much epistemically independent “warrant” the bishops have when they exercise the full authority of the Magisterium.

    Conversely: “He who hears you, hears me.”

    Best,
    Mike

  70. Bryan (#66):

    Does the failure of a family to live together annihilate the family?

    Nathan B. (#67):

    Thanks for your comments on nature and grace. I’d welcome your thoughts on the question I’ve asked Mike below.

    Mike (#69):

    Sorry for frustrating you. I’ve spoken of Tradition because, to avoid taking on too much at once, we need to keep the discussion at the level of IPs. The partim-partim theory, as I noted above, is logically compatible with the PEIP. Obviously I believe it to be incorrect, but going into the reasons why would amount to putting on a sideshow, which I’m not going to do.

    You write:

    From the Catholic standpoint, all that’s required to show that magisterial definitions are “reasonable”, and thus epistemically “responsible”, is to show that they cohere with each other logically and make sense in terms of the analogia fidei.

    Yet when defining D, the Magisterium goes beyond simply declaring that D coheres with the known contents of the AD and that it “makes sense” in light of the AF. To say only that much would be to say D is a plausible theologoumenon. The Magisterium says more than that, solemnly declaring that D belongs to the AD. Whence the warrant for that assertion?

    I’m not asking you to do the impossible, to get into the minds of the bishops (and/or pope) in order to judge whether they act responsibly in practice. But for your theory to be reasonable, it must be possible for the Magisterium to act responsibly, whether the bishops (and/or pope) actually conduct themselves responsibly or not.

    Best,
    John

  71. Alright, John. You ask:

    Yet when defining D, the Magisterium goes beyond simply declaring that D coheres with the known contents of the AD and that it “makes sense” in light of the AF. To say only that much would be to say D is a plausible theologoumenon. The Magisterium says more than that, solemnly declaring that D belongs to the AD. Whence the warrant for that assertion?

    The criteria I’ve stated and you’ve noted are such that, when a given doctrine D satisfies them, it is reasonable to hold that D coheres with known articles of faith and makes sense in terms of the analogia fidei running through them. That suffices to show that, given a common prior understanding of AD, it is reasonable to affirm that D is true. But it does not suffice to show that D must be true. Thus for all my criteria of reasonability say, D could be either a mere theologoumenon or an article of faith. Why the latter? Because there is no reason, either a priori or a posteriori, to believe that each and every D belonging to AD is either explicitly asserted in the sources or inferable, as a matter of deductive or inductive l0gic, from some subset of assertoric statements in the sources. Instead, what counts as belonging to AD is to be discerned, for purposes of the Church’s common assent of faith, by the Magisterium meeting the criteria of reasonability just stated. When also exercising its full authority, the Magisterium’s judgment suffices to establish that such a D counts as an article of faith, even when there is no stronger criterion by which D can be “authenticated”—i.e. shown to be an article of faith, not just a theologoumenon.

    What you seem to want, however, is just such a stronger criterion, so that if D satisfies it, then given a prior common understanding of AD, it would be unreasonable to deny that D is an article of faith. To get such a criterion and make it stick, one would have to lay down that, for any D belonging to AD and thus counting as an article of faith, D must either be explicitly stated in some source taken as normative for expressing AD, or be (deductively or inductively) inferable from some subset of such statements. Thus AD would be perspicuous: every doctrine knowable as belonging to AD would either be explicitly stated in a normative source or, in some discernible, logical fashion, be validly inferable from some subset of such statements.

    Given the nature of the subject matter, AD’s being perspicuous in that way would indeed be necessary for discerning and exhibiting its full content without ultimately having to rely on ecclesial authority. As I see it, what you want is a criterion (or, more properly speaking, a set of criteria) that would let us cut the middleman of living human authority out of revealed theology the way we can, in principle at least, in other disciplines. Even though most of us take a great deal of what we “know” on living human authority, our knowing such things depends on their being verifiable through a reliable method accessible to anybody with the ability and willingness to use it. Scientific knowledge is like that, and to the extent non-scientific disciplines yield knowledge, they are like that too. You seem to think revealed theology can and ought to be like that as well, so that what counts as belonging to AD can and should be “known” in the same way we can and do say “know” things in disciplines other than revealed theology.

    That is what the early Reformers wanted and thought was attainable. Indeed, such an aspiration was broadly typical of the “modern” period as distinct from the post-modern. I see it as a form of rationalism. But it should be unnecessary at this stage for me to remind you why, as a Catholic, I do not and cannot share it.

    As a Catholic, I hold that our knowledge of AD’s doctrinal content cannot, even in principle, eliminate living, divinely established human authority, for the very good reason that AD’s doctrinal content principally expresses supernatural realities that human reason and inquiry cannot, by definition, discover or verify, but must be revealed by God and handed down from him through his duly authorized human intermediaries. Hence there is no good reason to believe that the written records of AD make it wholly perspicuous, and every reason to believe that AD’s doctrinal content must be progressively discerned through developments authenticated by such authorities. That is part of St. Vincent’s message too, at least as Bryan, I, and others read him.

    Throughout our lengthy discussions, you have seemed to me to believe that such an attitude on my part leads to insoluble dilemmas, and in that sense is unreasonable. But those dilemmas are insoluble only if knowledge of what God has revealed to us could, in principle at least, eliminate authority as it can in other spheres of inquiry. I’ve begun to see your entertaining such a possibility as itself unreasonable, given the nature of the subject matter. In these matters, there can be no epistemic substitute for trust in ecclesial authority. We need recourse to such authority even to know what the sources are, and how they are normative.

    Best,
    Mike

  72. @John:

    Does the failure of a family to live together annihilate the family?

    No, not if it is a real family (i.e. not some “we are two homosexual males living together who claim to be a family” sort of thing). Hence the Catholic Church says that baptised persons – Protestants, for example – who are not Catholics are in a “certain, albeit imperfect, communion with the Body of Christ.” Imagine a husband and wife who are fighting and she goes and lives with her mother for a while.

    “But which,” you ask, “is the husband in the example – the Catholic Church or the Protestants?” Of course that is the fundamental question.

    The point is that either the Church is what she says – in which case she is the Body of the Husband, Christ – or else she is not. But I do not see any useful sense in supposing that the Catholic Church, and the local Baptist Church, and the local Reformed Church that I was a member of, and deacon in, until I became a Catholic – are just family members who are estranged. Such a family image sounds much more like those two gay men I mentioned above.

    The family analogy applies, if it applies at all, because there is a head to the family. He establishes where the family’s proper home is. Christ is the Head, and the Catholic Church is the proper home. If this is not true, then I do not see how there can be any proper home. There is certainly no other plausible candidate for the continuation of the Church Christ established – I mean as one organisation that other Christians ought, by rights, to be part of. Either there is no such single ‘home’ Church – or else the Catholic Church is it.

    I remember when I was in the throes of deciding whether to become a Catholic or not. I told my wife at one point that, though I did not know what was going to come out of these wrestlings, I was certain I would never again believe in a divinely-ordained Church authority again, unless it was the Catholic Church. Either I would end up a Catholic – which, thank God!, I did – or I might be something like a Quaker, going wherever I felt the Spirit moved, but under the authority of none.

    FWIW, my story is here.

    jj

  73. John, (re: #70)

    Spatial or geographical separation does not annihilate a family. But schism from the Church is not about the spatial or geographical separation of Christians, just as excommunication from the Church is not about spatial or geographical separation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  74. Mike (#71):

    You write:

    Instead, what counts as belonging to AD is to be discerned, for purposes of the Church’s common assent of faith, by the Magisterium meeting the criteria of reasonability just stated. When also exercising its full authority, the Magisterium’s judgment suffices to establish that such a D counts as an article of faith, even when there is no stronger criterion by which D can be “authenticated”–i.e. shown to be an article of faith, not just a theologoumenon.

    To keep this brief, the big question is, how can the Magisterium responsibly make that judgment? Tradition doesn’t need to be perspicuous quoad nos for the bishops (and/or pope) to be able to form a responsible judgment. Newman has a means whereby they can acquire adequate warrant without Tradition being perspicuous in that way. If you don’t accept his answer, then where does the warrant come from?

    John Thayer Jensen (#72) and Bryan (#73):

    JJ writes:

    Imagine a husband and wife who are fighting and she goes and lives with her mother for a while.

    That’s more or less what the Reformed have in mind. A wife’s obligation to obey her husband is not unconditional; if the husband demands that she sin as a condition of living together with him, then she is right to separate until such time as he withdraws the demand. Her action hardly dissolves the family, for the failure of husband and wife to realize communion doesn’t annihilate their God-wrought union.

    Best,
    John

  75. @John:

    That’s more or less what the Reformed have in mind. A wife’s obligation to obey her husband is not unconditional; if the husband demands that she sin as a condition of living together with him, then she is right to separate until such time as he withdraws the demand. Her action hardly dissolves the family, for the failure of husband and wife to realize communion doesn’t annihilate their God-wrought union.

    Yes, I understand, having been Reformed myself. However, now the question is whether it is the ‘husband’ or the ‘wife’ who is wrong. Are the husband’s demands actually sinful? To know this one must know whether or not the Catholic Church is, indeed, God’s ordained – and, therefore, necessarily infallible – teacher. If that is true, then it is the ‘wife’ in this case who has run away unjustly.

    jj

  76. John,

    The problem with your argument is that it uses natural law to try to deduce ecclesiology, and thereby falsely presupposes that whatever is true of the natural family is therefore true of the Church. But, we cannot rightly deduce ecclesiology from whatever is true of marriage or family, because the Church is a supernatural society, while the family is a natural society. When a child is born into my family, this is by nature. My children can never cease to be part of my family, because their very being has its origin from me (as procreator). But incorporation into the Church is by grace, and persons can be excommunicated from the Church, or form a schism from the Church. If ecclesiology were deducible from natural law, then both excommunication from the Church, and schism from from the Church would be impossible. But both excommunication from the Church, and schism from from the Church are possible, as both Scripture and the Fathers testify. Therefore, trying to base ecclesiology on natural law is bad theological methodology, because it conflates nature and grace, and fails to recognize that ecclesiology is based on the Apostolic Tradition, not on natural law.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  77. John (#74):

    You ask:

    To keep this brief, the big question is, how can the Magisterium responsibly make that judgment?

    Given my argument in #71, I believe you’re now missing the point. If said argument is sound, then the passage of mine you’ve just quoted from #71 adequately answers the question. In other words, I did state, in summary form, how the bishops can responsibly exercise the Magisterium’s full authority, and I explained why insisting on stronger criteria for ER than that would be inappropriate to the subject matter. So, assuming your question is meant to elicit such criteria as an answer, the question is misplaced.

    But perhaps that result wants a bit more explanation. So I proceed to that.

    I gladly concede that, if Catholicism is true, then any given dogmatic definition D meets applicable criteria for “authentication” of developments independently of magisterial authority. But I would insist, and have argued, that knowing exactly how D does so is not necessary, either for D to count as an article of faith or to make reasonable the assent of faith to D. That there are such criteria is certainly the case, and my answer summarizes them baldly. But insisting on stronger criteria than that is not necessary for the purpose, and providing them would not be sufficient for the purpose. Thus, e.g., Newman’s seven “notes” of authentic development, while unobjectionable in themselves and applicable as far as they go, are of rather limited use. They state in what respects a given dogmatic definition can and should seem reasonable as authentication of a development; but their underlying criteria of application are not clear enough in themselves to be compelling apart from a prior commitment to the teaching authority of the Church. So the seven notes can never, when applied, show that assent to distinctively Catholic dogmas is the only reasonable option, given the basis of such dogmas in the documentary sources. They are fit to show only that such assent is reasonable, given said basis. The same goes for Newman’s speculation about what goes on in the minds of the bishops when they define a doctrine, and how that relates what to obtained in the minds of the Apostles about the coordinate topic. All that may well be true, but we needn’t know it to be true in order to be “reasonable” in accepting a given doctrine as an article of faith simply on the Magisterium’s say-so.

    In a way, this has been my point all along. When I did argue directly for the rational preferability of the Catholic IP, I do not argue that the Magisterium’s claims for itself are the only reasonable conclusion from the sources. More specifically, as a Catholic I see no need to argue that, as developments, other distinctively Catholic doctrines are rationally necessitated by the sources. Regardless of which aspects of AD are under consideration—even the Nicene Creed’s homoousious—such a demand is misplaced. I argue instead that, given the nature of the subject matter, it is only by accepting the Magisterium’s claims for itself that we can maintain a clear distinction between the assent of faith to divine revelation on the one hand, and human opinion about how to identify and interpret the sources on the other hand. Human reason alone doesn’t even supply uncontroversial criteria for maintaining the relevant distinction; nor could it, since in no circumstances can it claim protection from error. But once one accepts the Magisterium’s claim that it sometimes is so protected, one has at least a clear and consistent way of making the distinction, thus resolving in principle all disputes about what is the true doctrine.

    Best,
    Mike

  78. John: Does the failure of a family to live together annihilate the family?

    Christians are part of a larger family – they are the children of God by filial adoption. Is it possible for a member of the family of God to “annihilate” himself by separating himself from the family of God? If “annihilate” means to kill the supernatural life infused in the soul of the Christian, then we need only look to the story of the prodigal son to answer that question:

    …the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. (Luke 15:13).

    When the younger son was living a life of unrepentant dissipation, was he still a son of the father with whom he was no longer in communion? Yes, he was still a son of the father, but he was a dead son. The father gives this reason to the elder brother for why he is rejoicing when his prodigal son finally repents of his sinful life and returns to the family :

    … we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again. Luke 15:32

    A major point of the story of the prodigal son is about how repentance for mortal sin can bring one back to life. The prodigal son had no sanctifying grace within his soul because he had committed mortal sin, and that is why the father said that his younger son was dead. Apostasy, heresy and schism are are potentially mortal sins that can bring about annihilation of the supernatural life bestowed by the Sacramental life of the Church.

  79. John, Bryan and John J,

    Thank you for your helpful responses and interchanges to my question regarding the difference between schism and denomination in the context of Reformed ecclesiology, and how this compares to St. Vincent’s concept of Schism.

    John – I appreciate your analogy, and I am grateful that the Reformed Tradition views division within the church as a wound to be healed. Based on your response, I assume that you would view each split within the church (RCC/EO, RCC/Protestant, each Protestant denomination, etc) as a either a regrettable but necessary schism because one party in the split departed from the true teaching of Scripture, or perhaps in some cases the separation occurred because of irreconcilable differences (no fault divorce?) In each case of schism, I’m also assuming that you would grant both parties equal claim to membership in the church?

    I hope I am not oversimplifying Reformed ecclesiology. Is it safe to say that all Protestant denominations represent at least a subset of schism, and as such schism is not defined by our tradition as one group wrongly separating itself from the true church but rather two groups who both can validly claim membership in the Body of Christ but come to such a state of disagreement over interpretation that a split becomes necessary?

    If my characterization is in essence accurate, then I still have difficulty seeing how this view of schism does not represent a radical departure from that of the early Church. The husband/wife analogy did not directly answer that part of my question.

    I think Bryan has a valid point in his description of “schism from” and why Reformed eccesiology cannot logically support this concept. Any other thoughts?

    Burton

  80. Gents, thanks for your comments.

    John Thayer Jensen (#75):

    I agree, one must be able to tell whether the RCC is what it professes to be. Thanks, btw, for your story.

    Bryan (#76):

    The take-away from the analogy is that real union can persist despite failures to realize communion.

    Mike (#77):

    It’s necessary to distinguish the period before a definition is made from the period after. Once D is defined, then on your IP the bishops, like other faithful Catholics, act responsibly in holding that D belongs to the AD. But for your IP to be reasonable, the bishops (and/or pope) must be able responsibly to declare that D belongs to the AD before the definition is made. That is, before defining D, they must one way or another be able to discern whether D is merely a theologoumenon or a dogma within the AD. How can they do this?

    Newman’s seven notes are irrelevant here, which is why I haven’t mentioned them. Newman’s grace of apostolic perception is relevant, however, precisely because it’s his answer to how the bishops (and/or pope) can act responsibly when they definitively teach that D, far from being just a theologoumenon, is within the AD. You’re free to disagree with Newman, but if you don’t accept his account of how the Magisterium can screen putative dogmas, something needs to be put in its place. Otherwise, your IP has the Magisterium performing a function it can’t responsibly perform.

    Mateo (#78):

    We’ve been talking about the ontological status of the family. Whether a member of the family can annihilate himself is a related but different topic.

    Burton (#79):

    A lot depends on how you think about “schism from.” The concept does make sense in Reformed ecclesiology, but the application to real life events is complicated because we don’t posit a fixed point in the Church, such as a bishop with whom Christians must always be in communion. Similar complications arise in thinking about how the family continues in the face of division.

    Suppose Bob becomes involved with his secretary. His wife finds out, and rather than repent, he and the secretary run off to another state to start a new life together. Should Bob’s wife and kids disown him? No. He remains part of their family, even though he has separated himself from the family.

    Now, suppose instead that Bob demands that his wife Alice do something and she refuses on the grounds she can’t do it with a good conscience. Neither spouse yields, and they separate as a consequence. Some of the kids live with Bob, some with Alice. Who’s separated from the family?

    God bless,
    John

  81. John, (re: #80)

    You wrote:

    The take-away from the analogy is that real union can persist despite failures to realize communion.

    Real union persists forever in hell for all those who were baptized but then died in a state of mortal sin, were confirmed and then died in a state of mortal sin, and for all those who received the sacrament of Holy Orders but then died in a state of mortal sin, for these sacraments leave an indelible mark on the soul, and this mark is a form of union between the individual and the Church, and the individual and Christ. In all three cases this continuing real union makes their perpetual suffering worse, all other things being equal, than that of those who were never baptized, never confirmed, or never ordained, and who died in a state of mortal sin.

    That persons in a state of excommunication or schism from the Church retain a real union with the Church is no more justification for remaining in that state than is the fact that persons who were baptized, confirmed, and ordained but died in a state of mortal sin retain forever a real union with Christ and His Church a source of comfort or joy to such persons in hell. As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his letter to the Philadelphians, “If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The schismatic could not justify his schism by pointing out that even in his schism from from the Church, he retained a “real union” with the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  82. John (#80):

    You wrote:

    …for your IP to be reasonable, the bishops (and/or pope) must be able responsibly to declare that D belongs to the AD before the definition is made. That is, before defining D, they must one way or another be able to discern whether D is merely a theologoumenon or a dogma within the AD. How can they do this?

    My argument for the rational preferability of the Catholic IP has been that only an ecclesial magisterium exercising the gift of infallibility under certain conditions supplies the note which clearly distinguishes doctrines belonging to AD from mere human opinions, and thus enable believers to render the assent of faith to them rather than that of opinion. The question you keep posing to me in this thread is this: On what grounds can those who exercise such a magisterium themselves tell the difference prior to exercising it, so that they may exercise it “responsibly”? In response to that, I’ve been arguing just this: To assume that being reasonable requires that bishops and believers must know which such grounds the bishops enjoy, prior to exercising their full magisterial authority, is already to beg the question against the Magisterium’s claims for itself. Why?

    From Dei Verbum§8-§10, we can infer that, if those claims are true, then there is no reliable, publicly accessible method, prescinding from endorsement of some interpretations by the Magisterium, for distinguishing between propositions truly expressing aspects of AD from those which are only human opinions about how to identify and interpret the sources transmitting AD. (That holds as much for teachings set forth with diachronic consensus by the ordinary and universal magisterium as for dogmatic definitions.) Leaving aside the details of my argument, it seems to me that you don’t find that argument worth rebutting. Instead, you keep on as though the assumption underlying your challenge is a proper one to adopt in this context of discussion. I don’t think it is, and I’ve explained why. But perhaps I can make my point more clearly in a slightly different way.

    If there were a reliable, publicly accessible method that the bishops could use, prior to their endorsing some propositions with their full authority, for distinguishing the truly de fide ones from those which are only opinions, then anybody with the requisite intellectual equipment could do the same. In that case, the kind of authority the Magisterium claims for itself would be otiose. It would not be the “sole authentic interpreter” of “the Word of God” transmitted to us in Scripture and Tradition. It would be, at most, the enforcer of interpretations that could and should be reached independently, by believers in general. Thus it would be false to say that “Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church are so linked…that one cannot stand without the others” (DV §10). In any relevant epistemic sense, the first two would stand quite nicely by themselves, thank you very much. That’s a result which confessional and high-church Protestants like yourself would welcome, but it’s simply incompatible with Catholicism. So what you’re posing to me as a Catholic is a question whose answer, if I could offer it, would entail the falsity of the Magisterium’s claims for itself, and thus the falsity of Catholicism.

    Perhaps you don’t think that result worth acknowledging explicitly because you think it so obviously unreasonable that charity calls for maintaining a diplomatic silence in face of it. And then there’s Newman. You wrote:

    Newman’s seven notes are irrelevant here, which is why I haven’t mentioned them. Newman’s grace of apostolic perception is relevant, however, precisely because it’s his answer to how the bishops (and/or pope) can act responsibly when they definitively teach that D, far from being just a theologoumenon, is within the AD. You’re free to disagree with Newman, but if you don’t accept his account of how the Magisterium can screen putative dogmas, something needs to be put in its place. Otherwise, your IP has the Magisterium performing a function it can’t responsibly perform.

    First of all, I believe something like Newman’s notes are relevant, because they at least attempt to specify the logical and conceptual relations that a doctrinal development must have to prior dogma in order to be authentic. But you seem to be more interested in the mental process that the bishops go through in apply such or relevantly similar criteria. And according to you, Newman did offer what you take to be an answer to your question. So it would appear that I’m being unreasonable, even as a Catholic, in rejecting his while declining to give one of my own. But I think you’ve misunderstood what Newman’s little account is really for.

    There is no way we could actually know the respective, private states of mind of both the Apostles and the bishops, such that when the latter define a doctrine, we can compare their state of mind with that of the Apostles, so as to discern whether the epistemic objects of the formers’ state of mind stand in the right relation with those of the latter. Newman’s account doesn’t work as empirical psychology or actual history, and I don’t believe he intended it to work that way. It works, rather, as a sort of post facto explanation. Thus, assuming that what the bishops define with their full authority is de fide, then when they define as de fide something that’s not directly inferable from the documentary sources, something like the relation Newman describes must obtain. Or so Newman believed; and he might well have been right. But we needn’t be in a position to verify such a relation independently, in order to be reasonable in rendering the assent of faith to what the bishops define as de fide. And the bishops needn’t be good students of their own and the Apostles’ epistemic states in order to be justified in issuing such definitions. We needn’t and they needn’t, for the very good reason that nobody could. If Newman’s little story works as an explanation, then the most we can infer is that, if what the bishops define as de fide belongs to AD, but is not directly inferable from the sources, then something like the relation Newman described could and should obtain. But to suppose that knowing that such a relation obtains is a necessary condition for being reasonable in producing or assenting to such definitions is to get things backward—and would itself be an unreasonable demand to make on the Catholic.

    Best,
    Mike

  83. Bryan (#81):

    Is your contention that “schism from” is impossible without a bishop who serves as the divinely instituted principium unitatis of the Church?

    Mike (#82):

    You seem to be conflating responsibility in making a judgment with the ability of the public independently to verify the judgment. I haven’t done that, which is why I haven’t begged the question.

    Newman’s grace of apostolic perception is fully compatible with Tradition’s not being perspicuous quoad nos. If it’s real, it’s also sufficient for the Magisterium to be able responsibly to screen candidates for developed doctrines. For, the grace makes sufficient warrant accessible to the bishops (and/or pope) who exercise the Magisterium.

    My objection to Newman’s account isn’t that it leaves the Magisterium unable to act responsibly, but that it purchases the possibility of ER at an unacceptable price. You’ve conceded that point, but haven’t shown how the Magisterium can act responsibly without something like Newman’s grace.

    Best,
    John

  84. John, (re: #83)

    Schism from, as something distinct from apostasy and heresy, is impossible where there is no visible principium unitatis. The visible principium unitatis does not have to be one person, in order for there to be schism from the Church. But, if the visible principium unitatis were more than one person, schism [again, as something distinct from apostasy and heresy] between those persons [and all their respective flocks] could not be schism from the Church, and in that case visible unity would not be an essential mark of the Church. Tom and I wrote more about this in “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  85. John (#83):

    You seem to be conflating responsibility in making a judgment with the ability of the public independently to verify the judgment. I haven’t done that, which is why I haven’t begged the question.

    I’m afraid the opposite is the truth: the two are not logically equivalent on my account, but in fact they are on yours. Why? Because on your account, whatever would objectively justify claiming, in a given case, that the bishops have judged responsibly in that case, would have to be statable in such a way that the justification is quite generally understandable. Without that condition, the “justification” would be purely subjective, and thus useless. So the bishops judge “responsibly” just in case they could produce an objective, publicly available account justifying their judgment, whether or not they actually choose to produce such an account. Sed contra, I have explicitly denied that either the apostolic deposit or the bishops’ mental processes are perspicuous enough to enable “the public” to know, apart from magisterial authority, how to distinguish de fide doctrine from human opinion, and thus to know what would justify making such a distinction in a given case.

    Newman’s grace of apostolic perception is fully compatible with Tradition’s not being perspicuous quoad nos. If it’s real, it’s also sufficient for the Magisterium to be able responsibly to screen candidates for developed doctrines. For, the grace makes sufficient warrant accessible to the bishops (and/or pope) who exercise the Magisterium.

    That’s true enough, but it’s also irrelevant to the point I was making. My point was that neither believers in general nor the bishops in particular can know, prior to and independently of the full exercise of magisterial authority, whether Newman’s “grace of apostolic perception” actually obtains among the bishops prior to such an exercise. If they cannot know that, then knowing, prior to definition, that the grace of apostolic perception is present, cannot be a necessary criterion for the bishops’ being justified in defining. At most, we could infer after a definitive act that the grace of apostolic perception was present just prior to that act.

    My objection to Newman’s account isn’t that it leaves the Magisterium unable to act responsibly, but that it purchases the possibility of ER at an unacceptable price. You’ve conceded that point, but haven’t shown how the Magisterium can act responsibly without something like Newman’s grace.

    As I see “the price, “ it is not what I’d consider “unacceptable.” We’d have to reject Newman’s account if he had been offering it as psychology or history, because it would be bad psychology or history. But I believe he offered his account only as a template for explanation after the fact: a theory about what we could reasonably infer, after a dogmatic definition, about the bishops’ state of mind prior to such a definition. Newman’s account is thus an acceptable opinion, and may even be true. But it’s neither necessary nor possible to verify its truth independently of accepting the Magisterium’s claims for itself.

    Best,
    Mike

  86. Bryan (#84):

    Thanks. When Pope Victor I excommunicated the churches in Asia Minor, were the latter in schism from the Church? Or was this an instance of internal division, both Victor and the Quartodecimans being still within the Church?

    Mike (#85):

    Again, the CIP doesn’t need the Magisterium to act responsibly in practice. Because infallibility is ex opere operato in the sense described above, any definition is guaranteed to be free from error, whether made responsibly or not.

    What the CIP does need is a means whereby the Magisterium can act responsibly. The Magisterium must be able to acquire enough warrant responsibly to authenticate developments, i.e. to declare that, far from being theologoumena, they actually belong to the AD.

    When you deny that adequate warrant is publicly available, you make it necessary that the Magisterium be able to acquire warrant that’s not publicly available. Otherwise, in so far as your IP requires the Magisterium to authenticate developments, it requires irresponsible conduct, and thus is unreasonable.

    Best,
    John

  87. John, (re: #86)

    It is not certain whether Pope St. Victor actually excommunicated the Quartodecimans with Polycrates (i.e. the ones who insisted they wouldn’t change their practice), or only issued a conditional excommunication, which was then shortly lifted. If he actually excommunicated them, then during that time period they were in schism from the Church, until St. Irenaeus persuaded Pope St. Victor to continue the policy of the previous popes regarding toleration of the practice of the Quartodecimans in the Churches of Asia. If, however, Pope St. Victor only issued a conditional excommunication (which was shortly after retracted), then none of the Quartodecimans were in schism from the Church over this matter during this time.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  88. John:

    You write:

    When you deny that adequate warrant is publicly available, you make it necessary that the Magisterium be able to acquire warrant that’s not publicly available. Otherwise, in so far as your IP requires the Magisterium to authenticate developments, it requires irresponsible conduct, and thus is unreasonable.

    That first sentence expresses exactly where you beg the question. If the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then its defining a given doctrine D as de fide is, itself, “adequate warrant” for holding that D belongs to the apostolic deposit of faith. For the Magisterium is the “sole authentic interpreter” of Scripture and Tradition. If some people fail to see adequate independent warrant in Scripture and/or Tradition for so regarding D, then that is an epistemic difficulty not for the Magisterium, but for them. Such a failure certainly does not entail that such warrant doesn’t exist, or that the Magisterium’s claims for itself are false.

    Now one might say that defining D without citing any grounds other than its own say-so would be an arbitrary, pastorally irresponsible thing for the Magisterium to do, inasmuch as failure to cite such grounds would make it needlessly difficult for some people to accept the definition. With that point, I would agree. But I know of no such definitions on the part of the “extraordinary” magisterium; the ones we actually get always have a substantial basis aside from formal acts of the Magisterium, in the analogia fidei and the sensus fidelium. Of course the disagreements, when they arise—and they always do—are over the question whether such “substantial basis” constitutes “adequate warrant.” But if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, the question is already answered. It is only if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are false that the bishops would be obliged to produce warrant that is “adequate” aside from its own interpretations of the data.

    When the Magisterium “authenticates” developments, it need not show that its interpretations of the data are the only reasonable ones. If that method were obligatory, then producing independent warrant would indeed be a necessary condition on epistemic responsibility. Instead, the way the Magisterium authenticates developments is simply to teach them with its full authority, granted that they always have some substantial prior basis in other sources. That is reason and responsibility enough. It would only be otherwise if the Magisterium’s claims for itself were false.

    Best,
    Mike

  89. Bryan (#87):

    Eusebius records the answer of the Asian bishops under Polycrates, then writes:

    επι τουτοις ο μεν της Ρωμαιων προεστως Βικτωρ αθροως της Ασιας πασης αμα ταις ομοροις εκκλησιαις τας παροικιας αποτεμνειν, ως ετεροδοξουσας, της κοινης ενωσεως πειραται, και στηλιτευει γε δια γραμματων ακοινωνητους παντας αρδην τους εκεισε ανακηρυττων αδελφους. (HE, 5.24)

    “After this Victor, who presided over the Church of the Romans, immediately tried to cut off the parishes of all Asia, together with the neighboring churches, from the common unity, on the grounds they were heterodox; and he decried them in letters which proclaimed all the brethren there wholly excommunicate.”

    The most natural interpretation has Victor doing two things: 1) He attempted to cut off the Asian churches from the universal Church. 2) He actually broke communion between the Church of Rome and the Asian churches.

    Mike (#88):

    You write:

    If the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then its defining a given doctrine D as de fide is, itself, “adequate warrant” for holding that D belongs to the apostolic deposit of faith.

    Quite true; I’ve never disputed it, which is why I’m not begging the question.

    What I’ve asked is how the bishops (and/or pope) can acquire enough warrant to act responsibly when they decide to define D. To be able to act responsibly, they must have access to adequate warrant for declaring that D belongs to the AD before they make the definition.

    That warrant need not be available to us, but it must be available to the bishops (and/or pope), otherwise the Magisterium cannot act responsibly in defining D. For this reason, a grace like the one Newman posits seems to be indispensable to the CIP, not just an optional extra.

    Best,
    John

  90. John, (re: #89)

    I agree that that is the most natural interpretation, if one is looking only at the Greek lines in front of us. But, in the broader context, there is some reason to believe that the “letters which proclaimed all the brethren there wholly excommunicate” were qualified, because it is likely that the purpose of the letters was not to excommunicate any among the Quartodecimans who were willing to conform to the practice of celebrating Christ’s resurrection only on Sunday, but only to excommunicate those unwilling to conform. (And that this willingness was a possibility among at least some is shown by the fact that by the early third century, most had so conformed.) In other words, it is possible that the excommunication letters were explicitly worded so as to apply only to those particular Churches unwilling to conform to the practice of the universal Church as unwilling to conform to the practice of the universal Church, and not that the letters were worded so as to apply to those particular Churches [which had been unwilling to conform to the practice of the universal Church] regardless of their present willingness or unwillingness to conform. Whether Eusebius’s summary statement [“ακοινωνητους παντας αρδην τους εκεισε ανακηρυττων αδελφους”] is compatible with that depends on how exacting or precise he was intending to be in that statement. If in that phrase he is intending merely to summarize, and not give a precise account, then this interpretation is compatible with what he wrote.

    Be that as it may, as I said in #87, if Pope St. Victor actually excommunicated them, then during that time period they were in schism from the Church, until St. Irenaeus persuaded him to continue the policy of the previous popes regarding toleration of the practice of the Quartodecimans in the Churches of Asia Minor. The nature of schism from the Church does not depend on whether Pope St. Victor actually excommunicated the Quartodecimans or not.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  91. John:

    What I’ve asked is how the bishops (and/or pope) can acquire enough warrant to act responsibly when they decide to define D. To be able to act responsibly, they must have access to adequate warrant for declaring that D belongs to the AD before they make the definition.

    It now occurs to me that there are two ways one could understand your question. In one sense, the question would mean: “Assuming that the reality expressed by D is somehow recognized by the Church as a whole, though D itself is undefined as yet, how can those who exercise the Magisterium acquire reason enough to define D?” That is a practical, pastoral question which can be put more generally thus: “What sorts of reasons are appropriate for teaching a given doctrine by means of the extraordinary magisterium–thus implying that denying it would be heresy—as opposed to letting remain taught just by the ordinary magisterium—thus leaving some canonical wiggle room to those who would deny it?” There can be legitimate disagreement about how to answer that question, and I’m not sure that such disagreements can even be resolved in principle. But no such disagreement need be or should be thought of as church-dividing, or as calling into question the Magisterium’s claims for itself. Thus, e.g., Rome grappled with just such a question in the early 1990s, when the matter at hand was women’s ordination. The resulting answer was a doctrinal development expressed best in a series of documents: the CDF’s 1994 Responsum ad Dubium, Ad Tuendam Fidem (1998), and Ratzinger’s Doctrinal Commentary on the profession of faith prescribed by ATF. I take it you recognize that, if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then it has the authority not only to set forth and apply the criteria stated in those documents, but also to determine their appropriate conditions of application.

    But your question could also be taken to mean: “What sorts of reasons for believing that D belongs to AD could those who exercise the Magisterium acquire, such that those sorts of reasons would suffice to justify seeing D as belonging to AD rather than as just a theologoumenon—and thus suffice to show that the Magisterium is epistemically responsible when it defines D?” I shall assume that’s what you mean, and that you’re not conflating that sense with the previous one. And my reply is that coming up with a good answer to the question so understood, though of considerable theological and apologetical interest, is in no way necessary as a justification for the Magisterium’s defining D. For as I said, the Magisterium’s defining D, for whatever reasons it may entertain, is itself “adequate warrant” for believing that D belongs to AD—irrespective of whether the reasoning behind such a definition can be seen as sufficient, apart from the Magisterium’s judgment, to justify the definition.

    But you have not disputed that, so that’s not the issue either. Yet a question yet persists: What, exactly, is that blessed epistemic state which those who exercise the Magisterium must be in, such that their being in that state is a necessary condition for their being epistemically responsible in defining D? Thus you write:

    That warrant need not be available to us, but it must be available to the bishops (and/or pope), otherwise the Magisterium cannot act responsibly in defining D. For this reason, a grace like the one Newman posits seems to be indispensable to the CIP, not just an optional extra.

    That, I believe, still misses the point. Whether or not a “grace like the one Newman posits” is “available” to the bishops prior to defining D, neither they nor we can or should verify its presence independently of the bishops’ act of definition. For if they do define D, then we are within our epistemic rights to explain that act by positing that some such grace was present; and if they do not define D, then we are within our epistemic rights to explain it by positing the opposite. But whatever the answer to the question that I’ve said persists, the answer is purely a matter of opinion that binds nobody, even if the opinion happens to be held by those who exercise the Magisterium. So the question has never been one to trouble me as a Catholic—and I don’t quite understand why it exercises you, since you no longer seem to me to hold that AD is, or need be thought of, as perspicuous.

    Yet even prior to forming such an opinion, a distinction must be made. It’s normally assumed in these discussions that, if a given doctrine D belongs to AD, then the reality expressed by D was revealed to the Apostles. And that assumption is correct. But the sentence-form ‘The reality expressed by D was revealed to the Apostles’ is ambiguous. It might mean

    (1) The reality expressed by D was part of what the Apostles knew by divine revelation

    or it might simply mean

    (2) The reality expressed by D was among those revealed by God to the Apostles.

    Now (1) is a stronger sort of claim than (2). For (1) entails (2), but (2) does not entail (1); as we can discern in the Gospels, Jesus often “revealed” things to the Apostles that they didn’t quite “get,” at least not at first. And my argument would be this: if Vatican II’s Dei Verbum is correct (especially §8-§10), then there are cases in which we are justified in making a particular statement of (2)’s form without also being justified in making a particular statement of (1)’s form. And if that’s the case, then the bishops needn’t have sufficient grounds for believing that the Apostles knew that D, or a logically equivalent statement, is true in order to have sufficient grounds for believing that God had revealed to the Apostles the reality expressed by D. And if that’s the case, then we can be justified in believing that D belongs to AD without thus committing ourselves to believing that the Apostles knew that D is true.

    Granted such a distinction, and the logical consequences I’ve indicated, then the question whether the bishops enjoy “the grace of apostolic perception” prior to defining D is not one that we must know how to answer in order to know whether the bishops are responsibly exercising the Magisterium.

    Best,
    Mike

  92. Bryan (#90):

    Though Victor perhaps could have issued a conditional excommunication, nonetheless, since the line includes two intensifiers (not just “the brethren there” but “all the brethren there,” and not just “excommunicate” but “wholly excommunicate”), it’s improbable that Eusebius understood the excommunication to be only conditional.

    What’s striking about Eusebius’s phrasing is that, taken at face value, it has Victor both attempting to cut off the Asians from the common unity, and actually declaring them excommunicate. If Victor’s breaking communion with the Asians was sufficient in itself to cut them off from the common unity, Eusebius appears not to understand that, or else to be using a needless circumlocution. I think the former is more plausible; the old historian Mosheim seems to get the sense right.

    Mike (#91):

    And my reply is that coming up with a good answer to the question so understood, though of considerable theological and apologetical interest, is in no way necessary as a justification for the Magisterium’s defining D.

    Within the CIP an answer is unnecessary, but an answer becomes necessary once one steps outside the CIP, so as to assess its reasonableness.

    For the CIP to be reasonable, the persons who exercise the Magisterium must, before defining D, be able to acquire adequate warrant responsibly to declare that D, far from being just a theologoumenon, belongs to the AD.

    From this it follows that if adequate warrant is not publicly available, then the bishops (and/or pope) must be able to acquire warrant that is not publicly available. The details of how they can acquire it are unimportant, but that they can acquire it seems vital for the reasonableness of your IP, in so far as in denying the perspicuity of Tradition it denies that adequate warrant is publicly available prior to and apart from the Magisterium’s definition of D.

    Do you disagree?

    Best,
    John

  93. John, (re: #92)

    The intensifiers would apply equally in the case of a conditional excommunication, because it would apply to all those who refused to conform, and it would wholly excommunicate them. So, the inclusion of the intensifiers doesn’t change the “probability” of one interpretation over the other, since their inclusion is equally compatible with both, and since there is no recorded frequency difference in the use of these terms in descriptions of unconditional letters of excommunication vs. conditional letters of excommunication.

    What’s striking about Eusebius’s phrasing is that, taken at face value, it has Victor both attempting to cut off the Asians from the common unity, and actually declaring them excommunicate. If Victor’s breaking communion with the Asians was sufficient in itself to cut them off from the common unity, Eusebius appears not to understand that, or else to be using a needless circumlocution.

    Of course another explanation of the two statements in Eusebius’s paragraph is that the excommunication contained in the letters was conditional, and either was never effected and/or was retracted before it applied (i.e. before the next Easter season arrived). That harmonizes the two statements. So the two statements give us no reason to assume that Eusebius did not understand what St. Optatus explains fifty years later, namely, that being cut off from the Apostolic See is to be in schism from the Church, by reason of the power of the Keys.

    Even if Pope St. Victor did temporarily excommunicate the Quartodecimans, there is a temporary condition in which a particular Church can be cut off from the Apostolic See, and yet for a short time be in communion with other particular Churches that are in full communion with the Apostolic See. (Greenslade discusses this in Schism in the Early Church.) That type of situation would also explain what Eusebius writes, if Pope St. Victor did in fact [temporarily] excommunicate the Quartodecimans. But it wouldn’t mean that the episcopal successor of St. Peter at Rome isn’t the principium unitatas of the Church, or that the nature of schism from the Church is not to be out of communion with the Apostolic See. The particular Church that breaks communion with the successor of St. Peter has broken communion not only with the Church at Rome, but with the universal Church, even if that particular Church temporarily retains some communion with other particular Churches that are in full communion with the Apostolic See. Eusebius, in his first statement [in this paragraph], may have been speaking not of de juro schism from the Church (i.e. being cut off from the Apostolic See), but of the visible manifestation of schism from the Church, when one is visibly cut off from communion with all the particular Churches of the Catholic Church. In the case of the Quartodecimans, that visible manifestation of schism from the Church did not take place (hence Eusebius’ first statement), even though the Quartodecimans were [according to one possible interpretation] truly [but temporarily] excommunicated by Pope St. Victor (hence Eusebius’s second statement). So that is another way of explaining the two statements, and it doesn’t require positing ignorance on the part of Eusebius.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  94. John (#92):

    … if adequate warrant is not publicly available, then the bishops (and/or pope) must be able to acquire warrant that is not publicly available. The details of how they can acquire it are unimportant, but that they can acquire it seems vital for the reasonableness of your IP, in so far as in denying the perspicuity of Tradition it denies that adequate warrant is publicly available prior to and apart from the Magisterium’s definition of D. Do you disagree?

    Depends on what you mean by ‘reasonable’ and ‘adequate warrant’. Haven’t we been over all that before?

    If we’re not just going to spin our wheels at this stage, we need to make progress discussing two questions. First, what are the general conditions on “reasonability” when comparing IPs? Second, what does the CIP require “adequate warrant” for defining doctrine to consist in, so as to count as “reasonable”? By itself, the first question has little to do with the topic of this thread, and really belongs in the thread under my own post broaching the question. But the first is so intimately bound up with the second that I cannot discuss the second without at least answering the first too. And the second is important for purposes of this thread, because it’s important for determining whether St. Vincent’s view of DD, on Bryan’s and my interpretation of it, is itself reasonable.

    All along, I have argued that the CIP is more reasonable than the PEIP inasmuch as the CIP, unlike the PEIP, allows believers to distinguish reliably between propositions expressing the apostolic deposit of faith (AD) from propositions expressing only human interpretations of the sources transmitting AD to us. Now according to you, a necessary condition for the CIP’s being reasonable is that it explain, in general terms, the conditions that must be satisfied in order for the bishops and/or the pope to have “adequate warrant” for making that distinction themselves. So far, my reply to that objection has been that you’re begging the question to insist on the sort of warrant you seem to be looking for. I’ve explained why, but clearly you do not agree. So we need to dig deeper here.

    In effect, I hold that on the CIP, there is “adequate warrant” for believing that a given doctrine D belongs to AD just in case (a) those who exercise the Magisterium’s full authoritybelieve there is adequate warrant, and (b) actually define D as belonging to AD. That’s because, on the CIP, the Magisterium is the “sole authentic interpreter” of AD, so that there is no epistemic standpoint from which one can rightly interpret AD in a way that runs counter to that of the bishops and/or the pope when they exercise their full magisterial authority. If that’s so, then there must be adequate warrant in AD for whatever D the Magisterium happens to define as belonging to AD. You, though, seem to want to hold that such a definition of ‘adequate warrant’ is unreasonable. For on my definition, the bishops’ belief that there is adequate warrant for defining D is not verifiable in light of some consideration beyond those which the bishops themselves consider adequate. Yet in order for their defining D to be epistemically responsible, and thus reasonable, there must be some such additional consideration—else the CIP is not reasonable, but presumably subjective and arbitrary.

    As best I can tell, there are on your view two possible candidates for such an additional consideration. One would be the perspicuity of AD, if AD is indeed perspicuous. But that is not a possibility for the CIP, on which AD is not perspicuous in the relevant sense. The other possibility you see for the CIP is what Newman calls “the grace of apostolic perception.” At any rate, that’s the only alternative you’ve seemed willing to entertain for the purpose. Now in my previous few comments, I’ve argued that we cannot “know,” independently of the actual act of doctrinal definition, when such a grace was present to those who exercise the Magisterium, prior to their act of defining D. Even if it was or is present, the belief that it was or is present can only be an opinion that binds nobody. So on your view, the CIP is left without a way to invoke all the considerations necessary for showing how the bishops and/or the pope can have “adequate warrant” for defining D as belonging to AD. Thus the CIP is unreasonable.

    My reply is that such reasoning is just a more elaborate way to beg the question. The reason why, on the CIP, the only considerations necessary are the (a) and (b) I specified above, is that on the CIP, the Magisterium is preserved by God from error when exercising its full authority (and a doctrinal definition is, by definition, an exercise of the Magisterium’s full authority). If the Magisterium is preserved from error when defining D as belonging to AD, then the belief that there is adequate warrant, in AD itself, for holding that D belongs to AD must be true. Now you seem to be insisting that the CIP must be able to present a good reason—such as the presence of a “grace of apostolic perception”—for holding that the bishops know what that warrant is. If the CIP cannot do that, then it cannot say how those who exercise the Magisterium are behaving “responsibly”; and if the CIP cannot say that, then the CIP is unreasonable. Of course I do not rule out the presence of such grace prior to doctrinal definition; but to insist that it must have been present, in order for the bishops to have “adequate warrant” for defining D, is to beg the question. As I explained in my previous comment, you’re assuming that whatever counts as belonging to AD must somehow have been known to the Apostles; but on the CIP, all that’s necessary for a doctrine to belong to AD is that the reality D expresses must somehow have been presented to the Apostles, which is a weaker condition. If meeting that weaker condition is all that’s needed—and on the CIP, it is all that’s needed—then there is no reason to believe that the those who exercise the Magisterium’s full authority must in some manner “perceive” what the Apostles perceived in order to have adequate warrant for defining D as belonging to AD.

    That leaves us with an outcome that troubles somebody like you. On the CIP, even though it’s not possible for those who exercise the Magisterium to be wrong in believing that there is adequate warrant in AD for their definitions, it is quite possible for them to be wrong in their specific belief as to what that warrant is. So from your point of view, the CIP admits the possibility that doctrinal definitions can be truths while also having been definedirresponsibly. And that, to your mind, is unreasonable.

    Well, to my mind such a result is quite reasonable, given what God is and what man is. When I consider church history, I can only conclude that God preserves the Church as much in spite of as because of her leadership. That is just what one can expect if salvation is God’s doing more than man’s. And the same goes in particular for knowledge of the true faith. Although God preserves the Magisterium from binding the Church to error when exercising its full authority, there’s no reason to believe that those who exercise that authority will always understand the full and proper basis, in AD, for the truths so defined, and every reason to believe that they will sometimes not understand it. That does not show the CIP to be unreasonable. Rather, it’s one bit of evidence that God’s wisdom seems like foolishness to some people.

    Best,
    Mike

  95. Bryan (#93):

    Perhaps Eusebius is using hyperbole, but I see no evidence that he is. He says “all the brethren there,” not “all those who refused to conform.” He also tells us that, after receiving Polycrates’ answer, Victor attempted “immediately” or “all at once” to cut off the Asian churches as heterodox. When he subjoins a statement that Victor “proclaimed all the brethren there utterly excommunicate,” it’s a bit of a stretch to take the excommunication as merely conditional. A conditional decree includes a threat of excommunication, but it’s not an attempt to cut anyone off; indeed, it’s an attempt not to do so.

    Do you believe Eusebius understood the role of the bishop of Rome as the center of unity to be greater than the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch within Eastern Orthodoxy? I ask because nothing within the passage suggests a distinction between de jure “schism from” and its visible manifestation. If Victor’s primacy was like that of the Patriarch, he could, by breaking communion with the Asians, initiate their expulsion from the common unity. There would, however, be no “schism from” till the other bishops followed suit, which in this case they seem not to have done.

    Mike (94):

    Thanks for your patience. Honestly, I don’t think you’ve quite understood my argument. That’s probably my fault, seeing as I’ve tried to keep my comments short, and perhaps have been too sparing of details.

    You write:

    So from your point of view, the CIP admits the possibility that doctrinal definitions can be truths while also having been defined irresponsibly. And that, to your mind, is unreasonable.

    Nope. The problem isn’t that the bishops (and/or pope) can act irresponsibly and still be preserved from error. Rather, it’s that to be able to act responsibly, they must be able to acquire warrant that’s not publicly available. That ability makes them epistemically privileged: which brings us to horn 1 of the dilemma, with Tradition no longer public in a meaningful sense.

    There are several routes you can take in responding to the critique. For instance,

    1) You can deny that the bishops must, before defining D, be able to acquire enough warrant responsibly to declare that D belongs to the AD

    2) You can agree that the bishops must be able to acquire enough warrant responsibly to declare that D belongs to the AD, whilst also holding that enough warrant is publicly available

    3) You can agree that the bishops must be able to acquire warrant that’s not publicly available, but deny that this renders them epistemically privileged

    4) You can hold that the bishops’ being epistemically privileged is compatible with Tradition being public in a meaningful sense

    Or you can try something else. So, which of these routes, if any, do you wish to take?

    Best,
    John

  96. John:

    I’ll take your word that I’ve had great difficulty understanding your argument. For that matter, I’m not even sure I understand the objection it is meant to support. But that’s not a problem limited to this thread. I’m beginning to think I’ve misunderstood you from the start. And that’s going back years. But rather than ruminate on that, let’s first see if we can understand each other better.

    You write:

    The problem isn’t that the bishops (and/or pope) can act irresponsibly and still be preserved from error. Rather, it’s that to be able to act responsibly, they must be able to acquire warrant that’s not publicly available. That ability makes them epistemically privileged: which brings us to [H]orn 1 of the dilemma, with Tradition no longer public in a meaningful sense.

    I still don’t get it. If the problem is not that those who exercise the Magisterium can act irresponsibly while still defining infallibly, then why should it be a special problem for the CIP if we can’t say just how they meet whatever the conditions for acting responsibly happen to be? You seem to hold that the reasonability of the CIP depends on our being able to specify those conditions, and to specify how the bishops and/or the pope can meet them. But that’s invoking criteria of reasonability that are beside the point if the claims of the Magisterium for itself are true. Supposing arguendo that said claims are true, any account of what it would be for those who exercise the Magisterium to define doctrine “responsibly” is a only an opinion, and thus cannot enjoy equal epistemic status with the definitions themselves. And if that’s so, then no account of epistemic responsibility other than that of the Magisterium itself counts as normative. So if there’s a problem for the CIP here, it’s not what you say it is.

    In fact, I’ve already addressed in comment #53 the “dilemma” you cite above. In #49, you had written:

    The dilemma concerns how the bishops go about exercising the Magisterium when they solemnly define a doctrine which the faithful cannot reliably identify within apostolic tradition. As they deliberate over whether to define the doctrine, the bishops either can reliably identify it within apostolic tradition or they cannot. If they can, then they are epistemically privileged relative to the faithful (Horn 1). If they cannot, then they lack warrant enough responsibly to declare that the doctrine belongs to the AD (Horn 2).

    Of course I denied that those who exercise the Magisterium are “epistemically privileged relative to the faithful.” The content of whatever “warrant” the bishops can grasp for defining a given doctrine D as de fide can, in principle at least, be grasped by any member of the faithful with the same data available to them. Thus I am not impaled on “Horn 1″ of the dilemma. But that doesn’t mean that Horn 2 is a problem for me. Why not? Because if the claims of the Magisterium for itself are true, then for the reasons I gave just above in #94, the bishops’ defining D “irresponsibly,” if and when they do, doesn’t matter for purposes of rendering the assent of faith to D. Such irresponsibility might be irritating to theologians; it might even hinder, in some respect, the Church’s collective meditation over time on the pertinent truths. But it doesn’t call the authority of the Magisterium into question. It is no more of a problem for the CIP than for any other IP, given the nature of the subject matter, i.e. divine revelation.

    Best,
    Mike

  97. John, (re: #95)

    You wrote:

    He says “all the brethren there,” not “all those who refused to conform.” He also tells us that, after receiving Polycrates’ answer, Victor attempted “immediately” or “all at once” to cut off the Asian churches as heterodox.

    Agreed. This is fully compatible with what I have said.

    When he subjoins a statement that Victor “proclaimed all the brethren there utterly excommunicate,” it’s a bit of a stretch to take the excommunication as merely conditional.

    No it is not, if the condition restricted application of the utter excommunication only to those unwilling to conform. Papal documents of this sort have been known to include this sort of thing, i.e. an exception for anyone who repents and no longer rebels. That is a means by which the document provides an incentive to repent right away, to prevent persons through excommunication becoming further entrenched in the state/habit of rebellion, because (on account of a loss of grace, and being handed over to Satan), once a person goes into an excommunicated state, it is much more difficult for him to come back, than if he had never left in the first place. So even when the Church is disciplining rebellious members, she seeks to make a way for persons to avoid being excommunicated, through repentance.

    A conditional decree includes a threat of excommunication, but it’s not an attempt to cut anyone off;

    A conditional excommunication is an attempt to cut off anyone who refuses to conform to the authoritative teaching of the Church. The attempt fails if everyone conforms, or if the conditional excommunication is retracted before it in fact cuts anyone off, or if, though truly cutting off de jure those who meet the specified condition, it does not cut them off de facto from communion with every other particular Church within the Catholic Church. Both the latter two possibilities harmonize Eusebius’s two statements.

    Do you believe Eusebius understood the role of the bishop of Rome as the center of unity to be greater than the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch within Eastern Orthodoxy?

    That would lead us still further from the topic of the article about St. Vincent.

    nothing within the passage suggests a distinction between de jure “schism from” and its visible manifestation.

    I didn’t claim that the distinction is derived from the passage, but that the distinction is one possible explanation of the passage. We don’t properly interpret passages by limiting ourselves only to the hermeneutical information “within the passage”; we rightly interpret passages by reading them in light of everything else we know from history, tradition, and ecclesial practice.

    If Pope St. Victor excommunicated the Quartodecimans, then they were excommunicated from the Church, until he lifted the excommunication. The Church did not lose its visible unity during their excommunication, nor did its visible unity become invisible. Conversely, if the excommunication was worded so as to apply only to those unwilling to conform, it would have applied only to those who would continue the Quartodeciman practice the next Easter. In that case, if Pope St. Victor lifted the excommunication in a short time due to petitions such as those he received from St. Irenaeus, then none of the Quartodecimans was actually excommunicated. Both possibilities are fully compatible with the Catholic doctrine of schism from the Church.

    Let’s keep the article on St. Vincent the topic of discussion in this combox.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  98. For the benefit of readers in general, I want to clarify the heart of my previous comment (#96).

    Vatican II asserted that

    …the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ (DV §9)

    and that

    Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church are so linked…that one cannot stand without the others(DV §10).

    If those assertions are correct, then there is no epistemic standpoint, independent of the Magisterium’s interpretations of Scripture and Tradition, from which one could reliably judge whether the Magisterium’s “warrant” for those interpretations is “adequate.” And so, assuming that the apostolic deposit of faith (AD) is “public,” the Magisterium’s definitive presentation and interpretation thereof are necessary and sufficient conditions for its publicity. For we cannot identify the normative content of AD aside from the Magisterium, and the normative content of AD is what the Magisterium says it is.

    Accordingly, to fault the Catholic “interpretive paradigm” for not letting AD be “public in any meaningful sense” is simply to beg the question.

    Best to all,
    Mike

  99. Bryan (#97):

    All right, I’ve no desire to derail the thread, and so will drop the topic. Thanks for your comments.

    Mike (#96):

    We don’t need an exhaustive specification of conditions under which the Magisterium acts with ER. All that’s necessary is that it be possible for the Magisterium to act responsibly in defining D. As long as it’s possible for the Magisterium to responsibly, it’s not a problem that the Magisterium can also act irresponsibly. After all, it’s quite conceivable divine grace could keep men from erring even when they act irresponsibly.

    A thought experiment might help here. Suppose the bishops assembled at Nicaea said, “You know, we can’t really be sure whether Jesus is consubstantial with the father. So, let’s grab an urn and fill it half with red, half with black balls. If we draw a red ball, we’ll define the homoousios; if we draw a black ball, we’ll leave it undefined.” Suppose they agree, draw a red ball, and make the definition. It’s conceivable that God could prevent their erring as they do this, but is this a responsible way for them to define doctrines? No, unless perhaps the bishops are to serve as a perpetual oracle in the Church, which the CIP at any rate denies.

    Now, even if the bishops did in practice draw balls from an urn, that wouldn’t by itself make the CIP unreasonable. An IP isn’t unreasonable for allowing shots in the dark, but it is unreasonable if it requires shooting blindly. What I’ve been asking you to provide is some account of how the bishops can do better than take a shot in the dark, i.e. how they can act responsibly in definitively declaring that D belongs to the AD. Newman has an explanation, his grace whereby the depositum can, in a special manner, be presented to the minds of the bishops and/or pope. I understand you believe there’s an alternative to that explanation, but as yet it’s not clear what that alternative is. You write:

    The content of whatever “warrant” the bishops can grasp for defining a given doctrine D as de fide can, in principle at least, be grasped by any member of the faithful with the same data available to them.

    Is the same data available to the faithful at large? In other words, even before the Magisterium’s definition, can any member of the faithful, in principle at least, acquire warrant enough responsibly to declare that D actually belongs to the AD?

    Best,
    John

  100. John (#99):

    Perhaps my mistake has been to interpret you as seeking more from me than you now appear to be seeking. Up till now, I’ve understood you to seeking an account of epistemic warrant that would spell out sufficient conditions for saying, independently of the Magisterium’s claims for itself, that those who exercise the Magisterium are warranted in defining some D as de fide. I have resisted doing that, because it seemed to me that you were seeking something which, if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, cannot be had and should not be sought. At this stage, however, all you seem to want to know is how, on the CIP, to spell out one necessary condition for such warrant.

    In keeping with your example, let’s call that necessary condition ‘non-arbitrariness’. How could the Magisterium could come to define some D as de fide without just taking “a shot in the dark”—i.e., without just being almost whimsically arbitrary? Obviously, non-arbitrariness is a necessary condition on “reasonability” as well as the stronger “warrant.” Now so far, I’ve just been taking for granted that you knew the Magisterium didn’t act arbitrarily, so that I haven’t recognized that you want me to show how that is so. Thus I’ve made passing reference to various factors contributing to non-arbitrariness, without presenting them systematically. But now I see there’s a need to be more explicit.

    One condition that clearly must be met is that of logical self- consistency. When defining some D, those who exercise the Magisterium must make sure that their definition is logically compatible with what has been definitively taught in the past. Accordingly, the Magisterium’s claims for itself would be discredited if it could be demonstrated that some magisterially defined D is logically incompatible with some earlier D so defined. But of course, such consistency with prior defined doctrine is only one condition that a given D must meet in order to ensure that its definition is non-arbitrary. What are some of the others?

    Even in this thread, I’ve made passing reference to such criteria as the sensus fidelium (SF) and the analogia fidei (AF). Both SF and AF are relevant inasmuch as, in order to count as non-arbitrary, something logically equivalent to some proposed dogma D must have been professed in the Church prior to definition, and D itself must bear an intelligible, mutually illuminating relationship with at least some other truths already understood to be de fide. So, even on its own showing, the Magisterium may not simply “make up” doctrines to impose on the faithful. As the self-professed “servant” of the Word, it can only present and interpret that Word; and even when teaching infallibly, those who exercise the Magisterium are only sharing in the infallibility of the Church as a whole (to which both Vatican councils refer). That’s why SF and AF are both factors that must be present in order for a doctrinal definition is to be accounted as non-arbitrary.

    I have now cited three factors contributing to ensuring that a definition of some D would not be arbitrary. Are there others? Possibly. Newman’s seven “notes” come to mind as an example, but they are stronger than needed to show non-arbitrariness, and they are by no means the only possible account of doctrinal authenticity that could be given. At any rate, I doubt that more detail in one comment would be useful. One might want to say that, when the Magisterium defines some D, non-arbitrariness would require that D appear clearly as the best available interpretation of the sources. But that would only be a matter of opinion; and even if it weren’t just a matter of opinion, such superiority would not be needed to establish non-arbitrariness. All that’s needed would be plausibility, which is already ensured by the presence of the other three factors.

    The important point is that there are no examples of doctrinal definition by the Catholic Magisterium which fail to meet the necessary condition of non-arbitrariness. Hence, the CIP cannot be shown unreasonable on the ground that it doesn’t rule out arbitrariness in doctrinal definition. Or have I once again misunderstood what you’re looking for?

    Best,
    Mike

  101. Sorry John, I forgot about the last part of your previous comment. You asked:

    …even before the Magisterium’s definition, can any member of the faithful, in principle at least, acquire warrant enough responsibly to declare that D actually belongs to the AD?

    Distinguo. A “member of the faithful” who does not, by virtue of office, exercise the Magisterium can “acquire” what is, as a matter of fact, “warrant enough” to believe “that D actually belongs to AD.” But without the validation of the Magisterium, she cannot know that she has
    warrant enough; for without such validation, she has no sure criterion for distinguishing what she believes from mere human opinion. And she certainly has no warrant to “declare” that D so belongs, for she has no authority to make such a declaration.

    Best,
    Mike

  102. Do you believe Eusebius understood the role of the bishop of Rome as the center of unity to be greater than the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch within Eastern Orthodoxy?

    Not trying to dredge up a ‘dropped’ conversation, but this question was ambigous enough to give it a certain sort of reading. On that reading, i just wanted to point out that the Ecumenical Patriarch did not exist at the time, of the Pope Victor vs Polycrates spat, nor did he exist at the time of Eusebius’ writing.

  103. @ Michael Liccione,

    Might I offer a point of clarification to something that you just said?

    But without the validation of the Magisterium, she cannot know that she has
    > warrant enough; for without such validation, she has no sure criterion for distinguishing what she believes from mere human opinion. And she certainly has no warrant to “declare” that D so belongs, for she has no authority to make such a declaration.

    This isn’t quite correct. The Magisterium’s ability to pronounce de fide is warrant to know with certitude what belongs to the AD, BUT prior to that the theological position D is not indistinguishable from mere human opinion but exists at several different positions with different grades of confidence, depending on the degree of warrant, of D actually belonging to the AD.

    For example, in decreasing order of confidence, teachings that are sententia fidei proxima, sententia ad fidem pertinens, theologice certa, sententia communis, sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata, opinio tolerata , and the like are held to be distinguishable from mere human opinion and they are known to be such chiefly through the exercise of a theologian’s vocation and do not need the Magisterium’s authority for validation as something other than mere opinion.

    It is true that your average lay person or theologian lacks the authority to know with certitude what is part of the AD prior to the declaration of it being such, but it is not true that they lack the warrant to know with confidence what is part of the AD prior to any declaration. After all the normative exercise of a bishop’s authority concerning teaching matters of the faith does not give warrant of certitude but rather only a warrant of a degree of confidence.

    DONUM VERITATISON THE ECCLESIAL VOCATION OF THE THEOLOGIAN gives a good break down on how the ability of a theologian to know with confidence what is and what is not part of the AD functions with the authority of the Magisterium to know with certitude what is and what is not part of the AD. It also details how a theologian is to handle things when his confidence doesn’t mesh with what the Magisterial teaches with certitude.

  104. @ John #70

    (yes I know from a while back, but I have been sitting back watching the knot grow)

    Here is my answer to your question way back there.

    If you believe in God’s omnipotence and omniscience AND you believe that the Holy Spirit 1.) is the spirit of the Church 2.) animates and vivifies the Church 3.) is currently working to bring people into the Church and to establish and expand the Church throughout the world, you have to locate divine authority to know, pronounce, and lead the Church somewhere. We know from scripture that the Episcopate in conjunction with the Presbyterate and Deaconate are God’s chosen means of shepherding the Church. Because scripture teaches us that the Episcopate is not just leading the People of God in the name of God (like the Jewish Priesthood) but that the Holy Spirit vivifies them, they stand in the place of Christ, and he who hears them hears Jesus and who hears Jesus hears the Father, we know that the Episcopate has the ability to function in co-operation with the omnipotence and omniscience of the Spirit and thus has the ability to lead the Church with a warrant of certitude as to the matters of faith and the exercise of the worship of God.

    The solution to your question is not whether or not the Magisterium acts responsibly, but rather whether or not the Holy Spirit acts responsibly. God is not irresponsible and as such there must be a responsible way for humans to know His will and how we should worship Him. You have to locate God being responsibility some place, unless you are a deist.

    For Catholics, God is responsible in a three fold manner. 1.) scripture gives a written record of God’s will and how we should worship Him. 2.) Tradition gives the ongoing and living reality of us actually knowing and worshiping God 4.) the Shepherds of the Church give authorative certainty to what is and what is not God’s will and how we should worship Him.

    We know this to be true with certainty because that description of three-fold manner of God’s responsibility is wholy contained with in each of those three parts.

    Let me now reverse the question and ask you: How does God act responsibly in your belief system so that you might know His will and how to worship Him with absolute certainty?

  105. Nathan:

    I’m familiar with Donum Veritatis(1990), and with the various grades of “theological notes” you list and describe. I think you’ve overlooked a few things.

    First, absent explicit magisterial validation, assigning this-or-that “note” to a given doctrine is only personal opinion, unless the Magisterium has explicitly validated that opinion. Short of such validation, it may be a well-founded opinion, but it is an opinion all the same. So the fact that Catholic doctrines fall into different levels of authority, which indeed we do know, does not by itself enable us to know by divine authority just which doctrines in particular belong on which level, unless the Magisterium tells us so. I suggest you study Ad Tuendam Fidem (1998) and then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s Doctrinal Commentary thereon. Those two documents are the Magisterium’s most authoritative guidance to date about the levels of authority enjoyed by doctrines of different levels. Yet by no means do they settle all questions about just which doctrines fall into which category.

    Second, those documents were issued in part to clarify Donum Veritatis in face of the sharp objections it had elicited. The most pointed of those objections was that DV had failed to give guidance about the sort of assent theologians owed to doctrines that hitherto have not been formally defined as de fide. And even that isn’t enough to dispel all doubt. Just consider what’s happened with the women’s-ordination issue.

    I do not claim, mind you, that all doctrines which have not been formally defined are opinions only. For instance, whatever has been infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium is no mere opinion, but must be believed with certitude. But the question what counts as having been so taught can only be answered with opinions unless and until the Magisterium makes the opposite clear .

    You write:

    It is true that your average lay person or theologian lacks the authority to know with certitude what is part of the AD prior to the declaration of it being such, but it is not true that they lack the warrant to know with confidence what is part of the AD prior to any declaration. After all the normative exercise of a bishop’s authority concerning teaching matters of the faith does not give warrant of certitude but rather only a warrant of a degree of confidence.

    Your distinction between “knowing with confidence” and “knowing with certitude” gains no purchase here. If I am “confident” that I know something but am not “certain” that I know it, then I’m leaving open the possibility that I am wrong, even though I don’t think it likely that I am. But such an epistemic state is that of well-founded opinion, not knowledge. Since we can’t know what isn’t so, if I leave open the possibility that what I believe will turn out not to be so, then I’m not claiming to know it. I’m claiming only that my opinion that it’s so is well-founded.

    Best,
    Mike

  106. Mike,

    Thanks for your comments. You write in #101:

    But without the validation of the Magisterium, she cannot know that she has warrant enough; for without such validation, she has no sure criterion for distinguishing what she believes from mere human opinion. And she certainly has no warrant to “declare” that D so belongs, for she has no authority to make such a declaration.

    Here I’d also distinguish. “Opinion” has two senses in the present context. We can sharpen the distinction if need be, but roughly speaking:

    1. An interpretation is an ecclesiological opinion if it is not of intrinsic authority; that is, if it has not been delivered in such wise that, simply by virtue of being thus delivered, Christians are ipso facto bound in conscience to assent to it.

    2. An interpretation is an epistemological opinion if there is insufficient warrant for one to know whether it is true or false.

    What is mere “opinion” in the first sense clearly need not be “opinion” in the second. As far as I’m aware, the Magisterium has never definitively taught that one plus one makes two, or that your name is Michael, or that Julius Caesar was assassinated. That those things are true is opinion in respect of ecclesiology, but not in respect of epistemology. You can know each of those things to be true, and can quite responsibly declare as much. Others aren’t bound in conscience to submit to your judgments, but that hardly makes it irresponsible of you to assert those truths.

    It happens that in defining D, the persons who exercise the Magisterium declare that D belongs to the AD. I’ve asked how they can responsibly do this, and in response (comment #100), you have offered several conditions for “non-arbitrariness,” D’s satisfying of which shows its “plausibility” as an interpretation of the sources. Now, I agree that on the CIP, when the Magisterium defines D, the faithful need not be able to see more than that D is plausible. But unless I’m mistaken, it’s not enough for the Magisterium to be able to see only that D is plausible. Why? Because in defining D, the bishops (and/or pope) don’t merely declare that D is a plausible interpretation; they declare that D actually does belong to the AD. The latter is a significantly stronger assertion, and to make it in a responsible way the Magisterium needs more warrant. And so the question remains, where is this warrant available? It doesn’t have to be available to us for the Magisterium to act responsibly, but one way or another the persons exercising the Magisterium must be able to access it.

    Best,
    John

  107. John (#106):

    I feel as though I’m running in circles with you. As I understood it, the main thrust of your #99 was your request that I show how the Magisterium can exercise its full authority non-arbitrarily. That request was appropriate, because the Magisterium’s not being arbitrary is certainly a necessary condition for its definitions to be warranted. I gladly met that request in #101, supplying and describing three factors that must be and are present in the Magisterium’s exercise of its full authority, so as to preclude its being arbitrary. But now you seem to have reverted to seeking what I had previously thought you were seeking: an account of the sufficient conditions for warranting the exercise of the Magisterium’s full authority, i.e. the defining of doctrine as dogma.

    My response to that is pretty much the same as I had been giving: you are begging the question. Why? Because if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then no warrant can be known to be sufficient prior to the Magisterium’s act of definition, even granted that there was sufficient warrant all along. Of course it’s quite possible for the something of the content of such warrant to be generally available prior to definition; indeed, I’d say that is also necessary, given what I have said about the sensus fidelium and the analogia fidei. But that content cannot be known as sufficient warrant prior to, or otherwise without, the Magisterium’s actual act of definition. That’s because the Magisterium, being divinely preserved from error when exercising its full authority, is the sole “authentic” interpreter of AD. So when the Magisterium thus exercises its full authority, we can be sure that sufficient warrant is available in AD for the new definition, even if it isn’t fully clear just what that warrant is.

    That is why the following paragraph of yours is just beside the point:

    …in defining D, the bishops (and/or pope) don’t merely declare that D is a plausible interpretation; they declare that D actually does belong to the AD. The latter is a significantly stronger assertion, and to make it in a responsible way the Magisterium needs more warrant. And so the question remains, where is this warrant available? It doesn’t have to be available to us for the Magisterium to act responsibly, but one way or another the persons exercising the Magisterium must be able to access it.

    On the CIP, when those who exercise the Magisterium do so with its full authority, it is not necessary that they have generated an airtight body of inferences from the previously known content of AD, thus supplying and recognizing “sufficient warrant” for their definition, which would appear as a conclusion therefrom. What’s preserved from error is not the actual inferences made to arrive at the definition, but the definition itself. When they issue such a definition, they are divinely preserved from error; from that and only from that, we may infer that there is sufficient warrant in AD for it, whether or not they happen to have clearly recognized and stated what that warrant is. Of course, given the factors preventing arbitrariness, some idea of what that warrant is will be available to them, as to the faithful generally; but that idea need not be, and typically is not, clear and deep enough to ensure that the definition for which it’s evidence the only logically defensible conclusion from what’s known of AD.

    Frankly, I do not understand why the picture I’ve been painting poses such a difficulty for you. I have indicated where and how, on the CIP, warrant enough for doctrinal definitions is available to those who exercise the Magisterium’s full authority. If that doesn’t seem like “enough” to you, then I respectfully submit that what you demand is a degree of warrantedness that would render the Magisterium epistemically needless, and would thus entail the falsity of the Magisterium’s claims for itself. Which begs the question, does it not?

    Perhaps I’m just speculating, but it seems to me that what you’re seeking is a method for validating dogma that would, in principle, obviate the need for authority in interpreting Scripture-and-Tradition. If achieved, that would leave us in a position similar to the layman’s as he learns something of natural science. Most of our scientific knowledge is gained by trust in authority, but that is reasonable because we have good reasons, independent of the authority, to trust that authority. The main reason is this: the results presented to us by such authority are achieved by means of a demonstrably reliable method that can, in principle, be successfully employed by any body of persons willing to take the trouble to master it. That, it seems to me, is how you want to treat the teaching authority of the Church. You don’t want to say that the faithful are necessarily wrong to trust it; but you do want to say that said authority is trustworthy only if what it presents for our assent could, in principle, be independently validated by a method open to anybody willing to master it.

    If that view of your project is correct, then all I can say is what I’ve said in several different ways before. What you’re seeking is something that cannot be had and should not be sought, because when the subject matter is divine revelation, human authority is not eliminable in principle the way it is in natural science. No rational methodology can replace the Holy Spirit; the only question is: Through whom does the Holy Spirit speak to us authoritatively? Whatever the answer to that question, it is they who assess and regulate our theological judgments—not we theirs.

    Best,
    Mike

  108. Bravo Mike!

    I’ve been attempting to follow this discussion all along and generally been a bit confused. But that response puts it all together for me. Thank You!

    This part in particular finally sinks in enough for me to understand:

    if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, then no warrant can be known to be sufficient prior to the Magisterium’s act of definition, even granted that there was sufficient warrant all along. Of course it’s quite possible for the something of the content of such warrant to be generally available prior to definition; indeed, I’d say that is also necessary, given what I have said about the sensus fidelium and the analogia fidei. But that content cannot be known as sufficient warrant prior to, or otherwise without, the Magisterium’s actual act of definition.

    Thank you for hanging in there with this long discussion. It’s been very fruitful for me.

    John, thank you as well for sticking this out and trying to find common understanding with us Catholics. I look forward to following more interactions with you in the future. Peace be with you.

    Paul

  109. Mike (#107),

    There’s a need for the function supplied by the Magisterium as long as what you call “Scripture-and-Tradition” isn’t perspicuous. I haven’t begged the question because I haven’t insisted that you accept perspicuity. What I’ve done is ask how, in the absence of perspicuity, the persons who exercise the Magisterium can responsibly do their job. And again, I think Newman has an explanation that, whatever else might be said of it, both (a) preserves the epistemic dependence on the Magisterium posited by the CIP, and (b) enables the persons exercising the Magisterium to act responsibly. You’ve undertaken to offer an alternative to Newman’s explanation. That’s fine, and I’m happy to discuss it. So far, though, I’m unconvinced that your alternative does (b).

    The trouble with your conditions in comment #100 is that they lessen but do not eliminate arbitrariness. Not every belief which coheres logically with the previously identified contents of the AD does itself belong to the AD. Nor does every belief belong to the AD which coheres with the previously identified contents of the deposit, which has been professed by some in the Church, and which can be related to other doctrines in a way that appears mutually illuminating. Since a belief can pass those tests and still not belong to the AD, how can the persons who exercise the Magisterium tell whether it belongs to the AD?

    Newman has a simple answer: the depositum can by grace be presented to their minds in such a way that they can perceive so much of its contents as the occasion requires. And a divinely given perception of D within the AD would, it’s safe to say, provide adequate warrant for a solemn declaration that D belongs to the AD. Maybe your alternative can do the same, but I’m not persuaded as yet.

    Anyway, how about we take a break from the thread for a few days? I don’t like causing frustration for you or anyone else; maybe if we come back to the topic after an intermission we’ll be able to make more progress.

    God bless,
    John

  110. Hi Nathan,

    Sorry, I missed your comment earlier (#104). The short answer to your question is that apostolic tradition is public and perspicuous, such that, though the Church needs disciplinary authorities, it has no need of epistemic arbiters. Have you followed the discussion in the Mathison threads and the Tu Quoque thread? In comments there you can find out more about where Mike and I are coming from.

  111. John:

    I agree it’s time to take a break. At this point, we’re just talking past each other. I don’t know how I can make any clearer my point that what you require is inappropriate to the subject matter.

    Best,
    Mike

  112. John (re 110, etc):
    I really appreciate your interaction with Mike. I found the conversation highly educational. I am a reformed Protestant, but have been wrestling for some time with the teaching that the apostolic faith is perspicuous. I followed both the Mathison and the Tu Quoque threads. What evidence would you give for perspicuity?

    As I have tried to sort out different theological issues over the years, I find multiple, often contradictory, opinions about the truths of the faith coming from people who are highly trained in theology and the Bible. Often, these people also appear to demonstrate a love for Christ and the fruit of the Spirit. But, the HS obviously does not lead people to contradictory positions. So if God’s means for providing the perspicuous truth are the Scriptures, the Spirit, and tradition, then it appears that the only ways a person cannot know the truth are that he is not adequately educated or he lacks the Spirit. (I deliberately left out the church as a means of conveying the truth because if the church is marked teaching the truth then one must first know the truth in order to identify the church). But, I see no reason to believe that either of these are true about men, for example, like Keith Mathison and Francis Pieper. This makes their disagreement over an issue like baptism all the more frustrating to me (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/we-believe-bible-and-you-do-not/).

    I just want to follow God’s will. So does he want my kids baptized or not? If he does, what does baptism accomplish? What do I teach my children that they are receiving when partaking of communion? Do I teach them to keep watch with the abundant help of God lest they fall from grace? I highlight these as differences between confessional Lutheranism and reformed Presbyterianism. I freely admit that I am not adequately educated to sort these things out, but when the guys with the PhD’s and love for Christ can’t reach agreement either, what are we to conclude about perspicuity?

    I believe that Peter and Paul could have definitively answered these questions for a first century Christian inquirer. Due to their apostolic authority, their answers would be truths to be believed by faith and not opinions to be examined. Yet today it seems that the protestant paradigm essentially says to Christians that we can have nothing more than highly educated opinions on these matters. I find this hard to accept, assuming God wants Christians to know what He would have us accept by faith. And obviously this leads to Mike’s reason for seeing the CIP as preferable.

    Any thoughts that you are willing to share about this would be much appreciated.
    Mark

  113. @ John #110

    I have followed the discussion in the Mathison and Tuo Quoque thread, but not intently. I come at things from a more practical / apologetical standpoint so while I can hold my own in such discussions, I find that debates between highly educated people increasingly having diminishing returns as things progress to a level of minutia that is inapplicable to how one would preach the Gospel to a “normal” person.

    Apostolic Tradition being public and perspicuous? Well I agree with the public aspect of things but I think that the perspicuous aspect is quite falsified by MarkS #112 asking whether or not he should be baptizing his kids or not. If Apostolic Tradition was perspicuous, then the question wouldn’t even need to be asked because the answer would be quite plain. Given that very well educated people can go on at length and kill enough trees to form a library arguing their contradictory positions, and that when you get down to brass tacks about it you find that their differences are epistemological (and not because one side is stupid or reading the scriptures is some insane way), it should be clear that epistemic arbiters are in fact necessary.

    Personally, I find your line of questioning in this thread to be good and reasonable as it does speak to modern man’s issues with trust and authority. Your average Catholic in the pew often talk about how they believe that the Magisterium has enough warrant to speak with certitude about things, but it is often the case that while they believe that, when they deal with it in day to day life there can be trust issues regarding whether or not that is in fact true. It is not that removed from how a modern non-Catholic would view a Magisterial teaching — how do I trust that what is said here is in fact true? “Because the Magisterium says it is” is not a good enough answer for the modern mind because the modern mind doesn’t think in terms of things having intrinsic authority.

    I find that one of the biggest blinder that non-Catholic Protestants have regarding a teaching of the Church is that they approach it from a position that the teaching is false and not a neutral position. That is not a proper way to read any document.

  114. John,

    I know Mike has prudentially decided that it’s time to put it to rest. I myself have a difficult time understanding your point that Mike is trying to understand.

    Do you think that maybe you could state the proposition, and then give a logical argument for it? Though this is more laborious, this would do two things: it would allow us to understand what you are saying, and it would allow us to understand why you think it’s true. Also, I think such a demand is reasonable, as I find it often helps to avoid the situations where one can seem to have the advantage of an argument without having done the hard analytic work of actually having given/explained the argument. Giving a logical argument will also just make it easier for someone to respond.

    I’m not sure what you think about this, but I think it’s a reasonable request given what looks like a real honest inability of us to understand what you are claiming.

    Best,
    Mark

  115. @ Michael #105

    I have read over your 105 several times and perhaps you may have mistook the point that I was making and thus in the below perhaps I am missunderstanding the point that you are making but none the less based on that my position is that knowledge of the content of the AD is not wholy depended upon the Magisterium and I am taking your position as the contrary that knowlege of what the content of the AD is wholy dependent as well as this statement I do not claim, mind you, that all doctrines which have not been formally defined are opinions only. to mean that you do not claim that all non-defined doctrines are opinions just that it is impossible sans Magisterium to know which is opinion (a doctrine that may be true or may be false) and which is not (a doctrine that is true (which means that it is really an undeclared dogma) thus all non-defined can only be held at the level of a “well-founded opinion”………

    I disagree that holding something with “confidence” leaves open the possibility that one might actually be holding an uttery false position.

    Lets take an important doctrines of the Faith that are not dogma. (Using Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma…im assuming his is pulling his classifications from some German manuel that he has access to).

    A baptized person can achieve eternal salvation even without Confirmation. (set. fidei proxima.)

    The chief fruit of the Eucharist is an intrinsic union of the recipient with Christ. (Sent. certa.)

    Sanctifying grace makes the just man a Temple of the Holy Ghost (Sent. certa.)

    None of these are dogma. Are you truly saying that those three things are merely well-founded opinion, not knowledge?

    Pardon me, but I am confused. Ad Tendam Fidem does not speak to your position that non-dogmatic doctrines of the faith are only held at the level of “well-founded opinion, not knowledge”. Also Ad Tendam Fidem has limited in the scope of the discussion to points of dogma/doctrine vocalized by only the Magisterium, and thus does not represent a full discussion on how epistemological truth of the Faith is known and acquired by believers.

    Further when reading then Card. Ratzinger’s Doctrinal Commentary we find that he does not speak of non-dogmatic doctrines of the faith as being held as “well founded opinion, not knowledge”, but rather he specifically says that these non-dogmatic doctrines are held at truth. In the Commentary, par 10, Car. Ratzinger points out that those statements found within paragraph three of Ad Tendam Fidem are not de fide proclaimed dogma and yet he states that they are presented as true or at least as sure and authentic expressions of the Magisterium which excludes them from being “well-founded opinion”.

    Further still, Card. Ratzinger, in par 10 again, states that a contrary position to these non-dogmatic teachings can be qualified as erroneous or rash or dangerous. This does not leave room for your position that non-defined teachings of the Church exist only at a level of “well-founded opinion, not knowledge” as it is often the case that it is not allowable to hold contrary positions. If the contrary is not to be held then what is held cannot be an opinion as opinions allow for the real possibility of the contrary to be held.

    I would also argue that Card. Ratzinger Doctrinal Commentary does in fact teach us what belongs to each of the three categories of doctrine that Ad Tendam Fidem addresses and we do not need the Magisterium to tell us into what category the teaching falls. That is the point of the document — to give the criteria by which a theologian can categorize the teachings and then to give examples of teachings that fall into each category.

    Part of the problem of holding to a position that matters of the Catholic Faith can only be “known” if they are declared by the Magisterium, and if they are not so declared they are only held at a position of “well-founded opinion”, is that that itself runs afoul of what the Magisterium has actually declared — that the light of natural reason alone is sufficient to prove with confidence/certitude aspects of the content of the Catholic Faith, or the AD has it has been put on this thread. (or as I have been trying to state also in this thread that the light of natural reason is the foundation for knowing the AD.)

    notwithstanding the many wonderful external signs God has given, which are sufficient to prove with certitude by the natural light of reason alone the divine origin of the Christian religion. Humani Generis par 4

    Now reason, does indeed when it seeks persistently, piously and soberly, achieve by God’s giftsome understanding, and that most profitable, of the mysteries, whether by analogy from what it knows naturally, or from the connexion of these mysteries with one another and with the final end of humanity….

    …on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; Vatican I Chapter 4

    As a sacred synod has affirmed, God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20); but teaches that it is through His revelation that those religious truths which are by their nature accessible to human reason can be known by all men with ease, with solid certitude and with no trace of error, even in this present state of the human race. Dei Verbum 6

    Blessings,

    Nathan B.

  116. Nathan B.,

    [I disagree that holding something with “confidence” leaves open the possibility that one might actually be holding an uttery false position.]

    I don’t know why you would disagree with this. Smart people who take arguments and honestly evaluate them, believe utterly false things all the time. Many philosophers who think that underlying philosophical tenets of Christianity are false, are confident that they are false. But we would say that their belief (that these underlying tenets are false) is utterly false. Afterall, wouldn’t it be strange for a Christian to not think so?

    Best,
    Mark

  117. MarkS: I just want to follow God’s will. So does he want my kids baptized or not? If he does, what does baptism accomplish? What do I teach my children that they are receiving when partaking of communion? Do I teach them to keep watch with the abundant help of God lest they fall from grace? I highlight these as differences between confessional Lutheranism and reformed Presbyterianism. I freely admit that I am not adequately educated to sort these things out, but when the guys with the PhD’s and love for Christ can’t reach agreement either, what are we to conclude about perspicuity?
    I believe that Peter and Paul could have definitively answered these questions for a first century Christian inquirer. Due to their apostolic authority, their answers would be truths to be believed by faith and not opinions to be examined. Yet today it seems that the protestant paradigm essentially says to Christians that we can have nothing more than highly educated opinions on these matters. I find this hard to accept, assuming God wants Christians to know what He would have us accept by faith. And obviously this leads to Mike’s reason for seeing the CIP as preferable.

    Tim Troutman made a point on another CTC thread about the preferability of the CIP that I hope I can paraphrase accurately. Imagine that there are two Christian pastors, and that both have identical bibles that are the inerrant, God breathed, word of God. One of the pastors also has a cell phone that he can use to call the Holy Spirit whenever he has a question about how the bible should be interpreted to answer the very questions that you are asking. Any reasonable person can see that the pastor with the bible and the cell phone is, without a doubt, the person to see to to get an authoritative interpretation of the bible.

    In Tim’s analogy, the pastor with the cell phone is like a person with a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift of infallibility. The person that listens to the pastor that can exercise the charismatic gift of infallibility would be the practicing Catholic. The person that listens to the pastor with the bible alone is the sola/solo scriptura confessing Protestant.

    MarkS, like you, I also think it is highly unreasonable to think that God wants us to accept by faith the doctrines of Christianity, but then left us with a church that he founded that can give us nothing more than educated guesses about what those doctrines actually are. Thousands upon thousands of divided sects that teach contradictory and irreconcilable doctrine simply cannot be God’s will.

    John concedes that “[t]here’s a need for the function supplied by the Magisterium as long as what you call “Scripture-and-Tradition” isn’t perspicuous.” The “function” supplied by the living Magisterium is an exercise of a particular charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of infallibility understanding the divinely revealed contents of Scripture-and-Tradition. As I see it, John is arguing that this charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t necessary, because Scripture-and-Tradition IS perspicuous. In other words, the deposit of the faith found in Scripture-and-Tradition ( the depositum fide) is analogous to the set of axioms and theorems in Euclidean Geometry. By using unaided natural human reasoning, any man or woman, in principle, could derive derive the Pythagorean Theorem from the five postulates of Euclidean Geometry. In an analogous manner, all the doctrines of the Christian Faith, can, in principle, be developed by any man or woman from the depositum fide without recourse to any charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit. Unaided human reasoning alone is sufficient to discover all the doctrines of Christianity.

    When I made this analogy previously with John, I used it to make the point was that the Pythagorean theorem isn’t perspicuous to a person that knows only the five postulates of Euclidean Geometry, but that with the right teacher, an ordinary student in High School can be taught by the teacher to develop theorems from the postulates until the student “discovers” the Pythagorean Theorem. John argued against my analogy by redefining “perspicuity” from its ordinary sense, to something he called “technical perspicuity”. As far as I can understand John, he is saying that Scripture and Tradition isn’t perspicuous in the ordinary sense, but it is perspicuous in the “technical” sense. That is, even if I can’t see a doctrine within the depositum fide, it doesn’t mean that the doctrine isn’t there, because with the right pastor, I could find that doctrine, by natural human reasoning unaided by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But I concede that I could be wrong in my understanding of John’s position, and I don’t want to put words into John’s mouth.

    What warrant does anyone have for purposing a doctrine of “technical perspicuity” and making it a foundation of the Christian faith? Is there anything within the depositum fide that supports a doctrine that divine revelation can be fully understood by natural human reasoning apart from the gifts of the Holy Spirit? I would argue that one only need read the scriptures to see that a doctrine of “technical perspicuity” flies in the face of all that is divinely revealed in the scriptures.

    A good part of the scriptures is the Old Testament, and nowhere do we find within the Old Testament the idea that the “ordinary Jew” was in the same “epistemic boat” as the Prophets when it came to understanding the mind of God. The “ordinary Jew” may have had access to the God-breathed Tankah, but the “ordinary Jew” lacked the gifts of the Spirit of God, and that is why the “ordinary Jew’s” natural human reasoning, while the equal of the Christian’s natural human reasoning, did not equip him to know fully the mind of God. Joel prophesied that the time was coming when God would change the “epistimic boat” for the ordinary Jew and Gentile alike by an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

    …I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; Even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. Joel 3: 1-2

    This prophesied outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is commemorated on Pentecost Sunday, which is today. My point here is that the depositum fide cannot be approached as if it were a set of axioms upon which natural human reasoning can be applied to arrive at all the doctrines of the Christian faith. That is because the scriptures are not a systematic theological textbook and cannot be approached as such. The scriptures are the testimony of salvation history, and they point to Christ who founded an authoritative church that is guided by the Holy Spirit. To assert that the charism of infallibility is not necessary within Christ’s Church because natural human reasoning applied to scriptures makes this charism of the Holy Spirit superfluous, is to not to just deny the authority of the living Magisterium, it is to deny that Holy Spirit is guiding the understanding of the faithful in Christ’s Church.

  118. @Mark #116

    Sorry, but my reply as been deemed to be off topic. Whereas I cannot detail for you the reasons for what I presented, let me suggest quickly suggest some books that will more wholelisticly answer the question of how knowledge of religion and faith is gained and held according to Catholics, which is the underlying question at hand for this thread.

    Faith and Certitude by Dubay
    The Order of Things by Schall
    The Shape of Catholic Theology by Nicholas
    Faith Hope Love by Pieper (the book on Faith)
    Traditionalism http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15013a.htm (something that is not to be believed)

  119. […] overview see “The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins” by Bryan Cross at Called to Communion (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/05/the-commonitory-of-st-vincent-of-lerins). This entry was posted in Scripture and tagged Heresy, Sola Scriptura, St. Vincent of Lérin, […]

  120. […] The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins – Bryan Cross, Called to Communion […]

  121. In May of 2014, Carl Trueman wrote a review in First Things of Thomas G. Guarino’s recent book St. Vincent of Lérins and the Development of Christian Doctrine. Trueman’s review is titled “Traditional Troubles,” and the full review is available online only behind a pay wall.

    Here are some thoughts on the critical section of the review:

    Trueman writes:

    But when Guarino addresses specific examples, my blood starts to run a little orange.

    That’s helpful in evaluating the book only if when one’s blood runs orange the argument under consideration is thereby shown to be bad. So let’s see if Trueman shows how or where Guarino’s argument goes wrong. Trueman continues:

    He admirably does not opt for easy cases, such as the Trinity, where there is little or no Catholic-Protestant tension. Instead, he looks at Mary and papal infallibility. He makes a valiant effort to demonstrate how the later dogmatic formulations are consistent both with Scripture and with the kind of ecclesiastical foundation to dogmatic formulation for which Vincent argues. This is where I part company with the author.

    Ok, but since the review is not about Trueman, let’s see if he gives a good reason to “part company with the author.”

    Trueman continues:

    To justify these dogmas, he points to Vincent’s idea of the harmonious unfolding of doctrine; but the problem is that harmony, like continuity, is so often in the eye of the beholder.

    Here Trueman seemingly embraces relativism. Instead of doing the work of showing the alleged disharmony between the dogmas and the patristic evidence, he simply says that harmony is in the eye of the beholder. But if relativism were actually true(!), continuity and discontinuity would be mere constructs, not objective features that correspond to reality. Trueman tries to have it both ways, i.e. claim discontinuity, while avoiding the task of showing discontinuity, by pleading relativism. But objective discontinuity is impossible if relativism (about continuity/discontinuity) is true, for then the discontinuity Trueman alleges (between these dogmas and the patristic evidence) is only discontinuity in Trueman’s eyes, not discontinuity in reality.

    Trueman continues:

    To a Protestant, notions of highly developed Mariology (the Immaculate Conception and Assumption) or claims to papal infallibility do not appear to be harmonious developments of earlier positions.

    Again, Trueman makes no attempt to show the alleged discontinuity or give any evidence indicating discontinuity; instead he merely refers to there being an appearance of discontinuity from the Protestant point of view, without actually showing what that discontinuity is, or why he thinks there is a discontinuity, as if a position’s merely being at odds with how things appear from a Protestant point of view is sufficient to show that position to be false or baseless.

    He continues:

    To take the former example, Guarino rightly points to the heightening of Mariology in Vincent’s thought and connects this to fifth-century Christological developments, particularly the role of the term Theotokos. That is clearly correct as a point of historical theology. Guarino then jumps forward fourteen centuries to the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, seeing them as the result of the Spirit-led interpretation of Scripture by the consentient Church. One accepts that a short book cannot offer a comprehensive history, but that is nonetheless an ambitious leap.

    Again, Trueman makes no attempt to refute the case for the development of these dogmas on the basis of the underlying organic relation between the dogmas of the Assumption and Immaculate Conception on the one hand, and the Second Eve essence underlying the Mariology of the fifth century. He merely labels the development “an ambitious leap.” But this criticism itself leaps over the theological development that took place during those fourteen centuries, some of which I’ve pointed to in “Mary’s Immaculate Conception” and in “Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.” What would be more helpful here, from Trueman, is some evidence from Scripture or the Church Fathers, on the basis of which Trueman believes there to be some discontinuity, disharmony, or even inconsistency between Scripture and the Fathers on the one hand, and the dogmas on the other hand.

    Trueman continues:

    Further, even here Guarino seems to realize that he is assuming the legitimacy of the development in order to prove the legitimacy of the development. A couple of telltale cautious rhetorical questions pop up at the very heart of the argument (“Yet is it not possible that . . . ?” “Can these teachings be understood as consonant with … ?”).

    Trueman seems to infer from the fact that Guarino raises some questioning objections to his thesis, that Guarino is conceding that he is arguing in a circle. Of course that conclusion does not follow. Construing the raising of questioning objections as a concession to arguing in a circle is nothing less than sophistry.

    Trueman adds:

    To prove the plausibility of a later development is surely not the same as proving the necessity or the truth of a later development.

    By setting the bar at “proving” Trueman has already adopted the Protestant “good and necessary consequences” approach to development, which is not the Catholic conception of development (as I’ve explained in comment #218 of the Tu Quoque, comments #123 and #142 in the Some Preliminary Reflections thread, and Michael Liccione has explained well in comment #307 in the Joshua Lim thread.) In this respect Trueman is begging the question, presupposing in his methodology precisely what is in question between the paradigms. Why think that Guarino is trying to prove the truth of these developments? What Guarino is likely doing is showing that they are fitting — that’s not a Protestant theological category or criterion.

    Trueman continues:

    Protestants and Catholics do not disagree over the fact of doctrinal development but over how to discern a legitimate doctrinal development. For Protestants, doctrine has to be either plainly taught in Scripture or derived therefrom by good and necessary consequence. Catholics will no doubt respond that Scripture still requires some body that produces the definitive interpretation; yet the Protestant counter-response will be that that body has to allow itself to be disciplined by Scripture or risk making Scripture at best a post hoc justification for whatever it decides to declare as dogma.

    Trueman here conceives of the Protestant-Catholic disagreement regarding development of doctrine as being based on the acceptance or rejection of a Magisterium. He entirely overlooks the role of the unwritten Tradition in the Catholic understanding of the development of doctrine. What being “disciplined by Scripture” means in practice, given Trueman’s claim, is being subjected to [his interpretation] of Scripture. But if, as in the Catholic paradigm, Tradition is living, not dead, then it grows organically, inasmuch as the Church grows more deeply into the Tradition. The problem for Trueman’s proposal is that he has no non ad hoc way of preventing authentic development of doctrine from being considered by someone as merely “post hoc justification.” It is only “post hoc justification” when it doesn’t fit with his interpretation (and with that of those who share his interpretation), and not “post hoc justification” when it does fit with his interpretation. But, making his own interpretation of Scripture the standard is precisely one of the points in question between the paradigms, and thus in this respect Trueman’s criticism again begs the question.

    Trueman continues:

    This brings us right back to the problems with which we started: How do we know which doctrines are true and which are not? Guarino elucidates the thought of an important Church Father and of contemporary Catholicism’s approach to doctrinal development, yet I am not persuaded that he seamlessly sews the two together.

    A phrase that ought never be used when evaluating arguments: “I am not persuaded.” It isn’t about you, the evaluator. Show what’s wrong with the argument; do not make your own epistemic state a reason or standard by which others are to decide for or against something. (I discussed the reason for this in #14 in the “Guide to Rational Dialogue.”)

    Lastly, Trueman says:

    Vincent clarifies a choice, the same choice that Newman faced: Which has real priority, book or institution? Guarino does not ultimately convince me that he has made the right choice, but his brilliant and fascinating book enables the reader to address the matter in a more informed way, historically, theologically, and ecumenically.

    Again, with his “does not ultimately convince me” Trueman makes himself the standard, as if an academic book review is to be an autobiographical account of one’s experience reading the book. (Doing so is the book review equivalent of a selfie.) In his review, Trueman does not provide even one good reason showing that even one thing Guarino says is false, or showing that one of Guarino’s arguments is not a good argument. In this respect, the book is left unreviewed.

  122. Dr. Cross,

    But how can you justify the truth of “development of doctrine” when the decisions that arise from contemporary “development” yield conclusions that would not have been known by the original Apostles ? If the mission of the episcopate is to “guard” what she has been give, I find it difficult (not unbelievable) to see how it is coherent for this to be compatible with a theory of “development of doctrine” which has the right to explain new expressions of ancient truth in ways that would have never been known prior to.

    For example, I’ve heard that the decisions of the council of Jerusalem reveal clearly this concept of development. For no one would have posited that Gentiles do not need to follow what God had made an eternal prescription with Abraham (Gen 17-18). However, this fails to recognize the supernatural intervention that was required in order for the Church to reach such a decision. Peter had personal revelation concerning the unclean animals in direct correlation to his task meeting with Cornelius, a Gentile. Subsequently, there was public revelation in the miracle of Cornelius’ household receiving the Spirit expressed in the miracle of tongues.

    It actually indicates that the Apostles themselves would wait for supernatural confirmation from God before coming out with a declaration of something not known to be revealed by God prior to. This would be contrasted with the way in which the Marian dogmas were declared, out of the will of man.

    The early Apostolic church would never have come out and taught that Gentiles do not need circumcision to become heirs of the covenant of Abraham. We know this because Peter told the Lord “Lord, nothing unclean has ever entered into my mouth”, as well as the strict offense of associating with Gentiles that is made explicit by the Jews who were accusing Peter of eating with gentiles. So the “normal-mode” was to stick strictly to what has been clearly revealed by God, and to not “progress” from this unless there is supernatural allowance.

    Another indication in the early Fathers was their insistence of the ancient origin of the trinity and the Scriptures. Many modern day Catholic apologists will claim that the trinity and scripture and examples of doctrine which was not “clearly expressed” until the 4th or 5th century. This is just simply false. The Fathers who defended the trinity were not claiming that God had revealed anything new to the Church, or that something new has come by way of organic development. They were claiming that the truth of the Trinity was ancient, and was taught from the Scriptures, which themselves were handed to the Church from the Apostles and the Apostolic men. So quite to the contrary, these Fathers were making dogma what they “already knew”.

  123. Eric, (re: #122)

    But how can you justify the truth of “development of doctrine” when the decisions that arise from contemporary “development” yield conclusions that would not have been known by the original Apostles?

    The problem here is the assumption you are bringing to the question, namely, the assumption that no development can be authentic unless that development as such was known by the Apostles. You’re imposing your own personal criterion for what is necessary for authentic development of doctrine, and that simply begs the question, i.e. presupposes what is in question.

    If the mission of the episcopate is to “guard” what she has been give, I find it difficult (not unbelievable) to see how it is coherent for this to be compatible with a theory of “development of doctrine” which has the right to explain new expressions of ancient truth in ways that would have never been known prior to.

    That’s a statement about yourself (i.e. “I find it difficult …”), not an objection to the Catholic understanding of development of doctrine. In the future, when attempting to show an incoherence, I recommend not saying you find it difficult to see the coherence of x and y; instead show the incompatibility of x and y. That way, you won’t think you’ve made an objection when you actually have not. And by taking to yourself the task of constructing the argument for your objection, you’ll be much more likely to discover for yourself when you don’t actually have an argument (i.e. in this case, that there is no incoherence). Otherwise, rather than present a non-objection as if it as objection, (only to be shown that it is not an objection at all), instead, change your stance, and ask a question. You can’t truly learn and be receptive about x when you’re in the critical stance toward x.

    It actually indicates that the Apostles themselves would wait for supernatural confirmation from God before coming out with a declaration of something not known to be revealed by God prior to.

    Development of doctrine is not new revelation, so the example does not entail a necessary condition for development of doctrine.

    This would be contrasted with the way in which the Marian dogmas were declared, out of the will of man.

    This is a question-begging mere assertion. I could assert just the opposite. That would get us nowhere. If you are a Catholic, then you believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church in the development of doctrine, and in her definition of dogmas, including the Marian dogmas. Otherwise, you’re back to ecclesial deism, and thinking that you know better than the Magisterium.

    So the “normal-mode” was to stick strictly to what has been clearly revealed by God, and to not “progress” from this unless there is supernatural allowance.

    Again, you’re treating a condition for new revelation as if it must be a condition for development of doctrine. That conclusion does not follow.

    Another indication in the early Fathers was their insistence of the ancient origin of the trinity and the Scriptures. Many modern day Catholic apologists will claim that the trinity and scripture and examples of doctrine which was not “clearly expressed” until the 4th or 5th century. This is just simply false. The Fathers who defended the trinity were not claiming that God had revealed anything new to the Church, or that something new has come by way of organic development. They were claiming that the truth of the Trinity was ancient, and was taught from the Scriptures, which themselves were handed to the Church from the Apostles and the Apostolic men. So quite to the contrary, these Fathers were making dogma what they “already knew”.

    I’m one of those persons who claims that the doctrine of the Trinity was not clearly expressed until the third and fourth centuries; see comment #147 in the Matthew Barrett thread. You’re treating development of doctrine as if it is new revelation. It is not. It is the making explicit of what is implicit in the already-received revelation, as St. Vincent explains above. It is not merely logical deduction from given propositions, because the deposit of faith isn’t merely propositions; it is the incarnation of God Himself, alive and present with us in the sacraments, prayers, teaching, service, and hierarchy of the Church. The Marian dogmas were developed in the same organic (making explicit what is implicit) way the dogmas of the Trinity, the deity of the Holy Spirit, and the two-natures of Christ were developed, just over a longer period of time. It is highly unlikely that the Apostles taught explicitly that Christ is “homoousious” with the Father; or that Christ had two wills. This was already present as implicit in the apostolic deposit, but not yet made explicit.

    If you have some follow-up question or objection, please write me off the thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  124. Orthodox Readings of Vincent of Lerins

    h/t: Eclectic Orthodoxy

  125. Fr. Robert Barron on the development of doctrine:

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